An ELCA pastor shares his thoughts about the Bible, spirituality, the world, and LGBT issues.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday Sermon: Being Right vs. Loving Others

1 Cor 13, Matt 5:38-48, Deut 6:1-9  David Eck
04/26/15


     How many of you are familiar with Abiding Savior's Mission Statement? It can be found in our church's brochure as well as on our web site. This Mission Statement was adopted back in 2012 as part of our discernment process toward becoming a Reconciling in Christ congregation. In case you're not familiar with it, let me read it to you: "We are a diverse church united by a deep love of Jesus and a heart for service in the community. We are dedicated to being a sanctuary (safe-haven) for all of God's people."
     A companion piece to this Mission Statement is our Welcome Statement, part of which you'll find on the front page of your bulletin. It's the cross with the circle of beads around it. It is always accompanied by the words "United in Christ.  Welcoming All." The full color version, which you'll also find in our church's brochure as well as on our web site, also has nine beads below the logo. They spell out specifically what we mean by all.
     We decided to place them in alphabetical order to emphasize they are all equal to each other. We don't favor one over another. All are important. Those colored beads are: ability, age, ethnicity, gender identity, language, life circumstances, marital status, race, and sexual orientation. Trust me, we thought about these beads for a LONG time because we wanted to be 100% inclusive. We didn't want to leave anyone out.
     The whole idea behind our Mission and Welcome Statements is that the "deep love of Jesus" is what holds us together as a church. If we try to put anything else in the center of the circle, the whole thing falls apart.
     Now, it won't come as any big surprise to you, but there are other Christians out there who think we're heretics for defining our church this way. For them the important thing is that we believe all the "right things" about the Bible and Jesus. If we don't believe the Bible is inerrant, we're not really Christians. If we have a position on an ethical issue that happens to be different from theirs, we're apostate. If we welcome everyone, then we have no principles at all. We're standing on a slippery slope that leads to gates of hell.
     I think you get the point. But we should never be apologetic or shameful for the way we define ourselves as a church. We've chosen love over being right, and relationships over beliefs. In a world where people are saying all kinds of crazy things in the name of Jesus, I wouldn't want to define our church in any other way!
     Two weeks ago Jen Ownbey and I had the opportunity to hear Jay Bakker speak at a local LGBT conference. For those of you who don't know the name, Jay is the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, whose broadcasting empire crumbled many years ago. Their fall had a tremendous impact on Jay. For a number of years he engaged in some pretty self-destructive behavior.
     But those days are behind him now. Jay not only got his life together, he also heard the call to become a pastor. He now lives in Minneapolis where he is the pastor of Revolution Church. He preaches a message of radical, inclusive love that is quite different from what his Daddy used to preach.
     His talk at the conference was anchored on an insight from 1 Corinthians 13. But it's not the verses people are usually drawn to. In fact, it's the ones that many brides and grooms omit from the reading on their wedding day: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly,  but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."
     His observation is that we see in a mirror dimly. In other words, there is no way we can comprehend the mind of an infinite, omnipresent God. When we claim we know what God is thinking, or how God feels, it's foolish at best and dangerous at worst. It gives rise to childish behavior where the Bible is used as a weapon, rather than being the message of love it was intended to be. It gives rise to hatred, judgmental attitudes and intolerance toward these who have different opinions about God and the Bible.
     He basically said it's time for the Church to grow up. We need to get beyond our 6th grade understanding of the Bible. We need to stop echoing what our pastor taught us and study the Word for ourselves. And, most importantly, we need set aside our need to be "right" and focus on the way we love, as individuals and as the Church.
     Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 13 with the observation: "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." Love is the most important thing. It's more important than faith or having the "right beliefs" about Jesus, whatever they may be. It's more important than hope, because doubt is not the opposite of faith, it's an element of faith. Love is the most important thing.
     As Jen and I heard the rest of his talk, we both realize how much he sounded like what we believe at Abiding Savior. The deep love of Jesus is the most important thing. It is the glue that holds the church together. If we could learn to love more deeply, and serve others more compassionately, we really could be the light of the world Jesus wants us to be.
     Unfortunately, this is not the attitude of many Christians these days. Lutherans have been deeply divided and outwardly hostile toward one another regarding issues of sexuality and theology. This hatred comes from both sides of the debate.
     In the larger Church there is the war of words surrounding "religious liberty" laws that have been enacted in states such as Indiana. Conservative business owners believe they have the God-given right to discriminate against anyone if it violates their deeply-held religious principles. While these laws are specifically aimed toward gay and lesbian couple swho are planning weddings, the laws are too broad to prevent greater discrimination from happening. The vitriol I hear from "good Christians" who support these laws is shocking. So much for all that "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" stuff Jesus was talking about. I guess there was an exceptions clause in the gospels I wasn't aware of!
     But Progressives are just as bad. They are returning hate speech for hate speech. And some of these conservative business owners have even received death threats form progressives. Both sides are behaving badly. And it hurts our witness as the Church of Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder people are leaving the Christianity in droves? There are times when I hesitate to call myself a Christian, because of what it implies. I would rather be known as a follow of Jesus, so that I'm not confused with the crazies.
     The reason why I share this message with you this morning is that I believe Christianity is at a crossroad. If we cannot get past this childish behavior, and learn to be a faith of radical, inclusive love, I'm afraid we're going to become more and more a minority voice in our culture. People will look at us like we're some sad, outdated institution that needs to be placed on the dust bin of history.
     I'm not willing to go there without a fight. I hope you aren't either. We stand for something at Abiding Savior that I believe is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. We proclaim unashamedly that we've chosen love over being right, and relationships over beliefs. I wouldn't have it any other way!
     Last week in Sunday School our class looked at several passage from Paul's letters that describe what the early church looked like. My favorite among these was Colossians 3:12-17. Here's a portion of what it says: "Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other.  As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity."
     Friends in Christ, we are called to clothe ourselves in love. Compassion kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience are fine attire as well. But love fits us perfectly. It is what we were created to wear. Garments of hate and self-righteous indignation are ill-fitted for citizens of the Kingdom of God. They are not only painful for our souls to wear. They also hurt those around us as well.
     So, the challenge is before us, Friends in Christ. It's up to us to show the world around us a different kind of Christianity that what is being portrayed in the media these days. We must be known, first and foremost, as people whose spirits radiate a deep love of Jesus. This is the power we possess that can and will change the world.  AMEN.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Prayer to the Four Directions

We used this prayer at Abiding Savior this past Sunday during our celebration of Earth Day.  I thought I'd share it here as a resource for others. 

PRAYER TO THE FOUR DIRECTIONS

Almighty God, Great Spirit who created the heavens and the earth, the land and sea, and all creatures that dwell therein, we praise You for Your might and power.  We praise You for Your love and mercy.  Guide us as we spend this time together in prayer, reflecting on the directions, colors and creatures You have placed all around us in order that we may learn more about You and Your will for us.

First, we turn our thoughts to the EAST and to the color RED.  We remember CETAN LUTAH, the Red Hawk, the messenger who is keen-eyed and observant, fearless and swift-moving.  He reminds us that we, too, need to be keen-eyed and observant, looking for opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.  We need to be the messenger, fearless and swift-moving, so that all people will come to know You as we do.

As we reflect on the color red, we think of the sun which rises in the East and reminds us that each new day brings with it a new beginning, a chance to start again.  We think of the red poppy, the newt, and the bricks which form this building we worship in.  We think of the crimson petals of a rose, red clay, and the sweetness of the wild strawberry.  We also think of blood, the life-giving force which flows within us.  And we are reminded of how, in our greed and anger, we shed the blood of our brothers and sisters in war and domestic violence.  We are reminded how we rape the land of its resources and needlessly waste and exploit Your Created Order.  Help us to heal ourselves, our land and all of creation as, together, we reflect in silence on the color red…

Almighty God, Great Spirit, we now turn our attention to the SOUTH and to the color YELLOW. We remember TATANKA, the buffalo who, in generations past, brought us sustenance and life, shelter and warmth.  When we think of the buffalo we are reminded to embody a spirit of thanks and praise for all You have provided for us as we journey here upon Mother Earth.  We thank You for our families, our possessions, food, shelter and clothing.  May we always be grateful for these gifts and generously share out of our abundance with those who have nothing.

As we reflect on the color yellow, we think of the great golden bear and the buttercup which remind us of the wonderful diversity that exists in Your creation.  We think of fields of grain, ripe for harvest, and golden ears of corn, sweet and delicious.  We think of daisies, daffodils and sunflowers which adorn Your creation with much beauty.  When we think of yellow we also think of caution, and our need to seek Your wisdom as we journey here upon Mother Earth.  Guide us in our travels as, together, we reflect in silence on the color yellow…

Almighty God, Great Spirit, we now turn our attention to the WEST and to the color BLACK.  We remember SHUNNKA WAKAN, the black horse, symbol power and strength.  We are reminded that You are our power and strength.  You carry us through life upon Your back much like the horse carries us upon its back. You are always there when we need You.  We take great comfort in knowing that Your strength will always be with us.

As we reflect on the color black, we think of the beauty of obsidian rock, the charred logs of a campfire, the darkness of night and the black panther.  We think of the crow, the black snake, and ants.  We think of tar, the unexplored regions of a cave, and the sparkle of the blackberry.  We are also reminded of the thunderclouds which bring with them both lightning as well as life-giving rain.  The thunderclouds remind us that we, too, have the power to kill or to heal.  Help us learn to make the right choice as, together, we reflect in silence on the color black…

Almighty God, Great Spirit, we now turn our attention to the NORTH and to the color WHITE.  We remember WANBLEE, the bald eagle, a symbol of leadership, power and vision.  The bald eagle reminds us of our need to be leaders, filled with power and vision, so that all Your people, Red, Yellow, Black, and White, might learn to live together in peace and harmony.  As the bald eagle soars high in the sky, may we, too, soar above the chaos and confusion of this world and see it the way You see it, with eyes of hope and truth.

As we reflect on the color white, we think of the snowy owl, the polar bear and the snowshoe rabbit.  We think of billowy clouds, dogwood blossoms, and the wool of a sheep.  We think of the dove, the sea gull, the egret and the snowy-white hair of our elders.  We also think of winter, the season of dormancy, when much of creation is silent and sleeping.  This reminds us that all life upon Mother Earth has an end.  But we are still filled with hope because we know that one day the spring will come and that those of us who believe in Your Son, Jesus, will never perish but will have eternal life.  It is this hope which fills all the directions we travel with joy and makes all the colors You created a thing of beauty to treasure and celebrate.  Together, we reflect in silence on the color white…

Almighty God, Great Spirit, guide us through al the directions we travel in life and may we always celebrate the wondrous colors and creatures of your creation.  In Jesus' name we pray.  Amen.

This prayer was written by David Eck.  It is based on a traditional Native American prayer form I first learned from Rev. Solbird Moccasin, who served the ELCA congregation on the Cherokee, NC reservation.  Information on the various animals was taken from Mother Earth Spirituality by Ed McGaa, Harper Collins Publishers, 1990.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday Sermon - Earth Day Sunday

EARTH DAY 2015    David Eck
4/19/15  Mark 8:14-21, Luke 24:13-35

     The two disciples on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Their HEARTS may have been burning with excitement when a stranger explained the Scriptures to them; but their EYES were opened to his identity when Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. 
     This is one of the reasons why we celebrate communion every Sunday at Abiding Savior. Bread is a powerful symbol of our faith. It's a sign of Christ's presence in our midst. On any given Sunday, we may not be moved by the songs that we're singing. The Scripture lessons may not speak powerfully to us. We may even doze off during the pastor's sermon. But it's hard to mess up communion! Bread and wine, in whatever form they take, are something we can see, taste, touch and smell. I don't think there is anything else in worship that involves this many senses!
     When we gather at the Table at Christ's invitation, he promises he's going to show up! Lutherans believe that Jesus is "In, with and under" the bread and wine. This is a fancy way of saying we don't really know for sure but, somehow, he's in there. It's a mystery that defies any amount of explanation or logic we can apply to it, and I'm good with that! We all need a little mystery in our relationship with God. Not everything has to have a rational explanation attached to it. Christ's presence in Holy Communion is one of those mysterious things.
     But our spiritual connection to bread goes way beyond the communion table. It is also a sign of the abundance of God's Kingdom. The stories of the feeding of the 5,000 and 4,000 remind us that there is enough love and enough grace, and enough forgiveness and enough peace for everyone to have their fill with leftovers to spare!
     This kingdom abundance is seen most fully in the person of Jesus who referred to himself as the Bread of Life: "I am the bread of life." he said "Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." [Jn 6:35, CEB] "I am the bread of life.  Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that whoever eats from it will never die." [Jn 6:48-49, CEB]
     We see in these statements that Jesus is the kind of bread that is given to us in a never-ending supply. There is enough love and enough grace, and enough forgiveness and enough peace for everyone to have their fill  of the Bread of Life with leftovers to spare!
     But our spiritual connection to bread extends ever further than this! Jesus had a practical side to the symbol of bread as well. In his parable of the Sheep and Goats, Jesus reminds us that when we feed the hungry, it is as if we are feeding Christ himself: "Truly I tell you," Jesus said, "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." If we cannot see Christ in the eyes of our hungry neighbors, we're not looking close enough. If all this talk about bread is true, then we should have the audacity to believe that there is enough bread in this world to feed everyone. I'm not just talking about spiritual bread. I'm talking about physical bread as well.
     Our Church puts this to the test every time we feed the homeless at Pritchard Park. No matter how much food we prepare, there is always enough to feed everyone who comes to the park, with leftovers to spare. Hmmm, now where have I heard that before?
     This is where the theme of 2015's Earth Day Sunday comes in. The focus this year is on sustainable food in a changing climate. I have one sobering statistic for you to ponder. Did you know that the United State generates more than 36 million tons of food waste each year, with just under 5 percent of that waste being recovered and recycled? Yes, you heard me right. We waste 36 million tons of food each year.  That's a lot of bread! That's a lot of food that could feed a lot of hungry people.
     Food waste is not only an issue that should interest us as citizens of this county, it is also an issue of Christian stewardship as well. Several years ago Gary & I asked ourselves the question how we could be better stewards of the food we consume.We gave this some serious thought.  This is the plan we came up with:

1. We only buy small amounts of food at a time so that very little is ever wasted. This means making several trips to the grocery store a week, but I think the effort is worth it.

2. Every week during the growing season, I make a trip to one of the farmer's markets in our area. I try to buy as much locally grown food as possible. The reason why this is important to me is twofold.

A. First of all, it supports our local farmers and economy.

B. Secondly, it take far less energy to produce local food than it does to buy the food at  the grocery store which may have traveled thousands of miles in order to appear on the shelf.

3. The third part of our plan is that, by and large, we stopped eating at chain restaurants. We only eat at locally owned businesses and favor those who work with local farmers. Now, this doesn't mean you won't catch me at Bojangles every once in a while, but the general rule at our house is we avoid chains if at all possible.

     The reason why I'm sharing this is that I hope we will not consume our food mindlessly. I hope we will take the time to consider how we can be better stewards of the food that is grown on our planet. I do believe there is enough bread and enough vegetables, to feed everyone.  I take Jesus at his word.
     But I also know this will not happen on its own. We have to be intentional about the choices  we make regarding food because it impact more than just ourselves and our families. It also impacts our city, our nation, and the planet. As a tool in your discernment process, I put together a list of Fairview farms, as well as local stores and tailgate markets who support our local farmers. (You can find this on our web site.)
     My goal is to focus on one of these farms each month as I have room in the bulletin and newsletter. It's a way we can get to know some of our neighbors better, especially those who live and work in the community where we worship. I got a lot of this info at Trout Lily which is a locally owned grocery store less than two miles down the street from us. They support many local and regional farms. When I talked to the store manager about what I was trying to do, she seemed rather surprised that a church would be interested in such a topic. We had a wonderful conversation about it. She's going to keep me in the loop when special events come up that might be of interest to us.
     In addition to the resources on the sheet you might not be aware that Fairview also has a community garden called The Lord's Acre. In 2013 alone,  it delivered 8.5 tons of produce to food pantries in the area. They also supply food to the Fairview Welcome Table where, once a week, people can eat an amazing home cooked meal for whatever they can afford. Both of these organizations are wonderful ways to feed the hungry and members of Abiding Savior have been involved with both of them on and off during the past few years.
     But before I bring my thoughts to a close, I'd like to briefly examine our first lesson which is not in the lectionary but is an interesting story nonetheless. The context for this reading is that Jesus had just finished feeding our thousand people with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. The crowd ate their fill, and the disciples gathered seven baskets of leftovers. Then Jesus hopped into a boat with the disciples and crossed to the other side of Lake Galilee.
     Once they arrived, the disciples realized they had forgotten to pack supper! Seriously?  They had seven baskets full of bread and fish and all they brought with them was one loaf of bread? How is that even possible? In the midst of their spectacular lack of planning, Jesus tells them to beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod. The disciples thought he was chastising them because they forgot to pack supper, but Jesus was talking about spiritual matters.
     Most of the religious and political leaders of Jesus' time had little regard for the poor and marginalized. They lived lavish lifestyles while most people fell way below the poverty line. I believe Jesus was warning his disciples that it's hard to maintain the values of the Kingdom of God. Even a little bit of the world's apathy for the plight of the poor, could exert a tremendous influence on them.
     The second point he was trying to make is that the disciples needed to to trust that Jesus would provide for their needs. Jesus says to them, matter of factly, "When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve."
     Then Jesus followed up with a second question, "And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.”  Then Jesus responded, “Do you not YET understand?”
     This was Jesus' version of a face palm. How could his followers be so dense? He had fed the multitudes not once, but twice with leftovers to spare. How in the world could they be worried about supper and not have the faith that Jesus would take care of their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs?
     Unfortunately, Mark does not give us the rest of the conversation. Somehow, I have the sneaking suspicion that the disciples did not go to bed hungry that night! Maybe the point of this story is our need to resist the apathy of the Pharisees and Herods of our world, and adopt the kingdom values Jesus tried to teach us. He seems to be telling us that we can feed the world, both physically and spiritually. There is enough for everyone, with leftovers to spare, if we only have faith and follow the lead of Jesus, the Bread of Life.
     So, Friends in Christ, on this Earth Day let us discern how we can be better stewards of this wonderful word God has given us so that all people may be fed.  AMEN.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday Sermon - Peace Be With You

2 Easter B    John 20-19-31
4/12/15   David Eck

     Today's gospel lesson is Easter, Part 2. It's not a pretty story. In Part 1, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene who ran breathlessly from the tomb. When she reached the disciples, she exclaimed "I have seen the Lord!" Then she told them about her encounter with the risen Christ.
     In our minds, we imagine the disciples running out into the streets and sharing with everyone they met the good news that Christ had risen from the dead. But John tells a totally different tale. He says by nightfall the disciples were hiding behind locked doors. They were afraid that the Jewish leaders were going to come after them next. Any moment, they thought, there would be a knock on the door and Roman soldiers would arrest them just like they arrested Jesus. So they huddled close to each other in fear and whispered in hushed tones: "What are we going to do now? What happens next?"
     Now if that's not a sad state of affairs, I don't know what is! I guess Mark's version of the Easter story we heard last Sunday, is not far from the truth. It ends with the words: "So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." [NRSV]
     Thankfully, this is not the end of the Easter story! Jesus appeared out of nowhere and the first words out of his mouth were “Peace be with you.” This is not the first time this happened. In the midst of a storm on Lake Galilee, when the disciples were huddled together fearfully in a small fishing boat, Jesus rebuked the storm, saying, "Peace!  Be still!"  [Mk 4:39] When the wind and waves died down, he gently asked the disciples, "Why are you afraid?  Have you STILL no faith?"
     When they were gathered together last Thursday to share a final Passover meal, Jesus told them, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."  [Jn 14:27]
     In the midst of their fear and doubt, in the midst of their worries about what the future would bring, Jesus spoke a word of peace.
     Friends in Christ, how many times in our lives have we been fearful? How many times have we fretted about what the future will bring? In times of worry and anxiety, Jesus often appears out of nowhere and speaks to us a word of peace.
     Maybe it's in the form of a hymn that speaks directly to our hearts. Maybe it's a word of encouragement from a friend or unexpected good news from afar. Maybe it's in the midst of prayer and a calm washes over us. There are many ways Jesus offers us the gift of peace when we are afraid and hiding behind locked doors.
     Thankfully, we don't need to earn this gift of peace. It is given to us as a gift, just like it was given to those first disciples. Just in case, a word of peace was not enough, Jesus then showed the disciples his wounded hands and side. They rejoiced because they realized Jesus was alive. It was more than just a story from Mary. Jesus was present in the room. He showed up. Sometimes we need this kind of reassurance when we are afraid. Thanks be to God, Jesus offers his peaceful presence to us if we have ears to hear his words and eyes to see his presence in our midst.
     As the story continues, Jesus says, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." You might not have given these words a second thought, but I think they're absolutely amazing. Jesus is giving these scared disciples their marching orders. He still believes in them and trusts them to deliver the good news that God's Kingdom is among us.
     Brain McLaren, in We Make the Road By Walking, puts it this way "Here we were, huddled in our safe little house like a bunch of cowards, and Jesus was still interested in sending cowards like us to continue his mission!"
     There's no doubt Jesus' believed in those first disciples. He didn't care that they were skeptical of Mary's story. He didn't care that Peter denied him three times and the rest of the disciples fled the scene when Jesus was crucified. Jesus still had faith in them even when they didn't have faith in themselves.
     I don't know about you, but I find this immensely comforting and encouraging. It means that Jesus can use us to be instruments of love,grace, compassion and peace in our world. We don't have to be super heroes to do this work. In fact, the disciples we meet in the gospels are far from it. We just have to be willing to be used by God, and God will do the rest.
     We are the tiny, insignificant mustard seed that becomes shade for the birds of the air. We are the speck of yeast that leavens a whole loaf of bread. We are a pinch of salt that seasons the whole dish. We are the light of a single candle that illumines the entire house.
     Jesus, had been telling the disciples this truth from the very beginning. He has been telling it to us ever since we first starting reading the gospel stories. Good things come from small packages. It's the way the Kingdom of God works. We don't have to be big or powerful or even confident. Jesus can use whatever we offer him as Kingdom seeds that will change the world. In fact, I remember him telling us that the foolish are the ones who confound the wise, the humble are those who will be exalted, and the greatest are the ones who serve.
     Friends in Christ, i think we can do this! If Jesus is looking for foolish, humble servants then sign us up for the job! I think I have the qualifications for this job description and I'm certain you have the qualifications, too.
     But Jesus isn't finished yet. After he spoke a word of peace; after he gave them a commission to go out into the world, Jesus gave them one last gift. John tells us he breathed on them, and said “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
     Again, turning to Brian McLaren, he describes this action of Jesus as follows: "Next he came close to us and breathed on us. 'Welcome the Holy Spirit!' he said. Of course, this reminded us all of the story in Genesis when God breathed life into Adam and Eve. It was a new beginning, he was telling us. It was a new Genesis, and we were to be prototypes of a new kind of human community."
     Jesus gave those first disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit which bound them together that day in ways they could not comprehend. This same gift is given to us in baptism as God breathes on us, and the Holy Spirit gives us a new Genesis, a new beginning, a new life in Christ.
     The gift of the Holy Spirit binds us to one another in ways we cannot fully comprehend. We become part of what St Paul calls "The body of Christ." In this Body everyone matters; Everyone has a purpose and a gift to share. If we've learned anything from today's gospel lesson it should be that we don't have to be spectacularly gifted to become a part of this body. In fact, Jesus' first disciples remind us that talent is the least thing we need to be qualified. Christ invites us to become a part of this body, this community, in spite of our doubt and fear, in spite of our betrayals and denials.
     Here's how Brian McLaren describes us: "So fellowship is for scarred people, and for scared people and for people who want to believe but aren't sure what or how to believe. When we come together just as we are, we begin to rise again, to believe again, to hope again, to live again. Through fellowship, a little locked room becomes the biggest space in the world. In that space of fellowship, the Holy Spirit fills us like a deep breath of fresh air."
     As I bring my thoughts to a close I have one final observation: The celebration of Easter is finished but the work of sharing the good news has just begun. We do not need to huddle in fear behind locked doors, because Jesus gives us all the encouragement and power we need to change the world. He speaks a word of peace to our hearts. He offers us a sign of his presence in our lives. He tells us he still believes in us, and sends us out as living witnesses of the kingdom. And, finally, he empowers us with the Holy Spirit.
     Jesus' first followers literally changed the world in spite of their faults and figures. I have the confidence to believe he can do the same with us!  AMEN

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Visionary Faith

Thomas...one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord.' But he said to them, 'Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.' A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you.' Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.' Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, 'Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.'" [John 20:24-28, NRSV]

     If we look at the story of Thomas metaphorically, a powerful message emerges: It's easy to have faith in something when it's standing right in front of our faces. It's a lot harder to have faith in a future that has yet to be seen.
     Visionary faith is a powerful thing. It is the kind of faith that moved Martin Luther to begin the Protestant Reformation. It is the kind of faith that empowered Ghandi to start a revolution in India. It is the kind of faith that inspired Martin Luther King Jr to proclaim "I have a dream." It is the kind of faith that many LGBT people and their straight allies possess as they envision a future that looks much different from the world we live in now.
     It is easy to believe in LGBT equality when we see it happening right in front of our faces. It's a lot harder to work toward an unseen future where full equality is achieved for all. If we are going to continue the fight. If we are going to have enough spiritual energy to outlast the setbacks and disappointments that will occur along the way, then we must have the kind of faith that believes in a future that has yet to be realized.
     Truly we are blessed if we "have not seen and yet have come to believe." It is the power to change the world as we know it.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Behind Closed Doors

"Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house." Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, "Peace to you." [John 20:19, The Message]

     It was Easter evening and John tells us that the disciples were "in the closet," i.e. they were acting like frightened disciples instead of being bold proclaimers. They had rolled the stone over the tomb of their fear and doubt and had sealed it shut! Hmm...not exactly how we picture the Easter story is it?
     We imagine in our minds that the disciples had spent the rest of the day running through the streets of Jerusalem "Shouting "Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!" We imagine them being overwhelmed with joy; laughing and shouting and singing. However, John tells us that as the sun set over Jerusalem the disciples were hiding behind locked doors, afraid that the Jewish religious leaders were coming after them next. What's up with that?
     Don't be too quick to judge those first disciples. After all, how do we react when bad news is all around us? We, too, feel like hiding behind locked doors. We, too, feel like huddling close together with our loved ones, trying to create a space of peace in the midst of the emotional whirlwinds of life.
     The good news of the Easter story is not that the disciples were brave and fearless. The good news is that in spite of their doubt and fear, Jesus found a way to reach them. Jesus found a way to get behind their locked doors and make his presence known. He then gave them the gift of his peaceful presence as well as the Holy Spirit who would empower them and give them the courage to set aside their fears, unlock their doors, and go out into the world to change it forever.
     What locked doors are we hiding behind? Are we literally "in the closet," afraid to let others known we are lesbian or gay? Do we hesitate to become a voice for LGBT justice and equality in church and society? The good news of John's Easter story is that there is not a padlock, chain or deadbolt that can keep Jesus from reaching us and transforming our hearts, our minds and our spirits. Let us claim this good news for ourselves and for our community that we might face the future with confidence, optimism and hope.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Easter Sunday Sermon

EASTER B   Mark 16:1-8, Jn 20:1-18  
4/05/14     David Eck
 


     When we're sitting at the bedside f a loved one who is dying, resurrection is personal. When we're staring into the casket of a loved one we have lost, resurrection is personal. When we contemplate our own death, or find ourselves at the funeral of a friend, resurrection is personal.
     Now, I know what you're thinking: Pastor Dave has lost it. This is a terrible way to begin an Easter sermon! Where is the proclamation "Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed?" Where is the scent of lilies and the sounds of "Alleluia" on a bright, sunny Easter morning? Where is the butterfly emerging from its cocoon and Easter eggs as a symbol of new life? You CAN'T begin an Easter sermon talking about illness, loss, funerals and death…or CAN you?
     After all, that's how the first Easter story began. The gospel of Mark tells us it was Sunday morning. The Sabbath was over, but it was hardly a time of rest. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome were carrying spices with them. They were headed to the tomb of Jesus so they could anoint his body. While en route they had a lively discussion regarding who was going to roll away the stone from the entrance of Jesus' tomb. It was so big and so heavy even their combined strength wouldn't be able to budge it.
     However, the discussion was cut short when they saw that the stone had already been rolled back. Mark doesn't tell us what the women thought of this unexpected sight. John says Mary Magdalene feared the worst. She fled the scene and ran back to Peter, saying, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."
     But in Mark's version, nothing of the sort happens. In fact, the women make a beeline for the tomb. As they entered it they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side of where Jesus body lay. I assume he was an angel. He says to the women "Do not be alarmed."
     Well, I guess it's better late than never. But how could these women have been anything but alarmed? The body of their Teacher and friend was missing. It had vanished from sight. "Alarmed" is probably a mild description of how they felt that morning. It was probably a mixture of grief, horror, sadness, disbelief, bewilderment, and a few more descriptive nouns  we could add to the mix.
     But the angel is peaceful and confident In his proclamation.  He says to the women, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you."
     In the face of death and the planning a funeral, these women were told amazing, unbelievable news. All the rules had changed. New life had come from death. It's what Jesus had told them would happen. But somehow, his words did not sink in. OR his words had been forgotten as his followers witnessed his trial, torture, crucifixion and burial. But the angel made no ands, ifs or buts about it: Jesus had been raised from the dead. He would appear to these women, along with the other disciples, back in Galilee where the call to be fishers of people was offered to each of them.
     Perhaps, the maddening, crazy thing about Mark's version of the Easter story is it's abrupt ending. So the women "went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; AND THEY SAID NOTHING TO ANYONE, for they were afraid." Again, I know what some of you are thinking: Only this time it is Mark who has lost it. This is a terrible way to tell Easter story! You CAN'T end it with "And they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid"…or CAN you?
     Mark thought it was appropriate. "Terror" would be understandable. It's not like a resurrection occurred every day. I'm certain these brave women were trying to make sense of what they witnessed. I'm sure they knew this was a "game changer." Nothing would ever be the same. So, yes, terror is an understandable response.
     But so is amazement.  After all, how often does one run into a live angel, face to face? I'm sure it was a moment that none of these women would ever forget.
     But…"they said nothing to anyone?" That simply CANNOT be possible…or CAN it?
     Think about how we feel when grief, loss, and death have surrounded us. sometimes it's impossible to know what to say. We usually settle for extending a firm handshake, or maybe a hug, as we say "I'm sorry for your loss." If that's all we can offer, perhaps it's best that we, too, say nothing to anyone!
     Friends in Christ!  We are here because we know something happened. We believe the words "I'm sorry for your loss" are a thing of the past because "loss" is not the final emotion we should be feeling. Death has been defeated! Jesus Christ has risen.  He is risen indeed. There is hope, and life, and love beyond death!
     Maybe that's why we're so incensed with Mark's ending of the Easter Story. There HAS to be something more that this. I wholeheartedly agree! Maybe, the next time we're sitting at the bedside of someone who is dying, or in the receiving line at a funeral home. Maybe, the next time we're trying to comfort a friend who has experienced a significant loss. Maybe, then we will say something similar to Mary's response in John's version of the Easter story: "I have seen the Lord."
     In other words, I know that Jesus lives. I know that death is not the end. And while I'm sorry for your loss, I want you to know that Jesus has promised us that God's house has many dwelling places. Jesus has gone there to prepare a place for us, so that where he is, there we may be also.
     Friends in Christ, we are people of hope. We are people who know we are beloved of God. How can we remain silent in the face of such good news? How can we be afraid that someone will label us as a "Jesus freak" because we believe in resurrection and eternal life? We know the grave is empty and Jesus is alive. There is no way we can remain silent in the face of such amazing, life-changing news.
     Therefore, I have a proposition for all of us to consider. After the last Alleluia has been sung, and we go in peace to serve in the name of Christ; after that delicious ham dinner has been consumed, and the chocolate bunnies and jelly beans are history; after our Easter clothes have been hung back in the closet and we close the books on another successful celebration; let us not forget the power of the resurrection story. Let us not be afraid to share it with the world, especially in the face of death.
     There are a lot of people out there who are hurting and feel hopeless. Trust me, I've met lots of them in my work at Mission hospital. There are people who need to hear the good news we have to share. We cannot remain silent. We must be as brave as John's version of Mary who says with confidence "I have seen the Lord." 
     Let's make Jesus real and visible in the world around us. The Easter story is something that should not be hidden in a cloak of silence. Instead, it should be the Truth we proclaim with confident voices and hearts filled with hope: "Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  AMEN

Maundy Thursday Sermon

"Maundy Thursday" by David Eck
MAUNDY THURSDAY - TABLE   David Eck 4/02/15
 

     What if all we had to tell the story of the Christian faith was the Table.  Would it be enough? Would it be enough to speak of Martha who fussed and fretted as she set the table and prepared dinner, while Mary sat and listened to their invited guest? Then Jesus reminded both of them that sometimes “being” is more important than“ doing.”
     Would it be enough to speak of the Samaritan woman who told Jesus “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs?” Then Jesus super-sized her meal by healing her daughter.
     Would it be enough to speak of the woman who came to Jesus with an alabaster jar while he was sitting at a table?   She poured the contents of the jar on Jesus’ feet and then wiped his feet with her hair. The disciples thought this was a scandalous act, a waste of money. Jesus thanked her for her gift, saying, she had prepared his body for burial.
     Would it be enough to speak of Jesus who sat at a table in Levi’s house, dining with tax collectors and sinners? When the Pharisees criticized him for doing this, Jesus said he desired mercy and not sacrifice.
     Would it be enough to speak of the Pharisee’s table where Jesus ate with unwashed hands? When criticized for this, he remarked that it was more important to worry about the inside of the cup rather than the outside. Of course, he was referring to more than dishes. He was speaking about cleaning our insides first instead of putting on appearances.
     Would it be enough to speak of Lazarus, who longed to satisfy his hunger from the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table? Lazarus was ignored until he starved to death. But the story remains as a warning for this who neglect the poor and hungry.
     Would it be enough to speak of the Passover table around which Jesus and his disciples gathered on a night like this? He took the bread and blessed it, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Do this in memory of me.” He then took the wine and blessed it, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this in memory of me.”
     Would it be enough to speak of the towel and basin Jesus carried as we went around the table, washing the disciples’ feet? Peter protested this intimate act, saying he should be washing Jesus’ feet. But Jesus told him "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” It was an object lesson that spoke loud and clear: The greatest is the one who serves. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

     Would it be enough to tell these stories of Jesus and the saints of old who gathered around tables? Yes, friends in Christ. I do believe it would be enough.
     The Table is one of the most powerful symbols of the Christian faith. It’s the place where “being” there is just as important as what we’re “doing” there. It’s the place where nobody receives  mere crumbs that fall from the table, and everyone receives grace overflowing. It’s the place where we die to self and are anointed into a new life with Christ. 
     It’s the place where all sinners are welcome, including you and me! It’s the place where Christ give us forgiveness, so that our insides can receive the healing we so desperately need. It’s the place where we commune with Christ himself, and are fed with bread and wine, symbols of his true presence in our lives. It’s the place where we are served and then told to go out and serve others.
     Yes, friends in Christ. I do believe the Table is enough! It tells our story. It reminds us of who we are and who we are called to be. It stands as a symbol of unity amidst diversity; forgiveness in the face of brokenness. 
     It is a meal that unites us with the saints of every time and every place. We gather at this table with the likes of Peter and Mary Magdalene, Teresa of Avila and Thomas a’Kempis, Martin and Katie Luther, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela. Now that’s an impressive guest list! The saints of old surround us as we gather at the Table, whispering holy words of wisdom in our ears, and placing a song of praise on our lips. Where else are we going to get a meal like this?
     Tonight we gather on Maundy Thursday to focus on a specific Table. A Table where Jesus said bread and wine, become body and blood; where the simple elements of wheat and grape become the presence of Christ.
     On this particular night, not all was happy and harmonious at the Table. Feet would be washed in the midst of protest. Disciples would argue about who was the greatest. Jesus would predict Peter’s denial of even knowing his teacher and friend. This denial would happen not once, but three times. Judas would excuse himself from the table, and make a beeline to the chief priests where he would betray Jesus for a mere thirty pieces of silver. After they sang a hymn and headed to the Mount of Olives, Jesus would pray in agony at Gethsemane, while a few of his disciples took a nap.
     The Table we call Maundy Thursday was not a perfect Table. It was surrounded by protest and arguments, denial, betrayal and lethargy. Yet in spite of this, Jesus offered the bread and the wine NOT because those who had gathered were worthy. He offered it as a gift, just as he offers this same gift to us tonight.
     When we gather at this Maundy Thursday Table, we are not any better than those first disciples. Sometimes we protest and disagree with one another; sometimes we bring grudges to the Table when we should have reconciled with our brother or sister beforehand; sometimes we live our lives like we never knew Jesus, or betrayed what he taught us, every time we refuse to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.
     Our Maundy Thursday is not a perfect Table either. But thanks be to God, Jesus invites us to come and dine. Jesus gives of himself again and again, so that we might receive forgiveness and new life. Like those first disciples, we are hardly worthy to receive such an extravagant gift, but Jesus offers it to us any way. All we can do in response to this gift is say “Thank you” from the bottom of our hearts and with every fiber of our being.
     When this meal had ended and the last hymn has been sung, we will participate in a strange ritual. We will strip this Table down to bare wood. We will remove candles and paraments, and any other adornments we place around it. This stripping is an opportunity for us to think about what we need to let go of in order that new life might blossom in our lives.
     Tonight worship is the first part of a three part story. Tonight it’s about Table and Towel and Basin. Tomorrow night it’s about Seven Last Words and a Cross. And then, after everything is calm and still on Saturday, we will gather Sunday morning to sing with all the saints in glory the resurrection song of Jesus.
     But tonight we tell the story of the Table. And yes, friends in Christ, it is enough. It is the perfect symbol to talk about our life in Christ. So come, eat and drink, and experience the grace Jesus offers to all of us.  AMEN