Fire.

Acts 2:1-21

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Peter Addresses the Crowd

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

I wrote this sermon early last week, after the events of the past few days. I have so many other thoughts. When I read verses 17-20, I cannot help to think that these are prophetic words for us today. We are living in apocalyptic times. Things are ending and new things are emerging. We are seeing literal images of things burning, of blood flowing, and of new dreams and visions out of the struggle that we are facing as a community and as a nation.

The tragic and senseless death of George Floyd has been yet another trigger point in our nation’s ugly history of racism. We are having to confront 400+ years of slavery and economic growth built on the backs of our fellow humans.

We are learning to listen and speak in new languages metaphorically. We are changing and the change has to start with us.

We may be scared, we may be angry, we may be fearing for our very lives and livelihoods, but God has given us God’s Spirit to bring us comfort and courage to face these times.

And, we have been in a process of being prepared for such a time as this.

These past few weeks, we’ve been talking about Jesus’ words in John chapters 14-17, the farewell discourse.  Jesus has been preparing his disciples for what was about to come.  Now, Jesus did not know all that was about to happen.  He did not have any certainty.  He didn’t know the outcome of the next day or the next season.   Sound familiar?  

Jesus is simply encouraging the disciples, letting them know that even when things get bad, seemingly out of control, that they won’t be alone.  They have an identity, they are not going to be orphaned.  Which, is an interesting word, in effect, Jesus is saying that they not only have an identity, but that they are still in relationship with a God who is all around them and even in them.  

If we have ever lost someone, we know that even after they are gone, that it often feels like they are still with us.  Maybe even more so.  Same, but even more with Jesus.  We’ve never met Jesus, yet it seems that Jesus is even more present within my body, within my friendships, and within the space between us.  Teilhard calls this the cosmic Christ, that Christ not only lived and walked the earth, but is with us, everywhere with everyone and everything, right now.  

There is a Presence, a sense of God’s love all around us and I pray for awareness of God’s Presence.  I believe that the greatest gift and struggle that we have as Jesus followers, as humans, is the work of becoming of self, others, and God aware…of being connected to ourselves, others, with the divine flow of God pushing us deeper.  The disciples, like us, were in a liminal space, a threshhold out of their control and they were being pushed deeper into Presence.  

During this pandemic, we have been listening and receiving God’s love through others, and deep within ourselves, long before the pandemic hit.  As we have gone through this season, many of us have commented on how our faith has come more alive even as we have struggled, we’ve taken some risks relationally, we’ve connected with ourselves and others as we’ve had our lives disrupted.  Much like the disciples, we’ve even been afraid to leave our houses for health reasons!  And, it’s interesting isn’t it, we have not been able to meet over food (and this church loves food), Sunday mornings in our sanctuary, use our church building, do our weekly events as planned, whatever we have “normally” done…yet, we still feel connected and present in many ways.  

And, we recognize that the master gardener, God’s action, is cultivating a deeper growth within us and around us.  

I strongly believe that, we, and all of humanity is being shaped and formed by God’s movement, that God is with all of us in the most intimate way.  God is closer than the air we breathe.  Yet, we don’t often recognize God, or sometimes we even deny that God could even exist.  The idea of a loving God can scare us.  Love transforms, it changes us.  

Relationships happen, love is the fuel for those relationships to flourish.  The juice if you will that burns within us and draws us out towards accepting others and ourselves in community.  

This concept of being “in” relationship with God and with others starts with an understanding that God’s very nature is communal relationship.  You can go through all sorts of head knowledge of God, but if we go deep within ourselves, whether we are extroverts or introverts, we are wired for relationship.   Science affirms this concept, at the very root of how we are formed, with atoms, protons, neutrons, quarks, etc., there is an understanding that energy is created for atoms to form through attraction, through relationship.  

Our understanding of God as three in one, as Trinity, gives witness to relationships.  God as parent, son, holy spirit are so close that they are one.  The outcome of their energy together is creating, saving, and sustaining relationship based on love.  It is not static, it is dynamic.  

That dynamic energy of three in one God, demonstrated by the outpouring of God’s energy, God’s Spirit on the disciples, gave them courage to face the unknown of going outside of their comfort and into a world that they literally did not understand.  They walked into a Jerusalem filled with folks from all over that had different customs, different ethnicities, and different languages.  

Yet, they went.  They knew that they were connected to God, one another, and wanted to share that connection with the world.  And, in so doing, they gave birth to a new movement, a new understanding, a new “realization” if you will, that we are all one humanity, God’s children.  That our diversity is beautiful, keeps us curious, AND, we can be united and connected in that diversity.  Fire was used to describe the Holy Spirit…and that flame, once kindled, proliferated wildly.  

Could this season of pandemic be another time of revelation, or realization, that releases the power of God’s love in new and creative ways?  

As we allow God’s love to pour into us and through us to others, we begin to understand that we are connected to an expansive and wild God.  We begin to see faith as not about certainty or having things figured out, but understanding that living in mystery and curiosity, living in a willingness to let go of our control, our vision, and letting God expand our horizons.  We are locally rooted in community, and globally connected in Chist…as we let that reality seep in, we begin to experience a deepening of ourselves, a joy in things unseen but lived out.

God’s Spirit, our advocate, is moving us out of our comfort zones…we are being moved out of ourselves and finding creative ways that God’s Spirit has been at work in and around us during this season, and we are adapting, embracing this new reality, not certain of where it will lead, but trusting that God’s Spirit will energize us, that God’s Son will be our friend, and that God’s relational flow will continue to give birth to new possibilities.  

As we continue to gather online, in parking lots, in parks, or wherever…as we serve our neighbors, read, journal, and contemplate on God’s movement in our lives, may we see God is in us, and we find our being in God.  This being will move us in ways we don’t always expect.  Look at the early disciples that are described in Acts.  They experience the Spirit, it’s like a flame that’s burning, uncontrollable, yet warms them and moves them to change the world.  May it be so for us.

Presence.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants[a] any longer, because the servant[b] does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. – John 15:9-17

Nothing you can know that isn’t known
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown
Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be
It’s easy

All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need

The Beatles sang this back in the 60’s.  We all know it, yet it’s hard for us to understand it.  Love is a word that gets thrown around a lot.  But, at its core, it’s a relational term that evokes emotions and commitments to each other.  I believe it is embodied fully in Jesus’ actions and attitudes with each of us.

What does Jesus’ love look like?  Oftentimes I’m asked at weddings to read the “love chapter” found in 1 Corinthians 13.  It has beautiful poetry, but it’s not really just about love between two persons…no one can love that way except for God.  It’s a chapter describing perfect love, sit back, close your eyes, soak in these words as if God is speaking directly to you:

13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 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. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] 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. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Wow.  And, this is what Jesus is saying to us.  Live, or abide, remain in my love.  Jesus isn’t going anywhere, as a matter of fact, Jesus is present with us, right now…as we sit in our homes, wondering what’s going to happen next in this pandemic, what is the new “normal”, we are not alone.  Jesus is with us…and is chasing after us…won’t give up on us.

One of my best friends in my twenties was Jay.  I’ve talked about him before.  Jay was simply amazing.  Great athlete, musician, lots of charisma, looked like James Dean.  His family had owned the patent to frozen yeast and also owned several bakeries throughout the world.  He seemingly had it made.  Yet, underneath, he was deeply struggling with the death of his dad in his teenage years and his mom’s impending death during much of our 20’s through MS.  

He was a Young Life leader, but after a while, quit that, left the church, and went into a season of life trying to numb himself of the pain in as many ways that he could.

Jay and I still got together, he was one of my best friends.  But, there was a period of a few months where we weren’t around each other.  We got together for dinner with a friend and he leaned over to me and whispered in my ear, “I’m back”.  He went on to say that he simply could not get away from God.  That God kept on chasing him even when he was so numb from whatever he was using and whoever he was using.  God’s love broke through.  I believe that God’s love was even more real and deeper during Jay’s season of numbness.  

Years later, Jay continues to cultivate an understanding of love and grace.  His legacy, friendship, and love for others bears so much fruit.  Honestly, I’m standing here the person that I am in many ways because of Jay. Jay’s presence and example…and his reception of God’s love and how that flowed through him, continues to shape me, even 25ish years later.

Jesus was and is present with each of us.  It’s hard, I know, especially in this season of disruption to recognize that…but when we begin to move towards understanding ourselves, asking the really hard questions and confronting the things in our lives that prevent us from experiencing the depth in knowing who we are and who God, we can begin to truly be present with ourselves, others, and God.  We begin to experience love.  

I had a different spiritual director for a long time, Todd Long, before my present spiritual director, Father Richard Bollmer. Both of them have been great reminders to me of what it means to practice being present with my stuff and with God and others.  Also, making sure that I take time to go and meditate, unplug, rest, and simply be either at home, in my office, or in special places like the Abbey of Gethsemani in KY.

One of the disciplines that they have encouraged me with is to cultivate loving presence through “obedience”.  Jesus, in this morning’s passage commands us to love God.  An act of obedience is to love, and to love well.  As we do that, we begin to understand deeply that Jesus is truly our friend and that leads to other friendships.

Friendship means a lot to me.  I married my best friend 22ish years ago, I have lots of friends in this city and around the world.  I am committed to folks and I want and need that commitment from them.  As your pastor, I have made a commitment in my vows to be your friend.  And, in your vows when you called me here, you committed to be my friend.  As I’ve stated before, church is not a business, and it’s not just a family, it’s a family business with deep roots.

As I practice friendship, sometimes in beautifully messy ways!  I find that our friendships leads towards common good and growth.  Many of my friends in this city and around the world are all working towards seeing goodness happen in communities with the church being at the center of that…being a place of generosity and momentum towards others and each other.  

We trust each other, deeply.  Many of these friends speak for me and I for them.  That trust is also happening here and we’re seeing the fruit of it in many ways already.

Sometimes we may think that we’d like to simply shirk away from friendship, from being present.  Yet, as we read this morning, God says to us, you didn’t choose this friendship, I chose you.  I think that says so much about God…a practical takeaway from what I’m sharing is this…YOU are loved, God is present with you, cultivate that understanding, and know that God desires for the best for you…and for this church.

I think that’s why I’m so confident about what we are about at Fleming Road UCC.  I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t know what church will look like after this pandemic, but I know that we are here, present with one another and that we are together in this and will grow and change.  We will move towards a great story…Jesus says again in this week’s passage that he will give us whatever we ask for!  It’s interesting that Jesus said this in last week’s passage and now again this week…And, here we are, we are in this liminal space, this threshold in culture, and as a church, and as persons!  We live in “apocalyptic” times…folks often think that means the end of the world, all of it…no, it’s simply a term that says that some things are ending in order to make room for something new to emerge..over time.  And, in God, and in God’s love, we can place our faith in that it will be good for us and for others.  

Believe it…accept it.  Receive this love and bear fruit!

And, remember these words:

All you need is love (All together, now!)
All you need is love (Everybody!)
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need
Love is all you need (Love is all you need)

Jesus embodies this love, Jesus is here, present with you through his spirit the Holy Spirit, that connects all of us and all of this…and ultimately keeps us firmly in the Presence of Jesus even as Jesus is present with us.

May we love one another and our neighbors (which means everyone) well!

Believe.

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. 15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever– 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:10-18 TNIV) 

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26 TNIV)

Here we are!  Another week of staying at home and doing all that we can to “suppress the curve”!  I’m so glad to be here and be a part of the conversation and journey of this pandemic season that is so crazy, unique, scary, and also full of potential growth with you and our church and neighborhood!  I believe that God’s agency, God’s Spirit is moving in and through this church and our neighborhoods, and it’s going to be good, great even, to listen with you to figure out what God is up to and to be moved in the direction that God has us going in.  

Folks in the UK showing their appreciation for the NHS!

At our basic level, we all of have dreams of what it means to be great don’t we.  If you are like me, then when you were a kid, you had some big dreams to someday be great…maybe to be an astronaut or president…So, today I’d like for you to remember back to when you were a child in elementary school.  What do you remember?  What were you dreams?  What did you believe in?  

I remember playing in my grandfather’s backyard, it felt safe and I could have some great adventures while I singlehandedly slayed dragons, won the Battle of the Bulge, defeated the bad guys.  Even in these very dangerous adventures, I believed I was safe and I had the power in my imagination to change the world.

Now, fast forward to middle school…what do you remember?  What were your dreams?  What did you believe in?  

I remember being bussed to an inner-city school.  My parents were both strong believers in public education as a school principal and teacher.  I was not going to be going the route of my friends who were pulled out of school and sent to private schools.  The Jones’ were “team players”.  In sixth grade, I had my eyes opened to a world that was very different from mine.  People stole things, people felt powerless and would want to pick a fight with me.  I had teachers who seemed to mean well, but were overwhelmed.  I saw national guardsmen on my bus with their guns.  Yet, I wasn’t bitter.  I thought it was simply part of my life.  I adapted, and years later, I realized that I received an amazing education that year that was more valuable than most academic endeavors. I saw the inequities in society and knew that I wanted to stand for something more: equality, inclusion, and working towards the common good.

Later, when I went back to my suburban school, going through pre-adolescence, my dreams simply became to survive and get to high school.  

Bono…and me (at 16).

What do you remember about high school?  What were your dreams then?  What did you believe in?

I remember thinking it would be great to be a rock star and somehow sing about God and the issues surrounding the world around us.  Then, in my sophomore or junior year of high school, I heard this band called U-2 and their charismatic singer, Bono.  He was set on changing the world (and still is!), and I wanted in on it and I wanted to be great like Bono.   

The disciples in today’s Scripture had similar aspirations, they wanted to do great things.  Their dreams, their beliefs, were tied up in wanting to make a difference and in following Jesus.  Well, Jesus had some GREAT news for them to hear, for them to believe. 

This passage is a part of John’s writings called the “Farewell Discourse” found in John, chapters 14-17.  I’d encourage you to read them all when you get home…not right now though…  Jesus is setting the stage for what is to come after he is crucified and resurrected.  The disciples are a bit confused, they’ve got some questions.  Where we take up this discourse in vs. 10, Jesus is asking them if they believe that he is in the Father.  This is a wonderful passage that points directly to Jesus being in the Father and vice versa.  It gives foundation to our understanding of the Triune nature of God, the Trinity.  Jesus is saying that he is one with the Father and he speaks, not with his authority, but with the Father’s authority who lives in him, and Jesus lives in the Father, they share space, they mutually indwell within each other.  Jesus also, in his humanity, shares space with us and in his humanity is showing us how we should live and the work we should be about as we participate in God’s actions, in obedience to the Father.  

That’s hard for me to completely understand.  Jesus has an intimate oneness in his relationship with the Father and Jesus is one with us in our humanity which allows us to share in God’s love for each other and the world around us.   We are one in Jesus as it says elsewhere in Scripture, because of this oneness, we are connected together by the very power of God.  

I have to believe that something is happening here at Fleming Road UCC, in our community, in me, in our relationships, something very good, and hard though, especially as we live into this season of disruption that seems will be with us for a while.  

I believe that my coming to Fleming Road UCC was such a unique calling.  It’s a church in my neighborhood wanting to be community engaged.  The timing of the conversations with our church started right before I left for India for three weeks.  While in India, I had a growing sense that my next call would be as pastor of this church.  I was filled with excitement, but also lots of questions and not knowing what to expect or what this church would be like.  Yet, I believed.  And, it’s proven to be a great call 2 1/2 years into it.  Filled with ups and downs, yes, but so good.  And, now, we are in the midst of a pandemic, which is a struggle for all of us, but so glad we are in this together.  

Jesus is asking in this passage:  Do you believe?  The Greek word in this text for believe is a great word πιστεύw it means  1. believe, believe in, be convinced of, give credence to; 2. believe (in), trust in a special sense, with God or Christ as object; Have confidence; 4. think, hold, or consider (possible).  It is used 3 times alone in vs. 10 & 11.  In vs. 11, the word “believe” is used as an imperative, giving it a sense of command and urgency.  The writer of John is trying to drive home a point, do you believe?

The writer goes on to say that if you believe, then you will do even greater works than me.  This is where we come to the word “great”.  What does that mean to do greater things than me?  The key here is to understand what Jesus means when he says “they will do even greater things than these..”  Jesus is communicating to his disciples, and to us, that we have a new identity that is wrapped up in him and our understanding of what it means to be truly human.  There is a new power at work that will enable his followers to do great things.  What are some of those works?  Taking care of those who are impoverished, healing disease, causing the lame to walk, preaching release to those held in bondage, being a true friend and good neighbor.  Jesus says that to be great, those are the types of things that we need to be about because that’s what he was about.  When read in that context, we begin to understand vs. 14, which says that anything we ask in Christ’s name, he’ll do it.  In other words, God’s purposes will always win out and those purposes are consistent with his character.  As humans, we share in those characteristics and purposes because we share in Christ’s humanity.  Our identity does not lie in what roles we play in life such as being a doctor, engineer, parent, pastor, runner, or whatever…our identity lies in Christ and it shapes our roles and actions.  Because of Jesus’ identity with us and our identity with him, we can be great and change the world…not only on global issues, but in our own communities, and even in the lives of those we see every day.  We can all be great to someone!

Now, we can’t do this on our own.  God’s Spirit is all around us, even living inside of us as it says in verse 17, animating us, prompting us, changing us.  The “world”, or the systems that tend to dominate this world that are based on the pursuit of fame, money, individualism, self-centeredness, narcism, etc. can’t understand truth, they can’t understand the reality of God’s Presence.  The writer of John makes it clear earlier in this book, in John 3:17, that Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it.  To turn those systems upside down with a new reality of God’s Presence with us and in us, transforming us all…and he wants us, the church, to reflect his Presence in our lives.    And we can have confidence that Jesus will not let go of us, ever.  He is with us and will not leave us orphans.  We are not alone.  

Jesus wants to teach us ALL things and reminds us of how he has carried us.  When I remember my past, I am reminded of God’s faithfulness.  God has kept God’s promises as demonstrated through Jesus and throughout our lives as the Spirit of God inside of us points us away from ourselves and to Jesus and the world around us.  That not only helps me to understand my past and to understand what it means to be my true Self…and it gives me confidence for the present and faith for the future.  

You’ve been given the gift of God’s presence in your life.  Allow yourself to not settle for simply looking at the gift or only bringing it out on special occasions, but allow yourself to get in a place to see Jesus at work in your life and in the lives of others.  As someone passionate about running, I tell folks all the time that they have the gift to run, but unless they exercise that gift, they’ll never know how good they can be.  Exercise your faith through prayer, finding a small group Bible Study, starting a neighborhood gathering or even a prayer group (virtually or outside 6′ apart…during this season), getting together with a spiritual director, serving others, being in worship with others, finding a small group of folks to pray with and hold you accountable.  Even if it’s online during this season, it’s still good!   The conversations that we’ve had online these past few months have been amazing!

When I was younger, I wanted to do something great.  Now I realize that doing something great is wrapped up to my identity in Christ.  It may not mean changing the entire world over night, it may mean being great for just one person or being a great neighbor.  We are his body as the church and called to build community with others and to be good neighbors by loving well ourselves, God, and those around us.  God’s power is living inside of us, reminding of us our identity it Christ, carrying us and changing us as we remember and focus on the amazing gift of his Spirit, and in the lives of those around us.   Live in Jesus and have confidence that his Spirit is living in you and wants to transform the world with his love through you!  Believe!  

Shepherd.

Jesus the Good Shepherd

10 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

What a week we’ve had!  What week is it now in the pandemic?  I know that as we emerge from this particular phase of our “stay at home” guidelines and restrictions, that there is so much that we still have to adapt to, isn’t there?  We have to find new ways of being almost every week as this season continues!  And, I know that we have had to do that as a church community as well.   It’s been quite the ride, yet, every week has been full of life and deepening of friendships, both old and new! 

Our passage this morning tells us to listen to the voice of the Shepherd.  During this time, we’ve had so many voices to listen to in our culture:  government voices ranging from the local to the federal, scientists, political leaders, clergy folk, neighbors, friends, family, news outlets…all sorts of folks often saying conflicting things…in the midst of those voices, it’s been interesting to see who we hear and what we hear.

Overall, I feel like we’ve been able to listen well, especially to one another, and hear a collective voice that speaks towards deepening friendship, safe practices, authenticity, and growth as persons and as a church.

Beyond the pandemic, before, during, and after, we still hear other voices that try to pull us in so many directions…it can give us whiplash!  But, in the midst of it all, we try to cultivate a deepening awareness of recognizing the voice of God and God’s love for us in the depths of ourselves, in others, and in the world around us.

Last Sunday, in our sermon conversations, so many folks commented on how they have seen and heard God’s beauty all around them during this time of staying at home, in simple things:  zoom calls, walks in their neighborhoods, phone calls, and in the slowing down.  

It can be hard to train our ears for the voice of the Shepherd, of God, in our lives, even in a time of pandemic.

One of the things that we have been doing is trying to train our dog, Leo, to listen to our voices.  He’s a smart dog, an Australian/Pointer mix.  We even have one of those dog collars that sends him signals when we give commands.  It’s been quite the journey!  And, it’s been hard for us to get everyone in our house on the same page in training him.  But, he’s learning.

Another thing about Leo, as a shepherd, he stays close to us…all of the time.  He wants to make sure that we are OK.  He knows us now.  

Our gospel lesson talks about sheep and shepherds.  Obviously, the metaphor worked well in an agrarian society like first century Palestine.  We are the sheep, Jesus is the shepherd.  Jesus is leading us through whatever walls that divide us or prevent us from pastures that give life and nutrients.  Sheep need lots of different fields, throughout a day, shepherds take their sheep to different fields in order for them to graze on fresh food, to have open spaces.  Jesus wants us all to have life, abundant life, and he wants to lead us to better fields.  

We may want to stay in worn out fields…we produce a lot of smelly and messiness as we consume so much in those old fields.  Our relationships with each other are filled with craziness at times, we don’t always follow or lead each other well.  There are also dangers around us and we need to be led to different fields.  Dangers that come as thieves to us such as deep and chronic depression, loneliness, selfishness, pride, or addictions, or folks not being the best version of themselves, or fully understanding themselves or others.  Those thieves can come in the middle of darkness as it says in John 10:10 that kill and destroy the lives that we were called to live.

Yet, Jesus tells us that he has come to give us life.  When we slow down, or get caught up in recognition of good things around us and the origin of that goodness, we can recognize the voice of the true shepherd, the voice of Jesus who has entered in the fields of our lives, who walks with us and towards us…walking through the messiness to call us towards new fields, new adventures.  

We often recognize the voice of Jesus through others.  Maybe we literally hear words from Jesus through others such as a speaker, or maybe even a preacher.  Or maybe we recognize the voice of God through something we read, or a song we hear.  Maybe it’s listening to our neighbors.  Or, maybe it’s seeing someone else practice charity through actions or giving themselves away.

We know it when we see it and hear it though, especially as we train our eyes and ears to see and recognize the true shepherd. 

Friends, we have said it before, we are living in a new place with church.  This pandemic has moved us into ways of being…there never is a true “normal” because life is always evolving,  life always teaches us something new, and this pandemic is no exception.  It has reminded us that some of the old forms simply don’t work anymore.  

The world is crying out for us, the church, to be an example of goodness, of the good shepherd, to be reflections of Jesus’ actions and to reflect and amplify the voice of the Shepherd who is calling us towards him, towards abundant life, towards being one flock.  This shepherd has laid down his life for us, yet in doing so, has overcome all things that steal abundance from our lives and is creating something new and beautiful as he leads us into new fields, filled with expansive pastures and relationship.

So, let’s listen to the voice of the Shepherd, let’s love each other well, and let’s play in the fields of Cincinnati, and the world and be the diverse, yet unified flock that God has marked us out to be…we can do this, we can believe in each other as God does with us, trusting each other, loving each other, and changing the world in the process.

Walking.

 Luke 24:13-36

The Walk to Emmaus

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 

22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

In this time of pandemic, of “stay at home” orders, it seems like walking in the neighborhood has increased 10 fold!  I know it has in our neighborhood.  Folks want to get out, it’s good to process walking and getting some of that angst worked out from being cooped up.  I think our dogs have been walked 100 times!  It also releases some endorphins, makes us feel better, and is healthy.  And, on days when the sun is out, gives us vitamins!  

Our lectionary passages finds two of Jesus’ disciples walking on the road to Emmaus.  We can relate to them.  They want to get out, they need to get out.  They have been isolated, disrupted, and their expectations crushed.  They need to work it out and were walking to a destination.

Richard Rohr, the Catholic priest, writer, and speaker has some good insights on this walk to Emmaus:

“Not knowing what else to do, Cleopas and an unnamed disciple were now wandering home, trying to make sense of it all. 

They were suspended somewhere between loss and possible gain, grief and possible joy, profound human suffering and perhaps some kind of redemption, dashed hopes and maybe daring to hope again. They were wrung out—emotionally, spiritually and physically. They had been powerless to prevent the events of the last days, and they were powerless now to do anything to change their situation.

The road from Jerusalem to Emmaus was the road between the now and the not-yet.

Although they were probably not aware of it, these disciples were in what Richard Rohr calls “liminal space”—a particular spiritual position where human beings hate to be, but where the biblical God is always leading them. The Latin root limen literally means “threshold,” referring to that needed transition when we are moving from one place or one state of being to another.

Liminal space usually induces some sort of inner crisis: you have left the tried and true (or it has left you), and you have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.”

This passage is particularly helpful for us today.  Doesn’t it seem like we are in this “liminal space”.  We have been disrupted, some more than others.  Yet, God has been with us in this moment.  We may be disoriented, we may feel lost, we may want to go back to “normal”, but then we realize that we cannot.  We have crossed a threshold that was handed to us.  We must grow and move towards a new “normal”, and that new normal has to be good for everyone in some way.  

In this moment, I am so grateful to have our church as “walking partners”.  We are having some amazing conversations!  

Our early March church council meeting before “stay at home” restrictions and guidelines were announced.

Along comes another walking partner in our story.  At first the disciples don’t recognize him, but as they share, and as Jesus moves into sharing a meal with them, it dawns upon them, this is Jesus and they are filled with emotion.  

Friends, as we walk together, aren’t we often surprised that as we sit, as we listen, as we share life together, slowly, but then suredly, along the way, we see Jesus!

This past week, on a Zoom call with Ron and Trish, Trish said something that was beautiful.  As we shared about the Zoom calls, she said that it was so good to actually see folks face to face.  So often, in our sanctuary, because of the way it is set up, we have to look forward.  That’s not a knock on the building, it’s just the way it is…it’s a great building and we all look forward to being back in it.  But, in this season, we have the opportunity to “see” one another, and in the process, see God in each other…just like we sing every Sunday when we are in the Sanctuary.  

In our story, Jesus goes on to give them peace.  

It’s hard to be at peace with everyone.  Peace is a rare commodity, especially when we look at events in the world around us.  As I watched events unfold this past week again around protests and other things that are dividing us, I couldn’t help but to wonder if peace can be possible.   

Yet, we are called to peace.  I am amazed at folks like Martin Luther King who were able to work towards justice while rejecting violence and seeking peace.

We also experience a lack of peace within ourselves.  We are filled with self-doubt, insecurities, and a sense that something is simply not right.  We often look around in a state of discontent that can lead us to question who we are and to wonder if there is something more.  Sometimes that discontent can lead us towards growth if handled in loving community with God and others.  But, oftentimes that discontent left on its own leads us to despair.  

We live in a society that often values a certain rugged individualism.  When we look at each other as individuals, we can make ourselves and others isolated, rather, we should look at each as persons created for community.  This individualism often has a “me first” and has an attitude of getting ahead before the concerns of other.  Our lack of seeing others as persons can cause division within our families, even our churches.  And, we certainly see a lack of peace, and even civility, in our political discourse as a country.  Having said that, it’s remarkable to see in these past few weeks how this particular church enjoys a great deal of peace within its community, which was present way before this pandemic hit us!  This is something that we should cherish and make sure we take care of. 

As we embrace who we are in Jesus and identify with his example and live in obedience to him, we can experience true peace.  A peace that passes understanding.  We will also be able to extend that peace to others and work towards peace.  We may not be able to control what others do to us or to others or the circumstances around us, but we can live in Christ and strive to respond to others as Jesus would.  

After Jesus’ death and resurrection he appears to the frightened, lonely, desperate, insecure, and hopeless disciples, along the road, and in their hiding places.  They have just seen Jesus crucified, their hopes are dashed, their lives are threatened and they have locked themselves up in a room.  

Jesus came to the disciples and he comes to us today, having overcome everything, even death.  We can live into this season with expectation, or a hope for peace within ourselves, others, with God, and in the world.  Shalom.  God has made everything new desires for us to live in peace.  Not only does Jesus give us peace, Jesus is our peace as he is present with us. 

Friends, may we live in God’s peace and be peacemakers, may we live in God and abide in God as God lives in us.  

Breathe.

John 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin[a]), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 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.”

26 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.” 27 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.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 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.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah,[c] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Breathing Prayer: Before you read this, try this: sit up straight in your chair, feet squarely on the ground. Close your eyes and take in three deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose, out from your mouth. As you breathe in, ponder this thought, “God is relationship as demonstrated by the Trinity and fills every molecule, atom, etc. of space. You are breathing in the Presence of God that transcends time, space, history, etc.” As you breathe out, think of this, “you are letting go of whatever is inside of you into God. God that fills every nook and cranny of this world and in your body…release to God whatever is inside of you, things that you can give words to and things that you cannot give words to. Let the good and the bad flow out.” As God takes it and gives it back to you, be reminded that you are good, you are loved, and you are valued and connected to all things, all people, and to God’s Presence.

I’m sure we have all heard the expression that something beautiful or scary or amazing to see can “take our breath away”.  We have probably also experienced moments in our lives when we’ve attempted something like riding a roller coaster at King’s Island, or jumping into a cold lake, or maybe experiencing the birth of a child where it “took our breath away”.

Perhaps we have also had moments in our lives filled with fear or anxiety, times where we feel like our breath has been taken away.

Or maybe we are like the writer of this song, “Breathe (2 AM)” that says:

There’s a light at each end of this tunnel,
You shout ’cause you’re just as far in as you’ll ever be out
And these mistakes you’ve made, you’ll just make them again
 

Click on this link to listen and watch a video of this song: https://youtu.be/FcvXr-9XtgA

We maybe feel trapped in situations that we feel like we can’t get out of on our own.  We feel caught and out of breath and in need of a “light at the end of a tunnel” or maybe out lives are like being underwater and we need to get to the surface for some air, to breathe.  We get caught in these moments and wonder “what’s next?”  And, can we handle what’s next?  We need help, we need to be rescued, we need to breathe, we need to find life, true life.

I think that’s especially true during this time of “stay at home” orders, of a pandemic.  We need time to “breathe”.  

Our text this morning has a lot to do with moments like this, moments in our lives when we need to breathe, breathing that brings life, and not just any life, but life as it was meant to be lived…no matter where we find ourselves in history.

Right after Jesus’ death on a Roman cross and resurrection from the dead.  Jesus appears to his disciples.  As we mentioned last week, it’s not every day that you see someone raised from the dead, they were disoriented, lost, so I imagine they were a bit overwhelmed, in shock, and wondering what was going to happen next.  

The disciples are in a state of fear.  They were locked in a room, afraid of the same folks who had just crucified Jesus and fearful that they would be after them as well.  They were literally in a “stay at home” quarantine out of fear for their lives!  They were wondering if there was a light at the end of the tunnel of fear that they were experiencing, the uncertainty was overwhelming, not sure what to think about what’s going to happen next.  The room was shut, and probably the lives of those disciples were in a state of being shut down from fear. There was probably a war of emotions going on within them.

Into this room, this state of anxiety, Jesus appears and has the greeting “Peace to you”.    The word “peace” in this context is a common word, but in this context, it meant the world to the disciples.  They needed what Jesus was giving.  

They had to be overwhelmed in seeing Jesus, but Jesus’ physical presence was also comforting.  Our passage this morning says that they rejoiced and they were strengthened by having seen the Lord.  

Jesus gives a charge to those disciples, an imperative command.  Just as the Father had sent Jesus to the world, Jesus was now sending the disciples out from behind shut doors of their lives towards an expansive way of living and into a crazy world desperate for hope.

Then, something happens, Jesus breathed on them.  This word “breathe” in this passage is the same word used in Genesis 2:7 where God breathes life into humanity, giving us life.  Jesus is in effect saying that he is the Son of God, God in the flesh, giving life to the disciples.  Jesus was not only bringing peace to the disciples, but breathing life into them.  The verse goes on to say that Jesus gives another imperative, to receive the Holy Spirit.  Jesus was breathing the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, God’s presence on to the disciples.  The Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, the unifying power of God would bring the disciples together, giving them confidence and power to overcome the world.  

The word for “spirit” in Hebrew is the same word for breath and wind.  Do you remember the strong winds that rocked our city this past week?  Well, God’s Wind is stronger and blows everywhere, filling every space. It has been with us before time, before history, it was and is and will be…it exploded out from the Big Bang and is every expanding, finding residence in humanity and ultimately fully in Jesus, who then breathes it out either literally or metaphorically to the disciples and to the world.  

The disciples needed to breathe in the breath of God.  The breath of God that brings life and the power to forgive sins.  Verse 23 in this passage can seem troublesome at first, does it mean that we can forgive others’ sins?  No, it is an affirmation that if we receive the Holy Spirit and abide in Christ as Christ abides in us as stated in John 15:4, then the work of the Holy Spirit which brings the forgiveness bought by Jesus Christ’s actions on the cross, is exhibited through us.  It is the power of God at work within us as we recognize God through Jesus Christ.  

In verse 24 of this passage, we see that one of the 12 disciples, Thomas, wasn’t around to see Jesus the first time he appeared in that room.  8 days later though, they are hanging out and Jesus appears.  It’s interesting to note that these same disciples who had just been blessed by Jesus showing up and breathing on them are scared and locked up in that room again!  Yet, Jesus breaks through the walls again, literally and metaphorically, the walls of their lives that they had built up…gives them a peace blessing and then addresses Thomas.  Thomas wants more tangible evidence, so Jesus gives it to them.  Jesus doesn’t want to shame Thomas, this passage isn’t here to give reference to Thomas’ unbelief, but it’s here to give hope to those who haven’t seen.  Thomas must touch deeply the wounds of Christ, to feel deeply the body of Christ.

Friends, we have to also experience our woundedness, deeply. In so doing, we can become healers, as Henri Nouwen states, “wounded healers” for those around us.

The writer of this passage is also giving a direct address to those reading in verse 31 that these things have been written for you…for us.

Friends, we may be living in fear, in anxiety.  We may have just witnessed Jesus’ very resurrection in our lives…we may even have lived our lives in expectation of God’s faithfulness to us.  Yet, here’s Jesus…appearing before us, walking through any barriers that we may be hiding behind.  Calling us out of the four walls we’ve enclosed ourselves in…giving us himself, breathing new life into us, and calling us towards the next thing…a full life with him!   Thomas and the rest of the disciples were living in fear, in disappointment.  They were tired.  Yet Jesus came to them, and comes to us…he invites us to know his scars, to touch the pain that has been inflicted upon him…to believe that he is God and is here with us now.  Friends, with this belief, with this faith, we can change the world…even if we are in a state of quarantine…God’s Spirit will flow through even the thickest of walls we build!  

Run.

John 20:1-18

The Resurrection of Jesus

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14 When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Footnotes:

  1. John 20:11 Gk lacks to look
  2. John 20:16 That is, Aramaic

It’s Easter morning, we are here for many different reasons.  This church has gone to extraordinary measures to have services and other options online…and even a short drive in on this Easter morning. We’ve asked other clergy, community leaders, and so many folks in the church on if this is the right thing to do.  There has been lots of back and forth and here we are. 

I’m not sure how history will judge this particular moment in time, this time of pandemic and our collective response to it personally, locally, nationally, or globally, but I do believe that we have been called and given a gift of this moment in time to be together in some ways, even while maintaining physical distance, and to be reminded that Jesus carrying us and forgiving us in this race we call life.  We come to hear the story once again that Jesus has risen and is rising up in us and in this crazy world we live in.   

With this season and in other seasons, we come to Easter morning and are filled with some internal conflict, some questions.  This season of lament, more than ever.  How could God allow this pandemic to happen?  Is it punishment? 

Other questions that we may have had for a long time are:  How could God let his Son die on the cross, how could God allow this to happen?  Why didn’t God the father  do the dirty work instead of sending his son?   

Jesus did not go to the cross to appease a vengeful heavenly and seemingly distant parent.  Jesus was nailed to a cross because he challenged a system that excluded many, while maintaining a status quo that kept some on top of the proverbial heap…yet, those on the top and even many of those on the bottom were not living the full lives that God desired, that God created us for.  Jesus came and demonstrated radical inclusiveness and called us into lives filled with freedom, love, purpose, and deep Presence with others and with God.  Jesus invited us, and still does, to deeper lives that are good for us and for others.  What does it mean to truly love everyone, including ourselves?  Oftentimes we settle for the status quo, even if the way we are living isn’t working, it’s what we know.  We live in fear and anxiety at times and that fear and anxiety can lead us into making harsh decisions or having opinions shaped that do not lead to deeper life or understanding.

Challenging the system, asking different questions, resisting labels, and living life in a deep sense of relationship and friendship to all, lead to Jesus’ death.  A violent and humiliating death, and a lonely death. Everyone deserted him except for his mother, Mary Magdalene, and John. And, in that moment on the cross, Jesus was lost…he had no hope or certainty for a resurrection.  He didn’t know where this was heading, only that he was facing his deepest, darkest moment. He cried out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”, a psalm of lament.  Many of us today have been disoriented by this pandemic.  We feel lost.  We are in a season of lament, of not knowing.  Yet, it gives me comfort somehow that God is in this lostness with us, because God has gone through lament and even death with us.

Yet, here we are on Easter morning.  What did we just share with each other?  What phrase?  Christ has risen!  Christ has risen indeed!  Jesus’ love for us, Jesus’ promise of a full life filled with purpose and presence could not be kept in a grave.  As CS Lewis says, there was a “deeper magic” at work. Love won.

Mary finds the tomb empty!  She runs to tell the disciples, they go to the tomb and find it as she said…but, they go home…the easter reality had not yet risen up to their consciousness, their awareness.  They didn’t know what to do.

But, Mary, she’s overcome by grief…she stays, she is weeping.  She embraces her lament and disorientation and sits with it at the empty tomb. And, then she sees this man…she thinks he’s the gardener, but he gently says her name once more, and she recognizes the voice of her friend!  Then, the joy of Easter possibility, Easter imagination, Easter reality rises up within her!  

What happens next?  Well, the story gets out, the new reality sets in, people begin to see Jesus and to experience new things.  Life as we know it is never the same, and it becomes filled with imagination, new possibilities, strength, confidence in the face of incredible odds.  Something begins to form in these early believers that moves them to change the world, starting with their own awareness.

Friends, we are all here this morning and are a part of this ongoing story of Easter.

This Jesus is inviting us to join together as a more loving and radically inclusive community marked by our identity in Jesus to go the distance in the hard, but worthy and beautiful work, together, of loving ourselves, loving others, and loving God.  

Friends, John ran to an empty tomb…Jesus could not be found and his friends were a bit lost, disoriented, not knowing what was going to happen next. Friends, I love this story, as you know, I’m an obsessive runner! Some of the best runs that I’ve had is when I’m lost, exploring, curious, and excited to see what I will find around the corner.  We may be in a lost season, we are running in the wilderness on trails that have no markers, but, we are not alone, may we trust where God is taking us, that the risen Christ is on this journey with us, and that this risen and universal Christ, is running with us, and ahead of us, and behind us as we live into God’s story that is rising up within us!

Sound good?  Christ has risen!  

Click or go to the link below for the Rob Bell Video on Resurrection!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhCKCoVSn9I