Sunday, April 16, 2017

There You Will See Christ

Resurrection of our Lord: Easter Day
Matthew 28:1-11

There was an earthquake, there was an angel descending from the sky like lightening, he was dazzling. It was terrifying. So terrifying that the guards become totally immobilized by fear.

But not these women… their wonder keeps them standing up.
Just imagine your early morning self, your grief-filled body, trying to take all this in… I would need these words, “Don’t you be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see for yourself. (It’s then that we figure out… the stone has been rolled away not to let Jesus out, but to let the witnesses in.[1])…

The angel continues, “Then go quickly and tell the other disciples, he has been raised from the dead. He’s going ahead of you, back to Galilee, back to home base… there you will see him.”
And then we have a little Bob Marley moment… “This is my message to you…”

So, they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell the other disciples…
I’m just imagining what they might have been thinking, what they might have said while they ran…  “Death was so overwhelming, we couldn’t hear what Jesus said!” “But now I remember… he did say this, didn’t he?” “The others will never believe us... will they?”

Along the way, as they ran, there was the risen Christ. “Greetings!”
You know the only other place that word is used in Matthew? It was how Judas greeted Jesus in the garden as he identified him as the One to the guards. So here, that word is transformed from utter grief to joy, although there must have been a swirl of emotions too complicated to figure out as they recognized him along the way.
Jesus tells them again, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee; there they will see me (like you see me right now).”

Stop being afraid, Jesus invites us—people who Jesus claims not only as disciples but as brothers and sisters, not just followers but family. No longer dependent on him, but those who will powerfully begin to share the message of God with others through their own stories and through their own lives.

Jesus is alive and present with us. Whatever the circumstances of our life, of community and global events, why should we fall prey to fear? God has defeated death, death has no power over us. In the presence of Jesus, along the way of life, why should we leave room for anything except worship and overwhelming joy?

Except we know, we do have lots of fear.  Just like Jesus’ disciples who were so afraid when Jesus talked about his death that they couldn’t even hear the words about resurrection, let alone remember them…

I imagine Jesus was afraid, too, as he prayed in a garden before his death that maybe it didn’t have to be this way, as he experienced people turning against him, as he felt physical violence, as he hung on a cross. Jesus was afraid, I imagine, because he was a real person.

But somehow, he trusted more than he was afraid. We are afraid…
For us, too, death and fear are so overwhelming, we can’t always sense God’s presence. Within us, there are parts of us that are dead... but God’s invitation is to trust in God more than we trust in death. Trust in God more than we trust in death.

I think that’s really possible but what it might take is imagining together… how we may see Christ in all kinds of ways that look like those first resurrection appearances…

We might see the risen Christ along the road, saying, “Greetings!”
We might see our beloved teacher and mistake him as the gardener, with dirt under his fingernails, pulling weeds in the green spaces where we go to weep…
Maybe we’ll see Christ in the places we’re hiding, with the doors locked… and Christ will walk right in and point out that he has scars, too… we’re not alone in that… but scars can heal and help us tell the stories of what we’ve survived, of where we’ve been resurrected.
Or maybe we’ll meet Jesus at the beach, over an open fire and a newly caught batch of fresh fish…
Or maybe, when we sit down for Easter meal across the table from another, maybe there in that person’s face, we’ll recognize Christ.

What does it take to be awake to these possibilities? “Like a shoot growing in the morning sun, you awake not by your plans or power, but by God’s Spirit.”[2]
So really, that’s my prayer on this Easter morning—that as the risen Christ shows up outside of these walls, at your tables, in your daily life, through your tears, in the week to come, that you, (that we) might be able to recognize Christ present. That we might be able to stand in wonder like those women at the tomb, and then go forward with awe and great joy ready to meet Christ, ready to be Christ in a world that deeply needs a taste of resurrection joy.

Risen– a blessing for Easter Day by Jan Richardson[3]

Alleluia, Christ has risen. Christ has risen indeed, Alleluia!

[1] Judith Jones, Commentary on Matthew 28, April 16, 2017,
[2] Jennifer Baker-Trinity, Free Indeed: Devotions for Lent, page 85.
[3] Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons by Jan Richardson, pages 151-153.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

For You

In the Hebrew calendar, the new day begins as the sun sets, as we prepare for rest. In this way, God’s people remember that the first thing we do each day is sleep—put ourselves in God’s hands to be powerless, dependent, vulnerable, and hopefully renewed, refreshed, and readied for the work of the day to come.

On Saturday, God rested. That’s part of the story of creation. After all the events of Maundy Thursday (footwashing, the Last Supper, the garden of Gethsemane, the arrest) and Friday (trial and crucifixion, death and burial), beginning at sundown and throughout Saturday, it was quiet. But I imagine that like us, they remembered.

Maybe they remembered how Jesus taught them again the stories they knew so well—stories of Creation and God’s saving power, the story of the Exodus, the stories of prophets who saw God breathe life into the dead and who escaped even a fiery furnace unharmed. They remembered because in the face of terrible things, it’s easy to forget. Then and now, it’s easy to forget. When we are deep in grief, it’s easy to forget.

Along the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion were deep in grief when a stranger joined them and asked them why they were sad. “Are you the only stranger around here that doesn’t know what happened yesterday?” And then Jesus (the stranger walking with them) began to tell the story all over again. They were so interested, they invited Jesus into their home, and then, when he broke the bread, they recognized him. In the broken bread, there was the risen Christ. We’re reminded of the same thing in the bread we share—that here in the broken gifts we share, the risen Christ is present.

I read this week, “It is terrible how much has been forgotten, which is why, I suppose, remembering is a holy thing.”[1] When we come to the table, we remember more than a night when Jesus shared a supper and then went to his death. We remember God’s history of remembering us. In Jesus, we are re-membered: our broken stories, our broken selves are reassembled into the One who holds us and sees us as so much more whole and holy than we do.

That’s why on this night, we gather around Eric who has been baptized. In grace-filled water and God’s word, you have received a “bath of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.” Baptism reminds us that daily, we die and are raised, we repent and are forgiven, we fail and we begin again.

That’s why on this night, we share Holy Communion, so that we can hear the words, “Given for you,” and know the risen Christ is present, offering new life in God to everyone gathered.

Luther often used the word treasure when describing Holy Communion. Like a hidden treasure, this gift comes to us whether we know about it or seek it. “How we feel about Jesus or how close we feel to God is meaningless next to how God acts upon us. How God [actually] enters into our messy lives and loves us through them, whether we want God’s help or not.”[2]

If we had to have a certain level of faith before receiving, we’d never come. If we had to make sure everything in us was correct before our relationships could begin, we’d be alone in life. Instead, in our doubts, we ask God to awaken faith.[3] We come to the table in faith… but we also receive faith by coming to the table, in hearing those words, “for you.”

We hope for the risen Christ to walk with us as Christ walked with weary travelers on the road to Emmaus… and to be somehow ignited to recognize Jesus here with us, here, now… as we hear God’s words and share a meal… just like they did.

And then, if Jesus disappears from our sight (because we can never pin God down, can we?), instead of going back to a state of hopelessness… maybe instead we can practice hopeful remembering.

As we leave, maybe we’ll think back on tonight… remember how our hearts were burning within us? Remember how we tasted something new in the breaking of the bread? God’s beloved was really here, is really here, among us. And that is such good news as we enter evening and go to our rest.

As we come to the table tonight, we remember the beginning and the end of the story. From creation, God is with us. God offers water poured over us in love. God offers a meal where there is always something “for you.” God offers resurrection and new life. Alleluia!

Let us pray,
In those words we hear with the bread, with the cup, in the words “for you,” let us hear your love outpoured, your love changing everything. Amen.[4]

[1] Anita Diamant, The Red Tent, quoted in Free Indeed: Devotions for Lent 2017, p. 76-77.
[2] Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix as quoted in Free Indeed: Devotions for Lent, page 82.
[3] Jennifer Baker-Trinity, Free Indeed: Devotions for Lent, page 83.
[4] Jennifer Baker-Trinity, Free Indeed: Devotions for Lent, page 79.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday Blues

Sometimes, things are very sad.
Sometimes, things are very unfair.
Sometimes, things are very wrong.
That is a main reason people started singing the blues.[1]
I wonder what makes you sad?  I wonder what you think is unfair? I wonder what you think is wrong?
But the blues were not just about sadness, they were also about the difference between knowing something and living it.
"Everybody wanna sing my blues, nobody wanna live my blues."  ~~ Langston Hughes
        Sounds of Blackness – "Living the Blues" 

There are some places in our world right now where people, even children, are suffering in terrible ways. Here is one picture of that, painted by an artist.
On Good Friday, we remember how Jesus—God with us—suffered in terrible ways.
So, we know as we remember and get to know Jesus that Jesus knows suffering and that God is with us, even when things are very sad, unfair, and wrong.

We also heard the kinds of things Jesus said while he was suffering.
Jesus prayed a Psalm where he said honestly how it felt—it felt like God wasn’t there. (So Jesus knows how it feels if we can’t tell where God is…)
Jesus said that he forgave people that hated him. (So, we are challenged to forgive because God’s love is more powerful than hate).
Jesus, in the middle of his own suffering and dying, created a new family. He wanted to make sure that his mother had a son and that his beloved disciple had a mother, so he asked them to see one another as family from now on.

These same things that Jesus did on the cross, Jesus does for us.
Jesus prays honestly with us and invites us to be our real selves when we pray.
Jesus forgives and helps us be open-hearted toward others, even enemies.
Jesus creates new family, so that we can know we are never without help.

In the face of terrible things, Jesus showed vulnerability, courage, and love.
That is why this day is not just a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day… because of what Jesus did while he was dying. Jesus showed us a new way to live in the face of death, and that is why thousands of years later, we call this day Good Friday… and we will pray for everyone and the whole creation, so that God can keep transforming everyone and everything from ways of death to ways of life.

[1] Early blues frequently took the form of a loose narrative. African-American singers voiced his or her "personal woes in a world of harsh reality: a lost love, the cruelty of police officers, oppression at the hands of white folk, [and] hard times," from, accessed 4/11/2017.
[2] The art above is called I am alive by Abdalla Omari, a Syrian painter and filmmaker.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Actions and words

Actions speak louder than words. It’s something we say, and it’s also something we’ve experienced… when someone’s words just sort of float over us, and we go somewhere else in our imagination.

But tonight, worship is centered around action. If you have ever had the opportunity to join with Jewish neighbors in a Passover Seder, you have tasted this. Each action has a meaning. Each food we eat has a memory. The matzah (unleavened bread), maror (bitter herbs) and charoset (an apple chutney paste reminding us of the mud used to make bricks)… each one tells a part of the shared story of moving from slavery to freedom. We learn—through the questions we ask and the songs we sing. So, in keeping with the Passover roots of this night, as Jesus shared supper with disciples, this is a night when we tell the story mostly through action.         

We practice confession and forgiveness—the words, yes, but also a time to come forward and kneel and have someone’s hands rest gently on us and someone’s voice speak “You are forgiven.” The weight is lifted. And then, like Jesus did for disciples, we wash each other’s feet… or hands… taking time to pour water over and dry with a towel, so we can feel the blessing of someone else ministering to us. And in giving and receiving in that tender way, we are startled by the way it meets a need we didn’t even know we had.[1]

And then, we share a meal—not so different than the meal some of us shared downstairs, where everyone can come and get a little something to eat. This communion meal is ordinary in a way—we share it every Sunday. But in another way, this meal is different because Jesus says to disciples (and to us) that somehow, God is present in this bread and cup in ways that change us. Now, we can never look at bread again in the same way, ever since Jesus pointed out that God is present in the bread. Now, we can never look at the cup in the same way, since Jesus said “I will never drink it again until I drink it with you.”

Jesus is present here and not only says, “This is my body, this is my blood,” but says “You are my body.” And with that action mixed with these words, we see Jesus differently. We see ourselves differently. We see others differently.

Finally, there is the action of stripping the altar. In one way, it’s a reminder of all that is horrifying about this story. On this night, Jesus was betrayed by some of those who loved him best. They ate supper together and then they went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray… but only Jesus could stay awake to pour out his heart to God. His closest friends were so weary that they fell asleep at the moment when Jesus really needed them. They weren’t able to pay attention, but we are trained now to be alert. Sometimes we are. We watch carefully this night and think about Gethsemanes behind us and ahead.[2]

And later, disciples were so afraid that they resorted to violence and then, they scattered in terror… denying they even knew Jesus. Tonight, the story goes… Jesus was arrested, had an unfair trial, and was beaten. Tonight, he waited for the morning when his sentence—public execution—would be carried out over many hours. That is the story of Jesus being stripped of his clothes, his followers, his friends, and his dignity… but that is not all of the story.

Another part of the story, another reason why we move through this action on this night is because of the way that in this part of the action, all distractions are stripped away. Martin Luther had a word for all that might distract us from the main action of God and it is adiaphora.

We don’t look to the cross because it is gory, because it’s horrifying. We look to Jesus on the cross because it’s there that all the adiaphora (all the unimportant things) are cleared away and we know more deeply what is most essential in death and in life.

All the beautiful things in our lives and spaces can also become too important, all the treasures that we use to adorn our worship space. We remove everything, everything becomes simple, stripped down, to help us look only to Jesus’ body—to watch, to witness, to accompany him all the way to the cross, and somehow in that mystery, to learn how to become the body that Jesus says we already are.

And so for tonight, along with our actions, words of blessing from Jan Richardson.[3]

Blessing the Bread, the Cup

Let us bless the bread, that gives itself to us, with its terrible weight, its infinite grace.
Let us bless the cup, poured out for us, with a love, that makes us anew.
Let us gather, around these gifts, simply given, and deeply blessed.
And then let us go, bearing the bread, carrying the cup, laying the table, within a hungering world.

Blessing for Staying Awake

Even in slumber
even in dreaming
even in sorrow
even in pain:

awake, awake
awake my soul
to the One
who keeps vigil
at all times for you.

[1] Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace, page 132.
[2] These three sentences are amended quotes from Martin Marty’s Places Along the Way, page 49.
[3] Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons, pages 133-134.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Alive again

Lent 5 – The Valley of the Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37) and Lazarus (John 11) 

Okay, kids, this first invitation is for you! Today, we’re not gathering in front right now because I’m going to invite you to come up for Forrest’s baptism in a few minutes, but for right now, I want you to very carefully (you can get help from an adult if you need it), carefully stand up in your seat, right where you are… and then... Wave your arms around, and yell at the top of your voice, “Hey, we’re alive! Hey, I’m alive! Hey, we’re alive!”

Before we settle in to explore God’s word, I thought that might be helpful—to remind us of what’s truest about our shared story right now. By the grace of God, we’re alive.

One or two of you daily remind yourself and others of this reality, I read your messages on Facebook. You’re the people who are saying things like this each day, “I thank God that I woke up this morning.” “God allowed me to see another day, and I’m grateful…”

All of this is so important to hear and remember out loud because here’s another part of our story that also may be true… and can suck us down into the abyss.

We are sick. We are tired. We are tired of being sick and tired. In fact, for too many of us, something in us is dead… our bones drying up in the wilderness. We are grieving. We are frustrated. “Jesus,” we’re ready to say with Martha and Mary, “You are too late. If you had been here, our loved one wouldn’t have died. But as it is, he’s dead… four-days dead. In the tomb with the stone rolled in front of the door, to keep out the stinky smell of death.” That’s how dead Lazarus was and that’s how dead we sometimes think we are… really dead. In Ezekiel’s time, that’s how the whole people of Israel felt.

But what was it that we heard months ago when Micah was baptized? “If you feel like you’re at the worst place in your story… then you can know, that’s not the end of the story.”[1] God creates from nothing. God brings life from death. There’s no place that’s abandoned by God and there’s no person that’s abandoned by God. Death looks like the end of the story to us, but it is never the end to God.

This is one reason we practice baptism, as we get to practice today… Forrest Wild Devine—two years old—gets to come to this beautiful bowl of water with his family and some of you, children, will gather up in front so you can have a front row seat, too. And here, we’ll say “No” to all the forces in the world that make us think God is too late. We’ll say “no” to whatever makes us doubt that God is full of love. We’ll say “no” to whatever makes us think God is full of judgment rather than ready to welcome us with open arms.

Then, we’ll say “yes” to some things about God that are mysterious and amazing—God created and is creating everything that is wild (Forrest’s middle name!) and beautiful and good. God befriends and does life-saving work with ordinary people… we saw it in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and that’s not the only time we’ve seen the resurrection of the body. We saw it back in Ezekiel, too… “bones of people long dead, taking on a new layer of flesh and being ready to receive the breath of God again. With Ezekiel, we [watch] the rising, dancing bones and remember that our God brings life out of death, and that God’s own breath can animate whatever next-to-nothing we bring.”[2]

God keeps breathing life-giving breath into people, inspiring them to forgive and welcome and offer mercy to each other. When we see that, we get a glimpse of heaven—that life with God and beloved ones that begins in part now and will never end.

This week, in the daily devotions called God Pause that Luther Seminary will send right into your email, New Testament professor Cameron Howard has been writing reflections on each of these Bible stories we’ve heard this Sunday. Here’s what she said on Thursday about Jesus’ conversation with Martha, when Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and then asked her, “Do you believe me?”

Cameron writes, “When I read this passage, the question startles me, and I pause to consider my own answer. Do I believe that everyone who lives and believes in Jesus will never die?  [This sends me to the words from another story[3] where the person says] “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” “Like most of us, I live every day somewhere along the spectrum between belief and unbelief. Some days I am completely confident in God’s resurrection power. On other days I am less sure, and I need more help with my unbelief. On those hard days, I am grateful for the witness of the saints who have come before us, for my worshiping community that holds me up, and for the grace of new mercies each morning.”[4]

In Forrest’s baptism, after the “nos” and the “yeses,” there will be water. We’ll remember how God uses water to bring life over and over again. We’ll even pour some water on Forrest’s head and maybe he’ll splash in it… because God uses water and the world to remind us that we don’t ever have to be afraid of death. For as long as we live and even after we die, God promises to be with us and holds us close (think of being hugged by the one person who you know—deep in your bones—loves you unconditionally…)

After the water part, we’ll anoint Forrest’s head with oil and say prayers for him and bless him, we’ll hand Taylor and Joshua (Forrest’s sponsors), the baptism candle that will be given to Forrest. A sign of the light of Christ that we are invited to be for each other. And finally, we will all say and sing, welcome… welcome to the family. Just as we’ve been adopted by God, we recognize that you are too. We are going believe all these promises with you (God help our unbelief!), so that as we all grow and change, and have times of deep pain and times of deep joy… we can walk through the valleys and climb the mountains and be in most ordinary times… together.

Did you notice that about Lazarus’ story? Martha and Mary couldn’t mourn by themselves. Jesus didn’t raise their brother to new life in private. Lazarus couldn’t take the grave cloths off himself. Jesus asked others to “unbind him and let him go.” Death wasn’t defeated completely this day, but those that witnessed this incredible miracle were invited to be fearless in setting others free. That’s what we practice each time we gather for baptism—an opportunity to know how God sets us free to live, and breathe in the living breath of God, and stand and dance and bless again… as if for the very first time.

[1] Paraphrase of words preached by Larry Wohlrabe, ELCA Bishop and grandfather of Micah.

[2] Cameron Howard, God Pause, 3/27/2017,

[3] Mark 9:24 and also used by Martin Luther

[4] Cameron Howard, God Pause, 3/30/2017,