April Sermons

April 28, 2019

Yesterday we read John 20:19-31. This text includes two encounters with the resurrected Christ. There are four in John and last week we read the first one, the encounter Mary Magdalene has with Christ at the tomb. This week the disciples are locked in a room on the same day Mary discovered the empty tomb. Christ appears in the room and says, "Peace be with you." They are immediately joyous and he says, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Christ then commissions them with his breath. "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 

This must have been so frightening for the disciples. They went from being terrified, to elated, back to being scared. They become temporarily elated because Christ has appeared, but I imagine they go back to being scared when Christ tells them he is sending them out. That's an emotional roller coaster!

Then Thomas comes on the scene and calls the disciples liars. He tells them he won't believe Christ has risen until he has seen it and TOUCHED it. So, Christ appears and lets Thomas touch him and put his hand into his side. Yesterday I didn't spend a lot of time on Thomas, but can we talk about this for a minute? Can you imagine touching Christ so intimately? He puts his hand into the wound on Christ' side?!?! What does this mean for us? My guess is it means Christ is fully human and he understands us when we are hurt. Right after this moment, Thomas exclaims, "My Lord and my God!" 

This is the highest affirmation of Christ by any person in the Gospel "My Lord and my God." Thomas is affirming his humanity and his divinity with this statement. Isn't it interesting that his response to touching Christ is to understand he is divine and human? This combination of God and humanity is called the hypostatic union and it only manifests in Christ. (there's some seminary stuff for yah). 

Christ says, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." 

On Easter I left room for doubters and that is one reason I didn't talk a lot about doubt yesterday. I believe we all struggle with belief no matter how far in our faith journey we are. I have met a few people in my life whose faith never wavers, not even a tad, but I think they are the exception. Some days it is hard to drum up the faith to walk through this world. I find during these challenging times, when faith is hard to find, it's good to pull out those spiritual tools - read Scripture, sing a hymn, make a gratitude list, do something for someone else, fall on your knees and pray.

Thomas is like all of us. Some days we need to touch the wound of Christ to have faith. Some days we can feel Christ all around us, we don't need to see or touch. Wherever you are my friends, know that Christ didn't come down on Thomas. Christ let Thomas touch him because he knew that's what he needed!

Christ knows that sometimes we just need to touch his wound to remind ourselves that he is there for us. Oh, and he is! He is and he was human and knows the depth of our pains and struggles. Isn't that good news? And, he gives us life eternal. Amen.

April 21, 2019

He is risen! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! And what a wonderful Easter morning we had to celebrate our risen Lord. At both the sunrise service and the traditional 11 o'clock service we heard John 20:1-18. In this Scripture, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb to discover that Christ's body is not there. Two disciples, Simon Peter and the one Jesus loved, were also there. They returned to their homes after seeing the empty tomb, not yet understanding the Scripture that he must rise from the dead. Mary who stays at the tomb and weeps, encounters Jesus who calls her by name. Christ commissions her to go and tell the others about the good news. 

Did you know Mary Magdalene is at the tomb in all 4 gospels? That's right. She is named in every account. But, only in John, is she alone. I love Mary Magdalene. She is a faithful warrior overcoming fear and grief to be at the tomb on Sunday morning. She comes bearing spices to anoint the body, and to cover the smell of death as was the custom of the time. But, she is met with the surprise of a lifetime. He was not there because he had risen.

Last week as I was preparing for the Easter sermon I read things like: there will be people in your church that have never heard the story, preach like your life depends on it, and this is the most important sermon of the year! It was all a bit anxiety provoking. 

The mere suggestion that there would be people here in this church that didn’t know the story stumped me. I thought ‘what? We all know the story, right?’ 
 
But then I thought of Austin. My 8-year-old who is just learning the story. We’ve been reading a youth Bible by Eugene Peterson. After reading the stories of Holy Week Austin asked me one morning “what does it mean that Christ rose from the dead?” I said somewhat enthusiastically “IT means Christ defeated death.” In all honesty I had hoped my enthusiasm would dissuade him from follow up questions. It did not. “What does that mean?” he asked. 
 
I thought, “I don’t know.” I mean – I think I know, but seriously I’m only human. 

Do we have any idea what it means when we say Christ conquered death? Because last time I checked we’re human. And humans have limited understanding of divine things, of the universe, of language, of God, of all things holy. Our minds cannot comprehend the things of God. We hope the resurrected Christ means we’re going to heaven — whatever heaven means. Maybe we hope it means don’t be scared of death. Maybe we hope it means there are second chances. 

For those of you that don’t know the story – it is the best story ever. Jesus, a divine man that came from God and is of God, came to walk among us, he taught us about justice, how to love, how to pray and how to ask for forgiveness. He was killed by the powerful political party of his day in the most gruesome way, by nailing him to a cross.  On the third day the women found the tomb of Christ empty because Christ had risen from the dead.

Now if you don’t know the story, you may not believe that he literally rose from the dead. Myself, well I believe it to be 100% true. Some people believe it to be a metaphor, I do not. I believe hook line and sinker that Christ rose from the dead.
 
In a heady systematics class I took in seminary we discussed many points of view on the resurrection. One of them was that Christ conquered death because he was resurrected and in that moment death lost its grip on us. Or the devil lost his grip. It means God will have the final say on everything – on sin, on forgiveness, on justice. And even though I believe all of this I still find it hard to explain to an 8-year-old or any normal skeptical teenager. 
 
I think the resurrection means something different to all of us depending on where we are in life. For Austin, who probably doesn’t understand what I mean when I say “Christ conquered death” it might mean curiosity. He might be intrigued by this character Jesus, intrigued enough to follow him and listen to what he has to say. For Austin it might mean that there is something beyond this life and that words don’t describe it well. It might mean Jesus is the only one that can do this. 
 
For young adults, standing on the precipice of life, looking ahead at an unknown future and back at the closing door of childhood, it might mean endless possibility, it might mean that with Jesus by their side and in their hearts anything is possible. 
 
For those of us that grieve, it might mean our loved ones who have been separated from us are being embraced by God, feasting at the heavenly banquet with the thief and Christ. 
 
For those of us nearing the end of this earthly journey, it might mean a deep sense of peace and reassurance that all will be well. 
 
For those of us who do not literally believe in the resurrection, it might mean feeling uncomfortable right now and having to suspend harsh critique. It might mean reminding themselves they are here for other reasons - maybe it’s the casseroles and fellowship. 
 
And there are those among us, myself included, who have experienced personal resurrections. Resurrections of the heart and mind that changed life going forward. 
 
And you heard this morning even the disciples were surprised the tomb was empty. They didn’t know what it meant either. We follow a God we can scarcely imagine who baffles us with his endless love and compassion and mighty works. The resurrection is about raising dead things, giving life to where there was none. 
 
All of us come to the cross to see an empty tomb but what it resonates with in our hearts might be different. What unifies the array of meanings of the resurrection is simple. For all of us, no matter our age, position, education, race, gender, the empty cross represents hope wrapped up in divine grace. 
 
When God raised Jesus from the dead, he is saying to us he hasn’t lost hope in us. If God hasn’t lost hope in us – after we put Christ on the cross – then who are we to give up hope. And yes, I do say “We” put Christ on the cross? I do believe that to be true. Not a one of us knows who we would have been in that crowd 2,000 years ago. We probably like to imagine ourselves as a disciple like the one Christ loved, or maybe we see ourselves as one of his benevolent supporters. But we don’t know. And let’s not forget even the disciples betrayed him. 
 
When Christ says Forgive them Father for they do not know what they dothat goes for every single one of us. Not just the centurions, or the Romans, or the Pharisees no way – that would be a convenient faith my friends and nothing about Christianity is convenient. 
 
Christ was talking about you when he was dying. When he was dying he embodied grace and said ‘forgive them father for they no not what they do.’ And it is because of the grace of Christ, and the love of our creator, that God returned him to us. 
 
He conquered death for us but to me – the resurrection I know more concretely – is one of hope and grace. If we are to embody or imitate Christ in any way it should be to strive for his love and forgiveness. It is in Christ’s display of love for us that we were saved. Christ saved us when he forgave us and God loved us enough to send Christ back to us, and death lost its grip. 
 
So if you don’t know this story or don’t believe it to be true, that’s ok, I’m honestly just glad you came today. I’m not going to evangelize you in the traditional sense and tell you you’re going to hell if you don’t believe. I will never tell you that. I don’t believe it to be true. Christ forgave us despite our part in his crucifixion, he forgives us today despite the fact that we mess up everyday. We can’t fathom to understand the nature of God’s heart and his ability to love us, all we can do is imitate to the best of our ability God’s capacity to love and ability to forgive. That’s it. 
 
We were all given a new thing when Christ was resurrected and we can use that new life however we want. But if you turn your ear to the way of God, you will be living into God’s will for you and you will flourish. So stay curious like an 8-year-old, keep the hope of a young 20 something year old just beginning and stay vigilant like a person nearing death. Our role is not to understand how the resurrection works or why it worked but to keep hope and stay in love with God. 
 
Because hope will overcome the darkness, hope will conquer our fears and hope will get us through grief. Amen.

April 14, 2019
This past Sunday was a gift. Bobby, Kara, and the choir gave us and God a beautiful honor by lifting their voices high for the coming of our Lord into Jerusalem. We waved our palms (or palm crosses) and raised our voices high. It's always a privilege to hear Mya Reidling sing and this year we heard her, and Bobby on guitar, Courtney and Kara sing! And, of course, thanks to our own story teller extraordinaire, JB, for narrating. 

There was only a brief homily yesterday because the emphasis of the service was on the Cantata. What I did lift up was a message of the tension of the day. On Passion/Palm Sunday there is a lot of tension. We are celebrating the arrival of our Lord into Jerusalem. The people in the Gospel of Luke laid down their cloaks and his disciples got him a donkey to ride in on. It is a procession of humbleness and meekness. We are excited because our King has come, but at the same time, we know what's coming. We know that this procession, no matter how joyous, will lead to a procession of the cross. 

Did you know that in Luke there are no palms? Instead of waving palms of victory and fertile ground, Luke emphasizes the act of spreading cloaks on the ground, an act of reverence and subservience. We have lifted up palms today but maybe we can lay down something before we go.
 
As we lift up shouts of praise for our King on this Palm Sunday, might we lay down ways of living that do not honor God? As we prepare ourselves to see the new thing God is doing, may we be challenged to put to rest the parts of ourselves that do not allow us to accept those new things? As we lift up our eyes to see Jesus riding in on a donkey, and our hearts are filled with desire to imitate the humbleness and vulnerability of our Lord, may we lay down the parts of ourselves that are attached to false idols, our pride and ego?
 
The tension of Passion/Palm Sunday is not easily lived out. Let’s not rush through this part—this uncomfortable part ---where we shout for joy that our Lord has come and then mourn in fear that he has left us. 
 
As we walk forward into Holy Week let us remember we have prepared ourselves, our hearts have been turned and watered with the living water, and our story continues. Have strength to walk the path, remember hope is stronger than despair, light is stronger than darkness and love is stronger than death. Amen.
April 7, 2019
This past Sunday we heard from Diane Ward, Executive Director of Project Transformation of North Georgia. She brought us a wonderful word from Isaiah 43:16-21.

16 Thus says the Lord,
    who makes a way in the sea,
    a path in the mighty waters,
17 who brings out chariot and horse,
    army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
    they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
18 Do not remember the former things,
    or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.
20 The wild animals will honor me,
    the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
    rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
21     the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

God is doing new things. Do we perceive them? In this text God is declaring the making of something new. But God has never stopped making new things! Spring is always a perfect reminder of this. Diane said Sunday that she does not have a green thumb. Sure, she can plant a seed, water it, tend to it, and watch it grow but that's all she can do. She can not make the tree. God makes the tree. Her job is to tend to the tree faithfully so that it may grow. 

She reflected on Project Transformation in North Georgia. It is something new to the area. This ministry has been ordained by God to be here in Georgia. For a long time, Diane rejected God was trying to do something new here with her as the impetus. She fought and pushed back on what God was calling her to do but God won. Her role in this new ministry is a response in faithfulness to this new thing God is creating. God is always creating new things. It's not just the spring flowers, there is always something new in which God is changing. Our job is to be faithful in response to God's creation of new things, of new spaces, of new ways of living, of new ways to do things.

We respond faithfully by walking towards the light. Howard Thurman describes faithfulness this way. For it is in the darkness that you can see light the most clearly.  In the darkest places God is present and when we see light we recognize God is the light and we move towards it. We should always be moving towards the light, towards God.

How do we move towards the light? Prayer, reading Scripture, daily devotionals, being kind towards others, opening our hearts to different people and different perspectives, loving neighbor, forgiving other people, forgiving ourselves, receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion, sharing the Lord's table with everyone. These are the ways in which we can and should be responding faithfully back to God in this covenantal relationship. This covenant that is rooted in our baptism and reaffirmed with communion, in which God purifies and forgives us, we respond with faithfulness. 

Let us meditate this week on how we are faithful to Christ as we ready ourselves to walk into Jerusalem with Christ. Amen.
Be Inspired
Holly Springs UMC

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