Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Monday, May 7, 2018

Oy and Joy


Grace and peace to God our creator, and from our crucified and risen Lord Jesus the Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “Joy”? Perhaps you think of the character from the Pixar movie a few years ago called “Inside Out.” Joy, along with Disgust, Sadness, Fear, and Anger, are personified emotions inside the head of an eleven-year-old girl named Riley. According to the movie, Joy is a blue-haired, green dress wearing person of unlimited optimism and the voice of Amy Poehler. And honestly sometimes she just seems kind of annoyingly upbeat.

But is that what being joyful really looks like?  How would you describe what Joy is to you? Would you say something like this….?

Joy is… spending time with the people you love, like having dinner with the whole family around the table.

Joy is… working at a job that pays the bills AND provides a sense of meaning… or getting accepted into your dream school or program.

Joy is… hearing a child call your name for the first time.

Joy is… a cat on your lap with a good book and a cup of tea or coffee on a rainy day (like today!).

Sometimes joy is… just getting the laundry finished, or getting a good nights sleep!

Joy is… also my sister’s middle name. We used to tease her about it sometimes when we were kids, and some days say that she should have been named “Katie Not-A-Joy” instead. I hope she might have forgiven us by now. Perhaps if we had grown up on the East Coast, surrounded by so many of our Jewish brothers and sisters, we could have teased her by calling her “Katie Oy.”

The world around us, especially lately, seems to contain so much more “Oy” than “Joy.” Just yesterday, Hawaii experienced historic earthquakes and volcanic activity, and in the last few weeks other things have happened like increased violence and unrest in Syria, superstorms in India, local train derailments, and the sudden bombardment of political candidate leaflets in our mailboxes telling us what is bad about the other candidates running.

This is not to mention the personal tragedies and struggles we each experience every day – depression, fear, betrayal, worry, pain, abandonment, and illness, just to name a few. Exhaustion rules, event-crammed calendars reign, and energy recedes ever faster. Just what IS joy in a life full of all these troubles?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus 
told his disciples. He said this back in John chapter 14, at the start of his goodbye speech, his “last lecture” if you will, on the night that he was betrayed.  He had a lot to say about joy and love, and the disciples desperately needed to hear it - since this would be just hours before they would scatter in fear, abandoning Jesus to be arrested, falsely tried, and sentenced to die by crucifixion. On such a night, talking about love and joy seem terribly out of place.

Love and joy seem terrible out of place when your rabbi and teacher says things like he’s leaving you, and that the world will 
hate you in his name. Love and joy seem nowhere to be found when Jesus tells you that the greatest love, which he commands you to emulate, possibly might mean laying down your life.

Is Joy just a “churchy” word that we use to decorate Christmas ornaments and hear in grand Easter hymns? Or is there a possibility that Jesus might be on to something, that joy can also be found in the everyday, mixed up together in the pain and troubles of the world?

In the movie Inside Out, as I mentioned a moment ago, Sadness and Joy find themselves on an adventure inside of the brain of a girl named Riley to save some of her most beloved memories. You could not have had a worse pairing of heroes, really. Sort of like those mismatched roommate comedies! At every turn, Joy is frustrated by Sadness’s… Well, sadness. Joy refuses to believe that Sadness can teach her something about experiencing joy … that is, until… Joy finds herself trapped in a dark place called The Memory Dump. There, Joy discovers that our most joyful memories only got that way because sadness was part of them too. She learned that even in a dark and sad place, she can find joy, that joy can come from even the saddest nights.

This is the joy that Jesus has given to us, the kind of joy the world cannot give. Joy is… that on the darkest night that Jesus ever had, the savior of the world chooses to break bread with US - rich AND poor, the power-full AND the power-less, with the healthy AND the sick, with insiders AND with outsiders, with men AND women, old AND young children.

Joy is…that Jesus chose to be his disciples a rag-tag band of perfectly flawed human beings, though they be betrayers, deniers, and abandoners.

Joy is…that Jesus chooses US to be his disciples too, also flawed and imperfect human beings.

Joy is… being chosen as children of God, and through us our faith is conquering the world in a revolution of peace and love and understanding.

Joy is… having your sermon interrupted by the Holy Spirit and with a crazy, loud, spontaneous baptism of a whole bunch of people, as we heard that Peter 
experienced in our first reading. Or, as what happened last week right here, joy is also getting your sermon interrupted by our littlest disciples showing off their artwork in the new word they learned, “abide.”

Joy is… the fact that our synod, the South Eastern Pennsylvania Synod is one of the most diverse synods of the ELCA.  Joy is that our synod assembly, which happened this last weekend, contained 17% voting delegates who are people of color, and that together we made history by electing the first ever African American female bishop in the entire ELCA. 

Joy is … seeing the beautiful image of God in the faces of people of all faiths, races, cultures, languages, and sexual orientations.

Joy is… just when you thought that death had won, joy is that NEW LIFE HAPPENS.

Our joy… is not complete without Jesus.

It may have appeared a little odd to still be back to the night that Jesus was betrayed during the celebratory season of Easter. But we know that you cannot have one without experiencing the other. New life cannot happen apart from death. Resurrection cannot happen without crucifixion. Easter cannot happen without Good Friday. Joy cannot exist apart from being open to the possibility of pain. Love cannot endure without anything less than everything you have.

The reason that we have no need for troubled hearts in this troubled world and in our troubled lives is not because Jesus makes the lives of his followers into cupcakes and lattes. Just look at the lives of Peter, Mary Magdalene, Paul, and the rest. Their preaching of the joy of Jesus brought them prison, ridicule, and persecution. Nor does Jesus call us to willfully ignore the troubling realities of the world around us, or when tragedy strikes in our lives.

Instead, we know and trust that, as the psalmist says, “Weeping may linger for a night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) Or put another way, by the musical Les Mis, “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” 

Welcome to a new dawn and a new day. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Real Jesus, Real Life.

Sermon 4-29-18

Grace to you and peace from God our creator and from our risen Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, amen.

Today is a very special day. This is the day that we will be welcoming Nate Karpinski to the Lord’s table for the very first time, along with his family, and all of you, members of Family of God. Do you remember your first communion experience?

Do any of you remember what your first communion classes were like? I asked some of you this question one night during Nate’s experimental first communion classes, which happened on Thursday nights during Lent at Panera Bread. Since Nate his age taking the first communion class, we invited all ages to participate in this eating and learning event, which I think everybody got a kick out of. I think many of us had a variation of the typical classroom experience, with memorizing and a lot of Bible reading. Fun fact: apparently during one of MY first communion classes, I rattled off the entire words of institution verbatim, which is when my mom tells me SHE knew I was destined to be a pastor.
What do you remember about the day of your first communion? What it in this church? …or at another church? How many of you wore a white dress or a fancy suit? Were you in second grade, or fifth grade, or a teenager being confirmed too? Did you bring your extended family with you?

No matter when or where or how you received communion for the first time, the important thing is that you DID… and that Jesus showed up.

During a First Communion Sunday at a church I previously served, an early teen looked at me with wide eyes as I poured communion wine from the pouring chalice into his little cup during communion. He asked in an incredulous whisper…. “is this real wine?” By some miracle I didn’t laugh out loud, but only nodded. Yes, this is real wine. Yes, this is real Jesus.

Over a month ago it was Easter. Yes, wow, times really flies! And during the week before Easter, which we call Holy Week, we remember on Thursday night the first time that Jesus instated Holy Communion. While eating his last meal before he was to be crucified, he passed a loaf of bread and a cup of wine to a room full of his closest friends one last time… and told them “This is my body… this is my blood.” These “friends” though, in just a few hours, would betray him, deny him, and abandon him before Jesus drew his last breath on the cross on Good Friday. That Thursday was THE first communion… much like today will be Nate’s first communion, surrounded by other Followers of Jesus – US…. People who ALSO betray, deny, and abandon Jesus… plenty of times.

So, Nate…you are in good company. You too will be surrounded by sinners like me and all of those gathered here. As our funeral commendation goes for those who have died in the faith… “Sheep of God’s own flock… sinners of God’s own redeeming.”

When Nate… and each of us… were baptized in the Family of God – not necessarily this church, but maybe so… but I mean God’s family of faith existing in all times and in all places… when we were baptized, we were claimed by God as beloved children, welcomed into the fold. But as we grow up, life… gets complicated. We graduate from high school and college, face a world full of tough choices, and find ourselves unable to extricate ourselves from institutions and cultural norms that are inherently racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, xenophobic, and otherwise harmful to other members of the Body of Christ. We sin, both knowingly and unknowingly. We fall, and we fail. We hurt one another, and we hurt creation. We fall victim to the lie we tell ourselves – that I contain multitudes, that I can/ and should/ have it “all,” than I can do all things by myself and all my own strength.

When Jesus told his disciples on that night, the night he was betrayed, his disciple still believed the lie too. They still believed, even after three years of hearing Jesus teach, witness Jesus working signs and miracles, hearing Jesus minister to the outcast and the outsider. Even after all that, they were still waiting for Jesus to arrive in majesty, to right all the wrongs in a blaze of glaze of glory and establish a kingdom (with them in power too of course).

But in just a few hours they would fall away… Judas would hand Jesus over to the religious police by a kiss of friendship…. Peter would deny Jesus not once but three different times… and the rest of his disciples would run away and hid, leaving only the faithful women to stand at the feet of the cross to mourn the death of their hope and dreams for a revolution.
They couldn’t do it. They tried to be faithful on their own strength and failed miserably.

Which we all do. They couldn’t do it on their own, because none of us can. What usually happens to a branch when it falls off of the tree, like during one of those big snowstorms we have a few months ago? It stops growing. It no longer produces leaves or flowers or fruit. But the branches that are still connected to the trees? Have you notices how beautiful all the blooms are becoming? They cannot bloom…. Or grow fruit or seeds, unless they are connected to the trunk.

Which is why Jesus created a way for us to be connected to him.  We cannot grow, or bloom, or create fruit, or makes seeds, without the sustaining and life-giving power that comes from Jesus. This is the power of God’s love for us, which comes from the weekly gathering around the Lord’s Table, to receive a small bit of bread and just a little bit of wine. Every week we hear the words “The body of Christ, given FOR YOU… the blood of Christ, shed FOR YOU.” Jesus lived, died, and rose again FOR YOU.

As Lutherans, we are both remember what Jesus said and did for us…AND we celebrate that Jesus is ACTUALLY HERE, in the earthly elements of bread and wine. Jesus is present in REAL things… things that week can see and touch. The waters of baptism welcome us into God’s family… and the bread and wine of Holy Communion connect us to Jesus …. And it connects us to one another, to all people of faith, through all times and all places.
We have tried to explain it… but words fail us. But we do believe: This is real bread. This is real wine. This is real Jesus. This is real connection. And this is real sustenance for the journey ahead.

So whether this is the first time you are experiencing Holy Communion… the fiftieth time… or the five-hundredth time… you are welcome to receive strength for your week. There is a place for you here, at the Lord’s table. As you come to the table today – even though we don’t partake around the table per se - I welcome you to be extra aware of what’s happening, as if you were experiencing it for the first time.

When you come forward, whether you are accompanied by your own immediate family, or you come forward alone, know that you are NEVER alone … you are surrounded by your family here, and beyond these walls. As you reach out your hand to receive the bread, be aware of how in need we are of the love and grace that Jesus offers us… and when we reach for Jesus, he will never leave our hands empty for long. As the wafer is places in your hand – just a very small taste of what God has given us – you will hear the words “The body of Christ, given for you.”

And as you take the wafer and dip it into the wine, remember that Jesus is the vine that we are connected to, who give us this life, just as blood that courses though our bodies carries what we need to all part of our bodies. Through “the blood of Christ, shed for you…”, through the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf, we too are made part of Jesus’s Easter victory over the power of death.

And lastly, as we walk back to our place in our favorite pew, we know that we won’t be staying there for long. After we have received this gift – for the first, fiftieth, or five-hundredth time – we are sent out into the world to bear fruit… fruit of love in a world that is very lacking in love right now. Thanks be to God, amen.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Good Shepherds, Bad Jokes

Sermon 4-22-18
Grace to you and peace from God our creator and from our lord and savior Jesus the Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

To be honest, I don’t know anything about sheep. But I do know a thing or two about cows. When I was a kid, I would love to help my dad let the cows out of the barn so that that they could spent a little bit of time each day outside. If sheep aren’t known for being too smart… Cows are most definitely creatures of habit. They know when it’s time to go outside into the cow yard, and they know when it’s time to come back inside to eat –and they know when you are LATE: they are always waiting in a big crowd by the door to be let in, especially on a cold or rainy day. 

Believe it or not, cows also know where to go once inside the barn. Every cow has its own spot and usually they go right to it, no problem. Unless of course there is a new cow that doesn’t know where she’s supposed to go. Sometimes the new cow will stand in a stantion that is already taken, and the cow that belongs there will stand there confused. Hmm… I have heard that at OTHER churches something similar happens when someone sits in someone else’s favorite pew… but that NEVER happens HERE, right???

I think that sheep tend to act the same way as cows do. They tend to follow whoever is in leading, putting a kind of blind trust whoever is at the front. If that person is kind and cares for the flock, he or she will lead the sheep to good pasture, clean water, and shelter. If that person does not care about the sheep, then the herd is in a load of trouble.

We are not unfamiliar with the second kind of shepherd - we hear about them all too often these days. Just open any newspaper or online news blog any day of the week, and you’ll see nothing but: CEOs embezzled from companies, or senators made secret deals, or the chairs of foundations lying about illegal activity... And so on, and so on.

We like to think that our leaders know what they are doing and have our best interests in mind when they make decisions that affect us. But perhaps this is our cow-nature talking.
Everyone you know is going to let you down at some point. Everyone you put your trust in is going to betray you. Maybe not today. And maybe not even on purpose. But it will happen, sooner or later.

I hate to say it, but even I will let you down sometimes. Four years of seminary doesn’t purge us of all our flaws. I didn’t get a “perfect pastor chip” at my ordination. I am trying my best to love and serve this community as one of its shepherds, but I’m not going to “get it right” every time.  Church leaders can make mistakes, just like everyone else. And often those times can feel even worse than when other kinds of leaders let us down.

There is one shepherd who claims to never lead us astray. He is the Good Shepherd; a shepherd so good that he would give everything, even lay down his own life for those who belong to him.  But Jesus talks a big game… But how can we sort out reality from campaign promises? What about when things go really wrong – how is God our Good Shepherd then?

Long ago, a writer of the psalms once wrote: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
 Most of the time, we hear the 23rd Psalm read at funerals. It is a beautiful psalm, a favorite for good reason. But this psalm is intended, not as a metaphor for death, but as a snapshot of life – of what life is like under the care of our Good Shepherd. Yes, death is a valley through which we all must pass. Before that, however, there are plenty of other valleys… there are plenty of enemies to face during this lifetime.

What good is the Good Shepherd if being part of his flock still means still experiencing things like … getting a cancer diagnosis? … filing for divorce…. Infertility…. Losing your spouse….  being unable to find full time employment… struggling with addiction….? What good is a Good Shepherd if some people recover and some don’t? What good is a Good Shepherd if some people bounce back and others can’t catch a break? What good is a Good Shepherd who still can’t prevent bad things from happening?

This is exactly what Kate Bowler wrestles with in a book she published recently that was featured on NPR. The book is called “EverythingHappens for a Reason and Other Lies I have Loved.” Here was a woman who seemed to have everything: married in her twenties, a baby in her thirties, won a job at her alma mater right out of graduate school – seriously, who does that?? … But then in 2015, she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer that had metastasized to her entire body. Her book is her journey to reconcile our convoluted ideas about how we think God SHOULD act in our lives and how God actually does work, as she comes to terms with what life looks like living with a terminal diagnosis.

Kate talks about this in an interview with Terry Gross, where she says “… I really had to rethink what trust and hope looks like if I'm just living scan to scan….” She wonders, “what does it mean to experience … proximity to God or a sense of faithfulness without actually thinking that my life is supposed to be better because of it?”

“What, then, is the point of it all?” Is the big question she is trying to answer.

Spoiler alert – sort of - The point is that at the end of the book, she is not cured of her cancer. But she is made whole, in a way. The point not to be good so that good things will happen to us… but to see the good that is already there all around us. The point of it all is to love and be loved... The point is that while she is here, she will raise a son who “will know the pain of the world but all will be better for it.” Along this journey, she learned, that trust looks a lot like love.

There will still be dark valleys in this life, and evil will still be ever present and waiting in the shadows. Bad things will still happen to us and to our loved ones. There are still terrible injustices going on in the world right now. But we shall have no fear in the face of such evil. We belong to the fold of the Good Shepherd. Our enemies will still be present, sometimes surrounding us. But we will not be anxious about what will happen to us, because the presence of our Good Shepherd will never leave us.

As the Psalmist says, our beloved shepherd-turned-gracious-host prepares a celebration banquet in our honor, and our cup of life is never to be found empty. Our Good Shepherd DID lay down his life for us, his sheep, on Good Friday, and he picked his life right back up again on Easter Sunday.  When the wolves come – and they will – Jesus will be ready to do what it takes to keep us with him, no matter what.

And when we follow such a shepherd, when we hear his voice and obey it, we may find ourselves laying down our lives for the sake of others. Not necessarily physically dying, but instead dying to our egos and our desire to follow trendier shepherds with more palatable promises. …Dying to the idea that our lives are supposed to turn out a certain way if we do certain things and follow certain rules… dying to our dedication in going along with the herd mentality.

When we belong to the herd of the Lord, we do not have to fear where the paths may take us for the sake of others. Since we belong to the flock of God, we do not have to fear what happens to us DURING this life or what comes AFTER it. Our lives – and our deaths – are in God’s hands. We are loved. And we are not alone.

The road ahead of us may look kind of dim and hard to navigate, and our map may seem outdated and of no use to us…. We may have discovered that, as a church, our “spot” in people’s lives has been “taken” by other thing… sports, the arts, work, family. Let’s not be that cow that waits for something else to move and change… if you’ll forgive the bad pun, but let’s be the herd that gets “MOOving”… following the voice of our good shepherd to the abundant life that God has in store for us. And THAT, I think we might find, will be UDDERLY life-giving and full of love. Amen.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Sunday After Easter: Storybook Sunday!!!

Sermon 4-8-18

Grace to you and peace from God our creator and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

For us, Easter happened one full week ago. A lot has happened in a week, hasn’t it? You probably have eaten the rest of you Easter candy, wrapped up spring break, and have gone back to our “regular scheduled” lives… probably wishing for spring to come. Meanwhile, here in the church, it is the Second Sunday of Easter… that’s right, Easter is not just a day – it’s season that is seven weeks long. A week after Easter, WE are still wearing white, and we are still shouting ALLELUIA!!

A week may have passed for us in “real time,” but for the disciples, Jesus shows up here for the first time during the first part of the original Easter day. So, where did Jesus find them on the evening that he had risen from the dead? On the highways and byways of Judea, spreading the good news?

Nope. In a secure room with the door locked.

And a week later, when they had eight whole days to live into the glorious experience that Jesus had appeared to them and had sent his blessing with them… surely THEN they were out and about, sharing the good news…. NOW… right?

Nope, locked up again.

The disciples might have heard and believed what the women had to say about the empty tomb… but did they believe and understand that Jesus was giving them his peace… so that they could be SENT OUT, just like Jesus has been SENT OUT to spread the good news that is the undying love of God for all people?

It's the second Sunday of Easter. What are we going to do? What would that look like? What COULD that look like?

Let’s try something a little different that what we normally do. I am going to tell you a story about another young woman who went out on a mission to share something amazing with others.

This story is from a book called ….. Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett.  


The archduke wanted to keep the yarn away, locked up, only for himself, didn’t he? But Annabelle wanted to share it. And because she kept sharing it, the yarn keeps growing until it covers everything. I wonder… will it eventually reach across the sea and cover the archduke’s castle? I would like to think that eventually it does. Everybody gets a sweater (or hat) … and I would like to think that even the Archduke finally gets one.

Because we all have a little bit of the Archduke in us. But even though we try to keep the love of God “safe” for our own keeping in locked rooms- out of fear, out of self-centeredness, out of desire for control – like the beautiful yarn, this resurrected life won’t be contained. It won’t be confined for one person, in a locked box. It won’t be contained in one single Easter morning, either. New life is going to get out, to spill over into seven whole weeks and beyond. New life is going to cover you like a multi-colored sweater in a grey world.

Are you ready to get out your knitting needles? I hope so. Because new life and extra yarn are coming our way. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

April Fools: God is Dead Serious About Life

4-1-18 Easter Sunday (reading from Mark)

Grace to you and peace from God our creator and from our Risen Lord and savior Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, amen.

Did you noticed something odd about the end of the gospel reading? Take a closer look at it. Did you hear the end and think… “wait, Pastor Lydia, that CAN’T be where the reading ends? Surely there must be some mistake! Are you pulling an April Fool’s joke on us?”

I promise you it’s not a mistake, and I’m not playing an April Fool’s joke. This is EXACTLY how our most original version of the Gospel of Mark ends: “They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” THE END. Mic drop.


If it’s not a mistake in the bulletin… and I’m NOT an April fool’s joke on all of you…. then, what is going on here? Is Mark pulling the biggest April Fool’s joke ever…. A joke so big that it ended up in the BIBLE??? Now THAT would be pretty epic, wouldn’t it? It would certainly be one of the best April Fool’sjokes in all of history… right up there with the 1976 planetary alignment that claimed to briefly reduce Earth’s gravity, the Swedish Spaghetti Tree Hoax, and the left-handed Whopper.

I can see the headlines now… “Earliest Copy of the Gospel of Mark Found…. Gospel ends with... “Haha, just kidding you guys.  You should have seen your FACES!!!”

But no. We just have THIS ending. No post-resurrection Jesus. No telling of the good news. No big resurrection appearances, walking through walls, or any kind of nice, neat resolution.

What a big letdown. “You mean…. I got out of bed…. all dressed up in my Easter best…. Got myself to church, with all the flowers and alleluias…. For this???” Worst ending ever.

Well, you’re not wrong. It IS the worst ending ever… if you’re in with the devil. It IS the worst ending ever… if you’re on the side of injustice and domination. It is the worst ending ever if you think that death has won… because … the joke really IS on you.

Because April Fools! Christ is RISEN!! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

In fact, Jesus’ life was just one big joke on the expectations of the world. Just a few short months ago, we were singing “Joy to the World” and welcoming Jesus as a baby at Christmas. It’s not hard to imagine how Jesus’ birth announcement went down - With the angel surprising Mary, and saying something to the effect of: “Yo, Mary, I know you you’re a virgin, and you’re not married, but hey – you’re going to get pregnant and give birth, to the son of God no less!” With Mary looking around, going, “Yeah right, get real…. Am I on Candid Camera?” Most likely Joseph also hoped that the angel was joking when he got eventually the news.

And when Mary went into labor, they both probably thought it was a cruel trick of fate, since they were traveling and there were no vacancies in Bethlehem that night. And then wondered why the angels had sent the first news that the son of God had been born, to shepherds on the night shift, and not… you know, actual important people.

The wise men must have felt the same way later, as they arrived at the king’s palace in the capitol Jerusalem – “what do you mean, King Herod, that the newborn king isn’t HERE? Surely you must be joking.” And later, once they were on the right track, how foolish it must have felt for them to arrive all in state with fine gifts… to a humble house with a poor peasant toddler and his mom.

And when Jesus grew up, he kept at these antics.  Who would Jesus call to be in his inner circle of followers? The educated, the powerful, the wealthy? April Fools! It’s fishermen, tax collectors, and working stiffs who flunked out of rabbi school!

And who does the Son of God choose to spend most of his time with? Statesmen, rabbis, priests, and other people with power and influence? Nope again – Jesus hangs out mostly with the sick, with women and children – healing, feeding, and teaching people that the love of God is for ALL… not just for some. April Fools!

Are you sensing a pattern here?

But there were some in power who thought this was not funny anymore, that the joke had gone too far. It might have been cute and amusing at first – the nobody from nowhere preaching about God’s love to the outcast and hopeless - but joke needed to end. So, they chose to end the life of the jokester who was causing all this ruckus in the first place.

That last week of Jesus’ life we call Holy Week, which began last week with Palm Sunday, must have felt like one big nightmarish April Fool’s joke on Jesus’s disciples. It started well - after they came into Jerusalem on Sunday to a parade - but the week took an unexpected turn on Thursday. That night, Jesus passes around bread and wine and says strange things like “This is my body, and this is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” The disciples wait for Jesus to say, “That’s bananas! April Fools!” But it never comes. Because Jesus is not fooling around here, not with the forgiveness of sins.

After supper, Jesus tells them that one will betray him, and the rest will deny and abandon him. Again, the disciples protest that this too, must be a joke. Only Jesus is not fooling here, either – not with facing betrayal and suffering.

And perhaps, even when Jesus was dying on the cross on Good Friday, the women disciples who DID remain with him must have thought – “This is GOD’S SON. … surely Jesus will come down from the cross in a great show of his power … surely an angel army will come to the rescue…. Surely this has to be a joke, because Jesus can’t possibly have meant it when he told us that he was going to die.” Only, Jesus wasn’t fooling this time… especially not this time, especially not with facing death and the grave.

So, for these same women, to have arrived at the tomb early that Sunday morning, only to find that – April Fools! Jesus is not dead, but alive! – it must have seemed too good to be true. They must have thought someone was playing a trick on THEM. Their joy at the news utterly terrified them… and so they said nothing to anyone.   


Or did they?

April Fools!

The Gospel of Mark would not exist if these women had not – eventually – told someone. We would not have a New Testament of they had not – eventually – shared with Peter and the rest of the disciples. WE WOULD NOT BE HERE today, Easter Sunday, April Fool’s Day 2018, if they had not – eventually – shared the good news.

God DID play the best trick of all time… on death, the devil, and the powers of evil.
April Fools, death doesn’t have the last word anymore!

April Fools, the powers of evil and might in the world are going to LOSE!

April Fools, the king of the universe gave us his life so that we may be delivered from death and the grave!

April Fools, new life is happening everywhere we look! Even when we least expect it. ESPECIALLY when we least expect it.

And we WILL see him, in places where we expect to see sadness and death… like after a Good Friday service, when one of the thorns from our “Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Good Friday Service” … was discovered to have a small bud on it. April fools, new life is happening!

This last week we SAW, HEARD, and TASTED how the Lord is good. Today, and every day to come, we will HEAR and SEE the goodness of this new life coming into our lives.
But the joke is on US if we think that the story actually ENDS here, at the conclusion of Mark’ Gospel. God’s story… OUR story, does not. It keeps going. Life happens. 

Resurrection happens. And not JUST TODAY either… April Fools! Easter isn’t just a day, it is a season. 50 days long in fact… much longer than the season of Lent. As it turns out, God is dead serious about life.

Christ is Risen! (He is risen…)

Thanks be to God! Amen.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Good Friday

3-30-18 Good Friday
This is the brief meditation before experiencing "The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Good Friday."

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts by acceptable in your sight, O Christ our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Tonight, things will go a little bit differently than you might have experienced before.

The story hasn’t changed. Last night was Maundy Thursday, when Jesus broke bread with his disciples in his last meal before his death… men who would later betray, deny, and abandon him. Jesus broke bread, and shared a cup of wine with them, creating our sacrament of holy communion. In the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed in agitation and dread of this very day. His closest friends could not keep awake with him, and later deserted him altogether. His betrayer, Judas, is about to hand him over to religious leaders who sought his death. These chief priests and scribes, in turn, will him over to their Roman oppressors, who in the end were all too willing to put him on a cross.

From that cross, in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus calls out from the beginning of Psalm 22, which we read together just a moment ago. “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Last night the altar was stripped and laid bare, just as Jesus was stripped of all support and comfort. Jesus was left to face death alone. Here was a man, abandoned by his closest friends, abandoned by the rule of law, abandoned even by his God.

That is why we call this day “Good Friday.” Today was not good for Jesus. But it was good for the whole world…. good even for the disciples who ran away and are hiding. Good even for Peter who denied Jesus. Good for the women, who stood near the cross and later stood outside the tomb in hopelessness, waiting for a Sunday they didn’t yet know was coming. Good for us, gathered here tonight, as we enter the story in a new way.

The details are part of the same account we remember every year. This time, however, we will take the time to examine each part of description of Jesus’s suffering and death. We will enter the story will all of our senses – last night we tasted the bread and wine. Tonight, we hear, see, smell, and touch. Because this isn’t just a record of something that happened a long time ago. This is a story that we are a part of too. This is a story that still means something to us, two thousand years after it happened. It is a story to take home with you, just as you will be taking items home with you - to keep in mind that Good Friday is more than just remembering how much Jesus suffered before he died. It’s about all the ways that we get to share in the story too.

We begin the account of Good Friday from John’s Gospel, just after Jesus and his disciples have finished sharing the Passover meal. There will be lots of times for silence and reflection… which may be uncomfortable at times. And that’s ok. And we will be leaving here tonight in silence as well, because our service of the holiest three days of the year isn’t over. Though, this night Jesus is in the tomb, he does not stay there. Sunday is coming. And so is the dawn. Amen.

Some of the items that people took home with

Maundy Thursday: Taste and See that the Lord is Good.

3-29-18 Maundy Thursday

Grace to you and Peace from God our creator and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

If you have been coming here to Family of God in the last few weeks, you might have noticed that something here has changed. When I arrived here as your pastor over a year and some change ago, our tradition of Holy Communion in our worship services was the first and third Sundays of the month, including festival Sundays. Starting at the beginning of Lent, however, we have made a bit of a shift. Since then, we have had communion every single Sunday, and the plan is to continue for every week, from now until Jesus comes back and tells us to stop. Have you noticed?

Something else launched in Lent too. Nate Karpinski started his first communion instruction, which will culminate in his first communion on April 8th. But this was no ordinary first communion class. And, though he will be the only one receiving communion for the first time on the 8th, he did not come to these classes alone. The whole congregation was invited in these conversations to learn too – with fellowship, food, and maybe just a little fun.

On these nights at the local Panera – whose name, by the way, includes the old Latin word for bread – we read part of the very passage we heard from Mark this evening: the night that Jesus created our sacrament of Holy Communion.

Now, do you remember what a sacrament is? Think back - choose a time machine of your choice – TARDIS, DeLorian, Cosmic Treadmill, or Time Turner – and hop back to your own first communion class. You might recall that a sacrament is a fancy name for how Jesus promises to be present with us. Some kinds of Christians have a LOT of sacraments… but we only have two: Baptism and Holy Communion. One happens at the very start of our lives in faith, and the other keeps us going as we walk the way of following Jesus every day.

Why do we Lutherans only two? Well, this is what we learned over our soup and bread at Panera: for Martin Luther, a sacrament needs to check off 3 boxes:

1.     It is something that Jesus commanded us to do.
2.     It uses something physical and earthly thing we can touch.
3.     It gives us God’s love, forgiveness, and grace.

How does Holy Communion fulfill all these criteria? There is bread and wine…Jesus told us to do this in remembrance of him… and his body and blood was given for the forgiveness of our sins.

On this night we go back to the reason we gather around the table every week with bread and wine, to that night in the upper room …where Jesus chose to spend his last meal with his twelve followers. Men who would later betray him, deny him, fail in keeping vigil with him, and desert him completely.

But they were still there with him that night -  invited, welcomed… and loved by Jesus, enough to break bread and share the cup with him one last time before his suffering, humiliation, and death.

Jesus knew what was to come – that soon he would suffer, die, be raised… and then leave us. So, he wanted to give his disciples, and us, the promise that he will always be with us, no matter what. And so, with items that can be found anywhere – bread and wine – we are reminded that we are forgiven and sustained in this life, no matter how often we fail at following Jesus.

We are invited to the Lord’s table, tonight and every Sunday – we who are betrayers, deniers, and deserters of Jesus, too. We are all in need of forgiveness for all the times we fall short – in all the ways we hurt one another and work against God’s justice. It’s really tempting to think that by our own strength and will we would follow Jesus no matter what, even to death. But the disciples couldn’t do it… and neither an we. We need help.

Before receiving communion, Martin Luther prayed this prayer: “My Lord Christ, I have fallen… For this purpose, you have instituted the sacrament… that we may be helped. Therefore, I am to receive it. … I come now to be helped.”

During one of our gatherings at Panera, we wrote our own prayers in small groups. One of the prayers we wrote says this: “Jesus, thank you for all that you provide for us. Help me to share your love with others.” As food helps to strengthen our bodies, Jesus’ presence with us in Holy Communion helps to strengthen us in our living while following Jesus. And in turn, we share the love of Jesus with others to help and strengthen our neighbors. And I don’t know about you, but I could use a reminder of this promise every chance I can get.

As often as possible I could use the reminder that Jesus loves ME, that he is body was broken and his blood was shed FOR ME, that he died FOR ME….  to SHOW ME that I am worthy of love…. I AM worthy of freedom from sin….and I AM worthy to be called a follower of Jesus and to be the hands and feet of Jesus’ love in the world.

I need the reminder as often as I can get – because I am so forgetful. I need to hear these words over and over again, because no matter how many times I hear them, they never get old or wear out. Just like hearing the words “I love you” never get old or lose their meaning either.

Our travels through the season of Lent began on Ash Wednesday, which was also on Valentine’s Day this year. The two themes of February 14th this year seemed to clash – a day of Love and a day of Repentance…. A day full of red hearts and a day of dusty crosses. But perhaps they had more in common than we think, though it might have taken until tonight to fully understand why that is. This is Holy Week, and this night is where our many weeks of Lent have been leading. When Jesus gathered to share a meal one last time with his friends. When Jesus gave the gift of his body and blood and eternal presence. … a gift given for you and for me to receive in the here and now.

Every time you come forward with hands outstretched to receive this gift, you are getting Jesus – called by name as a child of God. In just a little while, we will hear these words again, and we will come forward to receive: the body of Christ, given for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you. Every time we gather at the Lord’s table to receive the bite of wafer and the sip of wine, we get just a small taste of the great victory feast that God is preparing for us.

Tonight, though, Jesus looks the opposite of victorious. Judas has betrayed him, the disciples have abandoned him, Peter is about to deny him, and he is about to face false accusations and a smear campaign on the way to being handed over to be crucified. In a few minutes we will hear the words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” – which Jesus quotes from the cross later in Mark’s Gospel – while the altar is stripped of everything on it…. Just as Jesus was left completely abandoned and vulnerable before the powers of might and death that rule over the world. And we will leave this place in silence, without a benediction, because our service of these three holy days continues tomorrow night on Good Friday.

But tonight, we also taste and see that the Lord is GOOD. And tomorrow we will SEE and HEAR and SMELL all the ways that the Friday we call Good is good for US. And we also know that, today might be Thursday… and though night has fallen…. Sunday is coming. And so is the dawn. Amen.