Moderation in all Things?

2 Corinthians 5:6-17 I just got back from a week of backpacking with Wilderness Trail – an experience that always teaches me things.  I learn things about creation, like:  you can use the bark of a birch tree as kindling to start a fire.  I learn things about God, like:  that “peace that passes understanding” is a real thing, evidenced by feeling strangely peaceful while your stuff is getting soaked in a rainstorm.  And I learn things about myself, like: I’m too attached to my phone. This hit me on the first day.  We got to our first intersection, which meant we’d stand around for just a few moments getting out water bottles and waiting on each other.  Recognizing that 60 seconds of lag time, I began to move my arm toward my back right pocket. In the middle of the wilderness, I was reaching for my non-existent phone. I made that ridiculous, almost-unconscious move for my phone a couple times on the first day.  But after that the backpacking experience worked its magic.  My mind let go of my cell phone (and everything else) and thought mostly about the uphill climb or the wonder of fireflies or how good mac-n-cheese can taste when you’re really hungry.  I laughed and struggled and reflected with the amazing youth and adults in our group.  For the better part of a week, I was mostly uncomfortable but also mostly peaceful and content. On Friday morning we loaded up our van and headed back into civilization.  My phone sprung back to life as we returned to cell service.  Little red dots told me...

Sacred Heart of Jesus

Matthew 22:37-40 I really like Jesus – you may already know that about me.  What you might not know is that I also really like art; I went to a high school where you had something like majors, and art was mine.  A few years ago I came across something that merged these two loves of mine.  It’s a Catholic tradition called the “Sacred Heart of Jesus.” Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pompeo Batoni, 1767Given that I have some training in both Christianity and art, naturally I had a very profound first impression to this particular genre of artwork: “EW!” The Sacred Heart of Jesus can’t be traced back to a clear starting point.  There was Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 1600s, who saw Jesus and heard him speak:  “Behold the Heart that has so loved men. …Instead of gratitude I receive from the greater part (of humankind) only ingratitude.”  There was Saint Bonaventure in the 1200s who wrote, “Who is there who would not love this wounded heart? Who would not love in return Him, who loves so much?”  And long before that, there was a Christ who died on the cross as a perfect sacrifice; the one who was pierced in his side (all the way to the heart?); the one who loved us enough to give his whole life for us. Out of all that comes the Sacred Heart of Jesus – and its corresponding artwork. The Sacred Heart of Jesus, Josef Mehoffer, 1911But it’s strange, right?  Most of these are not cartoonish, Valentine’s Day hearts.  They’re biological and bloody and graphic.  They have arteries that should...

A Minister’s Job

Over the past month or so we’ve been talking about how we are all ministers.  I hope you’re convinced by now, that you – every one of you – is included in that call. But – to do what?  What is a minister’s purpose? In today’s Scripture, Jesus explains that purpose.  Just before he leaves them for the very last time, he says: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8). Ministers witness to Jesus Christ.  They know something about Jesus and tell others about it.  They invite others to come and see for themselves.  This call to be Jesus’ witnesses is mandatory, and it is huge in scope.  There’s no corner of the world that God doesn’t care about.  God wants everyone to know about the grace and forgiveness and new life made possible through Jesus Christ. I don’t know about you – but that’s a completely overwhelming task.  It feels out of my league – like someone saying, “Cook a five-course gourmet meal,” or, “Paint a ceiling like the Sistine Chapel.”  Thankfully we don’t do this alone.  Remember?  We’re a part of the body of Christ.  We are all required to be witnesses, but we are all witnesses together. Today in church we got to hear from one group who takes this mandatory and huge commission seriously.  A local representative of Gideons International...

…with the Holy Spirit

Acts 2:36-42 Over the past few weeks we’ve talked about how we are called to be in ministry. All: We are *all* called – made worthy to serve through Jesus Christ. Differently: We are all made different to compliment each other, like a body made of different parts. Together: We are designed to work together, to be united. We are ALL called, as DIFFERENT as we are, to be in ministry TOGETHER. Once we understand that, it might take some prayer and thought to figure out exactly what we’re called to do.  We used three surveys to help with that, centered around three questions: What are you passionate about? What are you good at? What are your spiritual gifts? Once you’ve reflected on those questions, you may start to hear God’s call.  Maybe it’s to some logical next step:  “I’ve been thinking about volunteering with the youth for a long time.  I think it’s time to admit it.”  Or maybe it’s to some grand idea that scares you:  “I keep worrying about the drug problem, and I think God might be calling me to help provide an after-school middle-school program that supervises kids at a vulnerable age.”  Whether it’s a small thing or a gimongous thing, your next good question might be: How?  How can I answer this call?  How can we answer this call? Today gives you the answer.  You’ve heard it read in the Scripture.  You’ve seen it in the red clothes reminding us of the red flames.  You’ve felt it in the wind blowing.  It’s the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit that showed up on Pentecost...

All Together Differently

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). 7 times in 3 verses, the nature of our Christian faith is emphasized:  one, one, one, one, one, one, one.  Later in this passage, Ephesians builds on the body of Christ image by saying we are “joined and knit together.”  In the same way that muscles and nerves and tendons hold our bodies together, we are connected.  We are one. But we are also separate and different.  We look different and act different; we think differently and feel differently.  We speak different languages, literally and figuratively.  We are good at different things and bad at different things. We are one, but we are different. That’s a pretty tricky arrangement.  It means we compliment each other… but also get on each other’s nerves.  It means we can do more together than we could apart… but also that we might have very different opinions on what it is we should do. If you’re a part of a church, I bet you’ve felt this already.  You might have had a new idea discouraged (or even dismissed).  You might feel unsure about how you fit in (if at all).  You may find some folks difficult to get along with (let alone work with). Yep.  That’s real.  But you know what’s also real? One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God. So...
All Differently

All Differently

1 Corinthians 12:12-27 You are a part of the body of Christ. This might be Paul’s most famous image – and for good reason.  A good metaphor is one that’s universally relatable, and what’s more universally relatable than a body?  We’ve all got one.  We live in it.  We know what it’s like to need all our body parts.  We know that when one part of us isn’t feeling well, the whole of us suffers.  We are like that, Paul says.  We are the body of Christ. But this is more than just universally relatable – it’s universally applicable.  “We” means you if you’re a follower of Christ.  You are a part of the body of Christ, Paul says.  Period. Paul does not make this optional.  Feet can’t up and decide they’re not part of the body.  Ears can’t pull themselves off and go elsewhere.  They might stop doing their job well, but they’re always part of the body.  In fact, because they’re always part of the body, if they stop doing their jobs well then they’ll affect the whole.  That is how we work as Christians, Paul says.  You might decide you’re not going to participate… but you can’t decide to leave. This is a hard part of being a Christian, because sometimes being a part of this body is hard.  Sometimes we hurt each other’s feelings.  Sometimes we rub each other the wrong way.  Being a body together means we share each other’s successes and that we feel each other’s pains.  It’s so difficult that sometimes, we would rather go solo. This is exactly why I like...

All

1 Peter 2:1-10 You are invited to a holy priesthood.  You. Don’t feel like “priestly” material?  You’re not alone; it’s normal to feel a little below the standard.  Even we pastors have days when we feel more “ordinary” than “ordained.”  We are all human; we are all flawed; we are all sinful.  And yet… we are all invited into a holy priesthood. This open invitation started with an entire nation of people.  After God got Israel out of slavery in Egypt, God asked them to live differently for a purpose:  “you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Exod 19:6).  Imagine:  a whole kingdom of priests, ministering to the world! But the Israelites weren’t perfect priests; they weren’t loyal to God’s covenant and laws.  If we had been in their shoes the end result would have been the same, because we aren’t perfect, either.  God didn’t give up, though.  Christ ushered in a “new covenant.”  Christ’s work created a holy people to minister to the world.  That’s why we’re called to be “like living stones… built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). You are invited to a holy priesthood.  You; all of you.  And it’s not because of how good you are (or aren’t).  It’s because of how good Jesus was and is. It works like this. Imagine a lineup of people, from “worst” to “best.”  You can imagine whoever you want; I’ll get us started with some extremes.  At the “worst” end you might have someone like Hitler. ...

How One Woman Was Changed

John 4:7-29 This is the story of how one woman was changed. It doesn’t start as you might think.  This woman hadn’t gone off looking to be changed.  She wasn’t on a soul-searching journey; she was right where she always was, going through the motions of her daily routine in her Samaritan town. And then came Jesus. Jesus was on his way from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north.  John tells us that he “had to” go through Samaria (John 4:4), and sure enough, a direct line on a map cuts straight through that territory.  But – there was another road that went around Samaria, a more popular route worn down by Jews who so disliked the people who lived there, they’d rather walk all the way around it. Boring and Craddock give us a little background to explain why: “Jews thought of Samaritans as the semipagan people of mixed blood who had been resettled by the Assyrians after the conquest and deportation of the northern kingdom… Samaritans thought of themselves as the true descendants of Israel, who had preserved the ancient ways and had their own temple on Mt. Gerazim” (The People’s New Testament Commentary, 217). In other words, the bad blood between Jews and Samaritans was racial and religious in nature.  It doesn’t get much badder than that. But Jesus “had” to go there.  He went right into Samaria… and into a town called Sychar… and to a well that was first owned by the man that God nicknamed “Israel.”  There he sat. Eventually, a woman came along who needed some water.  A Samaritan...

Grief and Joy

John 20:11-18 Mary Magdalene is standing just outside the tomb, crying.  Two angels are sitting in the tomb.  They look out, and see her, and ask a question that has often frustrated me: “Why are you crying?” I remember the first time I got asked that.  I wasn’t quite a teenager yet, but almost.  I was standing just outside my parents’ master bathroom, crying.  Uncontrollably.  My mom was rightfully mystified by the behavior of her oldest child.  “Mary Catherine, why are you crying?” she asked. I didn’t know.  I still don’t know.  I have no idea. As an adult I still haven’t gained a complete understanding of my tears.  When I cry at movies like Dead Poets Society or My Girl, that makes sense – any human being with half a stone-cold heart would have their tears jerked at those tear-jerkers.  But why did I cry at the end of Emoji Movie?  Why?? I don’t know.  Please don’t ask me. But sometimes… we do know.  Sometimes, the cry has been long in coming.  Mary Magdalene explains herself to the angels:  “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him.”  That’s the presenting issue, at least.  Underneath that tip of the iceberg is this terrible fact:  Jesus is dead. I wonder if this is the first time Mary has cried over Jesus’ death.  When Mary arrives at the tomb in John 20:1, no tears are reported.  But now the tomb is empty, and maybe that is the last emotional straw.  Not only is Jesus dead – his body is desecrated.  He was...

Don’t Be Amazed?

Mark 16:1-8 It’s Easter Sunday! He is risen!  The tomb is empty!  Jesus is alive! There was a special energy in our sanctuary this morning.  I could see it in the maximum capacity crowd, dressed to the nine’s in their Easter best.  I could hear it when we sang “Christ the Lord is risen today!” and it was so loud, it overtook the thunderous organ.  I could feel it in the love in the room, I could smell it in the Easter lilies…  I could even taste it in the candy I ate before breakfast!  (Did I mention that I fasted from sweets during Lent?) It’s Easter Sunday!  He is risen!  This is amazing! And here is how today’s gospel tells us we should feel on this very special day: “Do not be amazed.”   Mark tells us that Mary and Mary Magdalene and Salome are first to the tomb.  They go intending to anoint Jesus’ dead body, a sad but important job.  It would have been done on Friday, when Jesus died, except for the Sabbath laws that came into effect at sunset.  So here they are, faced with the task of opening the tomb and dealing with the dead body of their son, their friend, their Messiah.   Opening the tomb is most definitely a task.  They aren’t even quite sure how they’ll manage it – the stone is really big.  But – lo and behold – when they get there, they find the stone rolled aside.  The tomb is already open and waiting for them.  How strange. The women look in.  Instead of a dead body...