Message the Sunday following the State Track Meet

Following is the message that was heard in our church the day after the State Track Meet, on May 28, 2017. The scriptures used were: John 17:1-11, I Peter 4:12-14 & 5:6-11 and Acts 1:6-14. The title was “That They May Be One.”

Today it is really the beginning of summer in our house. The track season is over, and we are as some would say, finally free of meets and practices. I am thinking that it might even be time to put out the garden one day this week. As I said in the newsletter, it is my favorite time and my least favorite time. I have so enjoyed this season even for as tightly crammed as it was and even for the way I felt so tired sometimes. As I sat down on Friday night to put together this message, I couldn’t help but think of the scriptures a few weeks ago that pointed us to the message of “Life Here, too,” which was based off a podcast from the National website called “Enjoy this life.”

I have tried to use that whole concept of enjoying the life you are given as a jumping off board, a focus of a way to think of things, and to that I have been trying to add the idea of living in the moment. That thought of being present in what is happening in your life at the time and enjoying it has really been gnawing on me. I tried hard to put that into play this weekend, and for the most part it seemed to work. Maybe we will take a little time out here to give you the grumps of the weekend, just to get them out of the way so that the rest of this message will really have a turned up, happy note to it.

Ok, so the down side was really limited to a couple of things and mainly it boils down to only one thing and that is the attitude of entitlement. In North Dakota we only have a Class A and a Class B, and it gets really tiresome to learn that rules are being changed because certain things don’t seem to suit the important people in Class A. It is also annoying to have certain people on the team end up always doing the heavy lifting, and I do mean heavy in terms of setting up and taking down while others seem to skate by, always, even when duties have been assigned. And mostly working with youngsters is emotionally draining because they have this awful tendency to grow up and graduate and move on, and that is just way too hard for some of us. So, my warning to you is that no one here is allowed to move away, even if you get some notion that you want to be closer to children or other family or whatever the excuse is. I just won’t have it.

The entire group heading to state.

Ok, grumpy piece over, now for the good part. I ended up driving a mini-van on our trip, and instead of putting the older students in it, we left them with Mr. Haak on the mini-bus where there was more leg room, and I took the youngest group, the 7th graders. Let me just say that I have not heard so much giggling in a very long time, and I think that a few of them might have had stomach aches from laughing. It was a wonderful sound even somewhat musical and as I listened to them, I could feel their complete, absolute and pure joy. There was nothing better, even when they were giggling because they were making fun of my driving. So understand that it was this last story, this young childlike joy that was in my mind as I did a reread of the scripture lessons for this week.

As we start with the lesson in Acts, we find a story very similar to the one at the end of Luke in terms of the ascension of Jesus. Although in Luke it flat out uses the phrase “great joy,” I also get the impression of joy from the accounting of the event in this passage in Acts. We don’t see the word joy or exultation or anything on that line, but we also do not read anything that might indicate fear or alarm or sadness or gloom. These verses tell about how Jesus talks to his disciple, basically giving them their final instructions before he leaves them. In some of the other gospels we are told that this is when he is taken to his rightful place at the right hand of God. To me that idea alone should give us the image of an unimaginable joy that Christ is able to experience.

The other joy and the part I want us to concentrate on is the feelings of the disciples and what feelings that should give us. When Christ is taken away, according to the story in Acts, the disciples are visited by two men in white, two angels we presume. They tell the disciples to stop looking, or staring up looking for Jesus, because he will come again. Now the disciples had been told earlier to return to Jerusalem. They know he wants them to stay there waiting for the Holy Spirit to come to them, and so they go, and I will bet it wasn’t with dread or sadness over the past, but with joyful anticipation for what is next. Of course they were grown men, so it might not have been with giggles, but I kind of believe that they were on their way with smiles, even though Jesus had just left them.

If we look at the words from I Peter we read that Peter told the early Christians to rejoice that they were sharing in the suffering of Christ because they would then be able to shout for joy when he returns. Nothing could be truer than that statement. Think about it, no matter how bad things get, and I suppose the worse they get, the more we will shout in for the return of Christ to end the suffering and the agony. And this is true if we actually live to the age of his return or if it is the day that he comes for us alone. In truth, that day will be one of great joy for us as Christians.

The remaining verses in Peter give us some advice for the in-between time. Two things stand out for me. The first is the idea that we should cast all of our cares, all of our anxieties on Christ, and the second is that we should keep ourselves alert for the evil powers which exist in that world that would keep us from what is right, from what Christ wants of us. I love that image of the devil prowling the earth around looking for someone to devour, as if he were some giant swamp creature or the abominable snowman. Maybe it is those sorts of images that make us think there is no such evil power in the world. Perhaps if we thought more of a cunning and conniving con-artist sort of creature, maybe then we would be more likely to believe that there is a power that works to perpetuate evil in the world. Peter’s point in essence is that we need to keep our faith and trust in Christ and God will take care of us.

Exactly! For God to take care of us is just what Jesus prays for in the verses that we read in John 17. This passage is known as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. It is his prayer for the disciples and his prayer for us. He offers it to God shortly before he is betrayed and crucified. In it, Jesus asks for God to take care of his disciples and give them the task of completing the work he has started so that his work will not have been in vain. I know we can all understand that concept of hoping that what we do is not in vain, I can’t imagine how much Jesus felt the need to make sure his work would be finished by faithful disciples. And in many ways that means us as much as the original 12.

Tomorrow many of the communities in our country will be celebrating Memorial Day. We will gather to honor the men and women who served in our military and especially those who died while in service to secure and protect the freedoms that we have. As much as some of us might disagree about which freedoms we should embrace or exercise and how much we should value any or all of them, if we were to give up any bit of those freedoms, we would be essentially telling those who served and sacrificed especially those who died that what they gave up was not important. We would be telling them that their sacrifice no matter how big or small was really all in vain. I know that I couldn’t do it, and I am pretty sure none of you would be able to do it either, to tell a Veteran that their service was worthless.

I know that what Christ did for all of us was so much more than any of us could do for another, yet isn’t it written that the greatest love a person can have is to lay down their life for another? Each Memorial Day as we gather to honor our country’s fallen soldiers, we do that to ensure that none of them died in vain, that none of them sacrificed their lives or physical or mental well being or even their time without it being worth something.

Jesus in his final prayer to his Father in heaven, as he is about to leave his human existence, asks that his work, his time on earth not be without meaning. His prayer is that God look after the disciples that were given to him, so that they will be able not just to fulfill the work Jesus started, but that they will complete it and in doing that they will also experience the joy that Jesus knew while being about that work.

Of course we also read this to refer to us as believers and disciples in our own way and time. Jesus wants us to continue his mission of spreading his gospel, his love all the way to the ends of the earth, and while we do that he wants us to have the same rewards of knowing him and knowing the joy of eternity that he asked God to give to the original disciples.

At the end of the gospel lesson we read for today, we come across the words: “that they may be one.” A bit further into the chapter in verse 21, we see those words again with just a little twist. In verse 21 it is written, “That they may all be one.” That is the verse picked to be the motto of our wider church. Jesus wants that for us, that we would be one with each other as he and the Father are one, united and working together as soldiers in the trenches, and perhaps to put it in language I understand better, as members of a team, who all have the same goal. That they may all be one.

Jesus asks God to protect his disciples, the 12 that were closest to him, and all who have come to believe in him. He also asks that all his disciples could be one as he and the father are one. To me that means we should learn to love each other in a deep, intensely joyful, Christian love. This love is not restricted by family or gender or skin color or culture or economic status, but it is a love as Christ loves. Christ wants us to be one, to be open and accepting and caring for each other in the same way that Christ and God love each other.

I really believe that when we are willing to open ourselves up to that attitude and when we are willing to take up the task of helping the gospel to spread to the ends of the earth, we will know the love and peace and joy of Christ, and when we do, we will also be able to experience the kind of happiness that makes our sides hurt from laughing. Go this week living in the moment and experiencing the joy of Christ. Amen!

Sign of today or the past?

Keep out sign

Keep out sign

I love this sign. It is on a road, well an old railroad area, near out house. We don’t own the area that we are supposed to keep out of, and we have walked along the tracks to the bridge for years. With the tracks gone, many people now drive along this road bed with cars and ATV’s, which is what the sign is all about. To me the sign says more than Keep Out. It says, “Stay away from the area of my youth.” It says, “This spot is only for those who have spent time here their whole lives.” And mostly it says, “If you didn’t grow up by this road, you don’t belong.” For me it is an exclusive, and it is one of those places of the childhood that makes me feel very selfish.

The more I write about this sign, the more I begin to see it not as a physical sign to a very specific place, but a figurative sign. All of a sudden, it is about attitudes. Just now I am seeing it as the way we put up signs on our faces, with our posture, with our words and ways of doing things that keeps others from approaching us as well as joining in the places we go, the things we do, and the way we live. I am also thinking that it is bad enough that we do this with our secular selves, but some of us do it in the name of religion. Church is not an exclusive club, or at least the church that was founded on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth was not intended to be that way.

Christianity is supposed to be about everyone. It is supposed to be about including all people at the table when we feast with Christ. In the gospel of John 17:21 it says, “That they may all be one.” The preceding verse is: “I ask not only on behalf of these, [meaning the disciples] but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.” And the completion of the sentence is–that they may all be one. Such was the attitude of Jesus the Christ.

I am amazed sometimes how things get planted in a mind. I was sitting down to do a blog about the garden and some of the pictures I took this morning, and here I am focusing on a sign that I snapped a picture of at the end of my little walk. I have been wrestling most of the day with ideas about how to put together a service celebrating Earth Day while using the scripture about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It hasn’t been clicking too well since I got fairly disgusted with how some of the “Earth Day” ideas that I read up on are really anti–towards our rural way of life. I mean really who is more in favor of the earth than we who depend on it for our livelihood? Oh well, I will have to resolve this eventually.

I just want to leave today with some questions about the sign. What do you think of Keep Out? What does a sign like that say to you, today?

To the Ends of the Earth

The following message was given on Sunday, June 1 with the scripture of Acts 1:6-14 and John 17:1-11. The title was To the End of the Earth.

It is hard to believe that Disney’s Pixar Department produced its first film in November of 1995. Thinking about being in 2014, it is hard to think of something so “modern” as being from before the year 2000. I actually think it was before Disney owned Pixar, but I might be wrong on that, I just seem to remember that Pixar stood on its own for a short time, but that is not really our issue. Let me put it into this perspective; a child born in Nov. of 1995 would have graduated from high school this year. In other words, a child born at the same time as Pixar would never have known the world before Buzz Lightyear the Space Ranger and his famous; “To infinity and beyond.” Interesting how we can accept that slogan from a made up space suit wearing, cartoon character and think nothing of it.

Our message this morning is titled to the end of the earth. I would venture to say that when we think of something that is the end of the earth or to the ends of the earth, we think of something far, far away. C. S. Lewis in his Narnia series wrote a book called, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where the characters were sailing away to what seemed to be the end of the earth, or the edge of the world.

If the truth be told, and I have done some studies of the frontier of the United States, and except for the areas of land that are now Alaska and Hawaii, we live in the last frontier of the United States. This region right here, or perhaps just a little west of here, was the last frontier of the mainland of America. The land of the western part of the Dakotas, especially South Dakota, was the last of what was homesteaded. 1890 is considered by many authors to be the closing date of the American frontier, so when I used to ride in the track or volleyball bus to McIntosh or Lemmon for meets and games, and we joked, that though it wasn’t the end of the world, but you could see it from there, we weren’t so far off.

Yet we cannot think of our land as the last to be civilized, that honor seems to be reserved for South America. As of 2008, there were still a few tribes living in the jungles of Brazil and Peru that had never come in contact with the outside world. I suspect there might be other remote areas in some other parts of the world, but perhaps we won’t know until someone finds them. Interesting thought though, where is the end of the earth? Where is infinity? Where is beyond?

The story we read in the gospel of John is a prayer that Jesus spoke to God about himself and his disciples on the night that he was betrayed. John is the only gospel that gives a long account of the things that Jesus said to the disciples between the time when he told Judas to go and do what he had to and when Judas and the officials met up with Jesus and the others in the garden. It is His last night with the disciples in the capacity as their earthly leader, and He is cramming in as much information as possible. The other gospels don’t tell us all of this information, but John, John the disciple must have been hanging on every word, and he puts it into his gospel to share it with the world, even the end(s) of the world, even us.

Jesus prayer is for God to just get the action rolling. Jesus is ready for the final phase of His ministry on earth. He is ready to go through death so he can get to the resurrection, and to the part that we are about today, His ascension. Jesus is ready to have the whole business over so that the world can know the glory of God and what God is capable of doing. Jesus wants to have the ultimate battle with the forces of evil over and done with, so that he can take His rightful place, the place He occupied before coming to earth. And He doesn’t want to be there just to gloat or Lord it over anyone; He wants to be there to have a better ability to help those who are left behind. Think about this, as selfish as it sounds, without his death and resurrection, we would not have the ability to have our prayers answered even once. It is only his resurrection and Ascension that makes it possible.

We might not think much of it now, but there was a time when Ascension Day was on the calendar and celebrated in the churches as an actual religious holiday. I can remember as a young girl my mother commenting that it should be considered one of the holiest days of the church year and then complaining that it was no longer observed. According to the note on the common lectionary, May 29 would have been the date to observe it this year. That would have been this past Thursday. I guess church on a random day in the middle of the week at the end of May is not really how we do things anymore. I suppose it isn’t the modern thing to do.

The scripture in Acts give us what sounds much like an historical accounting of the day when Jesus left the earth. It gives us facts in terms of who and what and when and where. We are told that the ascension happened 40 days after his suffering, meaning his death. It tells us they are at the Mount of Olivet as in the Mount of Olives and that it is a week’s journey from Jerusalem where they have been staying. It also lists all of the people who were together, which is more than just the disciples, again as we learned during Lent, there were woman there including Mary, the mother of Jesus, and some of his brothers.

Although Acts is mostly about the disciples and what they do in the first years in establishing the church, it is really about the Holy Spirit and the work that is done when the Holy Spirit is sent to the followers of Jesus. It is about the witnessing they are able to do because of the spirit. It is about what they are able to do because Jesus has returned to his place at the right hand of God. We know this because of what the angels told the disciples as they looked into the heavens to see where Jesus ascended.

So many times Jesus refers to himself as being “lifted up.” So often that phrase is considered to mean lifted up as in how Jesus is hung on the cross, crucified on the cross. But what if “lifted up” also refers to when Jesus ascends into heaven at the end of His time on earth? What if lifted up is the ancient version of “To infinity and beyond?” I don’t mean to be glib or trite or trivialize the meaning of the ascension. But what if this is all about how Jesus tells us that he is going on ahead to prepare a place so that He will be waiting for us so we can be together in through infinity?

But what is it that we are to do until then? In the passage we read today in Acts it says that just before he ascended, Jesus tells the disciples to be His witnesses even to the ends of the earth. It is the same for us; Jesus wants us to share what we know about a relationship with him. And if we look back to the prayer in John chapter 17, we see that Jesus prays to God about protecting those who were given to him, those who were and are his disciples. He asks for this protection for us, “so that they may be one as we (meaning God and Jesus) are one.” Jesus wants us to be as close to God and Jesus as they are to each other, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, that relationship is possible. That they may be one is the motto of our church. I guess it was chosen with that relationship in mind.

Lately I have been trying to resolve how some of this works in our busy lives. How do we do all of these things while continuing on with our daily lives? We can’t all be called to walk away from everything we know and fly off to a third world country to do mission work, or where do we witness? Where is our “ends of the earth?” Recently, I found something that was said by Mother Theresa. This is what it was: “I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.” This week and the next, as we go about our business, as we say our prayers and do what we believe is our task, let us remember those words. Let us remember that when Jesus left his earthly mission behind, He gained his real earthly mission, and it is we who are left to be His witnesses, to infinity and beyond. Amen!

And on the bottom of all that, Happy Birthday Aunt, see you at the airport tomorrow night.

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