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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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Seeing in the Dark

We come to the tomb expecting death and find Christ is alive, and fills us with resurrection life. With Christ's life in us, we can now see in the dark, even in a world of darkness and death.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Resurrection of Our Lord, year A
   Texts: Matthew 28:1-10; Colossians 3:1-4

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

They expected he would be cold. His body would be heavy, too.

It hadn’t been 40 hours since he was buried, so they didn’t expect too much of a smell. And some spices and ointments were put on at his burial.

But they dreaded facing how cold and heavy he would be. They feared not recognizing his face, because everyone looks so different after death. They knew this well. They dreaded seeing his body as a body, a thing, not the beloved, warm, friend and master they’d known and loved.

We know what they knew, too. Many of us have experienced how surprisingly quickly our loved one becomes cold when they die, how heavy their limbs become. How they look so different without their breath in them. We know that when someone dies, they look dead. Not asleep. That’s what these women faced that Sunday morning.

They didn’t expect to find life. But an angel told them Jesus was raised. Then they met Jesus himself. Alive. Warm. Beautiful. Unexpected.

No wonder they fell on their faces and grabbed onto his feet, not wanting to let go.

We know what they felt as they walked that stony path at dawn.

We expect, we know, that death is permanent. No one comes back from the dead in this world. Not that we see, anyway.

And we know for certain this is true of pain and evil in this world. Systems are corrupt and crush people, but how do you change systems? Illness comes without warning, and science constantly seeks answers, but people still die, or suffer chronically, and that’s not going to change. Governments all become entrenched, self-serving, unwieldy, and don’t serve the people, and how do you change that? People die of hunger by the thousands every day, and that won’t really change; how do you get the whole world to redistribute resources, wealth, food? Relationships break apart, people are unkind, people feel lonely and afraid, people do evil without thinking, and how do you change people? We can’t even change ourselves sometimes, when we do things wrong.

We know this. This is what we expect, things will always be the same. The world is the way the world is.

We don’t expect life. That life, and healing, and wholeness for all people is possible. That this is God’s dream and plan.

If we could believe this were true, we’d be grabbing on to this life and not letting go ourselves.

And the angel says, “Don’t be afraid. Death isn’t as strong as you think.”

But if that’s true, if death isn’t permanent, what else isn’t?

Christ’s resurrection powerfully changes everything we thought we knew. Not because God could reverse death. God made the universe, invented life. God can do anything with death God wants. Including end its power over mortal things.

But we say Christ destroyed death’s power in rising, and part of that is death’s power to frighten us. Death’s power to make us certain nothing can be changed. Death’s power to make us believe things are the way things are, and always will be.

Death has no power over us, we say in the light of Easter. What if we really lived that?

What if we finally understood today that the Triune God actually is moving, acting, bringing life into a world where we’re walking afraid in the dark woods? Where so many things threaten so much? Where we feel there is little we can do to change anything?

If death isn’t strong enough to be final, can anything resist God’s resurrection life?

Listen, the hard part, what keeps us from really getting this, is the world still looks like death is in charge.

We open our newspapers, turn on our TVs, look at our lives, and see daily evidence of death’s power. We have good reason to believe so many evil, hurtful, oppressive things can’t be changed.

But these women saw the same world. They left that empty tomb just as threatened by existence, by the authorities, by death, as when they came. All the disciples, as they came to believe in Christ’s resurrection, faced the same world we do. Where it seems death is in control.

But this is what they knew, and it couldn’t be taken from them: Christ is alive, and God’s life is flowing through the world, and death and evil and hatred and violence and war and oppression and abuse have no ultimate power.

They walked in a dark, frightening world, too. But they could see in the dark. They saw God’s life and light and love shining everywhere, and they knew they couldn’t be stopped.

Here’s our good news: we can see in the dark, too.

Paul tells us we have been raised with Christ. In our baptism we became part of Christ’s risen body in the world that spans 2,000 years and embraces the world in love. But Paul says our risen life in Christ is hidden with Christ in God. The life and light and love of God that is changing the world, the life and light and love of God that were planted in us at baptism, all this is hidden with Christ in the life of the Triune God.

So we don’t always see it. We sometimes fear it might be gone. But Christ is risen, and our own risen life is always with Christ in God. If we’re in the dark, afraid, alone, struggling with our evil, overwhelmed by some power, and think “no life will break this,” we can remember our risen life is always there, hidden with Christ in God. Always moving, always working. Not always visible.

And then we start to see in the dark. We find the path ahead, step by step. We find hope when we only saw despair. We find love growing out of the ground of hatred. Lives change and are healed. People change and are healed. Systems even change and are healed. Light shines in the darkness, and life arises out of death.

Reality still looks like it did. But our resurrection life is hidden in Christ, and nothing can stop it. Not even death. Not at the end of our lives. And not now, either. Death has no more power over us.

This is why the women left the tomb in fear and joy.

Fear, because the world still looked threatening, death looked to be in charge. But joy came with them, too, because Christ destroyed death’s power to terrify them, lead them to despair. Christ’s life was in them, no matter what they saw.

We walk with them today with Christ eyes that see in the dark. Eyes that see light in the dark. Eyes that see love in the dark. Eyes that see life in the dark. The more we see Christ’s life and light and love change even small things, the more we see Christ. And the more we see our own resurrection life, too. And though the darkness remains, our eyes get stronger and stronger.

It’s not what we expected to find, but it’s wondrous good news. And now we are sent to bear this light into the darkness, this love, this life, so that others, too, can learn to see, and believe.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, April 9, 2017

As Often

We remember Christ’s death every Eucharist so we go ever deeper into the love of God for us and the world revealed at the cross, and we find our path, the shape of our life, in that love.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Sunday of the Passion, year A
   Texts: The Passion according to Matthew (26:14 – 27:66); Philippians 2:5-11

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

Whenever we gather for Eucharist we proclaim Christ’s death.

Every time we come to the Table of Christ we hold the death of Christ in our hearts and minds. We proclaim it to the world.

Every Sunday is Easter Sunday, we say, even in Lent. We gather around Word and Sacrament and are blessed with the life of the risen Christ. “Christ is risen. Christ will come again,” we proclaim each time.

But we also hear these words of Paul to the church in Corinth at every Eucharist: “As often as we eat of this bread and drink of this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” “Christ has died,” we all respond.

Every time. Every Eucharist. Every Sunday is Passion Sunday, too.

Our lives depend on it.

As often as we worship, we proclaim Christ’s death. So we see ever more deeply the love of God revealed at the cross.

This is the great witness of the Scriptures. God’s love pours out for God’s people, from the creation, when we are declared good, to Abraham and Sarah, and the choosing of a people to bless all people, to the prophets and their call to love as God loves. In Christ Jesus, God-with-us, we see the pure, astonishing grace of the love of God for all people.

When we hold the cross of Christ before us each week, we see that the essence of the Triune God, the heart of God’s image, is love. Love that is willing to set aside all power and might to show us love. Love that is willing to die to open our eyes to the truth about love.

This is mystery deeper than anything we will fully understand. But the Scriptures witness that the heart of God’s facing the cross was to show us in person the depth of God’s love for us and for the world.

We proclaim the cross whenever we worship so we never forget the cross reveals how beloved we are, reveals the true love that is God’s heart.

As often as we worship, we proclaim Christ’s death. So we also ever more deeply see the shape of our lives in Christ.

Christ Jesus has made it clear that our mission is not just to tell the story of Christ’s death and resurrection, but embody the story ourselves, make it the pattern of our lives. As Paul says today, our call is to share the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, the same self-giving love.

We know nothing about God’s love except by looking at the cross, and when we realize at the cross how much God loves us and loves the world, almost immediately we hear the call that this is our path, our life. At the cross all of Jesus’ teachings on following, giving up ourselves, loving, begin to make sense. At the cross we see a love that is willing to bear all pain and sorrow and grief in order to show us the path we must take for the healing of the world.

We proclaim the cross whenever we worship so we never forget the cross is meant to shape our lives, our love, our witness, our faith.

Do you see, Christ says? As I love, so do you.

This cross I take is your path, too. This is the love I keep describing to you and showing you.
Here at the cross, Christ says, you see the love of the prodigal father for you, the compassion of the Good Samaritan.

Here at the cross you see the encompassing love of God that is your pearl of great price, your hidden treasure.

Here at the cross you are filled with the life-giving love of God that will be a seed in you and in others that will grow to nurture the whole world.

Here at the cross you find no limits to God’s love for you, my love, Christ says, and you hear your call to love as I have loved you.

Every Eucharist. Every time.

As often as we eat of this bread and drink of this cup, as often as we gather to hear God’s Word, we proclaim Christ’s death. So we might see and know and live God’s love in us and in the world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sermon, Midweek Lent, 2017: Justice, Kindness, Humbly Walking

“True Love”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   Texts: Romans 12:16-21; Matthew 5:38-47

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

“If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”

That’s a strange question, Jesus. Who wants a reward for loving? If I love someone who loves me, that’s reward enough. We don’t love people to get a prize.

Exactly, Jesus says, that’s what I’m saying. The loving is the prize, the goal, the treasure beyond price. To love and to be loved is its own reward.

But, Jesus says, everybody knows that. Everybody does that, loves those who love them. But the world is still full of violence, pain, and inflicted suffering. And everybody greets their friends, their sisters and brothers, welcomes them. Everybody knows how to do that, Jesus says. But the world is still divided by hostility and hatred, murder and bloodshed. Something is wrong.

Jesus has the answer, but we don’t want to hear it. “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” That’s what no one thinks of, Jesus says.

And that’s the only way this world will find healing and peace and abundant life.

We really don’t like this command of Jesus.

Theologians, pastors, and teachers of the Church have dodged this command for 1,700 years, building theologies and principles that explain Jesus didn’t really mean this the way it obviously looks like it means. Christians have justified war, torture, genocide, oppression, slavery, revenge, by explaining away Jesus’ plain and clear words.

What Jesus said was, the way of Christ is to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Period. No exceptions.

So, when you look through history and see what groups are responsible for the most killing of other human beings over the centuries, why are Christians near the top of the list? Why does the Church today across this planet still endorse war, still nurture hatred, still declare enemies, still kill people? It’s quite a witness of love we give.

This is the most radical, world-changing command Jesus ever gave. We know this by how hard we’ve worked for nearly 2,000 years to pretend he never said it.

At the cross, the Son of God offered his life freely as a witness to the Triune God’s love for the whole world.

As his enemies pounded nails into his body, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

The story of Christ taking on our flesh is the story of God living vulnerable love among us to teach us what such divine love looks like. God set aside all power and strength and let us kill the One who is God-with-us. The Son of God declared forgiveness and love for those who hated him most, at the most terrible, painful point of his life. The Triune God says simply at the cross: this is the love that will heal the world. A love for all that risks all, without exception.

The only way to break the cycle of hate and violence, revenge and death, is to put down our weapons, our anger, our justifications, and offer love to those who hate us.

It’s a huge risk. Do you think God doesn’t understand that, after the cross? There is nothing more important to the Triune God who made all things than that we on this earth love each other, care for each other, give life to each other. God showed that in the most personal way possible, and in an unmistakably definitive way, in dying on the cross.

Yet we usually miss the point.

We’ve carefully built a theology of the cross that never asks us to see God’s radical love.

While the Church spent time and energy justifying hating enemies, it also distracted the faithful from the love God showed on the cross. Many of us grew up thinking Jesus went to the cross personally for each of us, because we’re all sinners. There’s no way God could love us unless Jesus died for us, many of us were taught. We were told we were wretched beings, and God sacrificed Jesus so we wouldn’t go to hell.

Of course we sin. We’re flawed, broken people. But the Scriptures witness that we are beloved of God, and Jesus didn’t have to die to make us beloved. God’s forgiveness flows through the Scriptures with and without the cross. The Scriptures witness that God went to the cross in person to reveal the depth of God’s love for the world. To show us the path of Christly love, the only love that can heal this world.

If we walk away from the cross happy that we’re personally forgiven and miss the greater point, that this is the love we’re called to live ourselves, we’ve missed everything. “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” When we walk away from the cross, knowing that in this cross we see how much God loves us, the next realization is, that’s our path, too.

A path of vulnerable, self-giving love. With no promises that we won’t be hurt. Only the greater promise that the God who made all things is confident this path will heal the world.

So how are we doing on this one?

How are we doing loving our political enemies, who support and endorse things that cut us to the heart? How is our love for them growing? How is our prayer for those folks? Are we seeking God’s love for them?

How are we doing loving those who share the name of Christ with us but say and do things we’re convinced are not of Christ? Things that break our hearts and enfuriate us? How is our love for them growing? How is our prayer for those folks? Are we asking God to bless them, make them whole?

How are we doing loving those in our lives who have offended us, betrayed us, abandoned us? Those in our families from whom we’re estranged? Those whom we’ve written off because we can’t stand them? How’s our love for them growing? How is our prayer for those folks?

Oh, these are hard words Jesus gives us today. “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” How much we’d rather not hear these words, how often we avoid them!

But in our hearts, hearts shaped by the endless love of God in Christ we’ve experienced, we know our Lord is right. This is the only way to heal this world. When one at a time, people do something different than what everyone else does, and love their enemies. Pray for those who persecute them.

This healing is so important, but we fear being the only ones loving as Christ.

The risk in vulnerable love like Christ’s is that we’ll be hurt. Others might not return the same love. We hesitate to give ground, sacrifice ourselves even for the ones we love, because we’re afraid others might take advantage of that. What if we’re the only ones doing this?

If it helps, Jesus says we might very well be. This whole command is surrounded by his expectation that we do things differently than the rest of the world. God’s hope is this love will spread to the rest of the world, but at the beginning, it might be a lonely path.

But Paul gives this gift today: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” So far as it depends on you. That’s all we have. We can’t control what others will do to us, in return for our love and prayers. That’s why Paul says, “if it is possible.” Others might not treat us peaceably. But that’s out of our control. So far as it depends on us, we live in peace and love.

There’s great freedom in knowing we’re not responsible for the whole world’s healing. Just our own part in it. That we can do.

“Goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate.”

In this hymn, Archbishop Tutu deepens the grace of Paul’s words today: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is the great promise of the cross. God’s love faced death, torture, hatred. But the power of the Triune God’s love destroyed the power of pain and hate and death forever. “Life is stronger than death,” the hymn also sings.

And so goodness is stronger than evil, too. Love is stronger than hate. And this frightening path we’ve tried to avoid, a path we’ve hoped Jesus didn’t really mean to call us down, is the path to life and healing and love and hope for this world.

That’s the reward. That’s the prize. A healed, whole, abundant, life-filled world for all. That’s what Christ’s love in us will bring.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, April 2, 2017

It Has Been Four Days

Christ comes to us where we are, as we are, and walks with us on our path of faith, even in, especially in, our times when the evidence for faith is hard to find. And we find life and hope.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Fifth Sunday in Lent, year A
   Text: John 11:1-45

Note: Only verses 1-39 were read at the Gospel, ending with: “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.’” During the sermon, where noted, 39-45 were then read.

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

How can you believe enough to follow when your hope is dead, lying in a grave?

When you have to face the awful truth that your beloved brother now smells because he’s been dead for four days?

Martha and Mary have believed in their friend and rabbi, Jesus. But Lazarus is dead, and Jesus is absent, showing up four days too late. There’s nothing to be done now. Thomas thinks Jesus is heading to certain death, and no one can stop him.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” the writer of Hebrews says. (11:1) But how can you believe in Christ Jesus as God’s life for you when you have no hope, and all you do see brings you fear or anger or grief? This is our story, too.

How can you believe enough to follow when you’re so afraid of what’s coming?

Jesus has decided to go south from Galilee to Bethany, but apparently not to rescue his friend Lazarus; Lazarus is dead. And Jesus has received death threats from the religious leaders in the south, in Jerusalem. The disciples try to stop him, but Jesus is determined.

Thomas is as terrified as the others. He’s worried about his Master, uncertain about his ability to be faithful, like the rest. He fears the path ahead now that it looks like real sacrifice, even death.

Exactly like we do. We fear the cost of following Christ. Maybe we don’t think we’ll actually die. But there are sacrifices we’ve resisted, loss of convenience that we hesitate to give up. There is cost to our pride, our self-will, our comfort. It’s not an easy path Christ calls us to follow, much is unknown, and that’s frightening.

But instead of giving the disciples reassurance, Jesus simply says, “Let us go.” He offers no evidence this will end well, only his courage: he’s willing to go. And Thomas picks it up. Thomas claims his faith in the midst of his fear, and stands above his more prominent peers. “Let’s go, too,” he says. “Even if we die.”

How can you believe enough to follow when you’re so angry at God you can’t see straight?

Martha was confident Jesus would come and heal Lazarus. They were his friends. But the messengers returned alone. Her brother died. They had the funeral. They wrapped him in cloths and spices and ointments. And Martha seethed.

When Jesus showed up, four days after the funeral, she ran out of town to meet him on the road in her anger. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she screamed. She held nothing back. God had failed her, and she was angry.

Exactly like we can be. We can rage at God that a friend is dying and nothing can stop it. We can be furious that injustice happens all over the world and God seems to do nothing. We even get angry that Christ calls us to deeper change when we think we’ve done a lot already.

But instead of defending himself to Martha, and without promising to make it right, Jesus stands there and takes her rage. He lets her work out with her words what she feels and believes, without judgment. Then he quietly asks her if she believes he is resurrection life now. Not just at the end time. Now. And Martha realizes she still trusts Jesus with her life.

How can you believe enough to follow when your sadness and grief drown you?

Mary is so unlike her verbal sister. But she feels pain just as deeply. Her grief at Lazarus’ death, at Jesus’ betrayal, knows no bounds.

When Jesus finally came, she couldn’t move. Her tears were drowning her life. When Martha came back, an hour after storming out of the house, and said the Teacher was asking for her, that got her on her feet.

Mary didn’t know what Jesus would say, what excuses he would make. None would help. She could barely get out the words, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” before dissolving into tears. She had nothing to offer except her grief and confusion.

Exactly like us. We, too, have stood at the graves of loved ones with nothing but sadness and pain. We see the suffering of so many children and vulnerable people in this world, in our city, and can only weep. Our grief at our losses, our sadness at the pain of others, sometimes overwhelms us.

To Mary’s surprise, Jesus said nothing. She looked up, and saw that he was crying, too, beginning to sob. She expected teaching, reasons, wisdom from God, what Jesus always gave her. But now he wept with her, and they went to the tomb together. And she realized she still believed in him, trusted him with her life.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Nothing external changed for these three. Thomas still had no idea if he or Jesus would die. Martha still would try to stop Jesus from opening the tomb, and say the horrible words, “there’s a stench already.” Mary still had an enormous, brother-sized hole in her heart.

But receiving nothing but the courage, patience, and compassion of Christ, they find they don’t need everything fixed. They need to know God is with them in Christ, they are not alone. They don’t have to understand everything to believe, or to follow.

John tells his Gospel so that we, too, can believe Jesus is God’s Christ, the Son of God, and believing, have life in his name. John doesn’t say we believe because everything always makes sense, always works out, because there’s no risk we face in following. We can believe and have life in Christ even when it doesn’t make sense or work out, when there’s great risk.

Now that we know this, let’s hear the rest of today’s Gospel reading.

Read verses 39-45.

Listen, this story isn’t about the raising of Lazarus. It’s about our faith in that which we cannot see, our trust in God’s love in Christ in the face of what we fear, what makes us angry, what brings us grief.

Lazarus’ resurrection doesn’t change Thomas’ path. Mary and Martha might still outlive him. These last verses don’t magically make the story better. And none of us have ever experienced a loved one raised from the tomb. But we’ve all been where these three are, and that’s our hope. And like these three, we belong to the One who faced death on the cross and broke its power over us now, not just at the end of our lives here.

There is something critical in these last verses, though. Jesus needs the community involved in this resurrection. He gives Lazarus life. But he needs the people around Lazarus to unbind him and let him go. Mary, Martha, their neighbors, need to unwrap him from his death, open him up to his life.

This is our resurrection story.

The resurrection story of Thomas, Martha, Mary. They witness that, in the absence of evidence of any change, having God with us is life. Even in our fear, our anger, our grief, we are never alone, never dead. Christ meets us, like he did these three, exactly where each of us is, giving us each exactly what we need for faith. The Risen Christ, who has overcome the world, calls to us, “Come out, believe.”

And then Christ gives other Christs to us. To give us courage as we walk into the unknown. To give us patience as we rail in our righteous anger. To share our tears as we weep in the face of loss. Incarnate as God-with-us, Christ now becomes incarnate in each of us. So we can unbind each other, draw each other out of darkness into light. So that we can let each other go from the fear, anger, grief, and death that wrap us so tightly.

That’s enough, these three tell us. And we tell each other, as, filled with resurrection life in Christ, we unbind each other into this newness of life.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Midweek Lent, 2017: Justice, Kindness, Humbly Walking

Week 4: “Christ in All”

Vicar Kelly Sandin
   Texts: Matthew 15:21-28; Colossians 3:1-11

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Humans were created in the image and likeness of God. We are diverse and collectively represent the many facets of God. Each one of us is part of the beautiful mosaic needed to complete God’s creative image. Yet, we’ve decided certain pieces are of little value. We’ve tossed out some, with preference over others, and in doing so we’ve distorted the likeness of God.

Even Jesus seemed challenged by this when he went into Gentile territory and encountered a Canaanite woman. She had two strikes against her, Gentile and female. Social and religious customs would dictate not speaking to her, but since she shouted so loudly, she definitely got attention. At first, Jesus ignored her disturbance. It was the disciples who couldn’t take it. To them, sending her away was the only solution. But Jesus, instead, decided to give it to her straight. She was outside the realm of his mission and he wasn’t sent to help her people. Not having it, she knelt before him pleading. Again he retorted and she persisted, finding loopholes in his analogy until, amazingly, he changed his mind.

It may not have been Jesus’ timing to include the Gentiles, but that didn’t prevent him from having a conversation with the Canaanite woman, even if forbidden. Jesus learned from her and was moved into action. Imagine the life change for the woman and her daughter. What Jesus modeled was the willingness to learn another’s point of view. Rather than send her packing, he engaged her intellectually. He spoke truth and she countered it. She was desperate for the one thing she knew he could do. Her persistence and his readiness to listen and learn made all the difference.

While not exactly like the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman, racism continues today and we lack the dialogue necessary to learn from it and change it. Similar to Jesus, some of us might not be ready for an encounter, but we must, nonetheless, listen to the voices in our community that are shouting. We need only walk out the front doors of our church to see the diversity in our neighborhood. We live and breathe around families worried if one or more of their family members will be deported or incarcerated. Children fear their parent will be taken away. Families are struggling with multiple low paying jobs, while learning English, getting their kids to school, and trying to put food on the table. We have many neighbors of immigrant status needing the Diaper Depot each and every month to save what little money they can. Our black community fears being pulled over because of their pigmentation. There’s discrimination in the housing market and job market based upon race. There are countless judgments toward people of color, whether overt or covert, on a daily basis. And, as a white person, I’ve never had to live like this. I’ve never feared being pulled over. I’ve never thought I might not get a loan if I needed one or get the house in the neighborhood of my choosing. I’ve had to face the fact that because I’m white, I get to walk in this world differently and there’s no way that’s just.

I understand what it’s like living in an area with overt racism. I moved here from Detroit where there’s a huge black and white divide. White flight from Detroit to the suburbs happened decades ago. I learned much later in life that the Detroit neighborhood I was raised in, on the very street I played with my black and white friends, was thought to be lower class white, yet, at the same time, upper class black. I still grapple with this thought.

After being in the Twin Cities for a month or two, I felt this area might be different from Detroit. Maybe it might even be safe for my black friends. I was optimistic. I openly shared my observations with folks. I talked with black friends about their experiences in this area and, to my sadness, what I was hoping for wasn’t true. It was simply more subtle here.

Humans have created a social construct called “race,” never intended by God.

Let’s look again to the theme of our Lenten series from Micah 6:8: “With what shall I come before the Lord?...“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

What is God calling you to do as we live in the tension of racism today? We cannot pretend it isn’t there. That will not create equality. That will not change minds. But, there are many ways to learn more about social justice issues to put racism behind. We can work for a more just and equitable society. We can become aware, if we are not, of our attitudes and actions that perpetuate racism, so we may be challenged to change. We can learn through the power of listening, and through it see the personhood in the other. This exchange will bring life, both to the person sharing and the person listening. It will connect us as humans and bridge our divide. In the midst, God will be present. It will be sacred ground.

As children of God, created in God’s image, we have been clothed with a new self which is being renewed in knowledge according to the likeness of God. In this renewal, Christ is all and in all! Let us remember whose we are in all of our diversity. Let us love all the pieces back into God’s beautiful mosaic and restore our distorted image of God.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

New Sight

If we are willing to let Jesus open our eyes, even though we first will see things that are painful to look at, we will also see a great hope in God’s healing love for ourselves and for the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Fourth Sunday in Lent, year A
   Text: John 9:1-41

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

We’re not blind, are we?

I was sixteen, licensed to drive for about six months. I had the gold, ‘74 Dodge Coronet, with Chrysler’s great 318 engine, the car my parents let me drive. I was at my cousin Jason’s farm, just outside of town. I was in the car, ready to go home, and started backing up. I could see Jason in my rear-view mirror, near the barn, waving his arms in front of his face. (Demonstrate) I happily waved back, as I continued in reverse. And plowed into my great-aunt’s car.

I had checked my mirrors. I was certain I saw all I needed to see. To this day, I’m not entirely sure how I hit that car. As a city boy to Jason’s country boy, he would happily tell you other stories of mishaps on the farm that I encountered, and they also largely were because, like with Jason’s wave, I wasn’t seeing what I needed to see.

The Pharisees end this marvelous story of Jesus and a man born without sight by asking, “we’re not blind, are we?” Here’s a tip: if you find yourself asking Jesus that question, it’s fairly certain the answer is “yes.”

This story isn’t about a healing Jesus does. That’s the incident that sparks it. This story is, as Jesus said, about the glory of God being revealed, about seeing and not seeing the truth. It’s about seeing Jesus as God’s Messiah, who gives us life.

And it’s not clear we have that vision yet.

But – we’re not blind, are we?

Well, are we willing to see the truth of our world as it really is? The brokenness and despair, the divide between the rich and the poor, the injustices built into our society, into the very fabric of our everyday lives? And if we will see that truth, will we have the courage to see our own participation that runs so deep we don’t even notice we’re causing these problems?

Theologian Sallie McFague has written about this blindness with regard to climate change and the refugee crisis. She writes: “We are a (largely) innocent enemy. We high-level consumers of energy are merely living ordinary Western lives, doing what everyone else in our society is doing. Even as we gradually learn how deeply our actions are affecting the planet’s health, the problem still seems abstract, remote.” [1]

And this is equally true of the problems of poverty, racial injustice, inequality for women, of all society’s ills. We’re so invested in our convenient lives, our “normal,” and the effects are so far removed from our actions, we barely even believe we’re part of the problem, that we’re the enemy. We just don’t see it.

Do we want Jesus to spit into the dirt, make some mud, and open our eyes so we see the truth? It will hurt. It will be exceedingly inconvenient.

But – we’re not blind, are we?

Well, are we willing to see the truth of our inner lives as they really are, our fears and sins and prejudices, the doubts we have about our worthiness? Or will we keep pretending we’re just fine? Are we willing to have our eyes opened to see the harm we do to others, even if it’s unintentional? To face that we can be problems for those who love us, that we can and do hurt them? We just don’t like to let ourselves see these things.

Do we want Jesus to spit into the dirt, make some mud, and open our eyes to see this truth? It will hurt. It will be exceedingly inconvenient.

Here’s John’s grace today: he says we can open our eyes step by step.

This blind man didn’t see everything right away. His physical eyes were now fine. But even by the end of the story, he still didn’t see all that could be seen. This story is about a man gradually seeing the truth about Christ Jesus, and finding life in that truth.

At first, all he knows is the name Jesus. He didn’t even see him. He was blind.

And he knows what happened: He was blind, had mud put on him, he washed, now he sees. He keeps repeating that truth again and again, and gradually discovers new eyes to see what God is doing in Jesus.

He moves from only knowing the name Jesus, to next declaring “he is a prophet.” Later he says, “he is someone from God.” Then later, “he is the Son of Man.” And finally, his eyes are opened enough that he falls on his knees and worships the incarnate God-with-us. He found life in Christ he didn’t have before. He still had questions. He was cast out from his religious community. He had no idea what he was going to do for a living, having begged his whole life. But he found the Son of God and found life and hope.

This is the sight Christ wants for us, painful as it will be at first, so we also can find healing.

There’s a familiar prayer from the Middle Ages, attributed to St. Richard of Chichester.

“Dear Lord, three things I pray, to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.”

That’s what Christ offers the blind man today. That’s what Christ offers us, too. To take some mud and put it on our eyes and open them up to see the truth. To see what God is doing in Christ more clearly.

Part of that seeing is honesty about the ugly truths we pretend we don’t see. Without such brutal honesty, we can’t see a path to healing. Healing for the world and all the systems we perpetuate. Healing for ourselves, and all our brokenness inside and out.

When we see Christ more clearly, we see beneath all that pain and brokenness to a great hope. A hope that when we live in Christ’s love, honestly looking at our truth and the world’s truth, following Christ more nearly, God’s healing happens in us.

But this clarity comes day by day, not all at once.

We are blind, aren’t we?

But we gather here in this wonder: we are loved by the God who in Christ opens eyes, and when we can see, we find hope in God. Like the formerly blind man, as we recall and repeat the truth of the grace we’ve received from God, stubbornly speaking it, our eyes become more and more opened.

Our new sight shows not only hard truth. It also reveals God’s love and grace underlying everything in this world. We see signs of hope in the smallest actions. We see paths where we can change how we act and live in ways that will affect our closest relationships and the greater world.

As Jesus said to the Pharisees, as long as you think you’re not blind, I can’t do much for you. But when you admit you are, now I can help. Let me open your eyes. The light will hurt at first. But then you will see my love, and my grace, and you will see beauty unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Do you believe? Jesus asked. And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And worshipped him.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

[1] Sallie McFague, A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2008; p. 28

This sermon includes inspiration from Jean Vanier, in his commentary Drawn Into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, Novalis: Ottowa, Can., 2004; p. 170ff.; and from Rachel Crippen, Concordia (Moorhead) ’17, both from conversation and from her unpublished senior thesis, “Would You Harbor Me? An Eco-Theology of Accountability and Response for the Global Refugee Crisis.”

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Midweek Lent 2017 + Justice, Kindness, Humbly Walking

Week 3: “It Is Not So Among You”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen; Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Minneapolis
Texts: Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 24:1-12

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

James and John were feeling pretty good about themselves.

They were in the leadership group of the disciples, top three with Peter. They were, they liked to think, Jesus’ right-hand men. In a singularly misguided moment, the brothers asked a favor of Jesus: when he came into glory, could they have the seats of honor, at his right and left? We know the story.

But we need to hear Jesus’ response clearly: You know, he said, that among the nations, the Gentiles, the world, their leaders lord it over the others. “It is not so among you,” he said. (Mark 10:43) “Whoever wishes to be great must be a servant.”

“It is not so among you.” In just a few words Jesus forever declares Christian life counter-cultural, not like the others, not like the world. There’s a new order of how we relate to each other when we are brought into Christ’s life in baptism. We are different than the world.

The great tragedy is the Church of Christ has far too easily kept the ways of the world rather than the ways of Christ. Many times the Church has even justified the world’s way as if Christ demands it, it’s how things were meant to be. One of the Church’s greatest sins in this is the treatment of women for most of the Church’s life.

“Do justice. Love Kindness. Walk humbly with God.”

Micah’s command shapes our midweek Lenten worship this year. This is the faithful response God seeks from us. This Lent we are looking at five areas in our life where these words challenge us, where we ask if we’re doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with God.

Three of these are amply commanded in Scripture: welcoming the stranger, the immigrant; caring for those who are poor and hungry; loving our enemies. It’s impossible to read the Scriptures and not find these clear mandates. The other two, the issues of race and gender, are less clearly delineated. Maybe that’s why it took nearly 2,000 years for the Church to face its sin of racism and its sinful treatment of women. Maybe that’s why the Church still struggles with these two things, and in many places hasn’t even begun to address them.

But the more we carefully read Scripture the more we see God views all people and genders as equally beloved, valuable, gifted, and needed. There is ample clarity if we have eyes to see. And none are clearer than the apostle Paul.

Paul’s ringing declaration of the new reality in Christ is a sun shining over the whole of Scripture.

In Christ you all are children of God through faith, Paul says. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” The radical love of God in Christ reveals that God views all of us as children, without distinction.

This isn’t just rhetoric for Paul. Though many translators, pastors, and theologians try to mask this truth, Paul clearly regarded women as equal co-workers in the faith, using the same terms he used for male leaders. Phoebe, Priscilla, and Junia, for example, were all clearly the same kind of leaders as any of the men in Paul’s congregations.

Jesus obviously treated women as he did men, radically against the culture. He debated theology with them, treated them as equals in conversation, gave them apostolic callings. A number of his disciples, including leaders, were women.

So ask yourself: why have we only noticed this recently?

When you hear the phrase, “Jesus’ disciples,” what first comes to mind? Twelve men? Why is that? What does that say about how you’ve been taught to read the Scriptures? It took until the 1970s for Lutherans to ordain women as pastors, even with the evidence from Paul’s communities. What happened?

It seems clear that, by the end of the first century, women were being sidelined from leadership roles in the Church. We can see evidence in the Timothy letters, supposedly from Paul, but clearly coming from a time decades after his death. The Church may have started to feel its radical acceptance of women was so counter-cultural it was hindering their mission. Maybe people couldn’t handle that women were key Christian leaders.

But our culture shapes us without our being aware of it. The Church was born in a deeply patriarchal society. It may be the next generation of male Christian leaders themselves just got squeamish about having women in leadership. Jesus and Paul, close to the beginning of the movement, started to fade a little into the background, and old habits lingered.

But don’t we see this human nature already in Luke’s Easter story?

The four Gospels clearly agree that the women disciples faithfully watched Jesus’ burial and came, by themselves, with no men, on Sunday morning. They were the first witnesses, and they were sent to declare the good news, to be apostles, to their fellow disciples.

But when they witness, the male disciples dismiss them, calling their story “an idle tale.” The word means “foolishness,” “nonsense.” They didn’t trust that the women were reliable. They were just babbling idiocy. The men had to see for themselves.

Ask any woman today if she’s ever experienced the same situation, where she said something and no one paid attention, but later in the same conversation a man said the same thing and everyone picked up on it and agreed with it. It happens all the time.

This is both our grace and our urgency, that Jesus says it is not so among us. We must make that true.

Women in our culture are regularly harassed sexually, often assaulted. Women are paid on average 20% less than men in our society for doing the same work. Many jobs are still denied women, even if it isn’t openly stated, because they are not seen as capable. We who are men must face this truth: our sisters and daughters and mothers and aunts, equal in God’s eyes, fully gifted as we, consistently face discrimination, harassment, and diminishment.

In Galatians Paul makes an unassailable claim that overrides all other claims about distinctions. It is a travesty of life in Christ that the Church took nearly 2,000 years finally to be dragged into doing what it was already doing at its birth. We still deal with the legacy of a patriarchal culture in our structures, our leadership. We still have serious language issues with regard to women. We still have the reality that, though Jesus called the First Person of the Trinity “Father,” we have too often ascribed maleness to the whole of the Triune God, which is not only heretical but unscriptural. The Church has much to do to live into Jesus’ reality and Paul’s breathtaking claim.

And we need to pay attention to this before we can be a true witness in the world to these injustices. If we are meant to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God,” the Church needs to work on the culture and society to fully welcome all genders into equality of life in all phases. We can start on that now. But we have to clean our own house as we go, and be willing to look into all the dark corners of our prejudice and blindness.

“It is not so among you.” That’s our hope.

In Christ we are drawn into a life where all God’s children, in all our marvelous variety and diversity, are seen and welcomed and treated as equal, as beloved, as blessed, as gifted. We are all made in the image of God. And Christ is life and hope for the whole world because in Christ all are loved, everyone, without exception. There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but all are one in Christ Jesus.

That’s the hope the Church has held for 2,000 years, even if we’ve struggled to live it, even if we’ve done sinful things to work against that hope.

But we are in Christ. The Spirit is moving in us, changing us. If we stop resisting the Spirit, and look clearly at the places we need to see uncomfortable truths about ourselves, if we seek as truthfully as we can to be faithful to the mind of Christ, we will together find the path Paul says is the path of life. A path where all are needed and loved, where all are one in Christ Jesus, and in the love of God for this world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Midweek Lent, 2017: Justice, Kindness, Humbly Walking

Week 2: “Our Heart”

Vicar Kelly Sandin
   Texts: Luke 16:19-31 

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The truth is, most of us take eating for granted. We wake up, grab our coffee or tea, have toast, oatmeal, eggs or green smoothies of spinach and mangoes, and begin our day. Lunch is assumed. It’s simply a matter of what. Do we pack it for work, eat at home, find snacks in our office, or do we run to a local restaurant for a quick bite to eat? In fact, after this liturgy there will be a lovingly prepared lunch of soup, bread, and other treats to satisfy our hunger. That’s our tradition. It’s expected. We’ll then go on in our day and afterwards we’ll plan something for dinner. Whether that’s a home-cooked meal, going out, or coming back for soup and bread before evening vespers, there will be food and, likely, snacks before we ever lay our heads in warm beds.

Lazarus had none of this. No food or warm bed. He lay sick and hungry at the gate of a very rich man. The contrast between these two characters in the parable is extreme. The nameless rich man feasted sumptuously every single day, meaning his meals were of great expense. They were lavish and taken for granted. With such exquisite meals it’s curious to know what his reaction would be if his servants didn’t prepare his food to his liking, every day, and whether or not they got to eat this food, too.

Certainly, the rich man had food waste. There would have been plenty to feed many hungry mouths. The problem this parable sets up for us is that the rich man either didn’t have eyes to see Lazarus because of his own self-absorption, or he saw him and didn’t care. Either way, Jesus brings this to our attention as a human condition that is utterly contrary to the way of God. Compare rich man with the dogs in the parable. They had more mercy for Lazarus than any human. They kept him company in his misery and soothed his sores. Perhaps they knew what it was like to be rejected and only saw and sensed a kindred spirit needing love.

Notice, Jesus doesn’t give details about how Lazarus got to this state. That’s not the point. All we know is he’s poor, covered in sores, and longing to fill the void of hunger with whatever falls from the rich man’s table. Obviously, he’s helpless to feed himself. Jesus isn’t judging Lazarus. He simply points out his needs that the rich man could have attended to, but didn’t. Simple food and help for his sores would have been nothing for the rich man to give, yet Lazarus was ignored and eventually died. Starvation and disease took his life.

In death, Lazarus gets to be at the bosom of Abraham. That would be the better translation. He’s carried away by angels to be held in the warmth of Abraham’s bosom. He’s comforted and soothed. He’s cradled and loved. He’s given what he never got in his earthly life. In his death he gets eternal care and affection. He gets more than what he had hoped for at the gate of the rich man.

As opposed to Lazarus, the rich man had his fill in life and in death is tormented. Yet, while dead, and in the agony of flames, the rich man acts with a certain superiority. He sees Lazarus and speaks his name, but only so Lazarus can be of service to him by cooling his burning tongue. Even in torment, the rich man looks at Lazarus as being beneath him. He can’t see him in any other way but less than.

Of course, Father Abraham will not let Lazarus do this. There is a reversal of roles in the parable that recalls the sermon on the plain, earlier in this gospel, where Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled…but woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.”

Jesus has preferential treatment for the hungry and poor and this parable is a wake-up call. The difference between Lazarus and the rich man in their death, with the huge chasm between them and the inability to ever get across that bridgeless divide, is vivid and startling. It reminds me of Ebenezer Scrooge in the Christmas Carol and the ghosts who showed him what would become of him if he continued in his loveless ways.

Our parable today is told as a warning about our indifference, our inaction, our judgement toward the poor and hungry. It’s an opportunity to be introspective and acknowledge, with honesty, our disposition toward those who live in poverty.

As a society we’ve been taught that hard work pays off. That we are to rely upon our own resources and pull our own selves up. Therefore, those who are poor, hungry, or on the streets are often viewed as lazy or just looking for handouts. That they ought to get a job and take care of themselves and that we owe them nothing. We are skeptical of many, thinking they’re conning us and taking advantage. We’ve all been there as to whether or not to do something. And when we don’t our inaction gnaws at us when we walk by and ignore them. That’s God working within us. We do have hearts and it’s not that we don’t care, it’s that we don’t know what to do or don’t want to be fooled, so more often than not we do nothing and then try to justify it.

When I was in Portland, Oregon the homeless were in abundance. They were allowed to lie in front of stores and were not shooed away. There were times I felt I had to step over them. I was overwhelmed with how in my face it was and it was, quite frankly, disturbing. I was asked for money at every turn, so I kept dollar bills ready for when I was. I’ll admit, my motives were less than pure. I was on vacation. It was easier to give than to be harassed or to deal with the integrity issue of saying I didn’t have cash when, in fact, I did. I kept this up for a week. But, if I actually lived there, how could I afford to do that every day? This is what many of us contemplate in the areas we live and in the neighborhood of Mount Olive. We feel helpless to fix or change the chronic circumstances of others and, if we’re truthful, we really don’t want to see it. We want to go on with our lives free from dealing with the impact of poverty in our society. Yet, this parable speaks. God calls us to do something. Our inaction or indifference is noted.

We may not feed every person on the street, but we have voices to fight for and support affordable housing, decent wages, insurance coverage for all, free community gardens, and grocery stores in urban food deserts. This parable is asking for more than quick hand-outs to those who come to our church doors or a dollar bill given to someone begging, as helpful as that might be. It’s deeper than this. It’s about our attitude toward others. It’s about our heart. It’s about whether or not we love our neighbor. Whether or not we can truly look another in the eye and feel the hurting person inside. This is what God is looking for in us. That we love as God loves. That we care as God cares. Jesus’ parable gives space for reflection on our Lenten journey, but also reminds us there’s room for all to be rocked in the bosom of God’s love.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Unseen, Untrodden, Unknown

God has called us to step forward in faith, not knowing what is ahead, and so we do, trusting God is always with us, even if the road ahead is unknown and frightening.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Second Sunday in Lent, year A
   Texts: Genesis 12:1-4a; John 3:1-17; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

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

Imagine that first night on the road.

Out in the wilds, in tents, with temporary corrals for the animals, what were Abraham and Sarah thinking? Why did we leave our city home to go . . . where? How did Abram talk me into this? Did I really hear God’s voice?

Were they frightened? Excited? Probably both. Nicodemus, too, as he stepped out of the shadows edging the street and came to Jesus’ door: What if another Pharisee sees me? Why am I here? The others say he’s a blasphemer, but I sense something. Should I knock?

Abraham and Sarah. Nicodemus. Hearing the voice of God, they stepped out in faith. They followed its leading. But it had to be as terrifying as it was exhilarating.

Faith was no easier for them than it is for us. Their stepping forward in faith was just as frightening as any step we take. But we have the gift of their story, their testimony. If we sit with them in that critical night of their first steps, we can find light for our own paths ahead.

We find the beginning of light in Jesus’ redirection of Nicodemus.

Nicodemus wants to talk about whether Jesus is from God. But Jesus wants to talk about new birth. Birth from above. Birth in water and the Holy Spirit.

The gift is that Jesus calls this a birth, not an ending. The Spirit gives us birth in baptism’s water, but she doesn’t reveal everything that is to come. Birth is beginning.

We don’t remember our physical birth. We entered the world with nothing but future, nothing but potential. Our present was living, breathing, eating, sleeping. Others cared for us, cleaned us, fed us. Everything we would become was yet to come.

So Jesus says our life of faith begins: in baptism the Spirit bears us into newness of life, as Christ ourselves, anointed ones. What we will be, where we’ll go, what we’ll do as Christ, is unknown.

Just as it was that night for Abraham and Sarah. For Nicodemus.

When Eric Milner-White, dean of King’s College at Cambridge, wanted a prayer reflecting Abraham’s faith that night on the road, he focused on the unknown Abraham faced.

He wrote, “O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.” [1]

That’s our faith. Born into new life in Christ, even if some of us have years living into our baptism by now and some only months, the future is still unseen, untrodden, unknown.

What do these faithful ones today tell us that gives us hope and encouragement, instead of fear?

They listened to God’s voice.

Abraham’s task was hard: in his world no one believed there was only one God, unseen, all-creating. People didn’t hear their many gods speak to them. But somehow Abraham heard God’s voice, and listened. And credit to Sarah, who didn’t hear herself. Her faith was to trust Abraham.

Nicodemus is more like us: he had Jesus, the Son of God, to seek out and hear. We sometimes romanticize how great it would be to hear God’s voice directly like Abraham or Noah. But we forget that in Christ Jesus we see the face of the Triune God, and in Christ’s words from the Scriptures and given into our hearts through the Spirit, we can hear God ourselves.

So here is our first task: are we listening to God’s Word speak, and discerning what it means for our path? They heard things that challenged them to leave what was comfortable and go into what was unfamiliar. But they trusted they were hearing God’s true voice.

So first we open our ears.

Then they took a step.

They not only heard challenging words from God, they acted on them. Abraham and Sarah became the parents of a great nation, models of faith. Nicodemus moved from secret discipleship to openly declaring his faithfulness at Jesus’ death, claiming his body for burial.

They weren’t perfect. They made mistakes along the way. They had no idea where the path was leading them. But they took that one step. They did this one day at a time. They started a venture they could not see the end of, headed down paths they’d never walked before, and faced dangers they couldn’t predict. All of that could have crushed their faithfulness at the start. But they didn’t focus on that. They took one step.

So can we. When we hear God call us to follow, to become Christ, we can start with the first step. The first night on the road, fearful and excited. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

And they stepped forward because they trusted they weren’t alone.

Jesus says the Spirit goes with us, unseen, but always there. Nicodemus eventually trusted he wasn’t alone, trusted in the God whose love for the cosmos sent Jesus into the world to save it, not judge it.
Abraham and Sarah were told to go “to a place that I will show you.” God promised to go with them and guide them.

We are never sent down the path of faith alone. “God will not let your foot be moved, neither will the one who watches over you fall asleep,” we sang with the psalmist this morning. Our help comes from the One who made the heavens and the earth, we sang. We look to the one who “justifies the ungodly,” Paul told us today, so we know even in our failure we aren’t abandoned on the road.

With the faith God gives us, we can trust, as we pray, that God’s hand is leading us and God’s love supporting us. These faithful forebears aren’t heroes. They’re like us. Ordinary people, wanting to know where God is, listening for God, and stepping out in faith, trusting they are walking with God.

When we join them in that night of their first steps, we find companions.

Each of us individually hears challenges from God to who we are, that pull us into places God would have us grow and change. We each are drawn to become something new and unknown and perhaps frightening to us, for the sake of God’s love that fills us.

And we have these same experiences together, as community. We listen here not just for ourselves alone, but for ourselves together, as Christ’s body. Together we will see new paths of following Christ open up before us that we can’t predict, that seem a little scary.

But we share this journey with Abraham and Sarah, with Nicodemus, with each other. We help each other listen for God’s voice and hear. In our fear, we encourage each other to take the individual steps each of us is called to take as we become Christ, and the larger steps together we are called to take.

It’s like being born; the future is unknown. But it’s being born from above, Jesus says, from the love of the Triune God for the universe that caused God to come and be one of us, be lifted up on the cross for the sake of all people, so no one will perish. That’s where we’re born from, and that’s where our paths of faithfulness ultimately return.

So we go forward in faith, not knowing where we go, but only that God’s hand is leading us and God’s love supporting us. That’s enough for today’s step.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

[1] Daily Prayer, ed. Eric Milner-White, G.W. Briggs; Oxford University Press, 1941; p. 14 (with modernized language from various sources)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Midweek Lent, 2017: Justice, Kindness, Humbly Walking

Week 1: “You Were, Once”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Matthew 2:13-15

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

Alien. Stranger. Sojourner.

Nearly 100 times the Hebrew Scriptures uses these words, with this mandate: welcome, befriend, offer kindness to them. With due respect to some current Christian leaders, immigration is very clearly a Bible issue. And there’s no question where the Scriptures stand.

At the core, the Scriptures tell the story of a world of immigrants and aliens, wandering people who are found by the God of all people and welcomed. Even the Son of God became a refugee when he was only a child. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus look exactly like the refugee families fleeing famine and war and persecution in the Middle East today.

“You shall love the stranger,” Moses says today, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” This is the heart of the Biblical witness to our identity: remember who you were before you were found by God’s love. Remember that you, too, or maybe your forebears, were an outsider, a stranger. You didn’t belong, and people didn’t welcome you. Now you know you are loved by God forever, offer that love to everyone else.

If once you’ve been welcomed out of the storm into a warm room, with a fire and food and kindness, don’t bar the door behind you. Take turns watching to see if anyone else is lost out there needing to come in.

This is a huge problem in our country right now. It’s one of our oldest problems.

We gladly recite Emma Lazarus’ words on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” But it’s not true. It’s not how we behave most times.

In 1798, John Adams’ government passed four Alien and Sedition Acts, making it harder for immigrants to become citizens, giving the president authority to deport or imprison non-citizens who were deemed dangerous or who came from nations the U.S. considered hostile, and giving sweeping power to shut down any who spoke against the government. After Jefferson became president, three of these were repealed. But the law permitting deportation and imprisonment of immigrants who belong to nations we consider enemies remains on the books.

It was picked up again in 1918 and broadened to include even citizens, causing many German-Americans grief and persecution. German language newspapers in the Midwest were bombed, their presses destroyed. People on both sides of my family changed the spelling of their last names so they seemed less German.

FDR picked it up again in World War II to justify the incarceration of thousands of Japanese-Americans and the theft of their lives and property. This is who we truly are. Muslim immigrants are only the latest iteration of our fear of the stranger.

And even without these laws, every wave of immigrants, including many of our grandparents and great-grandparents, faced discrimination, hatred, abuse, simply for being different.

If the words on the Statue of Liberty were actually true of our national character, we would be right in proclaiming them. It’s hard to find an era in our history where the truth wasn’t the exact opposite of these words.

We must be honest with ourselves as the Church, too.

Franklin Graham isn’t the only Christian leader supporting a ban on immigration and the deportation of illegal aliens. Throughout history the Church is commonly on the side of the powers in charge, the side of the status quo, and leaves the stranger, the immigrant, out in the cold.

It’s a basic human challenge: we band together in groups. We were made for companionship. But pretty quickly we act as if the group is only valuable and safe if we control who’s in and who’s out. If we can close the doors to some people, somehow we feel better about who we are.

So the Church too often has been on the wrong side of history. We who have been welcomed by God in Christ without our doing anything have then tried to shut the door to anyone else, at least anyone who isn’t like us. We’ll deal with this more in a couple weeks, but our history on race and slavery is just one example of Christians happily accepting the Good News of the grace of God and just as happily refusing it to others. In the history of immigrants in this nation, it’s most often Christians leading the charge against the outsiders, even against fellow Christians. My Irish Catholic forebears were hated by good American Lutherans, some of whom were probably my relatives, too.

We shut the doors to others because we are afraid.

Our fear of the other is deep-rooted, and until we name it and face it, it will continue to drive us. We fear those we don’t understand, those who behave differently than we, those with different cultures and customs. We struggle to shake that fear, so much so that once we get used to one group, we’ll find another to fear.

So Christ first always tries to ease our fear. We hear “do not be afraid” often, and it is more than just words. Trusting we belong to God’s love forever means we can learn, through the grace of the Spirit, to let go of our fear of the other, and be welcoming to all.

This congregation has learned that over the years and it’s almost second nature to us. But we still have times when we’re challenged to keep that hospitality. Our old fears crop up just when we thought they’d gone forever.

As we are filled with God’s grace in this place, we pray that we are also given a spirit of peace and hope, and not one of fear. So we can love. And so we can deal with the question of barriers and doors more hopefully and honestly.

Because Christ blows open all doors, and not just on Easter Day.

Here, in this place, we are welcomed in God’s love, even if we felt outsiders before. We belong.

But Christ never lets us stop there. To follow Christ is to break down all barriers between all people. Jesus frequently got into trouble for talking to and welcoming people he wasn’t supposed to welcome. To belong to the family of Christ is to belong to a family with no doors, no walls, no barriers. As Paul has said, there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but all are one in Christ Jesus.

But that’s also our great joy: if there are no walls, doors, or barriers, we also can never be left out in the cold. Once we’ve found God’s warmth and love, how then can we likewise envision ever leaving someone else out in the cold? And once we’ve enjoyed the freedom of this country, how can we refuse it to others?

This is a non-negotiable truth for any who wish to follow Christ: all are neighbors to us, all are loved by God, and all are welcome.

It is the very love of God in Christ that we know that breaks open our hearts. That love takes away our fear of the stranger. That love can open our doors, take down our walls, and help us reach out to those who are strange to us. When we do that here, and in our daily lives, we can also work with others in this country to make our nation live up to what we hope is its destiny as a home for any who seek a home.

You once were strangers yourselves, God says to us. But now you belong, and are welcomed, loved, forgiven, graced. Go, and be that love and welcome and forgiveness and grace to the stranger. There is room enough for all in God’s reign.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

The Olive Branch, 3/8/17

Click here to read this week's issue of The Olive Branch.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Time of Trial

Jesus’ temptation mirrors and informs our own: it is how we grow to become who God means us to be, and we are always with God’s grace, strength, and presence throughout.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The First Sunday in Lent, year A
   Texts: Matthew 4:1-11; Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

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

We can’t avoid temptation in our lives. We really don’t want to.

Two stories of temptation shape our worship today. Hearing them, we wish we didn’t have to face such testing ourselves. But these stories teach us a different truth, that we can’t become who God means us to be without such trials.

The Hebrew story of human sin and our origins reveals a belief that temptation and testing are part of God’s original human design. Adam and Eve haven’t sinned yet, but already they face the suffering of being tempted to disobey. It’s not arbitrary of God. They’ll only become who they were created to be by facing and making hard choices.

And so the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness after his baptism, not to give him temptation, but to encourage him to face the inevitable. This testing wasn’t arbitrary, either. Jesus will only become who he is meant to be if he faces and makes these hard choices.

These stories have much to say to us about our temptation and testing.

Here we note that, facing temptation, knowing who you are matters.

Adam and Eve, standing here for all humanity, are unsure of who they truly are. They live in God’s good creation, beloved children of God. They depend on God for all good, and are asked to trust that God knows good and evil, and obey.

But they are tempted to forget they are the creatures, and want to be God themselves, in control. They want to name things as good and evil, and do what they want, instead of obeying. They forget the joy of walking with God, and are tempted to choose a path where they put themselves above God.

They are us.

But Jesus walks into the wilderness wet from his baptism. He also knows he is the beloved Son of God, he just heard it. In his temptations that’s put to the test, too, but he remains dependent upon his Father’s grace and love and so withstands the trial. He chooses obedience over doing what he wants. His answer at Gethsemane, “not my will but yours,” begins in this desert.

The settings here are also important, a lush garden and a desert.

Remarkably, the one who faithfully resists was in the desert. The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, perhaps to remove him from distractions, from the world’s noise, from his cares and daily needs, to focus on listening to God, and facing what paths lay ahead. Not weakened by his forty days in the desert, spiritually Jesus was strengthened, ready to face Satan, ready to consider who he is to be, free of distraction.

Adam and Eve have a rich life of pleasure, but they didn’t make the right decision. Maybe they were too comfortable. We also struggle, maybe because we live in God’s lush creation, privileged with much of God’s riches, and have even more distractions. When do we deprive ourselves of any comforts or pleasures? When are we free of noise? When are we silent, and not listening to news or music, or checking social media, or watching television, or feasting richly?

Our puny idea of “giving up something” for Lent waters down the deep wisdom of our ancestors in faith who understood this wilderness. They realized that only by letting go of things that pull at us, demand of us, distract us, can we hear God. Only by going into the wilderness and getting away from the noise, can we hear God. If you’re giving anything up, let it be a true fasting for this time, so you can focus. Or even something you won’t pick up again at Easter, but leave forever at the edge of the wilderness as you walk toward your testing.

Third, these trials and temptations are core to being human, being faithful.

These stories aren’t about being tempted to run a stop-sign, or cheat in a card game. These trials deal with life and death. That helps us. Because here we see the challenges before us. The questions of who we are, and of whether we can focus on God. And then there are Jesus’ three great tests.

Jesus is asked to turn stone into bread, to use his power to save himself.

At Gethsemane he has the same decision: will the Messiah save himself? He can’t set aside his power and face the cross if he doesn’t first do it at the beginning of his ministry on this lesser thing.

How will we make the right choice ourselves, to sacrificially offer ourselves to another in all sorts of ways, if we don’t first face this core question? If we insist on using all our wealth and resources to take care of ourselves instead of sharing for our neighbor, we will find the greater sacrifices even harder.

Jesus is asked to jump off the Temple, to show he trusts his Father.

To test God is with him before he will obey. At the cross, Jesus will face the ultimate test of that trust. At one point there he cried his doubt and fear out loud, before finding that trust at the end. But this first trust in the desert helped him trust at the cross.

Likewise, we are tempted to test if God really loves us, supports us, before we risk obedience. We want proof that all will work out before we try to obey, and use our lack of such evidence as an excuse to do nothing. We must learn to step out in faith, trusting God, on everyday things, so we can have the courage for the much larger steps needed to really change the world.

Jesus is asked to give up his core identity, and he can rule the world.

Sent here to bring us all back into God’s rule, Jesus can short-cut that and take over the world with political power. Three years later in Jerusalem, he will have the same decision. Will he destroy Roman power, overthrow the leaders of his people? Will the Messiah will use power to get what he wants? This desert decision matters, because accepting arrest and what follows will be a much harder decision.

This is critical for us. Politically, do we support and encourage our leaders to use force and dominance to get what we think is good? Personally, will we manipulate others, try and get what we want however we can, even if it means we aren’t loving? Do the ends justify the means? Jesus helps us see that the wrong means always lead to bad ends. It’s the every day choices we face where we learn this hard path and prepare for the larger ones.

These are the tests we face. How we face them determines which turns we take and who we become.

As we face these choices, we remember today that we are God’s beloved. We, like Jesus, walk into our path wet from our baptism, and like Jesus, God is always with us on our path. Remember, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, and was always with him.

And we would do well to seek wilderness, get rid of competing voices and distractions, so we can hear God’s voice, and know God’s presence.

And last, we remember we are loved by God in Christ who has faced these same trials, died for them, and is risen to new life. Nothing can separate us from that love.

We can’t avoid testing or temptation. It’s how we are made to grow into the beautiful beings God intended us to be. When we remember what we see here, then we’ll find we have God’s strength to make these hard choices, and God’s grace to learn and grow from them.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


We are dust, but God breathes life into us; we know we sin, but hear the voice of God’s love calling to us constantly; this is the shape of our journey.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   Ash Wednesday
   Texts: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

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

“Return to me with all your heart,” says the Lord.

“Be reconciled to God,” says Paul on behalf of Christ.

“Return,” says the prophet Joel, because “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

This is the voice that calls us here today. A voice using those words. It’s not a voice of rebuke, it’s the voice of the prodigal father in Jesus’ parable, longing for the return of a beloved child. It’s not a voice that crushes with fear. It’s a voice that calls hope of bringing us home.

This voice we hear today comes directly from the heart of the Triune God, who longs for us to be reconciled, restored. It’s a voice that, if we hear it, would lead us to drop everything, turn and come home. A voice that, the prophet says, would cause a wedding couple to leave their ceremony, an infant to leave the breast.

Jesus says our treasure is where our heart is. But the voice we hear today tells us that before we know where our heart is there is this truth: we are in God’s heart, beloved, desired. And we begin our journey of Lent with that wonder.

We’ve learned to face our sin and failure in shame, with heads down. That’s a problem.

The Scriptures certainly criticize our lack of love, our failure to bring justice and peace, our hurts that we lay on each other, on our neighbor, on this good creation. Some of that may feel like shame.

But that isn’t how God comes to us, or calls us home. In our flesh, bearing our humanity, Christ always offers welcome and hope, even to those who are doing wrong. “Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus says repeatedly, even while naming those sins we do that are not love as God has made us to love. Throughout the Scriptures the Triune God relentlessly calls us home, cries out in love. Even in God’s anger there is always the heart of God we hear in Hosea, “How can I give you up? You are my child, my beloved.”

We don’t doubt our sin, our failure. We confess them, and will today. We might feel shame, too, along with guilt and sadness and other powerful emotions.

But what the Triune God would have us know is that we are in the center of God’s heart, beloved. And God longs for us to come home, and when we come with our shame, or guilt, or sadness, we find ourselves embraced, given new clothes, and welcomed to a feast.

So what’s the point of the ashes? Aren’t we abasing ourselves there?

It’s actually the opposite. We don’t receive ashes to remember how awful we are, or to feel ashamed of ourselves, or to declare that we’re nothing, we’re worms. That’s not how God sees us. We are beloved to God.

In ancient times the faithful poured ashes over their heads to show their repentance, to claim they were nothing before God. But Jesus suggests those days are past. When we fast, when we confess, when we turn to God, Jesus says we don’t need to do public displays to show our repentance, our turning. God knows our heart, and we can trust in God’s love for us. So we wash our faces and stand firm in God’s love.

But listen to the words said over you today: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We receive ashes to remember that we are mortal, we are dust, and we will return to dust. We realize that we have no strength on our own for life, or for becoming Christ, or anything. We are dust, and if there is going to be life in our dust, it will only come from God. These ashes are hope for us: the Triune God is the one who breathes life into dust and gives bone and sinew and flesh, who raises us up in strength to be God’s love in the world.

So we can’t walk our journey alone.

Our little journey of Lent is our practice for our greater journey of faith. It is a journey where we’re reconciling with God and each other, a journey where we’re returning to God for mercy and hope.

We cannot do this alone. Not without our God who calls us beloved and gives us life. The forgiveness we receive is our life and our hope, because it restores us to God. We don’t have to hide in the bushes of the garden ashamed to meet God, as Adam and Eve; we are forgiven and loved, and can walk with God again.

The grace we see at the cross, God’s love that took on all pain and sin and death to crack open our hearts, is the air, water, and food we need for the journey we make in this world. We are dust, and can’t do any of this without that grace, that love. We can’t confess, we can’t repent, we can’t love, unless we remain in the love of God that calls to us, longs for us.

And remaining in that love, everything looks different.

The joy that permeates today is that the loving voice of God never stops calling to us, the loving heart of God never stops longing for us, and the loving arms of God never stop reaching out to us. And that changes our lives.

Paul says that our lives in God transcend all circumstances. We may look like we have nothing, but we have everything. Our path might look like we’re dying, but we are truly alive. We are centered in the love of God, and that makes all things healed and holy, even if we or the world can’t see it inside us.

Now we understand what Jesus is saying.

Your heart will be where your treasure is, Jesus says.

If we’re already in the center of God’s heart, that’s our treasure, without question. So that’s where our heart is, too. That’s the home we seek.

This is our journey, then:

We are always returning to the God whose love cannot be taken from us. We walk this journey as dust, fully aware of our mortality, but confident in God’s mercy and love, and rejoicing that our dust is breathed into life and love by the God who creates all things.

We walk with each other, reminding, serving, supporting, encouraging, helping.

We walk into the world bearing this love of God, so others hear the same voice, and know that God’s love cannot be taken from them, too.

That is our treasure beyond description. That’s where our heart truly is. That’s where will will follow.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

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