Posted in Christian, Christianity, Faith, Sermons, Spirituality

Generation to Generation

Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30

 

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

Proud to Be LutheranGood morning. I guess I really don’t have to introduce myself too much to you because I’m pretty sure my mother has been waxing poetic about me and my mad clergy skills for the past several months. If for some reason you somehow missed all of the hype and lead-up to my coming… I’m Ariel Williams, Cherie’s daughter. I’m a seminarian in my final stage of the candidacy process – and I’m a Lutheran. I was briefly Episcopalian for a few years in Texas, but it didn’t stick. As my priest at the time told me, Lutherans are Lutheran because of their theology. Episcopalians are Episcopalian because of their liturgy. You’re such a Lutheran, Ariel. I’ll never convert you.” So, thank you for inviting my Lutheran self here to worship with you all and for giving me this opportunity to share God’s Word. I am blessed and I’m honored.

Over the past week or so, as I was preparing this sermon, I kept coming back to the same thought… I’ve got NOTHING! And this is my mom’s church so I can’t just show up and say “Jesus Loves You, Amen.” Crud… what am I going to do???? My mom has most likely told this congregation that I’m about one step away from being a rock-star and I’m going to be terrible! This is a Shakespearian tragedy waiting to happen!!!!

Fortunately, as she often does, the Holy Spirit made an appearance and that tragedy has been averted.  So, as I read the text this past week the phrase that kept jumping out at me was the very first sentence – “To what will I compare this generation?”

 

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about generations lately. I was born in 1980 which Xennialstraddles the line between Generation X and the Millennial Generation so I’ve never really felt like I fit one description or the other… I have characteristics of both.  This past week several articles appeared in my facebook feed that addressed this and there is new claim that this is actually a Micro Generation, the Xennial Generation, which encompasses those like myself who straddle that line.

 

 

All of this has led me to think about how we classify and group ourselves. How we differentiate, isolate, and segregate groups of people based on when they were born and lived. Collectively assigning attributes and personality traits to groups of people born around the same time. According to some extremely academic and highly official internet research that I did this past week, there are 6 different generations of peoples who are currently alive.

There’s the Greatest Generation which is sometimes also known as the GI Generation – These peoples were born between 1901 – 1926.  They fought and died in World War II and were young and formative during the Great Depression. This led to a strong model of teamwork and a strong sense of achievement and superiority. As Dr. Jill Novak stated: “Their Depression was The Great One; their war was the Big One; their prosperity was the legendary Happy Days. They saved the world and then built a nation.” Moral standards were uplifted, civic duty was honored and respected, and loyalty knew no bounds.

Next came the Mature Silents – these are people who were born from 1927 – 1945. This groups formative years occurred during an era of strong conformity. They fought in both Korea and Vietnam. Many early forms of activism came from this generation – Civil Rights, Feminists, Peace Demonstrators. This generation continued to hold to the moral standards and loyalty that was instilled in them by the Greatest Generation. It was not uncommon for someone to work for one company or institution for their entire career.

The Baby Boomers which are the products of the Greatest Generation and the Mature Silents came next. This generation spans from 1946 – 1964. As this group is SO large it is often split into two groups – the “save-the-world” revolutionaries or hippies of the 60’s & 70’s and the party-hardy career climbers or yuppies of the 70’s and 80’s. This is often referred to as the “me” generation or the “rock-and-roll” generation. In this generation women went to work and civil rights issues were brought much more to the forefront. Typical societal norms changed and moral standards began to shift. Divorce began to be widely accepted as did the norms of having intimate relationships outside of the confines of marriage.

generation-x.jpgNext came Generation X which is also sometimes called the Baby Bust. This generation was born between 1965 and somewhere around 1977-1980 (the end time is not super clear).  These are the “latch-key kids” who grew up street-smart but isolated, often with divorced or career-driven parents. They are known for being entrepreneurial and very individualistic. Government and big business mean little to them. They want to save the neighborhood, not the world. This is also the generation that is often associated with having a chip on their shoulder – they claim to be misunderstood, and are known for their rampant cynicism. This group was raised in the transitional phase of written based knowledge to digital knowledge – most remember being in school without computers but had them introduced in middle school or high school. This generation averages 7 career changes in their lifetime, unlike previous generations who had few if any. They were later to marry, often after cohabitation, and quick to divorce. Single parenthood rose significantly with this generation.

Generation Y or Millennials – Born between 1980ish and 2000ish this generation has been nurtured by omnipresent parents (sometimes known as helicopter parents). They are optimistic and focused. They respect authority. Crime rates and teen pregnancy rates have fallen with this generation, however, with school safety problems; they must live with the thought that they could be injured or even killed at school, they learned early that the world is not a safe place. They schedule everything. They feel enormous academic pressure.

They have great expectations for themselves because they have always gotten a trophy and have always been told they can do anything. They have been told over and over that they are special and expect the world to treat them that way. They are incredibly digitally literate. Most have never known a world without computers! They get all their information and most of their socialization from the Internet. They tend to be assertive with strong views. They are used to having immediate answers and can be impatient for change to occur. They do not live to work, work is a means to live and experience life.  Experiences are more valuable to them than possessions.

Finally, there is now Generation Z or the Boomlets –  These are the children who have were born 2001 or later. They are so young there is not much of a collective cultural personality yet.  What is of note is that in 2006 there were a record number of births in the US (I contributed one of them!) and 49% of those born were Hispanic. This will eventually change American societal behavior and culture as we have known and experienced it up to this point. The number of births in 2006 far outnumbered the start of the baby boom generation, and they will easily be a larger generation someday.

This means there are a lot of people with very different world views, very different priorities, very different ideals, different expectations, morals, and values all coexisting together. And not always super well. There is often misunderstanding and suspicion of one generation to another. Blame for the problems of society are thrown between the generations and age groups like darts.

In our text this morning Jesus in encountering a similar reality. He is met with many different groups of peoples all from different places and spaces with different ideals and accepted societal norms. The staunch and strict religious authority. The disciples of John the Baptist who are all trying to figure out exactly who Jesus is. The disciples of Jesus himself who are trying to figure out exactly who Jesus is. The mobs of people who are following him around trying to figure out exactly who Jesus is and what exactly is going on… I mean, is this guy a prophet, or the Messiah, did they all just join some weird mobile cult??? Seriously – what just happened???

Jesus addresses these questions as to who and what he is in metaphor… because as we often know… he is incapable of just giving a straight answer. Everything has to be a teachable moment. Thanks Jesus.

He tells them that this generation is like children sitting in the marketplaces and callingPalestinian_children_in_Jenin out to one another “We played flute for you, and you didn’t dance…. Well, we wailed and you didn’t morn.” Because at that point in time children often played wedding and funeral games. The metaphorical children who wanted to play wedding played the flute but the others didn’t engage… the metaphorical children who wanted to play funeral wailed, but the others didn’t engage. Because they all wanted to do things their way. They wanted to play by their rules. They wanted to be in charge… any of that sound familiar???

Jesus then goes on to address the fault and questioning that society has found with both he and John the Baptist’s ministry. John came neither eating nor drinking and was accused of being demon possessed. Jesus came and ate and drank and befriended sinners and tax collectors and was accused of being a glutton and drunkard. They were both damned if they did… and damned if they didn’t. Does that mentality sound familiar?

Jesus then goes on to announce that Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds and offers a prayer to God giving thanks that wisdom has been hidden from the wise and intelligent and revealed to the infants. Those young ones who play and accept the world at face value and understand deep mystery and truth have so much wisdom to share, but their perspectives and understandings are often discarded and ignored. And likewise, the years and years of knowledge, wisdom, perspective and understanding of older generations are often laughed off as old fashioned, unenlightened, or out of touch by the younger generations.

coexistThe problem with this lack of regard for one another is that we will never coexist with one another well if we don’t grow in our appreciation and acceptance for each another.  To be the body of Christ in the world means that we are called to engage as a collective unit – a colony of bees if you will – all working toward the common goal of spreading the love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy of Jesus Christ.  There is no one generation that knows how to do this better than another. To reach the world we must work together. One person alone cannot bring about the inbreaking of God’s kingdom. It takes ALL of us.

This is not an easy task nor is it an easy life. Jesus goes on in the latter half of the text to explain that although this isn’t going to be all rainbows and sunshine and fluffy bunnies, God is with us as we go.  The Rev. David Lose stated that: “God is the one who bears our burdens. God is the one who shows up in our need. God is the one who comes along side of us. Nothing demonstrates this more than the cross – God’s willingness to embrace all of our life, even to the point of death, in Jesus, to demonstrate God’s profound love and commitment, love and commitment that will not be deterred…by anything.”

God’s profound love and commitment will not be deterred by ANYTHING. Not even petty generations of squabbling unenlightened children who all think they know best. The Holy Spirit will continue to guide us as we journey together on this life of discipleship, helping us to learn from and appreciate one another, maybe just a little bit, as we go. Thanks be to God, Amen.

Posted in Christian, Christianity, Faith, Sermons, Spirituality

To Boldly Go…

Matthew 28: 16-20

Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today is Holy Trinity Sunday – or as Pastor Schul and I deemed it a few weeks ago – Holy High Heresy Sunday. Because there is no way you can possibly begin to talk about the Trinity without committing some form of heresy or another. Given this fact – instead of speaking to the infinite mystery as to the nature of our Triune God, I’m going to you about Star Trek. I’m sure you’re all sitting there going – wait… – WHAT???

Here’s the thing. Two weeks ago, Patrick discovered that through his Kids Access on his Kindle, he can stream Star Trek the Next Generation episodes. Now, both of my kids – ARE OBSESSED! If we are social media friends, you’ve probably seen evidence of this through some of the pictures I’ve posted this past week. This newfound obsession led to some pretty funny conversations in my home this week: “Hey mom, have you heard of this show???” “Ummm – yes, yes I have.” “Did you ever watch this show when you were younger?” “Why yes, it was one of Situ (my mom) and Papa Lee’s (my dad’s) favorites. We watched it EVERY week.” As my children have grown in their love and appreciation for Star Trek TNG, it’s reawakened a love and appreciation that I had forgotten about. Because, deep down, at the core of my very being, I am an uber nerd.

to-boldly-go-2.jpg

 

Growing up, when the opening credits would roll, my entire family would recite the Star Trek Mission Statement: “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

 

 

In our Gospel this morning, post resurrection, the eleven who have heard from the women that Jesus is risen, go to the mountain in Galilee that Jesus told them was the meeting point. The place they should gather. And when they saw Jesus there, they worshiped him, but some doubted. Jesus is literally right in front of them, but they still have doubt. One commentary I read had this to say: “Whatever the nature of the resurrection event, it did not generate perfect faith even in those who experienced it firsthand. It is not to angels or perfect believers, but to the worshipping/wavering community of disciples to whom the world mission is entrusted.”

therefore-goJesus tells the disciples that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. “Therefore – GO and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit.

The translation of “make disciples” honestly isn’t the greatest. In this text, the world disciple is actually a verb, not a noun. So really Jesus is telling them to Go, therefore, disciplizing all nations, baptizing them in the triune God, teaching them.

So, what does disciplizing mean??? According to Dr. Rick Carlson, one of my seminary professors, disciplizing includes going / journeying to all nations and all peoples; baptizing them into the new triune reality; and teaching them – nurturing and fostering all of Jesus’ commands, particularly to love God and love one another, on a daily basis.

The active ongoing nature of disciplizing means that this command to GO doesn’t ever have an end. They were and we are to go and keep on going. Jesus tells them to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

This command wasn’t only for the eleven. This was a command for every human being who is baptized into the love, grace, and relationship of our Triune God. Every single one of us is called to boldly go. So what does that mean? Does that mean that every single person here is supposed to uproot their families and go to seminary or to become missionaries? No. Some of us are called to that life, but not everyone.

Sometimes disciplizing can be on a much smaller scale. It can be in caring for our neighbors. Or educating our children in their Christian faith. In keeping our baptismal promises to one another. Advocating for those who are oppressed or marginalized. Being good stewards of God’s creation. Inviting someone we know in our lives who is searching for that connection or relationship with God, to come and see.

come-and-see_header

Did you know that on average a Lutheran will invite a friend, acquaintance, or family member to church once every 33 years. And on average it takes 3 invitations before someone will actually accept. So that means that the average Lutheran MIGHT bring a friend to church once every 99 years. Assuming we actually live that long. Not the most effective form of disciplizing. What’s holding us back? Why are we afraid to go and disciplize?

Friends, I don’t have the answer to that… all I know is that we are commissioned to do this. We can do this. We must do this. Go, baptize, teach. We all have different gifts and talents and so when we do this, we do it as both individuals and as community. Which makes it, maybe, just a little less scary.

I am

What also makes it a little less scary is that Jesus didn’t just throw out this mission to boldly go where no one has gone before and then, peace out. Jesus left them with a promise. “I Am with you always, to the very end of the age.” I AM – Jesus says God’s name. I AM. Our Triune God is with us – always – to the end of the age.

 

This promise to always be with God’s people is no mistake. Jesus knows that this is not an easy mission, it’s not a safe mission, in fact, it’s an incredibly dangerous and frightening mission, so he concludes with the promise of God’s eternal presence.

I’m not sure we always actually sense God’s presence in our lives, which makes boldly going that much more difficult. The Rev. David Lose said: “I am not at all sure that most people sense that God is with them. Oh, maybe in times of tragedy or loss, when even the most infrequently religious of us call on God for some extra help. (Though now that I think of it, calling on God and experiencing God with us are not the same.) But what about all the other times. Good times, not so good times, joyous times, sad times, expectant times, anxious times. Do we sense God’s presence? I know of one friend anxiously awaiting the outcome of a surgery on a grandchild. And another who has recently lost her job. And one more who is celebrating a much better semester than he’d imagined possible. And yet one more who is navigating significant changes in her roles both at home and work. Do they sense God’s presence? Some, I expect, do, but others perhaps do not.”

That is what is so important about gathering and experiencing God in community. When one of us struggles to sense God’s presence there are others here to sense God for them. Even among the eleven, some worshiped and some wavered, doubted what they were seeing.  We need each other. We need to gather in order to disciplize. We need to share in water, word, and a meal. Knowing that Jesus is fully present with us in these times and places. Renewing, reinvigorating, and replenishing ourselves.

We have the joy and privilege of sharing God’s love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness to everyone we know and to those whom we don’t know. Christ has commissioned and empowered us to continue his mission: to explore, to seek out, to boldly go… and has promised to never leave us on this journey.  God is with us. Jesus is with us. Spirit is with us. Right here, right now. Always. We have been promised this!

Thanks be to I AM – the Trinity – God. Amen.

Posted in Christian, Christianity, Faith, Sermons, Spirituality

Jesus’ Graduation Address

John 17: 1-11

GraduateGraduation season is upon us… my Facebook feed is inundated with photos of friends, classmates, acquaintances, even a few complete strangers… all smiling in caps and gowns celebrating their accomplishment of completing one level of education or another. Preschoolers, Kindergartners, 5th graders exiting Elementary School, interestingly enough – no Middle School graduations have shown up for my viewing pleasure… apparently, that’s not a big thing. And of course – High School & College graduations are all over the place.

The most prominent pictures that I have seen are those of my fellow seminarians. The last graduating class of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg as LTSG is in a merger process and I will graduate next spring from United Lutheran Seminary. All of these pictures exhibit a sense of hope for the future, but a finality for the past.

Then there are the videos of people giving the epic graduations speeches that we all just love! Celebrities, politicians, really, really smart people with impressive degrees… some better received than others… all speaking to rooms and stadiums packed with optimistic graduates who are going out into the world and living into new roles and a new identity.

I have never heard a graduation speech that didn’t say basically the same thing – your time here is finished, it’s now time for you to go do what you have prepared to do, to walk into the scary realm of newness, to embrace the world around you, to be an implement of change.

This can be a very, very scary reality to face. Moving to public school from preschool is a big step for a small child, as is the transition from elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, high school to college or the workforce, and from college to the world beyond. That step from high school or college into the “real world” may quite possibly be the hardest and most frightening transition. There is no fall back or security blanket anymore, just the knowledge that we have to enter the world and create a place for ourselves within it.

Given how broken and isolating and confusing our world can be, it is no wonder that this transition is scary. But we are told by modern culture and society that we must buck up, put on our big-boy or girl pants, place a smile on our face, and wade into the muck without complaint. And so we do. We create a façade, we mask our fear, and we play the game that has been laid before us.

Love Warrior
Love Warrior

I’ve recently been reading a book entitled Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. In the book she speaks of all of the years where she tried to hide behind what she refers to as her “representative”. Her “representative” is the woman she broadcast to the world as confident, happy, competent, and whole. The only problem was, deep inside, her true self was none of these things, and the battle between her representative and true self became oppressive.

As I’ve read this book, I have significantly identified with her on many levels. Her story is my story. Given the fact that this book is now part of Oprah’s Book Club and a New York Times bestseller, I suspect, it is MANY of our story, if not all of our story. A story of broken people in a broken world, desperately trying to convince one another that we are whole. Because this is what we are told to do. This is what is ingrained in us through all of our life transitions, milestones, events, and changes. Smile pretty, the world is watching.

In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus gives his own graduation speech, of sorts. The past few weeks we have progressed forward in John’s version of Jesus preparing to leave the world. This week, we get the final layer of this story.last-supper.gif

Jesus and the disciples are gathered together. Sitting around a table eating a meal. John’s depiction of the last supper. At the end of the meal Jesus begins his graduation address. This address is prayer. A prayer that glorifies God.  That states: Jesus’ time here is finished, it’s now time for him to go do what he has been preparing himself and others for.  It’s time for the disciples to go off on their own – to walk into the scary realm of newness, to embrace the world around them, and to be implements of change.

Unlike in other Gospels, this final prayer or graduation address isn’t offered up as a private conversation between Jesus and God. He doesn’t slink off to a quiet space alone. He does it in front of all of the disciples.  He remains with “his people” just a little longer before everyone departs and goes their separate ways, like graduates who linger for that one last picture or conversation.

Jesus’ farewell address is a prayer, but not a prayer for himself, rather a prayer for all of those whom he is leaving behind – making sure that they know they are loved, they are important, and they are not alone.

This prayer is asking God to create a shared community of honor and relationship between Jesus, and the disciples, but not just the 12 sitting there. He asks this for all generations.  All whom God gave to him. All who are in the world. Jesus asks God to protect them, to empower them to carry on his works of justice and mercy, and to make them all one.

Jesus knows what’s coming. He knows what is coming for himself. He knows what is coming for the disciples.  He knows that unity and community will be essential for them, just as it is essential for us.

Samuel Cruz writes: “Good works of justice, mercy, and equality were in stark opposition to a world in darkness. This must have created a sense of insecurity for the disciples. In all probability, the priority for this community must have been to safeguard against the dangers of the world around them. How would one support and protect the individuals who labored for the establishment of the Kingdom? Jesus knew that his time was limited. Prayer was needed and welcomed by the disciples of that community. Jesus prayed for his beloved … I think Jesus’ prayer should be accepted for what it was – a sincere petition asking for the help that his loved ones needed at that time and would need in the future.”

identity crisisJesus knows what all of his disciples will need in the future.  He knows what is coming for future generations. He knows that several thousand years into the future communities of people will still struggle with issues of identity, fear, stigma, and isolation. Jesus knows that there will be a world full of people who present their “representatives” to the world around them giving off the image of having it all together, when they are really frightened and unsure underneath the disguise.

When Jesus offers this prayer he is certainly praying for the 12, but he is also praying for you, and for me. Much like a parent prays specifically for their children’s wholeness, happiness, and future, Jesus prays for all whom God has given him, including us.

For our lives. For our existence. For our ability to glorify God and to love our neighbors through works of justice, mercy, and equality. For us to go do what we have prepared to do, to walk into the scary realms of newness, to embrace the world around us, and to be implements of change.

None of that is easy, none of that is secure, and much like it was in Ancient Palestine, this work is contrary to our societal norms and cultures. It’s not normal to share love, grace, and mercy with all the world, with no motive or agenda.  But we are called to attempt to do so, because that is what we have received. Unconditional grace, love and mercy.

Jesus knew the struggle would be real. He knew that societies would continue to counteract his mission. He knew the difficulties that his disciples would face then and in future generations. He could have prayed for any number of things, but he chose to pray for unity and community – because HE KNEW!

And that community is what we have today. We may not all know each. We may not all like each other. We may not all agree with each other all the time, but for a few moments each week, we can cast aside our “representatives” and be our broken, frail, insecure selves. We can gather together and we can experience Jesus together.tapestry.jpg

We share in bread and wine knowing that Jesus is present with us, equipping us to once again go out and face our fears in the world around us. Empowering us for the work that Jesus began and that we continue. In staff meeting this week Pastor Schul stated that: “Small actions all over make an impact and weave a greater tapestry of hope.”

Jesus prayed for all of this during his graduation address. And because of his prayer, we are stronger. Our true selves shine a little brighter and our need for our “representatives” diminishes.

Jesus’ time on earth was finished. Now it’s our time. Together each week we prepare to walk into scary realms. To embrace the world around us. To be implements of change – both large and small. To weave that beautiful tapestry of grace and love. Amen.

Posted in Christian, Christianity, Faith, Sermons, Spirituality

Havering to Jesus

Luke 24: 13-35

Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

This is one of my absolute favorite Bible stories, so I was very excited when by the luck of the draw, I got to preach this Sunday.

This morning’s text has always immediately brought to mind a song for me (Don’t worry – I’m not going to spontaneously burst into it.) In 1988 the Scottish band, The Proclaimers, released a song entitled “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).” This song was popular in Great Britain but completely unknown in the United States until in 1993 the movie Bennie and June used it in its soundtrack. From that point on it was an immediate Top Ten Hit, and was all the rage at every middle school dance I attended that year.

500 milesThe chorus of the song is – “I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more, just to be the man who walked 1000 miles to fall down at your door.” Although this chorus certainly gives a lot to think about as far as the emotions and dedication Jesus’ followers may or may not have had at this exact point. The imagery of walking for miles and miles in the song and the imagery of walking on the Road to Emmaus is NOT why this song makes me think of this morning’s text. You thought you knew where I was going with this didn’t you?

It’s actually a line in the first verse that makes me think of this passage the most. During the verses the lyrist states things like “when I wake up I’m gonna be the man who wakes up next to you” “When I go out, I’m gonna be the man who goes along with you”, etc.… etc.… It’s catchy and repetitive. It’s all about things these two people do together.

But there is one line that used to baffle and confound me. That line is “When I haver, I’m gonna be the man who’s havering to you.”

For the longest time, I had no idea what this was talking about. Honestly, for a pretty long time I couldn’t even understand what the singer was saying because of the Scottish accent. My ex-husband, Roger, and I became obsessed on a road-trip with figuring out what that line was. Finally, we figured out that “haver” was the word being said.

Roger promptly got on the telephone to his friend, Phil, who is from Scotland, and asked him if haver is Scottish slang or something. Phil’s reply – “Och, I forgot about that word, that’s a great Scottish word, mate. It means to have the verbal diarrhea. You know, that person that just talks incessantly on and on about nothing. It’s to haver.”ha·verˈhāvərSubmitverbSCOTTISH1.talk foolishly; babble.-Tom havered on-nounSCOTTISH1.foolish talk; nonsense. (1)

The English Oxford Dictionary’s identifies the word haver as being Scottish in origin and its definition is: to talk foolishly or to babble.  So, Phil’s description was spot on.

The thing that always struck me as funny about all of this, is that Roger and Phil were the kings of havering. They could talk to each other for hours about absolutely nothing. Well, okay, soccer – but still – hours and hours of incessant chatter to one another.

In our text this morning, two disciples are on the road walking to Emmaus. One is named Cleopas and the other isn’t named. It’s about a 7 mile walk and while they go, they are talking to each other about all the trauma and drama that has gone on and now the recent gossip and word on the street. While they’re “talking” and “discussing” or “havering” Jesus walks up to them – but they don’t recognize him.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but somehow, I’m thinking that all of the dead-heads who followed the Grateful Dead on Tour probably would have recognized Jerry Garcia if he’d come walking up to them. But Cleopas and No-Name are completely oblivious!
Jesus asks them what they’re talking about and they kind of give him some attitude. “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” “The things about Jesus of Nazareth… was a prophet mighty in deed and word… and how our leaders handed him over to death… crucified him.” I’m sure they were thinking – who is this guy? How does he not know about all of this???

I mean, seriously, if the Kardasian family does something slightly outrageous, it’s all over supermarket tabloids and social media. Whether we want to or not, somehow, we know about it.

So, post-crucifixion in Ancient Palestine, it would be mind boggling for someone to not know what happened to Jesus.

Cleopas and No-Name then continue with what they’ve been hearing from Mary and the men who went to the tomb and how Jesus might be alive. – They’re havering. They’re havering to Jesus about himself.

EmmausRobert Hoch wrote: “It was a seven-mile walk, a walk you would notice in your ankles and calves. But the real path they were walking was vastly longer and more difficult – it was the walk of hopes in shambles. It was the walk taken through the valley of disillusionment. It was a walk burdened with perhaps accusation or shame.”

On this walk of disillusionment, they haver. They are so distracted with what they’ve experienced, and all of their emotions, and their traumas, and their hurts, their disappointment and dashed hopes, that they don’t see Jesus standing right in front of them.

I think often in our lives, this can be true of us as well. We get busy, we get distracted, we have work or school or both. We have schedules to coordinate and meetings to keep. We experience pain and disappointment. We suffer trauma and disillusionment.

We haver about soccer or football or baseball or the latest acclaimed Netflix Series. And we completely miss Jesus’s presence in our lives. We have no concept of where Jesus intersects with us on our road.

As the Emmaus story continues, Jesus begins to teach Cleopas and No-Name, interpreting scripture and things about himself within it. When they arrive in Emmaus the disciples invite Jesus to stay with them, and so he does. And at dinner he takes bread and breaks it, and suddenly they know exactly who he is. And then he vanishes. At which point they say to one another – “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road???”

I can’t begin to count the number of times in my life, especially times of extreme hurt, pain and disappointment, where I didn’t sense Jesus’s presence, but later, realized I had that burning sensation within me the entire time. Jesus was always right in front of me, I just let all of life’s havering get in the way.post-its-photo2

What about you? Can you think of a time when you didn’t recognize the burning? When you didn’t see Jesus right in front of you? When life’s havering was just too loud?

Finally, Cleopas and No-Name return to Jerusalem and proclaim Christ as risen and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. Just as he is made known to us in the exact same place. We may not always sense Christ in our lives, especially when we are walking through valleys of disillusionment, but we know that he promises to always meet us at the table. Even if we are too busy havering our way through life to recognize him anywhere else.

Thanks be to God for the constant presence of our Risen Lord. I pray that we all slow down, haver less, and see him in our lives. And if we just can’t seem to do that, I give thanks for his constant presence at our table. Amen.

Posted in Christian, Christianity, Faith, Faith Formation, Lent, Seminary, Sermons, Spirituality

Questions Not Answers

John 3: 1-17

When I was a teenager, growing up in Salem, Oregon, there used to be a man who would stand on street corners in the downtown area, yelling about the end-of-times and passing out pamphlets. My friends and I all knew that if we hurried past him in a small herd, he would leave us alone. So most of the time this is exactly what we did.

Unfortunately for me, one Saturday afternoon, when I was about 16-years-old, I was separated from the herd. Or maybe, going to meet the herd. I honestly don’t really remember why, but I was walking by myself. And the Street Corner Proselytizer pounced.

He blocked my way, shoved a pamphlet at me, and asked “Have you been born again and accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior???!”

Seeing how I couldn’t get around him I figured I’d have to speak, so I answered, “Yes??”

Apparently my answer was unconvincing because he replied – “Have you, have you really? Don’t lie, young lady, God will know. You don’t want to be damned to hell for lying!”

The snarky thought that ran through my 16-year-old mind at the time was “TOO LATE!” old lutheranIn a moment of uncharacteristic restraint I did not say this, instead, my response was, “Dude, I’m a Lutheran.”

He got this look of disappointment and resignation on his face, and moved on to the next unsuspecting passerby. I promptly recycled his flyer (yes – Green Team, in the mid 1990’s, Oregon had public recycling containers) and I walked on. I’m not really sure if my Lutheranism meant that I was saved and therefore a waste of his time, or if it meant that I was so far gone, I wasn’t worth his time. Regardless, on that day, I was incredibly grateful to be a Lutheran.

Pastor Matt Lenahan addressed this morning’s Gospel with this thought: “Faith involves mystery, questions, uncertainty, and conversation.”

I can’t think of a more true statement to frame this encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, who came to Jesus under the guise of darkness with questions. It’s unclear if Nicodemus is skulking over to Jesus at night on his own, because he is curious about Jesus and doesn’t want anyone to know, OR if he has been sent as a representative and the darkness that John refers to is actually Nicodemus being in a state of unknowing. Perhaps it’s a combination of both.

The fact that he says, “Rabbi, WE know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God” would indicate that he is speaking on behalf of himself and others and that THEY want a concrete answer as to whether or not Jesus is from God.

Unfortunately for Nicodemus and the rest of “them”, in this particular Gospel Narrative, Jesus rarely gives anyone a straight answer. In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ response to
questions is to answer with seemingly random statements that don’t really answer anything.
questions-questions (2)During my summer Clinical Pastoral Experience, also known as CPE, we were taught not to answer questions for people, but instead have them answer them for themselves. “What do you think?” “How does that make you feel?” Help others discover answers for themselves rather than just feed it to them.

That’s what Jesus does with Nicodemus.  He CPE’s him. Jesus tells him “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” What does that mean??? Nicodemus immediately latches on to the idea of being born and fixates on how a human adult cannot be born again. Because we are all born from a woman’s womb and an adult can’t go back and do that over.

As the conversation continues Jesus tells Nicodemus that no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. Nicodemus again most likely would have taken this to describe a physical birth – waters break, a child is born, and that child takes its first breath. Water and Spirit.

But this is not what Jesus is referring to. Jesus is speaking to our rebirth – our moment of being “born again” in the waters of baptism.  For many, this occurs at infancy. For some, such as myself, it happens in early childhood, and for others it is much later. Regardless of when it occurs in Baptism God reaches down to us, establishes relationship with us, claims us as God’s own children, as members of God’s family, and we are born again into this new life.

We know this. Nicodemus did not. As the conversation progresses Jesus continues to give vague and confusing answers and even tells Nicodemus that he doesn’t understand earthly things, so how can he expect to understand heavenly things???

What is going on here? Why is Jesus being THAT GUY??? You know the guy – the one who spouts off things that sound profound, but no one really knows what they are talking about? What purpose is he trying to serve???

In regards to this interaction, The Rev. Dr. Phil Ruge-Jones said this: “What if Jesus is not trying to bring Nicodemus to a place of certainty, but is nurturing Nic’s own sense of the uncertainty and living questions. I am thinking about how much rhetoric of being born again suggests that now the speaker understands all things. This is the opposite of what it means to be born. At birth we know nothing and are just beginning.”

So maybe Jesus isn’t being THAT GUY. Maybe in this whole confusing exchange he is trying to get across to Nicodemus that he doesn’t need someone else to give him all of the answers. He needs time to ponder and question and for his faith to grow through that questioning. That even if a concrete answer was immediately presented to him, he probably wouldn’t accept the truth.

I think we all are a bit like Nicodemus. We think that we should have all of the answers. And like Nicodemus and the Street Corner Proselytizer we prefer concrete answers.  Yes or No! Facts that we can pinpoint.  Keep it simple. We think that we must understand all things when it comes to God and faith and if we do not, then we are somehow lacking.

I’ve seen this repeatedly through the years as I’ve served in Child, Youth, & Family Ministry. Parents who are afraid to have intentional conversation with their children about God and about faith because they are afraid they won’t have an answer to a question. We are afraid to say – “I don’t know.”  We forget that faith involves mystery, questions, uncertainty, and conversation.

In our Gospel this morning Jesus reminds us that questions are everything when it comes to faith. And answers are honestly not really necessary and sometimes block our ability to see truth for ourselves. What we think we know, or what we are afraid we don’t know, gets in our way and we are blinded or paralyzed with fear of uncertainty.what does it all mean

So how do we move beyond this? First of all, we talk about it. With our friends, with our family, with our church community, with our children. The more we discuss faith, the less intimidating it becomes. We ask questions, we answer questions, we encourage questions. We utilize the resources before us – literature, theological writings, people who know things. Grace has a group called Questions Not Answers that meets to ponder and discuss tough topics. Join them sometime.

We think. We pray. We gather in community to hear the Word and to share Sacrament. We embrace the mystery. We grow more comfortable with uncertainty. We tell our inner Street Corner Proselytizer that concrete answers are unnecessary. We embrace and grow more comfortable with the phrase “I don’t know.”

And in this process we will more fully know, appreciate, and understand the loving and forgiving God revealed to us in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

Posted in Sermons

Broken Relationships, Sin, Adultery, & Divorce

Matthew 5: 21-37

An unknown author once said: “Marriage is like a deck of cards. In the beginning all you need is two hearts and a diamond. By the end, you wish you had a club and a spade.”

Saul Antin said: “In business partnerships and marriage partnerships, O’ the cheating that goes on!”

Robert Anderson wrote that “In every marriage more than a week old, there are grounds for divorce. The trick is to find, and continue to find, grounds for marriage.

Marriage and relationships are complicated. They are hard. They take work, and commitment. So much effort goes in to trying to enmesh one’s life with another. To staying connected and committed. To loving that other person, even on days when we despise them. For anyone who has never been married or in a committed relationship, that might sound harsh, but – it’s true. In the epic words, of the band, the Plain White T’s – “Hate is a strong word, but I really, really, really don’t like you.” Some days in married life – this is exactly how we feel.

And as I shared the last time I preached, unfortunately, I am a living shining example, that some days the efforts made just aren’t enough and the complications are more than the relationship can bare.

broken-heartThe relationship shatters, and we have to pick up our portion of the broken pieces and try to put them together in some sort of new semblance of life that will never be quite as shiny or quite as pretty, or quite as perfect as it was before the fracture.

The reasons for fractured relationships are vast and varied – communication issues, financial disputes, complete lack of common interests, abuse, neglect, boredom, adultery. Whatever the reason – sin is present, and the relationship breaks. In fact, in many theological circles, sin is defined as just that – broken relationships. A broken relationship between us and God, between each other, and with oneself, internally. Our actions, behaviors, and their end results (such as adultery and divorce) are manifestations of the ultimate underlying issue of sin through the breaking of relationships.

Adultery and divorce are not a new phenomenon… as the passage from Matthew goes to show, they have been a consistent aspect of human relationships for a very, very, very long time.

When Jesus begins his discourses on both topics, he begins by referring to ancient Jewish law – which also goes to prove how long these have been issues.

He states – “You shall not commit adultery” which is a direct reference to the 10 Commandments. When he states “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’” he is directly referencing laws given to the Israelites in the book of Deuteronomy.

When he speaks to these laws he is engaging societal rules and understandings that are very familiar to the people around him. Ingrained even. The Pharisees and Sadducees have reinforced for generations, that these are the rules that God has given and humanity must follow in order to earn God’s favor. These rules were extensive, at times unjust, and almost impossible to follow.

In ancient Palestine, as well as today, this text can be very discouraging, disheartening, and condemning for those in a relationship and even more so for those of us who are divorced.

Jesus said that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery. Uh oh! How many people who are either currently in a relationship or have ever been in a relationship, can honestly say, that while committed to said relationship, they never noticed another attractive man or woman? Yeesh. Busted.

Then Jesus goes on to say that anyone who divorces his wife, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman also commits adultery. This does not give much hope to people, who are in fact divorced. Or people who fall in love with a divorcee.

But the thing is – this is not a passage that can be looked at completely through the lens of modern society. That would be comparing apples and oranges.

These ancient laws were common, accepted, widely practiced, and as I said before – often unjust. They were horribly oppressive to women. In some parts of the world, horribly oppressive laws, such as these, are still widely practiced, however, in most of western society, anyone can commit adultery and anyone can initiate a divorce. This was not the case in Ancient Palestine.

Society at that time was extremely patriarchal and misogynistic. Women had little value and no rights.  Adultery was considered predominately an offense committed by a woman. Men could live promiscuous lives so long as they did not act on their passions with a married woman. This promiscuity was considered immoral by some, not all, but it was not adultery. (So – no stoning to death happening to those guys.)

However, a married woman, who engaged in any kind of extramarital sexual relationship, consensual or not, was an adulteress. Rape culture is a horrible horrific problem now, but pales in comparison to that of Ancient Palestine.

Furthermore, within the confines of the Deuteronomic Laws only men could seek a divorce. Their reasons could be trivial and allowed for the rampant abuse and discarding of women. You burned my dinner – I want a divorce. You’re annoying – I want a divorce. I found someone younger and prettier – I want a divorce. You didn’t bare me a son – divorce.

Written proof or a certificate of a divorce could offer a small measure of security for a discarded woman so that she could remarry which was her only way of securing safety and preventing her from living a life of destitution and poverty. With that said, divorce still carried a certain stigma, and even those women who remarried were often not treated with dignity or any measure of kindness by society.

So, when Jesus makes his statement about adultery he is not solely blaming women for the act.  He is placing all of the ownership and responsibility on the shoulders of the men. Those with status and power who should have been protecting the vulnerable. This viewpoint was very contrary to the accepted societal norms and very unfavorable with the traditional and staunchly literal religious authority.

And again, when Jesus speaks to divorce he is placing the responsibility on the shoulders of the men. Shifting that responsibility and blame from the powerless to the privileged powerful. Jesus is being a radical advocate for women, championing those victimized by patriarchy. Jesus, like Robert Anderson, is saying – yeah, you can find a reason to divorce your wife. But really, you should be searching even harder for reasons not to.

With all of this said – sometimes – the sin is too much, the relationship is just too broken and nothing will save it. So what then? No more happiness? No more love? No more relationships? No remarriage?

And every person in a committed relationship who is attracted to someone other than their significant other is really an adulterer? Because if that is the case – O’ the cheating that goes on!sin

Are these things really sin? Are we really all horrible, broken do
wn, hot messes, of sin filled misery?

The unpleasant answer is – yes. Yes, adultery and divorce are sin. They are blatant manifestations of broken relationships with others, within ourselves, and with our relationship with God.

When attraction hits, even for a brief moment, it alters our relationship with our significant other. Divorce is a prime example of broken relationships and sin. So, as much as it is unpleasant and uncomfortable to admit, as much as we wish we could claim otherwise – We are all horrible, broken down, hot mess filled sinners.

Jesus is making it very apparent that this is the case to the people and to the religious authority. He is pointing out that it is impossible for anyone to be whole or righteous on their own. However, this is not a lesson of eternal condemnation. It’s a lesson of need.

God has not condemned you, or me, or anyone else, to a life of solitude and loneliness. God is always with us. In our mistakes, our heartbreak, our sorrows, as well as in our abundant joy, God is present.

God came into this world and acted in love so that we might love. Through his death and resurrection Jesus took on the burden of sin – of all of those horribly broken relationships – and lavishly gifted us with grace, compassion, forgiveness, and redemption. And we need this.

God is in the business of giving us additional attempts at getting it right.  Christ died that we might live and live abundantly – in love and in relationships.

God did not entrap us in an ancient system of laws, protocols, and cultural oppression.  God liberated us. So, when we fail, when we reach the point of awful, shattered, disrepair. When we are horrible, broken down, hot mess filled sinners, God forgives us. God gives us another chance.

We get another chance at joy, another chance at happiness, another chance at love, at relationships, at partnership, and even at marriage.

So, rejoice that we get another chance. Rejoice that Christ took a radical stance of advocacy. Be grateful that Christ liberated us from a never-ending system of oppression and failure. Be grateful to not be banished to a life of solitude and loneliness. Be grateful for abundant life, for happiness, and for additional chances to love and to be loved.

Amen.

 

 

Posted in Faith, Seminary, Sermons, Spirituality

Sermon on the Beatitudes

How often do you feel blessed? Like really and truly blessed? What kinds of things make blessedyou feel blessed? When something good happens? You get a promotion or a raise? When a baby is born? When you eat a really, really good meal. When you accomplish something great like a good grade (hey – trust me… even for adults that’s a big thing) Maybe when you perform in a play or concert? When you compete in athletic pursuits with successful results – be it winning the game you are competing in or just finishing a 5k. Retirement… I’m certainly anticipating that blessing someday.  These things make one feel pretty good… like we are blessed.

Our society elevates and praises, honors, and adores the successful. The wealthy. The attractive. The competitive. The hardworking to the point of workaholic. Those who pursue and obtain the “American Dream”. Who live “the good life”.

We place value and status in the exclusive. The prestigious. The expensive. These are the things that show us and the world around us, that we are blessed.

I mean – REALLY! How many of us have ever thought in the middle of crisis and despair – hey… I’m pretty blessed?

I can honestly say that most of the time when something stressful or tragic happens in my life, I am not feeling terribly blessed or grateful in those moments. I’m not usually giving thanks to God for the drama, trauma, and disappointment.  Not at all.

However – this past spring, I did have a moment in the midst of a very grief filled time when I did. As I was navigating through the process of terminating my marriage I felt out of control, I felt abandoned, I felt all the trauma one feels when a relationship suddenly dies. All the while I was desperately trying to keep it together on the outside for my kids and so I could get through class and because no one on my campus really seemed to want to see me sad or lonely or grieving.

And then one Monday morning, my phone rang, and it was Pastor Lynn. Calling to check on me and see if I was okay, and to see if I needed anything. Anything at all. At this point, I wasn’t coming to Grace to intern. Pastor Lynn and I had had one informal telephone interview prior to my personal life falling apart, and that was it. I figured that that ship had sailed. So, Pastor Lynn wasn’t checking on me as my future internship supervisor and coworker for Christ. He was checking on me as someone who cared.

That afternoon Pastor Schul send me an email… for the same reason. And that evening my very good friend Pastor John Boldt, who lives in Houston, TX, also called me to check on me.

It’s a good thing I didn’t wear mascara that day because I did a lot of crying… and when I went to bed that night, I felt better… I felt less alone… I felt like I didn’t have to keep it all together and put on a front… I could just be where I was and know that I wasn’t alone there. And when I prayed before I went to sleep, I thanked God – because I was very aware of how blessed I am to have these caring people in my life.

In our Gospel this morning, Jesus is teaching his disciples about those who are blessed. The crowds of people are there, but he isn’t addressing them (like he does in Luke’s version of this same story) – he instead retreats up the mountain and is teaching only the 12. Maybe some in the crowds can hear him, maybe not. Perhaps, he pulls the 12 aside because the crowd is filled with the kind of people that Jesus is about to teach of. Those who are blessed by God.

Because Jesus, being the radical, counter cultural, unorthodox Rabbi that he was – didn’t bolster the rich and powerful. The strong and successful. The brave and the conquerors.

In a culture and community that deified rulers and generals who were all these things, Jesus didn’t say – blessed are the well-educated, for they will get good jobs or blessed are the well-connected, for their aspirations will be noticed, or blessed are you when you know what you want, and go after it because – God helps those who help themselves.

NO! Jesus reinforced a complete different set of people as those who are blessed. Not necessarily to shame or condemn those who had status and possessions, but to include those who do not. Obviously, the rich and famous are blessed, but so are others.

  • The poor in spirit
  • The mourning
  • The meek
  • Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • The merciful
  • The pure of heart
  • The peacemakers
  • Those persecuted for righteousness sake
  • Those reviled and persecuted in Christ’s name

Not the typical crowd that one then or now would think of as blessed. It was important as Jesus grew and developed his ministry, that his disciples know this.

The Rev. David Lose states: “The first thing that Jesus teaches them is how to recognize blessedness. Which I think is really interesting. Not how to become blessed, or even to bless each other, but rather to recognize who is already blessed by God.”

Jesus’ ministry didn’t favor those who had everything… it reached out and included those who struggled and had very little, if anything at all. He made sure that these people knew that they were loved and blessed by God. It was crucial that the disciples see this, recognize this, and understand this early in Jesus’ ministry, so that they could go and do likewise.

It is crucial that we see, recognize, and understand this as well – so that we can go and do likewise. That we can spread the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to all of God’s blessed children.

So, who would this encompass today? Who should we be recognizing and encouraging as God’s blessed children? I would like to think that it’s me… as I’m sure we all would, and at times it I am, and so are you.

If Jesus were here teaching this lesson today, I’d imagine the lesson would go something like this:

blessed-are-the-poorBlessed are the poor in spirit – the agnostics, the atheists, the doubters, those who have
been hurt by and walked away from the church, the Christmas and Easter Christians, those who feel that they have nothing to offer. It’s okay to be in these places and spaces. God’s Kingdom is for you as well. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who morn – those who have lost a loved one. Those who have loved and lost. Those who have family members who are missing. Those who are alienated or estranged from their families. Parents who have lost a child. Those who must keep it all together for others around them. Those who continue to mourn weeks, months, years, and decades later. It’s okay to be in these places and spaces. God’s comfort is for you. Blessed are those who morn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek – the invisible people that no one sees. Those whom the world has forgotten. The ill-treated waitress who cannot defend herself for fear her tip will suffer and so will her ability to survive. The janitors. The shift workers. The single parents. The youth who sits alone in class and at lunch. The low-socio-economically disadvantaged. The out-of-the-cold homeless. The friendless. The unemployed. The marginalized. It’s okay to be in these places and spaces. We are all in this together and this world that we live in wouldn’t be same without you. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – the wrongly accused. The rightly accused. For those who struggle. For those who have no advocates. For foster children. For special needs individuals. For people who struggle through life and can never seem to get ahead. For the abused, the victimized, the marginalized, the oppressed. It SUCKS to be in these places and spaces. It’s lonely, and isolating, and empty. Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness – for you will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful – those who put people above profit. Those who give food and water to the homeless man sitting on the corner. The teachers, the social workers, the coaches, the pastors. Those who have a forgiving nature. Those who gently correct. Those who give constructive criticism with kindness. The runners who sacrifice their own win or personal best to help an injured fellow competitor across the finish line. You who are in these places and spaces are amazing. You get it. And the world is a better place because of you. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart – those who refuse to bully or slander or gossip. Those who call out social media trolls. Those who stand up and defend the defenseless. Those who are gifted and cursed with a prophetic voice and unabashedly proclaim truth. The Martin Luther’s. The Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s. The Ghandi’s. The Dr. King’s. The Malala’s. The world needs you in these places and spaces. You help manifest the inbreaking of God’s kingdom. Blessed are you who are pure of heart – for you will see God.16196071_866609286676_5761662380735114884_n

Blessed are the peacemakers – The Peace Corp. The Red Cross. The U.N. Doctors Without Borders. Counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Mediators. The peaceful demonstrators. The Missionaries and aid workers. Those who take their vacations to go on mission trips to places like Nicaragua. The Mother Theresa’s and the Aung San Suu Kyi’s. The world needs you in these places and spaces. Working to spread peace and justice and love for all of God’s children. Blessed are you peacemakers – for you will be called children of God.

Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness sake – the honest. The whistle-blowers. The litigated Good Samaritan’s. Truth telling journalists in China and other countries where the government controls the press. You who stand up for others, who stand up for what is right, who speak truth, and suffer because of it. The world needs more people in these places and spaces. People who are unafraid and noble. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who are reviled and persecuted in Christ’s name and who have all kinds of evil uttered against them falsely. The Christians in countries where Christianity is illegal. The Christians in this country who are persecuted by fellow Christians because they have different understandings of theology and Gospel. Non-Christians who are persecuted in the name of Christ. These are horrible places and spaces to be in. Places and spaces that no one should have to encounter. But those who do are blessed. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad – for your reward is great in heaven.

Just as it was important for the disciples to recognize blessedness, it is important for us to recognize it as well. These, and so many others, are the people we should be looking to.

If we are truly going to love our neighbors as ourselves, we must understand who those neighbors are. We must reevaluate our ideas of blessings. Being blessed is not just for the sake of potential joy, but also for the sake of making it through difficult times.

Jesus breaks into our lives in moments of joy but Jesus also breaks into our lives in moments of pain and suffering. Pastor Lynn, Pastor Schul, and Pastor Boldt helped me see Jesus in my life at that really difficult point. We are called to do that for one another and for the world around us.

Jesus has taught us how to recognize blessedness and how to help others recognize it as well. Jesus reminds us to not only reach out to those who are familiar and comfortable, but those who are different as well.

Thanks be to God for blessing the poor, the mourning, the meek, those hungering for righteousness, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. Thanks be to God for teaching us how to recognize blessedness. And thanks be to God for creating communities of people who love, support, and encourage one another through all of life’s blessings.

Amen.