Vulnerability & Talent: My Sermon from Today

Sermon
The Parable of the Talents
Matthew 25:14-30
11/19/17

Despite what you might be thinking, this parable is NOT about managing your portfolio..
Sorry, Suzy Orman, Jesus is talking about something a little deeper than just making sure you invest wisely.
So what does this parable mean?
Well we find it situated in the section of Matthew where Jesus is using 3 different parables to instruct his disciples how to live in anticipation of the Lord’s return.
Last week Pastor Ginn discussed the parable of the ten maidens, where Jesus seemed to be inviting listeners to share freely; not to be constrained by feelings of scarcity—to remind them that in God’s kingdom there is abundance.
This week, with the Parable of the Talents, we hear a similar message.
In this story, a master has entrusted three slaves with part of his estate while he is away.
He’s divided it in the form of “talents” which is a monetary amount- where 1 talent is equal to about 20 years wages for the average worker.
So he’s entrusting them with a ton of money.
Think about it, the first got the equivalent of 100 years wages, the second 40, and the third 20.
So when he returns, after what the text says is “a long time”, he is interested to know what the slaves have done with the generous resources for which he has entrusted them.

In this parable, the resource is money, but like with most parables, its meaning is intentionally open, capable of making a variety of deeper claims.
So let’s take this word- talent- and think about it more along the lines of how we define it today- to mean a skill, aptitude, or ability.
And let’s look at the parable in this way.
Because the parable hinges not on the specifics of the resource, but the master’s response to how they’ve used what they were given.

To those who “invested” their talents, they were rewarded and invited to “enter into the joy of your master”
To the one who didn’t, who buried his talent- he’s “thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
Yikes.
Seems harsh, doesn’t it?
So what to make of this?

Our talents, whatever they might be, are generous gifts from God and they are unique to us. And we are to offer that talent as a gift to the world.
1 Peter calls us to “serve one another with whatever gifts each has received.”
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” Or as some say, you are “blessed to be a blessing”

So burying that talent—Denying that gift—is not a faithful response to God.
It’s certainly not actively participating in the body of Christ.
Because our talents are how we participate in the body.
They become our contribution to the world.
And as a result, they’re deeply linked to who we are.

But so often we don’t recognize our talents. We aren’t sure if what we have to offer is significant.
Society has a way of keeping folks at bay.
With impossible standards.
Unrealistic expectations
The messages we are pounded with are relentless, really
Telling us we aren’t good enough.
That only perfection is worthy
No wonder people hide talents or are reluctant to share them.
Because the repercussions can be brutal.
The risks, too great.
To me, this is the enemy at work.
Keeping our gifts tucked away.
Under lock and key.
A light that’s hidden.

When we don’t allow our gifts to be seen
When we keep our light hidden.
We not only bury our talents.
We bury ourselves.

It’s vulnerability and that’s not comfortable.
Offering ourselves openly and honestly can be scary.

C.S. Lewis writes, “to love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal…Lock it up safe in a casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

So maybe the third slave isn’t so much condemned as he condemns himself to a place- that knows not joy, that knows only darkness and wailing and grinding of teeth.”

Vulnerability is not easy.
To many- I would say most-
It’s scary, it’s uncomfortable.
It most definitely requires courage.

Before the King of Rock n Roll hit it big he was told by the Grand Ole Opry manager that he would be better of going back to being a truck driver than pursuing a career in music.

For the record, it is estimated the Elvis Presley has sold over 1 BILLION records to date worldwide.

Albert Einstein struggled early on- not speaking until age 4 or reading until age 7. Those challenges did not prevent him from winning the Nobel Prize in Physics and developing the theory of relativity.

In 1919 Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas,” according to his editor.

And those are just a few examples!
There are countless others.
Thank goodness these folks didn’t succumb to the insecurity and fear of the unknown that could have hidden their talents.
They didn’t avoid the vulnerability required to harness their gifts.

Most of us avoid vulnerability at all costs.
We run from it with all our might.
We think if he can avoid failure, eliminate risk, or micromanage our environments, we can minimize or even diminish the discomfort that comes with vulnerability.
But this is to our own peril.

In her bestselling book, “Daring Greatly”, sociologist Brene Brown notes that when we avoid vulnerability , “we limit the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.”
And those experiences are what shape us
Those experiences are what help us identify our gifts and share them with the world!
Those experiences are what help us step into the fullness of ourselves.

Brown writes, “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. When we’re fueled by that fear or listen to the voice that’s constantly whispering “You’re not good enough”, it’s tough to show up. We end up hustling for our worthiness rather than standing in it.”

Friends in Christ, remember that our worthiness is already in place.
We are worthy because Christ made us worthy.
We don’t need to jockey for our worthiness.
That bill has been paid.
So we can lean into the confidence that we are loved and valued by the creator of the universe.
The Psalmist writes, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

So maybe this parable is about being your authentic self and celebrating those God- given gifts- the talents- you have been entrusted with.
God invites us to embrace and harness these gifts—
Not bury them in the ground.
Folks, I don’t think this parable is about doubling your money to please a harsh boss.
It’s about standing into your worthiness.
Offering to the world the gifts God has given you.

We have a responsibility to use and maximize those resources for which we have been entrusted.
Because at the end of the day, they really aren’t ours, they’re God’s.

If you think your talents are simply for you to make a lot of money, retire, and die, you’ve missed the point of your life. God gave you talents to benefit others, not yourself. And in return, God gave other people talents that benefit you.
We’re all a part of the body of Christ, and each part matters. There are no insignificant people in the family of God. You are shaped to serve God, and God wants to see how you are going to use the talents he gave you.

So maybe that’s what the master means in the parable when he says those who have utilized their talents will “enter into the joy of your master”.

So what is your talent?
What is it God has entrusted you with to bless the world?
Don’t worry if you think you’re “good” at it- what brings you joy?
Do you have a knack for fixing things?
(side note this is NOT me)
Do you enjoy numbers?
Are you a talented singer, painter, writer?
How about cooking?
Are you good with kids?
What is it?
Because God has equipped you specifically with that gift- that unique ability – so that you can bless the world.
Are you making the most of it?
Are you using your talents?

Don’t let fear keep you from experiencing the joy God has in store for you.

Enter into the joy of the Master.

Amen.

All Saints Sermon 11/5/17

All Saints Sermon

I can remember when I was younger watching the movie Superman. Remember the scene where the kids are on the school bus that’s crashed and is now teetering over the edge of a bridge? That always struck me with a deep fear. “That could be me!” I would think. “That could be my bus!” I would gasp, immediately suspending the reality that in Elkin, North Carolina the only body of water my bus ever crossed was the Big Elkin Creek which was about 6 feet deep.
But nevertheless I was instantly drawn into this scene where a hero saves the day.

After Superman safely lifts the bus back onto the bridge saving the kids and driver,
-sorry if that’s a spoiler!—
everyone involved breathes a collective sigh of relief and offers passionate thanks and admiration to this extraordinary individual.
In our movies and in our lives, we long for a hero.
To come and save the day.
It captures our imagination.
It offers us hope.
So we actively seek out these stories.
Take the Marvel Universe, as it’s known. Its the comic book company who is now bringing these comics to the big screen. Their characters include Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Widow and Captain America and have all been made into big movies and sequels.
To say they’re popular is an understatement. In fact, as of today, the movies collectively have grossed just shy of $5 BILLION dollars. Yes folks, that’s a b.
The concept of heroes fascinates us and taps into a deep longing that exists in almost all of us.

Obviously, this is nothing new. Heroes, gods, mythological creatures with special powers all date back to the beginning of time.
In a way, these figures served as narrative devices that helped listeners and readers make sense of a confusing and chaotic world. Mythological entities were created to explain how plants grew or how the seasons changed. Dramatic stories of fantastical beings were imagined to explain storms, earthquakes, and other natural phenomenon.
But their influence didn’t stop with the natural world. These stories also served as a way to help us in our human experience. These gods and heroes modeled exceptional traits which most could only dream of exhibiting.
But they became the ideals for which our leaders were compared.
They became the standard for heroes.
The ancient Israelites longed for such a hero to come down and rescue and deliver them from their troubles and despair. But God threw in a twist.
God told them that their deliverer would not be a supernatural being, but a human one. This hero, known as the Messiah, would embody all the traditional markings of a legendary hero: a strong political presence and a legal expert; a charismatic and powerful military leader.

But then comes the ultimate twist.
Along comes Jesus- the fulfillment of this prophesy.
the arrival of the Messiah,
and he is nothing like he was supposed to look.
He wasn’t an epic warrior, he was a peace-maker
He wasn’t an esteemed leader from nobility, he was the peasant son of a carpenter from a little known country.
This was definitely NOT what anyone expected.
Imagine the bewilderment as God seems to be throwing yet another curve ball!
This unpredictable hero is turning over everything.
In the Beatitudes we read today, we hear first-hand as Jesus subverts many of the norms of the day:
Blessed are the hopeless
Blessed are those who grieve
Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness.
Blessed are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous.
Those are simply unconventional – maybe even confusing messages!
Because it defies our preconceived understandings.

This is why may people at the time weren’t convinced Jesus was the Messiah
he simply didn’t meet the criteria.
He didn’t fit the bill.
He didn’t say what he was supposed to say.
He was countercultural.
But that’s what is so awesome about our God.

God is always subverting our limited understandings to open up a new and incredible life available to us all.
God turns on its head all those preconceived notions we have about what it takes to be a hero.
Because in God’s eyes we are all heroes. By doing God’s transformative work in the world, we are heroes.
Epic feats aren’t required for God.
Super strength and perfection isn’t necessary.
For God, love is the only prerequisite for heroism.
Blessed are the meek.

Israel was indeed delivered as was promised.
In fact all of humanity was rescued.
But not in a way anyone thought.
God was saying something new.
God redeemed humanity by becoming human -entering into flesh and taking on a body and walking among us.
Feeling what we feel
Doing what we do
Trying things we try.
And by doing so God points to the fact that deliverance comes not by supernatural megaheroes but through ordinary folks just like you and me.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ lives in each and every one of us, giving us power- we mere mortals – to be heroes.
to do amazing things.
To be courageous leaders
and brave change-agents.

Who are your heroes?
What are they like?

On Wednesday night I was talking with the Confirmation students about the Exodus story. And it was interesting to discuss how the hero of that story- Moses- was an ordinary, flawed guy, just like me and you.
Just like us, Moses had baggage. I mean, he had even killed a guy!
Just like us, he was unsure of himself and doubted whether he had what it took.
He even had a speech impediment!
So he also failed to meet the extraordinary job description of a heroic leader for the ancient world.
But God used this ordinary man to be the hero of the Israelites!
And it’s not just Moses but all the heroes of the Bible seem to be ordinary, flawed folks just like you and me.
See the pattern here?
So I implored the students to remember this when they started to doubt themselves or second-guess that they have what it takes to do some cool things.

Because there is a long line of folks with modest backgrounds who God has used
for God’s glory.

Today is All Saints Sunday.

The word “saint” can confuse people.
Different faith traditions define saints differently.
The Roman Catholic Church has a very structured process and specific criteria for qualifying someone as a saint. For example, one requirement involves the performance of a miracle. So as a result these heroes are often held in the highest esteem and honor- St. Francis, St. Theresa, St. Paul, and St. Peter, among others.
It would be easy to struggle to relate to some of these individuals as actual human beings,
because many people think a saint was someone who was perfect in life.
That wouldn’t seem to jive with what we’ve come to learn about how God works, does it?
But outside of the miracle, if you read about the lives of these saints, you quickly learn they had mostly been everyday folks who God used to do incredible things.
Just like in the Bible.
And just like today.
And this is the approach we as Lutherans take.
We keep it real simple.
To us a saint is defined as simply a loved one who has died in the faith.
And to us, these saints are as much a saint as the biggest names in the Bible.  

This year we have several loved ones- saints- who have died in the faith.
But each of them God used in ordinary ways to do extraordinary things:
Never underestimate the power of small things done in love.

Gary Maillet protected men, women, and children in New York for years before moving South to be a loving and compassionate grandfather.

Gabe Spil left a legacy with his family that challenged them to think bigger. His son wrote, that if he ever said he hated someone, Gabs would correct him and say it wasn’t hate, it was a lack of understanding. Or if he ever said he couldn’t do something, Gabs would simply say, “Cant never could.”

Duane Barrett blessed the world with a beautiful signing voice and by all accounts practiced extraordinary hospitality to everyone in her midst.

Peggy Hall welcomed family young and old into her house to stay as long as they needed.

Worth Vanderburg served his country in the military and then later brought joy to his nephews by getting on the floor and playing with them, leaving lasting memories for all.

Steve Fetner served as a father figure to many, collecting a slew of “adopted” children of all ages.

These are holy legacies.
These are saints.
These are people who through ordinary acts of love made an extraordinary impact on the world around them.
These are heroes.

Gabe might not have been Iron Man, and Peggy might not have been Wonder Woman with a magic lasso.
But they are every much as heroic and remarkable and and saintly as anyone.

And these saints join with us each Sunday in the Divine Service where heaven and earth meet.
So today we remember those that have passed from our midst and rest safely in Christ awaiting the Resurrection of the Body.  
And for their witness we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude.
Thanks be to God.

Your Gifts, Maximized” (audio)

“Your Gifts, Maximized”

A Place At the Table

Text: Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus and his disciples are in the region of Tyre and Sidon, which were known as Pagan cities along the Mediterranean.
Gentile cities.
So for them, they’re basically in the red light district of regions.
And along the way a Canaanite woman cries out for him as they walk by.
Now if you’ll remember, Canaanites were known to be the lowest of low and were scorned by the Israelites.
And despite this history of antagonism by the Israelites
she cries out
Even though she is a Gentile
she cries out
Even though she is a Canaanite.
she cries out
Even though she is a woman
she cries out
She doesn’t let this stop her.
She cries out

Her child, as she explains, is being tormented by a demon and she will stop at nothing to get an audience with this man,
This man who, even though she is a Gentile, she claims as Lord, Son of David.
Somehow she knows this man is different.
Somehow she knows he is able to understand things other Jewish men would not
Somehow she knows there is a chance he could heal her child.
Or relieve the torment.
Sounds like faith, doesn’t it?

And you don’t need me to tell you how a parent of a sick child will stop at nothing to get relief for that child.
Nothing.
We’re talking
walking through fire
coming to blows
risking everything and anything to get the child the help he or she needs.
It’s instinct

So with faith combined with passionate desire
There is no stopping this woman
She is willing to take a risk
to step out
and in total desperation
drop to her knees and beg for her daughter

She knows it doesn’t make sense
She knows that
because of her position
because of her class
she’s relegated to the margins
she isn’t entitled to an audience with this man
or any man for that matter
She isn’t worthy of acknowledgment
but she’s desperate
She has nothing to lose

So she goes for it.

And yet, and here is where it’s really hard for us
Jesus ignores her.
he dismisses her

Have you ever felt like your prayers weren’t being answered?
Have you ever felt like you weren’t receiving the blessings that you desperate need?

So she persists
She won’t be silenced
She won’t be cast aside

History is filled with stories of men and women just like this Canaanite woman
Who despite their position
fought for their place at the table.

In the 1890s a escaped slave from Maryland moved to New York and dazzled the world with his oratory skills and intellect, overturning existing notions of his race. Frederick Douglass fought tirelessly for the equal rights of all citizens- black, female, Native American, immigrant and eventually became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States.

A young Quaker woman in the early 20th century knew in her heart that, despite being a woman, her voice should be heard. Along with many other women fighting for equal rights, Susan B. Anthony became known for her contribution to women’s right to vote. A right which was finally honored in 1920 with the passing of the 19th Amendment.

In December 1, 1955 a seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus because she knew in her heart that she needed to be there.

There are many examples of men and women like these
too many to count
but because of their courage and persistence
because they fought for their place at the table, we all benefited
Our children
our neighbors
Our friends
Our communities
We all benefited.

But it sure as heck wasn’t easy

But it was their innate knowledge and deep understanding that we are all created in the image of God
that prompted them to shout out from the sidelines
To claim their voice
Just like the Canaanite woman in this story.

So just like them
we shout out as well
We claim our voices
Just like the psalmists who cry out for God to hear us
to see us
we too cry out
For God to answer our prayers.

Perhaps the Gospel writers were just as moved by the tenacity and passion of the Canaanite woman, and were inspired to use this encounter as a teaching moment for hearers.
to show us that in spite of our perception of our worthiness
God will hear our prayers.

Maybe he co-opts their language of dismissal
and enters into this tit for tat with her
and in doing so lifts up or highlights
the courage of the woman to fight for her faith.
And when she does
he responds,
O woman, great is your faith.
and he answers her prayer.
he heals her daughter.

Maybe Jesus wanted us to see that when it comes to asking for what’s desperately needed, being merely nice sometimes won’t cut it.
Sometimes we need to dig in our heels and do some hollering.
Sometimes we need to boldly ask God for what we need.

Poet Jan Richardson wrote of this story in her poem, Stubborn Blessing.
I think it captures the essence of the passage. She writes,

Don’t tell me no.
I have seen you
feed the thousands,
seen miracles spill
from your hands
like water, like wine,
seen you with circles
and circles of crowds
pressed around you
and not one soul
turned away.
Don’t start with me.
I am saying
you can close the door
but I will keep knocking.
You can go silent
but I will keep shouting.
You can tighten the circle
but I will trace a bigger one
around you,
around the life of my child
who will tell you
no one surpasses a mother
for stubbornness.
I am saying
I know what you
can do with crumbs
and I am claiming mine,
every morsel and scrap
you have up your sleeve.
Unclench your hand,
your heart.
Let the scraps fall
like manna,
like mercy
for the life
of my child,
the life of
the world.
Don’t you tell me no.

Perhaps this is the lesson Jesus wants us to learn here.
That we should become the Canaanite woman
And plea for our place at the table

So just like her, we are to cry out
cry out for others who are experiencing demons in their lives. 
cry out for justice, for peace, for healing. 

After all, this is our Christian vocation
Not just to lift up our own prayers, but
to side with those on the margins
and become their voice as well.

And this is what we do every Sunday when we gather her for worship.
We intercede for those who long for healing and hope
we pray for those who feel hopeless and helpless in a world that seems so disrupted
We pray for those who might feel like they’re on the outside
and we, like the Canaanite woman, persist for their sake
We pray for not just our children
but for all children

Because God hears our prayers.
In 1 Thessalonians, St. Paul implores us to “pray without ceasing” (5:17) and we should!
why bother if we don’t believe God will answer our prayers?
Why petition God if it’s futile?
Maybe in this story, Jesus is showing us it is not futile.
that we might be perceived as lowly by others
that the world might have cast us aside
and we might believe that our voices have been silenced
But God hears us
and we
will
be
blessed.

It might seem impossible.
It might seem a reach
but be bold.

Believe that Jesus is still in the business of working miracles, changing lives, and ushering in the reconciliation of this world.

So come to the table.
all of you
Hold out your hands for these crumbs
these sacred crumbs
the same crumbs the Canaanite woman begged for
and experience the life-changing power they offer

This is the body of Christ, given for you
For YOU.
A morsel and sip are enough, yes more than enough, at Jesus’ table.

Because when we come to Jesus’ table
we are healed
we are liberated from whatever ails us
It is Christ who makes us worthy
Christ alone

And with this worthiness
we are sent out

renewed and recharged
to speak out
To proclaim the kingdom where outcasts are now able to be examples of faith and tenacity and compassion and bravery
Where all are welcome at the table.

And thanks be to God for that.

Amen.

God Shows Up

Text: Genesis 28:10-19a

I recently had the opportunity to go see one of my favorite pastors, Rob Bell, speak live—
He’s a former mega-church pastor who is now a world-famous writer and speaker.
Some of you might be familiar with him
If not, I have every single book he has ever written— in hardback, lovingly stored and cared for in my office.
Not that I’m a superfan or anything…
But his most recent book is called, “What Is the Bible?”
It’s a terrific book, really.
If you want to borrow it, let me know

And it’s premise or rather, it’s perspective—is looking at the Bible through the human lens, asking the questions:

What did these stories mean to the original audience?
What does this tell us about how these people or this person in this particular place and time view or experience God?
Why are these details important?
and
Why did whoever wrote this down feel the need to do so?

When you read Scripture through this lens, it really does seem to open it up, so to speak, and bring these ancients texts to life
Making them interesting from a historical sense
And all the more incredible in the present tense
in them we are offered illustrations of incredible ways in which God was at work then and perhaps how God is at work now.

So as I was thinking about the texts for this week, preparing for today’s sermon,
I began asking some of these questions,
and in doing so, the story of Jacob’s Dream in Genesis, really stood out in a unique way.

So let’s visit that story

We have Jacob here who I never knew until I started really reading the Bible wasn’t always the most stand-up guy
but more on that later
so he’s running from his brother Esau because he’s stolen his blessing
-remember that story- where he dresses up like his brother to trick his nearly-blind father into getting his blessing?
Now this might seem quirky
Because in our contemporary minds and in our contemporary world-
we could easily make the legal case that this blessing was secured under false pretenses and thus should be rendered null and void!
But that’s not how things worked in the ancient world
In the ancient world, a blessing was something that was real and almost tangible.
it afforded you all the legal benefits of inheritance
And once offered could not be rescinded.

So Jacob steals Esau’s inheritance and Esau- Jacob’s brother – is willing to kill him for it
In fact, he has stated that he intends to do so
So Jacob’s mother
He was quite the mama’s boy (not that I know anything about that!)
sent him off to her brother Laban’s house in Haran to hopefully wait out Esau’s rage

And that’s where we find Jacob
He’s on the run
He’s probably scared and stressed
Experiencing great shame
He seems to have made a mess of his life
And his only option was to flee for safety

So it’s gotten dark and he’s decided to stop for the night to camp and get some sleep

And here is where the story really gets interesting—
He uses a rock for a pillow
a rock!
and somehow falls asleep and dreams

And in this dream he has a vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven
And then God appears to Jacob
and reminds him of who He is
“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac!”
and he proceeds to inform him that where he is standing is holy ground and reminds him of his future
that he will be a blessing to all the families of the earth
that his offspring will be numerous
and that God will never leave him

And at once Jacob awakes from his dream and proclaims
“Surely the Lord is in this place— and I did not know it!”

The Lord comes to us
sometimes in the most surprisingly of instances
But God is always present—
in this place
working for our benefit
Behind the scenes.
Earlier we celebrated a holy baptism
In this experience, as Lutherans, we know and confess that God promises to show up in the water
But it doesn’t mean God wasn’t already there
But in there waters
and in the meal of holy communion
we are assured of God’s presence
in that place
Here.

Now let’s revisit this story through the lens i mentioned earlier

Jacob lays down to sleep and uses a rock for a pillow

Now why would the writers feel the need to mention that?
Why would he be described as using a rock for a pillow?

We can never know for sure
But how many of you have laid down to sleep
with the world so heavy
your burden so great
that your pillow was like a rock

That your circumstances seemed so great that nothing could offer you comfort
nothing could offer you rest
not even your pillow
that your pillow might as well have been a rock

But in spite of this
In spite of whatever you have done
wherever you are
whatever demons you are fleeing
or whatever past you are escaping
Whatever guilt you are trying to free yourself of

God
Shows
up

So the vision Jacob has in the dream is one of angels at work and not only that, God actually shows up
in this place

So in the midst of the suffering Jacob is enduring
in the midst of the weight for which he lays his head
Jacob is offered a glimpse into the working of God

God not only has shown up
but is at work

Jacob is offered a vision of he kingdom of God
actively at work in the place of his struggle
It’s almost as if God has lifted this veil and to show the holy work going on behind the curtain

even in the midst of this confusing time of fear, doubt, and shame
God shows up
God
is at work

So
Jacob awakes
acknowledges this reality
and what does he do?

He takes that stone that has been his pillow
that weight
and he what?
he makes an altar with it.

He offers up to God that struggle for which God has transformed
-acknowledging that God has redeemed it
-honoring that God is at work

that even in the struggle
you are not alone.

Has this ever happened to you?
Have you ever had something in your life that at the time seemed so removed from anything holy
so painful
So discouraging
So scary

But later
only later
did you look back and see God at work
redeeming this pain?
transforming it to something for God’s glory?

So today, friends
I invite you to reflect on this
look back on your life
and see where
even during the worst of times
the most difficult of times
when your pillow even felt like a rock

God
Showed
Up

and in doing so, God actualized the promise St. Paul speaks of in Romans 8:28 when he says,
“we know that all things work together for good”
That God can and does redeem all things

We might not know why
and we might still be awaiting for this to happen

Like Jacob we might be in the midst of it
where we are fleeing something
we are running from the pain that maybe we caused
Jacob made his bed for sure
perhaps that’s why his pillow feels like a rock
But we must never forget that
God
shows
up
But after this meaningful revelation
after Jacob proclaims “Surely God is in this place—and I did not know it!”
What’s the next line?

And he was afraid.
Afraid.

Because sometimes God shows up
sometimes God redeems the pain in our life
giving it new meaning
new purpose
and it’s scary
Sometimes we aren’t sure what to do with this new life

Maybe we are newly sober and we aren’t sure how we are going to ever be fun again
or make new friends
or keep the old friends
without drinking again

Maybe God has shown up but we have to answer for some big mistakes we’ve made—
in a relationship
or work
or at home
we have to handle the consequences to get through it
to get to the other side
And it’s scary

or maybe God has shown up
freeing you from a painful situation
and setting your path on a better one
but the next steps are terrifying and you’re not quite sure you have what it takes

Remember, friends
that God is with you
God has shown up
and God always keeps God’s promises
always

I think the writers of this passage wanted its original readers or listeners to know this
and I think God wants us to hear this today
that even in the midst of a frightening situation
even a situation that is of your own doing
God is with you
the entire way
God is at work in the situation
and will keep God’s promises

Even in your darkest hour
You’re not alone

God
shows
up

—-Amen

It’s Worth It

Text: Matthew 10:24-39

I think it’s safe to say that for the disciples, being associated with Jesus is a dangerous thing.
Are you with me?
Week after week, As we’ve journeyed with the disciples through the readings we constantly hear Jesus warn them that following him will not be easy to say the least.
It will involve risk.
And not just little risks, but risks to their freedom, their personal safety, even the safety of their families and friends.
With every step, their very lives are on the line.
To us modern Christians, it might seem strange that the teachings of Jesus could be so dangerous.
It seems strange that lives marked by love, equality, forgiveness, and justice would be such threatening forces.
But it’s important for us to remember the context of Matthew’s gospel.
Remember the power of the day was the Roman Empire. And Rome crucified those who threatened its control over society. It’s how they maintained their control.
And any movement, regardless of how seemingly peacefully, would be perceived as a threat and dealt with severely.
This is the reality of empire.
Empire makes no room for co-existence.
Empire does not compromise.
Empire sets the rules and stomps down any resistance- any questions of or challenges to
its authority.
And yet, in spite of all this, Jesus urged the brave disciples on.
Warning them of the risks but encouraging them of the rightness of the cause.
That serving the God of Creation is far more important than serving Empire.
But for many, it will challenge the usual way living.
Because God’s way doesn’t conform to the realities of the world.
In fact, it’s often the opposite of customary norms.
And with that comes great risk.
The way of Christ was a call to resist the norms of empire—
the oppression of the weak,
the hoarding of resources so few had much, and many had little.
a life lived under the shadow of fear
Jesus and his disciples resisted these norms, challenging them— speaking up for the oppressed and encouraging lives marked by sharing and equality.
Jesus and the disciples describes a life where fear didn’t have the final word
that trust and hope were the guiding forces.
But this didn’t make it easy for the lives of the disciples
It complicated not just their interactions with the authorities
but their personal relationships as well.
Those living under empire weren’t keen on the disruptions folks challenging empire invited.
Because it usually invited trouble
and that trouble had a tendency to trickle down to everyone
making everyone’s lives more difficult
Most were content with living under the radar
Maybe not thrilled with the reality but not interested in inviting trouble either
Just go about your business
Don’t cause any trouble
and we will all live to see another day.
Jesus warned the disciples that their actions would cause conflict with those wishing to stay under the radar.
He says in verse 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”
Surprising to hear that, coming from Jesus, isn’t it?
But what Jesus is saying here is not that His message is one of violence—
quite the opposite
he is advising them that their countercultural actions
their resistance- even peaceful-
will likely bring division and conflict even among those who love them the most
man and father
daughter and mother
daughter-in-law and mother-in-law
that even in their own households, the change they are seeking will be met with division.
But still he urges them on
and seeks to reassure them
Reminding them of the divine source of their plight
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell”
Jesus reminds them that their mission is aligned with the God of Creation.
And that they are protected by God
maybe not in the way they might expect
Jesus doesn’t promise they won’t suffer
but that what’s important- the soul— will be protected and kept intact.
Because they matter
they are seen
They are loved and valued by God.
every hair on their head is counted
Jesus seeks to align their mission with its eternal significance.
Reminding them of their importance and the importance of this mission
Its not just their mission, but God’s mission
To usher in a new reality.
Yes, Jesus warns the disciples of the dangers
but reminds them of the divine protection they are afforded for it.
And the theme behind of all of this
The ultimate message Jesus gives them for all of their sacrifice
all of their risk
He’s telling them- It’s worth it.
And they won’t be alone.
Jesus was with those disciples who suffered for their faith.
Supporting them.
Advising them.
Encouraging them
Loving them.
And in the same way, Jesus is with those disciples today who suffer for their faith.
Because in some ways the situation is the same for many
There are still those
Who jeopardize their lives, risking it all for their faith.
There are those who live in parts of this country and around the world where they continue to suffer for their faith in ways we will likely never experience and can scarce imagine.
And yet Jesus is with them in the same way.
Reminding them that every hair on their head is counted
and that God has their backs.
That this is a divine mission.
And that in spite of it all, it’s worth it.

The same is true for us.
Because we might not experience the same risks for standing up for our faith.
It’s unlikely that we face death, arrest, or imprisonment as the disciples in Matthew’s community or even those in places around the world might
But we still face challenges.
There is still the risk of division for holding fast to the way of Christ.
In many ways, following Jesus is still countercultural
It still threatens many of societal’s norms.
Doesn’t it?
Many of our traditional values, rooted and based in our understanding of the Christian norms established by our faith
are mocked in society for being “old-fashioned” and “dated”
In our pluralistic world which is becoming more and more secular, standing up for our faith oftentimes opens us up to ridicule, judgement, mocking

How many of us have been in that freshman religion class where the professor seemed to almost delight in mocking our Christian values.
Or how many of us have been teased by our more “enlightened” friends- maybe even those who deem themselves “spiritual but not religious” who mock us for some of the elements of our faith traditions.
Or how many of us have been called names or politically labeled for taking stances for justice and equality, again rooted and based in our understanding of the Christian norms established by our faith.
It seems no matter which way we turn, living out our faith—following the way of Jesus- offers us up for ridicule and judgment.
Perhaps the division Jesus speaks of in this passage
applies to us as well today.
Perhaps the meaning is the same
that he did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

Jesus knows that a life of faith brings challenges.
It resists the norms of the world and oftentimes empire
and with that often comes division and discord
But he tells us, over and again
it’s worth it.

Jesus tells the disciples— and us today- “whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it”
This is our goal
to find the life that is truly life
to live a life worth of our calling as disciples of Jesus.

Folks, this is what we are here for.
And its worth it.
Jesus tells us
All the risk
All the threats
all the division and discord
It’s worth it.

Every hair on our head is counted.
We are seen
We are valued
We are protected by a loving God
the creator of the universe who promises to be us now and forever
guiding us
protecting us
loving us.
So stand strong, people of God, when you take a stand for your faith.
It’s worth it.
Stand up for those values that you hold dear, even when those at your work, in your social circles, or even your family mock them
Because its worth it
Stand up for those on the margins- whoever you perceive them to be-
because it’s worth it
Continue to be the living presence of Christ in a world in desperate need of it.
And just as Jesus was with those early disciples
Jesus is with us as well
amid the discords in our personal lives, families, communities, congregations, nation, and world.
Jesus is with us
Urging us on
and reminding us that whatever lives we might think we are losing
we are actually finding them
lives that are truly lives
Lives of true purpose
And its worth it.

Amen.

Why Do You Stand There? My Ascension Sunday Sermon

Text: Acts 1:6-14

“Why do you stand here looking up toward heaven?”

Imagine this scene-
In a grand conclusion to an incredible, roller coaster of a journey-
a journey filled with awe-inspiring highs and terror-inducing lows
a journey of mind-boggling lessons, inspiring promises, and confusing challenges
a journey filled with extraordinary visions and miracles
Jesus is meeting with his disciples one last time.

They’re all gathered together, much like they have been for the last 40 or so days.
And Jesus gives one more promise
the promise that they will all be receiving the power of the Holy Spirit to continue his work here and throughout the ends of the earth
A power greater than what they could imagine
and then

Jesus airlifts out of there in this grand, theatrical departure and disappears into the clouds.

Being a movie guy, I imagine it like the end of ET- remember that movie- when the kids are all standing there watching ET’s spaceship lift off after his family and friends have come back to retrieve ET and take him home
and the kids are just standing there in awe watching the ship as it takes off— wind roaring through their hair and the lights from the ship illuminating their faces and lighting up the night sky.
And just like that, its gone
and the darkness returns
the wind dies down
and the quiet settles back in
and they’re left standing in wonder at the experience they just shared

And at this point in our story
After Jesus has ascended into heaven
two men dressed in white appear beside them and ask,
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up toward heaven?”
Almost like, “guys, guys- there’s nothing more to see here!
Jesus… has left the building.”

In many ways this is the ultimate conclusion to Jesus’ ministry because it officially establishes Jesus as Lord.
Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father.
And this is not a location, obviously
but more of a change of status
And not the change of status like on Facebook where you change from “Single” to “Married” or “It’s Complicated” but something more along the lines of
“Now imparted all power and authority over heaven and earth”
Jesus is now Lord of all
He now reigns over all of Creation.

And this isn’t the end of the story, really.
But only the beginning
The ascension doesn’t mean the end of Jesus’ ministry
It doesn’t mean that Jesus has finally departed forever,
releasing the world to its people and their own devices
The ascension doesn’t mean an absence of Jesus
quite the opposite
The ascension initiates the next chapter in God’s mission in the world

Before he ascends however he reminds the disciples that they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit
Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is and always will be present among them
And this power will now animate them individually and collectively so that they now will become even larger players in God’s mission
they will have a part in continuing Jesus’ work on earth.
God has impressive things in store
The excitement— the real work—has only just begun.

The men in white basically ask them, “why are you just standing there?”
Why are you just standing there?
There’s nothing else up there to see!
Everything is here and now
Real life.
You know what to do
So go do it!
You are now to be Jesus’ witnesses here in Jerusalem and then spread out to Judea and Samaria and eventually to the ends of the earth.
The work now falls on you.
But not just you alone, of course
You now have the power of the Holy Spirit
which is Christ’s spirit working in and through you
to strengthen you
to motivate you
to animate you
to go be active collaborators with God’s redemptive work

But sometimes, we still find ourselves looking up to the heavens
waiting for divine intervention
waiting for God to act in some miraculous way.
There’s this story about

A fellow who was stuck on his rooftop in a flood.
He was praying to God for help.
Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.”
The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.”
So the rowboat went on.
Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.”
To this the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the motorboat went on.
Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.”
To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.
Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”
To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”

Oftentimes we are so busy looking up that we miss the active presence of Jesus in our midst.
We are so busy waiting for God’s action that we miss the cue that God’s action is often OUR action
It is God working through us to fulfill God’s mission

Where is God prompting you?
Where are you being invited to participate in God’s mission here on earth?
To collaborate with God.

We are already equipped.
God has blessed each of us with unique qualities
special gifts
that empower us to fulfill God’s mission

“Oh no, not me” you might say to yourself
I’m just a simple person—
Nothing really special about me—
WRONG
God doesn’t make junk, you might have heard people say
and that’s true
It’s likely the case that God is gently tapping you on the shoulder
inviting you to participate
but you, too, might be stuck there, standing around looking up into the clouds
waiting for God to act

Friends, God is acting
right now
in each of us

“why do you stand there looking up to heaven?”

It makes sense that this passage for today is 1st chapter in the Book of Acts,
this exciting, breath-taking depiction of the early days of the church
It reads almost like an adventure novel
with its depiction of the spreading of the gospel
from Jerusalem to the whole Roman Empire
from its Jewish roots
to the Gentile world
The book is sometimes called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” because of the writer’s strong emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit.
How the Spirit formed and guided the new church.
From a small group of Jewish believers
to a worldwide movement

Yes, thankfully, the disciples didn’t just stand there, looking up
waiting on Jesus to return
They eventually returned to Jerusalem
Gathered together in prayer
and waited on the arrival of the Holy Spirit
the same Holy Spirit who makes Jesus Christ present to us and in us today

They launched their destinies of being the church and building the church
around the world

Cross and Crown, how are we being the church?
How is the Holy Spirit working through us?
Are there ministries you feel we should be doing?
important initiatives we should be pursuing?
People we should be helping?
Is there a way we could more actively collaborate with God not just around the world but right here in Matthews? In our own communities?
Let’s talk about it
Let’s mobilize
We have the power of the Holy Spirit
God’s spirit
Urging us forward

Let’s not find ourselves, mouths agape, simply standing there
staring into the heavens
waiting for a “sign”
Let’s open our eyes to the world around us
full experiencing the ongoing presence of the Risen Christ work in us and through us
to continue the redemptive work of God in the world.
Amen?
Alleluia
Amen.

A Mother’s Day Sermon

Text: John 14:1-14

The setting is Jesus’ farewell address at his last supper with his disciples.
A lot has taken place.
Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet and has explained to them what this means.
He has foretold his betrayal by Judas, and Judas has slipped out into the night.
He has told his disciples that he will be with them only a little while longer, and that where he is going, they cannot come, at least for now.
He has also foretold Peter’s imminent denial. So with all this, the disciples as my mom would say, are “fit to be tied”.

No wonder they’re troubled! Their beloved teacher is leaving them, one of their own has turned against them, and the reliable leader among the disciples is said to be on the cusp of a great failure of loyalty. It is as though the ground is shifting beneath their feet.

Ever felt like this?

Jesus responds to their anxiety by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”
It’s like he’s saying, “look at me—don’t worry”

Jesus calls them back to this fundamental relationship of trust
He assures them that he is not abandoning them as they might fear.
But rather, he is returning to his Father and will prepare a place for them there as well.
So do not despair
There are many dwellings in his Father’s house, he tells them, and once they are there, they will be with him and dwell with him in this intimate relationship.
Jesus is using this image to comfort and reassure the disciples whose world’s are in the midst of being turned upside down.
He’s going ahead to get things all ready for them.
and this will be a place of loving provision, comfort, and safety.

Depending on the translation, different words have been used to describe the image Jesus is employing. Many of you might have grown accustomed to hearing “in my father’s house there are many rooms”
A more literal description is “dwelling places”
But nevertheless, the imagery of houses, rooms, and dwelling places all
describe a place where the disciples will reside intimately with God.
Safe from the troubles that plague them
Protected from the people who threaten their lives

For most of us, at least
Home is a lot like this, don’t you think?
A place of loving protection and comfort.

When I left for college and started life on my own as an adult, any time things got overwhelming or maybe even a little scary-
maybe I was faced with a difficult decision or
experienced a loss or disappointment
or maybe was just stressed out about an upcoming test or presentation
a good respite from life was to go home for the weekend.
Like most, this made my mama very, very happy.
It didn’t happen too often but when it did she made it count

She would have my room all ready-
my bed would be made up and ready
clean sheets and blankets turned down
with fresh cut flowers on the bedside table
The refrigerator would be filled with my favorite dessert at the time- caramel flan
And not just one but usually six!
and for dinner I would have my favorite meal, steak peas and mashed potatoes

This explains a lot about me doesn’t it?

I felt loved and secure and comforted
Whatever was troubling me at that time would melt away
And I would be able to reenter my life recharged and ready to conquer the world

Maybe this describes what Jesus is trying to do with the disciples.

As I studied this passage this week and reflected on the fact that today is Mother’s Day, I was struck by how maternal Jesus’s actions are here.
Yes, Jesus is a man- but doesn’t mean he can’t be maternal.
I think all of us are capable of demonstrating both paternal and maternal characteristics regardless of our gender.
I’ve known several people who actually shared that it was their father who was the more maternal one growing up.
Conversely, I’ve known guys who learned the most about being a man not from their fathers, but their mothers.
When Kristan was sick, I certainly had to hone my maternal skills to close the gap before she was able to come home.
And I was able to do this by imitating the two best moms I know- Kristan and my own mother.

Just like my mom did for me when I would come home for the weekend, Jesus is tabling his own needs and instead focusing on the needs of his disciples. Comforting them, reassuring them, and lovingly preparing them for what’s ahead.
More concerned about making sure they are ok then whether or not he was.
Putting their needs first.
Remember- he’s on the way to the cross and he knows this- but instead, he’s more concerned about their concerns.

He is comforting
He is compassionate
He offers security and gentle guidance.
Sounds like a lot of moms I know.

We can learn a lot about God and Jesus by looking to our own moms or mothering figures

Because whether is was your own mother, or your grandmother, aunt, friend, or really anyone
chances are, someone along the way “mothered” you, in a way that made you feel the same way Jesus is helping the disciples feel at that moment.

There is a hymn called “Mothering God you gave me birth” which we will sing shortly.

The inspiration for this hymn comes from the writings of 14th-century mystic, Julian of Norwich
When Julian was 30 and living at home, she suffered from a serious illness and was presumed to be near death. As a result, a priest came to administer the last rites of the Catholic Church. As part of the ritual, he held a crucifix in the air above the foot of her bed. Julian reported that she was losing her sight and felt physically numb, but as she gazed on the crucifix she saw the figure of Jesus begin to bleed. Over the next several days, she had a series of sixteen visions of Jesus Christ. Julian wrote about her visions immediately after they had happened in a book titled, Revelations of Divine Love. It is believed to be the earliest surviving book written in the English language by a woman.

Julian of Norwich went on to live a life of prayer and solitude and became a noted counselor and theologian. She continued writing, oftentimes focusing on these visions and the impact they had on her faith and her theology. In her work, she described Christ as our “true mother,” one who is wise, loving and merciful. Although she did not have children of her own, Julian emphasized how the bond between mother and child is one of the best examples of an earthly relationship which comes close to the relationship a person can have with Jesus.

One of intimacy and compassionate care.

And the comparisons between Jesus and mothers don’t stop with just the lovey dovey— remember the story of Jesus bursting into the temple and overturning the tables? Yep, that would be my mom also if anyone ever crossed me or my sister.
Hell hath no fury like a mama whose babies have been hurt! Can I get an amen?

Rabbi Maggie Wenig used maternal imagery in a popular sermon she wrote about God. In it she says:

“God holds our face in her two hands and whispers, “Do not be afraid, I will be faithful to the promise I made to you when you were young. I will be with you. Even to your old age I will be with you. When you are grey headed still I will hold you. I gave birth to you, I carried you. I will hold you still”

Trusting in God to
Be protected.
To be loved and assured.
To Safe and comforted.
These are the aims of our maternal figures whoever they might be.

And these are the aims of Jesus with the disciples in today’s passage.

So on this special day when we honor our mothers and mothering figures, I pray that in this maternal nature you will catch a glimpse of Jesus who empowers all of us to act in this manner.
and in doing so you will also draw closer to a God who offers you the same loving care.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

Experience is Believing

Text: John 20:19-31

In this scene the disciples are all hovered in fear in a locked room. Their leader and rabbi has just been publicly and brutally executed and now they’re fearing for their safety- maybe even their lives. They’re worried they’ll be arrested and possibly executed themselves for their support of Jesus’s alleged conspiracy against the authority of Imperial Rome.

I would imagine that some might even be afraid that maybe they were wrong about all this. Sure, Mary came and told them that she had witnessed the Risen Lord, but can she be trusted? Maybe it had just been a gardener or a passer-by that spoke to her. Peter and John went with her and all they saw was an empty tomb and left behind linens. That’s not really proof of anything. Someone could have taken him.
I imagine their minds racing with fear and worry, and maybe even sadness and disappointment.
But then, out of nowhere, Jesus appears and says “Peace be with you.” And the disciples were understandably relieved, comforted, and I would imagine affirmed in their faith.

Unfortunately, Thomas wasn’t there, so they rushed out to tell him about their experience with the Risen Lord. But Thomas wasn’t convinced. He quieted them and told them he wouldn’t believe unless he actually sees the marks on his hands with his own eyes and even places his fingers in them and his hands in his side.

Eight days later, Jesus appears again to the disciples and this time Thomas is with them. And as if he had overheard his request, Jesus offers Thomas the opportunity to touch his crucifixion wounds. And with that, Thomas is overwhelmed and I imagine dropped to his knees and in a confession of faith, proclaims, “My Lord and My God!”

Thomas and the disciples were blessed to have an actual, physical appearance by Jesus Christ to affirm their faith and to assuage their fears.
On some level, aren’t we all wanting that, too?
Aren’t we hoping to hear the audible voice of God to thunder down and answer our questions?
To tell us whether or not to take that job?
To enter into that relationship?
Or to make that move?

In those times when our faith is waning, don’t we sometimes wish Jesus would just appear as he did to the disciples and say something like, “See Brook— totally real. I told you! Feel better?”

It’s normal to want these things.
We live in a culture where “seeing is believing”
Mystery has no place in our modern existence.
There is concrete proof and that is it.
If we don’t see it with our own eyes, it’s not real.

What I invite you to consider today is that Christ does appear to us
Just like he did to Thomas and the disciples on that frightening night 2,000 years ago.
In very real ways.
He does it through us.
We become the Risen Christ for one another.

German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks of this in his book Life Together. He writes:
“Christ became our brother in order to help us; through Christ other Christians have become Christ for us…Other Christians stand before us as the sign of God’s truth and grace…”

Jesus promises to show up in these moments when we need to experience the risen Christ
Sometimes it’s in the encouraging words of a loved one, when you’re experiencing loss
Sometimes its in the forgiveness you offer to someone for whom you’ve had a disagreement.
Sometimes its meals for your family when you have to be out of town 

When we allow Christ to work through us
We help others experience the Risen Christ.
And when we do this
we become the Church here on earth.
Becoming Christ’s hands and feet

Experience is believing.

And that’s the beauty and the power of being the Church today.
As part of the body, we are Christ to one and another
Together, we are able to be Christ in ways we would never be able to on our own.
Collectively, God works through us so our reach can become all the more vast-
So others far and wide may have the experience of Jesus.

Experience is believing.

Recently I met with my friend Chandler, who works for Lutheran World Relief.
Over lunch, we were discussing how the Risen Christ works through us – the church
We talked about how we have the unique opportunity—the privilege- to be the Risen Christ to people not only in our communities but throughout the world.

We started talking about how war and strife in particular are plaguing so many countries now
And how war impacts the food supply chains of these communities.

He shared with me how Lutheran World Relief is building bakeries in Aleppo in war-torn Syria.
The city- one of the oldest in the world- has been laid waste from years of fighting.
And the people who have not already fled the area are left alone to try to feed their families.
A staple in the diet is pita bread – it’s almost an essential part of every meal in that area.
Through building just 2 bakeries- 2! –
These bakeries are employing 30 citizens as bakers in an economy where jobs are scarce and —get this-
are able to produce up to 9 TONS of bread a day
which feeds 80,000 people
with just two bakeries.
80,000.
Imagine that.
By collaborating with organizations such as Lutheran World Relief, we can directly help people from around the world have an experience with the Risen Christ.
that’s the power of the church.

And the symbolism is not lost either
Think about this—they’re bakeries!
As Christians we know that bread is a sign of new life
So as the church we are bringing new life to a country in desperate need.

And whats even more cool is that our original plan for lunch was to eat somewhere entirely different, but at the last minute, we decided to go across the street.
To the Mediterranean restaurant.
So here we are, two dudes in North Carolina, discussing the incredible work of the church, feeding people in need with pita bread—
while eating pita bread.
Only the Holy Spirit could arrange for something so incredible, don’t you think?
Can I get an Amen?

Experience is believing.

We don’t know how this works.
Does Jesus just magically pop in when we need him, like some sort of divine Mary Poppins?
Maybe, but probably not—

Luther writes —
“The evangelist (John) says not that they saw him enter, but that he appeared in their midst which sounds as if he had been there already— hidden and now revealed…”

It’s encouraging when you think about it.
That Christ is always among us
And when we work together
and care for one another
We not only become, but we experience the risen Christ already in our midst.

Because experience is believing.

Like Thomas, it’s normal to seek the proof of our faith in tangible ways.
But perhaps if we take the leap of faith
to expand our imaginations to consider the experience of the Risen Christ in the work of others
it will touch us in ways far deeper and more meaningful than tangible proof.

And maybe this experience will prompt us not just to be convinced
But be transformed.

Experience is believing.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.