Homily – 3rd Sunday of Easter

My friends, our alleluias continue today as we celebrate the love of our God in Jesus. These six weeks of Easter leading up to Pentecost keep calling us back to the profound mystery of God-With-Us—Emmanuel. Jesus uses this time to sharpen his disciples hearts and minds to the truth of all that has happened—that he has indeed fulfilled the Scriptures—not perhaps in the ways the people had expected—but fulfilled them just the same.

In our gospel today; we see Jesus patiently opening the minds of his followers to the realization that he came so that we all would be saved, perhaps from ourselves, by being brought to new life in him.  All that Jesus ultimately suffered was part and parcel of his life of love, justice and mercy given for all.

Simply put, Jesus died because of how he lived—the powers in his world weren’t ready for his message that our God loves everyone, even the least among us, and for that boldness, for being the prophet that Moses and all the prophets before him, as recorded in Acts today, prophesied about, he had to die—as if dying could silence his message! But the joy of this season is that he rose—death could not hold him, as it will not hold us.

And it is this awesome reality that death is not the end that Jesus’ followers are spending a great deal of time struggling with—and we can hardly blame them.   Our purely human minds are incredulous along with Thomas—“We saw that you died, but now you are with us!” It is clear that their minds needed to be opened—they forgot so quickly how Jesus was always turning things on their heads.

And, Jesus does open their minds through their humanity— “Have you anything to eat?” If Jesus was not a ghost, but in his body, now resurrected, he would naturally eat.  Jesus always spoke and taught in ways that people could understand and therefore get his meaning.  That was why he often spoke in parables—stories from their lives with an added twist—a higher meaning.

And if each of us will see the risen Jesus, it will be precisely in this way—in our ordinary lives—seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary—we all know those times when we see family, friends, colleagues doing the patient work of bringing about the kin-dom—going the extra mile—speaking the kind word, giving the gentle touch, sharing the warm smile, the word of support when no one else is stepping up, being the catalyst for others doing the same.

This past Wednesday, we had the privilege of viewing the 1980’s film, Weapons of the Spirit, the story of a small town in France whose inhabitants, along with their pastor, sheltered 2-3 thousand Jewish people from deportation and likely the loss of their lives in Hitler’s death camps. When the townspeople were later interviewed and asked why they had risked their lives in this way; they simply said, “It was no big thing; they were doing the only thing they could—the right thing. I would say, “They were walking the talk!”

Jesus is patient with his incredulous, yet faithful followers as he prepares them for the gift of the Spirit—the one who will bring them the courage to speak truth with love, no matter the personal danger.

The work that Jesus called his first followers to after the resurrection and by extension, calls us to as well, takes strength, and a deep faith that took them and will take us to places we might not always choose to go. We may not always understand, but we will have the knowledge that we don’t have to do it alone—our brother Jesus will be with us.

I have asked this community to consider being a Sanctuary Support Community for those in our midst who are struggling to stay in this country in the face of changing deportation rules and regulations.  Being a Sanctuary Support Community means that we would attempt in whatever ways that we can to give support to the church that may eventually become a Sanctuary Church in our community.

The Easter Season calls us to remember that we have the same Spirit of Jesus that gave him and us by extension, caring hearts and minds to see the needs in our midst. When we see evil, sadness, brokenness, lack of love, whether it be in families, among friends, locally, in our churches or within our city, nationally or beyond—we must offer the “bread” to eat that is needed.

Some of us from All Are One a week ago served the simple physical food needed at The Feast, sponsored by Central Lutheran Church weekly.  Food and the action of eating are often the catalyst that Jesus uses to teach us profound things.  I found myself reflecting with the group of us gathered to serve those who came to partake of the meal, on the gift of food.  One gentleman came through the line three times to have his plate filled and I remarked later to those serving, “This is probably all he has had to eat today!” It made me realize that I have never known the feeling of wondering whether I would eat today!

We see in today’s gospel that the disciples on the road to Emmaus knew Jesus, “in the breaking of the bread”—in the action of outreach to others.  We recall many other times when food or a meal was center stage in profound teachings—feeding the 5000—“you give them something to eat”—Jesus said to the apostles when they suggested he send the people away so that they could get food.  Certainly the instruction was to feed more than their bodies, but the feeding began there.  There were meals at the home of Martha and Mary, at the home of a prominent Pharisee—always Jesus used an ordinary event to raise an extraordinary point about how to live life.

Within the meal, celebrated at the home of the Pharisee, a woman comes to Jesus asking for forgiveness, for light—a new vision, a more meaningful existence and he gives it to her, while teaching the Pharisees present how they are to be in life—how they are truly to serve, by of course, being servants.

There is a group of Catholic priests who are taking Pope Francis’ words to heart that the formation of priests be renewed—one of Francis’ points, which this group is pursuing, is that priests are to be “servants.”  Imagine that!

So—our task is to offer as Jesus did—the bread that is needed—be it physical or emotional—knowing that the gift is always spiritual.  We see Peter then—emboldened by the Spirit in the 1st reading speaking truth with love to all the people, even though some may not want to hear it. His life will ultimately be endangered, but as John in his 1st letter says today, if we say that we know God,  then we must act accordingly walking in the footsteps of Jesus, no matter the cost.  As Anglican Bishop John Shelby Spong is fond of saying, in regard to God’s love for us, “We must love wastefully,” as our God does, and we see this so clearly in the life of Jesus.  As Jesus said to the apostles in our gospel today, you are my witnesses that love is stronger than death—stronger than any suffering that can come to us—suffering and death are not the end.

Let us pray then this week for each other that our inner eyes might be opened to see the Risen Jesus in our midst and to respond as he did—offering peace—modeling forgiveness in our personal lives, which is a profound gift in and of itself and one that does bring peace, and heals our fractured world—reaching out to the poor, sharing what we have so generously been given ourselves, and in these actions—proclaiming the Good News to all. Amen? Amen!

 

Homily – 2nd Sunday of Easter

All this past week and today, the Acts of the Apostles lets us know what life as followers of Jesus, post-Easter, was like.  In his physical absence; they remembered all that Jesus had taught them about right living.  Their days and nights after the joy of the Resurrection were about living as Jesus had taught them—living in love, with compassion, justice and mercy toward all of God’s People.  Their lives were about sharing with those who had less, so that no one would be in need.

This first week of Easter, I found myself thinking realistically about the living situation at our home.  As you all know, our daughter Eryn, her husband, Adam and our grandson, Elliot have come to live with us, sharing our space, meals, schedules, all of what makes up our life for the most part, as they work to get settled in a new home here.

We are into the 4th week of a possible 10 week arrangement as they are preparing to close on a selected house.  This arrangement calls for patience from all of us to “accommodate” each other, put our singular desires aside in deference to what is best for all of us.  This is our post-Easter experiment and I would say that we are doing quite well, everything considered.

Not unlike the original post-Easter community that “held everything in common,” there are times of stress for all of us, born out of winter colds in a spring that hasn’t found us yet, tiredness and lack of personal routines.  But, there is the joy of being together and sharing the otherwise rare moments that come with this arrangement: a little, clear voice at 6:30 in the morning wanting to begin his day, an afternoon of romp and tumble in huge Minnesota snow piles provided by Grampa’s plow, shared meals, lovingly prepared and presented by different cooks, complete with blessings including all the special things that went on that day in the mind of a four-year-old, and daily conversations with extra voices and shared ideas and perspectives.

Like that first community of believers, it is about joy, it is about dark, it is about light—it is about finding the best that each of us has to offer.  And that, simply put, is what Jesus calls forth from each of us in Easter time, which we know from last week, is about all time—Easter is not an historical event we remember, but an action that is on-going.  So for that reason, sharing our living space with extended family is a wonderful, yet realistic Easter experience.

Joy then, seems to be an element in living after the Resurrection—a joy that was palpable, sensing Jesus’ presence in a new way and trying to allow their actions to radiate that joy.  For us too, my friends, because we have never known Jesus’ actual physical; we must look for him, “in a new way,” in each other.

Joan Chittister names Easter as a mystery of light and darkness—she says that we must go into the tomb, into the dark and decide if we will follow Jesus’ disciples back into the world of the living and here-in lies the light. The only way to respond to death is with light—the light of goodness—inclusivity—justice and mercy.

This past week, we remembered that day, 50 years ago when a prophet of our times, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was taken from us. He is quoted as saying, among other things that “Darkness cannot put out darkness, only light can do that!”

There is much in our world today that seems to be about darkness—from the halls of power in Washington, we see a great lack of moral sense, a lack of general leadership and guidance in deference to selfishness and a lack of true caring for our people beyond what they can do for those in power.  The light and joy that Easter can bring was never more needed than now.

After February’s mass school shooting in Florida, a new surge of moral leadership and fortitude has arisen in our nation’s young people—a light that came out of darkness—a light that we all must uplift and not let die.

I began reading an older volume this week, entitled, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by gynecologist, Dr. Christiane Northrup.  Even though it has a 1998 copyright, the truth she speaks about women and their wisdom and how it has been discounted over time in the patriarchal society in which we still live, to the point of making women physically, emotionally and spiritually sick is something that must be continually addressed until this darkness becomes light.

Another reflection on Easter that I read this past week uplifted the fact that those who witnessed the Resurrection seem to be doing “a lot of running.” So marvelous a thing was witnessed, by Mary of Magdala, by John, the apostle, by the disciples on the way to Emmaus, that the Scriptures tell us that “they ran” to tell the others!

A question we may want to ponder this week is, how excited are we at hearing the Good News that Jesus has risen, and does it inspire us to actions of light, or are we more like Thomas, in need of proof?—“I need to see this or that and then I will believe and act on my beliefs.  The Church gives us 5 weeks to ponder and reflect on our response.

As Joan Chittister also said this week, Easter is not a fairytale with a happy ending, once and for all—Easter is just the beginning!  Our choices are darkness or light—may we choose to be bearers of the light!

Amen?— Amen!— Alleluia!

Homily – Easter Sunday

Friends, as I prepared for today, again the leadership of the students of Stoneman Douglas High School was on my heart and mind and I pondered how to make sense of all that in the events that we have remembered here and in our Church Universal during Holy Week and today on Easter Sunday.  As I have said earlier, on Good Friday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday are really about “dying and rising” –they are of a piece.  Dying only makes sense in the context of rising. We see it in Jesus’ life—if there had only been the dying and nothing more, we would have been truly let down.  He said, he would be with us always and proved it in the resurrection.

Our country has been inspired anew in the leadership of the Stoneman Douglas High School survivors, become leaders—out of death, which has been a magnificent “rising.”  I believe it is significant that the victims at Stoneman Douglas were taken on February 14th, the national day of love, also, Ash Wednesday this year and that we would be celebrating Jesus’ overcoming death, in all its forms on Easter Sunday, which this year falls on April 1st, April Fool’s Day—in all of this, we might ask, who was actually fooled? Since the February 14th shootings, we have marveled at the “rising out of death,” as it were that we have seen from the Parkland, Florida students and from students and others around the world.

When we think about Jesus’ resurrection, we realize it to be a mystery that we can’t get our heads around—again, this is something to lay on our hearts.  We are told in the Gospel account from John today that Jesus in his risen form was not automatically recognizable—he didn’t look the same—Mary of Magdala knew him only when he spoke her name in the way that only Jesus could say it.  In another Easter reading, the disciples on the way to Emmaus who found themselves walking with Jesus didn’t know him until, “he broke bread with them,” something we are told, he did with his followers often—they knew him after the resurrection, through his actions.

Before the Valentine’s Day massacre, as it has been called, the ordinary students of Stoneman Douglas appeared a certain way to their friends and families. The mystery surrounding yet another school shooting, too many at that point to remember, brought forth the inner strength, fortitude and goodness of these young people to know that if the change they so wanted was to happen, they would have to bring it about! Truly a resurrection moment!

Friends, our faith, given us at our baptisms, strengthened in our confirmations, calls each of us to be resurrected, here and now, with Jesus our brother—we don’t need to wait until our physical deaths to become this Easter people –now is the time!  Paul tells us to get rid of the “old yeast” –the bakers among us know the truth of this—a new fresh batch is needed to make us “rise” to our innate greatness, like Jesus, like our Stoneman Douglas leaders –to do our piece for the good of us all, wherever we are led.

Easter is not just for today—but every day!  Amen? Amen! Alleluia!

 

Homily – Palm Sunday

With today, my friends; we begin the holiest of weeks of our Church Year. In today’s readings we see Jesus, our brother, entering triumphantly the city of Jerusalem as the prophets predicted the Messiah would one day.  He entered unlike an earthly king of his time would have, not in glory, but humbly, as in his birth, he came on the back of a donkey. His whole earthly life challenged the powers-that-be to live for others, to rule justly, to see that real authority comes from the heart, not the head.

Yesterday, thousands of young people and their supporters, over one million in fact,  entered our “holy city,” Washington, D.C. and many thousands others around our country, even here in Winona, MN, to speak truth to power in a similar way as our brother Jesus did all those hundreds of years ago.  Some of these young people probably responded from their beliefs in faith that their God was calling them to this action, others, if asked, might simply tell us that, “It was the right thing to do!”

Young people across this country have been inspired by the leadership of the survivors of the most recent massacre due to gun violence in Parkland, Florida.  These young people found within themselves the intestinal fortitude to say, “Enough is enough! We are tired of being afraid; we are tired of trying to learn in a climate of fear for our very lives! And we respectfully, but most certainly demand that the powers-that-be do what is needed to protect us!”

And their leadership has inspired others, thousands of others!  These young people are truly leading the way and many of us “older folks” are finally, finally, finding within ourselves, the strength to follow them.  Jim Wallis of Sojourner Magazine said that he recently met with a group of ministers and that they all asked forgiveness for having been complicit in not making our schools and our world safer from gun violence.

This past week many gathered in Wesley United Methodist church from many Christian denominations—Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian along with our non-Christian sisters and brothers of the Jewish, Buddhist, Islamic and Hindu faiths to stand in solidarity with the young people from Parkland and to definitively say that we are more alike than we are different—that we all have one God who is calling us to find the way to live in peace with all—a peace that keeps us safe, free, and cared for.

During Holy Week; we are called upon to ponder much that we would name as mystery—a king, yet humble, a messiah who brings power and new life through death, death and resurrection and all that this meant for Jesus and ultimately for us.

The March on Washington has inspired many, because the strength of this movement lies in the innocent, the pure, the hope of the future—those without power who have acquired power, like Jesus, in the truth of the message that they have made their own. And this too is mystery in that we don’t know how it will turn out.

I recently completed a small volume entitled, Mustard Seed Preaching by Ann Garrido and her thesis, simply put, is that unless we take the Word, small as a mustard seed, with no power and let it grow in us, “become us,” in fact; it will never matter in our world that so needs its fruit.

Like our brother Jesus, my friends; we must listen to the call of our God who has first loved us and respond in love for our good and the good of our world. Holy Week is really all about love, love given—love received and love shared—in fact that is the whole Christian message as well as the message taught and practiced by our non-Christian sisters and brothers and all good people around the world whether they claim a Church or a god.

Let us pray for each other that we can respond as Jesus did, raised a good Jew, as the Buddha did, as Muhammad did, as those who practice Hinduism do! Amen?  Amen!

 

 

Homily – 5th Weekend of Lent

My friends, I’d like to tell you a real-life story today as I begin that I think speaks well to the overriding themes of this weekend in Lent.  This story is one that you know, but I tell it again, so that we won’t forget it.

This past Wednesday, March 14, 2018, marked one month since the tragic shooting of 17 students and teachers at Margory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Some were maybe prone to notice this event, but then move quickly on, thinking there was nothing to be done to end this violence.  How many such shootings have already occurred? Does anyone of us really know?

Yet, amid the suffering that this high school in Parkland, Florida was enduring; they found the strength from within to stand up to and for our country and say, “Enough is enough, no more!”  They asked students who wished to stand with them to join in a walk-out from school on the month anniversary of this devastating tragedy to show their resolve that these lives taken were not in vain and of how much they want Congress and all in our society to get motivated in order that change can happen.

In addition, these young leaders from Florida have mobilized the country to a March on Washington on the 24th of this month to implore, but more so, demand that those in Congress, our so-called leaders would finally do something to bring about change.

The prophet Jeremiah speaks the words of God, “The days are coming…I will put my law on your hearts.” God, through the prophet was telling the people in Jeremiah’s time, well before our brother, Jesus walked the earth, that for all the covenants and promises made and broken by the people, now was the time when they needed to change, for good, once and for all.

The words of the prophet seem appropriate for us now, at this time when our country so needs change so that our school children and young people can learn in settings free from fear.  This is what Winona’s high school students told us most eloquently on Wednesday morning.

There was no doubt that these students had placed this concern “on their hearts,” letting all of us standing in support with them, know that they would not quit until some change happens.

Beyond the very moving way that the Winona Senior High School students chose to remember those slain at Margory Stoneman Douglas High, there was a sense of sincere, yet gentle outrage for what happened in Florida, realizing that this tragedy could have happened just as easily in Winona. Their sense of sincerity, urgency and outrage that this not happen again was evident in their demeanor and in the words of those who spoke.

The reading to the Hebrews today lets us know that “Jesus was heard because of his reverence.”  In that light; I give a word or two about the demonstration of remembrance that the students used on Wednesday.  Each victim’s name was read aloud and short bios shared for each of the 14 students and the 3 faculty members.  As each name was read, a student presented him/her-self and lay on the concrete in front of school and had their form traced there. A very poignant piece was that after the tracing, the student was able to get up and walk away. That wasn’t the case for the students in Parkland, Florida.

It is said that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and this was certainly true on Wednesday morning.  I believe all of the community members who came to support the students’ efforts on Wednesday thought of their own children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends and could perhaps imagine if what happened in Parkland and so many other places—too many other places, happened to their loved ones. The horror of receiving such a call from your children’s school is unimaginable, unthinkable; but in this day and age, possible!

The student speaker who concluded the program challenged her fellow students to do more, challenged the adults, present, to do more, realizing and expressing the fact that everyone in our country doesn’t agree on the solutions to this violence epidemic, but stressed that there are many things people are in agreement about and that much must be done!

Again, that reminds me of Paul’s words to the Hebrews—for people to hear us; reverence is required—we have to listen to others, try to understand when we disagree and see where we can possibly come together.  The battle to make our country safer will not come through angry words and actions, but through listening, understanding and treating our adversaries with as much respect as possible.  A very positive action that adults can take is through our right to vote—something not to be taken lightly.

The students who organized and facilitated the event on Wednesday, last, are to be commended! It is always easier to stand back, let others do it. Putting ourselves on the line is always the harder part. Sometimes it may mean ridicule, but it is the right choice to make as followers of our brother, Jesus.

He says in today’s gospel that “unless a grain of wheat fall and die—it remains only a single grain.”  We may agree that change is needed, but unless we place our commitment “on our hearts,” making it part of our flesh and bones, it can’t help others to grow.  Sometimes our word and our action is the impetus to get others moving.  We cannot underestimate the power of one person to bring about change when our commitment to do what is right and good in our world is laid “upon our hearts” which basically solidifies the words of our mouths.  And when are actions are done “with reverence” with care for all, only good can come from that!  Amen? Amen!!