Baptism of Our Lord, January 13, 2019

Due to technical problems, this week’s video is not available.

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 3rd chapter.  Glory to you, O Lord.


As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”


The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


The baptism of Jesus changed everything.  It changed the very nature of baptism itself. 


John knew that baptizing Jesus was different from baptizing anyone else.  Could he have realized just how different things would be?  


Luke tells us that after Jesus was baptized, he was praying.  While he was praying, the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove.  A voice came from heaven and said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”


The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism.  And when the Holy Spirit comes down, everything changes about baptism.


You received the Holy Spirit at your baptism, too. The pastor marked a cross on your forehead with oil and said your name, “Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”  


Baptism is forever.  It is God’s action.  God makes a forever promise to us in baptism.  It isn’t like the baptism of John.  We don’t have to repent and say we are sorry for our sins first.  That’s because baptism is all God’s work, not ours.  Baptism brings the gifts of the Holy Spirit to us. 


We Lutherans talk about Jesus a lot.  We talk about God the Creator, a lot.  We talk about the Holy Spirit usually once a year, on Pentecost.  We need to remember that our God is Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  


So what does the Holy Spirit do for us in baptism? 


First of all, the Holy Spirit calls us.

Luther says we don’t even believe in Jesus on our own.  He says we can’t.  No human has the power to believe in God.  We receive our faith as a gift.  The Holy Spirit calls us through the message of the Gospel and gives us faith.


We hear the message of the Good News, that God loved the world so much, that Jesus came to live among us as a human, just like us.  


While he was here on earth, Jesus preached the good news of God’s love.  He healed the sick and fed the hungry.  He showed us how to live - how to be the people God calls us to be. 


He gave his life on a cross for us.  He rose from the dead and opened the gates of heaven for us.  


When we hear that good news - that God loves us that much - we respond in faith.  That faith is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  


The Spirit gives us many other gifts, too.  We hear about them in the baptism liturgy. In it we pray that the newly baptized will be sustained with the gift of the Holy Spirit: “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, and the spirit of joy in God's presence.”


These gifts of the Spirit enlighten us.  Wisdom and understanding show us what we need to get along in the world.  They help us see how to live.


The gift of counsel is the gift of good judgment.  It shows us right from wrong.  It helps us decide what we should do when the world is confusing.  The gift of counsel helps us we are faced with all of life's choices.


The gift of might is the gift of courage and strength to do the right thing.  It is also the strength to endure suffering for the sake of our faith.


The gift of knowledge isn’t about knowing facts. It is the gift of knowing the Lord. 


The fear of the Lord is a sense of awe in the presence of God.  It is the gift that calls us to worship the Lord in holy splendor, as we prayed with our psalmist today. 


The Holy Spirit gives us the spirit of joy in the presence of God.  All joy comes from God and being in God’s presence.  There is no joy without the presence of the Holy Spirit. So, the next time you experience joy in your life, remember to thank the Holy Spirit.  Joy means that you are in the presence of God. 


The Holy Spirit calls us and enlightens us with gifts in our baptism.  But, baptism is not just about an individual's relationship with God.  The Holy Spirit gathers us together with the whole Christian church.  


When we are baptized we become a member of the church. As we confess in the Apostles Creed, we are part of the holy catholic church and the communion of saints.   We are joined with all the Christians of every time and every place. 


That sounds great - until you look around you and see that means you are also part of this great company of sinners.  You belong to the family of the church. 


The good news for us is that the Holy Spirit has another gift.  The Holy Spirit is often called the “Sanctifier,” which means, the saint maker.  The Holy Spirit is the One who makes us holy, or makes us saints.


When I say all Christians are made holy, I don’t mean we have a “holier than thou” attitude.  I can’t make myself holy.  You can’t make yourself holy either.  So we can’t take the credit for our sainthood. It is just like believing in Jesus, we can’t do it ourselves.  


The Holy Spirit makes us holy, makes us saints, by forgiving our sins.  As Luther said, “Daily in this Christian Church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins - mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”


It can be said that the promises and gifts of the Spirit in Baptism are like the promises at a wedding.  At the ceremony, the couple makes lasting promises to each other.  


It can’t stop there though.  To make a marriage work, you have to regularly tell each other, “I love you.”  


The Spirit makes lasting promises to us in baptism.  Every week in Holy Communion, the God the Spirit says, “I love you.  Your sins are forgiven.” 


Thanks be to God. Amen.   


Sermon, Epiphany, January 6, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to Matthew, the 2nd chapter.  Glory to you, O Lord.


In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;  and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:  "And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.' "  Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."


When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.


The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.  



Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen. 


Christmas is finally over.  This is the season of Epiphany, and if I had to pick a favorite season in the church year, it’s probably Epiphany.  That might sound a little strange, I mean most people would probably go for the obvious choices of Christmas and Easter, but I just love Epiphany.  


Epiphany means that God is made manifest, that is, God is more easily visible to us humans.  In Epiphany, we can see more clearly that Jesus Christ is Lord.  And I like that.  I prefer good visibility to cloudiness any day.  


The story we heard today is a very familiar one. Since we only celebrate the visit of the Magi when January 6 falls on a Sunday, this story is usually included as part of the Christmas pageant.  However, it likely happened as much as two years later. The holy family is out of the stable and in a house by now and the wise men had been following the star for a couple of years.  


Our story today is a tale of two cities and a tale of two kings.  The cities are Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  The kings are Herod and Jesus.  


Jerusalem is the capital city of Judea.  Herod is the king of the Judean people. His title is “king of the Jews.”  The city of Jerusalem is the obvious place the Wise Men would have gone.  It is the center of the population, the center of commerce, the center of religion, the center of power. Even in their wisdom, the Magi made the obvious choice and went to Jerusalem.  


The Magi were not actually kings, like the rulers of countries.  They were astronomers who were followers of the Zoroastrian religion.  Their religion taught that the stars and the changes in the sky could be read as signs of change on the earth.  They believed that stars predicted the birth of new kings.  


The Magi would have been familiar with our first reading from Isaiah 60.  This is a poetry writing from the prophet known as second Isaiah. He wrote to the people who had just returned from two generations of exile in Babylon, which is modern day Iraq.  They returned to find their city of Jerusalem in ruins.  They were in despair.  Where were their beautiful buildings?  Where were their towers?  Their economy is failing and nobody knows what to do about it. 


In the midst of this despair and tragedy, the prophet invites them to look up in hope.  He paints a picture of a time when the city of Jerusalem will again be a place of glory, a shining star among the nations. Leaders of other nations will come on camels bringing expensive gifts of gold and frankincense. 


The magi would have known this poem from second Isaiah as well as Herod and his court knew it.  Herod would have expected that any new king would be born in Jerusalem. Herod would choose his own son as his successor.


King Herod was not one of the good guys in the Bible. He wasn’t just a bad king though.  He did some really evil things.  He was a career politician and did whatever he wanted to increase his power.  He was first appointed governor of Galilee, then moved up to be Tetrarch of Judea (ruler of 1/4 of the country), then finally king of Judea. 


Herod had no problem getting rid of people who interfered with his climb to political power. He had 10 wives.  He ordered multiple assassinations, including some of his own sons.  He changed his succession plan multiple times as he decided who would take his throne when he died.  It is no surprise that he would order the murder of all the babies in town when he felt his power was threatened.  


When the Magi arrived and told him the news of the star, it is no wonder he panicked.  He asked his advisors about these people who seemed to be the ones from the Isaiah 60 prophecy, the ones on the camels with the gold and frankincense.  His advisors told him that wasn’t the right prophecy for this occasion. Isaiah 60 implies that the old order will be restored.  In that scenario, Jerusalem will return to being the center of the global economy.  The rich city folks will recover their former power and prestige and nothing will really change. 


His advisors were Bible scholars.  They told him it’s important to study the scriptures in order to understand them.  They told him to read the prophet Micah. They told him the new king isn’t about the restoration of the city of Jerusalem.  They said the Messiah, the new king, would be born in Bethlehem, the city of King David.  Of course, Herod was threatened. A new king is a threat to the old king and the old order.  Herod was not descended from David.  


Surprisingly, Herod told the Magi the truth, and they went to Bethlehem.  Of course, he was expecting the wise men to come back and tell him who the child was and where to find him.  


The second city in this tale is the little town of Bethlehem.  It’s nine miles away from Jerusalem.  It was a tiny community, home to peasants, farmers, shepherds.  It is a small, unpretentious place.  It is home to people without influence, power, or importance. 


The prophet Micah tells us that the new king will be someone who cares about the people without political power.  The new king will bring shalom - health, well-being, and peace to all the people.  


The story of the Magi is a story that contrasts two cities and two kings.  Jerusalem is the place of power and the center of commerce and religion. Bethlehem is a modest little town where poor hard-working people live.  


Like the wise men, we are tempted to go to Jerusalem to look for our king.  We are attracted to power.  We are tempted by wealth.  But the real king is nine miles away.  He is in the little town.  He is living among people you wouldn’t expect.  He came to bring them shalom.  He came to bring peace, and health, and well-being to all the people, especially the ones ignored by the rest of society. 


When we make that trip to Bethlehem with the wise men, we will see the real king.  We will see King Jesus, the One who did not come for earthly power, the One who did not ask for riches, the One who did not take the lives of others, but the One who gave his life for us.  He is the One who has compassion on the lowly and the poor and preserves the lives of the needy.  He is the king who ends oppression and violence. He is the king, not just of one nation, but of all the nations.  


When we make that journey to Bethlehem with the wise men, we reject the tyrant. When we meet the real king, we are changed forever. Like the wise men, we can defy the orders of the unjust ruler and go home a different way. This epiphany, our King Jesus is the One who gives us the vision of the glory of God. Amen.  




Sermon for the First Sunday of Christmas, December 30, 2018

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the second chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.


Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." 49 He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.


The Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ. 


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.


Just a few days ago we heard the story of the birth of Jesus.  We heard about the shepherds and the angels.  We heard that Jesus’s mother, Mary, pondered these things in her heart.  She must have wondered a lot about what it all meant.  


The story we hear this week takes place twelve years later.  Jesus and his family have traveled to the big city of Jerusalem for the Passover celebration.  They probably made this trip in a crowd with their family and neighbors. People traveled in large groups so that they would stay safe on the road and so they could help each other.  It was a long walk from Nazareth to Jerusalem. They would walk for a week to get there, stay a week for the celebration, and walk for a week to get home.  


They probably stayed with relatives while they were in Jerusalem.  Extended family was important. People often looked after each other’s children.  We know Jesus had brothers and sisters who were younger than he was.  Mary and Joseph would have had their hands full with the little ones.  


Since Jesus was the oldest, maybe they thought they didn’t have to worry about him.  After all, in those days, 12 was practically a grown-up.  Twelve was the age when Jewish boys made their Bar Mitzvah, a kind of Jewish confirmation, where they were considered to be a man, not a child anymore.  


It is hard for us to understand, though. How could they leave town and head home without Jesus? I can’t tell you how upset my parents would be if they couldn’t find me for three days.  And if they found out I just decided not to go back with them because I was talking to interesting people, well, I don’t want to think about how much trouble I would be in.  


I wonder if things had been ordinary in their lives for so long that Mary and Joseph hadn’t been thinking about who their son really was? It had been a long time since the shepherds and the angels and the prophecies of Simeon and Anna.  Had their memories been fading?  Did it seem like it was all a dream? Had Mary’s life become so busy that she stopped pondering these things in her heart?


Or did Mary and Joseph just have trouble seeing that their son was growing up? It seems like all parents look at their children and see them as babies sometimes.  Maybe Mary and Joseph just wanted to keep Jesus close to them as long as they could.  Maybe they just wanted to keep him young as long as they could. 


But Jesus does grow up.  His priorities change.  Now he is putting the will of God ahead of the will of his human parents.  Mary asked Jesus, “Why have you treated us like this?”  


We in the church ask God the same thing when we get anxious and when things happen in life that we were not expecting.  “Why have you treated us like this, God?”


Jesus asks Mary, “Why were you searching for me?”  We are like Mary. We also aren’t always ready to accept that Jesus did not come to fulfill our wishes.  We don’t find Jesus when we go around looking for the way things used to be.  We don’t find Jesus when we keep focusing on the way we wish things were.  


Jesus was born and lived and died and rose again to be about God’s business.  He puts an end to our searching.  We don’t have to look for Jesus. He finds us. He shows us the way to God. 


The scary part in this story is that Mary and Joseph searched for three whole days.  They found Jesus alive and well on the third day. Luke, our gospel writer, knows that when we hear “three days” we will automatically think about the death and resurrection of Jesus. 


The good news for us this Sunday after Christmas is that we don’t need to search for Jesus.  Mary and Joseph find Jesus alive and well in a place they didn’t expect. Even when our lives end up in a place we don’t expect, Jesus will always be there with us. 


And, no matter how old we are, as we respond to God’s love, we will all grow in wisdom, just as Jesus did. 


May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.  

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2018

Christmas Eve 2018

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the second chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord. 

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 

This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 

All went to their own towns to be registered. 

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  

He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 

This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." 

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 

"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"  

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 

So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 

When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 

and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 

But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.



Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our newborn Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


This is a familiar story to most of us.  We love to hear it every year on Christmas eve. In our minds we paint a beautiful picture like the children's pageants we all remember with the pretty angel costumes and the cute little shepherds with their crooks walking in together and all of them standing beside the manger and singing "Away in a Manger."  


Maybe you got to be Mary in her beautiful blue robe smiling down on the sleeping baby.  Or you were Joseph, standing by, ready to help.  Or your children were among the adoring shepherds standing there with the fluffy white sheep.  Or you were in the angel chorus spreading your wings over the stable and singing the Glorias.  


We all treasure scenes like this even though we know the reality has been photoshopped to make a nice greeting card picture.  In truth, the first Christmas was not quiet and serene. Baby Jesus was a normal human infant who really did cry.  


Those of us who are parents know the truth.  And even if you aren’t parents yourselves, your parents know the truth.  A child changes everything.  The whole focus and purpose of your life is changed forever, when a child enters the picture.  


The little town of Bethlehem was so crowded that Mary and Joseph had to stay in the shed with the cows and goats. It was so crowded that they had to lay baby Jesus in the feed box.  God came to earth and and people said there was no room for him. But, God came anyway.  God loves us that much. This child changes everything. 


There are those among us who think it is a nice pretty story, but that's all it is.  They think Christmas is just a time for get-togethers with family and friends, exchanging presents, and sharing old stories. They like having a day off work. 


If you fall into this category and you came to church tonight because it made someone in your family happy, you are welcome here. We are glad you came. 


There are others who do not want to bother with Christmas celebrations because they have given up on God. Perhaps you are one of those people.  If you came to church tonight, we are glad you are here. 


Or maybe you are a faithful Christian, but you know somebody like that.  Somebody whose life has been hard, somebody who has tried to pray, but hasn’t seemed to get any good answers.  Somebody who has been rejected by their family or rejected by society, somebody who just can’t seem to get a break.  Somebody who has been forgotten by society. 


There are some who don’t feel that way all the time. You just have some of those days and times where you felt isolated, like you are in your own painful spiritual wilderness. 


In the time of Jesus, shepherds fell into that isolated, given up on God category.  They were the kind of people came from the bottom of the social ladder.  They were the ones who took the only job they could get - the dangerous night shift watching a bunch of stinky sheep when there were wolves lurking in the darkness.  Shepherds were the ones who were stereotyped as liars and degenerates and thieves.  Their testimony wasn’t admissible in court.  Many towns wouldn’t even let them into the city limits.  


They were considered ritually unclean, and, like tax collectors and prostitutes, shepherds couldn’t worship in the temple.  So, if you were a shepherd, you had a job that separated you from the worshipping community.  You were among the folks who had given up on God or felt God had given up on you. 


But, this child changes everything.  The good news of the angels doesn’t come to Caesar or Quirinius or even to the priests at the Temple in Jerusalem.  The good news of great joy comes to the shepherds in the fields. 


You see, not only does this child change everything - he is born to the people who need him the most.   His birth is announced to the people that were least expected to hear it.  His birth is announced to people who were despised and rejected.  They were the ones that the prophet said were living in a land of deep darkness. And the focus and purpose of all life is changed forever. 


This child changes everything. He even changes how we mark time, how we tell what year this is.  Historians tell us that Herod died in 4 BC, so the original calendar makers didn’t get the dates quite right, but that’s not even important. And God comes to people who don’t always get things right. 


The prophet Isaiah tells us that this child has all authority and his authority continues to grow.  He is the one who will bring endless peace and justice and righteousness. 


This child changes everything. He changed the world in his time.  His birth, his death, his resurrection, changed everything forever.  He conquered sin and death for us.  He brings us our salvation. 


So we sing our Christmas carols and we celebrate the birth of the Child today. 


We remember that Jesus was born for the outsiders as well as for the religious people.  

Remember the thief on the cross who repented?  Jesus told him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  


Remember the other thief?  The one who harassed Jesus and bullied him?  Jesus hung with him and died with him, and for him, too. Jesus was born for you even if you have given up on God. 


Just as God sent the angels to the shepherds - God sends the message of the birth of a Savior to everyone tonight.  You are here.  You have heard it. There is a place for every one at the manger.  No matter who you are or what you do - we are all part of the scene at the nativity tonight. 


Let us go with the shepherds and proclaim the news to all the world. 


Alleluia! Christ is born today! Amen. 


Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the first chapter.  Glory to you, O Lord.


In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country,  where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” 


The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.


Sermon Advent 4


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from the God who comes to save us. Amen.


The decorations are out in the stores along with the toys and candy. There are all sorts of Santas and twinkling lights everywhere you look.  Gifts have been purchased and wrapped. Most of us have sent the cards and attended the parties already. 

But, it’s not Christmas, yet.  


Many people are impatient this time of year.  They want Christmas to be here already. Kids can be especially excited and impatient because they anticipate all the gifts and excitement.


I know it is almost Christmas.  But it’s not Christmas, yet.


Today’s gospel is for the fourth Sunday in Advent, a time when it especially seems like it ought to be Christmas already, but it’s not yet. 


Today we hear the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.  Elizabeth and Mary are both pregnant already, but have not yet given birth to John and Jesus.  


Being pregnant is definitely an “already, but not yet” state of being.  

In a sense, you already “have the baby” but you haven’t “had the baby” yet.  

 

In today’s gospel, Mary and Elizabeth remind us that, even when we are distracted by our impatience for the things that are “not yet,” God is looking on us with love and blessing us. 


Luke tells us that, after the angelic visitation, Mary immediately, perhaps impatiently, heads to the hill country to visit her relative Elizabeth.  


As soon as Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps.  


I have been blessed with two children and I know what it feels like when the baby moves inside you.  They do flips and turns.  They kick you with their little feet and pound you with their little tiny fists. It is very exciting, especially the first time you are pregnant. 


Elizabeth is delighted to share the joy of her pregnancy with Mary, and rejoices with Mary over the news that Mary, too, will have a child. 


Mary is overwhelmed with joy as well.  Seeing for herself that Elizabeth is indeed pregnant confirms for her that the angel’s words are true.  She knows that she, too, is blessed by believing what was spoken to her.  


In her joyful response, Mary gives us a wonderful hymn known as the magnificat.  The church traditionally sings the magnificat at every service of evening prayer.   Including hymns and service music, eight songs in Evangelical Lutheran Worship are based on it.  


My favorite hymn paraphrase is the one in Holden Evening Prayer by Marty Haugen. We sang it on Wednesday nights this Advent.


“My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, and my spirit rejoices in you. You have looked with love on your servant here and blessed me all my life through.”  


In her visit with Elizabeth, Mary recognized God’s blessing in her “already, but not yet” time. She knew the blessing came from the God of her ancestors.  


In her joy, she sang of the God who is merciful, the God who favors the weak, the God who uses strength to raise the lowly, the God who uses power to feed the hungry.  


Mary proclaimed the God of her ancestors as the God of the covenant.


We all know that our sin caused God to put up a flaming sword to guard the way back into Eden and prevent us from eating from the Tree of Life.  We have heard the stories of the covenants with Noah and Abraham.  We recall the covenant of the Law given to Moses.  We have heard the prophecy of Isaiah and the promises given to David.


Mary knew these stories, too. Mary knew that God would keep all these promises.  


Mary was very young when she learned she would have a child.  She may have been less than half as old as I was when I had my first child.  She was probably about the age of some of the students in confirmation class.  She was blessed with a child-like faith that trusted the promises of God.


God keeps those promises.  Elizabeth and Mary could not have anticipated 

everything that would happen when their sons grew up.  


We certainly cannot anticipate everything that will happen to us, either.  Our lives are pregnant with possibilities whether we are impatient for Christmas to come, or to learn where God is calling us next.  


Now is the very time when God looks on us with love and blesses us.   


Despite all the challenges and distractions of our every day lives, God blesses us with new relationships and new experiences.  


God uses all of it to help us grow stronger in faith.  No matter where we go, or what we do, or what those experiences are like, God’s love and blessings will allow us to share our faith with those we meet.  

 

We can share God’s love and blessings with others and they will share God’s love and blessings with us.  


Our “already, but not yet” time began with our baptism. In Holy Baptism, God showers us with love and promises to bless us our whole lives through. 


Like Mary, we receive the blessing as a gift, with a childlike faith.  

Like Mary, we can look forward to the time of Jesus’ birth, as we pray that Christ will be born in us this Christmas.   


Today’s gospel tells of the joy of two women who are pregnant.  

They both recognize their pregnancies as blessings from God.  


Elizabeth’s son John, grew up to preach a baptism of repentance and to prepare the way for the Messiah.  He was beheaded by Herod.  


Mary’s son Jesus, grew up to preach the coming reign of God, the fulfillment of the promises his mother sang about.  He died a horrible death on the cross.  


But God remembered the promises.  The cross was the very time God looked on the whole world with love and blessed us.   


God raised Mary’s son Jesus from the dead. He lives and reigns forever, and of his kingdom, there is no end.  Through Jesus, God looks on us with love and blesses us all our lives through. 


We proclaim the greatness of God.  We rejoice in God our Savior.  

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.


Sermon, December 9, 2018, The Second Sunday of Advent

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 3rd chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord. 


In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' “


The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ. 


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from the God who comes to save us. Yyyhy

At a precise yyu moment in time....at a precise moment in history.... 


When Donald Trump and Mike Pence were president and vice president of the United States; and Jay Inslee was governor of Washington State; and Dan Newhouse served the 4th congressional district; when Kathy Coffey was mayor of Yakima; when Elizabeth Eaton was bishop of the ELCA; and Kristen Kuempel was Bishop of Eastern Washington Idaho - the word of God comes to the people of Central Lutheran Church in Yakima, Washington.


Luke, our gospel writer for this year, set out to write an orderly account.  He cared about the details.  He listed five political rulers and two priests who were in charge when the Word of God came to John the Baptist. 


Luke was a historian.  Telling exactly when things happened is important to a historian.  Placing John the Baptist and Jesus precisely in human history is one of the gifts we receive from Luke. 


The political leaders and religious leaders were very important people in their time.  Luke names everyone who was anyone from the Emperor on down.  His first readers knew something about each of the seven people he listed.  


Most of us have only heard of a few of them because of the parts they played at the end of Jesus’ life. We would never have heard of any of them except for their relationship to Jesus. 


We do know John the Baptist, though.  We know John because the first good news in this gospel lesson is that the Word of God came to John.  


John was the son of an assistant priest and his elderly wife.  He was the child of a couple who were thought to be barren.  He was nobody special compared to the emperor and governor and the rest.  


Yet Luke makes the claim that John the Baptist is even more important than all these figures.  John is important because the Word of God came to him.  John is important because he proclaims the coming of Christ.


The Word of God that came to John was this: We are to prepare the way for the One who is to come.  


The One who is coming is bringing our salvation.  This is the second piece of good news in this lesson today. The One who is coming is worth preparing for.  


We are going to our son’s house right after Christmas.  We are very excited to visit them in Minnesota.  This is the first time they are preparing to host the family for the holiday.  This is important to them so they have already begun preparing for it.


They are important enough that they will clean and decorate the house.  They will do the laundry so the guest towels are fresh.  They will prepare the traditional holiday foods.  They are planning fun activities we can all do together.  They are buying gifts for everyone. 


The Christmas time together is special because family members are the most important people in our lives.  We prepare carefully for for the visit. 


When someone special is arriving, we must prepare.  John the Baptist tells us to prepare for the coming of the One who brings our salvation.  John tells us the One who is coming is worth preparing for.


John tells us to prepare for the Lord by repenting for the forgiveness of our sins.  Repentance means turning your life around. Repentance means setting off in a new direction, the right direction this time.


When John was born, his father Zechariah was finally able to use his voice for the first time since he doubted the angel’s prophecy that he would have a son. After naming his son, Zechariah sings a song of praise to God.  That song, from the first chapter of Luke is our psalm today.


Zechariah helps us understand what forgiveness and repentance look like. Although it seems backwards from what we expect, forgiveness comes before repentance.


That’s right, forgiveness comes first.  God saves us and forgives our sins.  We cannot earn God’s forgiveness by saying we are sorry.  It isn’t like kindergarten where you are supposed to forgive the kid who took your toy because the teacher made her say she was sorry.  


God is gracious by nature.  God forgives.  There is nothing God wants more than to be in relationship with us.  


Christian writer, Anne Lamott, says that grace always bats last.  This is true, but I would like to add that grace always bats first, too. Right now, we are in the middle of the game.  We are at the time when we are still preparing the way, still trying to find the way of peace.


Repentance follows forgiveness.  Repentance is part of the longing we have to turn our lives around and live as the people God wants us to be.  Repentance is hard work.  God is good, but we are sinners and we keep forgetting and getting lost and going the wrong way.  


Repentance is the preparation we do to welcome Christ.  It isn’t just a kindergarten version of “Sooooorrrry.” It isn’t a moping around, beating yourself up for what you did, feeling guilty all the time thing either.  


Repentance is turning your back on the past and going in the right direction.  It is not just that we make a pathway for God - we need to be sure the road is pointing the right way.  


The last thing we want to do is pave the road to the wrong place with our good intentions.  Zechariah tells us we will know when we are on the right road because it is the road that leads to peace.


You will know that you are paving the right road when the crooked things in your life look like they are starting to get straightened out.  I don’t know what those crooked things might be, but you do. You know what you did, or or what you didn’t do that you should have done.  God has already forgiven you.


You will know you are paving the right road when the rough places in your life are becoming smoother.  You know where the rough places are, too.


Preparing a pathway for God is long, hard work.  It is worth it though.  Because the One who is coming is bringing our salvation.  


This mighty Savior brings you forgiveness.  He brings you mercy.  He brings you freedom.  He brings you compassion. He brings God’s love down to earth.  And he does all this before you were even born.  There was nothing you had to do to earn it.  There is nothing you could have done.  There is nothing you can do now. It’s all grace. 


As Paul said, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”


At a precise moment in time...at a precise moment in history...

The Word of God comes to the people of Central Lutheran Church - and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.  

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. 







Sermon, November 25, 2018, Christ the King

The Holy Gospel according to John, the 18th chapter. 

Glory to you, O Lord.

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34 Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" 35 Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" 36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." 37 Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ. 




Grace, mercy and peace to you from the God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.


Today is Christ the King Sunday.  This is a festival that only dates back to 1925.  You might remember that this was the decade known as the roaring 20’s. Pope Pius felt that the followers of Christ were being lured away by the increasing secularism of the world. He saw that they were choosing to live in the “kingdom” of this world rather than in the reign of God. So he set aside the last Sunday of the church year as the time to remember and reflect on who Jesus is in our lives. It seems that this is a reminder we still need nearly 100 years later. 


We just heard the gospel story that is familiar to us as the Good Friday reading.  It sounds a little strange to hear that today.  But it is the place where Pilate asks Jesus if he is King of the Jews. 


The crowd who were following Jesus had been trying to crown him King of the Jews.  Calling him that was treason.  Caesar was king.  Calling anyone else the king meant you were talking about overthrowing the government.  


Pilate was in a difficult political predicament.  He doesn’t want to be accused of treason.  He doesn’t want to upset the crowds either.  The penalty for treason was death on a cross. 


Let’s look at the scene.  We have an encounter between Jesus and Pilate. The entire passage is two chapters long but we only have one scene here. 


Try to imagine you are watching it as a play.  The stage is set in two parts. One half is Pilate’s headquarters.  The other side is the portico or patio, just outside of the headquarters.


Standing on the patio at the beginning of the scene we have the religious leaders who have brought Jesus to Pilate.  They know they have brought him to stand trial for his life.  They know what the outcome will be.


The play begins when Pilate comes out to greet Jesus and takes him into the headquarters.  The gospel writer gives us lots of stage directions.  He tells us that Pilate moves between the patio and the headquarters several times - seven times, in fact. 


Pilate wavers between Jesus and his accusers.  He keeps going back and forth.  He knows the right thing to do.   He knows the easy thing to do.  The easy thing is the thing that is best for him politically.  He is torn between the right thing and the easy thing.


We know what he decided and we know how things turned out.  We confess it in the creed every week.  Pilate chooses the easy way out. He caves to the political pressure.  He denies the truth that is right in front of him.



Here’s the question for us today - must Pilate’s fate be our fate?  Jesus says to Pilate, “You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”


Pilate doesn’t listen, but we can listen. If we do listen, we hear Jesus say that he loves us enough to die for us.  He loves us already, the way we are right now.  There is nothing we need to do to earn his love. 


This year, and most years, the festival of Christ the King comes right after the secular festival of Black Friday.  In worship we hear the story about a very different kind of Black Friday. 


The secular festival of Black Friday has a very clear message: Shop til you drop.  Help the economy by spending money on stuff for people that they don’t need and won’t remember three months from now. 


Most of us don’t believe the myths that our lives will be enriched by fighting the traffic and crowds to get that bargain.  Most of us are disgusted by the commercialization of Christmas, yet many of us participate in it anyway.  Why?


Like Pilate, I think many of us are wavering between the truth, which is the right thing to do, and the easy way out.  We wander back and forth several times as he does. We wander between the compulsion to spend more than we have and feelings of guilt that tell us the easy answer isn’t helpful to us, those around us, or the planet. 


Like Pilate, many of us waver between the easy choice of ignoring the problems that don’t affect us personally and the truth that there are so many people who need our help and attention. We busy ourselves then soothe our consciences by doing something small that “gives back” rather that look for solutions to systemic problems.  


Pilate’s fate does not have to be ours.  Hear what Jesus says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  Jesus is the truth. We belong to him.  We can hear his voice.


Jesus is telling us that we are loved already.  We don’t need more things.  We don’t need more good works.  We are saved by his gracious love. 


We are free to celebrate his birth among us.  We are free to give out of generosity rather than obligation. We are free to buy out of love rather than insecurity. We are blessed to focus on who we are, rather than what we lack. 


We are free not to buy people things they don’t need or want and won’t remember.  We are free to give to those who really do need our gifts. We are free to help our neighbors who are hungry or homeless.  We are free to help people all over the globe who are less fortunate than we are. We are free to work together and seek political solutions that will provide for the homeless, the hungry, those in any need. 


We are already loved.  Jesus will never love us any more than he loves us right now.  Jesus will never love us any less.  


Every day you hear voices in the commercials telling you that you are inadequate.  They say you need to buy stuff to be more popular, smell better, and be more beautiful. Those messages are lies.  You are already worthy in God’s eyes.  God opinion is the only one that really matters.  


It is not that God wants you to have less.  It isn’t really about the gifts, or the stuff you have, or the things that you buy.  God wants you to have an abundant life. 


An abundant life is a life where God wants you to have more - more love, more peace, more joy, more contentment, a greater sense of security, a profound sense of belonging, and a very clear idea that you are precious to God, the giver of all good things. 


We belong to Jesus. Pilate knew that Jesus was a king, but he didn’t really understand the full implications when Jesus said he was the truth.  Pilate made the easy choice, not the right choice.  


But God turned things upside down. Our King Jesus wore a crown of thorns. A cross was his throne. That’s how much he loves you. 


  Thanks be to Christ our King. Amen. 




Sermon, November 18, 2018

The Holy Gospel according to Mark, the 13th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" 5Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

The Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ. 



Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Last summer our family got to go on a wonderful vacation to Scotland and Ireland.  Our daughter, Bethany, planned the itinerary for us.  She asked me in advance if there were any particular places I wanted to go.  My mother’s family is from Scotland and Northern Ireland so I wanted to see the places where my ancestors lived before they immigrated to Virginia in the 1650s.   I was hoping to find graves with familiar family names in old church yards.  And, of course, I wanted to visit the churches where they worshipped. 


We went to Ramelton, Ireland, one of the places where I supposedly have ancestors. When we arrived, we were greeted by a sign that said, “Welcome to fabulous Ramelton, the best wee toon in the world.”  It was an adorable little town of 1500 people. Their website mentions a missionary with my family name who went to Maryland in the 1650’s, so he could have been a relative or an ancestor. We went to the old church yard.  The East wall and parts of the north and south walls of the church were still standing.  The rest of the building was gone.  Unfortunately, the cemetery didn’t have any graves earlier than the 1800s, so we didn’t find any relatives there. 


Then we went to Sligo Abbey which was built in 1252. It was a Dominican Priory.  It accidentally burnt down in 1414 so they rebuilt it. There were wars and rumors of wars and the Abbey was damaged in the siege of 1595 and ruined by an invading army in 1641.  The stones that remain are from the 13th and 15th centuries.  


When you walk around, you can see the stone paths where the walls used to be. There are signs telling you where the monks stayed and where the kitchen had been.  The altar was still standing where the chapel used to be.  As we walked around, though, all we could really see were the graves. In the centuries following the the destruction of the abbey, wealthy people paid for the privilege of being buried there.  The church had become a cemetery.  


As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”


This passage from Mark 13 has been called the “little apocalypse.”  Apocalypse means revelation, a message that pulls back the curtain and reveals the truth.  This time of the year when the daylight becomes shorter in our hemisphere and we approach the end of our liturgical church year, we have readings about the end times. 


It can be hard to find hope and see any good news these days.  It’s dark when you get to work and dark before you go home for supper. Fires have destroyed so much in California.  Thousands of people have lost everything they owned; hundreds have lost their lives.  


There have been over 300 mass shootings in this country this year.  It’s becoming almost routine to hear about them on the news.   Then we hear about the thousands of people who are fleeing poverty, political oppression, and gang violence in Central America, carrying their children and all their possessions for miles every day, desperate for the opportunity for a new start at life. 


It was sad for me and my family to see that what had once been big, beautiful church buildings were not much more than rubble and a few signs about where things used to be. It was sad to see once thriving churches turned into museums and cemeteries, especially in places where nation rose up against nation, places that my ancestors left because of famines. 


And yet, while we were there, the bells from the new church across the street were chiming. 


This passage of scripture, this apocalypse, is a clear reminder that the things we build may be beautiful and useful for a time, but the things we build will not last.  The stones the disciples pointed out to Jesus were huge.  One of them would not fit inside this sanctuary.  Herod the Great had completely renovated and expanded the Temple a few years earlier.  This Jerusalem temple was magnificent, yet it was destroyed completely in 70 AD by the Romans. Archeologists occasionally find one of the original stones. 


Yet, this passage of scripture is a message of hope.  Jesus wasn’t one to look at the world through rose tinted glasses.  His message was not that everything will be great if you just believe in God.  


I find hope in those ruined churches, those graveyards.  It doesn’t matter to me that I didn’t find any graves of my ancestors either, because I have inherited something precious from them, and from all those people who worshiped with them in those places.  You see, I don’t need their buildings.  They passed down the faith.  They passed down the message of Jesus Christ. 


I find hope in those piles of rocks and those graves.  I remember what Jesus can do with a grave.  And, maybe, I am a descendant of that pastor who went to Maryland as a missionary in 1658.  If not a biological descendant, I have still inherited his gift of faith. 


Valarie Kaur, in her message to the interfaith watch night service in 2016 said, “What if the darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?”  


What if?  Jesus compared to pains of this present life to the pains of a woman in labor.  I have been in labor twice.  If you have been there, you know what I mean. The nurse who taught the childbirth class the first time I was pregnant described labor pains to us.  She said it feels like an elephant has his foot on your belly.  As labor progresses, the elephant picks up the other three feet. 


I didn’t believe her when she first said that.  And with my first pregnancy, I had some good medication.  The second time I had a baby, they didn’t give me any drugs, and Bethany weighed over 9 pounds.  That nurse was right about the pain. But, I have 2 beautiful, wonderful children who were worth every second of pain.  


Jesus says, that in this present life, we are just at the beginning of the birth pangs. But, we know that labor pains are the signal that new life is near.  


There is an old parable about two babies. The original version is attributed to Pablo Molinaro. Perhaps you have heard it. (https://thebacajourney.com/two-babies-talking-in-the-womb/)



The Parable

In a mother’s womb were two babies.  The first baby asked the other:  “Do you believe in life after delivery?”

The second baby replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery.  Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery.  What would that life be?”

“I don’t know, but there will be more light than here.  Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths.”

The doubting baby laughed. “This is absurd!  Walking is impossible.  And eat with our mouths?  Ridiculous.  The umbilical cord supplies nutrition.  Life after delivery is to be excluded.  The umbilical cord is too short.”

The second baby held his ground. “I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here.”

The first baby replied, “No one has ever come back from there.  Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery it is nothing but darkness and anxiety and it takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the twin, “but certainly we will see mother and she will take care of us.”

“Mother?” The first baby guffawed. “You believe in mother?  Where is she now?” 

The second baby calmly and patiently tried to explain. “She is all around us.  It is in her that we live. Without her there would not be this world.”

“Ha. I don’t see her, so it’s only logical that she doesn’t exist.”  

To which the other replied, “Sometimes when you’re in silence you can hear her, you can perceive her.  I believe there is a reality after delivery and we are here to prepare ourselves for that reality when it comes….” 

My friends, this present life is just the beginning of the birth pangs.  That is the good news for today.  Amen.


The Holy Gospel according to Mark, the 13th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" 5Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

The Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ. 



Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Last summer our family got to go on a wonderful vacation to Scotland and Ireland.  Our daughter, Bethany, planned the itinerary for us.  She asked me in advance if there were any particular places I wanted to go.  My mother’s family is from Scotland and Northern Ireland so I wanted to see the places where my ancestors lived before they immigrated to Virginia in the 1650s.   I was hoping to find graves with familiar family names in old church yards.  And, of course, I wanted to visit the churches where they worshipped. 


We went to Ramelton, Ireland, one of the places where I supposedly have ancestors. When we arrived, we were greeted by a sign that said, “Welcome to fabulous Ramelton, the best wee toon in the world.”  It was an adorable little town of 1500 people. Their website mentions a missionary with my family name who went to Maryland in the 1650’s, so he could have been a relative or an ancestor. We went to the old church yard.  The East wall and parts of the north and south walls of the church were still standing.  The rest of the building was gone.  Unfortunately, the cemetery didn’t have any graves earlier than the 1800s, so we didn’t find any relatives there. 


Then we went to Sligo Abbey which was built in 1252. It was a Dominican Priory.  It accidentally burnt down in 1414 so they rebuilt it. There were wars and rumors of wars and the Abbey was damaged in the siege of 1595 and ruined by an invading army in 1641.  The stones that remain are from the 13th and 15th centuries.  


When you walk around, you can see the stone paths where the walls used to be. There are signs telling you where the monks stayed and where the kitchen had been.  The altar was still standing where the chapel used to be.  As we walked around, though, all we could really see were the graves. In the centuries following the the destruction of the abbey, wealthy people paid for the privilege of being buried there.  The church had become a cemetery.  


As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”


This passage from Mark 13 has been called the “little apocalypse.”  Apocalypse means revelation, a message that pulls back the curtain and reveals the truth.  This time of the year when the daylight becomes shorter in our hemisphere and we approach the end of our liturgical church year, we have readings about the end times. 


It can be hard to find hope and see any good news these days.  It’s dark when you get to work and dark before you go home for supper. Fires have destroyed so much in California.  Thousands of people have lost everything they owned; hundreds have lost their lives.  


There have been over 300 mass shootings in this country this year.  It’s becoming almost routine to hear about them on the news.   Then we hear about the thousands of people who are fleeing poverty, political oppression, and gang violence in Central America, carrying their children and all their possessions for miles every day, desperate for the opportunity for a new start at life. 


It was sad for me and my family to see that what had once been big, beautiful church buildings were not much more than rubble and a few signs about where things used to be. It was sad to see once thriving churches turned into museums and cemeteries, especially in places where nation rose up against nation, places that my ancestors left because of famines. 


And yet, while we were there, the bells from the new church across the street were chiming. 


This passage of scripture, this apocalypse, is a clear reminder that the things we build may be beautiful and useful for a time, but the things we build will not last.  The stones the disciples pointed out to Jesus were huge.  One of them would not fit inside this sanctuary.  Herod the Great had completely renovated and expanded the Temple a few years earlier.  This Jerusalem temple was magnificent, yet it was destroyed completely in 70 AD by the Romans. Archeologists occasionally find one of the original stones. 


Yet, this passage of scripture is a message of hope.  Jesus wasn’t one to look at the world through rose tinted glasses.  His message was not that everything will be great if you just believe in God.  


I find hope in those ruined churches, those graveyards.  It doesn’t matter to me that I didn’t find any graves of my ancestors either, because I have inherited something precious from them, and from all those people who worshiped with them in those places.  You see, I don’t need their buildings.  They passed down the faith.  They passed down the message of Jesus Christ. 


I find hope in those piles of rocks and those graves.  I remember what Jesus can do with a grave.  And, maybe, I am a descendant of that pastor who went to Maryland as a missionary in 1658.  If not a biological descendant, I have still inherited his gift of faith. 


Valarie Kaur, in her message to the interfaith watch night service in 2016 said, “What if the darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?”  


What if?  Jesus compared to pains of this present life to the pains of a woman in labor.  I have been in labor twice.  If you have been there, you know what I mean. The nurse who taught the childbirth class the first time I was pregnant described labor pains to us.  She said it feels like an elephant has his foot on your belly.  As labor progresses, the elephant picks up the other three feet. 


I didn’t believe her when she first said that.  And with my first pregnancy, I had some good medication.  The second time I had a baby, they didn’t give me any drugs, and Bethany weighed over 9 pounds.  That nurse was right about the pain. But, I have 2 beautiful, wonderful children who were worth every second of pain.  


Jesus says, that in this present life, we are just at the beginning of the birth pangs. But, we know that labor pains are the signal that new life is near.  


There is an old parable about two babies. The original version is attributed to Pablo Molinaro. Perhaps you have heard it. (https://thebacajourney.com/two-babies-talking-in-the-womb/)



The Parable

In a mother’s womb were two babies.  The first baby asked the other:  “Do you believe in life after delivery?”

The second baby replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery.  Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery.  What would that life be?”

“I don’t know, but there will be more light than here.  Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths.”

The doubting baby laughed. “This is absurd!  Walking is impossible.  And eat with our mouths?  Ridiculous.  The umbilical cord supplies nutrition.  Life after delivery is to be excluded.  The umbilical cord is too short.”

The second baby held his ground. “I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here.”

The first baby replied, “No one has ever come back from there.  Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery it is nothing but darkness and anxiety and it takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the twin, “but certainly we will see mother and she will take care of us.”

“Mother?” The first baby guffawed. “You believe in mother?  Where is she now?” 

The second baby calmly and patiently tried to explain. “She is all around us.  It is in her that we live. Without her there would not be this world.”

“Ha. I don’t see her, so it’s only logical that she doesn’t exist.”  

To which the other replied, “Sometimes when you’re in silence you can hear her, you can perceive her.  I believe there is a reality after delivery and we are here to prepare ourselves for that reality when it comes….” 

My friends, this present life is just the beginning of the birth pangs.  That is the good news for today.  Amen.



The Holy Gospel according to Mark, the 13th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" 5Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

The Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ. 



Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Last summer our family got to go on a wonderful vacation to Scotland and Ireland.  Our daughter, Bethany, planned the itinerary for us.  She asked me in advance if there were any particular places I wanted to go.  My mother’s family is from Scotland and Northern Ireland so I wanted to see the places where my ancestors lived before they immigrated to Virginia in the 1650s.   I was hoping to find graves with familiar family names in old church yards.  And, of course, I wanted to visit the churches where they worshipped. 


We went to Ramelton, Ireland, one of the places where I supposedly have ancestors. When we arrived, we were greeted by a sign that said, “Welcome to fabulous Ramelton, the best wee toon in the world.”  It was an adorable little town of 1500 people. Their website mentions a missionary with my family name who went to Maryland in the 1650’s, so he could have been a relative or an ancestor. We went to the old church yard.  The East wall and parts of the north and south walls of the church were still standing.  The rest of the building was gone.  Unfortunately, the cemetery didn’t have any graves earlier than the 1800s, so we didn’t find any relatives there. 


Then we went to Sligo Abbey which was built in 1252. It was a Dominican Priory.  It accidentally burnt down in 1414 so they rebuilt it. There were wars and rumors of wars and the Abbey was damaged in the siege of 1595 and ruined by an invading army in 1641.  The stones that remain are from the 13th and 15th centuries.  


When you walk around, you can see the stone paths where the walls used to be. There are signs telling you where the monks stayed and where the kitchen had been.  The altar was still standing where the chapel used to be.  As we walked around, though, all we could really see were the graves. In the centuries following the the destruction of the abbey, wealthy people paid for the privilege of being buried there.  The church had become a cemetery.  


As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”


This passage from Mark 13 has been called the “little apocalypse.”  Apocalypse means revelation, a message that pulls back the curtain and reveals the truth.  This time of the year when the daylight becomes shorter in our hemisphere and we approach the end of our liturgical church year, we have readings about the end times. 


It can be hard to find hope and see any good news these days.  It’s dark when you get to work and dark before you go home for supper. Fires have destroyed so much in California.  Thousands of people have lost everything they owned; hundreds have lost their lives.  


There have been over 300 mass shootings in this country this year.  It’s becoming almost routine to hear about them on the news.   Then we hear about the thousands of people who are fleeing poverty, political oppression, and gang violence in Central America, carrying their children and all their possessions for miles every day, desperate for the opportunity for a new start at life. 


It was sad for me and my family to see that what had once been big, beautiful church buildings were not much more than rubble and a few signs about where things used to be. It was sad to see once thriving churches turned into museums and cemeteries, especially in places where nation rose up against nation, places that my ancestors left because of famines. 


And yet, while we were there, the bells from the new church across the street were chiming. 


This passage of scripture, this apocalypse, is a clear reminder that the things we build may be beautiful and useful for a time, but the things we build will not last.  The stones the disciples pointed out to Jesus were huge.  One of them would not fit inside this sanctuary.  Herod the Great had completely renovated and expanded the Temple a few years earlier.  This Jerusalem temple was magnificent, yet it was destroyed completely in 70 AD by the Romans. Archeologists occasionally find one of the original stones. 


Yet, this passage of scripture is a message of hope.  Jesus wasn’t one to look at the world through rose tinted glasses.  His message was not that everything will be great if you just believe in God.  


I find hope in those ruined churches, those graveyards.  It doesn’t matter to me that I didn’t find any graves of my ancestors either, because I have inherited something precious from them, and from all those people who worshiped with them in those places.  You see, I don’t need their buildings.  They passed down the faith.  They passed down the message of Jesus Christ. 


I find hope in those piles of rocks and those graves.  I remember what Jesus can do with a grave.  And, maybe, I am a descendant of that pastor who went to Maryland as a missionary in 1658.  If not a biological descendant, I have still inherited his gift of faith. 


Valarie Kaur, in her message to the interfaith watch night service in 2016 said, “What if the darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?”  


What if?  Jesus compared to pains of this present life to the pains of a woman in labor.  I have been in labor twice.  If you have been there, you know what I mean. The nurse who taught the childbirth class the first time I was pregnant described labor pains to us.  She said it feels like an elephant has his foot on your belly.  As labor progresses, the elephant picks up the other three feet. 


I didn’t believe her when she first said that.  And with my first pregnancy, I had some good medication.  The second time I had a baby, they didn’t give me any drugs, and Bethany weighed over 9 pounds.  That nurse was right about the pain. But, I have 2 beautiful, wonderful children who were worth every second of pain.  


Jesus says, that in this present life, we are just at the beginning of the birth pangs. But, we know that labor pains are the signal that new life is near.  


There is an old parable about two babies. The original version is attributed to Pablo Molinaro. Perhaps you have heard it. (https://thebacajourney.com/two-babies-talking-in-the-womb/)



The Parable

In a mother’s womb were two babies.  The first baby asked the other:  “Do you believe in life after delivery?”

The second baby replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery.  Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery.  What would that life be?”

“I don’t know, but there will be more light than here.  Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths.”

The doubting baby laughed. “This is absurd!  Walking is impossible.  And eat with our mouths?  Ridiculous.  The umbilical cord supplies nutrition.  Life after delivery is to be excluded.  The umbilical cord is too short.”

The second baby held his ground. “I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here.”

The first baby replied, “No one has ever come back from there.  Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery it is nothing but darkness and anxiety and it takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the twin, “but certainly we will see mother and she will take care of us.”

“Mother?” The first baby guffawed. “You believe in mother?  Where is she now?” 

The second baby calmly and patiently tried to explain. “She is all around us.  It is in her that we live. Without her there would not be this world.”

“Ha. I don’t see her, so it’s only logical that she doesn’t exist.”  

To which the other replied, “Sometimes when you’re in silence you can hear her, you can perceive her.  I believe there is a reality after delivery and we are here to prepare ourselves for that reality when it comes….” 

My friends, this present life is just the beginning of the birth pangs.  That is the good news for today.  Amen.



















Sermon November 11, 2018

Sermon for November 11, 2018 (Sorry, due to technical difficulties, the video is unavailable this week.)

The holy gospel according to Mark, the 12th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.

8As [Jesus] taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

  41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


We hear stories about poor widows today. In the times of the Old and New Testament, being a widow nearly always meant you were poor.  It meant that your voice was not heard. Your opinion and your needs were not considered when important decisions were made. If you were mentioned in a story, your name was left out. Yet, throughout the scriptures, God sees the widows and commands the people to care for them.  


I would like to share some stories today from the perspective of four widows.  The first is the widow in today’s gospel story.  The second is a widow I met when I served Tema parish in Tanzania.  The third is a widow who lives in Indiana. The fourth widow could be from anywhere in rural America.

  

I am going to give these anonymous widows names, and add details as I share their stories.


Joanna’s Story 

My name is Joanna and I live in the city of Jerusalem.  My husband died a few years ago.  I still have the small house that we lived in while we were married.  We had a son, but he died when he was little.  


I was already past the age of child-bearing when my husband died.  That is why I did not have to marry my husband’s younger brother.  I am glad for that and I am sure his wife is relieved.   They help me when they can, but they have their own family to take care of and I understand. 


I have a small plot of land with a little garden.  I also glean from the fields after the harvest and get some grain to use for my bread.  We didn’t have rain when we needed it this year, so it has not been a good year for the crops.  I pray next year the weather will be better.  


I went to the Temple today to pray in the court of the women.  Before I left home, I took out my last two small coins that I had safely hidden, so that I could put something in the offering.  I don’t often have money, but I was able to save these coins from selling a few vegetables this week. It’s all I have, but God will provide.


As I entered the Temple Court, I went to the end of the line of worshippers.  I could see the Temple scribes at the front.   They have beautiful long robes.  How well educated and important they are! 


There are many other rich people in front of me in line.  There are thirteen different donation chests in the temple court, all labeled with the purpose for the offering.  The well dressed rich people make a big show of their offerings, putting many coins in each chest.  All those coins make a loud noise as they rattle in the brass chests.  I think God must be very pleased with them and their generosity.


I put my two little coins in one of the donation chests.  I am sure that no one heard the sound of them or even saw me.  It is embarrassing how little noise they make.  I like to come here to pray, but I come alone and no one notices me.  I wonder sometimes if God even sees me or hears my prayers.  


Jesus sees Joanna!  He saw her and he told the disciples that her gift was far greater than all the gifts from the rich people, the ones who made a show of their offerings.  Jesus valued her gift, no matter what the others at the Temple thought.  Jesus recognized the dignity of her offering.

 

Esther’s Story

My name is Esther and I live in the village of Tema in the Hai district of Tanzania.  On a clear day, you can see Mt. Kilimanjaro from my house.  I am 55 years old.  After my husband died 10 years ago from malaria, I took work whenever I could get it, cleaning and cooking for people in the village.  Then, after only 2 years, I got sick and I lost my eyesight.  


My oldest daughter took me into her home.  She and her husband have a little 2 bedroom house for themselves and their four children.  I sleep on a mat on the living room floor.  I am not much help with the children, but I do the best I can to help my daughter and not be a burden.  


I am trying to help the children learn a few words of our tribal language, Chagga.  Everyone is speaking Swahili at home these days and learning some English in school.  I am so glad the children can go to school, since my parents couldn’t afford the fees for me. 


My favorite time of the week is Sunday morning.  I love going to church with my daughter and her family.  The singing is the best part.  Once a month we sing hymns in Chagga. 


The choir and the congregation sing during the offering time, too.  The elders put the baskets up front and the people walk up to put in their money offerings or some offering from their garden, like bananas or avocados, or even eggs from their chickens.  


Since I can’t see, my daughter waits until near the end of the line to help me walk up there.  I don’t have any thing to give.  My back is to the congregation, so they can’t see that I just pretend to put something in the basket each week.  


Jesus sees Esther!

When I was serving as pastor at Tema Parish, I sat up front during the offering, and I could see Esther and her daughter come up every week. I was the only person in the church who could see her, but Jesus saw her. She didn’t have to do what she did.  She could have just sat there in the pew and no one would have minded.  


Esther’s gift was walking up front and showing everyone that the offering matters, that we give out of thankfulness for all God has given us.  Even a poor blind widow can be thankful to God for her life. 


Elizabeth’s story

My name is Elizabeth, but I go by Liz.  I live in Indiana now, with my son and his family.  I am Burmese, but our country is now called Myanmar.  I haven’t been home for a long time and I will probably never be able to go back.  We were refugees in Thailand for many years, waiting for approval to enter the United States.  My husband died while we were there.


I struggle to say a few English words.  That’s why I love my church so much.  They are all people like me and they sing and pray in our language.  It is the only time all week when I can get out of the house and really talk to people.


My church has a basket in the entryway.  There are envelopes in there with a dollar in each one.  If you don’t have any offering, you can take one and put that in when it's time to go up front.  They don’t want anyone to be embarrassed when we go up front to put in our gifts.  


I always have to take one of those envelopes. I try to take it when no one is looking.  I wish I had something of my own to give. 

Jesus sees Liz.  He blessed her with a loving church family who provided for her so that she could feel a part of the whole worship service, so that she could have dignity and self-respect.


Lois’s story

My name is Lois and I live in rural America. It doesn’t matter where, I could be your neighbor.  I hate that I have to call the food pantry.  I hate that I have to go there.  I used to believe that everyone who worked hard could take care of themselves.  I used to believe that only lazy people asked for help. 


My husband and I got along OK.  We didn’t have much, but we could eat and pay our bills every month.  But then, my husband got sick.  He was sick for a long time before he died.   Medicare didn’t pay for anywhere near all of the bills and I had to quit work to take care of him.  The medical bills took everything we had.


I hate that I have to ask for help, but this social security check only goes so far.  The only place I can afford to rent doesn’t have much insulation, so the utility bills are terrible.  I can’t risk having my lights and heat cut off, so I had to call the food pantry.  


I told them I can’t pay them back with money, but I said I would volunteer down there a few hours, whenever I can get a ride.


Jesus sees Lois.  He loves her and values the gift of her time,  given to help others. He blesses her for her care and concern and her compassion for those who find themselves in need. 


These widows all wondered if God saw them, if God even noticed them. They wondered if their small gifts of money or time or even their gestures in place of a gift mattered at all.  They wondered if things they did ever made a difference. 


There is good news for these widows and for us.  Jesus sees them and Jesus sees us. No matter who you are, no matter how small you think your gift is, even if your gift is only a gesture, even if no one knows your name, even if no one notices you at all  - Jesus sees you.  


Jesus recognizes you.  Jesus calls you by name.  Jesus values what you do.  Jesus gives you dignity.


What gift do you have?  Is there something you feel isn’t worth giving because someone else has more to give?  Is there something you feel you shouldn’t volunteer to do because someone else might be better at it?  


Jesus sees your circumstances.  He is with you in the midst of all your struggles and challenges. He knows the pain of all those who are discriminated against because of their ethnicity or their language or their gender or their marital status.  


God sees even the smallest gifts, the smallest gestures and gives them dignity. God says that your salvation doesn’t depend on giving a loud noisy gift or two tiny mites. God will use whatever you give to proclaim the good news that Jesus loves you enough to go to the cross for you.  Jesus loves you enough to rise from the grave for you.


Jesus honors your gifts and he honors you. He invites you to really see your neighbors and honor their gifts, too.  Amen. 


All Saints Sunday, November 4, 2018

The holy gospel according to John, the 11th chapter.  Glory to you, O Lord.

32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" 37 But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." 40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go.”

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.  




Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.


This morning we come together as the Christian family, the family of Christ, to celebrate the festival of All Saints.  This is the day the church remembers all those who have died in the faith.  In a sense, it’s the Christian version of “Memorial Day.”  


It is the day we come together to especially remember those members of our congregation who have died in the past year.  We celebrate those who were baptized this year and joined the church on earth.  We remember everyone we have loved over the years, who has claimed the promises of their baptism, and now rests with God. 


Our first reading today is the beautiful passage from Isaiah about the feast of fat things with well aged wines.  The prophet writes that God will swallow up death forever and wipe away every tear from our eyes.


Our second reading is from the book of Revelation where St. John writes about the new heaven and new earth - a glorious picture of life at the end of time when death will be no more and there will be no more pain, or mourning, or crying. 


Isn’t it interesting that in the first two readings, there is no more crying, all tears are wiped away. Then we get to the gospel lesson, the one with the well known verse, “Jesus wept.”  After weeping, Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead.  It’s just a temporary resurrection, though, not like the resurrection of Jesus, not like the resurrection we will all experience on the last day when the trumpet sounds and God makes all things new.


So why the juxtaposition of weeping and tears being wiped away? Why raise Lazarus from the dead, only to have him die again? It seems contradictory, doesn’t it? Why raise someone who has to die again later? 


I think the message for us today is that although we have the reassurance of the resurrection at the end of days, God isn’t finished with us yet. 


Do you remember that saying?  “Be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.”  I think that might be one of the points of the gospel today.  Lutherans are big on dichotomies.  We talk about the reign of God as something that is “Already, but Not Yet.”  


And maybe that’s the reason for combining the Lazarus story and the first two lessons today.  Maybe Jesus is trying to tell us that God isn’t finished with us yet.  We still have work to do here on earth.  


Lazarus still had work to do on earth.  His sisters depended on him.  In addition to their sorrow over the death of the brother they loved, Mary and Martha had another reason to grieve his death. As single women, they had no means to earn their own living in that culture, but were dependent on their nearest male relative for economic support. His death threw the family into turmoil.  


But God wasn’t finished with Lazarus yet.  This wasn’t just another miracle.  Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were friends of Jesus.  Jesus was deeply moved by the sisters’ grief and the grief of the crowd.  He wanted to show them how much God cares about us when we are grieving.  


So, what does Jesus do?  Jesus wept with the people who were grieving.  When you are grieving, Jesus weeps with you.  


The next thing Jesus did was pray.  When you are grieving, Jesus prays for you.  Remember this: When you are grieving - Jesus weeps with you. Jesus prays for you.


How often have we been like Mary and said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died?”  Or insert whatever happened that you wish had not happened.  “Lord, if you had been here…” Like Mary, we hope for a miracle, we want Jesus to bring back our loved ones, to restore them to community, to raise them from the dead, like he did for Lazarus. We also still want a Jesus who’ll show up and prevent mass shootings, provide housing for all homeless and end world hunger and all violence in the world.


Jesus isn’t with us now the way he was with Mary and Martha and the disciples, those biblical saints we honor on their special days. He isn’t walking around on the earth, raising people like he raised Lazarus.  But we still have his word and we still have the witness of the saints.  And, most importantly, we have his promise that he is always with us.  We have his promise that he will come again and make all things new.


It’s important to note what Jesus said after Lazarus came out of his tomb.  He told the crowd, "Unbind him, and let him go.”  


“Unbind him, and let him go.”  God wasn’t finished with Lazarus yet.  God still had work for him to do for a while here on earth.  


God isn’t finished with us yet either.  We remember those we have lost, especially those who have died this year.  We weep for a time.  Jesus weeps with us.  Jesus prays for us.  


But God isn’t finished with us yet.  God still has work for us to do for a while here on earth.  Some of us are sitting with Jesus and weeping and praying.  For some of us, it’s time for us to be called out of the tombs of our grief.  Some of us are being called out of the graves of our sadness.  


The rest of us are being called to “Unbind them, and let them go.”  We are called to the work of walking beside our grieving friends, weeping and praying with them, and then unbinding them.  Because God isn’t finished with any of us yet.  


Jesus died and rose to swallow up death forever. Jesus died and rose that we might live in that new heaven and eat that feast of rich food and drink that well aged wine, strained clear.


And when that last trumpet sounds and the dead are raised, and God wipes every tear from our eyes, when the gates and the ancient doors are lifted up, and the King of Glory comes in, then we will sing with all the saints in glory.  In the meantime… God isn’t finished with us yet.  Let us be glad and rejoice in Christ’s salvation!  Amen.