Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 21, 2019

The holy gospel according to Luke, the 10th chapter. Glory to you, O Lord.

38Now as [Jesus and his disciples] went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

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.

Today, Jesus says to you, “Don’t worry.  I love you, and no one else’s opinion matters but mine.” 

Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent one hot, summer afternoon.  He was an old man by then, so he was probably dozing a bit in the heat. And, before he knew it, three strangers were standing outside looking down at him.  

Well, he jumped up, as fast as an old man could jump, and ran over to greet them. In his culture, offering hospitality was a sacred obligation.   

Sarah got busy right away.  She kneaded the flour with the lard and added the milk.  She shaped the biscuits and started baking them on her little kitchen fire.  

Abraham chose a calf then told a servant to prepare it for a great meal for the three strangers, these unexpected guests.

Abraham and Sarah understood that you never know if a stranger might be an angel - someone with a message from God for you.  All strangers must be treated as if they are angels, because you just never know. Hospitality is that important.

With all the things going on in our country today, it gives us something to wonder about too.  What if the strangers in our midst are angels?  What if they come with a message from God for us?  Jesus says that whatever we do for the least of these among us we do for him.  Just something to think about…something to ponder in your hearts today…

Today’s gospel lesson is the familiar story of Mary and Martha. Martha is worried and distracted.  She has a lot of important company.  She knew the story of Abraham and Sarah.  But on this day, she knew that she wasn’t just entertaining strangers who might possibly be angels.  Her guest was the Lord Jesus himself and all 12 disciples.  That’s a lot of pressure for the host. 

Abraham didn't have to worry.  He had Sarah to bake the bread.  He had servants to slaughter the calf and prepare it for roasting.  All he had to do was serve dinner to his guests. And there were only three guests.  

Poor Martha had Jesus and the twelve disciples, plus Mary, their brother Lazarus, and whoever else happened to stop by to listen to Jesus.  And she had no help at all.   

She had worked herself into a frenzy.  She was worried.  She was distracted.  She had so many things to do that she just couldn’t keep up with it and she had reached the end of her rope.  

Her culture taught that it was her job as the host to put on a great dinner for all the guests.  And in those days, nobody could call ahead.  They just showed up.  All thirteen of them.  And who knows, they could be staying for days.  

There were so many cultural expectations.  This was the woman’s job.  The tasks of hospitality were all things that she was supposed to do.  Martha felt obligated.  She felt frazzled.  She didn’t see any real options available to her.  There was so much pressure.  There were so many expectations.  It was her house and the burdens were all on her.  

Martha was trying to do the best she could. I have been there and I bet you have, too. We all have days when we are trying to do the best we can, but we keep running on empty.  The more we work, the less we seem to get done.  We just keep seeing more and more and more that we need to do.  We get frazzled.  We feel like we have run out of options. 

And we seem to be the only one who cares.  Nobody else is helping us or noticing or even caring. Some days we have so much stuff that we need to do that we don’t even have time to make a list.  Even just to have the satisfaction of checking things off.  We don’t even have time to think about why we are doing all those things.  We just do them because they are expected and we have always done them.

Martha was upset and she went to Jesus to ask for help, to speak up for justice in the division of labor.  

There are several things that Jesus does not say to Martha. Notice what Jesus doesn’t say:

He does not say, “You need to work smarter, not harder.”

He does not say, “Let’s get an efficiency expert in here to teach you how to manage your time better.”

He does not say, “If you kept this house clean all the time, you wouldn’t have so much to do when company shows up.”

He does not say, “You’re right, Mary should help you.”

He does not say, “This is woman’s work and you and your sister need to do it.”

Please notice! Jesus also does not say, “Hospitality doesn’t matter.” 

Instead, Jesus reassures Martha.  He says, “Don’t worry.” He calms her down.  He tells her that there are better priorities than the ones she is working on.

Jesus tells Martha that he is there with her. He says, “Don’t worry.”  He tells her that she is free to sit and listen to him.  She doesn’t need to follow the traditional cultural roles.  She doesn’t need to do all those things that everyone else tells her to do, that everyone else expects her to do.  Jesus reminds her that being busy all the time isn’t what's important.  

Jesus is the only one Martha needs to listen to.  He says, "Don't worry.  I love you. Nobody else’s opinion matters."  

Jesus says the same things to us that he said to Martha.  He says, “Don’t worry.” He tells us he loves us and that no one else’s opinion matters, just his.  We don’t have to listen to what society thinks we should do just because we are women, or just because we are men, or boys or girls.  

Jesus says we are free to get our priorities straight.  He says, “Don’t worry.” He give us the freedom to spend time just sitting and listening to him.  He sets us free to use our time to read and study God’s word.  He sets us free to attend worship every week with our friends and family and to make worship a priority in our lives. 

Being busy may make us feel important.  We even brag to each other about how busy we are and feel good about ourselves because we are busier than other people. Jesus says we are free to stop doing that. He sets us free to have other priorities for ourselves.  Free to do the things that matter most.  

Jesus says, “Don’t worry.”  We don’t have to fill our time trying to live up to social expectations.  We can sit and listen at his feet without being concerned about what society thinks.  

Hospitality still matters. And Jesus doesn’t say that we never have to work.  Jesus says, “Don’t worry.”  He tells us that when we have our priorities straight, we will be able to stop worrying.  

The three men who came to see Abraham and Sarah brought a message from God.  It was a blessing of good news.  Sarah would have a son.  God had great plans for their family.  

Jesus came to see Martha and Mary and brought a blessing of good news.  Jesus said, “Don’t worry.”  He told them to have a seat and listen to him.  He told them that women have a place at his feet. He told everybody that women are welcome as his disciples.  

Jesus comes to this house today, too.  He says to us, “Don’t worry.  You are all welcome to sit at my feet and learn from me.”   

Today Jesus is the host.  He has provided the meal for us to share.  Amen.  

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 10th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" 27 He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." 28 And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30 Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, "Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" 37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." 

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.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. We have all heard many sermons on it through out the years.  We all know that the moral of the story is that we should be like the Samaritan and take care of our neighbors. 

Seminary professor, Mark Allen Powell, says that he likes to look at Bible stories, and other stories as well, in what he calls a narrative fashion.  That is, he hears a story and asks the question, “Who do you identify with in the story?”  

Powell says there are a couple of ways of identifying with characters. The first way is the realistic way.  For example, I might identify with the priest in the story of the Good Samaritan because I am a pastor and I realistically have something in common with the priest. 

The second way you might identify with a character in a story is the idealistic way.  You might choose to identify with a character in your favorite movie —  you could decide to identify with Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel or one of the other Avengers because you wish you had their superpower. You wish you were the one who could be the hero and save the day. That’s idealistic. 

There are a number of characters in this story, so let’s go through them and see who you might identify with and why.

I already said that I could identify with the priest.  He was an important person in the community.  Certain privileges came with his status.  I know about that.  I can wear this shirt into any store in town and at least three employees will come over and ask if they can help me find what I need.  I have worn it in airports. They don’t go through my luggage and I am automatically sent to the shortest line. 

When our daughter worked at Augsburg Publishing, one of her co-workers borrowed one of these shirts from the store so he could return an expensive Christmas gift at the mall. He was black and he didn’t have a receipt.  He knew there wouldn’t be any problem if he was dressed like a pastor. 

You may not identify with the priest because you are not a pastor. But, you could identify with the levite. The levite could be compared to a very active church member. You could be a committee chair, or on the council, or a choir member. 

The levite had status in the community just like the priest. Preachers will point out that there were rules against touching a dead person.  The priest and the levite could have thought the man in the ditch was dead, so they didn’t want to defile themselves.  You could say they were actually keeping the law by passing on the other side of the street.

Powell says that identifying with a character can be idealistic. So, you may want to identify with the Samaritan, because he’s the good guy and you like to think that you would be a helper here. 

It’s also very common for preachers to point out that the Samaritan was someone who was disliked by the people from Judea. From the distance of our perspective, Jews and Samaritans would have been very much alike. They had the same religion. They just had their religious headquarters in different places, you know, like Constantinople and Rome, or like Chicago and St. Louis. 

They were so much alike that their few differences made them think they should agree on everything. In other words, they disliked each other with the intensity that only members of the same family can dislike each other. 

Sometimes preachers point out that the Samaritan was from a different ethnic group and suggest a contemporary parallel.  Dr. Powell tells us that one preacher suggested that in our time the Samaritan would be an African American man.  That pastor had a cross burning on his lawn that night.  

Another character in the story is the lawyer who asked the original question.  A lawyer in New Testament times was not actually an attorney.  He’s a scholar who studies biblical law.  His goal is to get to the truth.  He wants to understand and obey God’s will in all things.  That’s why Jesus asks him, “What do you read there?” Jesus is asking him how he interprets what he reads in the scripture.  

Perhaps you are like this lawyer.  You are a student of the Bible.  You are hungry to hear what the scriptures say about how you are supposed to live your life.  You love God and you love God’s word and you want to know and understand so that you can do God’s will.

So, we have the Priest, the Levite, the Samaritan, and the Lawyer.  But, there is another character in the story that Jesus tells.  There’s the man in the ditch.

We don’t typically identify with the guy in lying half dead and naked on the side of the road.  He was robbed and beaten.  He’s in pain and things don’t look good for him. We ask questions like, “What was he doing on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho anyway?”  That stretch of highway is notorious for thieves. He should have known better. 

We not only don’t usually identify with the guy in the ditch, we tend to blame the victim here. Maybe, he did make some bad decisions that contributed to his situation.  We don’t know. We didn’t ask why the priest and the levite and the Samaritan were on that road, though, did we? 

Today, I would like to suggest that we don’t only think of ourselves as the priest or the levite or the Samaritan or the lawyer in this story, but that we identify ourselves as the guy in the ditch.  You see, if you live long enough there will be times in your life when you feel like the guy in the ditch. 

There will be times when we go down a road we shouldn’t take. There will be times when we make bad decisions.  There will be times when we were just minding our own business, doing what we were supposed to be doing, but ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time and ran into the wrong people. In everybody’s life there are some bad times. 

There are times when we need help and the people we thought would help us pretend not to see us and crossed on the other side of the road. And there will be times when we have to accept help from people we thought we didn’t like. 

Most of the time we get to be one of the privileged characters. But, sometimes we are the guy in the ditch. 

We only need to listen to the news for five minutes to hear about other people who are lying on the side of the road. Neighbors experiencing homelessness in our own community. Neighbors imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. Neighbors who are children living in cages at our Southern border. Neighbors hearing ICE knocking at their doors today. Just listen to the news for a few minutes; you will hear about our neighbors in need.

There are times in our lives when can identify with everyone in this story. We have all suffered at the hands of the robbers and we have all ignored our neighbors in need. We all need strength and blessing, forgiveness and rescue. We all need the One who is merciful to come and save us. 

Regardless of who you are, Jesus is the Samaritan in your story. He is the stranger who came to earth and treated us as his neighbors. Jesus is the One who risked his own life to rescue you from certain death when you were lying on the side of the road. 

Jesus is the One who paid the price to heal us. He is the one who went on his way, not knowing if we would ever wake up and be grateful for what he did. He is the one who promised to come back to us. Jesus is the one who showed us mercy. 

Jesus is the One who makes all of us neighbors. Jesus makes us neighbors not just with those who are like us and live near us. He makes us neighbors with people who worship differently, or not at all. He makes us neighbors with people who have different political beliefs, different languages, different cultures. 

Jesus is the One who makes us all neighbors. He is the One who shows us all mercy. 

Today, Jesus says to you, “Go and do likewise.” Amen. 

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, July 7, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 10th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others

and sent them on ahead of him in pairs

  to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 

He said to them, 

"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 

therefore ask the Lord of the harvest 

to send out laborers into his harvest. 

Go on your way. 

See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 

Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; 

and greet no one on the road. 

Whatever house you enter, first say, "Peace to this house!' 

And if anyone is there who shares in peace, 

your peace will rest on that person; 

but if not, it will return to you. 

Remain in the same house, 

eating and drinking whatever they provide, 

for the laborer deserves to be paid. 

Do not move about from house to house. 

Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, 

eat what is set before you; 

cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 

"The kingdom of God has come near to you.' 

But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, 

go out into its streets and say, 

"Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, 

we wipe off in protest against you. 

Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'” 

"Whoever listens to you listens to me, 

and whoever rejects you rejects me, 

and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."

The seventy returned with joy, saying, 

"Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" 

He said to them, 

"I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 

See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, 

and over all the power of the enemy; 

and nothing will hurt you. 

Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, 

that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ. 351

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

Last year when I went to Scotland and Ireland I kept looking at all the pretty bags and purses.  I especially liked the tartan plaid ones.  I think the weaving is beautiful, but I didn’t buy any.  I just looked.  Evidently, I looked at those bags enough that my daughter noticed and got me one for Christmas.  

I have several purses.  They all have to meet certain criteria for size - that is, be big enough to hold my ipad - and they all have to have the right number and size of pockets for my phone and glasses and keys.  

In addition to my purses, I had special bags that I used when I was in school.  They had to hold my laptop and books.  Even when I wasn’t in school, I had a very pretty bag that I got at a Global Mission Event. I used to carry it to work every day. Maybe that is a lot of baggage, I don’t know.   

You know what it’s like.  We need our electronic devices and other stuff.  It’s convenient to have someplace to put our wallets with our ID and credit cards, our checkbooks, our cell phones, and our keys.   

We keep things like this close to us because we feel insecure without them. Identity theft is a concern for many people these days. It seems you can’t travel anywhere without ID cards.  We pay for everything we need with credit cards.  Even the newest monopoly game uses electronic banking instead of cash.

In today’s gospel, Luke tells us a story about Jesus sending seventy people out on a mission.  

Imagine with me today, that we are among those people being sent out.  It is quite an honor.  In the story just before this one in the gospel, Jesus turns down some would-be followers. They told Jesus they really wanted to follow him, but they had some other stuff to do first, and they would have to catch him later.  

We have been chosen to go out on this mission.  But Jesus has some instructions, including a list of things we aren’t supposed to bring with us.  First of all, Jesus is sending us out without our bags.  

Just like the airlines these days, he’s not even allowing one free bag a piece.  

It seems all of our old identities and all of our old baggage interfere with the mission he is giving us.  

Additionally, we don’t get to follow our own itinerary.  We don’t get to pick where we go.  

Jesus makes the plans and he has chosen the places for the seventy of us to go.  

Seventy is a special number in the Hebrew Bible and biblical numbers are usually symbolic.  

Seventy is the number of nations descended from Noah.  

Seventy is the number of elders Moses chose to lead the people.  

Sixty-five is the number of synods in the ELCA, so the mission of Jesus is definitely larger than just our own church.  

This is not one of those vacation type mission trips either.   We aren’t allowed to make any side trips to visit with friends, or get distracted by a bunch of social activities, or waste time with idle conversations along the side of the road.  Jesus says the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

This is going to be a working trip. Maybe it will feel like too much work sometimes, but we will always have a job. 

Jesus has good reason for all his instructions.  The mission is important and He wants us to be safe.  He reminds us that there will be wolves in the places where we are going. Wolves are the bad guys in both fairy tales and Bible stories.  They are the ones who steal sheep, especially the weaker young ones.  Jesus said we will be like lambs in the midst of these wolves.  

This could be very scary, if we had to go alone, but we don’t.   Jesus is sending us out together.  There is a large group of us and we will travel in pairs.  We will have each other.  We will help each other out.  We will support each other.   We can depend on each other.  

We will be gathering this harvest together.  The way we do that is by sharing the peace of Christ everywhere we go, and by telling everyone that the Reign of God is near.  

The reign of God is near. Isn’t this what we pray for when we say, “Your Kingdom come,” in the prayer that Jesus taught us?

What does the Reign of God look like?  

Imagine it - a world where God is supreme ruler.  

The harvest is plentiful.  Many, many people are waiting to hear the good news that we have to share. In God’s reign, whenever people greet each other they share the peace of Christ.  

Everyone shows hospitality to strangers no matter where they come from or what documents they carry with them.  

The harvest is plentiful. 

Food is shared and no one goes hungry.  

Everyone has a place to stay and shelter for the night.  

Everyone has meaningful work and is paid a fair wage.  

Everyone has access to health care, and the sick are made well.  

In this world where God reigns, we don’t need our baggage anymore.   Once it gave us our individual identity.  Now, God has given us new identities.  Together, we are the baptized children of God, all sent by Jesus, as missionaries to the world. 

We have been marked by the cross of Christ forever.  God gives us real power and authority In the name of Jesus.  

In the name of Jesus, we can even cast out the demons in our world.  

We no longer need to fear the wolves because together we have the power and authority of Jesus. He has promised that nothing will hurt us.  

Jesus calls us to leave our baggage behind and proclaim that the reign of God is near.  

He sends us as lambs in the midst of wolves, yet we are never sent alone.  

He gives us each other.  He gives us the power of his name.  The Lamb of God is with us whenever we are together.    

We proclaim that the reign of God is near every time we sing.  Today we have great reason to “praise the Lord, lift every voice, alleluia, sing Rejoice.”

The reign of God is near.  Our names are written in heaven.  


Third Sunday after Pentecost

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 9th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord.

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." 58 And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." 59 To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." 60 But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 61 Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." 62 Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

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.

For freedom, Christ has set us free. In our second lesson today, Paul teaches us about the fruit of the Spirit.  I feel like I have to confess to you that I chose this lesson to preach on because it goes with the Sunday school song we picked for the hymn of the day.  

Today our worship is informal and we are using our Christian freedom to sing some songs we usually consider children’s songs.  We are sings some old songs we learned as children and some new songs that our children have just recently learned. And we are clapping along and doing some of the hand motions.  

This is fun and it’s an expression of our Christian freedom to remember that we are all God’s children. The rest of the staff can tell you how much I enjoyed the Bible School songs this week. 

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” When we first hear that, it can sound a lot like the law, can’t it? I can kind of see the finger shaking and hear that parental voice saying, “I let you off this time, but you better never do that again.”  

Paul even talks about the law, saying,  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 

The reading today might sound like a whole lot of law, but there is a wonderful gospel message of grace in there.  Even though at first it sounds like here’s a list of stuff you gotta do: Love your neighbor! Then through your whole life show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control.  

That’s a long list. It can sound over-whelming.  And it can sound like the law. But, it’s not the law.  It’s a gift of pure grace.  You see, it’s not a list of stuff you have to do.  It’s not a list of attitudes you better show in order to be a Christian. I’m sure that’s the way I heard it the first time I heard about the fruits of the Spirit. I heard, “Here’s a list of things you better do if you want to be a Christian, because here’s the way Christians behave.”

I grew up in a Lutheran church, so that’s probably not the way my Sunday school teachers taught that lesson. It’s probably not the way you were taught either, but maybe you heard it that way as a child, too. And the lessons we learned as children can stick with us at a deep emotional level, even when as adults, we have learned intellectually that they were wrong. 

I think perhaps it’s part of our human condition that we hear this as condemnation.  We know that there are many ways that we don’t show love to our neighbors.  

We are not always joyful.  Stuff happens every day that causes us to feel the opposite of joy. Don’t ask me for a list, I can provide that way too easily.

And we are not always peaceful.  There are plenty of times when we have anxiety about today and tomorrow, and if I think back on it, there’s stuff that happened in the past that makes me worry about it all over again.  And I am just talking about inner peace here, but I think that Paul was also talking about peace between people and peace between nations.  

Don’t even talk to me about patience. When God was handing that out, lots of us didn’t want to wait in line, so we didn’t get much patience. Which leads to not much kindness in the world either. 

Generosity is fine as long as we make sure we have enough for ourselves first. Faithfulness is okay until something better or more interesting comes along. Gentleness seems like an undesirable trait in a world that values strength and winning at all costs. Self-control is not valued as much as sarcasm and burning remarks. 

So, it can sound like Paul listed all these fruits of the Spirit in order to condemn us for our lack of Christian behavior.  It can sound like the law, but it’s not. 

What we can all miss in this lesson is that the fruits of the Spirit are gifts.  We cannot believe in Jesus on our own.  We cannot follow Jesus on our own.  We cannot do any of these things on our own. As Luther so clearly tells us in the explanation of the third article of the creed: 

“I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as the Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.” 

It’s all grace.  It’s all a gift. We can’t do anything on our own.  But, we don’t have to do it on our own.  

So, whenever you show love to your neighbor, or see someone else do it, the Holy Spirit is with you, loving both you and your neighbor, giving you the love that you are sharing. And since you know that God loves you, you are set free to show love to your neighbor.

Whenever you feel joy - Say “Thanks be to God!  As a Christian, you can rejoice in the Lord always, because joy is the Holy Spirit’s gift of grace to you! 

Whenever, wherever there is peace, this is the work of the Holy Spirit.  When you have been able to make peace with someone who has offended you, that’s the Holy Spirit’s work.  When you have been able to offer forgiveness, this is the work of the Holy Spirit. 

Whenever you see someone show patience with someone else, whenever you are able to wait and remember to offer grace to the people who are making you wait, this is the gift of the Holy Spirit as well.  Whenever you see kindness, or show kindness, you are seeing the work of the Holy Spirit.  

When you are generous, when you share with your neighbor, the Holy Spirit is working through you. When you are faithful, it’s not your work, it is purely a gift of the Holy Spirit to you.  

When you are gentle, the Holy Spirit is using your hands to touch someone else.  What a beautiful gift the Spirit gives us to be able to use our hands to bless our neighbors!  

Self-control is only possible through the Spirit. Without the Spirit, we are slaves to our sin.  

The fruit of the Spirit is not a list of stuff we have to do to be a Christian.  

It’s all a gift of grace.  Jesus loves us so much that he died and rose for us. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be with us always, to continually give us gifts, the fruit of the Spirit.  Amen.

Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 23, 2019

The holy gospel according to Luke, the 8th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord.

26 Then (Jesus and the disciples) arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me"— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

The gospel of the Lord. 

Praise to you, O Christ. 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from the God who created you, loves you, and casts out your demons. Amen.

Nobody does exorcisms anymore, like they used to.  Not even the pope and the Roman Catholic Church agree about them.  It still occasionally makes good drama for movies and television.  These days demons have mostly been vanished to the world of science fiction and video games.  

People had a different world view 2000 years ago. They didn’t understand science and health care the way we do.  They didn’t talk about germs making you sick.  They didn’t know about chemical imbalances in the brain that cause disturbances in thinking and perceiving.  They explained bizarre behavior as demon possession.  

Now we tend to talk about demons in a metaphoric way. We talk about alcohol and drugs as a demons in our lives.  Or traumatic memories, or medical or mental health problems.  Just like the demons of biblical times, our demons are all those things that keep us from having joy, health, and good relationships in our lives. 

Our demons might seem smaller than the demons that possess other people.  But, we all have demons.  We all have things that keep us from enjoying the abundant life that God wants for us.  We all have problems.  We all have relationships that we wish were going better. We all have things that seem to define our lives in ways that we would not choose. 

In the gospel lesson today, the man in the country of the Gerasenes wasn’t just dealing with a demon or two.  He was possessed by a legion of them.  A Roman Legion, like the American Legion was a unit of soldiers. In the Roman army, a Legion contained 6000 men.

This poor man had so many demons that they took over his whole identity.  He defined himself by them.  He even took them as his name.  He didn’t say, “I am Pete, or Joe, or Abe.”  He said, “My name is Legion.”  His demons spoke for him.  They took his voice away. 

His demons isolated him from the rest of the community.  They wouldn’t let him wear clothes.  They made him say and do awful things.  They made him stay in the tombs, a dirty, disgusting place. This is a hint about how his story is going to turn out.  We can never forget what Jesus does when they put him in a tomb. 

This man with the demons was considered so dangerous that the other people tried to keep him chained up.  But he kept breaking free and running away.  He must have been terrified.  He must have been terrifying to everyone in town.  

Then Jesus comes to him and heals him.  Jesus sends that legion of demons into a nearby herd of swine.  The swine run off and drown themselves in the sea.  

The Jewish people who heard this gospel story would not have been terribly upset about the pigs.  They would have laughed.  Swine were disgusting and filthy creatures to them.  We might look at it the same way if we heard about a group of rats or snakes running into the sea and drowning.  

Jesus was in Gentile country though, on foreign land.  The Gerasenes did eat pork chops and bacon.  The owners of the swine would not have been happy about what Jesus did.  He interfered with their livelihood.  

Jesus came into town, cured the local crazy man, upset their economy, and left.  The Gerasenes were glad he left.  They wanted him to leave, but they have a couple of problems still.  

Their first problem is the man who was healed.  Jesus told him to go home.  Now he is dressed appropriately and in his right mind.   What was his family supposed to do with him?  Do they even trust that he is healed?  

How do they welcome him back?  What if the demons come back?  How do they know if he is even safe to be around?  Now he is even going around telling everyone that the reign of God is near.

Their second problem is economic.  Imagine if you are that farmer and you have lost your entire herd. Your family and your hired hands and their families depend on that herd for their livelihood.  

Those two problems are significant enough, but their main reason for asking Jesus to leave was fear.  Jesus comes into town and things change. And change is hard. Maybe you have heard the expression, “Better the devil you know…”  Maybe the Gerasenes preferred knowing what was going to happen even if it was bad, instead of an uncertain future that could be better.  

Yes, Jesus has come into town and caused a few problems here, upset the status quo.  Poor Gerasenes, but how does this relate to us?

I think this might be a story about fear and identity and need.  I think it’s about how we define ourselves and what we think we need.  

Jesus asked the man his name.  The man called himself by the things that possessed him.  He defined himself by the things that keep him from having joy and health and relationships in his life.  He defined himself by the things he was lacking - joy, health, relationships.

We live in a culture that constantly tells us that we are lacking.  We are lacking status or beauty or power or wealth.  We aren’t as happy as we used to be, or as we remember being in the past. We are defined by the jobs we can get or the grades we got in school this year. 

If we could just wear the right clothes, the right makeup, the right hairstyle...  If we could just drive the right car, live in the right house...  If we could just play for the right team, or win the right games... If we could just date the right person, marry the right person... Get into the right school… Get the right job… Or even use the right deodorant or toothpaste....

We keep hearing we need so many things...  We are always thinking about scarcity.  What if there isn’t enough?  What if we don’t have enough to send the kids to college or what if we haven’t saved enough for retirement?

Look around when you get home and notice the number of things that you have bought that you didn’t need.  Why did we buy those things?  Did we really believe the promises in the advertisements?  

Do we fall into the panic of “not having enough?” Did we really believe our lives would be incomplete without all that stuff? Do we really need 6000 things?  Every advertisement we see and hear tells us that we inadequate without whatever they are selling.

Jesus crossed into foreign territory to heal the man who was possessed by a legion of demons and then he sailed away.   It seems that healing that man was his sole purpose for going there.  He transformed him from a man who was possessed by demons into a human being again.  He reminded him and everyone else that the reign of God had come near.

Jesus is still crossing boundaries into strange places to cast out demons.  He comes into our lives, lives that we define by what we think we lack.  Lives that we define by our failures and by what our culture tells us we don’t have.... Lives that we define by what we think we need to buy or own or accomplish....

This is a story about identity. Jesus comes into our lives and tells us that we are already beloved children of God.  Jesus calls you by name. He doesn’t identify you by what you think we lack.  He reminds us of our real, God-given identities.  Right here at the font, we are named children of God.  

This is a story about need. Jesus heals us of our disappointments.  He forgives our sins.  He reminds us that God gives us abundant life - a life full of love, a life full of possibilities, a future full of hope.  

We can reject the false identities that the culture wants to sell us.  Jesus gives us everything we really need.  We no longer need to be afraid. 

But, Jesus knows how easy it is for the demons to come back and tempt us into believing we are lacking.  And Jesus has a plan for that, too.

Jesus invites you to come weekly to hear the Word and share the Meal together.  He invites you to see the cross, the font, the altar as symbols that remind you that the reign of God has come near. 

Jesus invites you to be healed and to live as beloved children of God.  Amen.

Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to John, the 14th chapter. 

Glory to you, O Lord.

8 Philip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." 9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, "Show us the Father'? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. 15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

[25 "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.]

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.

Today we celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit.  It is one of the three great festivals of the Church.   But it is the one without the reindeer or the bunnies, so the church gets to celebrate it without all that distraction.   Although it sometimes falls on Mother's Day, or graduation day, or Memorial Day, the rest of the world still ignores it and leaves it to the church.   

On the day of Pentecost we pray that the Holy Spirit will come to us in new ways and teach us and lead us and guide us.  We pray especially that the Holy Spirit will continue to bless Zach and Ally and Lily and Paige and they affirm their faith. 

In the reading from Romans, Paul says the Holy Spirit comes to lead us.  The Spirit comes to make us children of God.  We were all adopted as God's children in our baptism.  Most of us were very young so our parents and sponsors or godparents made promises for us.  They promised to live with us among God's people.  

They promised to bring us to worship so that we can hear the Word of God and share in the sacrament of Holy Communion.  They promised to teach us the 10 commandments, the Lord's Prayer and the Creed.  

They promised to place the Bible in our hands.  They promised to pray for us and to bring us up in the faith of the church. 

On our behalf, they proclaimed their faith using the Apostles creed, the creed the church has always used for baptisms. They said they believed in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  They renounced sin, the devil, and all things that rebel against God.  

Then we were sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.  We were no longer just our parents' children, we became God's children.  

Parents, is that something you thought about when you brought your children (Ally and Paige and Lily and Zach) for baptism?  Did you think you were giving them up for adoption?  Because you were.  That is exactly what we do as parents when we bring our children to the baptismal font.  We give them up to God.   

Actually, we acknowledge that they always did belong to God.  It is good for us to stand up and publicly say it though.  We need to remember that we don't own our children.  We need to remember that they belong to God.  

God allows the church the privilege of having children to raise and to love and to nurture.  There is a blessing in Psalm 128: "May you live to see your children's children." Some of you are here today to see your grandchildren confirm their faith.  I don't have to tell you - you already know that you are richly blessed to have this privilege.  You have been a strong influence on them as they grew in Christ.  This community of faith thanks you for your witness.  

When we say we are God's children, we don't mean we remain God's little kids.  We just mean we are sons and daughters.  Affirmation of baptism is a time when we mark the passage from being a child to being an adult in the faith. 

Four of our youth are affirming their baptism in a few minutes.  When young people do this for the first time, the church calls it confirmation.

Confirmation has picked up many meanings throughout the years, some of them inaccurate. First, let me tell you what confirmation is not.  It is not a graduation.  In no way does it mean that someone has learned all they need to know about the Bible and the faith of the church.  One sign of adulthood is knowing what you don't know and seeking to learn more.

Confirmation does not mean that your parents can take a break from driving you to church now. It also doesn't mean you get a few cards and presents, although you will. 

Confirmation does mean that Paige, Lily, Zach, and Ally are making the promises of baptism for themselves.  They are taking on the adult responsibility of being a son and daughter of God. The promises their parents and sponsors made are now their own promises.   These promises are very serious business and require a certain level of maturity.  

It takes maturity to say you are going to make your life among God's faithful people.  When we make that promise, we are saying what kind of people we will hang out with for the rest of our lives.  We are promising to be an active member of this community of believers.  

On the surface, that may not sound too hard.  Christians are supposed to be nice, right? But those of us who have been surrounded by church people our whole lives can tell you that we can be just as sinful and as hard to get along with as everybody else.  In our best moments we Christians recognize our own sinfulness and we forgive each other.

It takes maturity to be the one to take responsibility for hearing God's word and sharing in the Lord's Supper.  We all know how easy it is to sleep in on Sunday and just think maybe you will go to church the next week.  Next week can turn into next Christmas and next Easter and next year all too easily.  We rejoice today that Lily, Paige, Ally, and Zach are promising to regularly hear the Word and share the meal with us.  

It takes maturity to proclaim the good news of Christ through your words and deeds. It is often difficult for us shy Lutherans to speak of our faith.  Proclaiming the good news through our actions sometimes requires difficult decisions too.  We rejoice that these four youth are promising to do this and we promise to be there for them and support them.  

It takes maturity to promise to serve all people and follow the example of Jesus.  When you make this promise as an adult son and daughter of God, you ask different questions than you used to ask when you were a child.  You used to ask, "what will my parents think?" or "will I get caught?"  Now, you will ask, "Does this hurt other people or help them?" and "what would Jesus do?" 

And finally, our confirmands will be promising to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.  We all want world peace.  We all want freedom and justice for all people.  

We aren't asking some high schoolers to promise bring it about on their own.  We are asking them to promise to work with anyone who is working for justice and peace and to support those causes.

This all sounds pretty scary and pretty impossible for four young people no matter how mature they are.  But there is very good news here.  The whole congregation promises to support you and pray for you in your life in Christ.

And there is even better news.  Remember what you each say when you make the promise? You each say, "I do, and I ask God to help and guide me." God is always there to help us and guide us. 

Paige, Lily, Zach, and Ally, you are children of God. As you make these promises today, the whole congregation rejoices with you. No matter what happens in your life, the Holy Spirit promises to be with you always, to hold you close, to lead you, and to guide your life. And remember, God always keeps promises. And all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. Amen. 

Seventh Sunday of Easter, June 2, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to John, the 17th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus prayed: "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 "Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

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

Sermon Easter 7

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

Today we hear stories about captivity and freedom and the power of Christ who prays for us.  

A young girl is a slave to men who sell her skills for their own profit.  Paul and Silas are slaves of the Most High God.  They are held captive in prison stocks along with the rest of the prisoners.  The prison guard is captive to his vocation, believing it defines his life.  

Freedom came to all of them through the power of Christ who prayed that all people may be one. That all may have healing, wholeness, and unity in their lives. 

The first story is about the young slave girl.  She was probably a teenager.  She is not named in the story because she is a slave.  She is the property of some men who are taking advantage of her, exploiting her for their own profit.  Luke tells us that she has the “spirit of divination” which is a translation of the Greek words that mean the spirit of a python, or a snake spirit.  

Unlike Harry Potter, she can’t talk to snakes.  What she can do is tell fortunes.  And she is good at it.  Her owners are making a great deal of money charging for her fortune telling skills.  

Now, I don’t believe that there are people who are really able to tell your fortune.  I like to think of this girl as someone who is very perceptive, like people who earn money with fortune telling today.  She is good at reading people’s faces.  She knows what they are hoping to hear, and that’s what she tells them.

She had been paying close attention to Paul and Silas, listening to them preach.  She sure had their number.  She knew exactly who they were and what they were doing.  She was telling everybody all about it.  Everywhere they went she was calling out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”  

We don’t know why she was doing that.  Perhaps it was a way of showing her fortune telling skills, a form of advertising to drum up business for herself.  Perhaps she was intrigued by their message.  Perhaps she, herself, was looking for the way of salvation.

I wonder if Paul and Silas appreciated it at first.   She must have been drawing a crowd for them.  After a few days, she became really annoying, though.  So, Paul, through the power of Christ, healed her of the demon that had possessed her and allowed her to tell fortunes.  She was set free from the thing that was being used to exploit her.

Interesting, isn’t it, that Paul and Silas can preach all they want, but once they upset someone’s ability to exploit someone else for money, they are arrested.  They aren’t arrested for preaching the good news.  They are arrested because their preaching and healing has become an economic and political issue.  

The slave owners could have pressed charges against Paul and Silas under Roman property law for depriving them of the ability to make money from a slave.  That’s not what they did, though.  They made it a political and ethnic issue. The first thing they do is point out that Paul and Silas are Jewish.  Then they complain that Paul and Silas are subversives.  That they were undermining Roman order with Jewish customs.  

Instead of a straight forward matter of Roman property law, the slave owners make Paul and Silas out to be enemies of the state, the most dangerous of all criminals.  Not unlike what happened to Jesus.  Not unlike what can happen to minorities, especially religious minorities, today. 

Could it be that when the church challenges unjust economic systems, we will be accused of political offenses?  

Paul and Silas are convicted by the magistrates and the crowd.  They are stripped and beaten with rods and locked in prison with their feet in stocks. But, Paul and Silas know they serve the Most High God even when they are locked up by the Roman magistrates.  

They know who their real Lord is, even when the government tries to lord its power over them.  So, as slaves of the Most High God, Paul and Silas are singing hymns and praying all evening, and they don’t care how late it has gotten.  The other prisoners seem to be enjoying the music and the message.  

Then the Most High God intervenes.   God sends an earthquake.  All the chains are broken and the doors were opened to the prison.  Don’t you think the prisoners would have jumped up and run away?   The guard sure thought that's what they had done when the earthquake woke him up.  

The guard was captive to the idea that his job defined who he was.  He thought that his life was no more that what he did for a living.  His meaning in life came only from his profession.  When he thought he had failed miserably at his job, he tried to take his own life.  

Isn’t it ironic that the ones who were shackled in prison were really the ones who were free in Christ.  And the jailer, the guy with the keys, was the one shackled to his duties.

Through the power of Christ, the guard was set free from his captivity. His life was no longer defined by his vocation.  None of the prisoners had escaped.  Paul and Silas were just sitting there. The guard is spared dishonor and shame.

This jailer knew his life would never be the same.  He knew he had been saved from death and he knew it was because of divine intervention.  He went to Paul and Silas and asked what he needed to do to be saved. 

The jailer believed in Jesus Christ as the Lord who had set him free and saved his life. He and his whole family were baptized. Violence and confinement used to define his life. Now they are replaced with freedom and faith. 

In the beginning, there were three types of captivity.   The girl is a slave to the spirit of divination which makes her a target for exploitation.  Paul and Silas are locked in prison because they are slaves to the most high God. The jailer is a slave to his sense of duty and nearly takes his own life when he feels he has failed at it.  

In the end they are all freed, freed by the power of Christ.  They are all healed and made whole.  They are given unity.  There is no longer Jew (Paul and Silas) nor Greek (the magistrates and the slave owners).  There is no longer slave (the girl and the prisoners) or free (Slave owners, magistrates, jailer). There is no longer male nor female.  

Freedom came to all of them through the power of Christ who prayed that all people may be one. That all may have healing, wholeness, and unity in their lives.  

Freedom comes to all of us as well. God answers prayer, through the power of Christ who still prays for us, that all people may be one. And that all may have healing, wholeness, and unity, in this life and the next. 


May 26, 2019 Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Holy Gospel according to John, the 14th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord.

23 Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. 25 "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, "I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

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.

Today I would like to share a vision.  It is the most beautiful vision ever. It is the vision of the Holy City, a vision of what the world looks like when Jesus reigns and we walk as children of the light of God.  

The Holy City is also known as Zion, or the new Jerusalem.  John uses beautiful pictures to help us imagine the glory of God.   In his vision, one of the angels carries him to the top of a high mountain to show him the holy city coming out of heaven from God.  

When I was in Tanzania a few years ago, I was on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, a very high mountain. The city of Jerusalem is often called Mount Zion because it is built at the top of a hill. You always have to go up when you go to Jerusalem. 

Like the Holy City in John’s vision, there was lots of water every where I went in Tanzania. It started raining every evening when the sun set around six o'clock and rained steadily until 9 or 10 am. Then the sun came out and it was absolutely beautiful. 

Tema is a two point parish. The first 2 weeks I was there, we walked a couple of times from Tema to Nrowony where the second church was.  The only way to get there was to walk on the mountain path which was only passable the first two weeks I was there because of the rains and the mud.    

On our walk, we crossed several streams on foot bridges. The mountain streams ran fast and clear and cold from the snow melt. The view was incredible. Everything was green and lush. There were banana trees and coffee plants. The birds sang as they flew from tree to tree.  Everything was like an amazingly beautiful vision of creation, very different from the place we live. 

John’s vision of the Holy City is also different from the world where we live.  Everyone who goes to Jerusalem, goes to Temple Square. In the old Jerusalem, the Temple is the focal point of the city.  The Temple in Jerusalem was God’s house. Everyone knew you went to the Temple to find God and bring prayers and offerings.

One of the things you might notice about the Holy City is that there is no Temple. Instead of a temple in the center of the city, there is a throne.  The throne is the throne of God and the Lamb.

God’s presence fills the city.  God’s people are everywhere, too.  The people of God reign with Christ as priests.  They don’t reign over anyone the way a king reigns.  They share in God’s reign.  They share in God’s work wherever they go, whatever they do.

The old city of Jerusalem had a wall around it.  There were several gates, but they were small.  They were so small they were often called “the eye of a needle.”  You remember the remark Jesus made about how it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven?  He was talking about the city gates. 

The new Holy City has a city wall, too.  The walls are made of jewels.  There are twelve gates.  I am sure you remember hearing that the gates are made of pearls.  Each gate is a single pearl.  

That is not the only difference between the pearly gates and the gates of the old city.  The old city locks the gates and guards them at night.  In New Jerusalem, the gates are always open.  Everyone is welcome, no documentation necessary, no matter what country they come from.  People enter the pearly gates from all the nations of the earth and walk together on the golden streets.  

The Lamb of God is the lamp of the Holy City. The light of the glory of God streams through the open gates.  That light guides the people in, from every nation on earth.  This is a very multicultural city. Everyone walks in the light of God. 

It is a very clean city, too.  Nothing unclean can enter it.  No one who practices abomination or falsehood may enter, no sinners allowed.  The only ones who may enter are the ones whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.  

Naturally, this Holy City has a river. The water is crystal clear and it flows from the throne of God. This river is the center of the city.  It runs right through the middle of it.  This river is the water of life.  Those who drink from it will never thirst.

An enormous tree spans the river, growing on both sides.  This is no ordinary tree.  It isn’t special just because of its size.   It is special because of what it does.  It bears twelve kinds of fruit, a different fruit each month.  This is the tree of life.  Everyone who eats its fruit will live forever. 

The leaves of this tree are no ordinary leaves.  They have healing properties.  They don’t just heal individual sickness, though.  These leaves have the power to heal entire nations. 

Imagine that - the power to heal the nations.   Imagine having the power to bring peace and healing to our country, to Syria, to South Sudan, to Iraq, Afghanistan, to every place where there is warfare and strife.  

Imagine having the power to bring people together, the power to eliminate violence in our cities, the power to solve political and economic problems, to eliminate racism, the power to heal our environment, the power to bring people hope.

Imagine a place where people share in God’s reign.  They do God’s work to feed everyone, so no one is hungry.  They do God’s work to bring about healing and peace for all nations. 

They do God’s work to preserve the earth and all its trees and rivers and plants and animals.  They pray and work continuously that the reign of God will come on earth as it is in heaven. All the peoples praise God from all the ends of the earth. 

This is a view of a beautiful, green, park-like city.  The fruit tree makes us think of a garden. It takes us back to that first garden, the garden of Eden.  There were important fruit trees there, too.  

There was that fruit tree that our first parents, Adam and Eve, weren’t supposed to eat from, but they did.  We can’t go back to that garden.  That gate is guarded by angels with flaming swords.  

There was another important tree in that garden.  That was really the reason we were thrown out.  God didn’t want us to eat from that other tree.  That tree was called the “tree of life.” God did not want us to eat from the tree of life and live forever in our sin. 

This Holy City is where we find the tree of life from the Garden of Eden.  God was there, too, in the midst of that garden. God has forbidden us to return there because of our sin. No one who is unclean, no one who has sin can enter the Holy City, either.  

Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life may enter the Holy City and eat from the tree of life and live forever.  

Our sin has made us unclean. There is only one way we can ever enter the Holy City.  We must be washed in the waters of the river of life.  That water flows from the throne of God.  That water has the power to wash away our sins. 

I have good news for us all today. We have been washed in the waters of the river of life.  In Holy Baptism, our names were written in the Lamb’s book of life.  We were marked on our foreheads with the cross of Christ forever.  

We are the ones who walk as children of the light. We share God’s work. And we pray that God's kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen. 

Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Holy Gospel according to John, the 10th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord.

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." Jesus answered, "I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.  What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand.  The Father and I are one.”

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

Sermon Easter 4

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

The Judeans, especially the religious leaders, have been demanding answers from Jesus. They want him to prove himself. 

We can sure relate to that. We have questions for Jesus, too, especially lately, with everything that has been going on in the news.

Yes, we have questions -

What can be done to stop the violence, Jesus? 

Why is Cain still killing Abel? 

Why do people want to hurt each other?

Even children in schools, even people praying and worshiping are targets of violence.  Why, Jesus?

Why can’t our politicians and people agree on anything that might help?

And, not just this week but every week, we ask Jesus:

How can we get more people to come to church, especially young people?

What can be done about hunger and homelessness and poverty and disease in our community and the world?

The Judeans wanted answers from Jesus. They wanted him to respond and tell them plainly if he is the Messiah.  Maybe they even wanted their own personal miracle to prove it. He doesn’t give the answer they want. 

We also want answers from Jesus. Why do bad things happen?  Why do people do bad things? We would like clear instructions about how to improve the world we live in.  Jesus doesn’t answer us directly either.

Listen to what Jesus does say, to the Judeans, and to us, “My sheep hear my voice.  I know them and they follow me.”  He knows us.  He knows our concerns. He knows what has been happening in the news.  He knows what is keeping us awake at night.  We can share anything at all with Jesus because he already knows.  We don’t have to hold anything back. 

He says, “My sheep hear my voice.”  This is good news indeed.  He doesn’t tell us we have to listen hard or we will miss it.  It isn’t something we have to work to do.  We will always be able to hear him.  

No matter where we wander off, his voice will reach us.  And we will wander off.  We all know that wandering is part of our nature.  We get distracted.  We think the grass will be greener somewhere else.  We follow someone who leads us away from the rest of the flock.  

Sometimes we will wander away from the right pathways into places we should not be.  Sometimes we think we are on the right pathway, but we have made a wrong turn. 

Sometimes, we wander away where we can’t see the shepherd.  We don’t know where the rest of the flock is grazing.  We feel alone and we fear the wolves, both the real ones, and the ones we only imagine are out there.  

Whether we stay on the right pathway, or wander far away, no matter where we go, we can never go beyond the reach of Jesus' voice.  Even when we go through the valley of the shadow of death, he will be with us. His words will comfort us.

When I was a Girl Scout leader and took the troop hiking in the woods, I told each scout to carry a whistle.  Every scout knows that they are supposed to blow the whistle if they get separated from the group.  They don’t just blow it once, though.  They keep blowing the whistle until the others follow the sound and find them.  

Jesus is like that scout who doesn’t just blow the whistle once. Jesus doesn’t just say a few words and stop talking.  Jesus still speaks.  You can’t shut him up.  No one can make him stop.  Not even death could shut him up.

He keeps speaking when other voices try to drown him out.  Other voices and other noises have always tried to drown him out. Sometimes it can be a challenge to sort out which voice is his.

Have you ever told someone they had “selective hearing?”  Have you ever been told you have “selective hearing?”  You know what that means.  It means you think someone just hears what they want to hear.

Sometimes we are like the Judeans.  We ask Jesus questions and he doesn’t tell us what we want to hear, so we develop “selective hearing" and think he has stopped talking.  We want Jesus to say, “yes” to all our requests, but he doesn’t. 

Then the other voices seem louder and louder.  Those voices don't always tell the truth, but they may be telling us what we want to hear. They tell us that we are the ones in control. They tell us we have to protect what we have so that no one will take it away.  They tell us that people who don’t look like us or pray like us or love like us, want to hurt us.  They tell us that people who don’t believe the same things we do about God want to hurt us. 

While the other voices get louder, we hear the noises, too, and noises scare us.  We want to hide when we hear the noises.  We remember that there really are wolves out there. We are afraid to go out and do what we need to do. We tell each other to “shelter in place.” 

Then, we worry that there won’t be enough for everyone, so we don’t share.  We get distracted with our worries and we forget all about listening for the voice of the shepherd.  

Jesus never promised that the world we live in would be safe.  It certainly wasn’t safe for him. There are wolves out there. The other voices and the noises will always be out there trying to drown out his voice.  

But Jesus continues to speak.  His voice is reassuring.  He reminds us we can always hear him and we will always know him.  We can tune our “selective hearing” to the channel his voice is on. We will always get good reception when we do that. 

Jesus speaks to us today.  He says words like these:  

“I forgive you. I forgive those who have hurt you.”

“I love you always.”

“I give you eternal life.”

“No one can snatch you out of my hand.”

“This is my body, given for you.  This is my blood, shed for you.”

“My peace I leave with you.”

Today, let us live together in Christ’s peace, trusting that his words are true.  The victory is already won. There will be a great multitude, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne....for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be our shepherd.  

It’s a beautiful vision.  You can just imagine the multitudes, people from every tribe and nation, too many to count.  They are all robed in white, waving palm branches.  The angels surround the throne of God, leading the great choir of people in singing praise. 

They are singing the same songs that we sing.  “Blessing and honor, and glory and might, be to our God forever and ever.”  So when we get there, and join them in the choir, we will already know the words. 

God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. We will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Third Sunday of Easter

The Holy Gospel according to John, the 21st chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord.

1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." 6 He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." 16 A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me.”

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 all have different stories of how God has called us to be a Christian.  Some stories are dramatic.   They would make a good movie of the week.  Some stories are more ordinary.  They only seem to matter to the people involved.   All these stories have something in common, though.  When God calls you, your life will never be the same. 

Today we heard stories about some of the saints of the church.  We heard about Paul, Ananias, and Peter. God called them and their lives were never the same. 

Let’s look first at the story of Paul.  Our first lesson calls him by his Hebrew name, Saul, a name he shares with one of the great kings.  The Saul we hear about today was obsessed with Jewish religious purity.  He is the king of making sure his religion is not polluted, not watered down, not ruined, not changed.  

Saul becomes furious when he even thinks about people changing the way his faith is taught and understood. He doesn’t want anyone re-interpreting the holy scriptures in any way, shape, or form.  Saul just loves that old-time religion.  

As far as he is concerned, his way of understanding the scriptures is the traditional way, the right way.  His way of interpreting the law is the right way, the one and only way.  

No wonder he is furious.  These followers of the “Way” are invading the synagogues.  They are teaching the faithful people a different message.  They are perverting the ancient teachings that he is so protective of.  He becomes so concerned that he becomes a bounty hunter for the high priest.  

We meet Saul as he is on the road to Damascus.  He is heading to the capital of Syria to go to all the synagogues and round up all the Christians.  

Jesus has a different plan for Saul. Jesus decides he can use that kind of enthusiasm.   Jesus has a real sense of humor about these things.  He likes to surprise us. So he shows us again how he can turn great evil into even greater good.  

So Saul gets to tell one of the most dramatic conversion stories ever.  Jesus appears to him and speaks to him on the road.  Saul is struck blind for three days. He has to be led by the hand into the city.  He can’t eat or drink anything during those three days.  

Three days.  Does that remind you of anything?  God can do a lot in three days.  God called Saul, and his life was never the same.  Saul starts using his Roman name, Paul, and brings the good news of Jesus Christ to the whole gentile world, including us.

Now, let’s look at the story of Ananias.  Ananias is already a faithful follower of Jesus, a member of the Christian community in Damascus, probably a leader of that community, possibly their pastor.  We don’t know his conversion story. We don’t know if he has been a believer all his life, or if he became a follower of Jesus as an adult.  

Ananias has a dramatic story to tell, too. He also has a vision of Jesus.  Jesus gives him very explicit directions, what street to go to, what house to look for.  But Jesus tells him to do something that feels very dangerous.  He is supposed to seek out the very man who would like to have him, along with his whole congregation, arrested and killed.

I love Ananias and his story. I always thought it would be great to get such detailed directions from Jesus.   Every time I have been between calls, I asked God for more specifics, but in my case, the Holy Spirit guided me to work hard to figure things out. 

Ananias gets specifics, but then he argues with the Lord, which is probably what I would do, too, in his case.  He tries to tell Jesus that these instructions must be a mistake.  Jesus must have the wrong man.  Saul is a bad guy, a persecutor of Christians.  

But the Lord said, “Go,” so Ananias went.  He was probably terrified, but he obeyed Jesus anyway.  What an example for us!  Ananias was faithful when God called him.  Not just his own life, but many lives were changed. 

Our gospel lesson tells us something of the story of Peter.  Peter was always the impulsive disciple.  I think of him as something of an extrovert, the kind of person who thinks out loud, the kind of guy who doesn’t really know what he thinks until he hears himself saying it.   He’s the leader of the group.  People just naturally follow him. 

It was a couple of weeks after the resurrection.  The disciples were out of their locked room and things had calmed down in Jerusalem.  The crowds who came for the Passover holiday had gone home.   People had gone back to work.  

The world was anything but normal and ordinary for the disciples, so maybe they thought doing something normal and ordinary would help them feel less strange about it all.  Many of them had been fishermen before Jesus called them.  It would feel good to fish again.  

So Peter said he was going fishing and several of the disciples said they would go, too.   Their attempt to feel normal didn’t work, though.  They didn’t catch a single fish.  Now that they knew Jesus, there was no way they could go back to their former life.  Everything had changed and there was no going back.  

Jesus had another surprise for them, too.  He was already on the shore cooking fish.  So the carpenter told the fishermen to cast the net on the other side of the boat.  I don’t fish, but even I know this sounds totally ridiculous.  But they obey Jesus even when it sounded completely absurd.  

One-hundred fifty-three fish - some scholars say 153 is the number of nations in the known world at that time.  In any case, the disciples' vocation and their lives had totally changed.  Jesus had called them. They could never be just fishermen anymore.   

Jesus fed them that day.  After breakfast, Jesus talks to Peter.  If you love me, feed my lambs, tend my sheep.  Jesus is very clear.  We show our love for him when we feed and tend the flock.  Jesus called Peter, and his life was never the same. Peter became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. 

These stories I shared sound like they are about Paul and Ananias and Peter.  But they are really stories about Jesus.  He is the main character in all of them.  He is the primary actor.  He calls us.  He invites us to follow.  After we hear Jesus, our lives are never the same. 

I don’t have a dramatic story like that to tell you about when I became a Christian.  When I was growing up in the Bible belt, I used to feel bad about that.  I thought I should have a story of a specific time when Jesus spoke to me, a time when I first heard him, first answered the call to believe.  But, I don't have a story like that.

Most of us don’t have a story like Paul, Ananias, or Peter.  We do have a 

story, though. There is a hymn in the old Junior Hymnal, the one my Sunday School used. It’s a song that tells my story. Maybe this is your story too. It's a hymn about baptism. It reminds us that when God calls us, our lives will never be the same.  

1. I became a Christian, when an infant mild,

At God’s holy fountain, I was made his child.

In the name of Christian, I will glory now,

Evermore remember my baptismal vow. 

3. All a Christian’s blessings I will claim for mine:

Holy work and worship, Fellowship divine.

Father, Son, and Spirit, Give me grace that I

Still may live a Christian, and a Christian die.  Amen. 

(The Junior Hymnal, hymn 170, Augustana Book Concern, Rock Island, IL 1928, 12th edition, 1953.)