First Sunday after Pentecost

June 4, 2023

First Reading: Genesis 1:1–2:4a

1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
6And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
9And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
14And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
20And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
24And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
26Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27So God created humankind in his image,
  in the image of God he created them;
  male and female he created them.
28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
2:1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
4aThese are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

Psalm: Psalm 8

How majestic is your name in all the earth! (Ps. 8:1)

1O Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in | all the earth!—
2you whose glory is chanted above the heavens out of the mouths of infants and children; you have set up a fortress against your enemies, to silence the foe and avenger.
3When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
  the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
4what are mere mortals that you should be mindful of them,
  human beings that you should care for them? 
5Yet you have made them little less than divine;
  with glory and honor you crown them.
6You have made them rule over the works of your hands;
  you have put all things under their feet:
7all flocks and cattle, even the wild beasts of the field,
8the birds of the air, the fish of the sea,
  and whatever passes along the paths of the sea.
9O Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

 [Paul writes:] 11Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
13The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”


Hans Christian Anderson in 1863 wrote The Ugly Duckling.  A duck hatches her eggs and one of the chicks is different and labeled ugly by the others.  The chick flees and goes through a series of experiences that convince him he is an ugly duckling.  He finally joins a flock of swans and discovers that he is not a duck but a beautiful swan.

Have you ever felt like an ugly duckling, not fitting in with those around you?

Let us pray.  Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.


         Today is the first Sundy after Pentecost, the long green season.  It is long because it is close to 27 weeks, half the liturgical year.  Green will be the color of our church paraments or decorations because Pentecost is about life, life in Christ, the risen, living God who is involved in our lives.

         Can you hear Luther’s Small Catechism question, “What does this mean?”  Today’s text opens the Pentecost season with the Great Commission.  It is a favorite missionary text but it is also a mandate that permeates all our lives.  Let me suggest there are three themes that will impact our thinking in the Pentecost season.

  • God is Trinity and we as his creation, made in his image, live in community. 
  • God talks.  We are characterized by our ability to think abstractly and encode our ideas in language.  We are charged with communicating the Gospel.
  • God teaches.  God is a being with ideas and expectations and we are expected to obey.

God is Trinity=Relational

“…baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”

         At the very core of the Christian faith is the mystery of the Trinity.  We do not have three gods that share authority like the three branches of our American government.  God does not operate by checks and balances.  We do not have a hierarchy of gods that take turns being in power.  We believe that our God is Trinitarian, “three persons in one being, one essence.”  I still like the example of electricity that powers my house.  When I turn on my lamp, it sends forth light.  When I turn on my stove, it radiates heat.  The TV and radio are visual and auditory.  One, all, or none can be experienced at the same time without diminishing the electricity present n my house.  Because Jesus is not seen, does not mean he has ceased to exist.  He was the Word at creation and will be our light in the New Jerusalem.  The Spirit breathed at creation and intercedes for us now.  This triune God fills the pages of Scripture.  We accept this truth by faith even though science struggles with it.

         So what does that mean to us?  We are made in the image of this triune God.  We are baptized in the name of this triune God.  Triune-ness defines us.  Walter Wangaarin in his book, As For Me and My House, presents the explanation I like the most.  I do not know who I am without you.  It is as I relate to you that I know if I am truly being loving or kind or mean and hurtful.  Love is not just something that oozes out of my pores but is a relational quality.  I am experiencing why death of a spouse or divorce is so painful.  Part of me is leaving.  There is something in the reality of community that defines my identity and is basic to my very being. In the creation story God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”  I’m sure it has been pointed out the plural-ness of this statement, “our image.”  We are made for community.

         Paul uses the picture of a body to describe the church.  As varied and diverse as the body is with its different parts and functions, so also is the church, the body of Christ.  That person across the room that is so irritating carries a part of the image of God that is to bless me.  Gossip, covetousness, murder, slander – all the big 10 – have no place in the kingdom of heaven because they violate the image of God in our world.

         So here we might ask ourselves how we are doing relationally in our lives, not just in church.  Are there people we are offending that we need to heal relationships with?  Are there people different from ourselves that we need to broaden our thinking and try to understand?  We need each other.  Turn to your neighbor and say, “Thank you for being in my life!”  “Forgive me if I have hurt you.”  Bethany is a community reflecting the image of God and together we say something about God that we cannot say alone.  The flock of swans confirmed the identity of the ugly duckling.

God talks=Communicating

          “…Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”

         We believe in a God that has and does talk to us throughout history.  It is the very essence of Trinity.  The godhead is always in communication.  The good news is not just for my own edification and salvation and for the selected chosen but it is to be told to everyone.

         God’s heart’s desire is that all should be discipled, be told the good news.  We are not ugly ducklings but baby swans maturing.  Often we think of discipling as the job of the pastor.  But I think that if we stop and think, there is someone we look up to and there are people who look up to us.  One day my eldest son asked me to cut his hair just like his dorm father – whom he did not even particularly like but whom he was observing.  His younger brother then wanted his hair cut like his “big brother” assigned to him who was a soccer star for the school.  He spent an hour going through year books to find pictures of his heroe.  Yes we have our TV models that the media promotes but like the ugly duckling we also watch those around us and know when we are different and don’t fit in.  As I look at the life of Christ, I do not see someone who went around preaching how people had to come to him to be saved but he went around speaking the truth he knew about God, doing the things he knew God did, and loving others.  We all have a story we can share.  We all can encourage some one who thinks that they are an ugly duckling that, in truth, they are God’s creation for whom he incarnated and wants to be in communication with.  God has a story to tell and we have a story to tell also.  God desires to be in relationship, growing us all.  Our triune God does not sit afar waiting for us to earn our way into his presence but opens communication channels because that is his nature.

         So perhaps today we need to turn to that person in the pew with us and say, “You are not an ugly duckling but a swan in process.  Thank you for being here.”

God is Teacher=Obedience

:…teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you…”

         Teaching is a communication word that comes from the heart of a God who is triune, but it is interesting that it is followed by “obey.”  Faith is not an intellectual feat, memorizing Luther’s Small Catechism.  Faith is not a mystical experience defined by how many times we speak in tongues.  Faith is a relationship that grows out of obedience to the God of the universe that offers something our world does not promote or value.

         Jesus taught us to forgive our enemies.  We do not forgive others easily.  We do not love our enemies.  We do not share our coats freely.  Christianity does not make us healthy, wealthy, and wise in the world’s eyes.   Faith requires submission to the “other” as we grow to know the “others.”  Relationship is mutual give and take.  Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “not my will but thine.”  Obedience and submission are counter-cultural and fight against our will.  As much as we preach a warm cozy relationship with God, we must never forget that he is God and we are his creation.  We are the recipients of salvation.  We need the Holy Spirit to struggle in prayer with us and counsel us, and lead us back to the right path when we go astray.  We need to be still and know that he is God as Psalm 8 so nicely reminds us today.  As we obey and work together with God, faith grows.  This does not come naturally and we are told to teach others to obey.

         Oh my.  I see one finger pointing out and four fingers curled back to myself.  The question rings, how well do I obey that I have the authority to tell someone else to obey?  And so we come full circle.  Being in relationship demands communication, talking, and submission, obedience to the wisdom of the “other.”  Trinity is a word we use to describe our God but it is also a word that permeates into our lives and impacts all our relationships, not just with our friends but also with strangers and those we struggle with.    We start Pentecost with pondering the Trinity because the nature of our God not only gives us life but also defines our life.  I am an ugly duckling until I find my place as a disciple of Christ, telling others and teaching them to obey even as God has blessed me.  God is Trinity, talking and teaching me that I am not an ugly duckling but his beloved child. Finally, we must always remember Christ’s final words, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

         Let the people of God say, “Thank you Lord, AMEN.”

7th Sunday in Easter: Living Well

May 21, 2023

First Reading: Acts 1:6-14

6When [the apostles] had come together, they asked [Jesus], “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Psalm: Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35

1Let God arise, and let God’s enemies be scattered;
  let those who hate God flee.
2As smoke is driven away, so you should drive them away;
  as the wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.
3But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God;
  let them also be merry and joyful.
4Sing to God, sing praises to God’s name; exalt the one who rides the clouds;  I Am is that name, rejoice before God!
5In your holy habitation, O God,
  you are a father to orphans, defender of widows;
6you give the solitary a home and bring forth prisoners into freedom; but the rebels shall live in desert places.
7O God, when you went forth before your people,
  when you marched through the wilderness,
8the earth quaked, and the skies poured down rain, at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
9You sent a bountiful rain, O God;
  you restored your inheritance when it languished.
10Your people found their home in it;
  in your goodness, O God, you have made provision for the poor.
32Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth;
  sing praises to the Lord.
33You ride in the heavens, O God, in the ancient heavens;
  you send forth your voice, your mighty voice.
34Ascribe power to God,
  whose majesty is over Israel; whose strength is in the skies.
35How wonderful you are in your holy places, O God of Israel,
  giving strength and power to your people! Blessed be God!

Second Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 14If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.
5:6Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel: John 17:1-11

1After Jesus had spoken these words [to his disciples], he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”


One of my favorite unwind movies is “Ever After”.  It retells the story of Cinderella.  In France the Brothers Grimm visit an old lady in a castle who holds up a glass slipper and puts the story into context.  As she concludes, she says this classic line, “It does not matter that they lived happily-ever-after.  It matters that they lived!”  I love it.  It does not matter that we live happily-ever-after but that we live.  Turn to your neighbor and share for a moment just one thought on what “living well” means to you.

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.


         “The hour has come,” prays Jesus after he has walked to Gethsemane with his followers, after the Last Supper and after he has imparted his last words of wisdom.  “The hour has come.”  We have come to the end of the Easter Season.  Thursday is Ascension and next Sunday we celebrate Pentecost. It reminds me of Lion King near the end, as Simba looks over Prideland that he is about to rule and Rafiki, the prophetic bird, says, “It is time.”  Perhaps you felt that way before the wedding as you prepared to enter or as you waited to enter the operating room or as you entered the procession for graduation.  “The hour has come” signifies a change, a transition to a new phase.  It is a feeling mixed with the excitement of anticipation and perhaps fears of the unknown future.

“Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you”

         Easter Sunday is not the end of the God story that the Bible tells.  Christ died for our sins.  Sometimes we stop there and leave off the Old Testament and all that build up to the Gospels and act as if my salvation is the whole point of Christianity.  But the story is not over.  The Bible is not a Jesus story but God speaking to us about himself and his walk with us.  The hour has come for the next phase.  Jesus prays to be glorified so that God is glorified.  Jesus names glorification as the next phase.  Glory is a hard word to get our minds around.  Let’s see if we can unpack it a little.  Our text starts with glory invoking the reality of authority.


“glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,

 2since you have given him authority over all people,

 to give eternal life to all whom you have given him”

         The father gave the son authority over people, the authority to give them eternal life.  Authority is delegated from the Father to the Son.  We did not elect Jesus “savior” because we believe.  President Biden has authority because he is the elected president of the United States and we are bound to live under his influence whether we voted for him or not.  The majority of people chose him.  Jesus does not have authority that we respect, generated by winning an election.  He does not rule a democracy.  God declared him the “savior”.  The kingdom of this world may be a democracy but the kingdom of God is a theocracy, a realm ruled by God and Jesus has lived that example through out the Gospels.  He healed.  He walked on water by his own authority.  He cast out demons.  He lived showing us what heavenly authority looks like.

         Jesus has the power to give us eternal life in the heavenly kingdom.  When Jesus says that he is “the way, the truth, and the life” he is referring to life now and eternal life.  As we submit to his authority we find life.  This side of eternity that may mean small glimpses like finding hope when we are discouraged by turning to him in prayer.  It may mean we find love when we offer forgiveness to an enemy as Jesus told us to and the renewed relationship surprises us with love.  It may mean we find the strength to run the race as Eric Liddell testified in “Chariots of Fire,” “Where does the strength come to run the race?  It comes from within.”  These are glimpses of the eternal life we find in Christ. He has authority to give us eternal life as a gift, not as a paycheck for good deeds or reward for faith.  We praise him when we see his way working.  We glorify him as we rejoice.

         Christ’s authority comes from relationship to the Father, not from popularity with people.  Christ’s authority comes from finishing the task that was laid before him.  He has achieved eternal life that he gives and we have looked at this truth through the Easter season.  He is not giving us campaign promises that he hopes to fulfill when he gets in office if the other political party cooperates.  We don’t follow his leadership because it makes sense and accomplishes the task we chose him for.  We follow because he and the Father are one and he has finished the task he incarnated to do and he now returns to his original glory and eternal authority.

         This may be the moment when I take my faith temperature and ask myself if my faith looks like a democracy or is it based on a relationship where I bow to the authority and wisdom of the Christ?  

  “name” and “words”

         Christ came with a goal.  He came to make God’s name known.  Yes, he accomplished our redemption but in doing so he glorifies God.  Most people alive acknowledge the probability of the existence of a god but the nature of that god is up for discussion.  We have tales of super heroes and gods that intermarry and may even mate with humans.  We have tales of “forces” that guide our actions and are sources of power and fight with the “dark side.”  Perhaps we even like to think of Jesus as Dumbledore of Harry Potter and Satan as Voldemort.  Some would say we worship materialism, wealth, and talent.  We have all different ways we can access “power’ from whatever “god” today.  Perhaps in Biblical times the Baals were sources of fertility but it seems like our Baals are sources of power.  Jesus says he has made God’s name known and glorified.  God is not like other gods of this world. 

         Secondly Jesus has made God’s “words” known to us.  God speaks!  God speaks in every language.  God speaks over millennium.  We know about God’s character and about his wishes for us. We can read Scripture and we can look at the life of Jesus, God incarnate.  God came to us and revealed himself.  I know no other god that comes to walk with its creation, to create relationship that carries into eternity.  Jesus has made the nature of God known to us by coming to us and has made his words real to us in the actions of his life.  Jesus did not demand that Rome become Jews or live by the laws of Moses but lived a life that invited all to follow. God’s word glorifies God.

         The words Jesus taught us were to reveal God.  We love our neighbor as ourselves, we love our enemy as ourselves, and we love the foreigner as ourselves because they are God’s creation.  Our love glorifies God and Christ came to all people.

“…protect them in your name that you have given me,

 so that they may be one, as we are one…”

         Jesus ends this High Priestly Prayer with a very touching note.  He prays for our protection and our unity.  Please allow me to repeat that.  He prays for our protection and our unity.  Jesus walked with the poor, the sick, the demon possessed, in halls of power, through stormy seas, during times of popularity when all yelled “hallelujah” and during times of distain when the crowds yelled “crucify him.  He walked through birth and he walked through death.  This God we worship today is three dimensional and real.  He is not sitting far off in a cloud or on a different planet.  Jesus prays that this God who is present in our world, will protect us from evil.  No matter how bad the situation may seem, the God of the universe is protecting us. 

         This is not a universal prayer for the masses but a prayer of relationship for “friends.”  Interestingly Jesus connects this protection with unity.  In times of trouble, it is possible to try and be a lone ranger but I suspect that it is during hard times we not only have God’s protection but we also have the buffer zone of the body of Christ.  We have each other.  Hard times draw us together.  In my humanity, I tend to not want others to see me when I am ugly, weak, or needy for fear of their criticism and rejection.  Jesus knows the pain of hard times and I suspect he knows how important were those women gathered at the foot of the cross, those three sleepy friends who didn’t stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane but were present, and maybe even his God heart was touched by the wisemen traveling to experience his birth.  It is the end of the Easter season and we know “the Lord is risen” because we experience him in community.  May our differences not drive us apart. 

“…the hour has come…”

         The hour has come. God’s story is not over. God now entrusts his story into our hands as he has our back.  We are not abandoned. Jesus did not “social distance” to heaven until he returns to judge.  He completed his work on earth and empowered us to continue the story. The Holy Spirit is with us.  Our lives and our faith, which may feel small and invisible, are involved in bringing glory, honor and praise to God for eternity. May we not give in to that which divides and may we nurture those habits that keep us in relationship with others and with God, our source of strength, life and protection.  May we not seek to live happily ever after but may we seek to live a life that glorifies God.

Let the people of God say “AMEN!”

6th Sunday in Easter: Keep

May 14, 2023

First Reading: Acts 17:22-31

22Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
 ‘For we too are his offspring.’
29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Psalm: Psalm 66:8-20

8Bless our God, you peoples;
  let the sound of praise be heard.
9Our God has kept us among the living
  and has not allowed our feet to slip.
10For you, O God, have tested us;
  you have tried us just as silver is tried.
11You brought us into the net;
  you laid heavy burdens upon our backs.
12You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water,
  but you brought us out into a place of refreshment.
13I will enter your house with burnt offerings
  and will pay you my vows—
14those that I promised with my lips
  and spoke with my mouth when I was in trouble.
15I will offer you burnt offerings of fatlings with the smoke of rams;
  I will give you oxen and goats.
16Come and listen, all you who believe,
  and I will tell you what God has done for me.
17I called out to God with my mouth,
  and praised the Lord with my tongue.
18If I had cherished evil in my heart,
  the Lord would not have heard me;
19but in truth God has heard me
  and has attended to the sound of my prayer.
20Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer,
  nor withheld unfailing love from me.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22

13Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Gospel: John 14:15-21

 [Jesus said to the disciples:] 15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This 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.
18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”


         Today, to wet our thinking for the text, let us think of words that start with “A” that we might use to describe God.  Please share for a moment.

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.


         During our Easter Season we have traveled from the hallelujahs off Easter Sunday and shouts of “The Lord is Risen” to the testimonies of people who saw the risen Christ as they sheltered behind locked doors that evening – scared.  We looked at testimonies from others who encountered Christ through the Word he opened to them after they left Jerusalem walking home to Emmaus, just overwhelmed by all the events that took place that day.  We reflected on being his sheep and recognizing his voice as he calls.  We were challenged last week not to just listen but to believe the voice of the risen Christ because he is God, is preparing a place for us, and because he has a perfect track record of doing good and going before us to show us the way, the truth, and the life.  Today we come to another imperative.  We not only listen and believe but we must also act on our beliefs.  Faith is not just a brain rush and a hope but it is a way to live.  Let us look at the text.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

         The foundation of our relationship with God is love, not fear of punishment.  He deals with us not as an authority keeping track of our good and bad moments but as a parent with a beloved child.  We love our kids when they have poopy diapers even if we hold our nose.  We care about our friends even when they are angry with us.  We pray for friends when they are not with us and are struggling.  We rejoice whenever we get a love note and “keep the faith” when they are silent.  Keeping God’s commandments is based on love and trust that this unseen deity loves us too.

         The word “commandments” carries the connotation of law.  In fact we call the 10 Commandments, The Law.  We often think of them as holding up a mirror of perfection that drives us to acknowledge our need for God and that drives us to our knees crying for mercy.  Today “The Man” is often portrayed, as an authority figure to be despised who has no empathy for the plight of a person’s situation. It is easy to think of God as “the man.”   We just didn’t see that stop sign.  We are planning to fix the broken light.  Circumstances and the other guy drove us to do what we did.  Please understand and have mercy!

         I am guilty of thinking of God as an ultimate authority.  My husband has encouraged me through the years to think in terms of guidelines and not rigid laws.  The 10 Commandments are like the operation manual telling us how life works best.  If we don’t kill by murder or hate, if we don’t spread lies or covet and if we honor God then life will flow much better.  There will still be trials and problems but we will weather them better by turning to God and following his guidance.  God’s guidelines are based on his love for us!

A#1:  Advocate

16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate”

         Advocacy is a big word in our culture today.  We march.  We speak truth to power.  We write letters and sign petitions.  We want to believe our voice is heard.  Others advocate through their actions.  Bethany has a garden and provides a daycare for young children.  Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to be not only with us but also in us.  He is not off marching in Washington for fairer laws.  The Holy Spirit lives in us, revealing truth to us to live our lives.  But the Spirit is also an honest mirror that reflects through our conscience the truth about ourselves and where we need to change so we can be our better selves.  The Holy Spirit interprets our prayers when we are so lost in a dilemma that we do not even know how to pray.  That is advocacy with empathy!  That is a love relationship and not just a popular cause that is being promoted.  God cares and advocates for us.

A#2:  Abandonment–Adoption

18“I will not leave you orphaned”

         One of the big words in our family is “adoption.”  My husband was a war baby and adopted at two months.  That defined his life as his new parents carried him to Kenya, East Africa.  The abandonment of his birth mother and the adoption by his parents defined him!  We adopted two abandoned Kenyan orphans and that defined their lives.  It threw them into the confusion of a bicultural and biracial family and resulted in identity crises that many do not face.  Jesus promises that he will never abandon his followers, his children.  He did not promise us happy-ever-after.  He has adopted us and we are his and that defines our future.

         I would suspect that one of the hardest aspects of trials and problems is the sense of aloneness and the voice that says no one cares.  That is the voice of the evil one who is “the father of lies.”  Community, the body of Christ, is so important to all of us at all points in our life story.  We pledge prayer and support to that baby being baptized.  We witness vows of faith at confirmation.  We rejoice at weddings, graduations, and grieve together at funerals.  At those horrible moments like divorce or job loss or moving, we throw arms around each other and remind ourselves that we are not abandoned by God who walks with us into the unknown future.

         I must ask us to pause for a brief moment and ponder if there is someone we know who is going through a transition that needs our support?  Or, perhaps we have been reluctant to ask for the support we need for the trauma we are facing.  If you are like me, a hug goes a long way to relieve those hard times and remind me of God’s presence even as the sunrise and sunset do.

A#3:  Adore

”I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

         I deliberately am choosing to use the word “adore” that starts with A.  The word “love” has been cheapened by movies, by false promises of people who have betrayed us, and leaves a bit of a flat taste in my mouth.  It is so easy to respond, yeah, God loves me as long as I obey, keep his commandments, but what about the days when I go to bed giving myself a big F for mouth in motion, forgetful memory of an important occasion or or or.  My mind wonders how God can love me when I am such a failure.  That, my friend, is worldly wisdom.  We are in the Easter season and the cross is certainly a symbol of a world religion that rejected the messiah they were anticipating, of demanding crucifixion of the man who had healed and fed them, and the horrible humiliation of exposure to the crowds.  To the world, Jesus got an F.  In God’s wisdom that we do not understand, Jesus got an A at that moment that he showed his love, his adoration for his creation.  He did not abandon and did more than adopt, he adored us enough to walk through death and open access to God.  We say he died for our sins, that’s advocacy.  Easter continues the truth with resurrection that speaks to our adoption and continued connection with him – not abandonment.  Christianity speaks of a God who adores us even when we are not our better selves.

         Jesus says that not only does he love us but he will also “reveal” himself to us.  I’m going to call that A#4: Available.  We do not have to be afraid that God is on a conference call with the angels in the Middle East or Ukraine/Russia, getting the latest news.  Jesus says that in his love, he will reveal himself and be transparent.

         I love those sappy DVDs about the mail order brides who travel from the East Coast to the lonely widower who needs someone to help with his children and “make a difference.”  The two people gradually reveal themselves to each other and need turns into love and committed relationship.  Part of that growing story is the willingness to open their hearts about their past pains and the willingness to be available to the future pains relationship involves.  Jesus promises that God will reveal his reality to us and I think that means with all honesty.  He lets us know what upsets him and what pleases him about the situations we get ourselves involved in.  His love is not just a contract of commitment but also a relationship of availability.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

         So where does that leave us today?  It is Easter season and we know the Lord is raised.  People saw him.  He fulfilled the prophecy of Scripture.  He is a Good Shepherd calling to us to follow him.  He knows us by name and we can learn to recognize his voice.  We can believe and trust him.  We can walk the talk.  God loves us and gives us commandments to show us how to have a good life.  He is our Advocate, not Abandoning us but Adopting us, and he Adores us and is always Available.  That’s a pretty good report card of A’s!!  He walks with us through the tests that confront us this week.  WOW!

Let the people of God say, “AMEN!”

5th Sunday in Easter

May 7, 2023

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 First Reading: Acts 7:55-60

55Filled with the Holy Spirit, [Stephen] gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

Psalm: Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

1In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame;
  deliver me in your righteousness.
2Incline your ear to me;
  make haste to deliver me.
3Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for you are my crag and    my stronghold; for the sake of your name, lead me and guide me.
4Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me,
  for you are my tower of strength.
5Into your hands I commend my spirit,
  for you have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth.
15My times are in your hand;
  rescue me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me.
16Let your face shine upon your servant;
  save me in your steadfast love.”

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10

2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For it stands in scripture:
 “See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
  a cornerstone chosen and precious;
 and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
7To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
 “The stone that the builders rejected
  has become the very head of the corner,”
 “A stone that makes them stumble,
  and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
10Once you were not a people,
  but now you are God’s people;
 once you had not received mercy,
  but now you have received mercy.

Gospel: John 14:1-14

 [Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus 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’? 10Do 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. 11Believe 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. 12Very 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. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”


To help us dig into our text today, let us first do a minute of groupthink.  How do our ministry of Bethany Gardens speak to the world and us about our faith?  What do we believe as we start our growing season?

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.  Amen.


         Today is the fifth Sunday in the Easter Season.  The glow of Easter Sunday has faded and we are squarely back into the reality of life with all its challenges.  We know these moments.  The wedding and all its celebration is over and we have to face the reality of a real 24-7 relationship.  The retirement celebrations are over and we now have to build a meaningful future without that daily structure work provides.  Perhaps the funeral is over, friends have left and we have to go forward.  Six weeks into college courses, we face midterms, tests, or papers and the thrill of independence from home is fading.  After the mountaintop experiences, we inevitably return to normal life with its challenges.  Easter has not given way to Pentecost yet.  We are still grappling with, “The Lord is Risen,” the chant of Easter, and how we know that is true.

         We have read and pondered the testimonies of others who saw Jesus on Easter, the women at the tomb, the followers that evening, the two on the road to Emmaus.  We pondered the promises of the Good Shepherd and the analogy of Jesus as “the gate,” “the voice” that calls us forth into our present life and future.  We are his sheep but often like sheep we are a bit dense.  We listen for God’s voice in our life but God seems to be busy in Ukraine or the Middle East.  Surely Jesus knew the faith challenges we would face in believing he is risen and so we turn to his last words of advice that he gave his disciples as they walked to the Garden of Gethsemane.  Surely there is more to Easter reality than listening to the testimonies of others or following a shepherd we cannot see anymore and whose voice speaks in so many different ways.  Let us ponder some of Jesus’ last words and how they might help us on this journey.

“Believe in God, believe also in me.”

         Our text begins as Jesus and the disciples leave the upper room from the last supper and start heading to Gethsemane.  Jesus opens with the word “believe.”  Last week we were encouraged to “listen” to the voice of the Good Shepherd.  Between listening and receiving knowledge comes the step of believing.  When I was at Bethany, I listened to the lectures about warm weather plants and cold weather plants but I am not a farmer nor was I from the Midwest when I was with you.  I could have argued that I wanted to grow strawberries for my cereal but I had to trust the leader about the proper time to plant them.  I want to be a happy and productive Christian but I must believe the words I hear from Jesus.  He tells me to forgive those who hurt my feelings but that does not happen automatically.  Tithing in an economy that challenges all of us is hard.  Attending church when I’m tired makes no sense.  I must believe God’s word and take it from head and make it action.  I must weave my beliefs into real life.

         Jesus goes one step further, though.  We do not believe just because some guru gave wise words back centuries ago.  Jesus says we are to believe because he and God are one.  Jesus pulls out his credentials, pulls rank on all other authorities and says we can believe when we can’t see him that he personally was God incarnate.  Phillip is not so convinced and asks to see the Father.  It might be like me, an ignorant farmer-wantabee questioning the instructions from Bruce about the gardening and demanding to hear from the pastor.  Ooops, no pastor yet and the one who comes might come from the Minneapolis seminary and not be a farmer.  We must believe, trust, the words of the leaders of the program even if it is not apparent how the seed will grow or when or where.

         We do not follow Jesus because he’s smart, or wise, or gives me all my wishes, or heals all my wounds, or makes me wealthy.  We follow because we believe He is God.  That does not seem to be a point of debate…but we do debate his authority in our lives, don’t we.  People often live life as if elections are coming and Jesus’ leadership, his shepherding of our lives is up for election if things don’t work out as we think or if he takes too long to answer.  We are prone to look at other authorities or denominations and consider our alternatives.

         Let us take a moment and take our faith temperature.  Is there a pre-nuptial agreement and escape clauses that we need to acknowledge and eliminate?  Jesus calls us to follow him when we cannot see and do not understand because he is God of the universe and he knows the way through the wilderness of this life.  He is alive, he is raised, and he is going before us.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

“…a place for you…”

         Jesus not only grounds us in faith that he is God but he also promises us a place.  The Bible opens in the Garden of Eden and closes in the New Jerusalem.  Jesus assures the disciples that he is going to prepare a place that he will take them and us to.  For the gardeners in the congregation, it sounds like the offer of gardening space, prepared and ready to be used.  Jesus is not offering a theory about heaven, practice lessons to be a good heaven resident but he is preparing an actual place.  Bethany Gardens is a model garden, a course, but it is also a real place that produces real food for the gardeners and the needy. 

         Like Thomas or perhaps like people new to our program, we might ask, where is this garden?  Where is my spot?  Bruce says, “Follow me, I’ll take you to your spot.”  Jesus is preparing a tangible place that he will return to take us to.  And like Aslan in Chronicles of Narnia, Jesus will be there with us.  Jesus is the way, tells the truth, and is the life.

“…believe me because of the works themselves…”

         For those of us who aren’t quite sure what Jesus being God means, and are not interested in being heavenly gardeners but would prefer to join the heavenly choir, Jesus points us to his track record.  Bethany Gardens has an outstanding track record.  Produce has increased yearly.  More food is donated to the hungry each year.  And Bethany Gardens has won several awards, recognized by Purdue University.  Let us consider Jesus’ track record.  He healed the blind and did not make people blind.  He fed the hungry.  He walked on water.  He knows the pain we experience only his pain was crucifixion, humiliation and rejection.  He knows not only as God but also as true man the situations we face, the discouragements we wrestle with and our doubts.  I might question whether our politicians truly understand the plight of ordinary people in the trenches but as I read the gospels and the stories recorded, I know that Jesus walked the talk.  People at Bethany Gardens have proven their expertise and we can trust them.

And so what?

12Very 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. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

         I suspect that if I were a fly on the wall, I would hear that a goal for Bethany Gardens this year is to surpass the food production of last year.  Each year the program has grown.  Bethany Gardens is a garden and does produce food, and does teach and help people but it is also a ministry to bless others.  Jesus incarnated as man claiming to be God, laid the foundations for those who would follow, and demonstrated the truth of his claims.  He could say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus concludes, though, by prophesying that his followers will change the world.  They will bless the nations as promised to Abraham.  From that small group of followers that huddled behind locked doors on Easter evening, who walked away from the chaos of Jerusalem questioning what they had seen, and from people living in a culture where they knew they could face crucifixion and persecution, came a spread of what came to be known as Christianity.  How was that possible?  Jesus, true man and true God returned to heaven and represents us and answers our prayers.  He is risen, alive and active.

         Let us be clear.  We do not make the seeds we plant.  We do not make the rainfall that waters those plants.  We receive the energy and the wisdom to tend those plants.  The credit does not go to our wonderful leaders as wonderful as they may be nor does the credit go to the followers of Jesus.  The credit and glory goes to God.  Prayers are not always answered the way we want.  There are droughts or horrible storms or plagues we did not anticipate but that does not mean God is not present.  Jesus promises that he will be actively involved in answering all prayers to him.  He is not just a listener.  He is active even when we don’t understand.  We are invited to ask, to dream, and to have wonderful goals that will bring glory to God.

         In this passage, our text calls us to the reality that “The Lord is risen,” not only because of testimonies, not only because the teachings are proven in reality but also because we can believe Jesus is God so he speaks the truth, shows us the way, and is our life for eternity.  We believe!

The Lord is risen!

Let the people of God say, “AMEN!                 “

4th Sunday in Easter

April 30, 2023

First Reading: Acts 2:42-47

42[The baptized] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Psalm: Psalm 23

1The Lord| is my shepherd;
  I shall not be in want.
2The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures
  and leads me beside still waters.
3You restore my soul, O Lord,
  and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;
  for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
  you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
  and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:19-25

19It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
22“He committed no sin,
  and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Gospel: John 10:1-10

 [Jesus said:] 1“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”


         Let me share again another of my favorite tales, Little Red Riding Hood.  A little girl was called “Little Red Riding Hood” because she loved to wear a red cape her beloved grandmother had given her.  One day her mother sent her to her grandmother’s house with a fresh cake and a drink, as the grandmother was sick and weak.  On the way through the forest, she met an evil wolf that pretended to be her friend.  On hearing of her mission, he raced ahead of her to eat the grandmother and then dress up like her to wait for the little girl to arrive.  He would have two meals! 

         Little Red Riding Hood came to the door and knocked.  The wolf invited her in but the little girl had to rub her eyes. Something was wrong.  “Grandmother, what big eyes you have!” “Grandmother, what big ears you have!” “Grandmother, what big teeth you have!”  As the wolf jumped at the little girl, she screamed and a huntsman nearby came to help her.  Grandmother, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Huntsman enjoyed eating the cake and sharing the drink!

         Share – what alerts you that something is wrong?

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.


         Easter morning we greeted each other, “The Lord is risen!”  And the other responded, “The Lord is risen indeed!”  Many sang, “Halleluiah, Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”  For six weeks we are now in the Easter Season and bask in the realization that Christ walked through death for us and we focus on passages that support that he lives.  We believe Jesus is alive and active in our world today. People who were alive then saw him.  But also his teachings help us identify him today.  The truth is that we live with our hearts grounded in the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus ushered in but our bodies are still grounded in this Kingdom of this World and all the struggles that plague us.  We grow into the truth of the risen Lord.

           The second Sunday of Easter, we found some followers behind locked doors, scared of those outside and unsure of this resurrection news.  Jesus appeared and it became real.  The third Sunday we walked with two people on the road to Emmaus, leaving all the confusion and discussing all the events.  Jesus walked with them and opened their hearts by giving them a new understanding of God in Scripture and by breaking bread with them.  They returned to Jerusalem to rejoice with others who had “sighted” the risen Christ.

         A new understanding of Scripture and how God is working in our world is emerging during the Easter Season.  For many God is a distant being who may speak through prophets, through experiences of victory like Jericho, or through clouds and signs like leaving Egypt.  God can be found in his Temple or church and in the Scriptures but God is not necessarily a personally involved deity concerned about the common person’s life.

           Easter is a seismic earthquake that reconstructs our whole understanding of how we relate to God.  Like Little Red Riding Hood, we encounter today so many wolves that try to convince us they are grandmother.  They invite us to the good life but in fact their eyes are too big, their ears too big, and their teeth are too big.  They make empty promises.  Easter challenges us to recognize Jesus’ presence in our lives when we no longer have his physical presence with us.

           So today we return to the gospel of John chapter 10 and review our understanding of the Good Shepherd. Our God who created the universe and who incarnated in Jesus, true God and true man, and who rose on Easter Sunday is active and alive today.  This God is the gate to the Kingdom of Heaven. We stand at the door, the gate, to enter grandmother’s house and must decide who is the “real thing,” the “genuine article” calling to us.

“the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. “

         I’m guessing Little Red Riding Hood stood at the door and knocked.  I’m sure we have all seen that famous painting of Jesus standing at the door and knocking based on Rev. 3:20, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.”  It is often noted that the door has no knob because the person inside must let the visitor enter.  Today our text has Jesus standing at the door, the gate, and calling us out.  We are not looking inward at our fears and doubts but outward to Jesus who is alive.  Little Red Riding Hood enters and looks at the presence behind the voice calling her to enter.  She becomes confused.  Grandmother’s eyes are too big, ears too long, and teeth too sharp. Something is not quite right. The sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  How?

Grandmother, what big eyes you have!

         Little Red Riding Hood compares the eyes, the vision the voice is painting for her to the voice of truth.  Is the voice calling us to the “good life,” the life of comfort and a space where all our needs can be met by just believing and buying into its message?  All we have to do is have enough faith and pray.  It sounds to me like our commercials that are calling to us to invest in their product for the good life.  It sounds like our politics that call us to vote for their candidate to restore the past and provide a secure future.

         I would propose that the Gospel does not offer health, wealth and prosperity but offers God’s voice.  James 3 gives us clues for recognizing God’s wisdom calling to us:

            “16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above s first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”

Is the voice you hear appealing to your own personal desires and ego or is it helping you to focus outward to God?

         But so often God seems silent.  During those times that we call “the dark night of the soul,” the body of Christ actively listens with us.  This is when God uses his voice through silence; it does not imply absence but focused listening.  As we speak and God listens, we clarify our thoughts, our wishes, and our petitions and find our own voice and identity.  God’s silent voice partners with us and with the community to draw us into voice.

         We listen to God’s voice through prayer, through Scripture and through community because the Good Shepherd knows our name.  For the Christian, there is a personal relationship. After the crucifixion, resurrection, there was no physical Jesus but followers had to learn to listen for his voice. God does not have big eyes to see us better because he knows us and knows us by name.  His voice will call us to look away from the problems that plague us here in the kingdom of this world and will call us to follow him to green pastures, still waters, and a banquet prepared in the unseen future we walk into.

Grandmother, what big ears you have?

         I have often talked about that little voice that sits on my shoulder and whispers in my ears.  Often the message is just plain crushing; telling me the things I fear to admit might be true about my life.  The evil voice focuses on fears and doubts and draws me away from God’s truth and God’s promises to care for us, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Timothy is far more severe in his admonition to beware of the wolf with big ears that spreads gossip, rumors, jealousy and lies.  It is not the voice of the Good Shepherd.

         “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves  teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-3” 

         Let us ponder for a moment what we spend our time listening to during the week and why.  We need to be aware of events in our world and in our community but when by this information, we feel drawn away from God then we know we are in danger.  One of the big blessings of worshiping together is the music that focuses our minds on eternal truth of God’s love and presence.  Turn to your neighbor and share a word of encouragement.  May we be people this week that say words of encouragement and faith, sharing truth that focuses people on hope and God’s presence.

Grandmother, what big teeth you have!

         The truth comes out.  “All who came before me are thieves and bandits.”  False shepherds seek only to steal and devour.  They are thieves and bandits.  They steal joy, faith, hope and love, the fruits of the Spirit.  This Sunday we return to Jesus’ parable of the Good Shepherd because we, even today need to recognize the Shepherd’s voice.  We do not see Jesus as those first disciples did but we know that he speaks into our world today. 

         I like the story of Little Red Riding Hood because, just recognizing the wolf, the false voices that call to us and make all sorts of promises only to deceive and disappoint us, does not remove the little girl from harm.  The wolf springs on her and she screams.  It is the huntsman who comes to her rescue and kills the wolf.  The voice of the evil one can drive us to despair but as we call out to God, he saves us.  Perhaps our eyes fall on just the right scripture verse that encourages us.  Perhaps our ears hear just the right song that dispels despair. And then those large fangs shrink to manageable size as we realize Jesus is walking with us through the valley of fear and preparing a banquet at the other side.  I would like to think the grandmother, Little Red Riding Hood and the Huntsman sat down and enjoyed a feast together. 

         Having a living savior and shepherd does not mean there will not be dangers and challenges and dark nights of the soul but it does means God walks with us and speaks into our situations.  He is our gate.  The voice of God will lead us from inward turmoil and doubts to outward focus on his presence, from fear of the future to peace in his presence, and from the seen dangers to the unseen power of the resurrection.

The Lord is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed.

Let the people of God say, “AMEN.”

3rd Sunday in Easter

April 23, 2023

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41

14aPeter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed [the crowd], 36“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

Psalm: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

1I love the Lord, who has heard my voice,
  and listened to my supplication,
2for the Lord has given ear to me
  whenever I called.
3The cords of death entangled me; the anguish of the grave came upon me; I came to grief and sorrow.
4Then I called upon the name of the Lord:
  “O Lord, I pray you, save my life.” 
12How shall I repay the Lord
  for all the good things God has done for me?
13I will lift the cup of salvation
  and call on the name of the Lord.
14I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
  in the presence of all God’s people.
15Precious in your sight, O Lord,
  is the death of your servants.
16O Lord, truly I am your servant;
  I am your servant, the child of your handmaid; you have freed me from  my bonds.
17I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
  and call upon the name of the Lord.
18I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
  in the presence of all God’s people,
19in the courts of the Lord’s house,
  in the midst of you, O Jerusalem. Hallelujah! 

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23

17If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. 18You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 21Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.
22Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. 23You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35

13Now on that same day [when Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene,] two [disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  I think today we will go back to one of my favorite Aesop’s Fables:  The Lion and The Mouse.

“A Lion lay asleep in the forest. A timid little Mouse came upon him unexpectedly, and ran across the Lion’s nose. The Lion laid his paw on the tiny creature to kill her.

“Spare me!” begged the poor Mouse. “Please let me go and some day I will surely repay you.”  The Lion was much amused to think that a Mouse could ever help him but he let the Mouse go because he fancied himself generous.

Some days later, the Lion was caught in a hunter’s net. He filled the forest with his angry roaring. The Mouse found the Lion struggling. Running to one of the great ropes that bound him, she gnawed it and soon the Lion was free.”

Question to share with your neighbor:  Why was the Mouse’s plea so foolish to the Lion?

Let us pray.   Lord, May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptible in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.


         Last week we jumped from Easter morning to Easter evening, from sharing “The Lord is Risen” to hiding behind locked doors, afraid.  Today we go to the gospel of Luke and Easter afternoon. We read of two people walking away from all the action and excitement of Jerusalem, the crucifixion and the rumors of the resurrection.  While some followers gathered behind locked doors in fear, these two people just plain left.  “I’m out of here!” may have been their cry.  When life becomes overwhelming, distancing ourselves from the chaos and all the voices around us is a valid coping mechanism.  In significant ways we become like the little mouse pleading, “Let me go.”  Perhaps we are scared but we are also confused and we need a safe space.  I love to get in my car and drive.  My father went to the garage and his tool bench.  Others go to the mall or zone out in a video.  We have ways we cope with overload.  Our two people in the text are leaving the scene and walking along, engrossed in conversation, talking about all they’ve been through.

God’s wisdom confuses worldly wisdom

         The lion’s first impulse is to kill that mouse that disturbed him.  He has the power.  He has the right.  He is king of the forest and has the authority.  Besides mice are…you name it cause mice are near the bottom of the food chain.  Our knee jerk reactions often are to lash out and get rid of the nuisance.  Pilot washed his hands of Jesus.  The Jewish authorities demand the death of Jesus.  The soldiers were just following orders.  The disciples fled.  Judas committed suicide.  Easter morning and the cry, “He is risen,” makes no sense.  The followers of Jesus at some level understood that Jesus was the promised Messiah but they had their own definition of what that meant.  The Messiah would get rid of Rome and return them to their glorious past.  The followers knew mice should not disturb lions and dead people don’t rise.

     Even we have our expectations of how God should or could or ought to be acting in our world. We even back up our wants with Bible verses that tell us we can have anything from God if we have faith and pray.  For sure we know God is on our side and doubt his presence with our enemy.  So who are the lions in our world today?  Wealth, youth, talent, government and yes, beauty.  If we have one of these we are on the right side of the equation of life and if we are poor, the “other” ethnicity, weak or differently abled, we are at the bottom of the food chain.  Most of us would admit we are somewhere in-between but hoping to climb the respect ladder.  When the tables are turned and Jesus is crucified, dies and is buried but maybe resurrected, the two people are confused and need space to process.

“talking with each other about all these things that had happened”

Confusion turns us inward in discussion with those we trust.

         The lion is amused at the tiny mouse’s plea.  He frees her, not because he believes the mouse can help but because he chooses to be generous.  We hear the Easter message.  Many are willing to be CEO Christians, be baptized and come to church on special occasions like Christmas/Easter/and Other times like funerals or confirmations but the resurrection is not truly integrated truth in their lives.  It might be interesting to talk about but it is not life changing.  Many are on the road to Emmaus and do not even recognize Jesus walking beside them.  We are busy discussing all the things taking place in our world today.

“What things?”

         Interestingly Jesus comes as a presence, not a power.  He wants to know what we are so preoccupied with and what is so confusing.  He walks with us in the events of our lives.  He does not stand outside our reality and manipulate our lives either as he thinks they should be or as we would like them to be.  Jesus travels with us and wants to know what is on our minds.  But what does he do?  He points our two people to scripture.  Jesus is not only the risen Lord but he is also the Living Word.  I find it interesting that he starts with Moses; laying a foundation they would understand from their heritage and drawing them into the present.  He goes from the known to the unknown, from the seen to the unseen.  Part of the problem with confusion and events that challenge our understanding of our faith is the need to go back and clarify our concept of God.  And so Jesus starts with Moses.

         Perhaps as we face situations in our life today, the challenge is to ask ourselves how we think God ought to solve it and then chat with a friend to broaden our understanding of how God might choose to be acting.  Legendary coach John Wooden of the UCLA Bruins is famous for starting his seasons by teaching his players how to put on their shoes and socks.  He took them back to the basics because no game can be won with sore feet.  Jesus took the two people on the road back to the basics, Moses.  I sure would have loved to be a Kleenex in the pocket in one of those people hearing Jesus review scripture!  We have Bibles and can review whenever we are confused.  We have prayer and can talk to God about our confusion and the Holy Spirit sheds light.  God joins us in our questions.

“21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

         Our understanding of God impacts our expectations of our lives.   As we clarify our understanding of God, we see our present in a new light.  When the mouse chews through the rope holding the lion captive, the lion sees the mouse in a new light and he is set free to be all God created him to be.  The lion has been redeemed and the crucifixion redeemed Israel and all of us too.  The resurrection is not just an historical event we celebrate at Easter.  Freedom for the lion is not just a scriptural assurance that someday he will lay down with the lamb.  It is a reality he lives into three dimensionally, touching and feeling.

         Jesus ate with the two from Emmaus.  “30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.“  Jesus gave us the sacrament of communion.  It is in communion that he tells us the bread is his body broken for us and the wine is his blood shed for us.  He is with us three dimensionally, right inside us as we eat and drink.  We can be assured that he is in the midst of all circumstances we go through.

“35Then they told what had happened on the road,

 and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

         God’s wisdom is not like worldly wisdom.  Letting the mouse go free is counter intuitive.  Dramatic events can overwhelm us and drive us to seek space with others we trust.  We are confused and seek clarification but unlike the world, we do not become the brilliant insightful ones, we become the sharing ones.  Wisdom and clarity come from God in the midst of our lives.  Our joy of discovery is meant to be shared.  The two people had to return to Jerusalem and tell the other followers who themselves were experiencing the risen Christ. The resurrection sets us free to be our better selves, the person God would have us be in our worlds.

         The resurrection turns us from inward fear and confusion to outward awareness of God presence with us in our world, speaking into our dynamics today through his word.  Fear gives way to peace and confusion gives way to clarity. The seen calamities of this world gives way to the unseen presence of God walking with us, helping us to understand, and communing with us.  The lion realizes the mouse is not a silly disturbance and bother but a significant encounter with unseen blessings to be lived into.  The Lord is risen!  The Lord is risen, indeed.

Let the people of God say, “Amen.”

2nd Sunday in Easter: Behind Closed Doors

April 16, 2023

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 22-32

14aPeter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed [the crowd], 22“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For David says concerning him,
 ‘I saw the Lord always before me,
  for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
  moreover my flesh will live in hope.
27For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
  or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28You have made known to me the ways of life;
  you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
29“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
 ‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
  nor did his flesh experience corruption.’
32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”

Psalm: Psalm 16

1Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;
  I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.”
2All my delight is in the godly that are in the land,
  upon those who are noble among the people.
3But those who run after other gods
  shall have their troubles multiplied.
4I will not pour out drink offerings to such gods,
  never take their names upon my lips. 
5O Lord, you are my portion and my cup;
  it is you who uphold my lot.
6My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;
  indeed, I have a rich inheritance.
7I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
  my heart teaches me night after night.
8I have set the Lord always before me;
  because God is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 
9My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
  my body also shall rest in hope.
10For you will not abandon me to the grave,
  nor let your holy one see the pit.
11You will show me the path of life;
  in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are     pleasures forevermore.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Gospel: John 20:19-31

19When 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, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  When I taught a nursery school  in Kenya, one of the songs that had hand motions and taught language was “Going on a Lion Hunt.”  Repeat after me

Going on a lion hunt, going to catch a lion.  (congregation echoes)

Put on your shoes (motion of putting on shoes)

Put on your hat (congregation puts on hats)

Let’s go

Oh no, tall grass. (place hands by face as if in dispair)

Can’t go over it (motion with hands trying to reach over tall grass)

Can’t go around it (motion with hands going out to left and right)

Can’t go under it (motion with hands scooping under)

We have to go through it ( motion parting grass, swish sound)

Going on a lion hunt, going to catch a lion.

Oh no, a river.

Can’t go over it, can’t go around it, can’t go under it, we’ll have to go through it (splash, splash, splash  swimming motions).

Going on a lion hunt, going to catch a lion.

Oh no, a cave.

Can’t go over it, can’t go around it, can’t go under it, we’ll have to go through it (make a creeping motion with your feet)

Oh No! A Lion!  Run.

Stomp your feet for retreating back through the cave.

Swim your arms for recrossing the river.

Swish your way back through the grass.

  (The children meet a lion and have to race home going running out of the cave, swimming back across the river, and swishing back through the grass.) 

 Whew!  We are safe at home.

Let us pray.  Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, my Rock and my Redeemer.


         We are all on a lion hunt.  We all meet barriers to reaching that dream that is out there that we want to achieve.  Perhaps Mr. Wonderful doesn’t realize we exist.  Perhaps the ideal job is not delivering as we thought.  Perhaps a different doctor will give a more hopeful path to recovery.  Sometimes we meet barriers we just cannot jump over, go around, or dig under and we just have to go through as best we can.  Our disciples today have met a barrier.  They have followed Jesus believing he was the Messiah and expecting him to usher in the new kingdom, rid them of those bothersome Romans, and return the good life.  He could do it.  He had healed, fed, resurrected, taught and done so many wonderful, hopeful deeds.  But suddenly they met a barrier.  The crowd that shouted, “Hosanna,” on Palm Sunday turned to shouting “Crucify him” on Good Friday. They walked through the horror of Gethsemane, the injustice of the trial, the cruelty of the cross and the death of their leader and dreams.  Today we see them disoriented and hiding in fear.

           Last Sunday we heard the news, “He is Risen.”  We greeted each other with those words, “He is risen indeed.”  We hear Jesus is risen but the Romans are still in power and we still face death.  Houston, we have a problem.  During the Easter Season for the next six weeks we will look at the tension and reality that Jesus resurrected but we are still in this world.  We will be challenged to redefine the lion we are hunting for.  We use words for Easter like “conquered the grave,” “is alive,” or “saved us” but what does having a resurrected Savior mean to the nitty gritty of our everyday lives?

Inward to Outward

         Our first reading today is telling us how Peter gives a rousing sermon on Pentecost to an audience of people gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world.  People hear the sermon in their own language.  3000 become followers of the Christ.  Any pastor would be overwhelmed if 3000 people responded to the sermon!  Today we call it a revival when suddenly people are touched by the Holy Spirit, confess their need for salvation, and cry out to God.  There are reports that revival is “breaking out” around the United States today.  Even as revival broke out during the “Jesus Revolution” when I was a young adult in Los Angeles and as recorded in the recent movie by that name, revival is happening today.

         BUT…but we find our followers huddled behind closed doors in fear.  Something happened between Easter Sunday and Pentecost, between resurrection and revival.  We call it the Easter season.  We look at proofs that Jesus Christ is alive in our world today.  Easter Sunday starts with the women going to the tomb to anoint the dead body of Jesus.  They are looking inward at their grief.  They are locked within themselves and the events that have taken place.  The angels tell them that Jesus is risen.  Don’t look in, look out.

         The two people on the road to Emmaus meet a stranger who walks with them but they are so absorbed in the shock of the crucifixion they don’t recognize their companion.  Shocking events turn us inward in disbelief and possibly grief.  Easter teaches us not to look in but to look outside ourselves.

         That evening the followers gather behind closed doors in fear.  I am sure they are wondering if they would be the next to be crucified, the next to catch Covid, the next to be shot randomly in a public “safe” place.  When we meet barriers on the road to catch that lion, we turn inward with questions like how to get around the challenge, with fears of vulnerability, and with grief at the challenge.  The cross and Lent turns us inward acknowledging our limitations.  Easter and the resurrection challenge us to reframe our understanding and turn outward.

         The tomb is empty.  Life without Jesus is empty.  The Scriptures are empty unless we turn to the living Word that transforms our understanding of our history.  Our meetings are empty and perhaps fear ridden when we meet behind closed doors for fear of the forces that threaten to overwhelm us.  So I think the first thought for us to ponder this morning is to honestly ponder what doors, what barriers close us inside ourselves in fear of the future?  Perhaps we fear what the new pastor might be like.  Then again it can be illness, finances, family squabbles, and that is not to mention the national politics and random violence in our culture.  We all have “doors” that lock us inside ourselves in grief, fear, and vulnerability.  Easter challenges us to look outward to a new reality.  Jesus is risen.

Fear to Peace

         The followers meet with each other and do not isolate.  As they share their stories Jesus suddenly stands in their midst.  His first word is, “Peace.”  As we turn from inward chaos outward to Jesus, we are able to regain peace, not from finding the lion but because of Jesus’ presence.  Jesus gives us peace.  Peace comes not from achieving our goals but from realizing his presence in the midst of the struggle.  Our eyes and minds turn from inward preoccupation to outward awareness of who is with us and what he is saying.

         Resurrection is not just about Jesus being alive and so we will be alive in heaven.  Our text gives us more texture than our joyful Easter greetings about the defeat of death.  Jesus tells the followers they are now being sent outwards.  They become followers with a purpose.  Life is meaningful and the events we walk into are not random nor are they punishment sent by God because we skipped church or didn’t tithe enough.  We are a sent people.  We have purpose and meaning.  That does not mean the barriers, the tall grass, the rivers, and the caves we will be challenged to pass through should not scare us but we are not alone.  We go in community with other followers, with Christ, and also with the Holy Spirit that he breathes into us. We are sent and we are not alone.

         Secondly Jesus tells us that the key to looking outward, to unlocking fear is forgiveness.  This seems like a random statement in the text but it is important.  The followers fear life and possibly potential disaster.  When life does not go the way we expect, it is easy for fear to take residence in our hearts and for us to turn inwards.  Forgiveness frees us to turn outwards.  God will bring justice.  Forgiveness is not easy but it is the Easter message of the resurrection.  We are forgiven and we are called to forgive.

         Let us think this morning of some situation we would rejoice that Jesus enters into with us this week because he is alive and active.  Is there a person we would love to have a heart to heart chat with?  Is there an encounter that has us terrified that we need to remind ourselves that we are not alone?  Then again there may be a situation we need God’s help us to forgive. Perhaps we need to ask for prayer for the “lion” we will be facing this week. Certainly we need to pray about the lions our country is dealing with!

Seen to Unseen

         The crucifixion was a highly visually impacting experience.  The tomb could be seen and the rock feared.  The gathering behind closed doors was a three dimensional experience.  That which is seen whether it is the pictures of war on the news, the documentaries on disease, or the absence of a beloved at gatherings impacts our sense of reality.  The resurrection moves us from that which we experience with our physical senses to that which we experience with our spiritual senses.  Thomas was not with the other followers that first Easter Sunday.  The others reported about seeing Jesus and believing, but Thomas was unconvinced.  He wanted to touch and feel Jesus to know the truth.  And there we have the rub.  We want to see and believe.  Learning to believe and trust that which we cannot see, which goes through closed doors, which gives commands that are counter intuitive is sooooo hard.  It is a journey of growth.  There is a reason for Easter season because for most of us we don’t just jump from believing to living the faith.  The reality of the resurrection, of maturing, of truly grasping what relationship with Jesus means, takes time.

         I think all of us who were ever married know the “I do” did not at all explain the reality of living into that relationship.  The first day of work while exciting to have a job, needed to become a work routine.  The check deposited after payday is not the bank balance later in the month.  Jesus closes our text today acknowledging the challenge of going from inward to outward, of going from fear to peace and of going from seen to unseen.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

         We are going on a lion hunt.  We want to achieve those goals, defeat those lions that scare us, and be heroes and heroines.  But we will encounter barriers.  There will be tall grass, rivers, and caves that we cannot go over, around or under.  We will have to go through.  That lion we finally meet will be bigger than we thought and often scarier.  True security comes when we retreat away from the inward fears to the reality of the risen Christ.  When we turn over the fears that paralyze us and receive the peace Christ gives us.  And when we learn to trust his unseen presence with us daily in the lives of our community, his presence in his Word, and learn to use the key of forgiveness that unlocks the future.  The Lord is risen and walking with us as we venture out to tackle lions!

Let the people of God say, “AMEN.”

Good Friday 2023

April 7, 2023


Friday of Holy Week starts on Thursday evening as Jesus and the disciples leave the Upper Room and walk to the Garden of Gethsemane.  John does not record Jesus praying in the Garden probably in the wee hours of Friday morning.  In John 14 – 18, John records all the comforting Jesus gives to his followers on the way to Gethsemane.  Jesus is going to prepare a place for us.  He is the vine giving us life.  The world does not understand Jesus and will not understand us. Jesus’ prays for his followers, even us. 

         Our readings this evening pick up at John 18 with Jesus’ arrest in the Garden, trial, and crucifixion. Interwoven in the narrative is the honest account of Peter’s denials, political posturing, popularity reversals, and horrific suffering.  The journey this evening reflects the reality of life in the earthly kingdom that is being redeemed by our Savior.  Peter is forgiven, God is a just judge, family is bigger than biological with deep connecting bonds, and someday pain and suffering will end.  Covid-19 will not win, corrupt politicians will not rule forever, hatred, prejudice, and racism will be defeated by faith, hope, grace and love. The Holy Spirit will guide, counsel and intercede for us.   We depart silently, this evening, grieving the suffering we are walking through. 

         Biblical text will be followed by a hymn.  I will share a link to YouTube but I realize you must click on the link or copy it into your address bar on your devise.  Ads may come up but be patient, click the “skip ads” arrow when it shows.  Enjoy the music and then click the red circle in the left top corner to end YouTube and return to your script.  I hope that works.  Welcome to a virtual Good Friday service, walking with Jesus to and through the cross experience.

Let us begin in the Name of the Father, +the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen. I invite you to light a candle that we will blow out at the end of the service as we are not at the altar to strip it.

First Reading: Isaiah 52:13–53:12

13See, my servant shall prosper;
  he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.
14Just as there were many who were astonished at him
  —so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
  and his form beyond that of mortals—
15so he shall startle many nations;
  kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
       for that which had not been told them they shall see,
  and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
53:1Who has believed what we have heard?
  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2For he grew up before him like a young plant,
  and like a root out of dry ground;
       he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
  nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3He was despised and rejected by others;
  a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
       and as one from whom others hide their faces
  he was despised, and we held him of no account.
4Surely he has borne our infirmities
  and carried our diseases;
       yet we accounted him stricken,
  struck down by God, and afflicted.
5But he was wounded for our transgressions,
  crushed for our iniquities;
 upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
  and by his bruises we are healed.
6All we like sheep have gone astray;
  we have all turned to our own way,
 and the Lord has laid on him
  the iniquity of us all.
7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
  yet he did not open his mouth;
 like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
  and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
  so he did not open his mouth.
8By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
  Who could have imagined his future?
 For he was cut off from the land of the living,
  stricken for the transgression of my people.
9They made his grave with the wicked
  and his tomb with the rich,
 although he had done no violence,
  and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
 When you make his life an offering for sin,
  he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
 through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
  11Out of his anguish he shall see light;
 he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
  The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
  and he shall bear their iniquities.
12Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
  and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
 because he poured out himself to death,
  and was numbered with the transgressors;
 yet he bore the sin of many,
  and made intercession for the transgressors.

Psalm: Psalm 22 

1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
  Why so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?
2My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer;
  by night, but I find no rest.
3Yet you are the Holy One,
  enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4Our ancestors put their trust in you,
  they trusted, and you rescued them. 
5They cried out to you and were delivered;
  they trusted in you and were not put to shame.
6But as for me, I am a worm and not human,
  scorned by all and despised by the people.
7All who see me laugh me to scorn;
  they curl their lips; they shake their heads.
8“Trust in the Lord; let the Lord deliver;
  let God rescue him if God so delights in him.” 
9Yet you are the one who drew me forth from the womb,
  and kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
10I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born;
  you were my God when I was still in my mother’s womb.
11Be not far from me, for trouble is near,
  and there is no one to help.
12Many young bulls encircle me;
  strong bulls of Bashan surround me. 
13They open wide their jaws at me,
  like a slashing and  roaring lion.
14I am poured out like water; all my bones are out of joint;
  my heart within my breast is melting wax.
15My strength is dried up like a potsherd; my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
  and you have laid me in the dust of death.
16Packs of dogs close me in, a band of evildoers circles round me;
  they pierce my hands and my feet. 
17I can count all my bones
  while they stare at me and gloat.
18They divide my garments among them;
  for my clothing, they cast lots.
19But you, O Lord, be not far away;
  O my help, hasten to my aid.
20Deliver me from the sword,
  my life from the power of the dog.
21Save me from the | lion’s mouth!
  From the horns of wild bulls you have rescued me.
22I will declare your name to my people;
  in the midst of the assembly I will praise you. 
23You who fear the Lord, give praise! All you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
  Stand in awe of the Lord, all you off-spring of Israel.
24For the Lord does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty; neither is the Lord‘s face hidden from them;
  but when they cry out, the Lord hears them.
25From you comes my praise in the great assembly;
  I will perform my vows in the sight of those who fear the Lord.
26The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
  Let those who seek the Lord give praise! May your hearts live forever!
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
  all the families of nations shall bow before God.
28For dominion belongs to the Lord,
  who rules over the nations. 
29Indeed, all who sleep in the earth shall bow down in worship;
  all who go down to the dust, though they be dead, shall kneel before   the Lord.
30Their descendants shall serve the Lord,
  whom they shall proclaim to generations to come.
31They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn,
  saying to them, “The Lord has acted!”

Second Reading: Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9

14Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
5:7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Gospel: John 18:1–19:42

1[Jesus] went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.2Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” 5They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. 7Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” 9This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” 

Hymn:  Jesus, Name Above All Names

(Naida Hearn from Palmerston North, New Zealand went to her “wash house” to do the laundry one day in 1970.  She carried a list of names for Jesus she had written down for years.  She put the list on the window sill and opened her mouth and started singing, inspired by the Holy Spirit.  She left the laundry and went to the house and wrote down the song and returned to do her laundry. The song spread in New Zealand and came to the USA to bless many.) 

John 18: 10-14

10Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. 11Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
  12So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. 13First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

Spoken Hymn:  “May the Mind of Christ, my Savior”

May the mind of Christ, my Saviour,
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and power controlling
All I do and say.

May the Word of God dwell richly
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph
Only through His power.

May the peace of God my Father
Rule my life in everything,
That I may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.

May I run the race before me

Strong and brave to face the foe

Looking only onto Jesus

As I onward go.

(We know little about Kate Wilkinson, author of this hymn who was a member of the Church of England and involved in the Keswick Deeper Life Movement.  The song has inspired people facing difficult times like Covid-19.  The song was published in 1925 when she was 66 years old. Christ said, “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me.”)

John 18:15-32

  15Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.
  19Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” 24Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
  25Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.
  28Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. 29So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” 31Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” 32(This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)

Hymn:  Just As I Am:

(This hymn by Charlotte Elliot, 1789-1871, is said to have influenced more people than any sermon ever preached.  At age 30 she became an invalid for the rest of her 82 years.  An Swiss evangelist, visiting her challenged her that she could come to Jesus just as she was, distressed, an invalid. Peter denied Christ.  Witnesses lied.  Politics.  We are all guilty of falling short and come to this story, just as we are. These words inspired this famous hymn and she was later considered one of the finest English hymn writers.)

John 18:33-19:12

  33Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

  After he (Pilate) had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. 39But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 40They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.
19:1Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. 4Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” 5So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” 6When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” 7The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”
  8Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 11Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” 12From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

Spoken Hymn: This is My Father’s World

This is my father’s world
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres

This is my father’s world
Oh, let me never forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the ruler yet.

This is my father’s world
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is king, let the heavens sing

God is the ruler yet.

(Maltbie Davenoirt Babcock, a minister in Lockport, New York, at the turn of the Twentieth Century and author of these words, would walk beside Lake Ontario.  He always left home telling his wife, “I’m going out to see my Father’s world.  What is truth and where to find it?  God is ultimately kings in all circumstances.)

  13When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. 14Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” 15They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” 16Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
  So they took Jesus; 17and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’ ” 22Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” 23When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says,
 “They divided my clothes among themselves,
  and for my clothing they cast lots.”
25And that is what the soldiers did.
  Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
  28After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Hymn: Were You There When They Crucified My Lord

(This is one of the most famous African American songs that arose from their communal experience of slavery and was first published  in 1899 in William E. Barton’s Old Plantation Songs in the section “Recent Negro Melodies.” Originally it had four stanzas: 1) Were you there when they crucified my Lord?; 2) …when they nailed him to the cross?; 3) …when they pierced him in the side?; 4) …when the sun refused to shine. The United Methodist Hymnal, along with many other songbooks, includes a fifth: “…when they laid him in the tomb.” The series of questions are meant to function as a prompt to memories that go beyond recall to bring incorporation into our present lives and to that become part of our story.)

  31Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35(He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” 37And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
  38After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Hymn:  When I Survey the Wondrous Cross



Maundy Thursday: A bowl, A candle, A spoon

April 6, 2023

First Reading: Exodus 12:1-4 [5-10] 11-14

1The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. [5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. ] 11This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 

1I love the Lord, who has heard my voice,
  and listened to my supplication,
2for the Lord has given ear to me
  whenever I called.
12How shall I repay the Lord
  for all the good things God has done for me?
13I will lift the cup of salvation
  and call on the name of the Lord. 
14I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
  in the presence of all God’s people.
15Precious in your sight, O Lord,
  is the death of your servants.
16O Lord, truly I am your servant;
  I am your servant, the child of your handmaid; you have freed me |from        my bonds.
17I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
  and call upon the name of the Lord.
18I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
  in the presence of all God’s people,
19in the courts of the Lord‘s house,
  in the midst of you, O Jerusalem. 

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

23For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  Place a bowl, a candle and a spoon in front on the alter. Turn to your neighbor and share why we might need a bowl of water, a candle, and a spoon.

Let us pray.  Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Gospel: John 13:1-10

1Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 

Sermon Part 1 – A Bowl of Water

           The evening opens with Jesus humbling himself and washing the feet of the disciples.  Peter objects.  Jesus finally responds,  “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”   Without the washing away of sin, our relationships with God and people are dysfunctional.  Why are forgiveness and daily repentance so important?

FOREGIVENESS – A Bowl of Water

         Walter Wangerin Jr wrote a book, As For Me and My House, that I have given to all my children when they married.  While about marriage, it really is talking about all our relationships with others.  His seventh chapter is on forgiveness.  Conflict with others is unavoidable.  But how to resolve it is the dilemma.  For relationship to be restored we must do the work of forgiveness – for our sake.  Whether the pain is with someone deceased, someone distant, or with someone close, broken relationships drain us. It often takes a miracle to find reconciliation, God washing our feet.

         Wangerin shares: “Forgiveness is not just forgetting, it is not automatically healed by time, is not a change of heart on our part, and certainly is not just turning to the other and saying as our parent demanded “I forgive you,” Forgiveness requires a realistic evaluation; reflection to decide if our pride was hurt or if there was truly a sin committed.  Realistically name it.  Next, breathe deep and remember our own forgiveness.  I sacrifice my rights as “forgiveness places the burden of         reconciliation upon the one who suffered the mess (pg.99)” Then if possible the offended goes to the other and in clear words followed by actions that live out forgiveness, seeks forgiveness. 

         Jesus comes to the disciples, even Judas whom he knew would betray him, and washes their feet.  He knew they needed to be washed to start the evening.  Their feet were dirty.  We start our service with confession and forgiveness in this truth.  Let us know act out that process.  Take your fingers, as if they have water you want to shake off and I invite you now to shake water on your feet, or wash your hands, or dab your wet fingers marking a cross on your forehead to symbolize washing your thoughts, or on your ears to symbolize what you listen to, or on your lips for better speech, or even perhaps on your heart for grudges harbored.  Tonight we have the opportunity to get real with God about places in our lives that we know we need Him to wash.

         Let us pray with king David:

C:   “Have mercy on me, O God; according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. (Psm 51:1-4)”

Hymn: Let Us Break Bread Together

Gospel:  Matthew 26: 26-29

26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

SERMON – Part 2 – Light the candle

Lighting the Passover candles was one of the two duties for women in the Old Testament.  Our feet are washed and we now sit at the table with Jesus.


This evening let us put aside questions of Communion being a sacrament or an institution of remembrance.  It is a ritual of intensification.  We are living out our faith, as we understand it. We do not need to discuss bread, unleavened or potato chips, or of wine, fermented or unfermented.  Tonight we are in the presence of Jesus who has just washed our feet, and now invites us to commune with him.

         Jesus assures us that whether we are battling for our lives with Covid-19, overwhelmed by anxiety for the unseen danger that threatens our loved ones, or just plain bored from the continual catastrophic news on TV, Jesus has covenanted with us to be present.  Please hear these verses.

         “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will   fear no evil for you are with me (Psm. 23:4)”

         “He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not          slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor         sleep. (Psalm 121: 3,4)”

            10 do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God;  I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my      victorious right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)”

         The Great Commission ends with, “And remember, I am with you       always, to the end of the age. (Mt 28: 20)”

Congregation:  Lord, thank you for your presence represented by this bread and wine of communion to strengthen us for our journey. May we remember your sacrifice and presence with us. Amen.

Hymn: Amazing Grace on You

Gospel: John 13: 31b-35

  31b“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Sermon — Part 3  – A Spoon

         We come to the end of Maundy Thursday and Jesus starts to turn his face to the Garden of Gethsemane, his trial and Calvary.  The meal is finished and he turns to the disciples and gives them a “new commandment.”  Maundy is the word from which mandate or command comes.  34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  This is not a “new” command in the sense of being different.  This is the summary of the law and the prophets.

         During Lent we have encountered Jesus as “the Word,” “the light of the world,” the one who came to his creation and gave to all who received him the power to become children of God.  We have followed Jesus as he dealt with Nicodemus and did the impossible, helped him to see he could be born again.  Jesus gave security and new life to the woman at the well with a past, rejected by men but seen in the light of God’s love.  Jesus literally created eyes so that the man born blind could see the truth of his deity better than those who had physical sight.  Jesus now says the heart of the law is not rules to keep God happy like the laws of the kingdom of this world but the heart of the kingdom of heaven is love, God’s love for all. 

  Take the spoon in your hand.  It can be held out to reach for and drink the water of forgiveness.  It can also be turned upside down so that the water poured over the spoon flows outward to those around.  Jesus in these words is telling us to take that spoon and dip it into the bowl of water to give water to others, to plants in your house, to wash hands or feet, to bless others and to live as forgiven people. 

Jesus in this “new” command reframes the Ten Commandments, not to give a different commandment but to give us a new perspective and way of understanding the Ten Commandments.  Have “no other gods before me,” is “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength.”  Do not swear is now to use God’s name to express love and blessing, not for cursing.  We go to church to refocus on what is important and eternal.  We honor family and commitments.  We don’t take life, we give life.  We don’t objectify the other for our lusts but honor and respect others’ bodies.  We don’t take but we give to others.  We don’t tear down others but build them up.  We rejoice in other’s accomplishments.  Matthew has Jesus answering the question about the greatest commandment in the Law by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.”

As we look at the bowl of water that represents how we have been forgiven, as we look at the candle and remember that Jesus is with us all the time, we also look at the spoon as a symbol of how we now relate to others. Are we treating others, as we would hope Jesus is treating us.  He touched the leper; he didn’t toss the rock at the woman caught in adultery.  He talked with an adulterous woman at the well.  He cast out demons.  He chose disciples from ordinary people like you and me.  Now he summarizes the Law, not in the 600 plus rules that must be followed to please God, but in a simple command to love as Jesus loves, who gave his life for others.

A bowl of water, A candle, A spoon

Tonight we bow in the tremendous knowledge that we are forgiven, we are guardians of God’s light, and we are the spoon to feed others God’s love. 

Let the people of God say, “Amen, Thank you, Lord”

Fifth Sunday in Lent 2023: The Impossible

March 26, 2023

First Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14

 1The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

Psalm: Psalm 130

1Out of the depths,  I cry to you, O Lord;
2O Lord, hear my voice!
  Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.
3If you were to keep watch over sins,
  O Lord, who could stand?
4Yet with you is forgiveness,
  in order that you may be feared. 
5I wait for you, O Lord; my soul waits;
  in your word is my hope.
6My soul waits for the Lord more than those who keep watch for the morning, more than those who keep watch for the morning.
7O Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is steadfast love;
  with the Lord there is plenteous redemption.
8For the Lord shall redeem Israel
  from | all their sins. 

Second Reading: Romans 8:6-11

6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Gospel: John 11:1-45

1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  One of my favorite songs comes from Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical, Cinderella is “Impossible.”  Whitney Houston, the godmother sings to Brandy, Cinderella, who is unable to attend the ball.  Turn to your neighbor.  What were so impossible, the barriers that kept Cinderella from going to the ball?,vid:o_5eho0zcrs

(Actually the young Julie Andrews sang the song in 1957!

“Impossible for a plain yellow pumpkin to become a golden carriage.
Impossible for a plain country bumpkin and a prince to join in marriage.
And four white mice will never be four white horses.
Such fol-de-rol and fiddle dee of course is

But the world is full of zanies and fools
Who don’t believe in sensible rules
And won’t believe what sensible people say
And because these daft and dewey eyed dopes
Keep building up impossible hopes impossible
Things are happening every day!”

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.


         This Lent we have been looking at our texts through the lens of the challenges Satan gave to Jesus at the Temptation.  Satan challenged Jesus to prove he was God by doing the impossible: turn rocks into bread (our wants or hungers), jump from the steeple of the Temple (security), or worship Satan to gain the world without the cross (power).  We have looked at people who also wrestled with these challenges.  Nicodemus wrestled with the impossible concept of being born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  The woman at the well wrestled with unquenchable thirst and her search for security in five failed marriages.  The man born blind, without eyes, was given eyes to see and faced the religious power systems as he declared his faith that power for good comes from God.  Today’s text again summarizes with these three themes before we enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday next week.  The Kingdom of this World tells us things are impossible and Jesus calls us to faith and the Kingdom of Heaven that he is ushering in.  Impossible?  Let’s see.  We might be one of those “zanies and fools” that believes God can do the impossible.

“Lazarus is dead.”

         Jesus is not in Jerusalem yet but his friend, “the one he loved,” the brother of Mary and Martha whom we hear about throughout his ministry, this Lazarus, is sick.  It would seem Jesus is in northern Israel in the Galilee area and having heard the news tarries two days longer and then turns his face to Jerusalem.  There is no indication that Jesus is unaware of the seriousness of the illness or that he is overwhelmed with the business of ministry. His disciples are not pestering Jesus that he should go see his sick friend.  In fact, the disciples seem to question his trip to Jerusalem because it might be dangerous.  The text indicates that Jesus is purposely tarrying for the glory of God and for us to learn a lesson. 

         The text informs us that the disciples have missed the point again.  The disciples are thinking about Jesus’ reputation that might lead to conflict.  Jesus clarifies.  Lazarus is dead, not sleeping.  The impossible to cure has happened.  They have hit “the wall.”  Cinderella knows she will never go to the ball unless her godmother helps.  Can you hear Satan gloating, “Jesus, change this rock into bread, if you are God.”  Satan is taking a victory lap.

         This reminds me of our many prayers for God’s help and how often we think he is off in Galilee doing something else.  As our situation worsens, it is so easy for us to jump to the conclusion that God doesn’t care.  So before we go further let us think of some unanswered prayer on our heart that Satan would like us to think that God is tarrying elsewhere.  Are there times we sit on our stool by the fire despairing that our dreams will come true?  Be honest.     

         Let us now sit in this moment for a few seconds and not jump to the resurrection that we know is coming.  History has only revealed that.  If crossing the border from Mexico into the USA is hard for refugees, death is an insurmountable border to turn from.  It is impossible to reverse, short of a miracle.  I do not think the lesson here is to tell us to pray that people don’t die.  Death is God’s escape route out of this world of sin and suffering.  But Jesus did allow this scenario, as he will now turn to Jerusalem and the cross.  We now come to a scene of grief everyone had been praying Jesus would prevent.  Perhaps the lesson is that God is working out a bigger plan than my desire for someone to live and I cannot see that picture because history has not revealed it to me.

         When faced with the temptation to turn rocks into bread, Jesus answered Satan, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  When life seems impossible we need to turn to God’s word.  Death is never welcome and watching a loved one decline or experiencing our own aging limitations is not fun.  Finding the money to pay that sudden bill can swamp our faith.  Challenges like finding a spouse, surviving a divorce, passing a test or dealing with a wayward child can all feel impossible.  Life is like that but it does not mean that God does not see and is not working.  The impossible might be possible with God.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. “

         Jesus and crew arrive at the home of Lazarus who has now been dead and buried for four days.  Mourners are gathered.  Martha goes to meet Jesus and laments, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Bad things happen to good people and it is so easy to think that if only God had been present then hard times would not have happened.  We read that faith can move mountains and are so tempted to shift our focus to the size of our faith that did not move our mountain.  Satan whispers to Jesus and to us that we can do impossible things like throw ourselves down from a steeple and God’s love will protect us from the realities of life.  Lazarus need not have died.  The marriage need not have failed.  The car accident need not have happened.   We have come to equate security with comfort and blessing.  We think if Jesus had been present, if we believe in God and trust, then the painful outcome could have been avoided.  Martha and actually Mary too are right that the presence of Jesus gives us security but that does not mean success.

         Secondly, Martha and we also assume that if we have enough faith, Lazarus would not have died and we would not have to face dark days.  If Jesus had been present, Lazarus would not have died.  In the United States we have not had to face a war like Ukraine that seems so unfair, or earthquakes like Syria that kill so many innocent, or… you can name it.  For the majority of us illness, old age, finances and “ordinary” challenges bring us to our knees and draw tears of lament.  Our culture focuses on youth and good times and it is hard to get our souls around lives that involve so much hardship and still affirm a God who is all-powerful.  This text forces us to face that security is not the same as success and bounty. 

         When Satan tempted Jesus with this thinking, Jesus replied, “Do not put your God to the test.”  In the Message it is translated, “Don’t you dare test the Lord your God.”  I would offer that we are most secure when we trust that God IS present and events ARE unfolding within his awareness.  That is hard to say because it implies the truth that I am the creature and he is the creator and admits I don’t understand everything.  That does not make God the author of evil but it does confess that God is able to make all situations work for good and that we trust him when we don’t understand life because he has our back.  Both Martha and Mary bow and profess their faith that Jesus can work in the impossible and are willing to trust that resurrection is in Jesus.

“Unbind him, and let him go.”

         Lazarus has died.  It is impossible in the kingdom of this world for that to be reversed as much as science works to find ways.  Time marches on.  Rocks do not just turn into bread.  Those of us like Martha and Mary caught in the backlash of the impossible are tempted to reason that things would not have gone like this if we had the security of God’s presence.  The third temptation, though, is power.  Satan invites Jesus to worship him and Satan says he will then give Jesus the world.

         Jesus settles the questions swirling about that deal with our hungers, our insecurities and who has the real power and is worthy of worship.  Jesus calls in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  God has the power to reverse the impossible.  God keeps us secure.  God is the ultimate power in all situations, even the impossible.  A pumpkin can be turned into a carriage.  Four white rats can become four horses.  Cinderella can go to the ball despite all the barriers.

         Lazarus will still have to die again!  Jesus will still have to go to Jerusalem and the cross.  We will all most certainly walk the valley of the shadow of death but our text today affirms that Jesus has power over the impossible, power to change rocks to bread, and power to keep us secure in horrible situations.  We do not need to fear.  We can enter Jerusalem next week and finish our walk to Calvary and we can trust God for the future.  He is the resurrection.  Satan, be gone.

And the people of God said, “AMEN!”