Sunday, May 19, 2013
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Sunday, April 21, 2013
One day, two friends were walking down a crowded city sidewalk together. Suddenly, one of them said, “Listen to the lovely sound of that cricket,"
His friend listened, but, try as he might he couldn’t hear the cricket.
So he asked his friend, “How can you hear a cricket when there’s so much other noise from all people and traffic?”
The friend who’d heard the cricket didn’t say anything. Instead, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a large handful of pennies, and proceeded to toss the coin out on the sidewalk.
Instantly, a dozen people heard the coins clinking and clanking as the hit the ground, and they began scrambling around looking for them. Even in the midst of all the other sounds they’d heard the coin.
And as the two friends watched the people looking around for the coin, the one who’d heard the cricket turned to the other and said, “We hear what we listen for.”
The last three Sundays we’ve been hearing stories about what happened with Jesus and his disciples after the Resurrection. We saw him appear to Thomas in the upper room and eat breakfast with his disciples by the sea. The last three Sundays have been stories confirming the fact that Christ did rise from the dead.
But now this morning we go back in time to before Jesus’ death and resurrection to be reminded of the fact that Jesus predicted all this. He’d told people he was the Son of God. He’d told them he would die and rise again after 3 days. And yet still the resurrection came as a surprise to everyone.
And the reason for that is given in our lesson today: it’s because people didn’t listen; they wouldn’t hear what he told them.
Again, we hear what we’re listening for, and they weren’t listening for Christ.
In our lesson this morning the Jews ask Jesus, “How long will he keep us in suspense? If you’re the Christ, tell us plainly."
And Jesus answers them, “I have told you but you do not believe.”
Like the cricket in the story, Jesus had been speaking, but they had not heard him.
And the question we need to ask ourselves this morning is: what are we listening for?
There are a lot of voices competing for our attention: the voices of our families and friends, the voices of the media and pop culture and the internet, the voice of books and magazine, and on and on …
And in some of these voices we can hear the voice of Christ when he speaks to us through them.
While other voices don’t want us to hear the message of Christ; the message of the Resurrection; the message of hope, forgiveness, and eternal life.
These other voices want us to believe a different message, a message of fear, guilt, uncertainty, and death.
That’s certainly the message the bombers in Boston wanted us to hear this past week. Theirs was a message of terror and hatred and despair.
Voices such as these are compete with Christ for our attention. And when we let them fill us with fear or hatred or despair, they are victorious.
And so this morning, Jesus wants to make sure that we hear his voice and his message.
“My sheep hear my voice,” he says, “and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they’ll never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
This is the message his voice speaks to us this morning in his words and Sacrament; a message of encouragement and assurance and hope.
The life he’s given us in baptism is eternal. Death cannot defeat it because the resurrected Christ is our Good Shepherd and nothing in all creation – not even death itself – can snatch us away from him.
This is Christ’s message for us today and every day.
But are we listening for it?
Are we listening for Christ’s voice and that message in the midst of all the other noisy voices competing for our attention? Or has it gotten drowned out?
Again, we hear what we’re listening for.
And as our gospel reminds us this morning, if we’re not hearing the voice of Christ it’s not because he’s stopped speaking, it’s that we’ve stopped listening.
Christ’s voice and his message are always there for us. He’s always calling out to us like that cricket on the busy sidewalk. All we have to do is focus our ears on hearing him.
And so if you’ve been having trouble hearing Christ’s voice in the midst of all the other voices in your life, if you’ve found yourself overwhelmed by messages of hopelessness anger, guilt or despair, then I would encourage you to use our worship this morning to once again tune your ears into Christ; listen to his voice speak to you in his Word and in his Sacrament. Listen to his message of hope, forgiveness and life.
“My sheep listen to my voice,” he says to us again this morning, “I know them and they follow me and I give them eternal life. They shall never perish because no one can snatch them out of my hand.”
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Once there was a man who was the member of a certain church. He’d been attending services regularly for quite some time, but recently he’d stopped going.
There was nothing wrong. No health issues. No family issues. He just didn’t feel like going anymore.
So after a few weeks, a member of the church council decided he’d pay the man a visit. It was a chilly evening and when the council member arrived at the man's home and he found him sitting alone before a blazing fire.
Guessing the reason for the council member’s visit, the man welcomed him in and led him to a comfortable chair near the fireplace. Then the man sat in his chair by the fire and waited for the councilman to speak.
But there was only silence.
The councilman settled into his chair …
And made himself comfortable …
But he said nothing.
There was only a grave silence –
The councilman contemplated the flames …
As they danced around the burning logs –
Several minutes passed.
Then, the councilman took a pair of fire tongs …
And carefully picked up a brightly burning ember …
And placed it on one side of the hearth -- all alone.
And then settled back into his chair.
The host watched in quiet fascination.
It wasn’t long before the one lone ember flickered …
And then with a final momentary glow –
Its flame went out …
And it lay cold and dead on the hearth.
Still the councilman and the man said nothing –
They just sat in silence-
Not a word had been spoken since their initial greeting.
Finally, the councilman was ready to leave –
Before standing up –
He took hold of the tongs once again …
And picked up the cold, dead ember …
And placed it back in the middle of the fire.
Immediately, it began to glow with the light and warmth …
Of the burning coals around it.
At the door, the host clasped the councilman’s hand –
And with tears pouring down his cheeks, he said:
“Thank you –
“Thank you so much for your visit –
“And especially for the fiery sermon!
“I will be back in church next Sunday.” +++++
And when they had finished breakfast –
Jesus said to Simon Peter:
“Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter replied:
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
And Jesus said to him:
“Feed my sheep.”
Today's Gospel shows us that Jesus' followers …
Didn't know what to do with the resurrection of Jesus –
Since that first Easter evening …
They’d been having incredible experiences of the Risen Christ.
Jesus appeared to them in rooms with locked doors –
Along a public road, and then disappeared from their sight –
But what were they supposed to do?
What was supposed to happen next?
Well, eventually they decide it's time to go back …
To what they’d been doing before Jesus called them into discipleship –
They go back to the sea of Galilee –
Also known as the sea of Tiberias –
And take up fishing again –
But Jesus has other plans for them –
Three times he gives Peter the direction for their future –
He says to him:
“Feed my lambs,
“Tend my sheep,
“Feed my sheep."
So why this emphasis on tending sheep?
What's going on here?
Jesus is concerned about the future life of his followers.
He knows they need tending –
And so he directs Peter –
And the rest of the disciples –
To undertake the task of tending –
And caring for Jesus' followers
And why did Jesus command this?
Because he knew that the impact of even the most incredible experience …
Would dissipate over time unless the person who experienced it …
Was cared for –
Heck, as our gospel shows us –
Even the impact of the resurrection –
Without a doubt the most incredible experience of all time –
Even its effect dissipated over time –
I mean, why else would the disciples have gone back to fishing!?
Jesus knew that his followers needed to be cared for –
He knew that our faith needed to be fed –
That’s why he sent Ananias to find Paul in our first lesson this morning –
Jesus used Ananias to strengthen Paul’s faith –
Just like he wanted Peter to strengthen the other disciples’ faith –
Jesus knew that if the church was going to survive down through the centuries …
The impact of the resurrection …
And the fire of faith …
Must not be allowed to go out –
It must be tended and stoked –
Just like the ember in the story I told a moment ago –
As that story reminds us –
Without the proper care …
Anyone's spiritual life can fade away –
In fact, it’s not at all uncommon …
For someone to have a deeply moving spiritual experience …
And then, in a matter of weeks –
Or perhaps months –
Or maybe even years –
The impact of that experience diminishes –
Till it becomes just a distant memory –
The desire for God lessens –
And the fire of faith goes out –
The un-tended Christian life …
Is bound for extinction –
That’s why God sent Ananias to Paul in our second lesson this morning –
And it’s why Paul spent several days with the disciples …
After his conversion –
God used that time to strengthen his faith –
That's why Jesus tells Peter to:
“Feed my sheep.”
Because that’s how we remain strong in our faith as Christians –
By strengthening one another –
By nurturing each other –
By tending one another’s faith –
And so Jesus gives us the same directive today –
“Do you love me?” he asks us –
Of course we do, we tell him –
“Then feed my sheep,” he says –
“Tend the fire of faith in them –
“Nurture their belief –
“Encourage them to remain rooted in me.”
Is there someone you haven’t seen at church in a while?
Do you have a friend or relative who needs their faith rekindled?
Then reach out to them …
As the councilman reached out to the man in the story –
Go to them …
Just like Ananias went to Paul in our second lesson this morning –
You can invite them to church –
But sometimes that can be scary for them –
So maybe start by telling them how Jesus is working in your life –
Or ask them to tell you how Jesus has been active in their life –
Or maybe you can invite them to pray with you –
Or, if they’re too shy to pray –
Ask them if you can pray for them –
The point is –
Find a way to stoke the fire of their faith –
Rekindle their heart for God –
Fan the flames –
Sunday, April 7, 2013
“Peace be with you”. Jesus calms his disciples with these words three different times in this story.
Most of us come to worship this morning needing God’s peace in our lives in some measure.
Perhaps we’re uncertain about our future; wondering about our jobs or marriages; wondering about the meaning of life, and why we’re here, and what I am supposed to be doing?
Perhaps we’re going through turbulent times; struggling with a diagnosis concerning our health, or with a loss that has deeply impacted our life.
Whatever the situation is, we all know what it’s like to be in turmoil and to long for peace. And the risen Jesus brings us that peace with his presence and with his words.
That doesn’t mean we won’t have problems and difficulties in this life. We will. But the Christian message is that in the midst of struggle and grief and pain we can still experience the peace of God; the peace that passes all understanding; the peace that allows us to experience serenity and hope even in the midst of struggles and pain.
It’s important to remember that unlike our wonderful celebration last week. The first Easter was a scary time for the disciples.
And we see that in our gospel today, as the disciples are gathered behind locked doors on that first Easter, they’re worn out from the emotional rollercoaster they’d been on all week. They were tired, uncertain and afraid. They thought the authorities may come for them like they’d come for Jesus.
And suddenly, into this tense scene comes Jesus. "Peace be with you!” he says. And then he shows them his hands and feet and his punctured side and instantly they’re overwhelmed with joy. They’ve seen the risen Jesus and they believe.
There’s one disciple who’s not there, though. The bible doesn’t tell us where Thomas was. We just know that he wasn’t there. And so when the disciples told him that they’d seen Jesus, Thomas refuses to believe.
“Unless I see the holes in his hands,” he says, “and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
And because of this, history remembers Thomas as “doubting” Thomas. But, really, he’s not asking for anything more than the other disciples had already been given.
He wants to see the risen Christ just like Mary Magdalene had seen him in the garden, and how Peter, James and John and the other disciples had seen him in the locked room.
None of them believed until they saw the risen Christ and that’s all Thomas wants, too. He wanted to see Jesus alive and well.
And so now in verse 24, it’s a week later. A week after the other disciples had seen Christ.
And again, they’re gathered in the locked room. And this time Thomas is with them.
Again, Jesus enters the room just as before. And again he says, “Peace be with you”
This time it appears that his appearance and his words of peace are specifically intended for Thomas. He comes to Thomas right at the point of his need. He doesn’t judge Thomas for his doubting. Instead he encourages him to believe by giving him the proofs he needs.
“Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
Jesus generously gives Thomas what he needs. And Thomas’ doubts disappear; “My Lord and my God,” he cries
At different times in our lives, you and I find ourselves in Thomas’ shoes. We need something from Jesus, some assurance that he’s really there in the midst of our struggles. Some proof that he has a purpose for us and that life makes sense.
And just as Jesus came to Thomas in his moment of doubt so, too, does he come to us. Like Thomas, when we acknowledge our doubts and tell Jesus what we need, and how we need his peace; when we pray the prayer from scripture that says, “I believe, help my unbelief” … Christ will come. He will help us. Just as he came to help Thomas.
No matter how many doors may be locked, or how strong our doubts and unbelief may be. If we ask Jesus to help us believe, he will.
And that’s what Jesus is referring to in the words of blessing he speaks at the end of our lesson today.
He says to his disciples, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
He’s talking about us there, and all the Christians who’ve lived since that first generation of disciples. Because unlike Peter, James and John and Mary and Thomas, we’re not able to see the risen Christ the way they did.
And so for us, and for the billions of other Christians who’ve believed in the risen Christ down through the centuries, we must rely on something else.
And that “something else” can take several forms. We have the Word of God; the bible. And we have the particular words and testimony of the early disciples like Peter and John who saw the risen Christ.
And we also have the words and testimony of the Christians we’ve known who’ve shared their faith with us personally: our parents, a Sunday school teacher, a spouse, child, or friend. Through the faith and testimony of these saints, Christ comes to us to strengthen and restore our own faith.
And what’s more, Christ also comes to us in his sacraments; in the waters of our baptism and the bread and wine of Holy Communion.
And so in the same way the risen Christ invited Thomas to reach out and touch him, so too can we reach out and touch him each time we receive communion.
And each time we dip our fingers in the baptismal waters and mark ourselves with his cross.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” This is Christ’s pledge and promise to us.
His promise that through all these things we will know that the risen Christ is present with us; that he has come to us just as he came to Thomas; and that he comes to bring us peace –
“Peace,” he says to us through his holy Word.
“Peace,” he says to us through the faith and testimony of others.
“Peace,” he says to us each time we kneel to receive him in Holy Communion.
“My peace I give you.”
And so may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus forever.