Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sermon for April 23

The reading
Luke 24:13-35

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad.  Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?"  He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" 

 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.  As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.  But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.  They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!"  Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The message

This is our last Sunday with the Gospel of Luke for our reading.  Since Christmas our Sunday worship has been shaped by this Gospel and its focus on Jesus welcome of all people into the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God was the thing that Jesus talks more about than any other in the bible (money is second).  It refers to the presence and impact of God’s love and power in the world.  Jesus has welcomed the religious authorities, outsider, leper, tax collector, prostitute  and sinner.  Luke reports that even with some of his last breathes from the cross, Jesus forgives and welcomes a criminal into the kingdom of God.  Each time someone is welcomed into the kingdom of God, they change, they are healed of an illness, repent from their abusive ways and work to invite others in.  

Starting next week, we will go on the to the book of Acts. This biblical book was written by the same author as Luke and tells the story of the early church, what Jesus first disciples did after his resurrection and ascension.  Over the summer months we will have 3 series, five weeks on the psalms, four weeks on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and four weeks on the book of Revelation. 

This morning, we complete Luke’s Gospel with a story of walking around and eating.  In Luke (and Acts) things often happen on the road, while people are walking around.  The story of God’s active love brought to the world through Jesus begins with a journey as Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem for the census. To see John the Baptist, who first announced the savior was here, meant a walk out to the wilderness.  Jesus calls his first followers as he walks around the towns and seas. In Luke 9:51, Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem, where he will be welcomed as the savior then be put on trial, suffer, die and rise again. Jesus gets there by Palm Sunday (reported in Luke 19:28).   At a time when every single word mattered, this trip to Jerusalem takes up more than a third of Luke’s Gospel.  The famous parable of the Good Samaritan takes place along a dangerous road and the prodigal son gets interesting when the young, wasteful son is spotted on the road back home.  In the book of Acts, we will see Paul, a persecutor of the church, encounter the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.  This will change the world.  This morning the walk to Emmaus becomes bible study, perhaps the best one ever participated in and it becomes the revelation that Christ is Risen.

In Luke, eating is also central to Jesus ministry and relationships. The obvious place is through Holy Communion, where in Jesus last days, bread and wine, the stuff everyone had, the most common elements of a dinner. Combined with God’s word, they are transformed into an event and ritual where the presence and forgiveness of God can be contained.  There are others. Jesus is often criticized by the religious authorities for eating with tax collectors and sinners because he often did.  To eat together meant to accept, to recognize others as fellow people and to enter relationship with them.   A few years later St Paul will write a scathing and nasty letter to the church in Corinth about how they eat with rich and poor separated, they might be in the same room but they don’t get it.    This morning, the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus experience God in a simple act of hospitality, when they invite this unknown traveler to “stay with us and eat”.  In this meal, Jesus followers know he is truly risen because he eats (ghosts or illusions could not consume food).

I know a thing or two about walking around and eating and so does this community.  Pastor Tilly, who served here from 1898 to 1952 is still remembered by some long time neighborhood  residents for walking (or riding a horse) around the church. Sixty plus have passed but still remember him being in the community. When Jen and I first meet and in the years afterwards, we spent a lot of time walking around and eating (I sometimes think that’s all we ever did).  You find stuff, unknown places, new places, interesting people or opportunities, new cultures and new experiences.  I try to eat with all of the churches that share the space with us at least once a month.  It is a chance to remind each other, we are coworkers in ministry and not all that different. We might have different languages, food and practices but we know each of us is loved by God, and that’s enough.

Eating and walking used to be ways that we were in the world and connected to each other, the way we meet people and participated in the world.   I say used to be because these things were before we became glued to our smartphones and headphones, before we were able to control every part of our social lives, before we could be in a community but not really there.  

(I filled in a few different stories here about my experiences of walking around with my clergy clothes on or even just wearing a simple cross. This includes being stopped for a moment of prayer or blessing by someone drunk and being greeted with great joy by other Christians, despite language barriers.)   Recently, there was an experiment where a man dressed with different uniforms like nurse, doctor, construction worker and firefighter and traveled around a city. The most difficult was walking around as a priest. That was the one he had to stop.  He was constantly greeted, asked questions, asked for prayer, for help, for answers.  It showed a great longing for the presence of God in a community, one that pastors often miss. Of course, it’s not only pastors responsibility.  (there’s not enough and some ain’t so good), each of you should be signs of God’s presence in the world.

This story of the road to Emmaus reminds all of us that we express our faith in our daily lives, we are called to be part of our communities, to share the news that Christ is Risen from the dead outside of these walls.    

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sermon for Easter Sunday

The reading

Luke 24:1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.  While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.  The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.  Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,  that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again."  Then they remembered his words,  and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.  Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.  But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.  But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

The message

I have missed some of the greatest moments in the history of modern sports.  Growing up, I  would not watch until the end.  At a certain point in a game, I would see one team was doing terrible, down by 10 or 20 points with a few minutes left and say to myself “well this one is over”. After that decision, I would stop watching.  Sometimes, a few minutes later, I heard my brother yelling “you gotta get back here and see this”. I would get a message from a friend, “did you see that” (and sadly think “no I didn’t”). Other times, I would see the back sports page in the newspaper the next morning that read something like “The won, the greatest comeback ever” . I was always shocked, I couldn’t believe it. I stopped watching because I knew it was impossible for the outcome of the game to change, there was just not enough time, the losing team would need a miracle or four to come back.

That “well this one is over” feeling does not just apply to sports. We see it after accidents as loved ones and care givers do everything they can to prepare for the bad news.  We see it with in people struggling with sickness as test after test indicate there is not cure or even no hope.  We see it with students and exams where the questions are surprisingly difficult and afterwards, he or she is certain they failed. We see it in our world as divides between rich and poor get deeper, for profit environmental destruction places our future in jeopardy and political and religious violence impacts more and more lives. We are tempted to go dig a bunker, get some guns and buy a stash of non-perishable foods. We see it with church as we hear more and more statistics about the decline of Christianity and loss of faith in the organized church.  We see it in congregations looking back on the good old days, struggling, or closing around us. 

We see it on the First Easter. Jesus disciples knew it was over when Jesus died on that cross.  They spent 3 years with Jesus, watching him get out of every situation, confront religious and secular authorities with God’s authority, share miracles of healing, welcome, and restoration, and perform great sings of power. Now, he was pronounced dead and buried. It was over. Jesus disciples were scared. They were hiding, crippled by the very real possibility that they would be next. They were disappointed with their own behaviors. They had doubted Jesus when it mattered most, they failed to go with Jesus to the end. They were frustrated, wondering if everything they heard and saw with Jesus was for nothing.  After all, it was over, he was gone, Rome and the religious authorities won, there was no other empire, there was no kingdom of God, at least not here and now. The disciples knew “It was over”, they knew dead was dead. 

When we think its over, everything that speaks otherwise, sounds like an idle tale.  Once we decide that there is nothing to be done, very little can convince us otherwise. That’s why the first time people tell other people “Christ is Risen from the dead”, does not go well.  The first reports of Easter were dismissed as an idle tale and the women who told it were written off as emotional and silly.   This group of women were not strangers or newcomers. They were following Jesus for most of his ministry. Luke’s earliest mention of them is in chapter 8 right after the Sermon on the Mount.  At that time, they were already a significant part of Jesus teaching, healing and proclaiming the kingdom of God.  They worked closely with the disciples and even provided financial support for the ministry. They had proven themselves faithful, wise and trustworthy countless times. They should have been believed.  When the women first announced that Christ is Risen from the dead, the disciples do not say what we often do “Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia”.   The disciples hear, Christ is Risen from the dead, and they say, “eh i don't think so”, they write off the words of God’s salvation for all people. They see them as an idle tale, pure nonsense and wishful thinking.

So what happened, how did the good news of Easter, that Christ was risen, come to be believed.  For the women, that moment comes when they remember Jesus words.  Early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women go to the tomb. They see the stone rolled away but do not believe Christ is Risen. Instead they are confused or perplexed. Then, they meet the 2 men in dazzling white but they do not believe. Instead, they are scared.  Then they hear “He is not here, he has been raised” but they do not believe, Then they are told “Remember how Jesus told you, while he was still in Galilee,  that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” God’s word worked. Only then after hearing God’s word and experiencing God’s presence, did they believe Christ is Risen from the dead.
Jesus disciples hear the report of the women and they do not believe. Most of them do not even bother going to look for themselves.  Luke reports that Peter is the only one who got up and ran to the tomb. There, Peter sees Jesus burial clothes sitting in the empty tomb and we hear that he was amazed at what had happened. We do not hear that Peter believed Christ was Risen from the dead, only that he was amazed.  Peter and Jesus disciples will come to believe after encountering the Risen Christ, after eating with him, talking to him and receiving the Holy Spirit. For Thomas it will mean doubting until he actually puts his hands in Jesus wounds. Only then, with hearing God’s word and experiencing God’s presence, do they realize “it’s not over”.  After this, they will face all those dangers they hid from, they will tell people “Christ is Risen from the dead for the forgiveness of our sins”, They will be told “yeah right” and be able to say “I thought the same way before but I have seen and heard the Lord”.    

I never had strange figures appear and tell me Christ is Risen, I never saw the empty tomb or burial clothes, I never put my hands in Jesus wounds or ate fish with him on the side of a lake in the weeks after his resurrection. However, I have also come to know Christ is Risen in hearing God’s word and experiencing God’s presence.  I have heard God’s word from my mother, from religious education teachers, priests and pastors, talking with people, in beautiful songs and reading the bible in times of doubt.  I have experienced God’s presence in seeing and feeling prayer work, in the simple acts of helping others, welcoming someone, sharing words of prayer, announcing Christ is Risen and you will arise at times of death and mourning, hearing my sins are forgiven, telling you your sins are forgiven, standing at this altar and gathering with you for worship.  As we celebrate Easter here in this place for the 149th time, (The first was April 12 1868) it is my hope that we can continue to be a place for everyone, a place for people who think its over, to come and hear God’s word and experience God’s presence, to be told “Christ is Risen from dead” and to tell the others “Christ is Risen from the dead”.  

Friday, April 14, 2017

What I said on Thursday

The reading

Luke 22:1-27

Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near.  The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them.  They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money.  So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.  Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.  So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it."  They asked him, "Where do you want us to make preparations for it?"  "Listen," he said to them, "when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters  and say to the owner of the house, "The teacher asks you, "Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?" '  He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there."  So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.  When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him.  He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;  for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves;  for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."  Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."  And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.  But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.  For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!"  Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.  A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.  But he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

 The message  (well what I can remember) 

We had a small group last night for our Maundy (commandment) Thursday service. Only 4 people could attend.  We had a discussion on the reading instead of a sermon. While the word Maundy means commandment, this night is more about the gifts that Jesus gives to the faithful to remember him, experience God’s presence, find comfort and joy.  The work of Jesus here is to prepare us to be the church, to be the visible, active, creative expression of God in the world 

Among the gifts or commands Jesus gives the disciples, the big one is Holy Communion. The meal we share each week to experience the presence of Jesus in two very common things (bread and wine).  There are others.       

There is the keeping of rituals and traditions.  Jesus and his disciples are celebrating the Passover as the Jewish people have for over 1000 years before this night, following the same instructions as their ancestors have for generations.  

There is the sharing and using of resources for ministry.  The person in the city has an empty room that is offered to Jesus to celebrate this meal.  Jesus asks for and receives help. (I would be tempted to say “why don’t I just run to 12 stores, get supplies as cheap as I can and build a shed someplace”). Church does not work alone. 

There is gathering as a community of all people, it includes the disciples who will build the church and Judas, the one who betrays Jesus. Everyone eats.  Perhaps this is the answer to the question I often hear about our food pantry and finding out if the people we serve are really in need and deserving. We are church in a messy world, I often think of the disturbances in our church, the people cooking, different groups running around or loud conversations as a reminder that our faith is active and happens in real time.  I have to ask “where are the women at this meal”, after all, they were with Jesus every step of the way, remaining faithful when all the men are gone and going to the empty tomb when all the men are scared. 

There is serving others. This comes out most clearly in the Gospel of John which has footwashing instead of holy communion on this last night.  For me personally, helping others has always been a place of spiritual experience.  Foot-washing was a common custom in Jesus time, a basic welcome to someone’s home and a job reserved for the lowest servant.  Today, we wash ourselves (and walk on cement, travel in vehicles and mostly wear closed shoes).   Instead of footwashing, we will purchase hygiene items (soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, washcloth, mouthwash, shampoo, etc) to be distributed to new arrivals at the Pam Am family shelter (and leave the washing to them).    

If you look at Jesus last hours in all 4 gospels, there is the singing of Hymns and time of prayer.  Each of these focuses on God’s presence at this very difficult and anxious time.  We are invited to do the same as we approach Good Friday 

During our discussion, I invited everyone to share any of their experiences with this things, inviting conversation about song and service.