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Sunday, July 9, 2017


There is hope in living and loving as Christ, and there is hope in failing to live and love as Christ, for Christ bears the load with us, in good and ill, and helps us walk the path of Christly love.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 14, year A
   Texts: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30; Romans 7:15-25a

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

Paul of Tarsus was a saint. The Church says so.

We know it is so. His brilliant and passionate proclamation of God’s love in Christ, his tireless mission work, creating congregations across Asia Minor and Europe, his letters that still inspire and move us into faith, all witness to the holy grace that he was.

But sometimes he could be a jerk. He struggled with arrogance, had a temper problem, would sometimes wish terrible things on his opponents. Paul wasn’t always a gracious, kind, Christ-like person. And this is after his conversion from being a persecutor of the Church. Rightly or wrongly, there are many who do not see a saint when they consider Paul.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a saint. The Church says so.

We know it is so. Her life among the poor is inspiring to us all. Dedicating her life and all she had to caring for those on the fringes of the fringe, those whom so many had abandoned and ignored, her establishing of clinics, orphanages, and hospices, and an order of sisters who expanded her ministry, all witness to the holy grace that she was.

But she struggled with faith, often feeling God’s absence from her life. After her death, her writings were made public which described a deep sense of alienation from God lasting many years. During her process of canonization, some accused her of misusing donations, and said her methods weren’t intended to bring those who were poor out of poverty but to keep them there. Rightly or wrongly, there are some who do not see a saint when they consider Teresa.

What of the saints in our lives?

Think of those whose holiness of life and word inspired you, taught you, shaped you. Those about whom you and I could tell stories of awe and wonder, whose lives are ones for which we are still thankful. If the Church in East and West has not seen fit to formally canonize them, nonetheless we witness to the holy grace that they were.

Yet can we not also tell other stories of them which don’t neatly fit the title “saint”? There are fourteen names I name in the final petition of our prayers each week, when we each name our own beloved dead, fourteen loved ones from my mother to my uncles and all sorts of relatives in between. Some are dear models of faith to me. Not one was free of failure. With each I could tell of things that weren’t Christ-like. So could you of yours. Depending on which part of the story we tell of these who were holy in our lives, others might not see saints when they consider these people.

But think of all these and ask, are you ashamed of their failings?

I doubt it. We find inspiration and hope in their lives, and always will. People like Paul still teach us with their words, and always will. People like Teresa still inspire us with their devoted ministry, and always will. People whom we name and love still are the lights by which we first saw in the darkness, and will always be blessed in our hearts and minds.

We don’t ignore their failings, but we aren’t embarrassed by them. Their mistakes aren’t a source of shame. We love them for who they are and for the blessing they have been.

So why has the Church so long served the main course of the Good News of God’s love in Christ covered in a rich sauce of shame? For centuries now, we have been taught to be ashamed of our sin, to look at the lives of saints and note how unlike them we are, to hang our heads in humiliation before God as if we aren’t worthy. Only then are we told we can know we are loved by God’s grace.

But this is in direct conflict with the Scriptures, with the teaching, life, death and resurrection of Christ, with the teachings of the apostles and the very saints themselves, even our own. What we hear from all these is that we are beloved of God, worthy of God’s deepest attention, even to the point of God taking on our humanity alongside us. These witnesses name our sin not to humiliate, but to correct. They name it as we name the sins of our saints, as a truth needing forgiveness, not a truth that changes our view of the person.

It’s time we learned from the saints and Christ Jesus to set aside our shame and finally hear the real Good News.

Instead of shame, from the saints we receive the grace of a shared struggle.

Paul’s words from Romans 7 comfort and bless us. We hear from the apostle who taught us of God’s love for us, that he struggled to do right. “I can will what is right, but I can’t do it,” he says. “For I don’t do the good I want, but the evil I don’t want is what I do.”

We understand this in our bones. But what a gift for this saint and apostle to say, “I’m like you. This path of Christ is hard for me, too, and even when in my inmost heart I want to follow Christ, I don’t always do it.” What a blessing to hear!

Likewise, Teresa’s writings themselves give us hope, because her life of faithfulness continued in spite of her sense of a missing faith. She longed for God’s closeness, but she kept serving and loving as Christ. What a gift that is in our own times of God’s silence!

All these aren’t blessings to us because they were perfect, but because they share the same struggle we do. The best of them, if we read their writings, or remember their conversations with us, freely admit their failures to be like Christ.

When we look at the problems of the world, and at our own lives where we’re complicit in so many unspoken and unexplored areas, when we realize how hard it is to walk as Christ, even though we want to so badly, we can see around us these saints, not on pedestals but right next to us, who say, “I know exactly what you mean. It’s hard.”

But then they all say, turn to Christ for help. All these saints who share this struggle with us have this in common: they drew hope and life and strength from Christ, not themselves.

Instead of shame, from Christ we receive the grace of a shared burden.

Jesus never shamed people, or humiliated them. Yes, he called out sin, named it. But always in love, always ready to accept those who strayed. He said his job was to seek and find the lost and bring them home.

It is this crucified and risen Christ who now says to us: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Christ Jesus says we are beloved and that as we walk the cross-shaped path that frightens and daunts and intimidates us, we do not walk it alone. In fact, we are yoked to Christ, each of us, like a fellow ox. The yoke is this life in Christ we seek. And Christ is harnessed alongside us, so we are pulling together, bearing the burden together.

When we stumble and fall, because we do, Christ doesn’t shame us or humiliate us. Christ picks up more of the weight, helps us right ourselves, and off we go again, forgiven and loved still, on this path of love of God and love of neighbor.

When Paul asks today who will save him from his struggle, he says it is God who does it, through Christ. And partly he means it is God who forgives him. But what Paul really desires is help with the struggle, help carrying the burden.

That’s the promise Christ gives Paul, and Teresa, and all the saints. And us. To pull alongside us, help us when we stumble, and get us going forward in love again.

This is the grace of our struggle to faithfully follow Christ’s path. We never carry the weight alone.

When we grasp this, it’s like the sun breaking through dark clouds. We find hope and joy in living and loving as Christ, of course. But because Christ is yoked alongside us, we also find hope and joy in failing to live and love as Christ. Because in our weakness we are made strong. In our failing we are made perfect and in our failing we are also the most aware that we are always joined to Christ, and therefore to the love of the Triune God.

Christ’s path often seems overwhelming. But once we truly see the witness of the saints in failure as well as grace, once we remember who’s yoked alongside us, we finally understand how this yoke can be easy, this burden light. “Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord!” Paul says. Thanks be to God indeed!

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Go in peace. Serve the Lord.

Go in peace. Serve the Lord. This is our promise and hope, that we go out into the world always in Christ’s peace. This is also our calling, our sending, that we go as Christ’s peace.

Vicar Kelly Sandin
   The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 13, year A
   Texts: Matthew 10:41-42, Romans 6:12-23

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

Most Sundays, except the Easter season, we end our liturgy with “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” This dismissal is a commissioning after we’ve gathered to hear God’s word for us and have come to the table for the meal that sustains us. The meal that promises forgiveness of sin. The meal that is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The sacrament of bread and wine that fills us with God’s presence. And then we’re sent. Go in peace. Serve the Lord.

Last week I was struck with the thought, right before I was about to speak the words of this dismissal, “Am I really thinking about what I’m saying?” Go in peace. Serve the Lord. Do we truly hear this sending? It isn’t simply the signal that the liturgy is over so we can now have coffee hour treats or get on with the plans for our day. We are literally being authorized to go into the world, now that we’ve worshipped God and been filled with God. And with God in us, we are to go and serve.

Whoever welcomes you, Jesus says, welcomes me.

These were the parting words of a long list of instructions Jesus shared with his twelve disciples before they were sent on their mission to proclaim the good news of God in Christ. They were given authority to do all kinds of things from curing the sick to casting out demons. And while doing so, they were to rely upon the hospitality of others. They had to be humble and receive food and housing from whomever would give it. And it wouldn’t be easy. They would be persecuted from town to town, but were told to let their peace come upon every house they entered and if no one welcomed them they were to let their peace return to them and move on. Shake the dust off their feet. In other words, truly go in peace because whatever happened, whether the twelve were welcomed or not their peace wouldn’t be taken from them. Jesus covered all the bases. They had what they needed for their mission, but that didn’t mean they weren’t afraid.

Whoever welcomes you, Jesus says, welcomes me and the one who sent me. Even if it’s simply giving a cup of cold water. The one giving it was welcoming God into their presence and whoever received the disciple with such a gift, a cup of water, would not lose their reward. They would see God, not only in the promised life to come, but in the present, in the faces of those they welcomed.

As the church, we continue Jesus’ ministry. God is with us in the going as we are welcomed and share the love of God in Christ Jesus. Share the reason for our hope. And for this to happen there needs to be strangers to meet and greet. Strangers who will see Christ in us. It’s hard to receive a welcome if we don’t go outside that which is comfortable. We must go and trust that God is with us and in us and will provide. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Last weekend I went to the Pride Fest right after liturgy to represent Mount Olive as a welcoming church. I kept my collar on, but contemplated not wearing it at all. In truth, sometimes I just want to blend in with the crowd and not get all the looks I often get while wearing it or have the possible expectations that come with it. As I was searching for my booth that I couldn’t find, a young man sitting on a bench met my eye with his and in a half second his whole face lit up with a beaming smile as he leaned toward me with expectancy. He seemed so happy to see me. Of course it was the collar that enabled this to happen. I smiled back and he asked if I would sit with him. In that holy moment, while I came to Pride to do the welcoming, I was the one welcomed. I’m fully aware it was the collar that enabled this privilege, but I almost didn’t wear it and would have missed an opportunity of being God’s presence in the world. Because of it, I was able to hear his pain, but also his faith. God was indeed present as I listened and while we held hands to pray. And then, since I still needed to get to my booth, he grabbed a map and helped me find it. He had given me more than a cup of cold water to quench my thirst that afternoon. His welcoming spirit allowed two strangers to connect in the middle of a crowded park and experience the mystery of the Triune God.

Whoever welcomes you, Jesus says, welcomes me and the one who sent me.

The joy of being received, of being welcomed is transforming. Jesus welcomes all of us with grace we don’t deserve, as we are, but doesn’t leave us that way. God’s grace changes us and enables us to love. Through God’s love we become right with God. We are forgiven. Life becomes more holy as we are aligned with God’s will. Having been set free from sin, our hearts want to become more obedient. As we go out and serve, we open ourselves up more and more to receive God’s love that never leaves us the same. Of course, it’s a way of life that requires intentional effort. It will not always come easily. We will miss opportunities and ignore the Spirit’s nudges, but when we do align ourselves with God’s desires we are blessed with unforgettable moments that makes life so worth living.

As we go and carry God with us, sharing the good news, God is welcomed and rewards us in the encounter. The one going and the one receiving is transformed. And while the ultimate reward is eternal life with God, that can never be lost, we also have the joyous reward of being received in the here and now, of truly connecting with a stranger, even for a moment, and experiencing that which is holy.

But the truth is, being welcoming has its own mistrusts and fears. It takes courage to welcome – to open the door and give a cup of water when mistrust of strangers is so prevalent. This can leave us quite vulnerable to all kinds of possibilities. Likewise to be sent brings its fears, as well. We have no idea who it is we are being sent to and what kind of person they might be. Our hesitancy to avoid encounters with strangers is understandable and many of us would rather not do it. It puts us in an extremely vulnerable place. To be obedient to God, to love our neighbor, to see God in them and pray they see God in us is a high calling. Thank God that when our fears get the best of us and we don’t follow through God doesn’t have a score card! However, we also miss out on what could have been when we shrank back from the call and played it safe instead.

As baptized Christians, we carry Christ in us and are given a mission in word and deed to serve others, to be Christ’s presence in the world. Whoever welcomes you, Jesus says, welcomes me. God needs you and all have gifts to share. Some of you are doing street ministry. You’re giving out bottles of water and talking to strangers. Some of you cook community meals and welcome those who walk in the door. Some of you are a voice for social justice and are fighting to have health care for all, advocating for our neighbors being detained and deported, confronting racism against the black community, and fighting for climate justice. Others offer the kindness of a smile and the recognition that they see the stranger among them.

Where is God calling you to serve? Are there neighbors you’ve yet to greet? Are there those you’ve avoided that might yearn to welcome you? God needs your hearts, your hands, and your relentless hope for a better world where all will give and receive God’s love.

In our time of gathering, renewed and strengthened with God’s word and meal, know Christ lives in you and Christ goes with you. In your encounters the Triune God promises to be present. You’re not alone. Go in peace and boldly serve the Lord.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

How Far?

It is enough to be like our Teacher, Jesus says. But that’s harder than we thought, and asks a lot of us. So it’s good that we are beloved of God.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 12, year A
   Texts: Matthew 10:24-39; Romans 6:1b-11; Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 69:7-18

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

It is enough, Jesus says, for the disciple to be like the teacher.

Be like Christ, and that’s enough. But how far are we willing to go?

A week ago I came into the office on a Friday. My day off, but I had a couple hours of things I didn’t get done.

As I was finishing, the door rang. Reluctantly, I went down the stairs and found a social worker and an older woman. The woman was homeless, had difficulty with the accessibility of some of the shelters, and this social worker, helping in her off time, was trying to connect her. We were their eighth church.

I told her we weren’t really set up for this, and the shelters we’d recommend were the ones she’d tried. And I sent them to Central Lutheran Church, where they have a restoration center designed specifically to help people who are homeless get off the streets. Help with shelters, financial advice, showers, clothes closet, it’s a wonderful program, and I refer people there a lot.

But as I walked back up the stairs, ready to finish my work and enjoy the rest of my day, this felt too easy. I can justify what I did. I just don’t think I was Christ. I could have taken her in at Mount Olive. But we don’t have a bed, or showers, or adequate coverage of needs. I could have accompanied them to Central, made sure someone was there to connect with, so we weren’t the ninth door closing in her face. Isaiah 58 says we truly serve God when we welcome the homeless poor into our houses. I could have offered to take her home. We have beds and showers, and could have let her stay until she could get settled more permanently. But none of these options even occurred to me until later. It was easy to say, “not here, but there,” and close the door and go up the stairs. That’s right – I didn’t even invite them in. We had this whole conversation at the door.

It is enough, Jesus said, for the disciple to be like the teacher. But how far are we willing to go to be Christ? How far am I?

After last week’s sermon about sharing the heart, the guts of Christ for the world, I had a conversation with someone who thought I could’ve gone further describing our complicity in the problems between police and people of color. I certainly could have. But how far are we willing to dig?

Are we willing to admit most of us live in safe, mostly white bubbles, where problems like this just don’t happen to us, and that’s part of the problem? Are we willing to look deeply into our hearts at the implicit racism there that we don’t want to see? Psychologists have long known that the majority of Americans, when asked, will give answers that say we aren’t prejudiced, or racist, but that when unthinking actions and attitudes are studied, a very different picture emerges, even among those who consider themselves enlightened. It shows most of us have deep-rooted bias and prejudice we don’t want to see or admit. Are we willing to peel away those layers? Dig deep into things that are really hard to get rid of, to be like Christ?

How far will you go?

There’s a struggle to raise the minimum wage in this state to $15 an hour. Our Neighborhood Ministry committee endorses this. But if Minneapolis, or St. Louis Park, or or Apple Valley, or Bloomington, raised the wages of city workers, where will that money come from? Will we who live in these cities pay more in taxes to fairly pay those who keep our cities clean and safe and beautiful? Are we willing to pay more at restaurants and grocery stores? Or will we go to the place that sells things the cheapest, not caring who made it or who worked to get it to us and whether they were paid fairly? How far will you go?

Our economy is unjust, and many work very hard and cannot make a living. The gap between the rich and poor is widening. Laws keep getting made that benefit the one percent, and, if we’re honest, benefit many of us, while making it more and more difficult for those on the edge to survive. The current health care plan in the U. S. Senate will benefit the wealthy of this nation while depriving many who are poor of adequate insurance and care.

But my pension is tied to the stock market. I get regular reports of how my money is growing. How willing am I to poke at this bear? To dig into the reasons that stocks are going up while more and more are falling short of basic necessities? Must I let go of my retirement security so that others can survive? Is that being like Christ?

The problems of our society Christ would heal are so deep and complex that we are complicit in ways we can’t even imagine most days. We’re much more comfortable confessing the petty sins of everyday life and calling it even, than we are taking a hard, close look at all the ways our lives are benefitting from others’ suffering. Taking a hard, close look at all the things we might have to let go of to be like Christ.

It is enough, Jesus says, for the disciple to be like the teacher. But Christ suffered and died for the love he bore in the world. Just trying to be nicer to folks and calling that Christly doesn’t really cut it, if we’re honest.

But God’s Word today helps us discern how far we’re getting toward being Christ.

We’ll know we’re getting closer to Christ when we understand Jeremiah’s anguish today and don’t need to be given context. When we hear Jeremiah talking about his best friends hoping he’ll fail, because he’s always all about this God stuff, or when he says not doing anything makes him burn up inside. When we can say, “I know what you’re saying, Jeremiah,” we’re starting to dig deep enough.

We’ll know we’re getting closer to Christ when we sing a psalm like today and don’t need explanation to understand what it is to feel overwhelmed trying to follow God’s way, like we’re sunk in a swamp. Or when we hear Paul say it is like a death to get rid of the things that are sin in us, the things not of Christ, and we don’t need someone to theologically explain that. When we actually think, “It is like dying sometimes.”

We’ll know we’re starting to dig deep enough when we aren’t shocked by anything Jesus says today. Not shocked that following Christ might lead to breaks in relationships with people we love, or lead to us being mocked by others. Jesus said if they call him the devil, we should expect that, too. We’ll know we’re getting to closer to Christ if we ever are called names for it.

We’ll know we’re closer when we don’t have to ask why Jesus calls this “taking up a cross,” because we have felt what it is to truly sacrifice.

And if we hear today’s readings and say, “It’s not like that for us these days,” that’s a pretty good sign we’re not scratching the surface of being like Christ.

But this is really overwhelming, frightening.

The more we dig, the more we find. The more we pull on threads, the more complex the web. That’s frustrating and scary, overwhelming and tiring. But that’s good news. Because now we can understand the rest of God’s Word today.

We can hear Jeremiah say, in spite of frustration and fear, “The LORD is with me. Sing to the LORD, who delivers my life.” We can hear the psalmist call out for God’s love. We can hear Paul say, yes, it’s dying when we peel away the depth of our sin, but we are joined to Christ’s resurrection. There is abundant life from this death.

And we can finally understand why Jesus says losing our life is actually finding it. As we dig deeper, become more like Christ, we find healing and hope and grace. Where once we protected ourselves and our privilege and our wealth, now in letting go of the things that are not of Christ, all people start to find life and hope. Including us. In letting go of things that are not of Christ, we find don’t need or want them after all. We want the life and love we find in becoming more like our teacher.

And best of all, when we find ourselves overwhelmed and frightened, we can at last hear Jesus’ grace today.

Because at the center of all these challenging words, Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid.” Don’t fear things and people that can’t harm your soul. Don’t fear losing all this. Not only will you find life in me, he says, you don’t need to be afraid because you are beloved of God.

Look at the sparrows, Jesus says. You see how they bounce off the ground, fly around, and land again, only to bounce back up? How the whole flock does that all day long? Every single landing, every single bounce, God sees and loves.

You are as valuable to God as sparrows, Christ says. Everything, even your hairs on your head, God knows and loves and values. So you don’t need to be afraid.

So let’s dig together. Peel away together. Die together. Learn together how to be like our Teacher.

It’s complicated, it’s harder than we thought it might be, and it’s going to take a lot of wisdom. So let’s trust that Christ has put us together to help each other. And that we don’t need to be afraid, because we are God’s beloved.

It is enough to be like Christ because that’s where life is for us and for the world. We can share Christ’s heart, Christ’s guts, and act on them for the sake of the world because we are always in Christ’s heart, beloved of God, who died and rose to begin this new life in the world. From that heart, we can freely go and be God’s heart in the world. It is enough. It is how God is making all things new.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Apostles with Guts and Eyes

Christ’s gut-wrenching love for the world embraces us and sends us out with the same kind of visceral love and a call to be Christ.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 11, year A
   Texts: Matthew 9:35 – 10:8; Romans 5:1-8

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

Jesus was torn up inside over the crowds, because they were harassed and helpless.

He felt his love for them in his guts, his insides, because they were sheep without a shepherd. That’s what Matthew says. We heard, “he had compassion on them.” That’s accurate. Empathy, pity, this word can mean that. But for the Greeks, the root word of this verb is innards, bowels. That’s where you feel compassion. Viscerally, in your guts.

That sounds so much more like Jesus. He looked at these people longing for his help, following him everywhere, with needs more than he could count, and he felt their pain in his bowels.

This is the heart, the guts, of Christ that shapes the rest of this story. This pain inside, birthed by love for people in great need, people with nowhere to turn, people who had no guidance, who were harassed and helpless, this gut-wrenching love Jesus has causes him to do something very important.

We should pay attention, because it directly affects us.

This love of Christ changes everything.

It is our hope and life, that God’s love for us and this world is that visceral. Paul says God’s love for us is proved by Christ dying for us even while we were sinners. That’s how deeply Christ felt the pain of love for humanity.

So this is the grace we have received freely: you are loved by God to the depths of God’s guts, when you are lost, frightened, even when you are sinful, complicit.

And the Triune God looks at this whole world, harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, and is torn up inside. God sees the injustice of our society that means if you are a person of color, you can be killed by the police and your fellow citizens will rule that it wasn’t wrong. God sees the injustice of our society that means that if you make the laws you get full health care coverage but if you don’t have a job that pays fairly, or you’ve had medical crises before, you now face losing your health care. God sees the injustice of our society that believes that as long as the stock market is growing everything must be fine for everyone.

God sees all this and feels it in God’s very guts. Love for Philando and his family. Love for those falling through health care cracks. Love for those who struggle every day for food and shelter.

Christ’s death on the cross is God’s answer of love for these things. God enters human suffering to transform it through resurrection life. But this transformation only happens when God’s gut-wrenching, sacrificial love is shared, so it’s known everywhere. We see this plan born in today’s Gospel. Christ’s sacrificial love will not only embrace people, like you, like me, it will send them out as Christ to love the same.

Jesus, who loves us viscerally, commands us this: Love one another as I have loved you.

Feel what I feel in your guts, and act on it, like I did. See what I see, and do what I did. You received my love freely, without payment. Now give it freely, without payment.

Jesus changes his followers from disciples to apostles right here. So far, they were in it for themselves. They were drawn to Jesus, to the love of God he bore. They’d been healed, graced, changed. They found a shepherd to follow.

Now in two short verses, Matthew says Jesus summoned twelve disciples, and then says, “these are the names of the twelve apostles.” The followers are suddenly those who are sent.

Jesus looked at these followers and sent them as Christs like him, because of his deep love for the harassed crowds. He gave them the authority over unclean spirits, to cure every disease, and raise the dead. Like he did. He commanded them to go to as many villages as they could and proclaim by their presence, like he did, that heaven’s reign was near. That God’s love was with these people.

This is the place we can get stuck: the place of knowing we are loved deeply by God, forgiven, transformed, and realizing we’re being sent to others with the same good news of love. Realizing it’s not all about us.

So don’t be distracted by the specifics of this story, and stay stuck. Look at the greater call.

For example, here Jesus only sends twelve men. There were lots more disciples, women and men. So, maybe we’re not sent, just those original twelve, we think. But Luke says that later Jesus sent 70 out. And we just celebrated Pentecost, where all of them, women and men, over 120, were filled with the Spirit and sent. So no, it’s our new role, too: apostle.

But they did things we can’t, we say. We can’t raise the dead, heal the sick. Maybe we don’t have the same call.

Well, we don’t know we can’t do these things. Miracles do happen. But even if we aren’t given that particular authority, it doesn’t matter. The overarching command, love as I love, is for all, and can be done by all. The first command to these twelve, “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near!’, is for all, and can be done by all.

Go, now, and share my guts, feel what I feel, Jesus says to the twelve, and to us. And then, do what I do. Be love. That’s the rest of the sending.

The pain of the world is real, and God feels it deeply. To reach all corners of the earth, God needs us to be apostles, sent ones, to witness to what joy we’ve known, to what love is real for us and the world, and bear it in our bodies and lives. It’s what Pentecost means for us. It’s what was declared at our baptism, as it will be for Owen today.

What would it be for your life if, each day, you said, “I am sent as Christ”?

That’s the only question. What if we grasped how real this calling is, so that our first thought every morning was, “I am sent. Where should I go? What do I see? How can I let people know God’s reign of love and grace and justice?”

So, as sent ones, what can we do for our African-American sisters and brothers who cannot find justice, who face a society and a system that’s killing them? We could notice, and care like Jesus cares, in our guts, for starters. Enter their pain however we see our call, by joining protests, or demanding legal change, or simply listening and learning and standing with our relatives, our neighbors. We are sent to be Christ. So we figure out a way to go be Christ.

As sent ones, what can we do for all the other things that make God lose sleep at night? The same thing. Wake up each day and ask, “Where am I sent? What do I see? What can I do?”

Listen: if Christ is sending you and me out of such visceral love, to bear Christ’s visceral love in the world, we’re not going to be left without guidance. Trust that. We are sheep with a Shepherd, and Christ will constantly guide and advise and lead. This world, these harassed and helpless ones, matter to God more than we can imagine. God won’t abandon us when we’re sent to be Christ’s love. God’s got too much invested.

And we’re still disciples. We’re still learning and watching our Good Shepherd for cues and direction. We always will. But from now on we’re not only disciples, we’re apostles, sent ones.

Love as I love you. Now, go. That’s Christ’s word to us today.

You have Christ’s guts, you have Christ’s eyes. You see what he sees, and it makes you toss and turn, and feel it in your insides. So go and be Christ.

And don’t worry about tomorrow’s answers. Just deal with today’s sending, today’s vision. Pay attention to your guts: what things make you feel what Jesus feels, twist you up inside, make you want to do loving action, make a difference? What activates your compassion, your guts of love? That’s a good place to start serving.

It would be easier if we just could come here and be loved for ourselves. But God’s guts won’t let that happen. And, honestly, neither will ours. We’ve already been changed. We can’t look away anymore, we know we’re needed.

So you are sent now. Go with Christ, as Christ, and let your world know God’s love has come near, and there is hope.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, June 11, 2017

With You

God’s very essence is a relationship of grace, love, and communion, which means relationship is the essence of the whole universe. Our promise and joy, that we are also in this relationship, that all belong.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The feast of the Holy Trinity, year A
   Texts: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20; Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a

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

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit are with all of you.” That’s it.

That’s all we need to know about the nature of the Triune God. Not Greek philosophical terms or centuries of systematic theology attempting to define the boundaries of who and what God is, and driving out those whose definitions don’t fit.

No, only twenty years after the resurrection, Paul blessed his friends in the Corinthian church with these words that say everything. Paul names the Triune God by naming three blessings we know: the grace of Christ Jesus, the love of God, the communion of the Holy Spirit. Paul offers the blessings we have received from the Three as the truth about the one God and the signs that God is with us.

Paul starts with the grace of Christ Jesus, the only place to begin.

It was Jesus who put together for us the hints the Hebrew scriptures had given. Jesus, whom his disciples came to recognize as the Son of God, connected himself to the Creator, whom he called Father, in a profound way. He said he and the Father are one, that the Spirit is from them. That to know him is to know God.

And Jesus taught us of God’s endless grace, revealed God’s constant forgiveness and welcome for all who stray. Christ’s entering our suffering and death, the grace of loving us even when we rejected that love, all that we have seen at the cross and empty tomb, is our entry into the life of God.

We could not imagine such grace. Only God could show it to us in the Son of God who gives us life.

This grace we meet in Christ leads us to the heart of God.

Looking at the cross of Christ as the Scriptures show it leads to no other conclusion than the center of the heart of the Triune God for us is love. We have tried to claim God needed a substitute for punishment, needed appeasement, had a wrath that couldn’t be quenched except by death. But that is not what Jesus showed us, nor what Paul proclaimed so powerfully.

The grace of Christ Jesus fully reveals the undying, self-sacrificing love of the Triune God for us. This is how much I love you, God says at the cross. I will die to show the universe my love. And my love will break death’s power forever.

So the grace of Christ leads us to the love of the Creator for you. For us. Beyond our hope, we find that we are beloved of God. All creation is.

And this grace and love are meant to be shared with God and each other and creation in a communion.

The communion of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised we would not be orphaned, the Spirit would come to us. But here is the real joy of the Ascension: Christ returns in bodily form to the life of the Triune God so that we are not bound to see God only in this one human person. Christ ascends so we can finally recognize the Spirit of God moving in our lives and in the world, creating communion in the creation.

Just as the Creator and the Word have been moving in the world since before time, so has the Spirit. Now that we’ve met God’s Son, the Word made flesh, now that he’s died, risen, and ascended, we are ready, as the early Church was, to see the Spirit’s life in us and the world.

In the Holy Spirit, the new life that gives birth in us and in the world is a life of relationship, communion, shaped by this grace and this love that the Triune God has poured out on the world.

The Holy Spirit is how God keeps the promise to be with us always.

This communion of the Holy Spirit shows us that the very essence of the Triune God is relationship.

There is this strange line we heard in Genesis 1 that now makes sense: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,” God says. God uses a plural pronoun because God exists as relationship, the Creator, the Word, who is Christ, and the Spirit, all present before the dawn of time, as we prayed today, all at creation, all still living and moving in the world. God’s Oneness is in the relationship of the Three, the place where the Three move and relate and live and love, what the ancients called a dance.

If this is true, and God creates in God’s image, that means the essence of the universe, the blueprint of all things, is also relationship. That is the image of God placed on all creation. The oneness of creation is also in relationship. Outside of relationship – with the Triune God, with each other, with the creation – we cannot exist.

Grace can only be received and given in relationship, not alone. Love can only be received and given in relationship, not alone. And communion, fellowship, by definition is only relationship. It’s not communion when it’s just one.

The joy of Paul’s blessing is that we are in this relationship, too. “The God of grace and love and communion is with you,” Paul says. Now we understand why God created the universe. If you’re a God who is at your core a relationship, an internal dance, you live to have relationship. God makes the creation, makes us, to be with us, to have more life join the dance, join the relationship that is grace, love, and communion.

If the Triune God’s relationship is also the blueprint of the universe, then our path is clear.

We cannot live apart from relationship. But God’s true nature teaches us the challenges of this.

First, God always shows us that relationship means risk and vulnerability. If, as we claim, we see the depth of God’s truth at the cross, then the Triune God is chiefly known to us not as almighty but as all-vulnerable. To be in relationship like God is to be open to being wounded, to risk for the other. Once again we see the cross not only is where we find life, it is, as always, the path we walk to live the joy of abundant life in relationship with God and the creation.

Second, God shows us that relationship involves responsibility. The Scriptures tell us that God’s love for us and the creation is such that God cannot walk away. Will not walk away. No matter how angry, frustrated, disappointed God might be, God’s love means God stays with us. God is responsible for us.

We can’t avoid the responsibility that relationship brings. The only way to be irresponsible is to break relationship. If the other person or part of creation isn’t related to me, I don’t have to be responsible for it. But once you matter to me, and I to you, once we belong to God and each other and the creation, all things matter, too.

But this is our joy as we celebrate God’s true nature on this day.

We matter to God. We matter to each other. We matter to the creation. We belong to God. We belong to each other. We belong to the creation. And in that relationship, that communion, shaped by God’s astonishing grace and infinite love, all our hope and life, and the hope and life of the whole creation, exists.

It really is all we need to know about the Triune God. The deeper mysteries of God’s nature, how the Trinity exists within Godself, we can never know.

But that this God is with us in grace and love, calling us to communion with God, with each other, with the creation, that’s everything. And it’s enough. It’s more than enough.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Olive Branch, 6/7/17

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

With this issue, publication of The Olive Branch goes on summer schedule and will be published every other week.

The next issue will be published on Wed., July 21, 2017.

Sunday, June 4, 2017


You are, we all are, the dwelling place of the Holy and Triune God: we are precious, beloved Temples of God, moving in the world and bearing witness to God’s love for all creation.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Day of Pentecost, year A
   Texts: 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 (also quoting 1 Cor. 3:16); John 7:37-39; Acts 2:1-21

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

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)

Five hundred years before Jesus’ birth, the second Temple was built by returning exiles, replacing the one Babylon destroyed. It was magnificent. But missing from the Holy of Holies in that second Temple was the Ark of the Covenant, with the tablets of stone inside, Aaron’s rod, the pot of manna, and other things lost when the first Temple was destroyed.

In the Talmud the rabbis say the second Temple also lacked the Shekinah, the dwelling, settling, divine presence of God, the holy Spirit of God, as the Hebrew Scriptures named it, which lived in the first Temple, in the Holy of Holies.

So after exile, God’s people still waited for God to fulfill the promise to return and dwell with them once more.

These words of Paul from earlier in his first Corinthian letter, then, are stunning. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” he says. Paul looks at Pentecost and sees the in-dwelling Spirit of God poured out into each person. Paul looks at Pentecost and says, “God has come to live with us again.”

Not in a Holy of Holies. In God’s people.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 

The idea of God’s Spirit inspiring people wasn’t a new thing. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures the holy Spirit of the true God moves, pours into prophets and lawgivers, blesses and guides women and men. But the dwelling of God, the place where the Spirit of the one, true God lived, was the Temple.

Paul names Pentecost as the same movement of God’s Spirit as into the Holy of Holies in the first Temple, taking Pentecost further than any could have expected. Now we are the dwelling places of God’s Spirit, God’s temples moving in the world, bearing God’s Holy Spirit into every corner of the creation.

When we lay hands at baptism and ask God’s Spirit to dwell in that person, we are asking God to create another Temple. When we lay hands at confirmation and ask God’s Spirit to stir up in that person, we are asking God to move in that Temple and be known, make a difference. When we say, “Come, Holy Spirit,” we are naming that we are God’s dwelling.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 

How can we know this is true? How can we be sure? Paul helps with this.

First, look at your faith. Paul says today, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” So, do you trust in the God who came to this world in Christ and gives you life and love and salvation? Any faith in Christ, Paul says, even the smallest amount, tells you the Spirit is in you.

Likewise, the Spirit creates fruits in us, Paul says, visible things. Jesus said the Spirit was like the wind: you can’t see wind, but you can see where it’s blowing by what’s moving. So, too, we see the Spirit by the fruits that result. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Do you have any of these, in any measure? They, too, show the Spirit is in you.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 

What if you believed this? If you woke and slept, worked and played, lived and spoke and loved and dreamed as one who carried the Holy Spirit of God? Doesn’t this change everything you thought about yourself?

For one, you are not your own anymore. As God’s dwelling place, you are a holy place, but you do not own yourself. All the things you thought you had, you don’t. Wealth, possessions, time, energy, they aren’t yours to grasp. But what would it be like if you really lived free from self-ownership, free to be God’s home of grace?

And then there’s this: this means you are beloved beyond expectation, a precious dwelling place of the Triune God, a holy of holies. You are. In you God lives and moves and has being.

What if you believed you were that valuable? Worthy to be God’s cherished home in this world? What would your life look like?

But go further. It’s not just you, alone. “You all are,” is what Paul says.

You are God’s precious dwelling place. And so am I. And so are we all. So what would our lives be like if we looked at each other and rejoiced in God’s Spirit we saw there?

Consider this: we love this building. In here we are fed by God’s grace, filled with God’s Spirit. From here we are sent to bear God’s love in the world. This holy house of God is dear to us and precious because we meet God here. We’re doing a capital appeal right now to care for this gift others gave us, that it might be a blessing to those who follow us.

What does it mean, then, that each of us, each of God’s children, is truly the Temple of God? What if we looked at all of God’s children and loved them as we love this place, seeing them as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, the place where we go to meet God?

How could we ever let another human being be hurt, these temples where God lives and moves and has being? This changes everything, that as we pray to see the Spirit in our world, God turns our eyes to each other, to people all over the world, and says, “See. I am making all things new. See, my dwelling place.”

What if we took Pentecost seriously in how we live with others, look at others?

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

Today Paul fleshes out this indwelling. Each of us, he says, is given different manifestations of the Spirit for the common good. So every temple is different. Every dwelling of the Spirit has a purpose, specific gifts. Each of God’s beloved, each of you, has a place, everyone fits.

Your gifts are yet another sign of the Spirit’s presence in you. The gifted love that looks different from person to person bears the image of the same Spirit. The world is diverse beyond belief, because God needs all sorts of dwelling places, all sorts of gifts to benefit the common good.

Because that’s God’s dream. That we are each the dwelling of God for the common good, for the life of the world, for the healing of the nations. We are portable temples of God, moving in the world, bearing God’s presence, to all who need God’s love, healing, hope. To all who do not yet know that they, too, are the home of the Spirit of the Living God.

Now we see how God’s salvation will embrace the whole world.

Now we know what Pentecost really started.

Now we realize the world will never be the same.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, May 14, 2017

At Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This home Jesus promises gives us great hope, too.

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

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

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

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

Philip’s question is ours, too.

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

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

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

But what if we mess up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Our Walk to Emmaus

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

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

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

Every Sunday we walk the road to Emmaus together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After we gather, we listen as God speaks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Jesus Came

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas really missed Easter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what Easter means to you today and tomorrow.

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

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

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

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

This is what Easter means to you today and tomorrow.

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

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

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

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

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

This is what Easter means to you today and tomorrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

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