Search This Blog

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

June 18, 2017

Gospel: Matthew 9:35-10:23                      
1st Reading: Exodus 19:2-8a         
2nd Reading: Romans 5:1-8

                I remember standing there at my ordination and Bishop Swanson asking me all the questions: Would I faithfully preach and teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and the creeds and confessions, would I be diligent in my study of the Holy Scriptures and my use of the means of grace, would I pray for God’s people, nourish them with the word and Holy Sacraments, and lead them by my own example in faithful service and holy living, would I give faithful witness in the world, that God’s love may be made known in all I do?  I knew what all they were going to ask me, of course, and I was aware of those big expectations and that I was unlikely to be able to fulfill them, but I was also aware of God’s grace which gave me enough hope to answer, “Yes, with the help of God.”   In our baptisms, too, we state our intention to live among God’s faithful people, to read the scriptures and pray, to receive the Lord’s Supper, to proclaim Christ, to care for this world God has made, and to work for justice and peace in all the world.  It is a lot to take on for anyone, but over and over we say, “yes, with the help of God.”

                It reminded me of the Israelites this morning in the reading from Exodus, when they all say so naively, “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.”  How could they possibly know what they were agreeing to?  They are just beginning a 40 year journey in the wilderness school of hardships and complaining and rebellion and fear and turning to false gods and new rules for living as a community and becoming the people of God and God becoming angry and Moses making a case for the people and God cooling off.  What a journey it would be, difficult and trying!  It is a lot to take on for anyone, but they all say, “Yes, with the help of God.”

                In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  In other words, there is plenty of work to be done, but few people are stepping up to do it.  I always feel guilty when I read this.  Is Jesus saying I’m slacking off?  Let me put it this way, how many of you would like to be more faithful?  Ok, so what is holding us back? Why don’t we want to go into the fields with Jesus? 

                Whenever I sing “I love to tell the story” I want to confess, I feel uneasy.  It is a beautiful song, but it expresses an ideal that is often far away from the reality we are living in. When I was a kid, I would stand in church and listen to all the adults around me singing it and feel the disconnect between the words and the reality.  Besides my Sunday School teachers, in the classroom, and my pastor in church, I didn’t hear anyone telling the story of Jesus and his love, and I certainly didn’t know anyone who “loved” to tell the story. When I pictured what this would look like, I pictured the kid who always brought his Bible to school and everyone made fun of him.  I didn’t want to be that kid.  I didn’t want to be foolish.  It was an aspirational hymn we sang, and to my mind we didn’t mean it one bit.  It was like we were asking God to make us love to tell the story, or that maybe we loved to tell the story to other people who loved it as much as we did, but that was it.  When I think of the affirmation, the “Yes” in that song to follow where Jesus leads, I think of how far we are away from that ideal, and it makes me squirm. 

                It is true that many of us are doing God’s work every single day, in small and large ways.  And it is true that Jesus’ story isn’t necessarily one we tell by going door to door or yelling it through a megaphone at a street corner, that we can tell the story sometimes a lot better by living it, by loving people who no one loves.  And it is also true that we could be more responsive to God’s invitation to go work in the field side by side with our Savior.  So what is it that hold us back?

                I think a lot of it is that we don’t want to be unprepared and look foolish.   The Disciples were instructed to go out without money or extra clothes or much training.  They are going to have to ask for help.  If we are Jesus’ disciples, we are going to have to ask for help.  We are going to look like we don’t know what we are doing.  We are going to make mistakes.  We want to get this right.  But God is trying to keep us humble, so we will fail.  And God is trying to keep us creative, so we will fail and have think creatively.  Sometimes we think it is our job to save others, and we forget that only God can do that.  We often bring supplies and gifts, we bring the know-how and the labor, and we try to do for others.  In that case, we put people in a situation where we are the haves and they are the have-nots and we are better than they are.  However, if we go in with nothing, having nothing and knowing nothing, we leave room for them to be the experts about their own lives.  We open ourselves to receiving from others, needing them as much as they need us, so we will be more likely to form community of equal partners with balanced power.

                Several people have mentioned to me that they keep meaning to visit homebound members, but it never seems to happen.  I understand.  It is complicated.  Should you call first and then go or just show up?  How many days ahead should you call?  What if you have to cancel the day of?  How difficult will it be to find the location?  Will you have enough to talk about?  What if the person expresses dismay that you haven’t come until now?  What if uncomfortable topics arise?  What if the person just talks and talks and you have trouble getting out of there?  Should you pray with the person?  And then there are feelings of powerlessness to help a person who isn’t going to get any better.  There are so many unknowns in a visit like this.  None of us is an expert.  We go in feeling guilty and afraid, even I do!  Sometimes our fears keep us from going out to the harvest. But in that moment of connection, we find healing and forgiveness and acceptance and joy and that person finds the same and we are equals, partners in this chaotic wilderness journey.  And in those visits, we find Jesus is with us.

                God brought the Israelite people through the wilderness so they would practice being God’s people, and being community together with each other.  It was a learning experience in which they often looked and felt foolish.  It took all these years of walking together to learn how to rely on God and how to treat each other.  We are in a wilderness school too.  God is bringing us new experiences that disorient us and make us feel foolish, not to make fun of us, but to remind us who we rely on and belong to, who is with us always gathering the harvest with us, and that it isn’t about us but about the body of Christ, the whole community finding healing and wholeness and connection.

                And it is about what brings us hope and keeps us going, what motivates us to respond to God’s call to join in the work.  Do we hope in our own powers?  If so we are disappointed.  I got curious about the reading from Romans so I looked up the original language. I specifically wanted to know what it meant by “character.”  But it got me looking at the whole passage.  First of all, the reading from Romans says we are justified by faith, and the question is whether it is our faith that justifies us and makes us right with God, or whether it is Jesus’ faith.  Secondly, the word “boast” is actually the word meaning to rejoice.  So we rejoice in our sufferings, we rejoice in our hope of sharing the good news.  And the comes the part, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us.”  It is actually more like this, “suffering produces patience, and patience produces experience, and experience produces expectation.”  In other words it is only through life experience that we learn who to trust and where to put our hope, because we keep practicing in the wilderness school of life, that stuff doesn’t fulfill us, that we need to take care of each other, and that God comes through for us, the only reliable one, the only one who fulfills the expectations—again, whose expectations?  Ours or Gods?  Expectation is more than hope, more than a dream, but a promised reality, assured, expected.

                This world is full of suffering.  We have the means to keep ourselves from suffering.  We have the means to be comfortable, or at least keep up the illusion of comfort.  But God invites us to join the harvest.  We are invited to go where there is suffering, to experience suffering ourselves, in order to find abundant life.  The harvest is plentiful.  There is a lot of work to do.  Mothers need comforting whose sons have been shot by the police.  Drug babies need rocked at the hospital.  Veterans who have lost limbs need a friend.  Teens who have cut themselves need support networks.  The homebound need visitors.  Will we go where we are uncomfortable?   If we do, we will be enrolling in wilderness school. We will find that we are powerless to fix them, but they will minister to us.  We will have the chance to work side by side and learn from the best, our Savior Jesus.  We will look foolish.  We won’t know what we’re doing or be prepared.  Jesus calls us to serve where we aren’t the experts.  Jesus doesn’t want experts who already know everything, know-it-alls that aren’t trainable.  Jesus wants people who are open to learning and receiving help.  What we’re going to get out of this is going to be good for us and others.  We’re going to get a healthy dose of humility.  We’re going to become part of something greater than ourselves.  Jesus is going to use us to bring in the Kingdom.

 It’s all hands on deck!  Let’s get moving.  Jesus is calling us to day one of the harvest.  By the time the day is through we’re going to be pretty worn out and by the time 40 years is through we’re going to wonder if it will all be worthwhile, but we’ve got the best teacher there is, and we’ve got the expectation, the promise of what will be.  None of us will be greater than another, but all will have what they need and all will be included, and all will know they are loved, all will stand in God’s presence and all will see God’s presence in each other, and all will feast and be filled, and all will find fulfillment.  The promised land awaits if we will embark on this journey and be taught in the

June 11, 2017    

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20          
1st Reading: Genesis 1:1-2:4a      
2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

                As we’re going through my grandma’s things, my mom found a diary of hers from when she was about 9 years old.  She writes about her mama letting her roller skate on the porch and going to visit relatives in Iowa for the summer.  Precious stuff! It is a little glimpse into how she saw the world and what was important to her.  It is interesting to think of life in the 1930s and 40s.  And it is interesting to think of what experiences made her who she is, she who shaped who we are.

                The reading from Genesis is a little like the diary of God.  It tells us what is important to God and some of God’s activities.  It tells a little about how God sees the world and how God sees us, God with whom it all began and who continually shapes us.  On Trinity Sunday we attempt to explain and understand some glimpse of who God is, what matters to God, where we came from, who we are, and what is our purpose.  On Trinity Sunday we stand in the mystery of who God is and who we are.

                The word Trinity is found nowhere in the Bible, but it is a way of making sense of the complexity and relationality of God.  The Israelites had something unique in the ancient world, and that is monotheism, belief in one God.  No more appeasing multiple gods, trying to keep up with sacrifices and offerings, trying not to make one jealous by paying too much attention to another, trying to guess which might be the one who could help.  So here comes a religion with one God.  One God made everything.  One God has one intention for us all.  One God is God of both darkness and light, looks after people and animals and the cosmos, is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful.  And as the story of God unfolds, we find that this one God can be viewed as three persons of one being, having three modes, that we know of. 

                I’ve struggled with how to teach this to my child.  Jesus is God.  Jesus is God’s son.  And it gets so confusing in the Bible when Jesus prays to God.  Is he praying to himself?  How do these two persons of the Trinity communicate with one another?  Don’t they already know what each other is thinking?  Are the prayers for the sake of us all who are overhearing them?  If they appear in different modes, do they each take on limits?  I say, that as a whole God is all-powerful, which means having the choice of whether to use those powers or not.  This is already beyond what a kid can begin to understand and we adults are right there, unable to grasp the concept of the Trinity. 

                We’ve got God the Creator, an artist in no hurry at all, painting and sculpting the heavens and the earth, speaking life into being, interrelationships and interdependence, redundancy rather than efficiency, covering the jobs that nature does several times over.  We’ve got God the Son, the word that was in the beginning, moving over the waters, made flesh in Jesus, who lived God’s love on earth, who died and rose again and makes us part of God’s family.  We’ve got the Holy Spirit, Sophia wisdom, the breath of God, the Advocate, who we have with us when Jesus returns to God the creator.

                So what does God’s diary tell us about who God is and who we are?

                God made all things good.  Sometimes it is easy to forget, because we get so caught up in the idea of sin and all the wrong we do, that God made us good  and very good.  The good is in relationship to all the other parts, accepting responsibility and limits, and interrelatedness.  God mentions so many times the goodness of creation, and when humans are created, there is no special pronouncement, but only when the whole of creation is considered, God declares the whole of it very good.

                God made us in God’s image and likeness.  We don’t know if this is a likeness and appearance or in creativity or in responsibility or in tenderness, or all of the above, or something else entirely.  But what an honor and responsibility to resemble God in some way!  When we see ourselves, we must contemplate who God is and what the resemblance must be.

                God made us to rest. Only the sabbath, the day of rest, is called holy in this Genesis story.  There is something very important here. If God needed to rest, certainly, we do, too.  We are not meant to wear ourselves out by constant movement, but we have the invitation to care for ourselves and each other and this earth, to ponder God’s world, God’s creation, to breathe, to listen and pray and sing, to see how God sees as God rests.

                God makes all things new.  Not only did God create the world anew long ago, but every day, there is newness.  There is no day when we can predict what will happen.  There is no day when we are the same as we were the day before.  Every day is a new beginning, created anew by God.  We can picture God once again speaking over the waters and finding some order in the chaos and sending light and plants and animals and forming us, giving us another chance to be the people God created us to be.

                The reading from second Corinthians is a kind of diary of God’s people as the church was forming.  It was a statement about what is most important, that community matters, that we shouldn’t squabble about things that don’t matter, that we should put others first, that we need each other.  It is another beginning, God making the world anew, creating us again into the body of Christ.  It was a reminder that being powerful wouldn’t look exactly like people thought it would, that it would mean giving up power.  It was a reminder that it would not be traditional strength, by might, that accomplished all that God had in mind, it was the strength of love, of relationship and connection with God and creation.

                And finally, we come across the diary of the disciples.  The women at the tomb tell the other disciples to meet Jesus at the mountain of the transfiguration.  When it seemed like it would be the end, it was another new beginning.  When they got there Jesus told them to make disciples of all nations.  This message of Jesus and his love was not for a few any more.  Now the apprentices of Jesus are charged with going out to all the earth, baptizing, washing, including, bringing new life to all nations, every person invited to love and community, revealing to each one their part in the story. 

Jesus says to them, “I will be with you always to the end of the age.”  In other words, as we are become Christ’s body in the world, we are not alone, but God goes with us giving us strength and love to share with all.  Even in death, Jesus is with us, raising us to eternal life and making us new again.

We can’t understand the mind of God.  We can’t understand the Trinity, just like I will never understand all the experiences and gifts and complexity of what made my Grandma who she is.  I can catch glimpses and I can let go of what I don’t know and I can feel her love for me and for many.  Multiply this experience too many times to consider and we can start to realize just how much we don’t know with God.  But when we let go of needing to understand and let ourselves ponder the memories we have , maybe we can embrace the mystery.  When we look around us at this earth God created, we can feel close to God, even if we can’t understand God in all God’s complexity.

The Bible is less of a diary than it is the writings of a group of people trying to understand themselves and their place in the world.  We are the all nations that Jesus was telling the Disciples to go to.  And we become the disciples going out to all nations to do what Jesus did, to love, because God is love.  We could do much worse than to love what and who God loves.  We know God will be present in our love.  We were made by God.  We were made by love.  And we were made for love, for relationship and compassion and interdependence on each other, on God, on creation.  And the scriptures offer a vision that where we are going is very similar to where we came from, a vision in which we live closely with our Creator and fellow creatures in unity and love.  There are many ways we can know God better.  We can read the scriptures.  We can look for clues about God around us.  By far the best way is to receive and give love, the way God does as God creates and recreates us, the way Jesus did as he makes us into his beloved family, and the way the Holy Spirit does as she empowers and equips us for relationship and connection with each other and with God. God is love.  We are love.  All is love. Amen.


           Interactive sermon  
            In today’s readings, the Holy Spirit comes to Jesus’ followers.  First they heard the sound like a wind storm.  What would that sound like?  Can you make the sound of a wind storm?  I think it was louder than that!  Then each of them had something rest on them like a tongue of fire.  Who here is a Jesus-follower? You and you and you!  You each get a flame, one for each of you.  Each person here has one, too, because each person has the Holy Spirit. 

                Why do you think the Holy Spirit was like a flame?  What is a flame like?  Hot, powerful, changing, emitting light.  Have you ever heard someone say, “He was so excited he was on fire.”  That means that person was energetic and lively about something.  What are you excited for?  What are you on fire about?  Jesus was on fire for justice and love.  He was excited about making sure that people had enough food and were healed and were part of community in relationship with others.  He gave us the Holy Spirit so we would be on fire for some of the same things he is excited and on fire about.

                Can you find some flames and pictures of flames around the church this morning?

                When the people received the Holy Spirit, they had abilities and powers from God to help them share the good news of God’s love.  They started to be able to speak in different languages and understand people who spoke in different languages.  They started to see things the way God sees things.  Started to dream the same kinds of dreams that God has.  Some of you might remember dreams

                you have at night while you are sleeping.  There is another kind of dream that people have when they have hopes for the future.  Maybe you’ve heard Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  He wasn’t speaking of a dream he had while he was sleeping, but a hope he had in his heart that someday his kids who had dark brown skin could walk with someone who had light skin and they could be friends, and how people would work for peace together, and how people wouldn’t judge each other but love each other.  This is the kind of dream that God dreams and that people begin to dream, too, when they have the Holy Spirit.  God wrote some of God’s dreams in the Bible, but also gives them to people like you and me and all these people.

                I’d like to invite each person to write on their flame their hope and dream for this world or this neighborhood.  When someone has one, hold it up and one of the kids will come get it and we’ll tape it to these balloons to remind us of the Holy Spirit with us in community all around us and within us.

                Dreams are powerful.  They can motivate us, or cause us to take action, to work toward that dream.  There is another phrase, “To light a fire under someone.”  That means to get them moving.  God wants to light a fire under us, to get us moving toward justice and love, and one of the ways God does that is by sharing God’s exciting dreams for all creation.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

May 28, 2017       

Gospel: John 17:1-11                      
1st Reading: Acts 1:6-14                 
2nd Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

                Some people are fond of saying, “Whenever God closes a door, he opens a window.”  It isn’t my favorite saying.  I don’t think of God as closing doors or manipulating human lives like that.  I know sometimes we wonder why certain paths are closed to us or why people cut us out of their lives or why people die.  Maybe it gives us some comfort to attribute it to God.  And maybe it is good that we look from that closed door to see what might be opening up in our lives in another area, knowing the path isn’t closed completely, but there are other ways to get where we are going, even though crawling through a window is kind of a weird way of getting someplace.  Maybe it is just about getting some fresh air when the door gets closed! 

                Sometimes when a door closes, before the window opens, we stand in a kind of liminal space of disorientation and transition, a time of wondering what is coming next.

According to Wickipedia, “In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word lÄ«men, meaning "a threshold"[1]) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual's liminal stage, participants "stand at the threshold"[2] between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.”

                The Disciples are at a threshold or liminal point, an indefinite time of transition, in the first reading for this morning.  Jesus ascends, and they stand there looking up with gaping mouths wondering what just happened to them, disoriented, and unclear about what might be next. 

                In the reading from 1 Peter, the author is writing to the Christian community which is in this liminal space of disorientation and transition.  The author is telling them not to be surprised or lose hope, and the author knows something about being in a position like that, so has some authority to tell them that this disorientation and even suffering can coexist with gladness and even joy.

                In the Gospel reading Jesus is praying for the disciples who will be in this liminal space, to strengthen them and give them everything they need to make the transition, the leap, the reformation to the Kingdom of God.  We are actually overhearing Jesus praying for us, disciples still in that liminal space of disorientation, still waiting for the promised Kingdom of God.

                We all deal with transitions, liminal space differently.  Some of us go with the flow more easily than others.  Some of us like to have all the answers.  Some of us get anxious and protective.  Others of us thrive.  I tend to like to know where we are going, partly because people expect me to, and partly because I feel more secure knowing the answers.  But lately I am more comfortable in the not knowing, and simply holding space for the transition to unfold.

                One example of those in liminal space is The Church of God of Prophecy.  They know that enforcement of immigration laws in our country are changing.  They are wondering when they or their loved ones might be picked up or deported.  They are wondering when paperwork might be completed that would grant Mexican citizenship for their children.  When that paperwork comes, they pack up and move to a land their children have never known and have a different life than they have had.  Many of you have asked me, where they are in their process.  They may have received certain letters and completed paperwork, however there are some parts that are simply unknown, disorienting liminal time and space, threshold work that doesn’t reveal what is on the other side of the door or how long it will take to walk through it.

                Another example of liminal space is grief.  I have never been so deep in it as I am now.  The world has changed.  Something has been left behind.  But what will be has not yet revealed itself.  I have not idea how long it will take to cross this lake, this liminal space, but I can tell you I am disoriented.  Thankfully, I find many of you in this space with me.  I would never wish that anyone have to be here, but I can’t imagine us any other place, and here we are together, disoriented together, grieving our various losses and not having any answers.

                The Christian church as a whole is in a kind of liminal space, too.  While Christianity still holds a central place in our culture and values, many people are rejecting church as the way to express and live the Christian life.  Maybe it is that Christianity is becoming more cultural than religious.  It is hard to express, because we’re in this disorienting space which can be hard to define.  We’ve left something behind, and we don’t know exactly what we’re doing or where we’re headed.

                Here are some things we can learn from the disciples’ experience of liminality. 

1.        When we get in one of these kinds of situations, a good thing to do is to pray.  Jesus prayed to help ground and orient and focus himself and his followers.  He prayed for God’s presence.  He prayed for awareness of unity and the knowledge that none of them would be alone.  He prayed that we would remember who we belong to—God.  He prayed to encourage and equip his disciples for living in this liminal time.  Even his disciples devote themselves to prayer by the end of the reading from Acts.

2.       Liminal time is a good time to be open.  The apostles ask Jesus in the first reading, in their confusion, to get them out of it by explaining to them what would be next.  They ask, “Is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom to Israel?”  Basically, they are asking, “Jesus, is this the time you’re going to do what we expect you to do?”  But Jesus asks them to let go of their expectations.  They are focused too narrow.  Instead of handing them what they think they want and need, God is trying to hand them and everyone something greater, New Life.  Then as Jesus is ascending, their focus is upward, longing for Jesus, wanting him back.  I picture them all gawking upward and these angels, just like at the tomb, come and ask them, “What are you looking at?”  By looking up, they are missing the angels all around them.  If they want to see Jesus in their neighbor, they are going to have to let go of their expectations of where he is and look around a little bit.  They are going to need to be open.

3.       Even during times of disorientation, some things are assured.  God is God, powerful and loving.  And God equips us, through the Holy Spirit, to meet the unknown with confidence and hope.  Partly what gives us confidence is that part of the unknown is known, and that is the destination, the Kingdom of God.  We don’t know what it is or where it is, or even when it is, except it is now, and it is among us, and it is about relationship and connection, and there will be no more crying and the wolf will lie down with the lamb.  It is good and when it is fully realized it will be good beyond our imagination.  We don’t know when it will be fully realized, but we know who leads us there, and we trust the good shepherd to get us there.

May 21, 2017      

Gospel: John 14:15-21                   
1st Reading: Acts 17:22-31
2nd Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22

                An empty sanctuary is filled with people, an empty cup is filled with grape juice, an empty font is filled with water, an empty hand is met with another in a greeting.  An empty room is filled with a guest.  An empty stomach is filled with food.  An empty life is filled with love.  Arms are raised like an empty vessel, ready to receive abundant generosity, God pouring life out for each of us.  Our empty lungs fill with breath, the room is empty of sound until we begin to pray and sing.  We search for meaning and purpose and fulfillment.  We long for life and love and for what is lasting and good.  Longing is our emptiness crying out to be filled.

                Today’s readings point to a longing within each person.  In the reading from Acts, Paul is preaching about a shrine to an unknown god.  For all the gods there are in Athens, still the Athenians are seeking something more.  Their gods of stone and bronze and gold are not meeting all their needs.  Paul speaks to this unmet need by introducing them to the God who created them and all things.  Paul points to Jesus, who he doesn’t name, but whose death and resurrection bring power and love and life and meaning to all.

                In the reading from 1 Peter, Christians are suffering.  They are asking whether God is with them or not.  They are longing to know what their suffering means.  They are longing to know and see God’s power.  The writer of 1 Peter is telling them that though the world will try to tell them that suffering means you have done wrong and deserve it or that suffering means your God isn’t powerful, that isn’t true.  The writer is saying that the people who are causing this suffering for Christians, probably in the form of harassment, have limited power.  Suffering is a temporary situation. The writer of this letter is assuring them that suffering doesn’t have the last word, that no one is outside God’s reach, and he is encouraging them to use suffering as an opportunity to share the good news gently and reverently, to tell their story about a God who isn’t afraid to suffer, and who gave his life that we might have life.

                The Disciples in the Gospel today are longing for Jesus to stay right there with them.  They are actually expressing the grief of later Christians that John is writing to, because Jesus is no longer physically present.  John writes of these events 40 plus years later to a group that feels abandoned and alone.  John is reassuring them that their greatest fear isn’t true.  They have not been abandoned.  They are not orphaned.  In fact, we are just as connected as we ever were when Jesus walked the earth because of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.  One way we know we are connected is by love.  We can’t see love or measure love.  However, God shows such love for us by Jesus’ death on the cross and adopting us into God’s family.  And God’s love goes on in the loving acts of the community, through us, the church, the body of Christ, present with all who are suffering.  God’s love goes on through loving acts like not returning evil for evil, by feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, by caring for one another and those abandoned by society. 

                We all have longings.  We’re all seeking and searching for what will fill that need in us.  Society tells us it will be things we can see and own, beauty and grooming products, electronics, fancy food.  We all know the temporary nature of things like this.  It’s not going to last, even if we are satisfied for a while.  We don’t worship a whole bunch of gods like the Athenians, but we have idols just the same.  They don’t call it American Idol for nothing.  We worship musicians, actors, those who play sports, and the very rich.  We throw loads of money at them and gawk at their lives.  We live vicariously through them, cry at their breakups, and fly drones over their weddings.  We seem surprised when they turn out to be regular people with flaws.  Their power is fleeting.

                And we worship money.  How can we get more of it for ourselves and our church?  How can we get the kind of power that will keep our doors open and pay our bills?  How can we get enough to make us happy?  How can we get enough so we won’t have to suffer?

                When we focus our attention on our things, on people in power, on money, and use them to try to fulfill our longings, we are worshipping them.  “While God has overlooked times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”  This isn’t about how we’ve all done wrong and now we are punished.  The word “repent” means turn.  This is about God being very near to us and turning from what we have valued and tried to use for our fulfillment to what and who really gives us life.  God is fulfilling that longing within us with what really is good and lasting and life-giving.  We can turn and be filled, that’s how close God is.

                Turn to Love that created the universe in all its complexity.

                Turn to Love that is reliable because this kind of love doesn’t rely on unreliable human beings for anything.

                Turn to Love that gives us breath and keeps us going and is personally involved in our lives.

                Turn to Love which can’t be depicted in stone and bronze because it is so far beyond what any of us can conceive.

                Turn to Love that is closer to us than we are to ourselves.

                Turn to Love who is our mother and father.

                Turn to Love which fulfills our deepest need.

                Turn to Love which inspires us, incites us, motivates us to love, to perpetuate God’s love.

This is not something we can see or prove to someone.  This love will not keep us free from suffering.  But this love is eternal and powerful beyond measure.

                This love keeps us hopeful in the community of faith.  The one we follow exhibited this love in a most unusual way, by the unselfish life he lived, loving those who everyone else abandoned until it so infuriated us that we tried to destroy that loving power by destroying him.  In his resurrection, God’s absolute power was revealed, that we cannot undo the love God has for us.  We can’t kill it.  We can’t make ourselves unlovable.  Wherever the powers of hate and perpetuating suffering go on, the resurrection shows they won’t be victorious.  Only the power of God’s presence and love will last into eternity.  That’s what matters.  That’s what prevails.

                This love is for all who are outside the Christian Community, too.  Love is what we have to offer a destructive world, a world that offers fleeting pleasures, a world of emptiness and strong feelings of being disconnected, alienated, orphaned.  If we place our faith in material goods and in our own pleasures, we’re going to be let down.  Anything humans build will break, eventually.  It isn’t about if, it is about when.  Remember the quote, “Not a stone will be left on stone.  All will be thrown down.”  We can’t put our faith in things we make.  They don’t last.

If we put our faith in our own comfort, we will be let down.  To live is to suffer, among other things.  We have a choice about how we see our suffering, though.  We can let it make us bitter and take away our hope.  We can repay others for the suffering they cause us, but then we don’t offer anything different than what the world offers.  We can look at the suffering of Jesus, who obviously didn’t get what he deserved, or pay back what others deserved.  Instead, he continued to do what he does, to share love, which is the only thing that lasts, the main thing that connects us, the only thing that matters, the only thing with ultimate power of healing and transformation.  God is love.  To love is the way we have to connect with God who we can’t see.

You are loved.  You are powerful.  You have love within you.  God is in you.  You are in Christ.  We are all one.  Go out empowered, seeking the one who is seeking you, and find new life, share new life, live new life.  Forevermore.