Heading to General Synod 31

Baltimore area from the air.

I think this is the head of the Mississippi. Taken as we were landing in Minneapolis.

Two years ago when I was asked if I would be a delegate for General Synod, I was ecstatic though I never really thought I would go. I kept expecting something to come up to ruin the trip. Well no such event. This morning we left Aberdeen, SD at 5:09 am. At this time we are waiting to board our flight for Baltimore. More after we check into the hotel there.

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!

Happy Mother’s Day Message

I was pondering not putting this message on the blog, but I guess…. First off, I messed up the scriptures when I went to put the message together. I was in II Peter rather than I Peter as the lectionary suggested. Next I may have talked about my own family in ways that might not be appealing to all. Fortunately I tend to go off script, so what is here was not exactly what they heard. Let’s just say we had a jovial time again this morning and most of it was because I shared the truth about my own life. May you find some spark of truth and a real message in this, mixed up as it might be.

The scriptures for today were listed as: Acts 7:55-60, I Peter 2:1-10 (actually based it on II Peter 2:1-10) and John 14:1-14. Our title was, “Honoring Mothers.”

Let’s just start with what to me was the obvious oxymoron here today. When I opened up the desk calendar in the office and looked at the lectionary suggestions, I was a little stunned. I don’t understand fully how the powers that be don’t do some coordinating between the secular calendar year and the scriptures of the lectionary. This is Mother’s Day for goodness sakes and the scripture lessons somehow don’t seem to have anything at all to do with anything about honoring your mother. The verses in the gospel of John are more likely to be something you would hear at a funeral, and the writings in I Peter are instructions to tell Christians how to keep away from those who would lead you astray and the story in Acts is just too gruesome to even think about. Stephen who was not even one of the inner circle of disciples in his zeal to share the story of Christ ends up as the first martyr when a mob stones him while Saul AKA Paul watches in approval.

Actually, one of the first times I ever used the John 14 verses at a funeral was at Verna Schock’s, and I thought I was going to NOT like the one daughter-in-law very much. I wanted to read verses 1-6 or even to 7, but she told me I had to stop at verse 3. Interestingly as I was checking the “sermon seeds” in my email for this week, the write-up mentioned that too many people take this passage and only focus on verse 6. So, it got me to looking at the whole thing, especially the opening a bit closer. And there it is in the opening three verses, we hear those final words, the final instructions that Jesus is giving to his disciples before he leaves them, and here is where we can begin to realize the thread between these stories and this celebration of mothers.

First off before we go any further with this, let’s just stop and remember that in some of our past discussions, I have noticed that our wider church is more likely to set today as a celebration of the family, not just the mothers. Personally, I am ok with having a day for Mothers and another for Fathers. It gives a second opportunity for children to be guilted into remembering all the things their parents have ever done for them. I mean really in some homes everyday is children’s day. I am pretty sure if you check with my oldest two daughters that was not the case at our house, at least not where I was involved. But on the other hand they will be sure to tell you that things changed when the third one came along. Let me just say the jury is still out on how things will work for them with their children. For now I am noticing that there is little to no grown up television or movies to be seen when you enter their homes, and even Jessica has started checking in with cartoon channels while she is feeding and rocking one of the twins. Not so much at Grandma’s house.

One more personal note then I will get back to the lessons from the scriptures. This past Thursday I found a pair of matching coffee mugs that I just had to buy for those two “slighted” daughters. The writing on the side said, “Sometimes when I open my mouth, my mother comes out.” I believe they will notice that more and more as they age, whether they like it or not, many of us have been there for me it is more and more each day.

So what is the thread of Motherhood and mothers that comes from these scripture lessons. The one in second Peter could almost be compared to a mother lecturing her teenager as he or she is walking out the door. Last night was prom in Linton and we drove up to watch grand march. We attended somewhat because my niece Elisabeth was in it since her boyfriend is from there, and we also went as coaches just to let them know we are aware of where they are and that we are thinking of them. There were no lectures in practice on Friday, but plenty on Monday when they had their Jr/Sr banquet and that is sometimes reason for concern.

Some people might think that children/teenagers should be allowed to make their own decisions and especially their own mistakes. I would rather go along with the words of Peter as he spoke to the early Christians telling them about the false teachers that will try to infiltrate them, and how God was not so lenient with the angels who rose up against heaven, and even the story about the days of Noah and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yes, God is a loving God, but as Peter points out, those incidences of rebellion and disregard for God’s laws were not tolerated. And we probably all know well that Mothers, too have their limits, and when they set them it is with the safety and well being of their children in mind.

Now of the three passages we read today, I think the text in John is the easiest to relate to the actions and the love of a mother. This chapter is part of that long narrative in John about the final night Jesus is with the disciples before he is betrayed and arrested. Chapter 13 begins with Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, then there is the last supper and in this chapter Jesus tells his disciples that he is going back to his father’s house to prepare a place for them. What a wonderful promise. He was going back to his home, to get a place ready for them and then he promises to return again to bring them to that house to live with him. Now it didn’t happen immediately and not all at once, but in their order each of the disciples was welcomed home to the place that was prepared just for them. And the great thing about this story is that it is meant for each of us in just that same way.

Let’s stop and think about this for a minute. How many of us have gotten our homes ready for someone to come and stay? At our place it becomes a major operation, especially at this time of year when the dust has piled so high on some of the shelves that I can write my name in them, then there are the dust bunnies who are big enough and old enough to be named and demand pet beds, and we won’t even discuss the windows. My mother used to tell me she always knew my house because it was the only one on the block whose windows were not washed.

We will likely have all the children at our place for a short time in June and I am already getting nervous about how we will get everyone into a room let alone into a bed that isn’t piled high with junk. I have to admit that my grand plan to eliminate some of the clutter from the house around the time of Lent fell by the way side after the first bag went out the door. Hopefully this summer there will be a little more cooperation from my hoarder self on this business of letting go.

Considering the sort of preparation we as humans go through to invite someone to a stay over visit, or the act of helping someone move into a new or different home, it is sort of hard to consider Christ telling us that he is going to prepare a place for us to live. This really doesn’t strike me as God’s work, to provide a home for us, yet that is what Jesus promises. “If it were not so, would I have told you…” If we as human parents stress and fuss and work to provide a place for our children to come to stay or even help them to find a spot to live, how much more do you suppose Christ has worked to provide a home for us, a place for us to join him in paradise?

Now the story from Acts almost seems like it should just be ignored in this discussion about honoring our mothers. How can we possibly see any sort of nurturing, mothering, loving story in this horrible account of a group of people turning into a mob that stones a man to death, and what about the man who stands quietly by holding their coats and allows them to do it? The horror of it just seems too much to even think about. The thread here comes from the words of Stephen as he is being stoned when he looks to the heavens and prays, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” His final words were much like those of Jesus who in his final words said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is the same sort of love that mothers have for their children.

OK, yes there are times when we want to shake our fist and give them the Peanuts gang version of Lucy, “I will give you five reasons” and there are those exceptions of mothers who are more involved with things that are harmful–alcohol and drug abuse and such, but when you think of a loving and a caring, nurturing mother, you hear the same sort of words that Jesus and Stephen used in forgiving the mobs.

Mothers and fathers both want what is best for their children. They want a life that is better than the one they had, but the best that any of us can give our children is the story of Christ’s love for us. I am sure we would all agree that the best we can do for our children is not just to give them our love, but to give them the opportunity to share in God’s love.

And if any of you have not had a call or a card or a notice from someone today, let me say to all of you Happy Mother’s Day from me. In looking up the word mother I found such definitions as a woman exercising control, influence or authority, someone who is the origin, source or protector, to that I would add someone who nurtures or cares for another, regardless of gender. As I look around our congregation, I see, so many examples of ways we act as those descriptions for each other and it doesn’t matter our gender. Maybe that is who we are as a congregation, maybe that is what it means to be the church for each other. As we leave today on this beautiful Mothers’ Day, let’s remember to be that person who loves others just as Jesus did. And let’s reach out to others as our mothers would reach out to us. Amen!

Life Here, too

Message of this past Sunday was based on: Acts: 2: 42-47, I Peter 2:19-25 and mostly the last verse of John 10:1-10. I used the following as the title, “Life Here, too.”

Our gospel lesson and our Psalm today are the comparisons of Jesus and God to a shepherd. We read the Psalm as our call to worship, and we just heard the words of the gospel of John where Jesus tells the disciples all about how the good shepherd goes in through the gate and how the sheep know the voice of the shepherd who watches over them and protects them and all of that is well and good, but the focus of what we will discuss today is that last verse, the one where it says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Our other two lessons support this, but we will get to them a bit later.

This week, which has been a month long in case anyone wants to know how it went, this week began with that trip to Eagle Pass Lodge on Monday. Monday is normally when I first look at what we are to study this week, and so as I headed here to pick up Mary Lou and then we traveled on to Bowdle where we met up with Faye Jackman from Mobridge, who leads the church in McLaughlin, I had these lessons in the back of my mind. Jesus came so that we can have life, and have it abundantly. The trip was great, we had enough time to stop in Highmore and have lunch and visit even more than during the trip, and we made it to the place in plenty of time with very little difficulty. We were greeted very warmly, there was one more licensed minister there, a woman from Clark, and we all met in a large room with the Committee on Ministry and the Conference Minister, and it was great!!

I am not just saying this, it was a wonderful meeting and we talked about all sorts of things, what is going well, what is hard for us, what we feel confident in doing and what we would like some assistance with which was mostly resources, and we even shared some ideas of where we get our resources. And we even felt so comfortable that we shared why we were a little put out about having to come there and meet with them. And we talked about this business with the change of how clergy are given their status, and I think we will all be fine. And it made me want to come today with a message about how Jesus came to make sure that we have life and have it abundantly, and I was thinking about just how great life is and so I was really ready to put together this super great and happy message for all of us to share.

And Tuesday was anther fun day in most ways. We hopped on the bus for that conference meet in Ellendale, and except for the porta-potties and the non computer way of doing results, it was pretty good, but the ride was long and it got fairly late and we read some of the news events of the day, and that wonderful happy cheer was starting to fade a bit. Then Wednesday there was Bible study, which was good and nearly brought me back to sanity, but later after practice James and I quick ran to Bismarck and picked up the iPads that he was supposed to buy for the team, and we ended up getting two and seeing Jess, Tony and Lily and it was good, but we got home late and we were tired and things were getting a little testier. Then Thursday there was another track meet in Underwood and we had a couple of qualifying events including a girls’ relay and we were so happy, ….but we bought two iPads and there are 3 coaches and though it is true and I said, I can’t time and record at the same time, so I don’t want one, when we got home and I was extra tired and wanted to stay up to do statistics, but I was too tired and instead I turned on the news and learned some more about what is going on in the world that I can’t change, and then I realized that I never got to record anything on that iPad let alone even touch it or look at what was on it and, well….happy was flying right out the window….

I didn’t intend to go into a boring rendition of my week, but the point is that while I was thinking about talking about this great abundant life, I knew that I could never do it with that sweet and sticky oo/aa sort of voice of sheer happiness that I suspect to be fake anyway, and my tiredness kicked in and the crabbiness took over and I wondered how on earth I could have even considered speaking about it in the first place.

And then on Friday morning as I tried to get myself back into the focus of the scriptures, I took a time out to read some of the skipped pages of The Upper Room and there I found the words from Wednesday, the verse in Isaiah 60:20, “Your sun shall no more go down, or your moon withdraw itself, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.” And the comment near the end of the page said, God is the wind at your back, not the rain in your face.” During the storms God is there helping you through, not making it harder.

So, as I read the scripture passages again for this week it occurred to me that in the past few years, passages like this would make me focus on the life that God gives to us when we leave this earth. The message was always centered around the idea of eternity, the happiness of the life to come, the reuniting with those who have gone on before, but not a lot of hope for the here and the now. And the truth is that every morning when we wake up, we are all one day closer to the day when we find eternity and meet Christ. That thought used to really depress me. I remember thinking about that so often when I was visiting my mother, and I knew that she wouldn’t always be with me. Our mortality is a fact we carry with us every day, but that is not what Jesus wants us to focus on.

On Friday morning, as I looked at those words that Jesus left us I saw more clearly than ever that our focus needs to be more about this life, this wonderful—joyous life that God has given us to live, this great opportunity to be about the business of living and sharing and spreading the message of the love that Jesus has for all of us perhaps not quite like the apostles did in the lessons we read in Acts and I Peter, but sharing none the less.

Those passages tell us the stories of the disciples in the days after Jesus has ascended into heaven. The faithful worked together sharing their possessions, their treasures, their means so that they could spread the gospel the good news, so that everyone around them could learn about Jesus and the life that he wanted for all of us. He wanted/he wants us to have a life of happiness and goodness and days free of sorrow and strife, and I believe that, but sometimes when you look at the world around us and some of the antics of those in charge you wonder. I get one tangent and I promise I won’t go too far, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if our elected officials or those in power (even at the levels of the city or county or state and some school) would adopt the idea that their purpose was to make sure that every one of their constituents would be able to have life and have it abundantly. Wouldn’t it be nice if their bottom line wasn’t to advance their own agenda? Just saying!

The other thing I found on Friday morning was Jeremiah 29:11. “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.” And it hit me, that even as I was going through this goofy, overtired week, and I was taking too many things to heart, God hit me on the head with a simple verse in a devotional booklet, “I know the plans I have for you.” Even when we can’t seem to understand where the happy is going to come from because everything around us seems to be falling apart or there is something holding us down or holding us back, God comes to us and says, “I know the plans I have for you. I am the good shepherd, and I came so that you could have life and have it abundantly.”

Were those words there accidentally? Did I read something into them because I wanted to see something? Maybe, or maybe it is the workings of the Holy Spirit. In our denomination, we are not such good spirit believers, though there are some who acknowledge it more than others. I think our Bible study group has an openness to it. I was amazed at the discussion we had on Monday at the Committee on Ministry meeting. It started when we were talking about renewal classes and we 4 licensed women said we haven’t all done any formal training this year, but we have been fairly diligent in our own devotional and Bible study. In fact the more we as licensed ministers shared, the more we saw reaction from the members of the committee, and one of the long seasoned clergy even made the comment that perhaps it might be time to begin a more faithful time of devotions.

I really and truly believe that as we take the time to spend time with God in any number of ways, as we do that, we open ourselves to the workings of the spirit inside of us and when we do that, we begin to recognize the awe and the wonder of this life we have been give. It isn’t always going to be easy, it isn’t always going to be perfect or trouble free, but when we accept Christ who came to earth so that we could have not just life, but life abundantly and when we walk with the God who really only wants good for us, we will enjoy that wind on our back even if the rain is hitting us in the face, and we will know the true joy of a life that is filled with the Holy Spirit guiding us through all things, even hot coals on occasion. Go today, and this week with the confidence that whatever comes your way, you can get through it because God loves you and wants you to enjoy this life.  Amen!

Christ’s Rightful Place

The message today was taken from the scripture lessons: Acts 16:9-15, Ephesians 1:15-23 and John 14:23-29. The idea was based on the following title and the weekend we spent with our daughters. Enjoy!!

Christ’s Rightful Place

You may have heard me mention last week that James and I were going to Jamestown yesterday. I am starting to understand why I don’t want to leave the house after the first week in June. April and May are crazy, and I think this year has been way worse than past years. Our initial intent was to watch Paulina in their home track and field meet, but soon we also found out that Jaxon would also be competing in a wrestling competition in Jamestown. We were able to watch him from 9:30-10:30 then head up to the college to spend most of the day with Paulina.

There were a few parents and families at the college meet, but it was nothing like the parents at the wrestling match. Actually it started at the hotel at breakfast. We went up to Jamestown on Friday night, so we were eating at one of those hotel breakfast places in the morning. While James and Jaxon were standing in line waiting for the waffle machine to be available, I had time to watch one poor father trying to coax his son into eating something. I couldn’t quite tell if he was giving him medicine or if it was a piece of banana. I just kept hearing him beg the boy to eat this thing. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but he was saying, “Just try this one time, and I will never ask you anything again.” The kid was probably 8 or 9 years old. I just wanted to say, eat the stuff and get on with life, really this poor guy is in for a long life.

Later when Victoria showed up for breakfast with the two youngest, I mentioned it to her, and she shook her head. She admitted that her generation of parents has this idea that children should be asked to do things. Since opening a day care, she has been taking various day care classes and in one of her last sessions, she read an essay about telling children instead of asking them. Her example was, you are in the Dr office and the child needs his blood drawn, instead of asking if they could please sit still the parent says, you need to sit still for a bit because the nurse is going to take blood from you. The choices might be do you want the chair alone or my lap. Do you want the blue sticker or the red when you are finished? She has been using this on Jaxon, and though he was a bit upset about being told what to do, she said within a week, she has noticed the change in his behavior. Wow.

I sort of have to laugh about it. I think maybe that generation, at least in my house, gets the idea of giving choices because they didn’t have too many in their day. It was here is your breakfast, now eat. This is what you wear to school today. The choice is get dressed now or in the car, and Victoria specifically had at least one of those sessions. I also don’t remember sharing the television too often, so I can see where Victoria might have wanted to allow her son a bit more freedom.

Looking at those parents, I got to thinking about when James and I were first married, and we often went to church in Hull in his home church. It was interesting to see the way those families sat in church. It was quite different from the way I grew up. It our church a few of the younger couples sat together, but the older ones sat pretty strictly men on one side and women on the other and the children all in their particular Sunday School benches. Babies and children too young for Sunday School sat with their mothers. I don’t remember how my parents sat when I was old enough for Sunday School, but before that, we were in between them. I suppose to rein us in, to keep us in control. In James’ church the parents sat side by side and the children sat around them. I was told it was to show that the partnership of the couple was the center of the family, the children were the additions. I guess for those who put the children in the middle maybe that represented that the children were the center of the family. I am not sure on that, maybe it would be an interesting psychological study.

My point and question today is about the center or perhaps the focus. What is it that we focus on? What is the center of our family? What is the main focus or our main thought when we are in church, or when we are out and about for that matter? Certainly our livelihood needs to be somewhat of a focus or all that we have falls apart. So we do need to have at least some sort of “tend to our business” sort of focus. And our family both immediate and perhaps even extended needs to be there someplace near the top if not the top. But what else is there in terms of our focus? Is it friends, clubs, organizations, hobbies? What about Christ? Where do we fit Jesus, and what we are taught about him and by him into our lives?

The story from the book of Acts about the apostle Paul seems to be a little out of place in this message today. There is nothing really in that story about who is our focus, who is our center, or is there? Let’s take a closer look. This story happens after Paul and others were sent by the disciples to the area of the gentiles to spread the news about Jesus. During this trip Paul has a vision telling him to go to the area of Macedonia. He does this and ends up in the city Philippi. During this stay, Paul meets a God fearing woman named Lydia, who is a dealer in purple cloth, which is what that region is known for, and probably means she is a wealthy woman. When she hears about Jesus, she and her whole family, her whole household, which likely means all her servants and slaves too, were baptized and she invites Paul and those with him to come to her home to stay while they are in the city. She opens her home to those who brought the good news of Jesus to her life. She responds to the words of the apostles by accepting salvation by offering herself and her household to be baptized, and then she opens her home to the messengers who brought her this good news. Although she believed in God, she now knows the truth of salvation and she changes her focus; she opens her heart and home to allow the teachings of Jesus to be its center.

Our gospel lesson for today is a passage from John that Jesus told the disciples before he was crucified. He was telling them about how he was about to go away and the Holy Spirit would be sent to them. He also told them that for those who loved him, he would return to live with them, something we may think of as a future thing, but perhaps, we might realize more as a now thing if we really put our focus, on Christ as being the center of our lives. Jesus in this passage as he is talking to the disciples and telling them that he is going away says: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.”

Somehow this sounds much like things we have talked about in bible study. The peace that Jesus gives probably won’t eliminate all the drama and tension and issues that come up in our lives, but with that peace, we have a different way of dealing with those things. With the peace of Christ our focus shifts. We come to the, “not my will but your will be done” type of attitude. We are no longer like the child who wants our own way at all times. As we tune into a loving relationship with Christ, we understand that God’s ways are not unreasonable demands from a dictatorial parent. Instead they are words and nudging and guidance from a point of complete and total love, a love that is so deep it was willing to offer an only begotten son in order to redeem us as an heir to eternity.

Just as parents want what is best for their children, so God wants what is best for us. Sometimes we just need to shift our focus to see what is important. It is when we have Christ as the center of our lives that we are able to embrace the peace that he offers us.

This week on Thursday is the day we celebrate the Ascension of Christ from this earth to join his father in heaven. On Ascension Day, Christ was given his rightful place as ruler of all just as is written in the scripture lesson we heard from Ephesians. According to the author that place is, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named not only in this age, but also in the age to come.” Christ’s rightful place is above all, and for us should be the center of our lives and our focus. And even though we won’t be having a special service on Thursday, we might just want to take a bit of time to think about what Jesus life and death and Ascension really means to our lives. Let’s go today with that attitude of Christ’s peace going with us. Amen.

Christ’s Peace

This morning the theme to our message was Resurrection Witness. I decided to go with it because I wasn’t willing to take the time to figure out the point of my message in time for the bulletin to go to print. I also was never very good at figuring out themes. I used to point my students at common themes like: survival of the fittest, overcoming adversities and other cliché sorts of things. I can’t even think of good examples now. I really thought my message was boring and over used and same old same old this morning. Then as Toni and Darlene were leaving they said they had been feeling that same blah that I mentioned in the “announcements” part of the service. They noted that the theme this morning was peace.

In the gospel scripture Jesus greets the disciples with the words of Peace being with them. He was not referring to world peace and end of all wars peace, but instead he was looking at the peace you get when you accept the world around you and resolve to do the best you can with what you have. Thanks to those two women, I get the story for today. I finally understand what the message was all about. It is about allowing yourself the peace to do what you need to do and be who you are. I think there is a Hall and Oats song that has that phrase, Be who you are. “Do what you wanna do girl, and be who you are…” I like that theme.

Below is the message or at least the printed version of the message of today. The scriptures used were: Acts 5:27-32, Revelation 1:4-8 and John 20:19-31. The title was, “Resurrection Witness.” The songs were: “Power in the Blood,” “Because He Lives” and “Jesus is Coming Again.” I think they were what tied it all together.

The theme of our message today is Resurrection witness. Note the noun, witness, is in the singular form instead of the plural. This message is not for us as a whole, though in some form it might be. Today’s title is really for us individually, for us alone, in private with our God. The adjective in the phrase is resurrection. For many of us that word is really just a form of the verb, resurrect. It should be listed as an action. It is something that Jesus did. For all points and purposes, it is just one more thing in our study of Lent of all the things that Jesus did. He did something that no one else has even been able to do and that is come back from the dead on their own.

Really that might sound so simple, or maybe the better word is so old, so historical. We talk about Jesus dying and coming back from the dead in historical context, but wouldn’t we be about as skeptical as those Jewish leaders were if such a thing were to happen here, today. Let’s stop and think of Jesus resurrection in today’s world. No one gave Jesus CPR. No one administered any oxygen to him. No one shouted charge the paddles and clear and then shocked his heart back into a rhythm, and no one performed any transfusions or surgeries to heal his wounds. Jesus died and three days later rose again to defeat death once and for all so that when we die to this human body, we will have the opportunity to join with him in the eternal, forever life. But historically, we’ve all heard this before. We all know this. Telling you these facts is only preaching to the proverbial choir on my part.

Today is not about the facts of the resurrection. It is about the aftermath. It is about the work of the ones left to carry on, the ones who were left behind. When my nephew was little he loved to play baseball, and he could usually coerce a few others, especially the slightly older neighbor kids to play with him. He seemed to always want to be the one batting, so he often gave orders about where people were to play in order that he could be the batter. I think as the story goes, he knew the words for some of the spots, but not all of them. He told someone to pitch and another to go out in to the field to catch what he hit, but he needed a catcher, and not knowing the term for catcher, he just told the one he chose for that spot to stand here and be the “behinder.”

The disciples ended up being the “behinders.” They were the ones left “behind” on this earth to go through “all-the-world” and witness to the life and death and resurrection of Jesus and what that meant for them and for everyone else. What a task!

Our gospel lesson for today is actually the story of when Jesus gives them their assignment. It is evening of the day when Jesus rose. They aren’t totally sure what is going on. They know that the tomb is empty and they have heard the reports that Jesus is alive, but they aren’t certain, they don’t really dare to believe, and so they gather in the place where they were last together. They must have been scared stiff. What if the leaders find them and crucify them next. No wonder they are hiding out when Jesus comes to find them.

So many times we take this passage and concentrate on the part about Thomas and how he doubts, and how Jesus shows him the holes in his hands and feet to make him realize the truth of the resurrection. That part is important, especially for us because in the end Jesus tells him “Have you believed because you have seen? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” He said that for those of us who would come much later in time and not have the opportunity to be there to see the wounds. We are the ones who must believe from the scripture and because of faith.

The main part of this passage that is important today is the earlier section. It is the part where Jesus comes into their midst and says, Peace to you, He greets the disciples in a standard greeting for their time, yet it is such a perfect greeting for the circumstances, Peace. Here they were probably pacing or trembling in fear, and Jesus comes with the words of Peace. Next he shows them the scars and the wounds, not because the group questions, but because he wants them to know that he is real and what happened to him was real. He wants them to realize that there was no miracle of non-suffering. Jesus did endure the crucifixion and also overcame it. Any questions the disciples had about what exactly happened must be put to rest at this meeting.

And before Thomas can even show up to join them, Jesus let’s them know why he has come to see them. He has come to tell them what their next purpose on earth will be. Jesus is about to leave to return to be with God his father, and they must carry on sharing the good news of Jesus with everyone. It is up to them to do the work to start Christ’s church. The disciples’ task is to come after Jesus, be the behinders if you will, and spread the news about him. He tells them that he is sending them out just as God sent him out. Now they understand better that they each have the task of being the Resurrection witness to all nations. And so in fact do we, that is the message for us today.

The chapter in the book of Acts that we get our New Testament lesson from today gives us information on some of the things that happened to the disciples as they began their mission of spreading the news about Jesus. If we were to read the beginning of the chapter, we would learn that the disciples had been put in jail, but that they were released during the night by an angel who sent them to the temple to continue teaching. Later they were caught again and in this passage, we read, we learn that they were brought in front of the Sanhedrin.

These Jewish leaders really would have liked to get rid of all the disciples as soon as possible, but they help back in order to keep the people from ousting them. In this story the disciples are only warned and beaten after they are found outside of prison, and eventually they are sent on their way. Again, instead of obeying they go out rejoicing and sharing with everyone about what Jesus did, not just in his death and resurrection, but in his life. They couldn’t contain themselves; I think that is the beauty of the whole thing. They were so overcome by the facts that they couldn’t help but be a witness for Jesus. O if we could all have a shot of that enthusiasm sometimes. Again, I think of the phrase, “if they kept silent, the very stones would shout out.”

We today in this Sunday following Easter have the same charge as the disciples did, though fortunately for us a little different circumstance. We aren’t likely to be put in jail for sharing what we know or what we feel, though we might be ignored, and I don’t know about you, but every now and then I get that feeling that others would like to point me in the correct way since my way is not exactly right. Here in today’s gospel Jesus charged the disciples to go out and witness about him. Jesus also charges us to go out and be the witness, but not just to his life and death and resurrection. Yet for us it is more than that. We live in a world where many people know the story, they have heard of Jesus and the events surrounding his life. For us it isn’t just the simple telling, it is the living. For us it is the actions of love and caring and openness. For us it is the joy that should be in our lives because of the promises we have in being part of Jesus’ followers.

As I said in the beginning, this phrase is singular, so I really think the point is for us individually, though if we look at one of the quotes left with the background material on these lessons, it might just be about the church, too. I will leave you today with the words of

Clarence Jordan, 20th century “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.” Let us continue to be that carried away church, not one that huddles away in silence knowing the truth, but one that shows it is every act we do and every event we host. Let’s all be that resurrection witness. Amen

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