Monday, April 30, 2018

Devotion - Monday, April 30

Your grades do matter.  And, your studies are very important.  Your job is to be a student, and you are to do that as well as you possibly can.

But how well you do your job should not be seen as the measure of your worth.

God has claimed you and has called you one of his precious children.  That identity and that claim on you is what defines who you are and your status in life.  In truth, the reason you are to do well in school is so that you might do well in the world.  You learn so that you might be a servant.  The information you absorb and the ability to solve problems prepares you for the opportunities you will have to help the world look more as God would have it be.

Study hard; do well.  But when you find yourself becoming too overwhelmed remember the simple phrase used by Martin Luther whenever he was in distress.  He simply spoke - out loud, even if to no one other than himself - "I am baptized."

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sermon - 5th Sunday of Easter

John 15:1-8    

                                                                     Vines and branches 

A few years ago, I got myself organized well enough to get a photo on the cover of the bulletin. I wasn’t quite that organized this week.  The earlier bulletin cover was a flower bed, in my neighborhood, which had been knocked down by a strong wind.  Do any of you remember that?  What some of you are sure to remember is that I went on-and-on in my sermon about this bed of “Day-lilies”, while at least a dozen gardeners and horticulture types were looking at the photo and thinking, “Who is going to tell Pastor Chris that these are NOT day lilies?”  The photo was of Tiger Lilies; or I think Jean got even more specific and told me were Oriental Lilies.

It was a very helpful photo – the impact of which got lost in my lack of knowledge.

Never one to learn from my mistakes, I am going to try it again today.  The lack of an actual photo support might be a draw-back; or it might allow (this time) my image to serve its purpose.

Also in my neighborhood, on the path taken when I go for walk, are four very well cared for and aged grape vines.  They are in the yard of Joe Allen – he taught Chemistry at CU, and his wife established Allen’s Creations.  Trent still runs that family business.

Joe does what you are supposed to do with grape vines – he prunes them.  And when you prune as you ought, what you get is a very well established vine, and only a few runners which are following the wires of the trellis. 

I always admire Joe’s little vineyard.  When I realized I would be preaching on John 15, I took a little extra time to look at those vines, and to learn from them what Jesus is trying to say to us when he calls himself the vine, and his Father the vine-grower, and us the branches.

Have any of the rest of you kept up a vineyard?  Or paid attention to one?  Feel free to point out errors as I go along.  But, do me the opposite favor and if anything I say matches your experience, you could offer an audible, “Yes,” or the more traditional church refrain of “Amen.”

So, back to Joe’s little vineyard and the reason that I wish I had photos.  When Joe prunes, the vine looks pretty pitiful.  It was only a few days or weeks earlier when the trellis is hidden by the leaves and fruit.  There are sometimes birds hiding in there – big birds – eating their fill.  On more than one occasion, a deer was there, unnoticed Laura’s dog startled and the deer ran away.  The vine looks so huge.  And then, Joe cuts all that away.  And one would be inclined to ask, “Why?”

The answer is that leaves thick cover don’t produce fruit.  Only strong and vigorous branches.

When Jesus says that the vine-grower is coming, with pruning shears in hand, I think about Joe’s grapevines.  And as much as I hate to think of the removal of thick green leaves, I know that when God prunes it strengthens the harvest.  It may look a bit weird or counter-productive to push aside and even discard what is pleasing to the eye and so easily mistaken for indications of a plenty.  But this is what God does.  The vine-grower knows the end toward which we need to move.  And while the steps needed to get to that end might not seem good to us – they do, in the wisdom of the one who has carefully tended to the vine and the branches.

Sometimes the Church and its ministries become too attached to the leaves and the overgrowth.  In too many instances, we shy away from the pruning which will make the next season’s harvest rich and lush and flavorful.

There may be times when the pain of pruning so overwhelms our senses that we fail to share in God’s celebration of the harvest which this pruning makes possible.

That’s the first thing I want to draw from this text for this congregation, today.  We may see Farewell as painful – and it can be.  But it is also a Godspeed.  And Godspeed is what joins our gaze to that of our Father (the vine-grower) who is able to see how this separation allows the good news to move from one location to many, many others.

Here is the second thing I observed about Joe’s grape vines.  And, I want to be careful.  I realize that this observation may not sit well with a number of God’s precious children.

That vine, growing out of the ground, isn’t very straight.  It is really crooked.  And while few things ever grow perfectly straight, at least part of the reason a grape vine bends from side to side is because of the tugging of the branches.  The branches, when they get going, pull mightily on the vine.  And the force they exert does affect the vine.

As an image, not as some divine revelation, this encourages me to remember how responsive the vine (and the vine-grower) are to the efforts of the branches.

Jesus establishes his Church; and then he entrusts it Peter, and James, and John, and the rest of his followers.  God and Jesus may never change, but the way they live in the midst of the Church does (possibly) change. 

We waste too much time trying to return to an earlier mindset or construct of doctrinal affirmations.  The ancient creeds of the Church will also be foundational and essential to our life as Christians.  But, from the image of the vine and its branches draw the awareness that over the years and through the seasons what happens in the life of the branches exerts influence and bends the vine.

In preparing for next season’s growth, the vine-grower will take note if the vine is being pulled too far in one direction or another.  And the pruning shears will address the problem.

Do not be afraid or shy away from the ways in which you, as a precious branch on the vine is tugging and pulling.  Even when you realize that the vine is being moved. 

Among the things most important for any preacher to communicate is the depth of God’s love for us and the assurance that God interacts with us.  To be a person of faith is to live in the presence of God and to know that God is living among us.  Branches are not dead, impassionate objects.  They are living and growing and changing and producing.

The last image I would attempt to share with you from Joe’s vineyard, is how the vines and the branches have utterly destroyed the trellis.  The power and strength of those little bitty branches have snapped 4X4’s in half.  Joe has patched it up, with some new boards and stakes, but it is a losing battle.  The vines and the branches are going to do what they are going to do.  And the structure imposed by a mere mortal ain’t going to get in the way.

Keep that in mind.  Like others, I have come to think that the Church is going through a time of transition every bit as significant as the one experienced in 1517ff.  The vine, the branches are likely to crush more than a few of the structures so carefully crafted by decision makers and policy setters.  That is okay.  Don’t fret.  Trust the vine and the vine-grower.

If you haven’t observed a vineyard, I hope you will find a chance to do so.  The images of the bible drew on what people experienced in their daily lives.  Our lives are so distanced from an agrarian culture it may be difficult for us to comprehend the image.  That is one of the reasons why so many new writers are retelling the ancient stories in differing ways.  Their images and style may surprise or shock us – shock us because we fail to realize how shocking the twists Jesus put on the agrarian were in the stories he told.

1.       Don’t be afraid of the pruning
2.      As a branch – tug with all your might in order to correct the previous misalignment of the vine
3.      And when structures and institutions come crashing down – do not be afraid.  The vine and the branches are much stronger than frames erected to hold them.


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, April 25

Martin Luther surely had Matthew 5:21-26 in mind when he wrote the Small Catechism.

In Matthew 5, Jesus points out, "You have heard, "You shall not kill..... But I say to you that everyone who is angry shall be liable...."

The commandments of God not only rule our actions, they are also directives for our emotions and our attitudes.

A Christian can never simply ask, "Am I guilty of a violation of the law?"  The simple fact that another has raised the question of our transgression means that our mood and our interaction has not been consistent with God's instructions to be at peace with one another.

Lest you begin to think, "This is too much...." remember God's gracious and forgiving nature.  More to the point, abandon the notion of God as some litigious keeper of a tally sheet.  What God seeks is a change of heart and a renewal of spirit - that transformation in which we are motivated and guided by one simple commandment - to love as we have first been loved.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, April 25

The relationship between God and Moses is affirmed in Exodus 33.  While the people Moses leads from Egypt often display an impatience, Moses is faithful.  He is faithful to God; and he is faithful to the people whom he leads.

Remember that Moses was reluctant to go to Egypt, and lead these people out.  It took a burning bush to convince him this is what he ought to do.  Now, their future is so intertwined with his that he cannot see himself without them.

After the incident involving the golden calf, God is considering what to do.  Moses asks God for forgiveness.  Moses tells God that if destruction and death are to come to these people, then kill him also.

Too often we are allowed to think of our connections with others as voluntary.  We choose how much we will engage and always reserve the right to disengage.  We even have this mind-set about Church and being a part of God's community.

The relationship between God and Moses is instructive for us.  We see what happens when there is a meaningful connection between God and a mere mortal;  the mere mortal takes on the very divine characteristic of no longer thinking of themselves as an individual, totally free to pick their own, individual path.  The person who knows God and is known by God finds themselves also fulling attached to those around them.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, April 24

In Exodus 32 we read the story of the Golden Calf.  While Moses is on the mountain, with God, getting the Commandments, the people grow impatient and they ask Aaron to make for them gods of gold.  

Aaron instructs them to take their ear rings and jewelry and he melts them down and fashions a golden calf.  The people gather around it and acclaim it as their god.

In this story, it is very easy to see the false god.  In this story, it is quickly understood that the golden calf has no divine power or divine compassion for the people.  It is merely a god fashioned by the people, to serve their own purposes.

This story needs to instruct us.  There are lessons here to be learned.

First, we readily see the golden calf as a false god.  Is it as easy to identify that which has become a false god in our lives or in our world?  We have them; they do exist.  Do we recognize them?  Notice them? Label them for what they are?

Second, the difficulties in spotting false gods may be related to the way in which they are fashioned.  We make them in accordance with our own desires and wishes.  In a false god, we are free to mold that god to the shapes and forms we would prefer.  A god crafted by our own hands is less likely to identify those parts of our lives which are in need of repentance.

I encourage you to read Exodus 32.  And I ask you to spend some time identifying the false gods around you.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Devotion - Monday, April 23

I spent hours preparing for my sermon yesterday.  I didn't spend hours, but I did prepare for the Sunday School discussion.  But it was a conversation in the LCM Lounge which may have been the most intense and important interaction of my day.

The conversation was already underway when I joined it.  One student was asking another student profound questions about heaven and hell, about salvation.  I just happened to walk in - and got involved.

This came back to me in my prayers this morning.  First, I prayed that my words and my contributions to the discussion were helpful and not harmful.  It is way too easy, without a prepared text, to say things which are not well reasoned and pastoral.

Second, I realize how great is my advantage in that my witnessing is most often controlled.  You, on the other hand, are surprised and caught up in discussions which simply happen.

Finally, I would share part of yesterday's discussion with you - by way of encouragement.  We brought things to a close with an acknowledgement that everyone's faith involves a leap and an admission of the gap.  Where that gap is, will differ from person to person.  If every aspect of our faith convictions were fully covered, it would no longer be faith.  This does not mean that we cease to probe the gap and strive for understanding, but it is an admission that we will finally need to say, "That is the part I leave to God."  And, the part left to God will vary, from one disciple to another.

Do not worry, when the orientation of another exposes your gap.  And - above all - do not shy away from helping another see the gap which they are leaping over.  (But do so lovingly - this is not a discussion of objective data!)

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sermon - 4th Sunday of Easter

John 10:11-18            

                                           A Good Shepherd is Always a Good Shepherd

“Good Shepherd Sunday” is as much a part of the liturgical calendar as “Doubting Thomas,” or “Mary’s Magnificat,” or “The Baptism of Jesus.”  You are going to have a Sunday every year when you get to hear these stories.  Was it last year, or the year before, when I made use of this Sunday to encourage everyone to practice repeating the 23rd Psalm by heart?

Good Shepherd Sunday is a regular, as it should be.  Because the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is powerful, and moving.

The image of Jesus as “The Good Shepherd” also serves a double purpose.  The image brings great comfort to us as followers of Jesus; and it sets forth an expectation for how Jesus’ followers are to represent Jesus in the world.

In my faith life and in my professional life, there is no image, or theological concept, or doctrinal statement which is as meaningful as the depiction of Jesus as “The Good Shepherd.”

While I often speak of how blessed was my childhood, there were also some dark days.  I didn’t understand it at the time, but my grandfather did meet many of the indicators for alcohol addiction.  My grandmother’s early death sent my mamma into a funk that lasted most of her adult life.  We became accustomed to repeating Daddy’s assertion that Mamma’s allergies were keeping her at home and in bed; but there were a lot of struggles with undiagnosed and untreated mood disorders.

It was these same family members who formed my appreciation for Jesus as “The Good Shepherd.”  They demonstrated to me a confidence in a Jesus who could and would and did lift us in his arms, hold us close to his heart, and say, “There, there.  Everything will be alright.”

Everything was alright; and it is alright; and it always will be.

Why?  Because we have a good shepherd.  We are loved and cared for by the one of whom Peter speaks in Acts 4 – this shepherd is the one in whose name the “good deed is done.” 

Everything will be alright.  Because this good shepherd is watching over us and is with us and will guide us.

I can’t remember whether we have notified the congregation that while in Wittenberg this March, the campus ministry students planted a tree in the Luther Garden.  There are to be 500 planted as part of the 500th anniversary, and now there is one with a dedication placard which reads: “Lutheran Campus Ministry-Clemson.”  When you sponsor a tree, you get to pick a dedication verse, which is noted on the brass plaque.  We picked Matthew 9:36. Maybe some of you know this verse.  I sure talk about it enough.  The verse reads: “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

I did have a strong influence on picking that verse.  Because the image of the good shepherd is so powerful to me.  It has become more meaningful to me each year in which I serve the Church through campus ministry.  College students are amazing individuals and they are continually exceeding so many expectations.  But they are also caught in times of transition which have the potential to exert unimaginable pressure and stress. 

These students are much smarter and aware of what the tremendous changes occurring on this planet and among its various sub-cultures.  But they are often unable to speak of these things and those fears by parents who are themselves too frightened to admit the truth.

I have mentioned before Kadison’s book, College of the Overwhelmed.  Andrew Zirschky has written a book which speaks of youth’s seemingly never ending use of those blasted cellphones.  In the book, he points out how that little plastic box is often the only shield youth have from a judging and cruel and name-calling world.  I have started looking at my screen a whole lot more.  My spirit is crushed when those who ought to be role models resort to name calling when confronted with differences of opinion or orientation.

When Jesus saw the overwhelmed masses of his day, he had compassion on them.  When he looked upon them and what he saw were God’s children - harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  And he lifted them in is arms, and he held them close to his heart, and said to them, “There, there.  Everything is going to be alright.” 

And it was.  And it is.  And it always will be.

It is my profound appreciation for the way in which Jesus has done this for me which undergirds my attempts to do this in the lives of others.  In a way which might be fool-hearted; which certainly allows for exploitation; and which many appropriately see as na├»ve – I try to imitate the pattern of that Good Shepherd.

I did say “try.”  And you are free to gather with others in the narthex and point all the times when I failed – and failed miserably.  You are also welcome – encouraged – to bring to the attention of others the ways in which such an attitude has exposed me, this ministry, and the congregation to liabilities and accusations.

I did say “try.”  Because I know that no attempts on my part will ever be worthy of mention in the same breath as the talk of the One who is The Good Shepherd.  I might attempt, but I cannot do it.  Who can?

The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd comforts me – and perhaps comforts you as well.  It can be – it ought to be – a driving force in our ministry.

The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd also confronts me – and perhaps confronts you as well.  It can be – it ought to be – a guiding force in how we live out our ministry in the world.

How will we see inner-city kids, caught in a seemingly endless cycle of poverty and crime?  Are they hooligans and leaches on our society?  Or are they sheep (lost sheep) in need of a compassionate and caring shepherd?

What s our attitude of addicts – be that alcohol or opioids?  Do we see morally flawed individuals, incapable of strapping on their armor and facing the world as it is?  Or do we see little lambs, so frightened by a world with plenty of work to do, but too little of it which pays a living wage?

And I would raise the touchy issue of refuges.  We know how often they are seen as a cover and shield for militants with every intention of destroying the way of life we have so pain-stakedly crafted for ourselves; illegals with no rights.  If the Good Shepherd is always a good shepherd, how does he see them?  And might his followers also act as good shepherd who will assist these sheep by helping them find the green pastures in which they might lie down in safety.

The image of the Good Shepherd makes it possible for me to get out of bed on those days when I had just as soon pull the covers over my head and insert ear plugs. 

It is a comforting image. 

It is the image which confronts me with need to speak to a hurting and distressed world the good news of this shepherd and his love.

It is the image which drives ministry and the mission of the Church in the world.  Remember the affirmation of our catechism – it was the whole world for which Jesus pays the price.  Not with silver and gold (those items so precious to us that we protect these chunks of mineral with all of our might and power.)  No, not with silver and gold but with his own precious blood.

The good shepherd takes us in is arms, holds us close to his heart, and tells us, “There, there.  It will be okay.”  And it will be.  It is.  And it forever will be. 

May it also be so in the way we share with others that which we ourselves have first received.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, April 19

I have let more than a few things fall off the edge of my plate over the course of the past three weeks.  I won't repeat the list of changes that have come within small circle of wife, father-in-law, and kids - but these changes have needed some attention, and I turned my focus there and away from my role as campus pastor.

This is as it should be.  "Work" is not nearly as important as care for those whom God has placed in our family.

I do wonder if I keep the same attitude when the "family member" isn't related to me by blood?  Do I display the same "It can wait" attitude when the request for support or assistance or love is coming toward me from a sister in Christ?

Jesus has made of us one family.  In this faith family, we are surely bound as tightly.  But do we realize this and remember this and act on this?

Whether we do or not, I hope you would agree with me in saying, "We should."

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, April 18

The plan for our Sunday morning bible study in the fall is to rotate topics from week to week.  On the 4th Sunday of each month we will talk about symbols and art.

The Roman and Orthodox churches are wonderful displays of the role of art in the life of the Church and Christians.  Fearing "graven images," much of the Protestant Church removed statues and murals.  

I remember my first worship experience in which icons were a part of the liturgy.  There was something powerful about gazing into the image and allowing my spirit to inform my thoughts.  I experienced the presence of God; I also received a glimpse of the depths of my connection to God, a connection too complex for words.

You are in university.  Every effort is made to increase the information stored in your brain.  Thinking is what you are doing all the time.  Except, perhaps, when you gather as God's children.  There and then, it is the convictions and the connections which give meaning and purpose.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, April 17

One of the lessons appointed for today is Colossians 1:1-14.  Paul opens this letter with words of encouragement.  These are folks recently introduced to the way of Jesus, so it is easy to understand how they might show growth with each passing day.

What about us?  Is there growth in our faith life?

We discussed this question on the Leadership Retreat.  Together we identified the ways in which growth might be measured:
  • Time spent with God and God's people
  • Depth of our confidence
  • Engagement with the needs of the world - through service
  • Interactions among our friend-group.
What would it mean for you to be able to say you were in a better place today than you were yesterday?  How can you more fully show your relationship with Jesus?

We know that living things grow and change.  Ours is a living faith.  It will change.  Will that change be consistent with our underlying ambitions; or will it be directed by the chances and circumstances of our life?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Devotion - Monday, April 16

Matthew 3;6 - "Then went out to (John) Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins."

Confessing is central to the followers of way of God.  We are taught to hide or cover or divert or minimize our transgressions.  We are encouraged to find ways to flip our short-comings in order to make them look like learning experiences.

A dear friend is helpful in her warnings that being continually told "You are a sinner!" can rob us of our confidence and sense of self-worth.  Good thing to remember.

Confessing does not automatically mean an injury to our happiness or confidence.  Confession allows me to see and to acknowledge those parts of myself which need attention, but I may not even be aware.  Confession gives me the assurance that changing path, taking a new way, being someone different is possible - it is even encouraged.

By regularly engaging in confession, I am better prepared to hear the critique (even criticism) of another.  I have experienced what happens when I become aware of my shortcomings and admit them - God is there to celebrate with me my repentance!

Confession is good for the soul.  It is also very good for our life together.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, April 12

John 15 includes this verse:  "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin."

It is an added expectation, for those who have heard the word of God.  We know what is right and pleasing.  We have no excuse for continuing to life as the world would have us live.  Yes, to those whom much has been given, much is expected.

Then there is the issue of how we define "sin," or what is sin.  Too often we associate sin with evil actions.  Too readily we assume we have no sin when we cease to do bad things and/or think bad thoughts.  This verse reminds us that another definition for sin is failing to believe and trust.  Sin is the condition of those who do not follow the word of Jesus.

Let me restate something I say often and will say till my last breath - Being a disciple of Jesus is a value-add.  My life is fuller, richer, more meaningful as a result of my relationship to God.  There is nothing - nothing - which matters which I am called upon to "give up" in order to receive the eternal life of which Jesus speaks.  Perhaps the toughest thing for me to give up is an arrogance associated with those previous sentences.  Perhaps I try to cling to my own understanding and efforts in these matters.

My life is better when I take on the extra burdens associated with having heard the word of Jesus.  My life is more meaningful and connected when I accept the opportunity to live as one to whom much has been given.

Jesus has spoken, and I have no excuse or reason for not doing as his words instruct.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, April 11

John 20:19 -  "When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews."

We lock doors way too often.  When a door is locked, it serves both as a physical barrier and also a psychological one.  Those outside can see our disinterest in having them enter.  Those inside do not need to worry about interruption or intrusion.

The disciples are locked inside.  They are afraid.  Fear has brought them to this place.  They are no longer responding to the Good News; they have allowed themselves to be locked up.

As this passage was read on Sunday, I wondered about the things which so fill us with fear that we lock our doors?  I wondered if we were even aware of the locked doors which make it difficult for others to approach us. And, if we are ever remorseful that those locks are limiting our ability to be out in the world, among the very persons for whom Jesus gave his life.

In John 20, Jesus is able to overcome the locked door.  While they are filled with fear, Jesus comes to them and reminds them of the peace his extends.

Allow Jesus to move beyond and through the locked doors in your life.  Allow Jesus to give you the peace of mind which allows you to set aside your fear and open the door.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, April 10

Continuing to look back at the lessons from this past Sunday, I wanted to comment on the Second reading.  It is from I John 1:1-2:2.

Verse 8 is familiar to us; we use it quite often in our Sunday morning brief order for confession:  "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."

Christians should always seek to eradicate sin.  Christians are to avoid sin.  But followers of Jesus are also to be truthful to his word; and that word reminds us that sin will forever be with us.

There is but one solution to the sin that clings closely to us.  We turn to God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  And we ask God to forgive.

In our prayer of confession, we do not hide the sin present in our lives.  In our prayer of confession we ask God to forgive us and to aid us in seeing the sin we have striven so hard to hide from others that it may also have become hidden from ourselves.  God is always more ready to forgive than we are ready to confess, but how can we eradicate those sins which we refuse to acknowledge?

I John continues:  "If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."

Sin will not destroy us or keep us from God.  Blindness to our sin will impede our ability to have God's word rule our lives.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Devotion - Monday, April 9

The lessons read in worship yesterday made a deep impression on me.  I have continued to think about them, and to pray over them.  I will be writing about them this week.

One more note of introduction:  The liturgy of the Church is carefully crafted and constructed.  There are many phrases repeated by the assembled, which are not often enough taken to heart.  Another advantage of printed liturgies is you can take these home, and re-read what you said in the confession, what you prayed for, and the affirmations spoken to you.

Now - Sunday's readings.  Acts 4:32-35.

The opening line affirmed that the "whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common."

When did the Church stop this practice?  When did Christians return to the ways of the world in which personal possessions are the norm?

I am as quick as anyone to say, "Well, you can't just do that..."  But when I hear myself saying such things, I do catch myself and wonder "Why" we can't do that.

As college students, you may not think of yourself as one with many possessions.  But think again.  And think about your aspirations and life-dreams.

This passage in Acts says this group of followers sold their possessions and the proceeds were redistributed as "any had need."

Before you dismiss these verses of scripture, consider what they might say to you about your life and your life-style.  Perhaps the experience of being one heart and one soul with others is yoked to how we see the things which have come into our possession.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, April 5, 2018

The post-resurrection appearance in Matthew 28 is revealing.

We are told that the eleven disciples are in Galilee, where they see Jesus.  Matthew notes that when they saw him they worshiped him.  Then, Matthew adds, "but some doubted."

What did they doubt?  The are with the resurrected Jesus; they surely are not doubting his resurrection.  They are on the mountain where Jesus said he would met them; how could they doubt that he would make good his promises?

Jesus is on that mountain in order to send them out, into the world, to make disciples, baptize, and teach.

William Willimon, Methodist preacher and Bishop, asked in a sermon on this text if they doubted their ability to do the work that Jesus assigns them.  He asked if we doubt our own ability to be Jesus' disciples charged with teaching, baptizing, and making disciples.

The Christian message is rooted in the self-sacrificial love of an incarnate God.  The same God who did set aside the heavens in order to make His home with us now entrusts to us the telling of the story and the spreading of the good news.

Do not doubt - that you have been given this charge, nor that you are equal to the task.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, April 4

I want to continue to discuss resurrection.  Continuing to read from I Corinthians 15, we are told that the body which rises need not be identical to the body which dies.

Paul writes of how a kernel is sown, but a stalk of wheat emerges.

This is a big part of my on-going message about resurrection.  Too often we think of heaven as "more of that which we have enjoyed most" in this life.  While that may be a great thing, is that what God is promising us?

The Revelation of St. John speaks of eternal life as a never ending opportunity to praise God.  Those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb are before the throne, singing their devotion.

The teachings of the Church would remind us that "The Saints," those who are already with God, spend their time praying - praying for you and for me and for the world.

Resurrected life is like nothing we have ever known.  It is knowing God completely, even as were fully known.  To speak of resurrection as more of that which we enjoy the most is to put ourselves as the center of the discussion, rather than the God who brings us life and gives us eternal life.

Like Paul, I desire this change in my life.  I pray for it and long for its arrival.  And whatever it is like, I know that it will wonderful.  Wonderful, because it (like the life God gave me 61 years ago) will be God's gift to me.

Devotion - Tuesday, April 3

In I Corinthians 15, Paul reminds us of the resurrection.  There seem to be some among the church in Corinth who are denying the resurrection.  Paul attempts to set them straight.

I need to hear Paul's words.  Those of you who are around me a lot know that my push-back to continual talk about "getting into heaven," or "being in heaven" results in my pointing out that Jesus sat aside the heavens in order to be here with us.  My concern is that some focus so much on heaven that they overlook how important it is to live here, and to do heavenly work among our neighbors.

That is my concern.  And this morning I wondered if it results in too little talk about our resurrection.  Paul's words help to set me straight.

The promise of eternal life with God is central to the Christian message.  The assurance that we will not forever remain in our graves means we will finally know God fully.  The Easter message is that Christ is but the first fruits of those who will follow.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Devotion - Monday, April 2

Christ is Risen!  Christ is risen indeed!

The account of Jesus resurrection in Mark does not include any post-resurrection encounters with Jesus.  There is an empty tomb.  There are three frightened women who flee and do not speak of what they had seen.

It is in the hours and days and weeks and months that follow that the resurrected Jesus appears to his followers.  This most often comes as a surprise.  They are doing other things, and Jesus is suddenly in their midst.

Whatever your experience of Easter Sunday might have been, I want to encourage you to look for the surprise visit of Jesus in your life.  I encourage you to be prepared, and thus vigilant, in looking for his presence.  Easter Sunday may be only the announcement of the ability of Jesus to show up at any place at any time.  Easter Sunday may serve as the transition point after which Jesus himself is no longer limited by time and space.

Christ is risen!  Be on the lookout for his presence in your life and in your day.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Sermon - Easter Sunday

Mark 16:1-8                                               

                                                               Providing the Missing Part

Something is missing, at the end of Mark’s Gospel.  I don’t mean the resurrection part.  That part is complete.  Friday night’s reading from the Gospel of John reminds us that it is Jesus himself who announces from the cross, “It is finished.”   And it is.  The work he came to do is done; it is over; all things have been accomplished.

That is not the part missing in Mark 16.  What is missing is what happens next – after Jesus has done his part.  What is missing is some idea of how this, the most amazing thing to have ever happened on the face of the earth, becomes the greatest story ever told among those who live on planet earth.  Something is missing.

Early on, in the history of the Church, folks realized that something was missing.  The oldest, most original copies of the Gospel of Mark end where we ended today, at the 8th verse.  But many contemporary Bibles will contain two other, optional endings.  A study Bible will always note that these alternative endings are that – alternative endings – added at some point later in time.  These other two, alternative endings were added for the sake of a Church which realized that an explanation would be expected.  But that isn’t the way Mark told the story.  He ended here.  He left something, intentionally, missing.

At least two things are missing:  First, some accounting for how the news slips out.  If the women are too terrified to speak to anyone, how does what they saw finally get shared?  Second, this ending is lacking any of the credible characters who have figured so heavily in all that has come before.  Where are the heavy hitters?  Where are Peter, James, and John?  None of the names quickly recited by Sunday school children are found here.  Three relatively unknown women are the only witnesses to the most amazing thing to have ever happened on the face of the earth; to the greatest story ever told among those who live on planet earth.  And they, out of terror, say nothing to anyone.

Mary Magdalene we know – or at least we think we know.  Luke, chapter 8, references her as the one from whom Jesus casts out seven demons.  One of those alternative endings to Mark picks upon this and repeats the reference.  But Mark does not mention Mary Magdalene at all until we get to Golgotha.  She is not a character in Mark’s story, until we get to the crucifixion. 

Sometimes Mary Magdalene is confused with the woman in the city, who in Luke, chapter 7, baths Jesus’ feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair.  The two characters are often confused.  But there is nothing in the Bible to support this widely shared misunderstanding.   Mary of Magdalene we know – or we think we do.

The other Mary, the mother of James, is such a minor character that even Mark knew we would need clues to her identity.  In writing the story, Mark notes that she is the mother of James.  (Mark’s earlier reference, in 15:40, notes that she is the mother of James the younger – not James the son of Zebedee.  There are lots of Mary’s in the Bible.)  Who is this Mary?  And why is she one of the blessed three to witness the empty tomb?

I spent more time that I should have trying to figure out who Salome is.  Quite honestly, I still didn’t know.  There are lots of conjectures, but little in the way of hard Biblical evidence.  Tradition says that she is the wife of Zebedee.  This, then, would mean she is the mother of James, and of his brother, John.  Tradition – but not scripture.  In the Gospel of Matthew, the mother of James and John is identified with a different name.  Want to guess what that name is?  You go it – Mary.

Present at the empty tomb on the morning of the resurrection are these three relatively unknown women – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger, and Salome.  Missing are the heavy hitters.  Missing are the persons who will later preach all those great sermons on what it is that God accomplished on this day.  Missing are those who are well-known – well-known to the early church and well-known to you and me. 

Missing is some indication of how the news traveled from these three terrified and frightened women to the millions and billions who would come to trust in this story and make it the pivotal event in their lives.  Missing.  There is no clear link.  There is no outline for how this is to happen.

Sometimes, what is missing is the most important part of all.
Sometimes, what is missing is the most important part of all.

This is certainly true for Easter morning, right?  The thing which is most essential to the story is a missing corpse.  Jesus is not there.  He is gone.  He has been raised.  He has been removed from the place of death.  Gone.  Missing.  The most important part of Easter morning is what isn’t there.

Perhaps the same is to be said for this seemingly defective story, recorded for us as Mark’s 16th chapter.  Missing here is the clear delineation of how this story spreads.  Missing are the hot-shots, the big names, the go-to guys.   Missing.  Not present.  Maybe, just maybe, this absence serves a purpose other than confusing us.  This void identifies where the story is to go from here.  Missing is even the slightest suggestion that someone else is going to take care of all this.  The absence leaves the future in our hands.  If this story is going to be told, it is going to be up to us.  If this news is to make it beyond the three who run away terrified, it will be because those who know what happened to them decides to tell someone else.  Getting the Good News out is your job, and my job.  We can’t sit back and wait for the heavy-hitters to do the job – they are nowhere to be found.

Most of the time, we feel like add-ons, to the end of the story.  Too often, we read what happened and we think, “That is nice.”  Mark’s story of the first Easter Morning is designed to jolt us into action.  It is written in such a way as to make it clear that if this, the most amazing thing that has ever happened on the face of the earth is going to become the greatest story ever told it will be because you and I tell the story.  The only way that the good news heard and witnessed by Mary, and Mary, and Salome will be repeated is if you and I repeat it.

Christ has risen!  Christ has risen indeed!  Jesus has finished his work.  Now is the time for us to get down to ours.