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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sermon: In The Valley

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl
Fourth Sunday of Easter

This past week I stepped into a world I have not been in for many years. It is a world I have entered twice before. The first time I was there two months the second time three months. What is this world? It is the world of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital just up the street from us here at Mount Olive. I was there after the birth of both of my sons, who were born extremely premature 17 and 15 years ago. The NICU really is a whole other world. It is a world where the fragility of life is visible and the reality of death is palpable. It is a roller coaster experience with great highs and great lows and everything in between, sometimes you can be up one minute and down the next. It is a place where you hear words you never wanted to hear about your baby, like: “you baby is very sick,” “we are cautiously optimistic,” “our backs are against the wall,” and “ we are running out of options.” The NICU is another world. It is a world where the line between life and death is not clear, it is more like a wide valley. It is like the psalmist describes in the 23rd Psalm, “the valley of the shadow of death,” a place of life but also a place in which death close by.

There are other places and experiences in our lives where the line between life and death is not clear, where we walk between the fragility of life and the reality of death. How many of us have walked through the valley of the shadow of death? It may have been at the pending death of a loved one, or time of depression, or an experience of waiting, or time of recovery, or an experience of uncertainty, or a time of unemployment, or living with chronic health issues. There are a host of experiences which are able to give us an experience of walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and it may be different for each of us.

Only three weeks after Easter and Jesus’ glorious resurrection it may seem like a downer to talk about being in “the valley of the shadow of death,” however it still is a reality for us on this side of the cross. Jesus’ resurrection has provided us with a “now” and a “not yet” situation. Right “now” we experience the forgiveness of sins and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit present in us, but we have “not yet” experienced the time spoken of in our passage from Revelation 7, where we will worship God day and night, where we “will hunger and thirst no more;” where “the sun will not strike [us], nor any scorching heat,” where the Lamb will guide us “to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Revelation 7:15-17).

I think the 23rd psalm offers us some insight into this life of “now” and “not yet” in which we live as Christians, a life where even followers of Jesus experience times of walking in the valley of the shadow of death. The 23rd psalm is a down to earth psalm. It connects with us as some visceral level. It connects us literally to the earth and the creatures. It speaks of God as being right with us, even though it was written before Jesus came down to be with us.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want;
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness,
For his name’s sake.
(Psalm 23:1-3)

For those of us who are city dwellers this may or may not be an image we can understand. A shepherd is very necessary because sheep are vulnerable animals and they need a lot of help. Some of us may not like to be called sheep because we are smart and strong and can take care of ourselves. But the psalmist is wiser and knows we need God’s tender care.

Shepherds in the Middle East live with the sheep and have a relationship with the sheep so that the sheep knows the shepherd and will follow and listen to the shepherd’s voice. Sheep cannot be herded like cattle, they can only be led and gently guided. Sheep cannot drink from flowing waters like a stream or a river, it scares them, so the shepherd will create a place of “still waters” for the sheep from a stream or river so that they get the water they need. The image is a caring and loving relationship of the shepherd for the sheep.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
For thou art with me;
Thy rod and staff,
They comfort me.
(Psalm 23:4)

With this verse a shift takes place. A tranquil mood is shattered. “The psalmist refers to going through dangerous places and reports, surprisingly, that even then, ‘I fear no evil.’ The reason for this absence of fear follows immediately, as the psalmist switches from talking about the Lord, the Shepherd, to speaking to the Lord: ‘for you are with me’ (James Limburg, Psalms, Westminster Bible Companion, Louisville, KY: John Knox Press 2000, p. 73).

The psalmist recognizes the need for and relationship with the Shepherd and knows that in the valley of the toughest, ugliest, yuckiest stuff the Shepherd is there. Emmanuel, God is with us. Jesus is in the valley with us. Jesus gets down in the dirt with us.

It is interesting to note that in the Hebrew the phrase translated “for thou art with me” is found precisely in the middle of this psalm. There are twenty-six words leading up to it and twenty-six words after it. “The number twenty-six is itself of interest because the numerical value of the Hebrew letters in the word YHWH (Yahweh, the name for God) is 10 + 5 + 6 + 5 = 26” (Limburg, p. 74). The heart of this psalm is the phrase “for thou art with me.” In the valley, thou art with me. In the midst of evil, thou art with me. Nothing will scare the Shepherd away. Jesus is our Shepherd who remains present in the midst of the deepest, darkest times of our life.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
Thou anointest my head with oil,
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
(Psalm 23: 5-6)

When a shepherd would lead sheep through mountains or hills the shepherd would look for a plateau for the sheep to graze, literally a “table” (like “mesa” which is Spanish for table). The shepherd would make “prepare the table” by pulling out the poisonous weeds, which the sheep would eat if left.

While the sheep were eating at the prepared table the Shepherd would keep an eye open for other predators. The wandering sheep were brought back to the table

What a strange God we have who sets a table in the presence of our enemies. How odd of God to set Jesus Christ to suffer and die, but yet raise him again to life. The only enemy which has been conquered for us is death, and even though it may not feel like much to us in the valley of suffering it is enough for now.

For it is through the gift of the Holy Spirit that we receive at baptism that we are joined to Christ Jesus. It is through Jesus’ life that God walks with us. It is through Jesus’ death that he knows the isolation and loneliness we experience. It is through Jesus’ resurrection that God can now walk with us as the Holy Spirit.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there will be times in your life when you will find yourself in the valley of the shadow of death, in those times, Jesus the Great and Good Shepherd, will not leave you, but pick you up and carry you. You may not realize it until you are out of the valley that you were carried through it and it may not be until later that you realize your soul has been restored.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sermon: Third Sunday of Easter

by The Rev. Beth Gaede

Oscar Romero served as archbishop of El Salvador from 1977 to 1980, and on March 24, just a few weeks ago, people throughout the world observed the thirtieth anniversary of his assassination. Father Romero was not a dangerous man. At least that’s what church leaders thought when they installed him as archbishop. He was predictable, a pious bookworm who held traditional values and was “willing to toe the line.”

Just a few weeks after his installation, though, something happened that changed his life. A friend of his, a Jesuit priest, was on his way to say mass and was shot to death because he defended farmers’ right to form cooperatives. After the murder of his friend, Romero began to recognize the injustice being carried out his country in the name of “traditional values.” Romero couldn’t ignore the fact that right-wing death squads raped, tortured, and murdered other Salvadorans without fear of punishment. In 1980 the war was claiming the lives of 3,000 people a month.

All Romero himself had to offer the people of El Salvador were weekly sermons broadcast by radio throughout the country. In the last sermon that was aired, he directly addressed the soldiers and policemen of his country, the people who were carrying out most of the atrocities. He pleaded: “In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people, I beseech you, I implore you; in the name of God, I command you to stop the repression.”

The next day, he was celebrating mass in the chapel of a Catholic hospital in San Salvador. As he stood behind the altar, preparing the bread and wine for the Eucharist, a car approached the chapel. A gunman stepped out of the car, aimed through the open doors of the chapel, and opened fire on Romero, hitting him in the heart. He died a martyr.

Romero’s story teaches us an important truth: God calls surprising people in surprising ways to surprising work.

That truth was also illustrated in our second lesson today. Saul, also called Paul, was an important leader in the Jewish religious community. He was determined to get rid of Christians and was on just such a quest when God blinded him with a bright light, presented him with a vision of the risen Christ, and then sent him on to Damascus. There a disciple of Jesus came to heal Saul’s sight and baptize him. Within days, we read, Saul “began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’” (v. 20).

Much of the New Testament is about the surprising work God called Saul to carry out. Because of his preaching, teaching, and writings, Christian communities were formed throughout the Mediterranean world, and no New Testament author has had more influence on Christian thinking.

Oscar Romero: a predictable, orthodox friend of the established church, becomes a fiery advocate for the oppressed. Saul of Tarsus: a Jewish scholar and leader, determined to destroy the disciples of Jesus, shapes two thousand years of church history. Surprising people called in surprising ways to surprising work. So, what do these stories have to do with us—with you?

The purposes for which God calls all of us are summed up in the Great Commandment that Jesus taught us: We are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Keeping those purposes in mind, these stories remind us, first, that God has a habit of calling people we would not expect. Saul and Oscar Romero were not the first unlikely people God called into service, nor were they the most unlikely. There have been many others—people who have been quick to tell God, You have the wrong person! Moses resisted: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exod. 3:11). Sarah, long past the age when she could bear children, laughed when God said she would have a son (Gen. 18:12). Jeremiah balked, saying, “Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy” (Jer. 1:6). Still, God persisted, and we could tell stories for hours about God’s odd choices.

You might be able to come up with all sorts of reasons why God would not, even should not, call you to serve God and neighbor. “I don’t have time.” “I’m too old.” “I’m too young.” “Other people are more qualified.” If you think it’s highly unlikely that God is calling you, take this to heart: you are just the latest in a long line of surprising people God has chosen. In other words, you’re next!

Second, these stories remind us that God’s call comes to us in surprising ways. The death of a friend got Romero’s attention. Saul was blinded and heard a voice from heaven. We probably won’t have such experiences. But we might hear God calling us in simpler, quieter ways. God often uses strategies like these:
  • We recognize we have gifts we can use to serve our neighbor, create art, care for plants and animals, or protect the environment.
  • We feel a passion to fight against some injustice or corruption we witness.
  • We notice a hope or dream or an unexpected invitation or an open door that turns out to be meaningful.
  • We realize that some activity we’re already involved in is bearing good fruit.
  • Someone who knows us well, a friend or colleague or family member, comments about how they see us serving others.
In fact, most of the time, God’s methods are so unremarkable, so ordinary, that God’s calling might be right in front of you and require only that you do “what comes naturally.” So, what does this mean? Pay attention.

Finally, God calls us, God calls you, to surprising work. Of course, I hope God is not calling me or you or anyone else I know to martyrdom. Yes, it’s possible that’s in store, but it’s not what I hope for. Still, if we surrender to God’s callings for us, we might discover we’re doing something we would never have thought possible. Maybe teaching a confirmation class, caring for an ailing relative, or spearheading a neighborhood revitalization project. Perhaps signing up to be a greeter or an acolyte here at Mount Olive, organizing a care team for a dying friend, or joining a group to fight for just immigration policies, to clean up after natural disasters, or to pray for peace in our world. The message for us is simple: Expect to be surprised.

Why? Because that’s how God works. Need more evidence? Jesus, God’s grace in the flesh, suffered, died, and rose from the grave to overcome the power of sin and death, to reconcile all creation with God, to restore all things to wholeness. Now what could be more surprising than that?

Take this with you today: God calls surprising people in surprising ways to surprising work. You’re next, so pay attention, because God has something in mind for you. And expect to be surprised, because that’s how God works.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sermon: Second Sunday after Easter

by The Rev. Arthur Halbardier

Some think of Thomas primarily as a skeptic. Is it possible that Thomas, at heart, was a Lutheran?

You’ve probably heard the various answers to, “How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?”

It only takes one Pentecostal. Pentecostals have both hands in the air most of the time anyway.
It takes at least eight Episcopalians. One to change the bulb and seven to reflect on how the light of the new bulb lacks the elegance and beauty of the old one.

How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? As in most things Lutheran, there is a difference of opinion on the issue. Since neither scripture nor the confessions address the issue specifically, the ELCA has appointed a special task force to embark upon an in-depth study that will report its findings to the next Churchwide Assembly.

The Missouri and Wisconsin synods have declined to participate in the study, stating that Lutherans don’t believe in change.

So, Thomas the apostle may indeed have been a Lutheran at heart. He was not quick to jump on the bandwagon with the other disciples. He demands proof.

Poor Thomas. After having been locked in that room with the other ten disciples for three days, he slips out to the convenience store to pick up frozen pizzas and a 12-pack (I know, he only need eleven…), or perhaps just to get a break from that depressing crowd.

When he comes back, the ten disciples try to convince Thomas that Jesus showed up while he was gone. They even touched the wounds in his hands and side.

Thomas isn’t in a buying mood. “Stop pulling my leg, guys. We agreed this morning, that Mary and the other women were hysterical.

And, “Ahem, if Jesus was here like you say, if he just ordained the ten of you, and breathed the Holy Spirit on you - why are you still huddled in here with the door locked?”

Thomas is ready to trust Jesus. But he has little faith in his fellow disciples.

Tom’s skepticism was well-founded. Because, a week later, where are they? Same place. Still huddled behind locked doors.

In the gospels, the disciples acquire a reputation for cowardice, indecision, and block-headedness by consistently being cowardly, indecisive and block-headed.

But today’s first reading from Acts paints quite a different picture of them just weeks later.
In the verses preceding today’s reading, this same bunch who were hiding out just weeks before are now described running around Jerusalem doing all sorts of “signs and wonders” among the people (Acts 5:12).

The common people hold “them in high esteem.” Multitudes of men and women are being added to the Lord (5:14).

They are preaching and healing the sick. The people of Jerusalem are bringing their sick out into the street hoping that Peter’s shadow might fall upon them and make them well.

The temple bigwigs are not amused. They have the apostles tossed into prison.

But an angel sets them free from the prison, telling them, “Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life”(5:20).

And, they do it! This same group of “heroes” who weeks before were locked inside for fear of the temple leaders is out telling everybody Jesus is alive!

When the High Priest and his cronies go to the jail to get the apostles, they find the cell empty.
Chapter 5, verse 25: Someone runs to tell the authorities, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!”

The police are sent, nab the apostles and drag them before the court. That’s where our lesson for today began: “We gave you strict orders not to teach in the name of Jesus, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching…”

But, Peter isn’t intimidated: “We must obey God,” he responds, “not any human authority.” And, Peter delivers his ringing witness to Jesus, the Son of God, raised from the dead.

The Bible says, the bigwigs “were enraged and wanted to kill them.” (5:33). But, they couldn’t, for fear the people might riot in protest. They have the apostles flogged with rods and whips instead (5:40).

Thinking that might have made an impression, the temple leaders tell them again, “No more speaking about this Jesus!” But, that same day, and every day after, the 12 are right back in the temple and the synagogues, proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah (5:42).

So, what set Peter’s hair on fire? Where did the apostles acquire backbones in the span of those few weeks?

Skeptical Thomas is said to have carried the Gospel as far East as India. Peter as far west as Rome. Others went to Africa, northern Europe.

Our scripture today makes a point that remains equally valid for us today: Reality was set on its head on Easter. In a snap of divine fingers, God raised Jesus from the dead. But, the world didn’t know anything had changed until the lives of a few individuals were changed by the presence of Jesus. In other words, changing things did not change the world. Changed people changed the world.

Every day we see injustice and discrimination getting the upper hand, advantage going to the advantaged, prejudice against groups and individuals. The innocent suffer.

Our world is desperate for an alternative to the debilitating reality of these times.

What if we were as on fire with making a difference in the life of those outside our doors? What if we were that committed to relating to every person and every issue we encounter as if the risen Christ himself was alive and supporting and working in and with us? What if those we meet or with whom we work saw the risen Christ alive in us, in every choice and relationship and opportunity we are given?

For, he is, isn’t he? The risen Christ is alive, and supporting and working in and with us? We do believe this is true?

Changed people can still change the world.


When Jesus appeared, that week after Easter, in that same locked room, his words “Peace be with you” must have sent a chill through the ten who had heard them the week before. These were the very words Jesus had spoken as he turned over his mission to them - a week earlier. Yet here they were, nothing changed.

But this week, Thomas is the focus of Jesus’ attention. “Thomas, come here. Look. Examine these wounds of mine. I want you to believe.”

Great artists have captured that moment of Thomas touching Jesus’ wounds. It’s even depicted in the picture on our bulletin cover! But in fact, St. John says not a word to indicate that Thomas accepted Jesus’ invitation, ever actually touched the wounds in Jesus’ hands or side. Instead Thomas cries out, in a voice choked with emotion, “ MY LORD AND MY GOD.”

“My Lord and my God” - this is not an admission that resulted from examining physical evidence; this is the profession of a man who was profoundly changed by a face-to-face encounter with the risen Christ.

Thomas declares what can’t be proven, except to those who believe: Jesus is my Lord and my God.

“My Lord and my God” proves to be contagious. First Thomas, then 11 more, finally a movement erupts that shakes the world centers of power and authority.

When Paul and Silas arrive in Thessalonica, a mob gathers to keep them out. Their reputation has preceded them. They are described as these “men who are turning the world upside down.”

Two guys, were turning the world upside down? Yes. Two guys, who had said “yes” to Jesus.

Nero regarded the Christians in Rome such a threat to the empire that he burned a large part of the city and tried to pin the arson on the Christians, hoping for a public uprising against them.
At that time, the congregation in Rome probably numbered a total of 60 persons. But they were 60 who had said “yes” to Jesus.

The risen Christ still comes to his disciples. Some of us are fearful, some skeptical.

The church has many critics; they declare our message irrelevant, our worship out-of-step. Many in the church waste precious energy trying to remake the message and worship to satisfy them. Scandals undermine respect for the church and erode the morale of those of us who love her.

Yet, this is where Jesus still comes, to this frayed and often flawed church. Presents himself to us - in word, in sacrament. Invites us to know him, to know that he is alive.

He says to us, “Peace be with you,” and commissions us to carry what is revealed to us here out into a world that denies he is alive - a world that has given up on believing.

Jesus appears in our little room, among sometimes timid and uncertain disciples. Because we are still the only possible difference for the world.

Perhaps you think I am overstating the case? I say how can we accept any lesser purpose than changing the world for the death and resurrection of Jesus? How can we accept some lesser purpose for the risen Christ appearing here than to change us?

Jesus knows how hard it is for his disciples to believe.

Jesus takes our struggle to hang onto believing in him as seriously as he took the struggle of reluctant Thomas. Because believing isn’t always easy.

It’s a sobering thought, but absolutely true - that the only thing we have to hang onto through the broken times in this life is something no more concrete than a promise.

Seeing is believing, our culture claims. Only fools trust without seeing evidence.

But faith is a matter of believing in things not seen. Of staking life and hope and future on nothing but promises.

We have a promise that because Christ lives, we shall live also. We are children of God, and inheritors of eternal life. Christ has gone before us to prepare a place for us.

Those promises are all we have to hold ourselves together as we see that person we loved so much lowered into the grave. Those promises are all we have when the doctors tell us there’s nothing more that they can do.

All we have are promises to help us believe that the pains and frustrations and crippling contradictions of life are only temporary. Only promises that God has not actually forgotten us when we feel so desperately alone.

The weeks after Easter, as we’ll hear - next Sunday, the week after – tell us of the risen Jesus appearing, again and again, to the apostles.

They don’t recognize him. They don’t get it. Yet, Jesus doesn’t give up on them. Until at last they are goaded by the Holy Spirit to finally say ”yes” to those words we’ve heard again today: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you...”

The Easter story becomes our story. For the risen Jesus continues to appear, trolling for “yes-es” from people like us.

Because the world can only be changed through the life and example of people who have been changed.

So our risen Lord returns here again, today, saying “Here is my body. Take. Eat. Taste my blood, shed for you.”

Looking for a few who will, like Thomas, say, “My Lord and my God,” and go with him, from here today, and tomorrow, and all the tomorrows we will be given, to change the world.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sermon: Dead or Alive (Easter)

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl
Easter Sunday
Luke 24:1-12

Jesus was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Many people were there to witness his death and his death was confirmed by the Roman guards standing watch. They would not have let a criminal down from the cross had not life been certainly without a doubt removed from him.

Jesus was dead as a doornail. Mind you I don’t know what is particularly dead about a doornail. But there was no doubt that Jesus was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come from the story that I am going to relate. (The above adapted from Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol)

On the first day of the week at early dawn Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and other women came to the tomb of Jesus taking the spices that they had prepared before the Sabbath. They were going to carry out the last offices of love for the dead and to embalm Jesus’ body with their spices. The dead body of Jesus had been wrapped in linen cloth but they had not had the time to put the spices and ointments on it before the Sabbath day.

They had come to prepare the dead body but when they got to the tomb they found the stone rolled away and the body gone. They were perplexed. Dead bodies do not simply disappear. Someone has to move them. In this world there are established rules as to what can happen and how, in this world dead bodies do to simply disappear. The tomb was empty, there has to be a body. The women were perplexed.

Suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them, they say to them “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The short answer to that is, because Jesus was dead. But the men in dazzling white clothes mean that Jesus wasn’t dead any more, he may have once been dead, but is no longer. “He is not here, but has risen,” they say. Then they call the women to remember, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” (Luke 24:5-7).

And the women remembered, in their joy and excitement they rush back to the eleven male disciples and others to tell them. “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). However Peter, the one who denied Jesus three times, heard hope in their message and he needed hope right now after he denied Jesus. Peter ran to the tomb. He saw the linen cloths by themselves and went home. He was amazed at what had happened and began to ponder what this meant.

Jesus is alive. God moved against death. Death is a formidable power, which wants to take control, but God will not let it happen. Death as an active force cannot withstand the authority of God.

Death is a hostile power that threatens to undo our lives. That is what Jesus knows between Friday and Sunday. Jesus is being undone by the power of death, and the world is being undone with him. But God did not give us over to the power of death, because God had kept us for the prospect of life.

What a day—Easter Day—life day—new day—beginning day. This is the day of God’s power for life, and therefore our day of singing and gratitude. On this day, we as people of God are at a beginning, not an ending.

Now as we think about what God has done for us in Christ Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit, and as we rejoice in Jesus’ victory over death, I wonder…

Do we want a Jesus who is dead or alive?

You may say, “Now there’s a stupid question! Of course we want a Jesus who is alive! What do you think we are doing in church every Sunday?”

But maybe the question isn’t as stupid as it first sounds. After all take a look at the disciples on that first Easter morning. They didn’t exactly welcome the news. “The words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). Wouldn’t you think, if we were in their sandals, it would seem an idle tale to us too?

Do we want a Jesus who is dead or alive?

Do we prefer a Jesus who is kept in the tomb, sealed away from our lives and lifestyles. I think for some church is just that… a tomb where we keep alive the memory of a dead Jesus of long ago…a place we bring our children thinking that a dead good person will be a good role model to keep our kids off drugs…a Jesus who is enshrined in our buildings…remembered in our liturgies…and entombed in an altar where we visit him on Sunday and pay our respects.

The last thing some people want is for Jesus to get out of the church and get into our time, our money, our mouths, our work, our homes, our personal lives, our pleasures, and our “freedom.” The last thing they want is for the church to roll away the stone in front of the building so that Jesus gets “out there” into our world, into our politics, into our businesses, into our lives.

Do we want to hear the “good news” of Easter—do we really want a Jesus who is alive? Some may prefer to welcome spring and the Easter bunny than a Jesus who is alive.

But whatever we want or don’t want, Jesus IS living. He IS among us. And this ought to unnerve and perplex us as much as it did his disciples. Jesus is living and active, and we cannot control him.

You speak Jesus name, in cursing or praying, and he hears you. You go and sit in your favorite chair, and Jesus is there. You go to sleep but he is ever watchful. You go to work and Jesus is there too. You may be wherever you may be and Jesus is there with you. You may try to stay away from where you think he is, but you cannot stay away from Jesus. You lock the doors and all avenues of approach into your heart, but Jesus comes through locked doors. You do what you can to do kill his influence in your life, but you cannot kill him. You may try to ignore Jesus, but he doesn’t go away.

Jesus Christ is alive! In the midst of us every day! He is Easter. And to know Jesus by faith is to know resurrection and life.

Yes, we need a Jesus who is alive. For on our own we are dead, deader than a doornail, dead in sin, dead in our past, dead in addiction, dead in relationships, and dead in our jobs. But Jesus is alive. He is alive to give us new life, new relationships, and new hope for the future. And with that news we can boldly joint the litany of the ages:

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sermon: We Know but We Don't Know

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl
Maundy Thursday

Spoiler Alert! I am going to tell you what is going to happen the next three days: Jesus is going to suffer, die on the cross, and be raised to life again. That’s it. That’s all you need to know about the next three days…or is it?

We know what will happen, but we don’t know exactly how it will affect us, how God will speak to us, how the Holy Spirit will change us as we listen to and experience Christ’s passion.

We know Jesus will take a towel and be a servant to his disciples, but we don’t know what it will be like for us to perform this service for one another.

We know Jesus will share in a last meal with his disciples, but we don’t know what this meal will mean to us or what this meal will do to us when we eat and drink Christ’s body and blood, and hear the words “for you” and “for the forgiveness of sin.”

We know Jesus will pray in the garden of Gethsemane. He will pray for the cup to be taken from him, he will pray for those of us who follow him who may fall away, but we don’t know how this prayer will change us

We know Jesus will be betrayed by Judas, but we don’t know how hearing of the betrayal will affect us, will it remind us of a time of being betrayed or betraying another?

We know Jesus will be arrested and questioned by the high priest, the religious leader of the day, but we don’t know if this will challenge our sense of religion or religiousness.

We know Jesus will be denied by Simon Peter, but we don’t know if we will find ourselves saying Peter’s words of denial as vehemently as he did, or find ourselves weeping as Peter did for our actions.

We know Jesus will be questioned by Pilate and he will find no case against Jesus, but we don’t know how the silence and innocence of Jesus will pierce our own souls as we listen to the contrast of the crowd shouting and accusing Jesus.

We know Jesus will be whipped until his back is like raw hamburger and he will be mocked, but we don’t know how the physicality of the torture will affect us.

We know that those who shouted “Hosanna” will now shout “Crucify him,” but we don’t know if we will be convicted of times where we have shouted praises then curses to God.

We know Jesus will be crucified for no crime he committed, but we don’t know how the crimes we have committed will be seen in the light of his innocence.

We know Jesus will forgive the thief on the cross, but we don’t know if those words will set us free or bind us to how we have withheld forgiveness to others for much smaller offenses.

We know Jesus’ dead body will be taken to a tomb, but we don’t know if we will be able to leave our past in the tomb.

We know God will raise Jesus from the dead, but we do not know how the resurrection will work in our lives.

We know, but we don’t know.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, as we enter the passion of our Lord for the next three days we know we will be changed but we don’t know how, that is part of the mystery of the passion which we now enter.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

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