Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I Don't Feel No Ways Tired: Good Shepherd Sunday

Grace and peace to you from God our Father from our risen lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

When I was a kid, my mom said I had a very common childhood disease called selective hearing. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. My husband thinks that I still have it, but I don’t think I should listen to him about that.

The Jewish leaders who interrogated Jesus suffered from an especially bad case of selective hearing. In fact, they had it so bad we should probably say they suffered from selective seeing as well. On this fourth Sunday in Easter we find ourselves in the middle of the Gospel of John, in the middle of a longer conversation Jesus was having about being the Good Shepherd.  This particular part of the conversation happened during the festival the Dedication, more commonly known as Hanukkah.

“Stop stringing us along, Jesus,” they demanded. “Tell us once and for all if you are the Messiah that we’ve been waiting for!”

This makes me want to ask them, “Where were you during the first half of the Gospel of John? Taking a nap?” By the time this conversation happened, Jesus had already turned water into wine, healed a young boy, a blind man, and a paralyzed man, walked on water AND feed five thousand people. Get with the program, people. But two thousand years’ worth of hindsight has given us a pretty comfortable view from which to judge the ridiculousness of their question. To us, now, they seem dense at best and impossibly stubborn at worst. Had WE witnessed what they had seen, surely WE would have become believers by now.

But really, is seeing believing?

Jesus said this to those who could not or would not see what he was up to, “my sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.”

I think that sometimes sheep get a bad reputation for blindly following their leader, like lemmings ready to jump off a cliff to their deaths. Really, I think sheep just have very clear priorities. They want to be fed, and THEY KNOW who is going to feed them. They want to be kept safe, and THEY KNOW who is going to protect them. When they hear their shepherd’s voice, they get up and follow as fast as their little sheep feet can take them, because they KNOW they are going to be cared for.

But sheep don’t have the modern world to contend with. They don’t have a constant barrage of advertisements telling them the next hot thing they should buy in order to be happy/loved/or cool. They don’t have to listen to the same songs on the radio over and over again telling us that life is just about having fun and going to parties. They don’t see the pictures in the magazines telling men to be more manly and women to be more sexy. They don’t hear the constant messages of reality TV and the evening news about the randomness and craziness of this rat race called life.

It’s been a rough week OUT THERE in the world, hasn’t it? Just this week: kids in Trenton were playing in a park when a gunfight broke out nearby. Just this week: the explosions at Boston Marathon. And was just MONDAY. Just this week there was a tragic explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas. Just this week two young boys were found living in a five by ten storage unit in Ewing. Just this week, an earthquake hit central China, killing thousands. And those were just a few of the headlines that made the news, only the smallest tip of a very big iceberg of pain and suffering in the world.

If seeing REALLY IS believing, then we are in a whole lotta trouble here, folks. If we just look at this week alone, we could easily come to the conclusion that the world is full of nothing but suffering and senseless violence rules the day. We would throw in the towel and conclude the world is a scary place, so what could some teacher from two thousand year ago talking about sheep have anything to do with me, here, now?

This matters because this man knew the heart and mind of God. Because this man healed people when they were broken and feed people when they were hungry. Because this man stood up to the powers of this world and beyond and said “No more.” Because this man stared death and the grave square in the face and didn’t blink, and we are four weeks into celebrating his rising from the dead. We belong to his flock, and we no longer have to be afraid.

During Jesus’ life, his flock consisted of twelve grizzled working men who had as much finesse as a hammer. They were selfish, quarrelsome, and often clueless when it came to what Jesus was trying to say to them. And since then, the flock of Jesus has come to include all who are in need of God’s grace – the poor and the oppressed, the addicted and the fearful, the broken and the exhausted, you and me.This is why the Jewish leaders refused to see – they could not abide the thought that flock of God including the likes of these.

Jesus didn’t say, “The sheep who have it all together, who always do the right thing at the right time, the perfect, unblemished sheep - THEY are the ones that hear my voice and follow me.” Jesus didn’t say that, because that kind of sheep would have no need of the gift of eternal life that Jesus has to offer. Jesus didn’t say that, because that kind of sheep simply does not exist. Instead, Jesus has claimed you in all your flawed glory as his own, a sheep of his own flock, a sinner of his own redeeming.

There is nothing that would cause our Good Shepherd to leave our side, nothing that would keep us from his care. Not our over-booked schedules, our exhaustion, our past mistakes, our suffering or even death can steal us out of the hand of Jesus. And when we find our final rest in him, there will be no more suffering, no more pain. No more hunger or thirst or war or torture or bombs or guns. There will be no more tears, because there will be nothing left to make us cry.

I recently attended the funeral of a friend’s mother who had died very suddenly. She was clearly a Tabitha for her church. During her memorial service, I was struck by these words in a hymn I had never heard before: “Nobody told me that the road would be easy. But I don’t believe He brought me this far to leave me.”

Friends, it’s time to turn on our selective hearing. When the world says that it’s too scary out there or that you aren’t strong enough to do anything about it anyway, Jesus says, “Follow me. You aren’t doing this alone. I’ll be here with you every step of the way.” And then just sit back and watch the amazing things that Jesus will do with your life.
For us who belong to this flock, seeing isn’t believing.  For us, believing is receiving.
From Christ our Shepherd, we receive love and acceptance. We receive comfort in the face of loss. We receive peace in the midst of fear and violence. We receive assurance of hope, that we are cared for, that God’s got our back.

The road that we travel together isn’t always easy, but God didn’t bring us this far only to leave us now. AMEN. 

Something that I didn't do in my sermon, but can do here, is link the song that I'm talking about: 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Walking in a Winter Wisconsin Land!

It's catch-up time.! The week after Easter we flew back to Wisconsin to spend some time with my family. I had been back for four days last summer after being in a wedding in Chicago, but Beau could not go that time. So this is the first time in almost two years for both of us being back... so we had a lot of catching up to do!! One day we went to Katie's college (Marian in Fon du Lac WI at right), sat in on a class, saw her apartment, and the daycare she works at. We had a lunch and "open house" at one set of grandparents' and took the other Grandpa out to dinner at IHOP with the rest of the fam. We drove through all the new round-abouts in Neenah. I saw the cows and the cats at the farm, and spent some time helping Beau do research on my side of the family tree. We found some interesting things, like how the local paper reported in detail about the wedding dress that Grandma W wore, and details about how my great-grandpa died in a dynamite accident. Oh, yeah, it snowed one day, too! Then we brought back with us 7 pounds of cheese and I don't know how many pounds of steak, hamburger, and venison. And yes, we've shared the cheese curds. I suppose the fact that we brought my family Tasty Kakes makes it a fair trade... :)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Upping my Tech

Beau and I just got back from an amazing workshop on ministry with young adults, which was fantastic and I'll write more about that once I've gathered my thoughts and can figure out what season I'm currently in (going from winter in WI to summer at Crossroads and now wet spring). But for now, I wanted to give a shout out and say that because of the workshop I have decided to take the plunge and sign up for twitter and instagram, and I've spruced up on my G+ as well.

Follow me on Twitter: @revlydianelson
Follow me on Instagram: lnelson001
Follow me on G+: Lydia Nelson

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday

After reading portions from the Gospel of Luke, this is my sermon from Palm/Passion Sunday.

Grace and Peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It all began with such high hopes, when Jesus entered Jerusalem in a parade, palm leaves flying, people singing and shouting, with Jesus in the closest thing they had to a convertible of honor at the time. And it’s no wonder – for the people had seen some pretty amazing things from Jesus in the last three years. Jesus has healed people with skin diseases and people who were paralyzed. Jesus has calmed storms and cast out demons. Jesus has feed thousands and told story after story about the amazing love that God has for his wayward people.

And just a moment ago we heard what he got for it.

What began with shouts of adulation ended in weeping and the sound of the stone tomb being sealed, with the body of Jesus inside. The king who was supposed to bring peace and glory now lay in the cold darkness of a borrowed tomb. The one lauded by angels at his birth at Christ the Lord is now dead.

On NPR I heard a woman tell the story about her four year old daughter asking questions about Christmas and what it meant. So she bought her a children’s Bible and they began to read through the stories of Jesus. The little girl just ate up the stories, and seemed fascinated by Jesus’s message, especially how we are to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Later that year, they passed a church with a huge crucifix out front. The girl saw it and asked her mother – who is that? Oops, they hadn’t gotten to that part of the story yet. So her mother hastily explained that Jesus’ message of love was so radical that the people in power felt threatened and that Jesus had to go. His message was too dangerous, and so they killed him.

A month later, the girl was off of school for Martin Luther King jr Day and her mother took her out to lunch. The girl saw a picture of Dr. King and asked who it was.
Her mother told her that that he was the reason that she was off of school that day, that this man was a preacher… “for Jesus?” the girl asked.

Yes, for Jesus. And he had a message, too – to treat everyone the same, no matter what they looked like.The girl looked thoughtful and said, “That sounds like what Jesus said.” Her mother agreed.

The girl was quite for a minute, then she asked, “Did they kill him too?”

A dangerous message of love and acceptance proclaimed by a king attended by no one. A trial with a preordained result. A verdict that no one believed. An innocent man sentenced to death.

If Jesus really is a king, he’s not a very good one. No kingdom to speak of, no royal palace, no subjects left to stand with him, and no army to fight for him. In the eyes of the world, that man in the tomb is the leader of a failed movement, who got in the way of the wrong people. He did not play by the rules of power, and he did not fight back in any way, not even to save his own life. And so he paid the price.

But never in Jesus’ life did he ever follow any of the “rules.” His birth was announced first to dirty and smelly shepherds. And when he grew up, Jesus hung out with all the wrong kinds of people – lepers and tax collectors, the demon possessed and those with questionable morals. He chose as his students young men who had long ago been passed over by other rabbis. He healed on the wrong days and talked back to the wrong people. He was a troublemaker, and he had to go. But it didn’t have to be this way.

You see, Jesus had everything there was to have. He was GOD’S SON. He could have called down a legion of angels to his defense. He could have pulled off on last grand miracle, to dazzle the Roman authorities and to leap down off the cross, to the awe and terror of all. But he didn’t.

Jesus broke all the rules about what you do with power once you have it – to do all you can to consolidate it and secure it – and instead, he gave it all away.

Jesus had everything in the universe worth having, and he gave it all away – for you.
Jesus stood before all the powers that this world and said, do your worst. And as you can see, they did. Because how DARE Jesus say that God loves not just the rich and the powerful, but that God also loves the poor, the outcast, the ill, the sinners, the broken and the beaten down. How DARE he give us hope that there is a God out there who listens to you when you cry out, who carries your burdens with you, who gives you strength when there is none to be had?

Of course they killed him. Because they were afraid that it might really, be true. And we can’t have that, because we like to keep God in a nice, safe box of our own design. We can’t have that, because the God that Jesus shows us could be capable of anything, even breaking all the rules if it means a chance at finding us again.

Jesus was never very good at rules. He never let social conventions, boundaries, or regimes hold him down in the past. How do you think that tomb is going to hold up? Amen.