Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Preparations in the Wilderness

Sermon for December 9, 2018 

Read Philippians 1:3-11 and Luke 3:1-6

Have you noticed that we meet up with John the Baptist  every year in Advent? I’ve never seen him featured in an Advent calendar or a Christmas display, but all four Gospels place him front and center in Jesus’s origin story. He’s kind of a strange character to find there, not someone who cleans up well for a Christmas card. And yet, all of them begin the opening acts of Jesus with a scene featuring the sack-cloth wearing, locust eating crazy man.

Hope For The Future

Sermon for December 2, 2018 

Read Jeremiah 33:14-16  and Luke 21:25-36

Well, the season of advent is upon us again. The season of waiting. The time that turns us towards the watching and waiting and preparing for the birth of Christ. We count down the next few Sundays to the anniversary of Jesus' birth.

What Kind of King?

Sermon for November 25, 2018 

Read Colossians 1:11-20 and Luke 23:33-43

 It might seem odd for us to turn and visit the cross right before advent. After all the holidays are coming up. We’re supposed to be talking about the nativity and the birth of Jesus. This is a time of anticipation and celebration. And as we finish celebrating thanksgiving, we see our savior on the cross, suffering and dying and forgiving us despite ourselves. It does tend to put a damper on the festivities, doesn't it?


Sermon for November 18, 2018 

Read Psalm 126 and Matthew 6:25-34          

In our passage for Thanksgiving today, Christ tells us not to worry.

But have you seen the news lately. How can we not worry? There are fires raging in California, and it seems like a different shooting every week. We hear about natural disasters and divisions between people getting worse and worse. We worry about the conflicts throughout the world. We worry about the conflicts at home. We worry about how we can afford Christmas with belts tightening everywhere. We worry about whether everything will go smoothly with the holiday this week, whether relatives will get along or the turkey will come out okay. There seems to be a lot to worry about.


Sermon for November 11,  2018 

Read 1 Kings 17:8-16 and Mark 12:38-44 
"’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

First Commandment

Sermon for November 4, 2018 

Read Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and Mark 12:28-34   

"’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Calling for Help

Sermon for October 28, 2018 
Read Psalm 34:1-8 and Mark 10:46-52  

At first glance, this is one of the typical miracle stories in the gospels: Bartimaeus is suffering, and so calls out to Jesus for help. This is pretty common in the scriptures, someone is suffering and calls out to Jesus to help them and Jesus does. But Bartimaeus doesn't just ask Jesus for help. No, Bartimaeus shouts from the other side of the town square "Hey Jesus! Jesus! Save me!"

Camels Through Needles and Other Impossible Things

Sermon for October 14, 2018 

Read Hebrews 4:12-16  and Mark 10:17-27     

When reading this passage about the rich young man, it’s easy to think it’s not about us. After all, rich people are people like Bill Gates, or Warren Buffet. At the very least, rich describes chairmen of fortune 500 companies, and definitely not people like me.  There are some people who actually like this passage, using it to prove the evils of the rich and greedy. Even if we sympathize with the plight of the rich young man, it doesn’t have anything to do with us, right?

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Glory to God

Sermon for September 30, 2018 

Read Psalm98 and Philippians4:4-9      

I have a confession to make. I am not a particularly musical person. I can usually hit the right notes if I know the song well enough, but I am mediocre at best when it comes to reading music and I have no rhythm whatsoever. Despite well meaning music teachers and the best efforts of musical people in my life, I am just not very musical.

But the exception for me has always been church. In worship, I sing out and I sing out loudly. Part of that is because I grew up in the church and so I know many of the hymns by heart. But mostly it’s because singing in worship isn’t about me.

When people of faith worship, each piece of music, whether it is choral or instrumental, is directed toward God. In other words, when we sing, we offer God a gift. So in terms of worship, it doesn’t matter if you are an accomplished singer, or merely making a joyful noise to the Lord. All of it can be part of the sincere praise we are called to offer up to the One who loves us and gives us life.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Remembering Our Heritage

Sermon for September 9, 2018 

Read Isaiah 43:1-7 and Luke 3:16, 21-38

You might be wondering why I decided to choose one of the classically most boring types of scripture for our passage today. Generally speaking whenever the scripture has long lists of names, one after the other, we skip them in church, knowing that they make people's eyes glaze over and lose interest that you might not get back.

Which is true. But they are also important. It's important because on some level we all want to know where are roots are. Who we belong too. And what these genealogies do is allow people to have a reference point for Jesus. Matthew begins his gospel with this genealogy which stretches back through David and through him to Abraham, two of the most important figures in the history of the Israelites. And it also includes foreigners, women, and kings who failed.  It says a lot about how anyone can play a part, anyone can make a difference; just from a list of names.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Within The Heart

Sermon for September 2, 2018 

Read  James 1:17-27 and Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23  

So, at first glance, in our passage today the Pharisees seem to be overly concerned with hand washing. They come across as overly fussy, looking for something to be unhappy about. But when we look at what the hand washing really means, their protest starts to make more sense. It’s not just a quick rinsing of the hands, but instead a ritual washing followed by speaking the blessing: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments, and commanded us concerning the washing of the hands."

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Who Can Accept It?

Sermon for August 26, 2018 

Read Psalm 84 and John 6:56-69

This week’s passages finishes the section in John that we began last month talking about the Bread of Life. Jesus began by drawing the crowds together with his teachings and then feeding the multitudes, but then then began to abandon him. It was just the crowds at first - those who had come to listen and see what this teacher was about. But now it’s actual disciples leaving him.

But why? Sure the flesh and blood stuff sounds strange, but is it really all that much stranger than calling himself the "Bread of Life"?

The answer to their offense, and the point Jesus was making, lies deep in the Book of Leviticus. Leviticus chapter seventeen contains a forceful and simple law about how the People of God were to handle blood.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Just the Way We Are

Sermon for August 19, 2018

Read Luke 14:7-11 and Matthew 23:1-12

Guest Speaker Rev. Anita Milne

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Get Up and Eat

Sermon for August 12, 2018

Read John 6:35,41-51 and 1 Kings 19:4-8

Guest Speaker Susan Frost, CRE

...on the subject of Eating as a metaphor for Being Taught

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Hometown Boy

Sermon for July 8, 2018 

Read :  Ezekiel 2:1-5 and Mark 6:1-13             

When you think about it, Jesus was just a hometown boy. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018


Sermon for July 1, 2018 

Read 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 and Mark 5:21-43           

The passage this morning is one the classic miracle passages, where Jesus not only heals someone, but also raises someone from the dead. But what I want to look at this morning is not the healings that Jesus did, but the people who come to him for help.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Be Still

Sermon for June 24, 2018 

Read 2 Corinthians 5:14-17 and Mark 4:35-41              

I feel for the disciples in this passage. I always tend to empathize with the disciples because they don’t always understand what is going on, and they keep on trying, but don’t always get it right. I feel for the disciples because I know I am supposed to envision myself in their place.

And here they are, after a long day of teaching and managing the logistics of all those crowds, sailing across Galilee because Jesus wanted to start teaching on the other side, and this massive storm rises up, a storm bigger than they had seen in years and they are in the middle of it in just a little boat.

Everything is chaos as they run around bailing water and trying to keep the boat upright, and there’s Jesus. Still sleeping where they left him. Sleeping through this storm. It’s not as though there was a cabin on this boat, oh no. Jesus is sound a sleep on deck in the middle of a storm bad enough that the experience fishermen think they will drown.

So they wake Jesus, crying out, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" That wakes him and he turns immediately to the storm and tells it to stop. Which it does. Then Jesus turns back to his terrified disciples and asks "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Children and God

Sermon for June 17, 2018

Read Psalm 127:3-5 and Ephesians 6:1-4

Children's Sunday 
Pastor Cara Milne

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


Sermon for June 10, 2018 

Read 2 Corinthians 4:13 - 5:1 and Mark 3:20-35...

This is one of those strange passages we find every so often that leave us with a vague sense of unease. There’s all that talk about demons for one. And it comes off sounding like Jesus is blowing off his family. But this actually is an important passage for the gospel of Mark, and for the church as a whole.

Mark is the shortest of the four gospels and only includes what he thought was absolutely essential for the story of Christ. You see, in Mark, the whole gospel leads up to holy week. So the first half of the book is Jesus' life and teachings and the second half is that one week. Just as the passage last week ended with the scribes beginning to plot against him, this passage so early in the gospel helps to show us how Jesus ended up there.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

What is Lawful?

Sermon for June 3, 2018 

Read Deuteronomy 5:6-21   and Mark 2:23 - 3:6   ....

To understand what the Pharisees are so upset about in our lesson today, we have to talk about the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day when people are supposed to rest, but it was more than just a strong encouragement. The Jews were forbidden to do any work on the Sabbath. All of the food had to be prepared ahead of time. You could only pick up very light things. You had to count your steps and stay under a certain number in order to meet the requirements of the law.

So what concerns the Pharisees in the first part of this passage is the fact that Jesus and the disciples are traveling and gleaning on the sabbath. They should have stayed put and prepared their snacks on the previous day. To the Pharisees, this behavior appears to deliberately neglect the mandate to observe the sabbath and keep it holy.

Here Am I

Sermon for May 27, 2018 

Read Isaiah 6:1-8  and John 3:1-17   ....

I want to turn our attention this morning to the first reading from Isaiah - this strange vision of God and his calling to be a prophet.

Now, to fully understand what is going on here, we need some background of what is happening in this book. The first five chapters of Isaiah lay out the spiritual problem of the Judeans. They have forgotten and forsaken the Lord; their worship is futile; corruption marks their leadership. Greed has led to injustice. Isaiah 6:1 then describes the political crisis: the long-serving king who brought stability has died.

Basically, the country is a mess, when one day Isaiah goes to church. Because unlike any other prophet, Isaiah receives his prophetic call in a vision during Temple worship. That’s right, during one worship service Isaiah drifted off, and instead of listening to the rabbi, had a full blown vision of the divine.

Not something that happens on an average Sunday, huh?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Living Spirit

Sermon for May 20, 2018

Read Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Acts 2:1-21  ....

The Spirit is such a strange concept, isn’t it? There’s not really a very clear definition of spirit, and a lot of times we get an image of a nebulous ghost type of being. Websters says that it is: an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organism or a supernatural being or essence. Which I guess is a definition, but doesn’t go very far to explain what the Spirit is, does it?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Two Ways

Sermon for May 13, 2018

Read Psalm 1 and John 17:6-19

Guest Pastor Susan Frost

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Commanding Love

Sermon Notes for May 6, 2018  
Read 1 John 5:1-6 and John 15:9-17 ....

Our scriptures this week pick up where we left off last week, continuing with both Jesus’ goodbye to his disciples in the gospel and the letter of 1 John. So perhaps it is unsurprising that they continue that theme of love.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Vines and Branches

Sermon Notes for April 29, 2018 
Read 1 John 4:7-21 and John 15:1-8....

Even though we are on the far side of Easter, this passage actually comes right before it. Jesus is speaking to his disciples during the Last Supper here in John in what comes to be known as the Farewell discourse. It’s all about leaving his disciples with words of comfort and hope in the midst of troubled hearts and worried souls. So why does Jesus go off on this strange tangent about vines and pruning?

Why? Because the vine is an image that intimates profound dependence. Profound reliance. Because life is nothing without belonging, without intimacy, without relationship.

Jesus first unpacks this image as it describes his relationship with his Father before he moves to how the image might portray his relationship with the disciples. This is key for the mutual abiding at stake between Jesus, the Father, and the disciples. Jesus is the vine, "my Father" is the vine grower. Like any good vine grower, the Father tends the vine with care, pruning where necessary so that it bears as much fruit as possible. At the forefront of this image is the theme of dependence.

The vine needs the vine grower as much as the vine grower needs the vine. The vine needs the vine grower for its optimal growth and production, even its abundance. It will produce more fruit, fruit in abundance, if cared for. The vine grower needs the vine to produce, to make abundance possible for sustenance and life. The mutuality assumed in this image is essential especially at this point in the story. Jesus knows what’s next for him and is trying to warn the disciples what is coming.

The image of the vine offers a picture by which the disciples may see themselves as able to do as commanded because of their connection to the vine. Remember, Christ is telling them that he is leaving them and that they have to continue on his work. Continue doing Jesus’s work! That would be overwhelming to anyone I think. But here he is saying that they won’t be alone.

 The English word "abide" is a rendering of the Greek word μένω (meno). It is a word often used in the New Testament. It means "to hold out," "to stand fast," "to stay still," "to remain," and "to endure." It has to do with the permanence of God in our lives. God is not one who is with us when we are performing well, and who abandons us when we struggle. No, God is always with us; sometimes challenging, sometimes comforting, sometimes strengthening, but always with us.

And who is God? As we learn from the first passage, God is love. While we may have overused the phrase until it almost is meaningless to us, it is actually a profound statement. God is the source of all love. The basis for all love is the love of God. That love is sufficient and complete. God loves us and therefore we should love one another. God so loved the world that he sent his son to be the sacrifice for our sins; therefore we should love each other.

When we love, whether it is God or each other, we are connected to the vine. We are connected to God.

So in this passage, Jesus is not commanding us to get and stay connected to him (or else!), but reminding us that we are meant to connect with him just as he desires to connect with us. It is his presence in our lives, and the way it strengthens us spiritually and emotionally and even physically, that makes all the difference in the world. When he abides with us, and we abide in him, we become new beings. When we are connected and filled with love, we bear more fruit. Our prayers are answered. God is glorified. We become his disciples.

Now before we become too prideful, remember the flip side of this coin. It is when we strike off on our own, ignoring our need to be connected with the branch that gives us life — that is when we stop bearing fruit. When we lose our connection to God, our lives whither and die. When we try to live without love, without connection or dependence, we become less than we are meant to be; less than what we can be.

I think this is less intended as a threat about what happens if you don't abide in Jesus but more a metaphorical description of what actually happens when you are not in God, in love.  You end up cut off, withered, useless, like the branches and scraps we clean up from our yard and haul away or burn.

And before there is any confusion, this is the kind of love that the Greeks called agape here. This love isn't the kind of love that you feel deep in your chest. It isn't the rush of excitement of a new relationship, or the comfort of years spent with another. It isn't the affection of friendship. This kind of love Jesus calls us to here isn't a feeling at all. It is an action.

Agape is a love that is marked not by warm feelings but by rather stubborn, unwavering commitment. A decision to treat another person as though they were as important as ourselves. By this definition, we don't have to like someone to love them. Which is good, because there will always be people in the world that we don't like. People that we don't get along with. We don't have to like them. We just have to love them.

Jesus isn't calling us to pretend to have feelings we don't. Jesus is calling us to treat everyone else as though they matter as much as we do. That they are equally loved as a child of God. Because they are. That person who cut in line at the grocery store. The friend who betrayed my trust. The guy who hit my car and drove away. All of them are just as beloved of God as I am. I don't have to like them, but I do have to treat them as well as I treat myself.

The more we can work towards that. The more we seek to love God and each other, the richer and more fruitful our lives will be. And the more that we cut ourselves off, the more that we shut down those relationships, that dependence, the more our lives will wither and grow barren. It’s not a threat coming from Jesus here, but an explanation of how love works. How God works.

Like it or not, we are all of us dependant on God and one another.  All of us need love in our lives, and the more we embrace and accept who we are as the branches, more our lives will thrive.  So as you go out into the world this week, remember that you are branches, rooted in the love of God and sharing that fruit with the world.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Following a Shepherd

Sermon Notes for April 22, 2018 
Read Psalm 23 and John 10:11-18 ..

Have you ever spent time around sheep?

When I was younger, I was a member of 4-H. While I was mostly interested in horses, part of my education involved sheep and I learned a few things about these animals. Sheep are stubborn and are hard to force into things. They have been bred to the point of actually requiring humans to shear them in order to survive.  They behave very differently when they were alone as a opposed to in a group. While I learned to like individual sheep, once it joined the herd again all of the individuality went away. Sheep follow the rest of the sheep blindly - regardless of the results. There was a disastrous incident in Turkey awhile back when nearly five hundred sheep just followed each other off a cliff while the shepherd was having lunch.  Farmers tell stories about how when there is a flood, horses and cows will run away or try to swim to safety, but a sheep will just stand there until the water rises over it’s head. 

And these are the animals that we are compared to the most in the Bible. As a child, I was absolutely insulted by this comparison. 

There are so many other animals that God could have compared us to. Foxes because they are clever. Doves because they are peaceful and gentle.  But no, we are called sheep.  Sheep require a shepherd to care for them.  They require a shepherd to protect them.  They require someone who will look after their smallest needs and who will lead them to where they need to be.  Without their shepherd, sheep will follow each other to disaster.  And over and over again, the Bible calls us sheep.  Maybe God is trying to tell us something. 

The Lord is my shepherd.  I shall not want.  This is probably the best known psalm to modern day Christians, but we hear it so much sometimes we lose sight of what it actually means.  The Lord is my shepherd.  While this is a very useful metaphor in ancient Israel, it needs some translating for 21st century America.  We are not quite as familiar with what it means to be a shepherd.

Shepherds are responsible for the care and well being of their sheep.  They do their very best to keep them safe from all of the dangers out there.  There are thieves who try to steal the sheep. Wolves who try to eat them.  Sheep step into holes, get stuck in bushes and follow each other of cliffs. 

Looking at our own lives, I see some parallels.  There are dangers in the world, and we are constantly getting ourselves into trouble.  Yet Christ, our shepherd cares for us even in the midst of our troubles.

Shepherds have a close relationship with their sheep.  Sheep live for twenty to twenty five years. The sheep of this time were raised for wool, not meat.  The shepherd spent most of his time with the sheep.  The sheep live with the family. 

The Indian theologian D. T. Niles once noticed a young Indian shepherd boy keeping a huge flock of sheep.  He stopped and asked, "How many sheep do you have?"  

"I don't know," answered the boy, "I can't count."

Niles asked him, "How do you know if some of the sheep haven't wandered off when you get to the place where you're going to camp at night?" 

To his astonishment, the boy answered, "I don't know how many wander off, but I know each one.  I can't count, but each sheep has a name, and I know their names."

From our casual point of view, all sheep look the same.  Different shapes and sizes, but for the most part, if you’ve seen one sheep, you’ve seen them all.

But because a shepherd spends a lot of time with his sheep, he gets to know the different personalities and quirks of each one of his sheep.  That one over there, he might say, likes to stray away.  This one over here, he gets tired all the time.  And this one, well, he is very bad at finding pasture.  You gotta watch out for this one – he’s mean.  And that one over there is always running ahead – overconfident.  Each sheep has its own personality, different strengths and weaknesses, and a good shepherd will know what those different things are about his sheep.  He knows them.

Christ knows each of us, individually and by name.  One of the lessons of Psalm 23 is that every person who is one of God’s flock is individually cared for as one of God’s sheep.  Unlike most of the Psalms, 23 says the Lord is MY shepherd.  The other psalms say The Lord is OUR shepherd. Never forget that while you are also one of God’s flock, His care for you is an individual type of care, not merely as a number or as a series of perforations in a computer card.  David never lost his sense of individual pastoral care from the hand of his Shepherd.

I may be not be crazy about being a sheep, but the Bible keeps pointing out over and over the parallels.  One of my favorite passages is from Ezekiel 34:11-15. "For thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.  As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.  And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams, and in all the inhabited places of the land.  I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will be on the mountain heights of Israel. There they will lie down in good grazing ground, and they will feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.  I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest,” declares the Lord God."

The shepherd brings his sheep to food and water.  The shepherd rescues his flock and brings them back together.  And the shepherd cares for us, just as Christ does. 

The tools of a shepherd are telling too.  The first tool of a shepherd is the staff, pointed on one end, crooked on the other.  A shepherd lovingly reaches his staff down into a hole and slips the staff under the sheep’s leg and gently pulls the sheep out of the hole.  When we get into holes during our lives, and God is forever pulling us out of our holes. 

The second, more powerful, tool of the shepherd is the shepherd’s voice.  Over time, the sheep get to know the shepherd’s voice.  In the middle east, there are many caves, and several flocks of sheep might be herded into one of them to escape a storm, or to weather overnight.  But in the morning, the shepherd doesn't have to look for brands or markings, he just steps away from the cave, moves away from the other shepherds, and calls to his flock.  And they come right to him, because they know his voice.

For better or for worse, we are God's sheep.  But is Christ our shepherd?  Is it his voice we follow?

There were two men were walking along a crowded city sidewalk.  Suddenly, one of the men remarked, "Listen to the lovely sound of that cricket," But the other man could not hear the sound.

He asked his friend how he could hear the sound of a cricket amid the roar of the traffic and the sound of the people.  The first man, who was a zoologist, had trained himself to hear the sounds of nature.

He didn’t explain to his friend in words how he could hear the sound of the cricket, but instead, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a half-dollar coin, dropped it onto the sidewalk, and watched intently as a dozen people began to look for the coin as they heard it clanking around amid the sounds of the traffic and the sounds of the city.  He turned to his friend and said, "We hear what we listen for."

What do we listen for?  Do we hear Christ's voice amidst the chaos?

Even when we do hear that voice, do we follow it?  Jesus leads us through hard places sometimes and asks us to do difficult things.  It seems like it would be so much easier to stray off the path.  To eat the grass that is right here rather than struggling through the difficult valleys.

My dog Dylan knows my voice.  When we go to the dog park people call commands to their dogs all the time, but he ignores those commands.  Yet when I tell him to come, he will race across half the park to respond.  I know he knows my voice.  Sometimes though, he decides what he is doing is far more interesting then what I am telling him to do.  He knows my voice, but he doesn't always follow it.

We know Christ's voice.  We know what he is calling us to do.  The question is do we follow? 

Jesus calls us.  And in the midst of this noisy world we hear him.  And so when we follow him, as he leads us through this world.  When we follow Christ we trust him.  We don’t always understand him.  But I don’t think sheep ever really understand what their shepherd is doing – why the shepherd is taking them here, or pushing them there.  Sheep have no idea.  But the shepherd knows his sheep, and he does what is best for them.

Christ is calling you to follow.  Whose sheep will you be?  Amen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Eating with Jesus

Sermon Notes for April 15, 2018 
Read 1 John 3:1-7 and Luke 24:36b-48  ..

Suddenly, Jesus appears among his disciples in a locked room. It sounds like the beginning to a murder mystery.

In normal circumstances this would be strange enough, but when you've watched the one who appears among you die, is it any wonder that the disciples first instinct is to think there is a ghost in the room? When he walks in, his friends are so frightened they forget to show common hospitality. They don’t offer him a place to sit, something to eat and drink, a traditional welcome.

But Jesus calms them. He says "Shalom." Peace be with you.  He proves that he is not a ghost by offering out his hands for them to touch. As a form of reassurance. And beyond the reassurance of being touched, Jesus asks for something to eat. What could be more physical or more comforting than a meal shared?

There is a part of me that wonders if that is why we seem to specialize in plentiful potluck dinners. I can’t remember ever going to a church potluck and not finding an array of taste sensations and calorie-laden goodness spread out like a banquet of acceptance and comfort. All are welcome to the table and there is always more than enough food. When we lack words, we often bring food instead. When we wish to offer comfort and care, it often comes in the form of casseroles and hot dishes, bread or brownies, all seasoned with the spirit of love and compassion.

It is precisely the sense of food as comfort that makes the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus so appealing to me. Wherever there is food, you’ll find God. Jesus breaks the bread after walking the Emmaus Road, and Jesus shares a shore-side fish broil with his still dazed and confused disciples.  Here, he proves his reality by sharing fish with them. Jesus shares fuel for the body with the disciples and gives them fuel for the faith. Both hunger of body and soul are satisfied in the presence of the risen One. Jesus provides both comfort food and true soul food—a plate of plenty for the hungry heart.

Spirituality and relationships are so often connected to eating. It makes sense. It makes us human. We talk about "being fed" spiritually, or we call friends and make plans to eat together. Eating is human. Relationships are human. Spirituality is human. Those things are linked by the realities of life. While we cannot exist without food, it’s also true that our existence is deeply impaired if we lack significant relationships or some type of spiritual awareness.

That’s why it’s rare to experience a social gathering without food: because we sense in some elemental way that feeding our bodies feeds our souls and moves our relationships to deeper levels.

There are those that argue that the physical is just temporary. That this body is just for the time being, and what we really need to focus on is the spiritual life that is beyond this life. The argument goes something like: since the world and human flesh are inferior and filled with evil, the goal of life is to rise above the world and eventually to escape from this world into the realm of the spirit where we really belong. If that’s true, it means that we can ignore the physical aspects of life in the world and focus all of our attention on spiritual matters, for that was where ultimate value was found. Therefore, physical hurts and suffering and pain of human beings, such as hunger, disease, or poverty, can be ignored as long as the souls are saved.

Luke is dead set against this argument and makes it clear that Jesus is bodily resurrected for a reason. Fred Craddock says "And Luke is saying no to those notions of spirituality that view the body and all things physical as inherently inferior or evil. Those who view themselves as just passing through this evil world tend to neglect the physical, economic, and political needs of other human beings. Luke reminds us that the risen Christ said, "Look at my wounds," and, "Do you have anything to eat?"

No one can follow this Christ and say that discipleship means only concerned with "souls." For Christ, what happens in the here and now matters just as much as what happens afterwards. Why else would Christ have spent so much time healing and feeding others? Why else would have he come back in his body?

Between these very physical offering of hands and the eating of fish, the disciples are convinced, it’s really Jesus who rose from the dead. It’s not a spirit. Not a vision. Not a hallucination.

You can’t reach out and touch a hallucination. Visions don’t eat broiled fish.  Jesus has been made new, somehow, but Jesus has a body.  Their God and ours proves to be a flesh and blood God, not a disembodied spirit. This God is vulnerable to everything that is human, including the capability of being hurt and spilling tears.  His body may be mistaken for someone else at first, but he is corporeal. The disciples can touch him. They can eat with him.

Then the text says "While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering." I just love this idea of being full of joy even in the midst of disbelieving and wondering. I mean, come on, Jesus was dead and now he is appearing to his friends in all kinds of places. Who wouldn't still be filled with wonder and some feelings of disbelief that it is all just too good to be true?

For the disciples, even though he died, their Lord is back again. And he appears over and over to the disciples, eating their food, allowing them to touch his wounds, to help them believe. That alone would be incredible enough, but Jesus offers even more.

Not only has Jesus been resurrected, now he is saying that the disciples can be forgiven for all that they have done wrong.  That with repentance, they can truly be forgiven for all of the dark parts, all of the mistakes. All of the hurts done to others. And so can everyone else.

This is a radical concept at the time. Until now, forgiveness came only through a number of deeds and sacrifices that varied depending on the sin. Instead, all they need to do is repent. And the awful things will be forgiven. Wiped away so that they can begin anew in Christ.

No wonder they had trouble believing in everything through their joy. I think there are days when we still have trouble believing. There are days when the story seems so incredible we can’t help but be doubtful, even as we are filled with joy.

We are experiencing the resurrected Christ, but it feels too good to be true. No one then and no one now really knows how to explain the Resurrection, so, like the disciples long ago, we can only try to describe our experience of it. When we read the story of the two disciples whose eyes kept them from recognizing him on the road to Emmaus (even though their hearts were mysteriously burning as he spoke), followed by this picture of a growing little community of questioning, wondering believers, we're reading about ourselves, too.

This week's passage speaks of an offer of peace, a request for food, a blessing and a commissioning. In both stories, Charles Cousar writes, the disciples experienced Jesus' presence as "mysterious but real. It eludes human perception, and yet is no human fabrication." Both of these stories describe the very earliest Christians hearing and doing the very same things that 21st-century Christians do: journeying, questioning, fearing, but also feeding and being fed, listening for and receiving God's call, and, of course, like many church communities, doing Bible study.

We are reminded through this passage that forgiveness and life that is really life can be ours, but we sometimes hold our breath waiting for something to go wrong. Like the disciples who were able to be filled with joy while struggling through their disbelief and wonder, we journey with Jesus as we struggle through our own disbelief.

Jesus comes to us after the resurrection still today. "Peace" he says. Let us respond in joy, even on days we struggle with our disbelief. Amen.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


Sermon Notes for April 8, 2018 
Read Psalm 133 and John 20:19-31 ..

Christ is Risen!

  He is risen indeed!

The Easter cry isn't only for Easter Sunday; for the next six Sundays, we are invited to continue celebrating Easter. We are invited to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord until Pentecost. Today we continue that celebration by reading about Christ appearing to all the disciples. Their risen Lord comes in to talk with them all shortly after the resurrection. Well, all of them except for Thomas.

I have to admit, I feel for Thomas. I think he gets a bad rap. We have even turned his name from the Biblical "Thomas the Twin" to the later "Doubting Thomas." And that seems unfair to me. Peter didn’t get stuck with the nickname "Denying Peter." So why Thomas?

After all, Mary did not believe when she saw the empty tomb. She only believed when she saw her rabbi for himself. And the other disciples didn't believe when Mary told them of the miracle of the tomb. They remained searching and wondering until they saw their risen teacher for himself. Jesus appeared and showed them his hands and side before departing again. Thomas just had the misfortune of not being there at that time. Instead Thomas is told about it second hand again.

When he was given the news, he refused to believe it, perhaps because it seemed to be too good to be true. After all, Peter was known for believing things a little too enthusiastically. He was the disciple who tried to walk on water because he saw Jesus doing it. Peter was the one who swore that no one would betray Jesus, and that he would never deny him, only to be proven wrong twice before a full day had gone by. Thomas second guessing him is not all that surprising.  Thomas needed more, because he probably could not cope with having false hopes dashed yet again.

His Lord and friend died horribly. And he didn't believe when he heard it second hand.
Thomas saw his Lord die. He doubted the stories he had been told. And yet he stayed with the other disciples. He was there the next week when Jesus returned. In spite all evidence pointed to the contrary, Thomas stuck around, waiting to see if Jesus would return.

I wonder what made him stay after such a dramatic refusal to believe what he had been told. Perhaps he wanted to see if Jesus was true to his word, that he would, against anything logical return to the world again. Maybe he wanted to prove his friends wrong. Or maybe Thomas had something deeper than belief in the resurrection.

Maybe he had faith in his Lord.

See, Thomas was always a faithful disciple. When Jesus said he wanted to go to Bethany, a place he had already been driven off once, the disciples protested that he would be stoned and they should not return. But Thomas said "Let us also go, that we may die with him." (John 11:16) There was no doubt that he loved Jesus because he was willing to go with him to Jerusalem and die, even when the other disciples expressed their reluctance.

Thomas was not lacking in courage; he probably just considered himself to be a realist, or maybe a pessimist. What happened in the crucifixion was just what he expected and he was broken-hearted. So he waited, doubting, but hoping to be proven wrong. He didn't just surrender to his doubts, he wrestles with them.

And Jesus doesn't fault Thomas for his doubt. Did you notice that? Jesus simply appeared a week later when Thomas was there and showed him what he asked to see. "Here. Look. I am really here." And Thomas responds in joy, falling to his knees and exclaiming, no poking of wounds necessary.

Yes, Jesus blesses those who do not see and yet believe. But he's not talking about the disciples who didn't question, because all of the disciples questioned at one point or another. All of them got to see. Christ is talking about us today. We will very likely never get to see the risen Christ on this side of the grave, and we believe anyway. Yet, we might have our own doubts.

We have it in our heads that doubt is a bad thing. That doubting somehow takes away from our beliefs, from our faith. When really, doubt can serve to make our faith stronger in the long run. In his book, "What We Talk About When We Talk About God" Rob Bell talks about this connection of doubt and faith. "Take faith, for example. For many people in our world, the opposite of faith is doubt. The goal, then, within this understanding, is to eliminate doubt. But faith and doubt aren't opposites. Doubt is often a sign that your faith has a pulse, that it's alive and well and exploring and searching. Faith and doubt aren't opposites, they are, it turns out, excellent dance partners."

As humans we question, we wonder. We look for the truth. And by so doing, we grow. Thomas, did not believe the others when they first told him. He had questions. But he stayed anyway. And when Thomas saw Jesus, he cried out "My Lord and My God." My God. Thomas, the so called doubter, was the first one to call Jesus God. Not just Lord. Not just Son of God, but My God. Despite being the doubter and willing to question what he was told, Thomas ended up all the more faithful because of questions.

I think some people believe that their faith is lesser, not good enough, because they have doubts. They feel like maybe they really should just be able to believe fully without questions. That to be truly faithful is to never wonder. But we all have days when we have questions. When we too doubt as Thomas did. Some people just ignore those days, focusing on getting on to better ones. But shoving questions and doubts to one side doesn’t make them go away. We need to face them head on and try to answer them.

Doubts can strengthen our faith when we explore them. When we ask questions and try to find the answers through study and discussions.  This is one of the reasons I am a Presbyterian. We believe that God gave us our minds so that we would use them. We are called to question and then study. We encourage learning throughout our lives because there is always something more to know. Some other question we have that we need to learn more about.

Now when I talk about doubt, I’m not talking about the same thing as unbelief. Doubt is having questions, but still seeking. Unbelief is not believing and not being interested in learning more. When we let our doubts drive us away from seeking, when they make us abandon hope, then doubt is a destructive force. But when doubt drives us to learn more, to seek God in new places, doubt can do amazing things.

Before he saw, Thomas waited with the others. He waited with a group who all believed wholeheartedly while he still had questions. This can be more difficult and more courageous than the simple act of believing. That Thomas waits while doubting, shows great faith in his Lord, if not in miracles. I think many people in the church today find themselves seeking God in spite of their doubts. They may not believe like Peter did, but they show up to church each week, they turn to Bible study again and again, because they want that belief.

We are going to have our days when we believe as wholeheartedly as Peter. And we will have times when we doubt as Thomas doubted. But our Risen Lord greeted them both the same. "Shalom" Peace and blessings to you. Our God understands both our faith and our questions, and loves us throughout. We may have doubts, but we can let them dance with our faith rather than weighing it down, and come out all the more faithful through them.

Almighty and eternal God, the strength of those who believe and the hope of those who doubt, may we, who have not seen, have faith in you. Guide us in our doubts that we may continue to seek you. In your name we pray, Amen.