GLC in Lent

GLC in Lent

Monday, May 8, 2017

2017_05_07 Easter 4 On the Road Again!


Sermon 4th Sunday in Easter, NL3, 07 May 2017

The First Reading for 4th Sunday in Easter is from Acts the 8th chapter.

NRS  Acts 8:26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." (This is a wilderness road.)

 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship

 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over to this chariot and join it."

 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?"

 31 He replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.

 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth."

 34 The eunuch asked Philip, "About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?"

 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?"

 37

 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

The Gospel reading for the 4th Sunday in Easter is from the Gospel of Luke the 24th chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

NRS  Luke 24:44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you-- that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled."

 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,

 46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,

 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

The Gospel of our Lord.  Praise to you O Christ.

Pray:  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

One of my favorite songs is, "On the Road Again" by Willie Nelson.  It could be Saint Luke's theme song.  "On the road again, just can't wait to get on the road again.  The life I love is talking Jesus with my friends.  I just can't wait to get on the road again."

So here we have in Luke's sequel to his Gospel another story of being on the road.  The next chapter in Acts is Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus.  A few weeks ago we talked about the two disciples meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  In chapters 9 through 19 of Luke's gospel Jesus had set his face and was on the road to Jerusalem, the Good Samaritan met the wounded man on the road from Jerusalem, the Prodigal Son met his father on the road into town.  There is a lot of traveling in Luke's writings.  Luke emphasizes the movement of Jesus, the movement of the Holy Spirit, the movement of Gospel through the metaphor of roads - the best way to travel and to move.

As I tried to emphasize in the Kid's sermon, this story of Philip meeting the Ethiopian has a lot of movement in it.  Everyone is either coming or going, or they've already come, gone and went.  We see the activity of the Holy Spirit moving throughout the whole scene.  We are intended to know that hasn't changed.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well and on the move.  It reminds us of Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in John chapter 3, when he said,

 8 "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8 ESV)

And we know about wind don't we.  Does it ever really stop?  No, it just pauses.  That's the way the Spirit is.

The movement of the Spirit is not random or chaotic, he has a purpose.  This narrative is a beautiful example of the how the Spirit challenges our human conceptions and expectations and limitations.

Think of the nameless Ethiopian.  He is first identified as a foreigner, then as a eunuch.  A eunuch is a sterilized man.  He could have been sterilized intentionally or it could be because of a birth defect.  The effect is that he cannot ever become a ruler, because he can't produce children.  He is considered safe to care for women.  Eunuchs were often put in charge of the king's harem.  In this case the Queen of the Ethiopians, Queen Candace trusted him with the finances of the country.  The implication is that he has leadership and management skills and abilities.

He had come to Jerusalem to worship.  But we don't know if he was Jewish or someone interested in the Jewish faith.  Jews had moved South following the Babylonian capture of the land of Judah.  Several years ago Israel airlifted many Ethiopian Jews to Israel to get them away from the communist persecution.  These were descendents of Jews who had lived there for centuries and had maintained the faith of their ancestors.  So he could have been of Jewish descent and made this religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

But the Eunuch could not take part in the full life of the Jewish religion.  Leviticus gives the restrictions on those males who are damaged and sterile.  So this Ethiopian man was blocked and restricted from reaching his full human potential both personally, professionally, and spiritually.  That had to weigh on him.  But he continued to pursue a deeper understanding of his faith. 

One wonders how he obtained a copy of a scroll of Isaiah.  These scrolls were hand transcribed.  They probably never went on sale at the Temple bookstore.  In any event, by the time Philip caught up with him he had read most of it.  He was reading from what we have designated the 53rd of 66 chapters.  And he had some questions.  Who in the world is the author writing about?  Himself?  or someone else?  Clearly he would need someone to guide him through these somewhat troubling passages.

Which is when Philip showed up and heard him reading aloud.  Coincidence?  Not hardly.  I think Philip is rather blunt.  No howdy, no introduction, no pardon me, just "Do you understand what you are reading?"  Now I suppose the Ethiopian could have taken offense at this dusty traveler barging into his reading and contemplation but he doesn't.  He humbly admits that he needs someone to guide him through it all.  "Who is the author writing about, come on up and let's talk."  Wow.  How often do you get invited to ride in a government limo to talk about Jesus?  Cool!

So starting with these verses Philip begins to interpret the scripture which leads him to speak about Jesus.  Don't you wish we had the outline of his talk?  God is a god who suffers.  He silently takes upon himself what is rightfully ours to bear.  He takes our sins and transgressions, our afflictions and iniquities, our oppression and judgment - all of those things that lead us astray like lost sheep, he lays upon himself.  He quietly, without complaint bore it all, and it crushed him.  It killed him.

This prophecy actually came true.  There was a man named Jesus.  He came from the small town of Nazareth.  He was powerful in word and deed.  He spoke with authority and could explain the scriptures like no one else.  He could describe the heart of God for people and he showed it by what he did and how he was.  He had the power to heal people with a word or a touch.  We are talking blind people could see, deaf people could hear, the mute could talk, lepers where cleansed, people raised from the dead.  He had such compassion.  He cast demons out of people and commanded them to be silent.  And they were healed.  It happened over and over.  Twice he fed thousands of hungry people who had come out to listen to him with just a few loaves of bread and a few fish and there were lots of leftovers.  God is generous!  He treated everyone the same.  There was nobody too good or too bad for him.  He spoke the straight truth to everyone.  He ate with Pharisees and scribes, he ate with tax collectors and other sinners.  He said he came for sinners not for the righteous. 

Then he began to make it clear that he was from heaven, sent by the Father and even that he and the Father were one.  He forgave sins, which only God can do.  And that's what got him into trouble.  Just like Isaiah predicted, the most innocent man who ever lived, was killed, crucified, right here in Jerusalem, it was awful.  You may have heard about it.  And this is what proves he was from God.  On the third day, just like the scriptures said, his tomb was found empty.  He was alive, he was seen by many people.  He walked and talked with them, he was no ghost.  He showed them his wounds, he ate with them.  There is no doubt that he is alive.  And then he just ascended into heaven promising to return someday.  He told us all to spread the good news that God is alive and cares for all of his creation, everyone, you included.  And to teach everyone what he taught his followers.  That's who this passage is all about.  Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God.

Now, whether Philip spoke anything like what I just said or not we don't know but what we do know is that his words about Jesus touched the Ethiopian and he wanted to become a follower of Jesus.  Is there any reason why he could not be baptized?  It's a test question.  "I'm Ethiopian, a eunuch, rich, and I'm going home.  Is any of that a roadblock to becoming a Jesus follower?  Are you just talking or are you for real?  Will your actions back up your words of who is acceptable to God?  Can I, even me be baptized?"  And he stopped the chariot.  "Well?"

Without a word they disembarked and went down into the water that is not supposed to be in the desert and Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, treasurer of the Queen, now follower of Jesus.

I have to tell you what happened in the last few weeks.  You have to know that this text from Acts was set for this week some years ago.  I started following this sequence of scriptures that we call the narrative lectionary two years ago.  During a Wednesday Night Worship a few weeks ago two teen-aged brothers, grandsons of people who worship on Wednesday, asked about being baptized.  We agreed to meet and talk about it.  So we did.  They decided that they would like to be baptized last Wednesday when they could have family and friends present.  They didn't know that the text would be about baptism.  But that was the day they chose because it could be done then.  So last Wednesday I baptized two young men 8th and 9th grades and I talked about this text where an Ethiopian gets baptized.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Faith in Jesus calls for a response.  The soul wants to be forever joined with its Savior.  In Baptism Jesus makes a permanent claim on the life of one who is baptized.  They are united with Christ.  They can call him and each other Brother.  Christ died, so will we, but also just as Christ rose from the dead, so will we.  That is his promise.  He has gone to prepare a place for us.  We will live with him in paradise forever.  Heaven rejoices.

The Spirit moves in mysterious and wonderful ways.  The Ethiopian went back to Ethiopia and told others about Jesus.  The Ethiopian Christians of today trace their faith ancestry back to this unnamed but faith-filled treasurer to the Queen who read scripture, heard the narrative of Jesus and was baptized.  Christians have been in Ethiopia for 2,000 years.  Longer than anyplace but the Middle East itself.

How did it happen?  Philip was obedient to the angel of God and to the Holy Spirit.  He lived his faith as evidenced by his calling to be a deacon, a table server of Greek widows.  But he also spoke the words of faith.  You may have heard the saying "Preach the Gospel, Use Words if necessary."  It sounds good.  It encourages us to live our faith.  But if Philip had not spoken the Gospel he would have failed the Ethiopian and the Spirit's leading.  We are called to both live the Gospel and to speak the Gospel.  Speak using normal words in normal situations.  Faith comes by hearing not by doing, even though doing is important.  Doing indicates the presence of faith but the faith is communicated through words.  You can do all of the right and good things but those things cannot communicate the love of God in Christ Jesus.  It cannot communicate Jesus' life, death and resurrection.  Only speaking can communicate why you do good and right things.

Words are important.  Let us not think otherwise.  Spoken words brought faith to the Ethiopian.  They brought faith to two young men on an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday night.  Spoken words sustain our faith each time we hear them.  The Holy Spirit works through the scriptural words of faith, words that point to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit puts each one of us on the spiritual road again, day after day, making us ready to speak his words, preparing hearts to hear his words.  On the road again.  Just can't wait to get on the road again.  The life I love is speaking Jesus to my friends.  I hope it’s the life you love too.  Amen.

2017_04_30 Easter 3 Following the Leader, O No!


Sermon 3rd Sunday of Easter, NL3, 30 April 2017

The First Reading for 3rd Sunday of Easter is from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, the 6th and 7th chapters.

NRS  Acts 6:1 Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.

 2 And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.

 3 Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task,

 4 while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word."

 5 What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.

 6 They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

 7 The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

 8 Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.

 9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen.

 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.

 11 Then they secretly instigated some men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God."

 12 They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council.

 13 They set up false witnesses who said, "This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law;

 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us."

 15 And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

7:1 Then the high priest asked him, "Are these things so?"

 2 And Stephen replied: "Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran,

NRS  Acts 7:44 "Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the wilderness, as God directed when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen.

 45 Our ancestors in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors. And it was there until the time of David,

 46 who found favor with God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob.

 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him.

 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says,

 49 'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest?

 50 Did not my hand make all these things?'

 51 "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do.

 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers.

 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it."

 54 When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.

 55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

 56 "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!"

 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.

 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he died.

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

The Gospel reading for the 3rd Sunday of Easter is from the Gospel of Luke the 23rd chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

NRS  Luke 23:33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

 34 Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!"

 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,

 37 and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!"

 38 There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."

 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!"

 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?

 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong."

 42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

 43 He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

 44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon,

 45 while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two.

 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Having said this, he breathed his last.

The Gospel of our Lord.  Praise to you O Christ.

Pray:  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

How do you go from an unknown disciple of Jesus to being forever remembered in the history of Christianity in a few short weeks or months?  Is Stephen's the career path one that you would contribute your resume for at the local Kerr McGee Job Fair?

Let's see.  I want to be selected by the community because of my unusual wisdom and gift of the Holy Spirit so that I can wait tables for widows at the community dinners to make sure everything gets distributed fairly.  This would be a stepping stone to becoming a great debater for faith in Jesus.  Then I want to go all the way to the top and witness to the great council at the temple, the Sanhedrin.  I'll show them a thing or three!

Any takers so far?  Yes?  No?  Your life will be remembered forever!  No?

It might be good to imagine the situation.  In Jerusalem there are Jews who grew up in the local area and the first language was Aramaic, sort of a Tex-Mex mixture of languages using the Hebrew alphabet.  They learned Hebrew in school to study the scriptures.  Then there are also Jews who moved back to the area whose first language is Greek.  They've learned their scriptures through the Greek translation of the Old Testament.  Some of both of these groups have become followers and disciples of Jesus.  They have known and have heard the apostles speak and have contributed to the well-being of this new community.

This community takes seriously Jesus' command to love neighbor as self and assumes the historic role of caring for the widows who live among them through the daily distribution of food and perhaps even money.  But a problem arises.  There is a complaint that the Greek widows are not receiving a fair share of this distribution and the 12 apostles are pulling their hair out because they cannot both ensure the proper distribution and continue to preach the gospel of Jesus.  So they gather the whole community together as the first call committee and have them select seven men of good repute, full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit to take on the task of ensuring a proper distribution.

In a wonder of selection the community calls seven Greeks.  One is even a convert to Judaism before becoming a Christ follower.  The apostles lay hands on them and commission them for their work.  Stephen immediately begins to shine in this new roll.  The Holy Spirit in him manifests itself through great wonders and signs.  It's like having your own preaching and sign-working waiter at Kristie's restaurant.  Word about him makes its way across the street to the Freedman's synagogue which is where other Greek speaking Jews meet and worship.  They apparently challenge Stephen's preaching but cannot match his wisdom and the Holy Spirit.

They resort to liars and false witnesses to bring Stephen to the Sanhedrin.  Because of Jesus of Nazareth they charge Stephen with defaming Moses and the Jewish law and even God and the temple itself.  There is probably no charge that could be made that would get these guardians of the Jewish faith more interested and instantly hostile to Stephen.  But when they looked intently at him, his face looked like the face of an angel.  Now would that be a sweet cherubic face that we so often associate with angels or would it be the face of the angels that people are afraid of when they meet one?  My guess it would be the latter.  So they ask him to speak.

What Stephen tells them that our reading for today skipped over is that throughout the history of the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob the ones chosen by God are rejected and opposed by their family.  Joseph is rejected by his brothers and sold into slavery.  Moses is rejected twice, once by Hebrew slaves who wonder if he will kill them like he killed an Egyptian and once when he went up Mt Sinai to meet God to receive the ten commandments.  The people compelled Aaron to make a golden calf like they knew in Egypt.  And about the temple...God didn't want King David to build it - the tabernacle and the arc were just fine.  Besides can a temple made with human hands actually contain God whose throne is in heaven and his footstool is the earth?  Come on people.

Stephen's tone shifts from telling a story of the Jewish people to accusations against the priests and the rest of the council.

 51 "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears,

you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as

your ancestors used to do.

 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?

They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now

you have become his betrayers and murderers.

 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet

you have not kept it."

I wonder what tone of voice he used.  Was it accusatory, strident and strong.  Or did he speak slowly and softly and pointedly.  We can't know but we can know the results.  They knew he was speaking the truth.  They became furious.  Then when Stephen looked up and saw heaven opened so that he could see his Lord Jesus standing next to the throne of God, they flipped.  Hands over ears so they could hear no more, shouting at the top of their lungs so that no one else could hear him they drove him out of the temple to the edge of town and began to stone him to death.  And before he died Stephen prayed for the Lord Jesus to receive his spirit and that he would not hold this sin against those who were stoning him.

We can't help but notice the similarities of Stephen's ministry to that of Jesus.  They were primarily servants, who came to serve rather than be served.  They were powerful speakers worked signs and were filled with the Holy Spirit.  They fearlessly spoke the truth against those who were supposed to uphold the tradition and justice of God.  They were unjustly and unlawfully accused and killed.  Even their last words were similar.  They trusted their spirits to the Lord and asked forgiveness on those who killed them.

But God's will continued despite the apparent setbacks.  In the persecution against the followers of Jesus after Stephen's death the Gospel began to spread from Jerusalem to Samaria and beyond.  Saul, the main persecutor, met the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus and became a believer known as Paul and began to bring the gospel to the Gentiles throughout the Eastern Mediterranean area.  God's desire that all people come to faith in Jesus of Nazareth will not be thwarted by the efforts of mere mortal humans, by death or departures.

We have spent the last four months working our way through the Gospel of Luke and now its sequel, the book of the Acts of the Apostles.  Luke always has a reason for including the stories he has written.  There are takeaways from Stephen's short but effective life.  Some are directed to the Stephen's among us.  Be like Stephen.  Grow in service, faith and wisdom with the Holy Spirit and fearlessly speak God's truth.  Trust in god above all.  The other is a warning to those like the priests of the Sanhedrin who are defenders of the faith but have more faith in the institutions, traditions and structures of religion than in the God who gave them to us.  Be humble, listen, evaluate, and seek godly truth.  Always be ready to repent. 

God is to be trusted more than we can imagine, too often more than we do trust him.  What is impossible for humans is indeed possible for God.  God works through all things to accomplish his will and his will is that all people come to faith in his Son Jesus.  Even when we cannot see how God can work through situations we face we can have absolute faith that he does.  Often we don't know that until we look back and reflect on how things turned out.  Then we see the hand of God at work. 

It is the story of the Bible.  God is at work often in spite of the human efforts to the contrary.  He saves through a world-wide flood, through 400 years of slavery, through war, deportation and exile, even through the crucifixion and death of his own son.  Certainly God works through our troubles and the ups and downs of our lives.  We can trust him implicitly in all things.  It should be a joy for us to know that he even uses us to accomplish what he has set out to do.

So don't worry about submitting your resume to the great employer.  You don't need to be qualified in advance, he will qualify and provide you with all of the training and experience that you need.  It is a position you can't be fired from.  There is tremendous job security and the retirement benefits are out of this world.  May the Lord continue to bless us with his work for not only widows but all who are hungry, thirsty, unclothed, hurt, and alone.  These are special to him.  Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Amen.

2017_04_23 Easter 2 Walking with a Stranger


Sermon 2nd Sunday of Easter, NL3, 23 April 2017

The Gospel reading for the 2nd Sunday of Easter is from the Gospel of Luke the 24th chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

Pray:  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Please follow along in your Bibles.  Page 85 in the pew Bible, near the top left column.

NRS  Luke 24:13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,

 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 

They were deep in conversation.

 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,

Apparently overhearing their discussion.

 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 

They noticed him, knew a man was walking with them but could not recognize him.  The passive voice indicates something outside of themselves prevented them from recognizing who this stranger was.

 17 And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad.

A leading question isn't it?  "I couldn't help overhearing, what are you talking about?"  The question brings the two to a stop.  Are they amazed?  Sometimes you don't want to talk about your grief to someone you don't know.  There is a reluctance to share your pain except the request was politely made.

 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" 

Apparently "These things" were widely known.  It was the hot topic.  A crucifixion on the day before Passover when so many people were in Jerusalem.  Certainly the word about it got around.  Who were those guys?  One of them was a rabbi?!

 19a He asked them, "What things?"   

Jesus doesn't take offense.  He simply asks another leading question.  What do they know?  What's the buzz around town?  Almost, "Who do people say that I am?  Who do you say that I am?" 

 19b They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,

 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.

 21a But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

"But we had hoped..." perhaps the saddest four words ever spoken by anybody.  They are words of grief and great sadness and unmet expectations.  We had hoped...that the treatment had worked.  We had hoped... she would get well.  We had hoped he had stayed clean.  We had hoped...we all know how this sentence has been completed in the past.  The disciples had hoped this Jesus would politically redeem Israel.  Did they still remember their conversations and arguments about who would be the greatest among them? But now there is no hope.  All hope has been dashed there is no more hope.  Except...  

 21b Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 

They do remember Jesus speaking about something that would happen on the third day after he died, but they don't want to say what it is.  It's too...impossible.

 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,

 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.

So now we know this is still Easter morning.

 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him."

So Cleopas has just preached the good news of Jesus for the first time.  He has heard some evidence of the resurrection.  The question is does he and the other believe it?  Can it be true?  No matter.  He tells of what he has heard and what he knows.

 25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!

 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" 

When you hear this question what do you already assume the answer is?  Apparently is was necessary that the Messiah must die?  The next unasked question is why and Jesus starts to give that answer.

 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 

Now Jesus continues the preaching about the Messiah.  He immediately turns their attention to the scriptures that they know.  Everything that was written about Messiah in the Hebrew Bible, that we call the Old Testament.  The point is that Jesus of Nazareth fulfills all that was expected of the Messiah including dying and rising. 

 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.

 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. 

Jesus was ready to go ahead on the road and not stop at Emmaus.  He only turned aside to go with them after their urgent and persistent invitation.  This was no mild polite request that one could easily deny.  "No that's okay.  I've got someone to meet."  Jesus was sincerely invited to go with them.  "Please come with us.  We won't take no for an answer."  That is something to remember.  Jesus doesn't go where he isn't invited.  It reminds me of that song I learned as a child, "Into my heart, come into my heart Lord Jesus.  Come in today, come in to stay.  Come into my heart Lord Jesus."  What if we daily extended this invitation?

 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

So now the guest has become the host and the servant.  Jesus was the invited guest to stay with them but when they sat down to eat he became the host and using the same words as he used during his Last Supper he blesses, breaks and gives the bread to everyone at the table.

 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

  Jesus finally allowed himself to be recognized when he blessed and broke bread with them.  Jesus is recognized in the most common of events, breaking bread and eating together.  His resurrection was made known for these two when they sat down to eat.

 32 They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" 

Now they start thinking about their walk with the stranger who turned out to be Jesus.  And they say to each other, "We should have known!  Nobody can open scripture and explain all of these things like he did!  He was with us the whole time and we didn't know it!"

 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 

The first thing they had to do was tell someone else who would appreciate hearing the good news.  So they walked all the way back to Jerusalem by now after dark so they could share what they had experienced.

 34 They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" 

So while they were gone from the eleven walking together to Emmaus, Jesus had appeared to Simon, whom we assume to be Simon Peter. 

 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. 

This story of Jesus appearing to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus is an enacted parable.  It has a simple storyline of two people walking and talking and meeting a stranger whom they should have known and how he was made known to them.  But underlying this story is another story maybe even two or three.

Isn't this a story of reversal? 

(1) The two are walking to Emmaus in great sadness but they leave Emmaus and return to Jerusalem in great joy!  From sadness to joy.

(2) They meet someone who they don't recognize, he is a total stranger who seem to know nothing of these things that have happened in the last few days but when they do recognize him it is no stranger at all but someone they love dearly who knows more than they could imagine.  From unknown to known.

(3) Jesus agrees to stay with them as their guest, but at supper he becomes the host in the breaking of bread.  From guest to host.

(4) When they left Emmaus they only knew Jesus as crucified, there was no longer any reason for hope.  But when they returned they knew Jesus as alive.  From death to life.

Aren't we called to make reversals in our lives?  To repent?  To live lives of hope and joy because Christ has risen.

There is another underlying lesson to learn.  Let's gather the major themes.

1.  Christ is known by revelation.

Faith is not coerced or overwhelmed by revelations to frighten to the unprepared but only to those who are prepared in advance.

2.  Summary of the Gospel is recited.

Cleopas spoke the Gospel message up to the reports of the resurrection though he did not yet experience the resurrection.  It is incomplete until Christ is revealed.  These are the contents of Christian preaching.

3.  OT scriptures witness to Jesus.

Scriptures are sufficient for generating faith, they tell of Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection and his ministry. The Gospel of Christ continues and brings to fulfillment the law, the prophets and the writings.

4.  Christ is revealed in the sacramental meal.

Meals begin with an act of hospitality, an invitation to a gather and break bread.  Christ is experienced in word and sacrament.  The living Christ is both the key to our understanding the scriptures and the very present Lord who is revealed in the breaking of bread.

5.  Disciples understand by remembrance.

In remembering we have time to reflect on meaning, to recognize and realize and understand.

6.  Disciples witness to what they have seen and heard.

What does this remind you of?  Where else do you gather these themes?  Christ is known by revelation, a summary of the Gospel is recited, OT scriptures are used as a witness to Jesus, Christ is revealed in a sacramental supper.  Disciples remember and grow in understanding.  Their faith is strengthened and they witness to others?  Isn't it in worship that we do all of these things?  This walk to Emmaus gives us a pattern of worship.  As we walk through life we may not recognize just how close our savior is to us.  We freely ask questions and talk about what we know and experience.  We confess what "We had hoped" for.  Jesus comes into our lives when we urgently invite him.  At the meal Christ blesses and breaks bread and serves us.  This is how we know him.  It's how Christ is revealed to us and how our faith is strengthened, all of scripture testifies to Jesus.  We are brought from sadness to joy.  Finally we recognize that he has been with us all along, just as he promised he would.  Then we can't wait to tell others that Jesus is alive, He is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

2017_04_16 Easter is About Life.

Sermon Easter Sunday, NL3, 16 April 2017 

The Gospel reading for Easter Sunday is from the Gospel of Luke the 24th chapterGlory to you O Lord.  
NRS  Luke 24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 
 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 
 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 
 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 
 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 
  6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 
 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." 
 8 Then they remembered his words, 
 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 
 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 
 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 
 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. 
The Gospel of our Lord.  Praise to you O Christ. 
Pray:  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen. 
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 
"On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb." 
Doesn't this sound like the beginning of a scary novel that we should be reading while it is still dark?  Immediately we have questions about the significance of the first day of the week?  Is it somehow related to the first day of creation?  Who were the "they"?  Why did "they" go to a tomb?  Does it have something to do with carrying spices? 
Then the unknown "they" find the stone rolled away from the tomb.  It could mean one of two things; either the tomb has never been sealed, never used before, awaiting its first occupant OR if it has been used before, someone has either gone in or come out, maybe both.  Will the body still be there or not? 
"They" go in.  And "they" do not find "the body".  It seems they expected to find "the body" but it is no longer here.  And that's the mystery.  What happened to the body? 
What happens when you meet the unexpected that challenges your knowledge of truth?  You question yourself.  Did we get the correct tomb?  Yes we did, we saw the body being laid here two nights ago.  There's no mistake.  Was it really dead?  Of course it was, we saw it die and the Romans made sure of it.  We saw it come off the cross.  It was very dead.  What else?  Could someone have come and taken it?  What would anyone want with a bloody, crucified, dead body?   
What you would never imagine is that the body that was dead is now very much alive.  That just can't happen.  Nor would you expect the sudden and brilliant arrival of two men that you can barely look at because they are so brightly lit.  Your only response is to drop to your knees and cover your face in terror, fearful of what may happen to you next.   
Yes, this is the making of a good novel with the potential for a follow-on movie that probably wouldn't be as good as the book. 
But we know the back story.  "They" are the women who witnessed Jesus' crucifixion.  They followed Joseph of Arimathea with the body of Jesus to the tomb and saw where he laid it.  They are the women who have followed Jesus for quite some time.  They provided for his ministry.  They heard his predictions of the Son of Man being handed over to the authorities and being killed and on the third day rise again.  They are disciples and they know the apostles.  They want to do right by their friend Jesus and give his body due respect by providing the customary burial spices in the tomb.  But, the body is gone.  They are perplexed by the emptiness of the tomb and terrified by the angel's arrival. 
They hear the question, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?"  The question is a contradiction of what they know.  They are asked to believe something different than their experience would have them believe.  Either he is dead because we saw him die and dead people remain dead.  OR they must believe the new evidence that the angels give them, "He is not here, but has risen."  He was dead but now he is alive just like he told you he would be...remember? 
This is our question today.  Our entire faith hangs on what we believe about the evidence presented to us.  We know about people who die.  On the third day, they are still dead.  Or we are presented with the witness of someone who says, "This One did die, but He is now alive.  He is not in the tomb.  After he died, I saw him alive.  I ate with him.  I spoke with him.  I walked with him.  I did all of that after he died; and he did die, no question about that."  Now, what do you believe?  Is he alive or is he dead? 
It is a question about the finality of death.  Does death have the final word for you?  OR does life?  Do we believe this to be an idle tale, a bunch of rubbish?  Or do we believe the testimony of witnesses? 
What Easter and our faith proclaims is that death does not have the final word.  Because Jesus lives after dying, so will you.  We proclaim that God is all about life.  He is about life that will not be constrained or overruled by the power of death.   
Jesus permitted the power of death to have its way with him.  He died in the worst way ever imagined.  The most awful, shameful, painful, public, drawn out, gasping death ever designed by human beings.  It was a death reserved for the worst criminals and enemies of the Roman Empire.  It exemplified the utter power of the state over any potential enemy.  It was what would happen to you if you defied the state.  It was the worst. 
Jesus died this way.  Death did its best.  But on the third day he was alive because God is all about life not death..  Think of Jesus last words from the cross reported by Luke.  Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.  Today, you will be with me in paradise.  Father into your hands I commend my spirit.  Forgiveness, promise of paradise and complete faith in what the Father will do.  These are words of life and we are to remember them. 
Jesus is the life and the resurrection.  It means we no longer need to fear death.  What does that mean?  We no longer need to fear...anything!  If God is for us, who can be against us?  No one.  Death no longer is a threat to us.  It no longer has a hold on us.  We are free from its domination!  We are absolutely free! 
We should note that this Easter story of the resurrection from Luke has no joy in it.  It has only perplexion and terror and amazement and disbelief.  At this point all the disciples know, both men and women, is that the tomb is empty and they remember Jesus' words that he would rise again on the third day.  It will not be until later in the day that some disciples will meet Jesus and walk and talk with him and finally be recognized.  He is found among the living not among the dead, just like the angels said.  It is only later that they will know joy.  We have the advantage of knowing the rest of the story.  We know that Jesus is alive.  He is the victory over death.  Because we know he is risen and he lives, we sing songs of joy and raise shouts of alleluia!  Amen. 
P:  Alleluia!  Christ is risen. 
C:  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia! 
P:  The Grace of our risen Savior, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.