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

Monday, May 02, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Pool of Bethesda

6 EASTER C  John 5:1-13  David Eck
5/1/16


Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water. God's a-gonna trouble the water.


     The pool of Bethesda was a desperate place. It was located on the northeast corner of Jerusalem near the Temple. Legend has it that a mineral spring existed on this site and fed the waters of the pool. Both Jews, Romans and Greeks came to this place, believing its waters had restorative powers. In it's first incarnation as a holy site, it was most likely a healing temple sacred to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine whose insignia still represents physicians to this very day.
     When the water in this sacred pool as "troubled," when it bubbled and swirled, the hopeful believed an angel or some aspect of the Divine, was stirring it up. It was thought that the first one in the pool after the water stirred would receive a cure for their illness.
     And so, day after day after day, the blind, the lame, the paralyzed, the desperate and the diseased, would wait in the shady and smelly porticoes of the pool. They would keep their eyes fixed on the water and when it stirred, a mass of humanity would lunge, hobble and drag themselves into its healing waters. They tried to be the first one in so the holy magic was the strongest. However, most often, nobody received a cure and so they waited and hoped, waited and hoped, that today  would be their lucky day.

Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water. God's a-gonna trouble the water.


     As we hear this ancient story, we're probably thinking to ourselves, what a gullible, superstitious bunch of people. They were being sold ancient snake oil medicine and we are OH SO much smarter than they are. We would NEVER wait around for the water to swirl. We would NEVER keep coming back day after day, hoping for a miracle cure.
     Well, before we got too puffed up, we need to be reminded that we are not that far removed from our brothers and sisters who were gathered at the Pool of Bethesda. We, too, have our magic places where we hope the angels will intervene and make our lives better. In fact, I can hear the voices of the desperate and diseased all around us.
     They are saying, "IF ONLY…I could find the perfect church, my spirit would be at peace and I would grow in my relationship with God. IF ONLY I could find the right doctor or the right hospital they would be able to heal me. IF ONLY I could find the perfect spouse, my life would not be such a mess and I wouldn't be so lonely. IF ONLY I could find the right job, I would feel more fulfilled and content with my life.
     IF ONLY...IF ONLY...IF ONLY. We are not that far removed for those gathered at the Pool of Bethesda. We, too, have our magic places, our hopeful places, where we wait for the water to be stirred. We keep searching and searching for these places, determined that this one will be the right one. This one will be the place where angels gather and will give us the healing we seek for our weary bodies, minds and spirits.

Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water. God's a-gonna trouble the water.


     Thirty-eight years. Thirty-eight years is a LONG time to be sick, to be in pain, to feel like your body has betrayed you. Thirty-eight years is a long time to search for a cure, to keep coming back to the water again and again and again; hoping the angels will intervene, hoping that God will provide the healing we so desperately desire.
     This is the situation of the person in our gospel lesson. John tells us that Jesus "knew this person had been sick for a long time" Now that's an understatement, if there ever was one! Then Jesus asks this poor soul what seems like a really stupid question: "Do you want to be healed?"
     "No, Jesus," we imagine this person responding, "I don't want to be healed. I've only been coming to this pool for thirty-eight years day after day. I'm just doing it for fun. I love sitting around with all these sick, smelly people moaning and groaning all day long. It's my thing.  It's what I do. Do I want to be healed? What do YOU think? Do you really have to ask that question?"
     John tells us that the sick one answered Jesus' question in a way that is sad and a little pathetic: "Rabbi, I don't have anyone to put me into the pool once the water has been stirred up. By the time I get there, someone else has gone in ahead of me."
     After thirty-eight years you would think that this person would be a little more resourceful. You would think this person would at least sit on the edge of the pool so they could roll themselves into it once the water had been stirred up. Or, perhaps, they would have found a friend, or paid a slave to assist them so they could be first in line to bathe in the healing waters.
     It's easy to judge. But I suspect we sometimes find ourselves doing the same thing when we are sick and in need of healing. We sometimes become helpless. We throw ourselves a pity party. We lay there day after day, waiting for the water to stir, but not much happens. I call this being "stuck" in life. It's an awful place to be. It's a place of depression and hopelessness. It's a place where we feel isolated and alone.
     So, let's be a little sympathetic toward this poor soul. Because if we really think about it, we've probably been in their shoes. We've been in this same place of despair. We've been paralyzed by our fear, our anger, or our fatigue from fighting whatever ails us.

Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water. God's a-gonna trouble the water.


     The most interesting thing in our gospel lesson is what Jesus does next. He doesn't offer pious platitudes or words of comfort. He doesn't offer to wait by the pool and carry this sick one into the water when it stirs. He simply says, "Pick up your mat and walk." The person who had been suffering for thirty-eight years did just that! They picked up their mat and walked away!
     It was a miracle!  And even us skeptical modern believers witness miracles every once in a while! We know a terminally ill person who was cured of their disease. We know someone who was involved in a horrific car crash that walked away from the scene with barely a scratch. We've read stories of people who were financially destitute and became wealthy. Miracles do happen in our world. And they happen to both good and bad people. There seems to be no "scale of worthiness" on miracles. They just happen every once in a while.
     Look at the sick person in the story. They have no idea who Jesus is. In fact, when the Temple authorities question them about what happened, John tells us "the healed person had no idea who it was since Jesus had disappeared into the crowd that filled that place." This story is not about someone who had great faith. It's a story about someone who heard Jesus invite them to "pick up your mat and walk" and they did. It's a random miracle. A moment of grace, given to someone whom we would argue was a worthy recipient. But I am certain there were many worthy recipients who gathered at the Pool of Bethesda that day. Yet only one was healed.
     So, what do we learn from this story? Well, I believe our gospel tell us that the cure for what ails us is not found in a place, it's found in a person. There is no perfect church, perfect, doctor, perfect mate, or perfect job that will give us the feeling of wholeness and peace we desire. The only person who can do that is Jesus! Every once in a while, God does trouble the waters and Jesus offers us the miracle healing we desire.
     But most of the time what Jesus asks us to do is "Pick up our mats and walk. Keep moving forward.  Don't look back.
—Don't throw a pity party or wallow in despair. I'm going to walk with you each and every step of the way. And whether you are healed or not, you will know that I love you."

     St. Paul in a well-known passage from Romans stated it this way: "What will separate us from the love of Christ? Trouble?  Calamity?  Persecution? Hunger?  Nakedness?  Danger? Violence? Yet in all of this we are more than conquerors because of God who had loved us. For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither heights nor depths, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Savior."  [Rom 8:35,37-39, The Inclusive Bible] 
     The cure for what ails us lies not in a place, but in a person. We, who suffer the ills of body, mind and spirit are promised we have a Savior who loves us deeply and passionately. We have a Savior who sometimes brings a miracle into our lives, but always, always, always, loves us no matter how messy or desperate our lives become. We can take up our mats and move forward because Jesus meets us in our suffering. He takes us by the hand and invites us to experience grace, forgiveness, and new life.
     Therefore, children of God, let us wade into the water of Christ's love so we may find the healing we need to move forward in life. Do not underestimate the power of love to transforms us, even in the most hopeless of situations and the most desperate of times. AMEN

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Love One Another

5 EASTER C John 13:31-35
4/23/16 David Eck


     As I was preparing for this week's sermon, I did a Google image search of the phrase "love one another" which appears three times in our gospel lesson and five times in the gospel of John. What I found reveals a great deal about how the general public envisions what this commandment from Christ looks like. I saw lots of pretty fonts and soothing backgrounds; rainbows, pastel colors and lots of hearts. There were tranquil nature scenes, puppies and kittens lying down together, and children giving each other great big hugs.
     Now this is not a scientific study by any stretch of the imagination, but I found it quite interesting. "Love one another" is perceived as something pretty. It evokes warm, fuzzy feelings and the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. "Love one another" is our grandmother's voice singing sweetly in our ears. It's the sight of beautiful wildflowers blowing gently in the wind.
     But is this what "love one another" is really all about? Is this what Jesus had in mind when he told his disciples, "I give you a new commandment: Love one another. And you're to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you're my disciples: that you truly love one another." [NLT]
     Let me ask those who have been married for at least 10 years or more: is this what "love one another" looks like in your relationship with your beloved? Is it all rainbows and warm, fuzzy feelings? Hardly! Loving one another in the context of marriage is hard work.
     It takes lots of patience, lots of listening, and lots of forgiveness. It takes learning to live with things our spouses do that drive us absolutely crazy; and recognizing that we are also guilty of doing things to drive our spouses absolutely crazy. It involves sacrifice and frequently putting the needs of our beloved before our own. Love one another is not happily skipping through a meadow of wildflowers. It's slowly trudging through a field of landmines with the awareness that we can navigate it successfully if we do it together!
     Let me ask those who have or are raising children: Is this what "love one another" looks like in your relationships with your kids? Is it all hearts and hugs and cuddly kittens? Hardly! Loving one another in the context of parenting is hard work.
     Like marriage, it takes lots of patience, lots of listening, and lots of forgiveness. It takes time outs and difficult conversations. It is setting boundaries and keeping our kids safe. It takes learning to live with things our children do that drive us absolutely crazy; and recognizing that we are also guilty of doing things to drive our children absolutely crazy. This loving of one another does not stop when they strike out on their own and live under their own roof. We continue to worry, guide and encourage our children even after they become parents themselves.
     Make no mistake about it, following Christ's command to love one another as he loved us is sometimes a hard and hideous journey. It's not always an easy thing to do. It will take lots of sweat and tears if we're going to do it right. So forget the pretty fonts and soothing backgrounds. Set aside tranquil nature scenes and puppies and kitten sleeping next to each other. This is NOT what it means to love one another. It's definitely NOT what Jesus had in mind when he told his disciples "I give you a new commandment: Love one another. and you're to love one another the way I have loved you."
     The reason why I know this is true is because of the context of the verses of our gospel lesson. Jesus spoke these words on the last night he spent with his disciples. They were celebrating the Jewish feast of Passover. Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, wiping them with the towel that was tied around him. Peter protested this act of service because he thought it was beneath Jesus to do such a humble job. But eventually he consented.
     When Jesus had finished, he told his disciples they should follow his example, and wash one other's feet. We know he was talking about more than hygiene. He was taking about humble service. This is what "love one another" really looks like.
     So when we hear Jesus' command to love one another, we know it involves more than warm, fuzzy feelings, it involves rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. Loving one another means committing ourselves to a life of godly service where we, in the words of Matthew 25, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the imprisoned. This holy calling has very little to do with rainbows, pastel colors and hearts.
     If Jesus' first disciples failed to understand his object lesson of service, he restated his intention a little later that evening: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." Can there be any doubt as to what "love one another" looks like?
     But there's more! After Jesus washed their feet he predicted that one of them would betray him. Then he made it quite clear that Judas was the one to do the dirty deed. After Judas departed, Jesus told them the words of our gospel lesson, "I give you a new commandment; love one another." I'm certain those first disciples were thinking to themselves "Well, Jesus, how are we going to do that? You just made out clear that Judas is going to betray you. How in the world can we love him?"
     But, Jesus wasn't finished, because no sooner than he uttered the words of our gospel lesson, he dropped another bombshell: in a little while, Peter was going to deny even knowing Jesus, not only once, but three times!" Again, I'm sure those first disciples were thinking to themselves "Love one another? You've got to be kidding, Jesus. Love the betrayer? Love the denier?" To which I'm sure Jesus responded "yes. Exactly what part of love one another did you fail to understand?"
     This is the part of the story that challenges us the most. Loving one another means loving those who do not always love us in return. Loving one another means loving those who never showed us love in the first place. Loving one another means loving those whom we have labeled as our enemies and persecutors.
     It is this aspect of loving one another where the Church of Jesus Christ tends to fail epically. Our witness to the world these days is greatly compromised because of our inability to love one another as Christ has loved us. Instead of trying to build bridges between those who religious viewpoints are different from our own, we build walls and demonize our opponents. We pass "religious liberty laws" and "bathroom bills" which are simply hatred and intolerance wrapped in a pretty package. We, like some of the Pharisees of old, put limits on who is worthy of receiving Christ's love and mercy. Consequently, they receive neither love nor mercy from us.
     Every one of us is guilty of this crime in one form or another. Every one of us puts some kind of limitations on Christ's command to love one another. Yet the context of Jesus' command is very clear. We are even called to love those who betray us, who deny us, who break the bonds of fellowship with us and break our hearts as well.
     If we think we can wiggle our way out of the difficult parts of this command to love one another, 1 John 4:19-21 convicts us all: "We love because Christ first loved us. Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also."
     Friends in Christ, I could go on, but I think you get the point. Christ's command to love one another is the most difficult calling we will ever undertake in this life. It is hard, backbreaking and heartbreaking work. Yet, it is also the most powerful work we can do as we sow seeds of transformation and resurrection in the lives of those around us.
     In closing I offer you a poem I wrote a few year's back entitled "Love One Another." My prayer is that we will rise to the challenge of Christ's new commandment and, in turn, change the world with it.

LOVE ONE ANOTHER?
by David Eck

Love one another as I have loved you
It seems so simple, so straightforward

But...love the "bleeding heart" liberal? 
Love the "family values" conservative?
Love the Muslim?  The Jew?  The Buddhist?  The Wiccan?

Love the illegal immigrant?  The person of privilege?
Love the gay?  The lesbian?  The transgendered?

Love the peace protester?  The warmonger?
Love the Iraqui?  The Palestinian?  The North Korean?

Love the Republican?  The Democrat?
Love the homeless?  The beggar? The AIDS patient?  The death row inmate?

We tend to love with our fingers crossed
Looking for a loophole
Looking for a way to limit those whom we choose to love

Like the religious scholar who once asked Jesus
"And who is my neighbor?"
We love selectively, conditionally
We love those who look like us
Think like us, believe like us

Who would Jesus hate?
No one!
The only thing Jesus got angry about
Was spiritual hypocrisy
Those who claimed to love God
But could not bring themselves
To love all of their neighbors
Those who believed they were God's chosen ones
While treating others as if they were evil personified

Love one another as I have loved you
Maybe it's not so simple after all
But it is the mark
By which others will know
That we are disciples of Jesus

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Earth Day

EARTH DAY SUNDAY John 10:22-30, Genesis 2:4-9,15-20
4/17/16  David Eck


     "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish."
     Today's gospel lesson is part of a series of sayings where Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd. Every year on the fourth Sunday of Easter, we read a portion of these sayings and explore their meaning. Today also happens to be Earth Day Sunday. As soon as I saw the gospel lesson I knew it was the perfect reading to illustrate this year's theme: "Care For God's Creatures."
     The reason why we love the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is because it beautifully captures how Jesus feels about us. There is an intimacy of relationship in these verses that we find comforting. There is also a sense of Divine protection that encourages us when we feel like we're in danger.
     Elsewhere in John 10, Jesus tells us "I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture." And again, "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, and I lay down my life for the sheep."
     In these powerful images Jesus tells us that our relationship with him should be close, intimate, and familiar. He promises us protection, green pastures, and tender care.
     We find a similar image of Jesus as the shepherd in Luke 15 where he asks us "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, He calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'"
     Again, we see the same kind of intimate relationship, care and protection we see in our gospel lesson. Who doesn't want that from Jesus? Who would refuse his gracious invitation, saying, "No thank you, Jesus, I'll just go it on my own. I'll try to handle the wolves all by myself. I'll find my own green pastures and still waters. If I get lost I'll trust my GPS or Siri to help me find my way."
     Yes, we are stubborn sometimes. We are under the illusion that we are independent and can do everything on our own. Thankfully, when we get lost, REALLY lost, Jesus promises to find us. Notice in the text from Luke he never chastises the lost sheep because his joy in finding it far outweighs his need to say, "I TOLD YOU SO!"
     So, what does all this have to do with Earth Day? Well I believe the kind of intimate relationship described in our gospel, is the kind of relationship God wants us to have with the other creatures that also call earth their home. We see this quite clearly in the second creation story found in Genesis 2.
     In the first creation story, the main focus of the narrative is power. God speaks and things are created. Humans appear and God tells them:
     "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." [Gen 1:28] 
     I don't care how you try to spin the original Hebrew, the word "dominion" means "to rule, dominate, tread, or trample." It's not exactly a pretty image for our relationship with the earth and its creatures. Jewish scholars since the beginning have argued this verse calls us to be "benevolent" kings, who loving care for their kingdom. While I agree with this sentiment, I'm not convinced this is what the Hebrew says in Genesis 1.
     In contrast to the first creation story, the second creation story is more hands-on and organic. God does not zap things into being. Instead, God gets down in the mud, fashions a human being, and breathes into him the breath of life. This is the kind of intimate relationship we saw in our gospel lesson between Jesus the Good Shepherd and us, his sheep.
     When ADAHM, the earth creature, comes to life in Genesis 2, God places him in the garden of Eden and charges him to "tend and watch over it." This time, the Hebrew implies a sense of nurture and tender care. "Tend" can also be translated as "to work, serve, till or dress." "Watch over" can also be translated as "to hedge about, guard, attend to, and protect."
     This is a beautiful image for our relationship to creation. It reflects the loving care God put into creating us from the dust of the earth. This same kind of loving, nurturing imagery is found in the way we relate to animals as well. 
     As our first lesson continues, a light bulb goes off in God's head. The Almighty realizes "it is not good for ADAHM to be alone." So God decides to make a "helper" who is just right for him.
     This is where the fun part of the story happens! God begins to form from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. The Creator presents them to ADAHM, one by one and asks ADAHM to name them. "Ta-da!" God says, "What do you want to call this one?" "A duck" ADAHM says as the bird flies by his head. God continued to bring animals for ADAHM to name, but none of them seemed to be the perfect match.
     Personally, I think this is the reason  why we have such crazy looking animals such as giraffes and duck-billed platypuses. God got pretty creative in trying to find a suitable helper for ADAHM. While I know this is only a story, the truth it contains is that both God and human beings have an intimate relationship with the creatures of the earth. As I picture this story in my mind's eye, I imagine the sense of awe and wonder ADAHM feels as the Creator presents him with all these magnificent, diverse, colorful creatures.
     Friends in Christ, on this Earth Day Sunday, I believe the same kind of caring relationship we see in both our gospel and first lessons speaks volumes about how we are to care for this wonderful world God has given us. Let's be honest, we are not always good stewards of this planet. In fact, most of the time, I believe we are horrible stewards of it and global warming proves this is true. But in the midst of overwhelming challenges that have baffled scientists and governments for decades, there are things we can do as individuals to reduce our carbon footprint and lovingly care for God's creatures.
     With regard to this year's theme of "Care for God's Creatures" my suggestion is to pick a species you care passionately about and become an advocate for it. If you are a dog or cat lover support organizations such as The Asheville Humane Society or Brother Wolf. Volunteer your time at either location and support them with monetary donations and resources. My Mom and Susan Bolick are very active with the Asheville Human Society and Franklin Cunningham works for them. Talk to them about what you can do to help support their organizations.
     The species that is near and dear to my heart these days are the bees that pollinate and sustain three fourths of the world's plant species. If you haven't been paying attention they are dying at an alarming rate gue to a disease they call "colony collapse disorder." This will have serious repercussions for our quality of life on this planet.
     Asheville is known as "Bee City USA." While I do not have a passion for becoming a bee keeper, I have pledged to learn all I can about this issue. I have also made the personal decision to stop using pesticides and lawn care products that are harmful to them. I also try to plant native flower species that help to create a sustainable habitat for pollinators. Bee City USA's web site is listed in your bulletin if you'd like to learn more about this issue.
     Another good place to learn more about how to support the animals that live in our mountains is the Western North Carolina Nature Center, who does lots of education and outreach regarding how to care for the wildlife in our area. They actually helped me once with a pair of groundlings that were going to be a meal for a cat. I am grateful for their expertise and assistance.
     If you're a person who loves the ocean consider supporting the turtle rescue programs that are a part of the North Carolina Aquarium system as well as the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston. I have visited both of their turtle outreach programs, and they are doing a wonderful job in helping these endangered animals to thrive.
     Maybe you're a bird lover. Jan Eckert, who was a member of Abiding Savior, and recently passed away, had a passion for birds. I was amazed at the many species of birds that came to dine at the numerous feeders she had at her home. You can also support the work of the Audubon Society, especially the Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary in North Asheville.
     Those are just a few ideas. My prayer this Earth Day is that each of us will make a personal pledge to ourselves to find a way to actively care for God's creatures. God has so lovingly cared for us, being our Good Shepherd and the One who took the time to form us and breathe the breath of life into us. The best way we can give thanks to God for this amazing gift of life is to be compassionate caretakers of the many wonderful animals that inhabit our planet.
     Let us pray…Loving Creator, we pause today to give thanks for this amazing world you have given us. May we loving tend and watch over it and find ways to be advocates for the many animals that live side by side with us. We ask this in Jesus' name.  AMEN

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Breakfast With Jesus

3 EASTER C   John 21:1-19  David Eck
4/10/16


     As he begins his gospel, John describes Jesus with the following unforgettable words: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace."
     Then John spends the rest of his time showing us what grace upon grace looks, like, smells like, tastes like, feels like, and sounds like. Grace upon grace is overflowing wine in abundance after the wine had run dry at the wedding in Cana. Grace upon grace is offering living water to a woman of Samaria whom many thought was unworthy to receive God's mercy and love.
     Grace upon grace is feeding over 5,000 people with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. Everyone had their fill and there were 12 baskets of leftovers to spare. Grace upon grace is forgiveness offered to a woman who was going to be stoned to death for committing adultery. "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Jesus said to the hostile crowd who condemned her. One by one, they walked away.
     Grace upon grace is all these things and so much more. John ends his gospel with my favorite story of what grace upon grace looks like. It's not a flashy, supernatural story like the Wedding in Cana or the Feeding of the 5,000. It's an ordinary, intimate moment with Jesus and his disciples who received grace upon grace, in the most beautiful and empowering way.
     Our story begins at least a week after Jesus' first resurrection appearance where Jesus came and stood among them behind locked doors and in the midst of their fear. He said, "Peace be with you," and he breathed on them the gift of the Holy Spirit. A week later, Thomas, who was not with them initially, received this same gift, exclaiming "My Lord and my God!"
     Then something a little bit strange happens. The disciples return to fishing! Yep, that's what I said. The disciples return to fishing. There is no running through the streets of Jerusalem, shouting "Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!" There is no mass baptizing of people in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. That's the stuff of Hollywood movies and television miniseries! Instead, there is a hasty retreat to the region of Galilee, and the Lake they knew so well. Galilee, a place with a little breathing room, fresh country air and mom's home cooking. Galilee, where everything began.
     Now some of us might find this move surprising, and perhaps a little bit disappointing, but let's put ourselves in their situation for a moment. After two crazy and tumultuous weeks, where everything we’ve known has been turned upside down, the first thing we would want to do is take a vacation, go on a retreat. We would be tempted to travel to a place that is relaxing and comfortable, a place where we can ground ourselves, rest, and get a little perspective And this is exactly what the disciples did. They returned to Galilee.
     We can learn something from this. When our lives get a little crazy, when things don’t quite make sense, the best thing for us to do is NOT to keep running. The best thing for us to do is slow ourselves down a little bit, and take some time off so that we can make sense of the world. The best thing for us to do is get a little extra shut eye and a taste of mom’s home cooking to feed our souls as well as nourish our bodies. Therefore, the disciples hasty retreat to Galilee is not surprising at all. It is probably the most sensible thing they could have done.
     One evening, when the moon was full and the sky was a blanket of twinkling stars, Peter said, "I'm going fishing!" and he bolted out the door. At first the other disciples looked at Peter as if he had completely lost his mind. But then smiles began to creep over their faces. After a few giggles, the rest of the disciples ran out the door like young schoolboys as they raced each other to the shore of the lake.
     Lake Galilee, also called Lake Tiberias by the locals, was peaceful at night. After the disciples had sailed their boats out to the middle of the lake, they let their down their nets into the deep dark water. They waited, and waited, and waited. They cast their nets out again, and again, and again but there were no fish in sight. They were disappointed to say the least. After all, this was the perfect opportunity to make a little extra cash and provide food for their extended families. But it didn’t look like they would be so lucky tonight.
     Minutes stretched into hours. As the moon moved over the nighttime sky there were still no fish in sight. However, the conversation and company were great. The disciples spent the night sharing stories of the good old days, recalling the many hours they had spent on this lake and the great adventures they had on it. They were even able to laugh at some of the silly things they did and said when they first became disciples of Jesus.
     One by one, the disciples fell asleep on the boat leaving only Peter, John and James, the most experienced fishermen in the group to keep an eye on the nets. The three of them continued to laugh and talk until the sun appeared on the eastern horizon. Peter looked at the nets and just shook his head, saying, "It's a good thing we gave up fishing for a living!" John and James chuckled as they woke the others up and began to haul in the nets and head for shore.
     "Children, you have no fish, have you?" Peter heard a voice calling from the shore. He squinted his eyes and saw a man in a simple white tunic but he could not identify him. "Children, you have no fish, have you?" The man repeated his question again.
     John laughed to himself and muttered under his breath, "How unobservant can this man be?" James chimed in, saying, "He must be a city boy!" The whole boat erupted with laughter.
     "No, sir, we have no fish," Peter responded to the man on shore. "As you can clearly see, our nets are empty."
     "Well then," the man on the shore responded without missing a beat, "Cast your net to the right side of the boat and you will find some." Thomas just shook his head and said to Peter "What's the matter with this guy? We didn't catch a thing all night and He's going to tell US how to fish?"
     Peter paused for a moment. There was something familiar about this man’s request. It reminded him of a time not so long ago when a certain rabbi asked him to borrow his boat. "Thomas," Peter said with a gleam in his eye, "For old time's sake, let's put the nets back in the water." And so the disciples lowered the nets one more time into the calm waters of Galilee.
     In the blink of an eye, the sea began to bubble and the net was teeming with life. Fish of all kinds began to fill the net until it became so heavy that no one could haul it in. One of the disciples said, "It's the Lord! It's Jesus!" Then Peter, in typical Peter fashion, leaped into the water and swam ashore leaving the other disciples to struggle with the net full of fish.
     When Peter reached the shore, he saw Jesus cooking something over a campfire. As he got closer, he saw a few fish roasting on a spit with several barley loaves nearby. "Bring some of the fish you have just caught." Jesus said as Peter ran to embrace him. "Certainly, my Lord!" Peter responded as he flung himself so hard against Jesus that he nearly knocked him down.
     "Peter!" Jesus said laughing, "go get the fish! It's time for breakfast!"
     The story does not end here. However, this is where we will stop for today. There is a lot we can learn from this powerful scene in the life of Jesus and his first disciples. The first thing we learn is that sometimes life is like fishing all night long without catching a thing. We put our nets into the water time and time again, hoping that this will be the moment when things will go our way. Then, much to our dismay, we discover our nets are empty once again.
     Maybe it’s simply trying to get caught up with our finances. We almost get there when another financial challenge comes along and our nets come up empty once again.
     Maybe it’s a struggle with a failing relationship where we keep trying to put the pieces back together only to see everything fall apart once again.
     Maybe it’s trying to find our place in this world, moving from job to job, hoping we will find the one that makes us feel fulfilled, useful and productive, only to find ourselves in the midst of another job we hate.
     Whatever the case may be, we all know what it is like to cast our nets into the sea time and time again only to discover they are still empty. Life is like that sometimes.
     Then along comes our Savior, who asks us to let the nets down one more time, to trust that this time things will be different, and we are slow to believe, if not downright hostile. We laugh at Jesus, thinking it is crazy to set ourselves up for failure yet one more time. Then, out of nowhere, when we least expect it grace upon grace happens. The sea starts to bubble, and much to our surprise our nets are teeming with fish. Life is good and wonderful again.
     Perhaps it was the luck of the draw. Perhaps it was a bonafide miracle. Perhaps it was because we cast our nets in a different place. But that doesn’t change the truth that Jesus will surprise us sometimes. Just when we think we are setting ourselves up for our greatest defeat, we might  discover that our greatest victory lands in our nets.
     In connection with this truth, we also learn that Jesus will show up in the most common and ordinary of places. It might be on the shore cooking fish. It might be in the encouraging words of a co-worker or neighbor. It might be in the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine. It might be through a song on a radio or an unexpected phone call bearing good news.
     Whatever the case may be there is no doubt Jesus will show up in the most unlikely of places. Those of us with ears to hear and eyes to see will see God at work in this world feeding our bodies as well as our souls, working in our midst to bring about new life and new beginnings
     As our gospel story reaches its conclusion we read that Jesus not only cooked up a meal for the disciples, He also offered them the gift of forgiveness as well as the command to "feed my sheep." And as John's gospel reaches its conclusion we realize that Jesus is not only here to feed us. He expects us to feed others as well. He expects to encourage others to let their nets down one more time, to trust that God can and does work miracles and unexpected blessings in our midst. Jesus expects us to go out in the world and remind people that Christ is alive and he cares passionately about each and every person on the face of this earth.
     Ultimately, this is what grace upon grace looks like, and it most certainly good news indeed! So, Friends in Christ, in the spirit of the apostle Peter and our Savior Jesus Christ, as we go in peace to serve the Lord. I leave you with a simple invitation: LET’S GO FISHING!

AMEN

Monday, April 04, 2016

Sunday Sermon: In Defense of Thomas

2 EASTER C  John 20:19-31 David Eck
4/3/16


     There's one thing I know for certain about today's gospel lesson: Thomas needed a better press agent! He should have hired an image consultant to spin the story and help to paint him in a more favorable light. Let's be honest when I say "blank" Thomas and ask everyone to fill in the blank. What do most people say? Doubting Thomas.  99.9% of the time!
     Not Saint Thomas, the patron saint of architects whose feast day is July 3rd;
     Not Evangelist Thomas who tradition says was sent to evangelize the Parthians, Medes and Persians; who ultimately reached India, carrying the faith to the Malabar Coast, which still boasts a large native population who call themselves "Christians of St.  Thomas."
     Not Apostle Thomas who followed faithfully in Jesus' footsteps, who tradition says was speared to death at a place called Calamine.
     We simply think of him as Doubting Thomas and this is HORRIBLY unfair.
     So today, I'm going to set the record straight. I'm going to be his press secretary and try to convince you that we all have more in common with Thomas than we may care to admit. So, let's get to it.
     We begin with the observation that there's no disciple who immediately understood what happened that first Easter morning. There is no disciple who didn't struggle with doubt.
     Exhibit Number One: The shorter ending of the gospel of Mark says that after the women heard the angel proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead "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." [Mk 16:8] Doubting women?  Check!
     Exhibit Number Two: Matthew tells us that when the risen Christ met the eleven disciples on a mountain top "They worshipped him; but some doubted." Furthermore, Luke's gospel, which we read last Sunday, says that when the women shared with the disciples the news that Jesus had risen from the dead their words sounded like "an idle tale," a big fish story, and the disciples "did not believe them."  [Lk 24:11] Doubting disciples?  Check!
     Exhibit Number Three: Finally, we reach John's version of the story which was the last of the gospels to be written. What do we have here? Do we have a bunch of excited disciples walking through the streets of Jerusalem proclaiming that "Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed"? Not even close.   Mary has a panic attack and fled from the tomb, saying, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."
     Peter and another disciple arrive on the scene. Peter goes in first but his reaction is unrecorded. John tells us the other disciple "saw and believed," But also adds "they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead."
     Finally, we have late Easter evening and where do we find all these so-called faith-filled disciples? They are hiding in fear behind locked doors, afraid the boogeyman is going to come and get them. Doubting women?  Doubting disciples? Check and double Check!  I rest my case. There is not a single disciple qho gets it right way, who exhibits unshakable faith. This is good news for us. Thomas is no better or worse than any other disciple in the gospel stories. So let's cut him some slack, shall we?
     Thomas' story is our story. Resurrection and new life might be staring us in the face but we don't always have eyes to see it nor wisdom to understand it. We all have questions and doubts about God, about ourselves, and about life. Sometimes, we even want to hide behind locked doors, quaking with fear, like those first disciples. It's important that we don't see Thomas in a negative light because he gives us permission to embrace the mystery of life, to admit there is much in this world we don't understand.
     Thomas, like the rest of the disciples, reminds us that doubt is an element of faith, not its opposite. Doubt allows us to ask questions, to slow down our need to always move forward, to discern a new path where God may be leading us. So being called a Doubting Thomas may be more of a compliment than we realize!
     But we're not finished yet. As Thomas' new press secretary I need to state that the story continues. After all the doubts and misunderstanding, after fearfully hiding behind locked doors, the resurrected Christ appears to the disciples and says "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." He breathes on them the Spirit/wind/breath of God, saying "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
     This is John's version of the Pentecost story. What it tells us is something I said on Easter Sunday: The empty tomb is not enough to convince the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. It was Christ's continued presence in their lives that helped them to transcend their fear and doubt and move forward in faith. Granted, they would falter from time to time, but this experience of Jesus appearing before them changed their lives forever.
     As the story continues we see that Thomas is not asking for something special. He is merely asking for the same experience the other disciples had. We don't know why, but for some reason, Thomas was not with the other disciples, when Jesus appeared before them. When Thomas arrives back at home base, the excited disciples tell him "We have seen the Lord." To which he responds, "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."
     Again, I rise to Thomas' defense. is he asking for something special?  Not really. The other disciples had already seen Jesus. They saw the marks of the crucifixion on his body and encountered his resurrected form. Thomas is simply asking for the same experience the other disciples had.  Nothing less.  Nothing more.
     A week later, Jesus grants Thomas this experience along with the other disciples. Jesus appears among the gathered disciples, including Thomas, and says, "Peace be with you." Then he says 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."
     There is no chastisement in Jesus' words. Just an open invitation. The interesting thing about our gospel lesson is that Thomas doesn't take him up on the offer to touch the wounds of his crucifixion. He is simply overwhelmed by the presence of his Savior and friend and exclaims "My Lord and my God!" 
     Then Jesus says something to him that I believe has been misinterpreted a bit: "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
     Most people take this to mean that we are supposed to believe in Jesus without seeing him stand right in front of us in resurrected form. However, I interpret this a little bit differently. Yes, there is a special blessing for those that have the kind of faith that believes in Jesus without question. However, this is the exception rather than the rule. For the rest of us, including Thomas, we believe in Jesus because we experience his presence in our lives right here and right now. We receive his words of peace and sense his presence among us just like those first disciples.
     Granted, we don't encounter his resurrected form directly. But we who call ourselves Christians believe that Christ is still present with us: in the waters of Baptism, and the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion. He speaks peace to us through the Word, and breathes the power of the Holy Spirit into us and into the Church. If Jesus were not still with us, if all we were left with was a philosophy to follow, I don't think the Church would survive. In spite of our doubts and fears, we have the faith that Jesus is here. He's alive! There is nothing, not even death, that can separate us from his loving presence.
     Thomas is not the villain here. He is one of us: an honest, faithful follower of Jesus who reacted to the resurrection in the same way the other disciples did. Thomas gives us permission to name our fears and doubts when they arise. He invites us to receive the presence of the living Christ in our hearts and experience his peace in our lives. Let us be open to Thomas' story that it may help us to better understand that doubt and faith often go hand in hand.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Sunday Sermon: Easter

EASTER SUNDAY Luke 24:1-12
3/27/16 David Eck


     Luke's telling of the Easter story is full of mixed emotions. The women who came to the tomb at dawn, were PERPLEXED when they discovered that the stone had been rolled away. Then they were TERRIFIED when two men in dazzling clothes, most likely angels, stood beside them and proclaimed that Jesus had risen from the dead.
     When the women left the tomb and told the disciples this amazing news, the disciples thought it was an IDLE TALE and THEY DID NOT BELIEVE the women's story. Finally, Peter ran to the tomb, looked in, and saw the linen grave clothes by themselves. Then he went home AMAZED at what had happened.
     Perplexed.  Terrified.  Disbelieving,  Amazed. Sounds a lot like us this morning, doesn't it? Some of us are perplexed... perplexed about life. Perplexed about how we're going to pay the bills, repair a broken relationship, or heal our bodies. Some of us are terrified... terrified of growing older. Terrified of what the future will bring or what our children will become. Some of us are disbelieving,... disbelieving in our potential to be successful in our careers. Disbelieving that God loves us for who we are at this moment in our lives. Some of us are amazed...amazed that we got our family ready for church this morning. Amazed at the doors of opportunity God has opened for us; Amazed at the angel's words of greeting we hear this morning: "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen."
     Today is Easter Sunday. It is a day of mixed emotions for the disciples, and for us. Each of us has our own reason for being here. Each of us has our own life challenges we brought with us this morning. Each of us is looking for a word of hope. A word to remind us that we are not alone in this world. A word to reassure us that Jesus walks with us every step of the way. There is a lot that can be said on Easter Sunday. But only one thing really matters: "Christ is risen.  He is risen, indeed." We have a choice as to whether we will embrace this truth or reject it. We have a choice as to whether we will hold on to our feelings of being perplexed, terrified and disbelieving or embrace a new set of emotions: amazement, wonder, love and joy.
     The reason why I love Luke's telling of the Easter story is that it paints a picture of the disciples as being very human, with all their failures and fears intact. It takes them a while to make the transition from perplexed to getting it, from terrified to filled with joy, from disbelieving to embracing the miracle and mystery of that first Easter morning. They don't get it right away. They struggle and wrestle with their feelings and questions. We can totally relate to this.
     These followers of Jesus aren't "super disciples" who arrive at the tomb on Easter morning with their telepathic powers intact, knowing immediately what happened before anyone said a word. Instead, they're an emotional train wreck. After all, it had been a horrible week. Remember, they witnessed Jesus being dragged through a religious trial, mocked by Roman soldiers, flogged almost to the point of death, and then hung on a cross. It was the worst week they could have ever imagined.
     Those of us who have lost loved ones through tragic circumstances have an idea of how those first disciples felt as they walked with Jesus during that horrifying week. Now, here they are.  It's Sunday morning.  Early dawn. Some of Jesus' female disciples are taking spices with them to anoint his body! Who knows where the men are! I've always thought that women were the stronger sex, anyway! They were tough enough to go to the tomb and give their friend and teacher a proper burial. I'm sure their hearts were breaking, their pain was almost unbearable. Yet they went to the tomb because they knew it had to be done.
      Upon their arrival, they discovered the stone had been rolled away from its entrance. When they went in, and they did not find Jesus' body. Luke tells us that the women were "perplexed" about this. The Greek word used here means "to be thoroughly nonplussed, surprised and confused so much so that you are unsure how to react."
     Notice it doesn't say the women rejoiced and proclaimed "Christ is risen.  He is risen, indeed." That would come later. Their initial reaction was every emotion under the sun. Other gospel writers say the women thought Jesus' body had been stolen. If this is the case, then they were in panic mode.
     As the story continues, two angels appear and proclaim that Christ has risen from the dead. But it doesn't really tell us if the women believed it was true. Luke simply states that they relayed the information to the apostles, meaning the original eleven, since Judas had committed suicide. Their reaction is even worse. Upon hearing the women's story, Luke tells us that "these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them." WOW!  The Greek phrase for "idle tale" means "nonsense, a fairy tale." In modern English we would call it a "big fish story." No one seems to understand what's going on here! No one is able to embrace the truth that Jesus has risen from the dead.
     The story comes to its conclusion with Peter running to the tomb to check things out for himself. I figure he did this because He didn't believe the women's story! Luke says after Peter saw the empty tomb for himself, he "went home, amazed at what happened." However, the Greek word for "amazed" also means to "wonder" which opens up the possibility that Peter still didn't understand what was going on. In fact, The Message translates this sentence as "He walked away puzzled, shaking his head."
     So, when do the disciples get it? Well, we're so used to hearing John's version of the Easter story that we assume they got it right away. But the power of Luke's telling of the resurrection of Jesus is that the light bulb goes off in their heads, NOT when they discover the empty tomb, but when they encounter the presence of the risen Christ. This happens in the stories that follow our gospel lesson where two disciples encounter Jesus on the Emmaus Road and then when Jesus appears before all the disciples in Jerusalem. Read the rest of Luke 24 sometime today to get the full effect of Luke's wonderful story.
     The reason why I think this is so powerful is that the empty tomb is not enough to convince the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. The only thing to replace their feelings of being perplexed, terrified and disbelieving, is the presence of the risen Christ. He alone could transform their feelings of sorrow and grief into joy and celebration. He alone could transform their confusion into clarity. He alone could empower them to become the fearless disciples we read about in the book of Acts.
     The reason why the church still exists today is NOT because of an empty tomb. The reason why the church still exists is because we continue to experience Jesus' presence among us, bringing new life where there once was death. Jesus meets us in water and word, in bread and wine. Jesus meets us regardless of whether we are perplexed, terrified, disbelieving or amazed. Jesus walks with us in the darkest places we can imagine as well as the greatest triumphs of our lives. This is why we are here today. Because, like those first disciples, we don't always get it either. We sometimes loose sight of the good news of the gospel. We need to hear, once again, the old, old story of Jesus and his love.
     So, friends in Christ I proclaim to you this morning: "Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed." Jesus is alive and promises to love us, forgive us, redeem us, heal us and transform us. May this truth make us feel amazed and joyful this Easter Sunday and every day of our lives.  AMEN

Monday, March 21, 2016

Palm Sunday Sermon: Following Jesus For All the Wrong Reasons

PALM SUNDAY  Luke 19:29-40 
03/20/16 David Eck


     This morning we began our worship outdoors. We gathered in the garden in front of the church parking lot. We blessed our palms joyfully and headed toward the church, the cross leading the way. We sang "I have decided to follow Jesus," and I have no doubt we meant every word of it.
     As we marched in our Palm Sunday procession I'm certain we were all imagining what that first palm parade was like. We envisioned the sights and the sounds that surrounded Jesus on that day: The multi-colored carpet of cloaks that people laid on the dusty road; the rustle of palm branches waving in the wind; the sounds of a donkey braying and a crowd shouting "Hosanna."
     If we know the story well we might also have seen in our mind's eye a gaggle of Grumpy Cat Pharisees. They were a part of that first palm parade as well. We imagined the pained expression on their faces and their less than joyful mood. Luke tells us that the Pharisees said to Jesus, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." They wanted Jesus' parade to come to a screeching halt. But Jesus told them, "If these people were silent, the stones would shout out." In other words, the song of the people was being echoed by creation itself. There was nothing the Pharisees could do to stop the song or Jesus' procession into Jerusalem. They were welcome to join the marchers or continue to stand there glaring. The choice was theirs.
     These are some of the details we imagine as we try to picture ourselves in that first palm parade. As we try to visualize what it was like, we are left to ponder an important question: "Why have we decided to follow Jesus and what exactly does this mean?" You see, if we know anything about the original setting of the story, the people in the crowd were following Jesus for all the wrong reasons.
     Those who shouted "Hosanna," were expecting Jesus to be a liberator who would free them from Rome's occupation of their of country. They were expecting a political revolutionary, the leader of a rebellion. But we know Jesus had other plans.
     Even his disciples were following Jesus for all the wrong reasons. Jesus had warned them about what was going to happen as he entered the gates of Jerusalem. He did this several times. But when his words became true the disciples were surprised and shocked. One would betray him. Another would deny him. When Jesus was arrested, they all scattered like rats on a sinking ship. Luke tells us that while Jesus was being crucified "All his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things." [Lk 23:49] Their shouts of Hosanna were quickly squashed like a bug. They failed to march with Jesus to his final destiny even though he had told them it was coming.
     Finally, the Pharisees were following Jesus for all the wrong reasons. They represented the voices of tradition and maintaining the status quo. They would have been to utter those familiar words "Why, we've never done it that way before." They were quite happy with the way things were because it had made them very prosperous. They hobnobbed with the powerful and the influential in Jewish society. They often brokered secret and not-so secret deals with their Roman occupiers. Then this Jesus came along and threatened to upset the apple cart. He said that the reign of God is like a banquet feast where all are invited and yet there is still room for more. "Talk like that is lunacy and dangerous" They would have thought to themselves. "There has to be a bouncer at the banquet hall door to keep the riffraff from coming in." And so they stood in the crowd, their Grumpy Cat faces glaring at Jesus. "Teacher, order your disciples to stop."
     It would appear that everyone who was a part of that first palm parade was following Jesus for all the wrong reasons. But that's actually good news for us because Jesus allowed them to follow him anyway, in spite of their flawed intentions. Truth be told, I have the sneaking suspicion that we often follow Jesus for all the wrong reasons as well.
     We are sometimes like the gathered crowd. We want Jesus to free us from those whom we label as our oppressors or enemies. "Jesus, save us from …(you fill in the blank)." We are quick to label and condemn others, yet we are slow to cast a critical eye on ourselves. It's true there are people and institutions in our lives that try to oppress and control us, but we are sometimes guilty of the same crime. We are quick to see ourselves as the "good guys," while labeling others as the "bad guys." This is especially true when it comes to either our political views or our beliefs about God. So, instead of asking Jesus to be our liberator from those who oppress us, perhaps we should just be grateful that he allows us to follow him even when we are doing it for all the wrong reasons.
     In addition to being like the gathered crowd, we are also guilty of acting like his disciples. We have all betrayed Jesus in one way or another. Some of us have denied even knowing him in certain social circumstances. When adversity and persecution come, we are often guilty of fleeing the scene and asking Jesus where he was during our time of trial.
     Finally, we are sometimes like those Grumpy Cat Pharisees. We are set in our ways when it comes to the way we "do church." We like things the way we like them and heaven help someone who try to change things! "Why, we've never done it that way before!" We say as we cast a condemning look on those who would suggest we do things differently. We are also guilty of trying to be the bouncer at the banquet hall door. "Why, we just can't let EVERYONE in. Yes, I know we say 'United in Christ. Welcoming All.' but there have to be a few exceptions. Let's be reasonable!" The good news is that even when we resemble the Grumpy Cat Pharisees, Jesus lets us remain in the crowd. He also offers us the opportunity to stop glaring and judging from the sidelines and join the joyful song of the palm parade. "Hosanna" anyone?
     So, what exactly are we signing up for when we sing "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus?" Well, at this point in the sermon I think you know we're in for a bumpy ride! We will not always follow Jesus for the right reasons. At times we will act like the cheering crowd looking for a liberator who will defeat our enemies. We will act like the disciples who betrayed, denied and abandoned Jesus during the most difficult week of his life. We will act like Pharisees desperately holding on to traditions and beliefs that are killing our spiritual life. The good news is that when we are THESE people, and we WILL be these people, Jesus STILL invites us to walk wth him in the palm parade on the road to Jerusalem.
     So let us walk with humble gratitude and let this week transform us. Let's share a last supper with Jesus and have our feet washed. Let's reflect on the ways we betray and deny him. Let's pray with Jesus in the garden and think about those times when we fall asleep in our spiritual life. Let's hear his last words from the cross and witness the death of One who gave his life for us. Then, when it feels like all hope is lost, let's stand in amazement with Mary on that first Easter morning. Let's witness a stone rolled away and two men in dazzling white telling us "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen."
     THIS is why we have decided to follow Jesus! I pray that this Holy Week will be a powerful and transformative experience for each one very one of us. May we discover the One who not only let's us walk in his palm parade but also offers us forgiveness and new life. AMEN.