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Sunday, May 14, 2017

At Home

The Triune God invites all into God’s life, where we are at home, and creates in us, together, a house of living stones where God lives and where all are welcome.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Fifth Sunday of Easter, year A
   Texts: John 14:1-14 (starting early, at 13:36); 1 Peter 2:2-10; Acts 7:55-60

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.”

What a precious gift at a horrible moment. Jesus just told Peter the worst thing he could, that he will fail Jesus terribly that night.

The disciples had their feet washed. They heard the command to love. They didn’t know what was ahead that night, or tomorrow, that incomprehensible Friday. But something was wrong.

Peter’s exuberant “I will lay down my life for you” is crushed by Jesus’ prediction of his betrayal. Imagine the stricken, horrified look on Peter’s face.

But Jesus immediately comforts him, maybe touches his hand. He looks at Peter and the others, equally afraid and shocked, and says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.”

In their worst hour so far, Jesus tells them they will all, Peter included, always have a home with God. They all belong. They are beloved. “So do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says to them. “Believe in God. Believe also in me.”

This home Jesus promises gives us great hope, too.

In death we cling to the promise that Christ will take us to God’s home, where rooms are prepared. But Jesus is also talking about here and now, a present reality transformed by that future promise. These disciples can’t focus on life after death this night. But they can hear that they belong now, they are at home with God.

Home anchors our existence. To have a place where we belong, can be ourselves, where we are sheltered and fed. Where we can sit on the porch with loved ones, and have fellowship. Jesus is that home for these disciples. But in these next chapters he describes home with God as their continued reality, even with him leaving.

And it’s our home, too. Our way, truth, and life, that we are never alone, we always belong in God’s love, home with God. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says to us. “Believe in God. Believe also in me.”

It’s a wonderful promise. But how can we know this is true? 

Philip’s question is ours, too.

“If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father,” Jesus answers. “If you know me, you know God. That’s how you know this is true,” he says. “God took a home in your flesh, and that is me.”

In these words, and the words about the Spirit that immediately follow today’s reading, Jesus unfolds the mystery of the Trinity. The relationship, the oneness he has with the One he calls Father, the Spirit who comes from both of them. This is mystery beyond telling, but in Jesus we see the face of God. The love Jesus lives, dies in, and rises with, is the love of God. The words Jesus says are the words of God.

So we can trust when Jesus says we have a home with God. Jesus is the face of the Trinity to us, and shows that God is love for us. “Trust me,” Jesus says. “Trust me. You belong. You’re at home. So do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.”

But what if we mess up?

We know ourselves. We know we fail. We know we don’t always love. We know we’ve done many things that hurt others, that hurt God. What if we really do badly? Are we still welcome today in God’s dwelling?

Well, can we mess up worse than Peter? Peter, the trusted lieutenant, who cursed and swore three times that he didn’t even know his Lord? Will we run away like the other cowards? Betray like Judas?

Maybe. But fully knowing what Peter was about to do, what the others would do, Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me. I’m going to prepare a place for you in my Father’s house.”

I don’t know. Maybe you can imagine such grievous sin you’ve done or will do that could exclude you. But you have only one answer to end your fear forever: the face of Jesus looking concernedly at you and saying, “Don’t be afraid. You will always be loved.” Saying, “do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.”

Because we have a home with God now, where our hearts are at peace, surrounded by God’s love, and because we have the promise of a home with God after we die, we’re safe.

Safe in God now. Safe in the promise to come.

So we can be bold in our following. Like Peter. Three times denying his Lord, Peter was found by Christ’s risen love, and went on to boldly stand before authorities and refuse to stop preaching and teaching.

Because we are safe in God, we can be bold like Stephen. His ministry was to care for the widows and the poor that were neglected. He also preached, and that got him killed. He preached Jesus and the resurrection boldly, because he knew he was always home. When he died, like his beloved Jesus, he commended his spirit home to God, and offered forgiveness to his killers.

Because we are always safe in God, we can be bold, like Stephen, and help all who are in need. For example, those who not only struggle to know a home with God, but have no physical home in which to live. No roof over their heads, no porch to sit with family, no place to sleep. And we can be bold and help those who have lost not only their homes but their land, refugees driven out by climate change and unjust government, millions who wander, looking for someone to welcome them in. Safe in our spiritual home in God, we are free to be bold witnesses to God’s love by working with others to make literal homes for those who lack them. We are free to be Christ.

Paul once said our bodies are God’s temples, each of us bears God in the world. Peter in his letter today imagines something more communal.

As we’re joined together in our community, we’re linked like mortared stones, and together we are God’s living house.

And Peter says, as this living house of God made of living stones, we proclaim God’s love, the mighty deeds of the One who called us out of darkness into light. We become, like God, a home that opens to the world and invites people in. So they, too, can meet God. So they, too, can be surrounded and fed by God’s love. So they, too, know their home in the life of God now and forever.

Do not let your hearts be troubled, Christ says. The One who died and now is risen says, “Now do you believe in God? Now do you believe in me?” he says. “You are at home. And you are God’s home, God’s welcoming embrace to the world. Be that, so all may find their home, at last.”

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Our Walk to Emmaus

Every Sunday is our Emmaus journey with each other and with Christ, and the shape of our greater journey of faith with each other and the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Third Sunday of Easter, year A
   Text: Luke 24:13-35

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Every Sunday we walk the road to Emmaus together.

That’s the mystery and joy of this beautiful story. Everything that happens at Eucharist happens here. In this familiar telling of a journey, a conversation, an invitation, a meal, and more journey, we discover the gift the Church has given us.

The worship life of the early Church grew out of their Jewish experience of worship, so it’s not likely the believers intentionally patterned their worship after this story. But the shape of Christian worship that we continue to this day, a shape we see already in the book of Acts, happens to be the exact shape of this late afternoon seven-mile walk and its aftermath.

This is a grace that transforms our lives. In the Eucharist, our weekly Emmaus journey, we find all we need for life and hope in our own daily journey of faith. Our eyes are opened, Christ is in our midst, our world is changed.

So each week we come together, we meet on the road.

These two disciples didn’t walk alone. They were probably married. But no one ever comes to faith by themselves. Faith is always a shared invitation to a communal life.

And so we gather each week. We need each other on our faith journey. Whatever our personal situations, when we come here we will always, always, be met by family, beloved sisters and brothers, even those who are here for the first time. For many of us, this might be a main reason we come.

This community that gathers each week is as important as a sacrament. It might be a sacrament. When Luther wrote of the sure and certain ways we receive God’s grace, he named Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, confession and absolution, the preaching of God’s Word. What we know and cherish as the means of God’s grace.

But then he added, “and – and! – the mutual conversation and consolation of the brothers and sisters.” This gathering. This meeting on our road in the midst of fear and doubt and confusion about the world, where we huddle together and greet each other in Christ. Where we walk, every Sunday, together, and share all our joys and sorrows, faith and doubt, fear and hope. This community that walks together is a means of God’s grace.

After we gather, we listen as God speaks.

As these two walked along, Jesus taught them, opened up the Scriptures, helped them see what God was doing. They began walking in doubt and fear. They had hoped Jesus brought healing from God for their people, and then he was killed. As they listened, they found life.

We might not face Good Friday every week, but when we gather, we bring the things we are struggling with. Things that frighten us, things that cause our hope to falter, things we don’t understand.

And together, we listen to God’s Word. Like them, we have Christ’s teachings. Like them, we seek to understand the word of the Hebrew scriptures for us. But we get a little more: we also hear the teachings of the apostles. And as we listen, we find life, too.

God’s Word always speaks God’s grace and life into our lives and into the world, and sets our hearts afire. All that we fear, all that confuses, all that brings doubt, all of that God speaks to.

On the road together here, we listen for this life and hope, and expect our hearts to be set ablaze. That’s what happens when Christ walks with us and teaches us.

After listening, then they prayed: “Stay with us.” So do we.

In Eucharist, after hearing God speak, we invite God into our lives and into the world. We pray. We pray that God come into our hearts and change us, keep the fire of the Spirit blazing. We pray that we can hear more of God’s Word, know more of God’s hope, as these two also did. We know that it often feels like evening, like the darkness is overpowering, and we invite God to stay with us in the dark and be our light.

And we lift others up in prayer every week, too, because Christ has opened our hearts. We can’t only think of our own needs anymore; Christ’s love has so changed us we feel a irresistible pull to ask the Triune God to stay with others, too. To bless and keep them. Heal them, strengthen them, hold them. To change our hearts and the world’s hearts, so light shines in the darkness that surrounds us all.

Our prayer to God to stay with us and the world is what makes sense of our journey. Walking together, hearing God’s Word leads inevitably to this plea: “Stay with us. Be with us and this world.”

And Christ stays, shares a meal, and opens their eyes. Opens our eyes.

The culmination of this whole story for this couple from Emmaus is that Christ does come into their home, and sit down with them. But he takes over as host. Christ lifts up the bread, blesses it, breaks it, gives it to them. And then they see him. Then they know him.

And this is the culmination of our weekly Emmaus journey, too, the center of our life. Having invited the Triune God to stay with us, in Christ God takes over. Christ welcomes us to this table, blesses bread, breaks it, and gives it to us.

And we see Christ in the breaking of the bread. We see all the love God has that led to the cross, and the astonishing resurrection life that comes from the Triune God’s self-emptying love. Here we find life. Here we are forgiven. Here we are healed. And our eyes are opened, and we see what God is doing in Christ for us and for the world.

Then we go out and tell others. That’s always the end of the Gospel story, isn’t it? It’s never for us alone.

Look at this couple. It’s evening, they’ve had supper, they’re home. Yet when they recognize Christ, they get up and in the dark of night head the seven miles back to Jerusalem. They find the other women and men gathered and tell their story, and hear more. They can’t experience Christ only for themselves. They need to share.

And so for us, the end of the story is never this meal with Christ. The meal only begins the rest of the story. There’s always “Go in peace, share the Good News!” Get up and run to Jerusalem so the others can know you’ve seen the risen Christ. Get out on the road again and start walking with others. There’s always someone we need to share this good news with, always someone who hasn’t heard.

This is the transforming grace for us: Everything we experience here is a gift for the journey of faith we make every day, the road to Emmaus that is our whole life.

Here we learn to walk together in our life, keep sisters and brothers close. Here we learn to listen to God’s Word in our daily journey, and pay attention when our hearts catch fire. Here we learn to ask God to stay with us and the world every day, to walk with us, come into our homes so we are not alone. Here we learn that God in Christ feeds us and is known to us in rich and abundant blessings every day.

And here we learn that there’s always the last part to do: tell others what has happened to us on the road, and how Christ has been made known to us. So Christ’s life spreads to the whole world. And all have companions on their journey, and the blessing of God’s life in Christ along their way.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Jesus Came

When we feel like we’ve missed Easter, are still confused, afraid, doubting, Easter comes to us: Christ calls us by name, gives us peace, loves us out of doubt. And sends us out to do the same.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Second Sunday of Easter, year A
   Texts: John 20:19-31 (also added 1-18 from Easter, for obvious reasons to the sermon; also referred to John 21 a bit)

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Mary Magdalene missed Easter. The tomb was open when she got there.

Her confusion and despair at Jesus’ death led her to the tomb. When you don’t understand, when your overwhelming feelings shut you down, you can act automatically. Someone she loved died, so she went to the tomb. She brought spices and hoped someone could open it.

Her confusion and despair only deepened at the ominous emptiness she found: an open tomb, Jesus gone. She reported this to the others, came back, and then just stood there confused, alone, sad. She had no idea what to do next.

Then she heard her name. The voice of her beloved friend and teacher said, “Mary.” Jesus came to her. And then she knew Easter. Then she knew resurrection life.

The other disciples missed Easter, too. Some didn’t come. Others came, and left.

Apart from the women, the rest of the disciples were locked away in fear. Fear that, since Jesus was dead, they had nothing to live for. Fear they might be next. Fear of facing a world without hope. Peter and John heard Mary’s frightening news about the open tomb, ran to it, looked in. Then they went back and locked the door again.

But Jesus didn’t forget them. Jesus came to them where they were, locked away, and breathed peace on all of them, men and women. Then they all knew Easter. Then they knew resurrection life.

Thomas really missed Easter.

He wasn’t at the tomb Sunday morning or the Upper Room Sunday night. He missed it all. When he came, his doubts were legitimate. He wasn’t going to raise his hopes just because the others thought they saw Jesus. He couldn’t base his belief on them. His hopes in Jesus had been so crushed, he really couldn’t risk hoping again without proof. Something he could touch and see and know himself.

So Jesus came for Thomas, too. Jesus knew Thomas had missed Easter, and came to him. He didn’t judge; he knew some need to see for themselves to believe. He took Thomas’ hand and drew it to his side saying, “touch me, Thomas. Know for yourself.” And then Thomas knew Easter, too. Then he knew resurrection life.

What do you do if you miss Easter and you’re confused beyond your ability to sort it out?

You’ve heard about Christ’s death and resurrection your whole life, but what if it doesn’t help you understand your loneliness, your pain, your sadness? What if you live day by day, just going through the motions, doing life but not living life?

Listen. Can you hear what Mary heard? In your confusion and sadness, Jesus comes to you and says your name. Your name. In your baptism your name was imprinted on God’s heart. You are known, beloved, God’s dear child, wet with the font’s water, and Christ calls your name.

This is what resurrection life means in your life. You don’t have to understand everything, just that you are known to God by name, and loved by the Risen One.

This is what Easter means to you today and tomorrow.

What do you do if you miss Easter and you are so afraid you’re locking yourself away?

You fear being hurt, so you lock your heart away from others. You fear threats that fill this world, so you hide behind your garage doors and your locked front door, and don’t engage. You fear the sacrifices it might take to follow Christ, so you lock away your mind and imagination so you can’t think about it. You have no idea what can Easter do to change this.

Look. Do you see? Jesus comes through all your locks and breathes God’s Spirit of peace into you. You are filled with God’s love and forgiveness, and that takes away your fear. There is no place you can lock yourself away that Christ can’t come in and say, “Peace be with you.”

This is what resurrection life means in your life. The Spirit is breathed into you, and you don’t need to be afraid, or lock yourself away again. You can risk love, risk witness, risk reaching out. Risk life.

This is what Easter means to you today and tomorrow.

What do you do if you miss Easter and your doubts feel so strong, you can’t get around them?

There is so much evidence of death and destruction, it’s hard to believe what happened on that Sunday morning long ago really matters, changes anything.

Doubt is part of faith. But what if it seems like all you have is doubts? Is there really life in Christ for the world? Life for you? If only you could touch Jesus and know for sure.

Reach out then, and touch. Take this bread and wine, and know that Jesus has come to you. Hear him say, “This is me. In here is my love and forgiveness. In here is my life.” Look around at this community who eat and drink alongside you. Hear the risen Christ say, “These ones, they are me, too. For you. In them, you can touch my wounded hands and feet and side, and believe.”

This is what resurrection life means in your life. In this touch, Jesus comes to you and eases your doubt, helps you believe. And find hope.

This is what Easter means to you today and tomorrow.

It’s so hard to grasp that Christ’s death and resurrection mean so much more to us than life in heaven.

We know Easter means we will have life with God after we die. That is truth, and that is joy, and that is grace beyond belief.

But it’s also only a fraction of the Good News the risen Christ offers, that the first believers and the Scriptures say has happened in this death and resurrection. Remember: Martha, filled with grief at the death and burial of her brother, had no doubts that he would rise at the end time. Jesus needed her to experience resurrection and life in him as a reality for her now, in this life.

Christ has given us a model of love that loses, dies, is vulnerable, because it’s the only path we can walk that will lead us to this resurrection life that that ends our confusion, gives peace to our fears, and calms our doubts. That fills us with Easter life in this life, too. And ultimately heals the whole world.

But don’t worry if you sometimes feel you’ve missed the point. As if you’ve missed Easter.

Jesus will always come to where you are and call you by name, breathe peace into you, take you by the hand. And then, send you to bear this to others.

This is why we have been called. So we can know Easter life in us. And then take it into the world. Mary was sent to be an apostle, to tell the others the good news. All the disciples in the Upper Room, men and women (even Thomas), Spirit-breathed, were sent to forgive, to love, to feed Christ’s sheep.

This is our call now. Now that we know Easter life, we are sent as Easter to others who’ve missed it, even as others have Eastered us. To tell others they are loved and known by name to the Triune God. To offer peace and hope to those who’ve locked themselves away. To reach out and embrace those who struggle in doubt. To bear this life as Christ did, for the healing of the world.

This is what Easter means to us today and tomorrow. And we will never be the same.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen
 

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

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