Skip to content

04.12.20 The Dawning Matthew 21.1-10 Sermon Summary

Act 1 of the Bible has seven scenes which are presented in Genesis Chapter 1. The Act might be entitled “The Week of Creation”. In Scene 1, Day One, God introduces light into darkness. In Scene 7, Day Seven, God creates the Sabbath and ceases from the work of creation.

God commanded the Sabbath to remind us there is more to us than our work, than our leisure, than what’s going on in the world. Sabbath helps us to refocus that beyond all these we are children of God. Sabbath means not so much to “rest” as to “cease.” And if we don’t take a Sabbath life has a way of forcing one on us. Today we see that the whole world has been forced into Sabbath.

So it’s hopeful that Matthew begins the account of the Resurrection with the words, “after the Sabbath.” After the stoppage: That’s when God reveals something new. Maybe God is revealing something new today.

“After the Sabbath,” Matthew begins, “when the first day of the week was dawning.” As in Act 1, the darkness of night yields to the light of a new dawn. But there is more. An angelic messenger appears “as a flash of lightning” with “clothes dazzling like snow” on a sunny hill.

Mathew is clueing us in. A new week is beginning. God is creating again, creating anew. It is the beginning of a re-creation. A new act is about to start. For Matthew, this is not just a make-over, not a work-around for a damaged creation. This new act of re-creation is a transformation. “The old has gone, and the new has come” in the words of Paul.

And just so you don’t miss it there’s an earthquake. The solid ground upon which we stand and build our lives, all the assumptions we make about reality and the future, whatever we say our foundation is—that’s the earth that quakes in this new act. Nothing you think you know, Matthew is telling us, is unaffected by what is happening in this new act.

By now you may well be afraid and how could you not be? Matthew is saying the world is about to change. God is shaking the world down to its foundations. It is being re-created. This is the first Easter in perhaps a very long time where we might actually be able to appreciate what Matthew is hoping to convey.

Is not the world changing before our very eyes? The things we’ve long taken for granted are now in jeopardy. And we don’t know for how long. We don’t know what “normal” will look like. A new world is dawning and many people are afraid.

They were afraid in Matthew’s story also. There was some number of guards and two women who are both named Mary. All were afraid. But they had different reactions. The guards “shook and became as dead.” But the women appear to be more open, for the angelic messenger spoke to them, beginning as always when God starts doing something new: “Do not be afraid.”

Telling someone who is afraid not to be afraid is like telling someone who is worrying not to worry. Or someone who is having trouble falling asleep to just fall asleep. It doesn’t work, which indicates that the messenger must mean something else. Probably the message is, “There’s no need to fear. There’s no need to worry.” If we believed this message, we might actually fall asleep!

“There’s no need to fear,” is the message. “I know why you are here, to anoint the body of Jesus. I know your disappointment. I know your grief. I know your anxiety. I know your fears are real and that they are based on real things. But there are other things that are also real.

“Come see the place where Jesus’ dead body once lay. And see the beginning of the re-creation, of the new reality God has begun.”

Now the women have something more than fear. They still have the fear, for Matthew tells us they leave with fear. But now they have joy. That’s the crucial difference between guards and the two women.

Our devotional puts it this way: “Today we celebrate this key moment in our faith–the powerful moment Jesus is raised from the dead, inviting us to recall again that we have a God who is stronger than death and who even out of death can bring new life.” (Becoming a Beloved Community, p. 36)

Today we remember that there is no need to be ONLY afraid. When God is doing something new it IS full of fear, but also full of joy.

So where are Mary and Mary going in this dawning of a new creation? They go to tell the other disciples. “Jesus has risen, and we will see him back in Galilee.” It’s not the whole picture. It’s not the full answer. But it is a next step. They’ve seen a glimpse of purpose in the death of Jesus. So with fear and great joy they take that next step.

And here’s what’s really interesting. After they take that next step—with joy, yes; but also with fear—Jesus appears to them. THEY don’t have to wait to return to Galilee. THEY’VE taken the next step given to them by the messenger and Jesus appears to them.

We’re all called to a next step. It might be your first step of faith, it might be the next step in a lifetime journey of faith. But we’re all called to a next step. I don’t know what your next step is, but since you came to the tomb this morning, if you can endure the earthquake and let former things come to pass, if within the darkness of your life you can welcome a blinding light, if you can at least listen to the message that there’s no need to fear, then you’re in the right place to hear your next step.

And I don’t know after how many next steps you take, but according to Matthew, when you take the next step of faith, even if joy is mixed with fear, Jesus WILL appear to you. And he will assure you again, “There’s no need to be afraid. Take another step and follow me.”

A new week starts today. The dawning of a new world has begun. It continues in the resurrection of Christ. May God give us the courage to take the next step of faith, that Christ may appear to us and we may have joy, even alongside our fears.

A Reflection on the Death of Jesus

If New Testament scholars are correct Mark was the first of the four gospels written about Jesus. They cite is that Mark is the shortest of the gospels, suggesting that stories of Jesus developed the longer they circulated. By the time of Matthew, Luke, and John more chapters were required.

On this Good Friday, like many of you, I read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ death, and the observation of the scholars holds true. Mark’s account is brief, Luke and John, toggling third and fourth place, include the most details. Seeing this anew started me thinking about the value of Mark’s laconic style.

We live in the “information age.” There used to be three major news sources which shared the same hour—5:00 PM. Then came cable news network providing twenty-four hour news coverage. There was one or maybe two morning news sources—the daily paper. Now we have the internet “pushing” news upon us from innumerable sources every minute of the day. We are saturated with information.

I generally approach life from the perspective that more information is better than less. This is why I take so long to make decisions. I love gathering information, researching options, making comparisons, considering context, foreseeing potential consequences, weighing those . . . You get it. The problem is, now I have so much information it is nearly impossible for me to feel confident about a decision—even one that has taken a long time to make.

Matthew, Luke, and John each make unique contributions to the story about Jesus’ death. The distinctive theologies of their communities flavor the Passion accounts in ways that have become precious to Jesus’ devotees. Imagine the crucifixion scene apart from Luke’s telling of the two bandits also crucified. We are supposed to identify with one or the other—the one who joins the crowds in deriding Jesus or the one who acknowledges his guilt and desires God’s Kingdom.

While I also love the particular contributions of the later gospels, Mark economical account has surprised me this year. Every day we update statistics about COVID-19. We receive new predictions, additional warnings, and greater restrictions. Information, much of it not helpful or new at all, surges towards us like a tsunami. It’s easy to get so caught up in the information that we forget the other messages accompanying the pandemic.

Those other messages include the value of human touch and social interactions we had taken for granted. They include praying for “essential” workers we never thought of before—like grocery store stockers and garbage collectors. They include recognizing that not everything we thought was so important is really that important after all.

And Mark, in his direct description of the death of Jesus, does not tempt us to linger too long over details that may become sentimental or divert us into speculative interpretation. He gives us the record in light of the tradition. My sense is he wants us to arrive at his even more brief account of the Resurrection. This account was so brief the first recipients of Mark’s gospel created longer endings!

But Mark has been trying to get us to the end of the story the whole gospel through. Jesus is “immediately” doing this then “immediately” doing that. There are no angels or shepherds or Magi. Mark has fewer and much shorter discourses from Jesus. He’s all about getting to the Resurrection, at the conclusion of which he nudges his audience to go back “to Galilee” where it all began—to start reading Mark again (Mark 16:7; see 1:1).

It’s Good Friday and the church calendar rightly has us pause to reflect upon the death of Jesus. His original disciples had to endure the time of his crucifixion without the hope of resurrection; certainly it is appropriate for us to reflect upon his death. And we have grief just as they did, though for different reasons. Yes we know the hope of resurrection, but we have lost so much in the past several weeks. It’s important to honor grief, which I believe is one of the messages of Christ’s death: God knows our grief.

That said, let us also recognize that in order for new life to come death is necessary. The seed has to be planted and die, Jesus taught us, so that it might be transformed into its abundant and generous life. So with Jesus. So with our world. And so with us. As we reflect upon death, let us do so realistically, as Mark does. It really is a very small part of life. And thanks be to God in Christ, “what is mortal is swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 5:4)

A blessed Good Friday to you,

Tom

04.07.20 Pastoral Letter

Dear Faith Family and Friends,

I am writing you this morning to share with you an observation. In my own soul, and in the souls of others close to me, and perhaps in your own soul too, there has been a movement. A few weeks ago the novel coronavirus began to be recognized as a serious threat to our way of life. We had several responses.

  • Some people denied it
  • Others were shocked and panicked
  • Fear and anxiety engulfed many
  • We felt uncertain and anxious

In the past few days I have observed that a new set of emotions and soul-states has emerged. As we have settled into the new reality of social distancing, home schooling, remote worship, and rationing of products and hours at stores, our souls also are settling.

  • Some are experiencing fatigue
  • Others are feeling agitation
  • Resignation and depression have descended upon us

This is what the ancient spiritual guides called the deadly sin of “sloth.” Today many people hear “sloth” and think “laziness,” but that is not accurate. Sloth is not an unwillingness to maintain the practices of a spiritual life. Sloth is the giving up in the middle of the effort. Sloth is a manifestation of hopelessness, of a faltering faith, of a growing despair. I am writing to counter the spiritual condition of slothfulness, of giving up mid-effort.

One of the ways slothfulness creeps into and overcomes our lives is when we have forgotten to rehearse the promises of God. This is easy to do today as we are overwhelmed with the world-wide, twenty-four hour news cycle which is always bad news because advertisers know that is what holds our attention. The promises of God get crowded out among so many compelling voices of doom. Do not let his happen.

This is Holy Week and Passover, and among the primary texts rehearsed by Jews and Christians are the “Hillel” or Praise Psalms of 113-118. You have already heard of Psalm 118 which set the stage for Palm Sunday (see last Sunday’s sermon summary). I encourage you to read these psalms this week. Psalm 116 is my all-time favorite. (The Eucharistic reference will make it obvious to you why.) Psalm 117 is the shortest psalm. Read, meditate upon, paraphrase, or journal about these psalms this week. This will encourage you to keep journeying and avoid sloth.

Another way sloth creeps into our lives is when our soul-life is overly focused on the spiritual, academic, or textual expressions of our faith. Prayer and the study of Scripture are worthwhile practices, but until we get out and serve others, until we make a concrete sacrifice of our own bodily lives, the spiritual life is restricted to the theoretical.

God’s Word became Incarnate in Jesus Christ who lived among us and died as one of us. This is the definitive proof not only that creation is good, but that the spiritual life has everything to do with the material world. Unless we engage this material world, our spiritual lives are vulnerable to the downward slope of sloth. Do something to help someone else, even if it is simply financially supporting a ministry accompanied by prayer. This concrete sacrifice will keep the spiritual life real.

Finally, sloth more easily threatens our soul-life when we turn to “idols” which we hope will help us manage our emotional discomfort. These idols often appear as coping mechanisms in our lives: A doubling down on efforts to control our environment; the turn to alcohol or other substances; a retreat into isolation; the frantic attempt to prepare for any circumstance; the embrace of busyness that precludes solitude, silence, and listening to Spirit.

I am writing you out of my own struggle with these demons. I desire to retreat into a cave until the storm passes by. But I am reminded of Elijah in 1 Kings 19, who was exhausted by the struggle for righteousness, who was driven by the Spirit to a solitary cave only to be directed to stand at the mouth of that cave as the LORD passed by. It was not in the rock-shattering wind, or the earth-shaking quake, or the traditional fire, that the LORD manifested himself, but in the shear silence of a still small voice.

I have to exit my cave where sloth would have me more comfortably withdraw, and there on the outside wait for the storms to pass. And in that place, enduring what sloth would have me avoid, I listen for and hear God’s Word to me.

We have found ourselves in a lonely and drawn place. Do not lose hope. Do not cease to listen. Take the time. Enter the cave. Emerge to the light. Endure the winds, quakes, and fires. Listen for God’s voice. Follow where God leads.

This is not a crisis that will pass quickly. We cannot simply wait this crisis out. We have to adapt to this crisis. We must take these moments of rest—when sloth would tempt us to retreat—to prepare to adjust our lives to a new reality. The sooner we accept this, the more likely we will hear God’s voice, and the more faithful we will be in our response to the crisis that confronts us.

Follow Elijah’s example. Take your time. Enjoy some rest. Get back up. Listen. Follow the Word of God.

My prayers are with you,

Tom

 

04.05.20 What to Ask in Turmoil Matthew 21.1-17 Sermon Summary

Telling stories is characteristic of being human. We tell stories to entertain, to instruct, and to orient our lives. Keeping in mind that humanity is made in God’s image, we can say that if story-telling is integral to being human, it is because it is integral to being divine.

We love to tell stories, whether binge watching on Netflix, curling up with a novel, sitting at the bar, or around the dinner table. Stories provide an escape, inspire us to new thoughts, and challenge us to change our lives.

Our life is a story and if we take the time, we can be an active co-author. This is why we journal or why we reflect on the day. Ignatius of Loyola teaches us to ask: “When did I sense God’s nearness today? When did I feel God was distant? Is there a pattern? How can I change my behavior to better sense God’s nearness?”

Compelling stories cause us to return to them over and over. We come back to them to reorient our lives. The Bible is full of such stories. It is the testament of a religious community returning over and over to its stories: Stories of Moses and Elijah, stories of liberation and correction.

Think of the story of Passover celebrated this week by our Jewish siblings, which Jesus also celebrated. Jesus used Passover to orient his life; the church uses it to understand his death.

This is why parables are so powerful. They capture our imagination. We find ourselves drawn into them. The New Testament scholar C. H. Dodd famously defined the parable this way: “At its simplest, the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt to its precise application to tease the mind into active thought.” (Parables of the Kingdom)

Enduring stories like Passover and Parables “arrest the hearer” and “tease the mind.” They stir us, they trouble us, they create turmoil. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is a parable—not one told but one enacted. It arrested its audience and created turmoil. The whole city, Matthew tells us, asked, “Who is this?”

The religious faithful in Jerusalem were waiting for liberation like in the days of Moses—not from Egypt but from Rome. They were yearning for deliverance from a religious system that had become oppressive. They wanted to celebrate the story of Psalm 118. Psalm 118 is a great text for personal devotion and home worship. It is full of liturgical refrains, responses, and songs fragments. It is framed by first and last verse: “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

Psalm 118 reminds us to trust God when pressed from every side. It hopes for the restoration of fellowship. Some famous storylines from Psalm 118 include: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in mortals or princes.”

It was Psalm 118 that gave us the idea of waving branches when the God of salvation finally arrives. Jesus had tipped off his followers to this connection by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, another image borrowed from the stories of scripture. (See Zechariah 9:9)

When the hopeful heard Jesus was arriving on a donkey they thought of Psalm 118, and expressing their deepest longings they retrieved branches and welcomed him. Jesus’ entry created such a stir the city was in chaos. It was in turmoil. And people asked, “Who is this?”

That is the question we must ask when the simmering uncertainties in our lives boil over into turmoil in our cities: “Who is this?” His disciples responded, “This is the prophet Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee.” This is the truth teller, the bearer of God’s Word, the proclaimer of God’s kingdom, and the bringer of peace.

On Palm Sunday they didn’t know that Good Friday was going to happen. They certainly didn’t know Sunday’s resurrection was going to happen. They only knew their redeemer had come just as God had promised. He came in the midst of trouble. He came creating even more turmoil. Dark days were to come that week; how long they were to last they did not know. But “this was the day the Lord had made, and “they were rejoicing and being glad in it.”

That was the first Palm Sunday; today is our Palm Sunday. Dark days are yet to come. The storm clouds once on the horizon have arrived. How thick they will become no one can tell us. How long they will cast a pall over our community and our world we do not know. The cost to life of our Good Friday has yet to be calculated.

But on this Palm Sunday as on the first Palm Sunday, we celebrate the arrival of our Lord, we celebrate the stories of scripture, the stories of deliverance. But on this Palm Sunday we have the benefit of another chapter to the great stories of scripture. For our story includes not only Good Friday, but Easter Sunday as well.

And no less than those on the first Palm Sunday we are able to say with them, “Hosanna! Save us God. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the lord. This is the day which the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

03.29.20 When Life Looks to the Lord Mark 10.17-22 Sermon Summary

In this famous exchange between Jesus and an interested disciple, Jesus seems to be in a testy mood. First he challenges the young man: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone!” Then he’s short with his answer to the man’s question: “You know the commandments. Why are you asking me?”

Maybe Jesus is so testy because he’s having the same experience as the rest of us.

We have a person who comes to Jesus and asks about eternal life, a life that is more than this ordinary life. He’s taken his first steps towards following Jesus, towards a life of faith. The same is true for all of us. We may not be rich and young, but all of us can follow Jesus and live a life of faith.

That’s the hopeful part of this story. Anyone can follow Jesus. The hard part of the story is that following Jesus and having a life of faith requires sacrifice. What is the sacrifice that must be made? For the rich young man, as for all of us, and even for Jesus, the sacrifice is ourselves. It is our egos and the idols to which our egos attach.

Let’s start with the rich young man. He has his whole life ahead of him. We’re not talking just about time. It isn’t just because he’s young. He’s also rich. He has endless opportunities.

He is rich young man, a person of privilege: Rich, young, male. As Luke tells the story he’s also a ruler. So he’s rich, young, male, and well-connected. Young people of privilege have endless opportunities. He could invest in himself and become even more rich. He could afford to take some time off, maybe take a gap year after graduation or serve in the Peace Corps and come back to privilege. He could become a “prodigal son” and waste his opportunities in “dissolute living.”

Or he could follow Jesus and live a life of faith. On some scoresheets he’s already living a life of faith. He’s obeyed all the rules even “from his youth,” he tells Jesus. This is the kind of boy we hope our daughters bring home, except Jesus is not impressed. “You lack one thing,” Jesus responds.

One thing?! This evokes hope. It pulls us to the edge of our seats. This is the answer! One thing! “What? What is it? What is the one thing, Jesus? Eternal life rests on only one thing?! Tell me what it is!”

“Sell what you own,” Jesus continues, “give to the poor, and THEN come follow me.”

Not all of us are people of privilege. Many of us are not young. Not many are rich. Some are not socially privileged and we may not be well-connected. But like this young man all of us have an idol, an identity to which our egos are attached.

It may be an achievement or a gift. A responsibility we bear or the time we were a victim. An addiction we have or a grudge we nurse. An image we maintain or a goal we are pursuing. Or like this rich young man, a social standing. These define who we are, and to follow Jesus requires that we give them up.

We can no longer be the perfect mom, the stoic leader, the loyal employee, or the answer man. We can no longer be the fixer, the optimist, the reasonable one, or the comedian. To follow Jesus requires we leave these ego identities behind and become real-time followers of Jesus, people of faith, people on a journey.

That’s what Mark tells us about Jesus: “As Jesus was setting out on a journey . . .” Jesus is out learning about himself. One thing he’s discovered is that God alone is good. People keep coming to him but he knows only God is good. All he can do is point to the goodness of God. “You may look to me, you may follow me. But all I can do is point you to God.”

The revelation that comes through Jesus is that if we want to live with God we have to sacrifice ourselves, sacrifice our egos, and sacrifice the idols to which our egos are attached.

This is the answer to the rich young man’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life? To have a life that counts for eternity and not just a life full of options?” “[An overabundance of options sets] our expectations so high, no one individual choice could ever satisfy them, leaving millions with the feeling ‘I have everything I could ever need, so why do I feel so unhappy?'” (Becoming a Beloved Community, p. 27)

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is the question of anyone who would follow Jesus. We desire a life like Jesus’ life, a life more meaningful than following a set of religious rules, more meaningful than satisfying the whims of our desires. “What must we do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus answered this question for the rich young man. He directed his gaze to God alone who is good. And today do you realize that life is forcing us to look to the Lord God? We are being forced to answer, “What is truly important in our lives? Where is our eternal life?”

Is it working extra hours? Is it going to the gym? Is it shopping to fill the void? Is it going to the casinos? Is it going to the salon? Is it attending another meeting? Is it volunteering at another charity?

“What must we do to inherit eternal life?” Just as Jesus answered the rich young man, so life is answering us. “Stop!” is the answer. “Slow down. Pay attention. Look to the Lord. The resurrected Christ is in your midst—in the laughter of children, in the swaying of trees, in the flavor of foods, in the mundanity of your homes, in the needs of your neighbors.”

Life is saying to us, “Get your ego and your idol out of the way. Look to the Lord. Attend to those whom you now are able to see. Give what you have—give who you are—for the benefit of the needy.”

“And then,” Jesus says, “for that eternal life you ask about, come follow me. For now I can lead you.”

Lord Jesus, the demands of life are burdensome to us this day, in ways few of us have ever encountered before. We are isolated, we are uncertain, we are surrounded by fearful voices. But within each of our lives, and among all the voices, you bring God’s Word to us. Help us to receive what we have heard this day, about looking to the goodness of the one you called Father. And as you taught us in Matthew 25, help us to remember, that as we attend to our neighbors, it is you whom we serve. Amen.

03.22.20 Upside Down and Inside Out Mark 2.1-12 Sermon Summary

A very famous story found in the Gospel of Mark turns the world upside down. Today we find we must turn this story inside out.

Jesus was from Nazareth but he appears to have made Capernaum his ministry base in Galilee. It was there he called the first disciples and taught in the synagogue, “as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” He also healed a man with an unclean spirit.

Then Jesus went “to neighboring towns, “proclaiming the message, and healing” those who were sick. Eventually he returned to Capernaum and by then word had spread. Jesus had become famous. The house where he was teaching was filled so that even the doorway was crowded.

We’re told that four people brought a paralyzed man to Jesus. I wonder if the paralytic asked to be taken to Jesus? “C’mon guys, take your paralyzed friend to this healer!” Or did the four friends use the paralytic as a gambit? “The doors are blocked and we need a way in!”

Either way, Jesus wasn’t “accessible.” The crowds around him were too big. Today some people may feel that Jesus isn’t accessible. To sinners he’s too holy. After all he’s GOD, right? To the marginalized he’s too privileged, too American, rich, and powerful. To submissive women he’s too much of a man. To the uneducated he’s too much of a Rabbi. To the modern he’s too historical. To the introvert he’s too extraverted. To the extraverted he’s too mystical.

To the four friends Jesus wasn’t accessible. But they were determined: The fifth friend would meet Jesus. Finding the way obstructed they climbed the house, tore open the roof, and lowered their friend into the room.

Did Jesus feel his hand had been forced? Of course he cared but he didn’t heal EVERYONE. “Seeing their faith,” Mark reports—the faith of the four—Jesus proclaimed the fifth man’s sins forgiven. And to prove his authority to forgive sins as redeemer, he proved his authority as creator and recreated the man. He healed the paralytic.

This was the result the four friends expected. But  on what were their expectations based? Why were they so determined to overcome the obstacles, the crowds, the building, the roof? Could it be because they saw in Jesus God’s determination to overcome obstacles?

Did they recognize in Jesus God’s passion to have a relationship with us? Did they recognize God’s commitment and determination that no matter what obstacles there were, God would overcome them in Jesus?

When God saw our pride God was born to us in a manger. When God saw our religion God spoke to us in a prophet. When God saw our prejudice God came to us from Nazareth of all places.  When God saw our sickness God rose to us as the sun with healing in his wings. When God saw our captivity to sin God was born to us as one under law.

So when the four friends saw this and heard Jesus’ preaching they saw God’s steadfast determination to overcome every obstacle, to surmount every challenge, and to once again be our God and we God’s people. No trial is so onerous, no river is so wide, no wilderness is so dry, no sin is so separating, no plague is so deadly, that God’s grace cannot overcome it.

And so those four were inspired to look past the crowds, to look over the high walls, to break through the barriers, and lower their needy friend into the presence of Jesus and see the redemption and healing for themselves.

These four friends turned the world upside down. Convention dictated the door; they went through the roof. Etiquette said, “wait your turn;” they prioritized justice. If culture says, “take care of yourself,” they took care of their friend. “That’s what loving friends do–they go out of their way, out of compassion, to bring others in need to the Lord.” (Becoming a Beloved Community, p. 22)

This story turned the world upside down. Now we must turn it inside out. They brought the sick to Jesus, now we have to bring Jesus to the sick. They made extraordinary efforts to bring the needy to Jesus, now we have to make extraordinary efforts to bring Jesus to the needy. They overcame obstacles to bring their neighbor to Jesus, now we must turn it inside out. We must overcome obstacles to bring Jesus to our neighbors.

We bring Jesus to others by shopping in community stores, by ordering take out, by sharing with our neighbors. We bring Jesus to others by purchasing gas at the corner store, by delivering hand washed produce to our neighbors, by writing notes, making calls, and reaching out. We turn the story inside out and bring Jesus to others by asking how we can pray for them, by sharing how we see God at work in the world, and by reminding them that we are not alone.

Despite our solidarity in experience: “Stay home. Wash your hands. Don’t touch others.” Despite our solidarity in experience we do not share community unless we do what those four friends did. We must recognize that God came to us in Jesus, and so we go to others.

We can turn this story inside out. We can lift Jesus out of the house, out of the church. We can bring Jesus to the paralytics in our lives; bring him to the isolated, bring him to the sick, bring him to the children out of school, bring him to the desperate out of work, bring him to the overwhelmed parents.

In Christ God turned the world upside down by overcoming every obstacle to come to us. In Christ we can turn the Gospel inside out. Instead of bringing people to the church, we can bring the church to the people.

May God show you this day how you can do this in your unique life. For our neighbors need Jesus and you are the Body of Christ. Amen.

03.15.20 To the People of Faith Presbyterian

Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Today was already to be a unique Sunday in the life of our church. We were to have a shortened service of worship, followed by an extended offering of service as worship. Now we understand how unique it actually is.

Three days ago the Session made the extraordinary decision to cancel weekly worship services for four weeks, despite this being one of the holiest times of the year in the church’s calendar. We’ve also directed small groups to be especially vigilant in their gatherings.

These decisions were made in faith, hope, and love. Faith that God can provide for the spiritual well-being of the members of Christ’s Body outside of corporate worship. Hope that with precautionary action, we may slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and allow for the medical community to care for the sick and find a cure. And love for the members of our community who are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of the virus.

Some might wonder how the church can be the church without corporate worship. You know that this question fueled my doctoral studies in liturgical theology. In fact, however, there has always been a relationship between official worship and personal devotion—and often in the history of the church that relationship has been strained. And while we have a more thorough record of the church’s official worship through liturgical documents, we also acknowledge the sustaining power of personal devotion.

To be more to the point, canceling worship as we have done has caused many of us—scholars, pastors, and people in the pews—to recognize anew this parallel life in the church. You are a child of God even if we cannot baptize you at this time. You are one with Christ even if we cannot break one bread. You may hear God speak to you through Scripture apart from a prayerfully discerned and studied sermon.

Most importantly, you don’t need a shortened worship service to prepare you to serve in your life as worship. This has been your calling all along. And the world, especially now, needs us to be the church in service as worship.

We must serve those in need, speaking words of assurance to an anxious people that God is steadfast and faithful. We must serve those in need, providing for those whose resources have run out. We must serve those in need, protecting those whom society easily overlooks as unimportant. We must serve those in need, praying for those who care and provide for others, who protect and govern our communities.

“What shall I do now that worship has been cancelled?” The answer is, “Worship God!”—not with organ, choir, sermon, and sacrament—but with love in service to others. This morning take time to listen for God’s Word. I was to preach on Luke 14:12-24. There Jesus instructs his disciples to invite those who have no status to join them at a meal. They were already having a meal, so the teaching would apply to the next opportunity.

Our next opportunity to have a meal with Jesus is April 12, Resurrection Sunday. Beginning today you might pray that God would lead you to those whom you may not only serve, but whom you may also invite to join us at the Lord’s Table.

Go in peace to serve the Lord. Amen.