by Margo Geesing
May 2020

“Continuing the Journey to Pentecost”

        Whether we are together or apart, the journey continues individually in faith and together in belief to the celebration of Pentecost, the “Birthday” of the Church built on Jesus the Christ: Son of God, our Savior, Redeemer, and Lord. This month’s Sunday Gospel lessons all come from the Gospel of John. John wrote his Gospel for those who already believed and was giving proof of Jesus’s Divinity. It is odd that, after Easter, we seem to be going back in the Gospel lessons on this journey to Pentecost. We hear Jesus speaking to his disciples on the night he is to be arrested; we hear Jesus’s prayer to his Father on the night of his crucifixion; and we hear Jesus preaching while others are plotting for his arrest. It is not until Pentecost that we hear from the Risen Christ.

        The first Sunday of May is called “Good Shepherd Sunday”. In this Gospel (John 10:1-10) Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls his flock who recognize his voice. The Good Shepherd leads and protects his flock while the flock follows and trusts the voice of the Shepherd. We, through our baptism became a part of that flock. We are also called to trust and follow that voice and trust in His leadership and protection.  What is it like to hear Jesus call you by name? What name do you hear? Where does he seem to be leading you? How are you answering his call?

        The second Sunday of May (John 14:1-14) Jesus shares his final words with his disciples before going out to the Mount of Olives. They are words of peace, love, and promises: of preparation for them, of his help, and the love of the Father and the Son. Jesus reminds Philip, and all the disciples (and us), that the way to the Father is through Jesus because He is, “… the way, and the truth, and the life” through the unity between God the Father and himself. The “Father’s house” refers not only to Heaven but also to each one of us. We are the “many dwelling places” of God through the Holy Spirit; the Breath of God within each of us; and through our reception of Jesus in Word and Sacrament.  Who in your life is a sign of God for you? What qualities ore events come to mind? For whom are you an expression of the love of God?

        Continuing to talk with his disciples on the night of his arrest, for third Sunday of May, we read on in the Gospel of John (14:15-21) where Jesus does a foreshadowing of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. He promises another Paraclete who will be with us always. Paraclete is a legal term that means an advocate, mediator, or helper. The Spirit is another because Jesus is the first! He also does an “if, then, then, therefore” logic statement. If you have my commandments and keep them; then you love me; then the Father loves you; therefore, I will love you and reveal myself to you. And now, we are in a cycle – we show our love by keeping Jesus’s commandments; Jesus and the Father love us and reveal themselves to us; we understand more about Jesus’s commandments and the Father so we do better at loving and living Jesus’s commandments; more is revealed (not loved more by the Father and Jesus – their love is fully given at all times!); we grow in understanding – see where this is going.  How are you living and loving Jesus’s commandments [for reference look at the Great Commandment and the Beatitudes]? What new things are being revealed to you about Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father? How are your responding to this new knowledge?

        The seventh Sunday of Easter, the Sunday before Pentecost, the night before his death, Jesus’s final thoughts are for his followers (this includes us!). His prayer is for the Father to keep them. Jesus prays for protection for all those whom He has been entrusted. He prayed not for the absence of problems or harm but rather for protection of their faith in him, in his teachings, and in the promise of eternal life; and by extension in the Father. He prays that they will remain obedient and faithful especially through challenges to their faith, evil times, and suffering. He prays not necessarily to keep them safe; because to follow in Jesus’s footsteps means to go to the cross; but to have knowledge and faith that Jesus came from the Father and is returning to the Father, that we are loved by both and supported by the Spirit: because we remain in the world. We as Christians are called to be, just as Jesus was, in the world and for the world, but not of the world. It is a call to fidelity, work, service, and preaching. To find unity in mutual love just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united.  Do you ever experience a conflict between Christian values and those of the world? How do you resolve this conflict? How are you sharing your fidelity, work, and service with the world? How are you preaching Jesus to the world?

        The last Sunday of May is Pentecost Sunday! Happy Birthday to us all! There are two choices for the Gospel lesson for this day: John 7:37-39 where Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as living water quenching the thirst of all who come to him and filling the hearts of believers until they overflow! Doesn’t that sound amazing?!? Just think if all the world received the Spirit just like that – no more thirsting for Jesus, no more searching for hope or happiness or satisfaction – our hearts filled with the Spirit until they overflow. Well, actually, we as believers, should be like that already. The problem is, we forget. We forget that we have the Spirit of God within us; so, we snipe, complain, compare, judge, put down, call others names, and such. We are not that great wellspring of love and living water we are meant to be.  Could we go a week not doing ANY of those things? A day? But, Margo, I don’t do any of those things!! Really? Not just out loud, but in your mind? Well, good for you! In which case, its time to let the water flow – speak the words of blessing and love to those around you who do those things. Bless them, in a good way (not the southern belle way; as my daughter refers to it).

        The other Gospel lesson for Pentecost Sunday [John 20:19-23] (probably the one Pastor Lisa will use) is the Risen Jesus appears to his disciples: blessed them, commissioned them, and gave the gift of the Holy Spirit. He comes into a locked room to be with them. It is odd that this year we too can reflect more fully on how those disciples were feeling. Locked in rooms with a little fear and worry about what is going to happen next – we can relate! But Jesus did not let those things stop him from comforting his followers and he continues to do this with us today. So, listen carefully for the Good Shepherd’s voice saying, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And then he followed this by breathing on them and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” While Jesus is not, to my knowledge, making personal appearances at this time, he is still present with each of us.  Take a little time and reflect on how peaceful you are. Pastor Lisa has said to me on numerous occasions: Don’t worry, God’s got this (whatever it might be). How willing are you to let go and let God guide you? How are you being sent? How are you responding?

Bonus Time!!!!!!!

        May 21st is the Ascension of Our Lord. The Gospel lesson for that day is from Luke 24:44-53. These are his final words to his disciples and again, Jesus is giving them a commissioning, a blessing, and the promise of the Holy Spirit, which is repeated and fulfilled on Pentecost. He charges them with proclaiming in his name, to all nations, repentance and forgiveness of sins. This is what the church continues to do to this day.  This is what YOU continue to do to this day! So, go preach his name, give forgiveness, and encourage repentance. How, you ask – by living it every day in every way!

And an extra bonus – this is the blessing from the end of Worship for the season of Easter. May it strengthen you during this time:

May the One who brought forth Jesus from the dead
raise you to new life, fill you with hope,
and turn your mourning into dancing.
Almighty God, Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit,
bless you now and forever.

June 2020

“Whaaat? Really?”

We jump to the end of the Gospel of Matthew for the Holy Trinity Sunday which occurs after the resurrection; at the very end of the Gospel. Jesus commissions his disciples to go teach the world to carry out everything Jesus has commanded; and baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This is the prime mission of the church throughout history. It is continued to this day. For all disciples, this baptism is the source of our faith. By this baptism; in these names; our core belief in a Trinity is stated. Through baptism we are given the strength to go and teach. It ends with the promise that Jesus will be with us always, until the end of the world. The power of the risen Christ will ever sustain those whom he has commissioned to preach the “Good News” of salvation to the world.  Hey, folks, that is us. How are you teaching the Good News? How do you feel Jesus strengthening you to carry this out in your life today? Do you feel Jesus is with you? How? When? If not, what do you do?

Go, grab your Bible. Read chapter 10 of Matthew. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Except for the first Sunday of June, this is what we will be hearing this month.

We begin at the end of chapter 9 with the realization that there are many people willing to believe but have not been gathered. So, Jesus sends his harvesters (the 12 disciples) out to start the gathering. In contrast to last week’s Gospel where he sends them to the whole world, this one limits them to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But it is not an easy journey that he is sending them on. He sends them without money or even a change of clothes! He sends them out to depend on the kindness of strangers. And if that is not bad enough, he warns them that he is sending them as sheep among wolves; that they may be handed over to councils; flogged in synagogues; dragged before governors and kings; turned on by family; and hated because of him. And then he tells them NOT TO WORRY!!! Really, Jesus, don’t worry?!!? Don’t prepare a defense?!? Just trust you!!?? Sadly, for them, and for us, that is what it is all about. Trust Jesus. For me, personally, that’s a hard one. Trust Jesus when you know you are doing the right thing (and it’s never the easy thing) and people are mean to you for it. They talk trash about you. They call you names. They make fun of you. They turn their back on you. We all want to be liked. We all want to be thought of well. When these kinds of thing happen, we hurt. But still we need to trust Jesus. And what does Jesus promise if you endure all of this? Not, you will be rich, get everything you want, and your enemies will be brought down. Nope. You will be saved. That is what you get: Salvation.  This is the point where you get to ask yourself, is it worth it? The troubles, the tribulations, the losing of friends, the conflicts? Wouldn’t it be easier to go along to get along? What would it hurt? Pie in the sky, something later, promise of salvation verses comfort and ease and lack of conflict now? Is salvation worth all this work?

The third Sunday of June (Happy Father’s Day to you all) Jesus doesn’t do a “just kidding last time”. No, he double-downs what is going to happen to you! He wants us to go about telling the truth. Bringing things to light. Not to be afraid of death (yes, obviously, that’s an option). Last time it was friends, neighbors, and strangers who were out to get you. This time it people in our own families! Whoever tells you Jesus is all about love and peace has never read this chapter of Matthew! He flat out tells us that he has not come to bring peace but a sword. He gives us a cross to bear. And we are supposed to be happy about it! Jesus wants to come first in our lives. As a wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, aunt, cousin, sure, I can put Jesus first; but as a mom – Jesus, you’re pushing it! But, really, this is what he is asking us to do.  TO. PUT. JESUS. FIRST. Sometimes that is our cross. Too often we are asked to “balance our life” between work and home; family and friends; whatever and whatever. Jesus doesn’t ask for balance: he asks to be first. How do we put Jesus first? No, I’m not asking you to ask yourself, before you do anything, WWJD (what would Jesus do). Rather, put him first; put him center; in everything you do. Ask, does this glorify Jesus? Does this build the Kingdom of God? So, BEFORE that first cup of coffee or tea or glass of water in the morning, say good morning to Jesus. After you brush your teeth and put on your ‘jammies and settle into bed, say good night to Jesus. Start your day and end your day with Jesus on your mind and he will most likely stay there.

Finally, it gets easier the fourth Sunday of June. Deep breath. Huge sigh. Now all we have to do is welcome the prophet and give them a drink of water! So much easier! Oh, wait. We’re the prophets. Dang, we are back to depending on the kindness of strangers. What the heck, Jesus?!? Yes, we have traveled in a full circle. We are back to that baptism where you were baptized Priest, Prophet, and King. YOU are the prophet and will receive a prophet’s reward in the way you live your life. YOU are the righteous person and will receive the reward of the righteous person in the way you treat other people. YOU are the little one who receives the cold water in baptism and shares EVERYTHING that comes from that baptism. There is a reward waiting for you. Never said it would be easy getting there or receiving it! There was a beautiful book written many years ago by Dale Evans Rogers called Angel Unaware about her and Roy’s daughter Robin. In it she reflects on the Hebrew 13:2 verse about entertaining angels unaware.  We entertain Jesus in every person we meet. This Gospel lesson is a reminder of that. Do you see Jesus in those you serve? Do you look for Jesus in the other people you meet?

July 2020

“Growing with Jesus!”

        We seem to keep being off in sending out the newsletter because things change and we have to start over! Such is life at this time. So, I decided to cover both July’s and August’s Gospels in this newsletter!  

        In July, it seems that Jesus is on a growing binge and guess who being called to plant, nurture, and harvest. Yup, that’s right – all of us.

        The first week we hear a lecture on differences and the importance of doing what is right, no matter what others think in the first part of the lesson. He emphasizes the connection between him and the Father. He thanks the Father. He praises the Father. We, too, should follow Jesus’s example in our own prayers. He ends this Gospel lesson with encouraging us to take his yoke upon us. When we think of a yoke, we think of a heavy burden that must be carried but Jesus reminds us that he is working with us, so that burden is lightened. The most important thing is that we are ALL yoked together and that we can share that call to service.

        The second Sunday in July, we get to Jesus the gardener. He is the sower of the seeds. He spread them everywhere! He seems like he hasn’t a care about what happens to the seeds, and he sort of doesn’t, and he wants us to do the same. We’re supposed to share our love, forgiveness, and faith with everyone, always – not just our special friends, or like-minded people, or just with our church. He cares, but he is not going to force things! We are encouraged by Jesus to think, understand, realize the joy AND the pain, accept, focus on, and LIVE the Good News. Always, in all ways, and for always.

        The third week we are again planting seeds, only this time there is an enemy that decides to sow weeds among the seeds. It’s the question of Good and Evil! How can an all good God, allow evil to exist!! Why do bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people!! Why this and not that!! Why?!? Why??!! WHY!!!??? Because we have free will! WE decide to do/be evil. WE decide to do/be good. The Father through Jesus ALLOWS us to exercise our free will. Jesus, rather than pull out the weeds, lets them grow together. He lets us have a chance to change. To be examples. To do good. To grow better. Our human spirit is much like this. None of us are completely good nor are we completely evil. We all have both inside us. What we water the most; tend the most; is what grows the most.

        The last week of July we have a number of short parables questioning what is valuable. He starts with little things – mustard seeds and yeast. They start out small but end up creating larger things. Then he continues with directing us to reflect on what is important/valuable. We must remember to seek the good. We need to grow our love of others in Jesus so that we too may welcome, house, feed, and nurture them through our faith, hope, and charity.

        This month we will look at what we are doing to grow the Kingdom of God. First, let’s look at what we are supporting through our finances, volunteering, and prayer? Does this plant seeds or weeds? Next, look at the burdens that you are carrying. What are you willing to give up and give over to Jesus to help you with? Write it, or them, down, put it in you Bible, and let it go. Jesus is yoked to you and those problems! Next, check your planting. Where are you planting the Gospel seeds? What unlikely places have you planted the Good News? Then look inside. How are you encouraging the good seed inside yourself? How are you discouraging the weeds? Finally, what is genuine and true in your life? What do you value? How do you show to the world; or even just to yourself; that this is what is right and important to you?

August 2020

“Give Me a Break!”

        August is an interesting grouping of Gospel lessons. The first two weeks Jesus is trying to get a little alone time and it’s just not happening. The third week it just seems that he goes from one problem into another. Finally, the fourth week we hear Peter’s confession of faith and its aftermath.

        Ever have one of those days where all you want to do is sit down and spend a little time recharging yourself but there keeps being interruptions from other people who want and need your attention? The first Sunday of August is Jesus’ day for that. He had just heard about his cousin, John the Baptist’s death and had gone off for some solitude. Instead, when he gets there, a whole crowd of people are waiting for him. So, a deep breath later, he is back on task: healing, teaching, and in this case – feeding.

        The second Sunday, he sends the disciples ahead, back to the other side of the lake, while he dismisses the crowd. He finally gets a moment by himself to pray. By then it is late so he goes on a walk to meet the boat: across the water. This makes the disciples think he is a ghost (really, what were they thinking!). Then Peter, always the brash headed one, decided to test Jesus by having Jesus call him across the water. And, like us, Peter starts to sink when he either takes his eyes off of Jesus or starts to be amazed by what he is doing because of Jesus.

        The third week has Jesus offending the Pharisees, again. To him they are too concerned with HOW people are keeping the law rather than WHY the laws are there. Jesus wants us to focus on heart matters rather than getting everything to “look” right all the time. It’s like the people who are so house proud that everything is perfect that they never have anyone come over because it might get messed up or when you’re there you’re so afraid of messing it up that you are never comfortable. So, he goes off but that’s not the end of his bad day. On his way he crosses path with a Canaanite woman. The Canaanite woman cries out to Jesus for help for her child but Jesus doesn’t answer her. She is persistent to a point that the disciples were uncomfortable. Oddly, they did not ask Jesus to help the woman, but to send her away. She had no advocate but her faith in Jesus. It is this persistence, in humbleness and faith that we need to practice in our own requests.

        Then we come to Caesarea Philippi. This is a huge backdrop for what seems like a simple thing. We are back to Peter and his “go for it all” attitude. Peter says that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. For many of us today this doesn’t seem so significant; after all, we’ve been saying the same thing for all our lives! That time and place had greater significance than even our acts of faith today. First, it was the first time anyone had said this directly to Jesus. Second, Jesus’ response that only his Father could have revealed it to Peter was unique in all the Gospel narratives. It is the only place where Jesus states both that he is the Son of God and that the Father reveals him to individual people. Third, Jesus and his disciples are standing in front of a mountain city that is named for the Emperor Caesar who thought himself a god. Within the mountain are niches to the Greek gods such as Pan, Echo and Galerius (a priest of Pan’s). There were also temples to various Roman gods, and about fourteen temples to the Syrian god, Baal. This is where Jesus starts his church. Not on a great high rock mountain but on a man of faith.

        The fifth week of August's Gospel lesson occurs immediately following the big "I will build my church on you" speech from Jesus to Peter.  Peter, between last week and this, goes from "You are the Messiah" to "you are crazy!  Don't do this!".  How often do we in our lives go through the same thing?  We begin with enthusiasm and then turn around and say this is too hard.  Sadly, for too many, this is their road of faith.  When everything is going right we are all for being a follower of the Christ but when adversity comes, when we lose friends, when we get lost, when the going gets difficult we say, like Peter, this is too hard.  Seriously, God doesn't want me to go through this.  God, why don't you do something about this?  Jesus wants us to be happy! (nope, hate to break it to you, Jesus never said "don't worry, be happy!")  Jesus said, "don't worry, trust in me!"  Much, much harder to do!  Jesus has always been honest with what following him will cost, look at his teachings: the beatitudes, take up your cross and follow me, everyone will turn against you, don't worry about your defense when brought before judges - I will give you the words, I will turn family members against one another, and in today's Gospel, you will lose your life for me.  Not exactly "Be Happy."  Rather, be constant in giving yourself to Jesus.

        This month what should our take away be? Perhaps it is that we do need to take time for ourselves to refresh, pray, and rejuvenate so we can continue the mission. Perhaps it is that we need to have the faith of Peter. Peter was never perfect in his faith. He doubted, he questioned, and he even denied Jesus – and Jesus knew who he was but still told him that he was the rock he was building his church upon. And Peter always came back to Jesus. So, like Peter, we can doubt, wonder, and question as long as we also come back and continue the mission.

September 2020


        First look at the Gospels for September and you might think they are about forgiveness; and they are. But they are also about generosity. The first Sunday we have a lesson from Matthew 18:15-20. It’s about how to deal with offenses by another. First, talk to the person; then have others as witnesses and try again; then bring it to the larger community. No one likes to be called on their (our) bad or offensive behavior. They (we) get defensive; they (we) explain; they (we) rationalize. It is the generous spirit that goes and talks one on one; brings a couple of others to support, if necessary; before broadcasting to the community. It is the generous spirit that is willing to face the ire of another to prevent embarrassment to them. This is the spirit of generosity and love that Jesus wants us to cultivate (remember last month: Jesus was all about being a planter of seeds!).

        This first Sunday’s Gospel lesson ends with “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (Mt. 18:19) This struck me as something to address. Why, if this is true, does this pandemic continue?!? Did Jesus lie?!? Does the Father not listen?!? Are we not asking enough?!? The answer is “NO” to all three. No, Jesus did not lie; no, the Father does listen; and no, we are asking. As with all things, God is answering in His time. Perhaps, He is answering in a way we are not expecting or a way we don’t want to hear; perhaps, He is giving us time to stop and listen rather than being constantly busy; perhaps, like all good parents do at times, He is keeping silent and letting us figure it out for ourselves. I do not know the answer to why He does not miraculously make it all go away because, although made in the likeness and image of God, I do not have the mind of God. But I do know that my faith tells me there is a purpose and that I need to trust in His plan for me and for the world; and pray!

        The second Sunday has a Gospel lesson full of powerful images! Jesus weary and Peter coming to ask just one more question; a slave being brought before his master; the relief that the slave had that his family and himself were not being sold AND that his debt was forgive; that same slave seizing another by the throat demanding payment; the fear and everything else that same slave went through when brought back into the presence of the master. These images again bring forth the idea of generosity. Jesus generously answering Peter’s question; the generosity of the master forgiving the debt; the lack of that same generosity by the slave; the revoking of the generosity given. From this Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” comes to my mind. This is how God is. That forgiveness: not 7 times but 77 times; not you get what you give but running over; not grace because it is earned or merited but because it’s needed; love not because you loved first but because He cannot help but love. God seems to have an issue, some days, with need and enough. You say you need – God gives and keeps giving; He cannot reach enough because He is infinite – and that’s what He gives – the infinite. Infinite love, grace, forgiveness, understanding but, as with this Gospel and with Luke, the expectation is that we are as generous as He is with our love, forgiveness, and understanding.

        THAT’S NOT FAIR!!! If you were ever a parent or hung around with children that phrase is at once one of the most feared and the most loved. Loved because a child has realized that sometimes things are not fair and, we hope, will try to make thing fair in their dealings with others and feared because we want things to be fair. The third Sunday’s Gospel is about generosity AND fairness. This a parable told by Jesus of a landowner hiring laborers. He begins the day and hires people to work in the vineyard at an agreed upon pay. They go to work. The landowner continues to hire throughout the day but note, there is no agreed upon price for the rest of the day’s workers, just that it would be “right”. End of the day comes, and everyone is paid the same. There is grumbling and complaining by the ones WHO HAD AGREED UPON THE DAY’S WAGE. Possibly by others but it’s not stated. Why: because they didn’t get more! Generosity, by definition, is not “fair”. It is: “showing a readiness to give more of something than is strictly necessary or expected”. This is what we are called to do through our faith and our baptism. To go beyond. To do more. To give more. We are called to generosity. A large portion of the reason for the call is because we have been given more. If we call for fairness, then how can we ask for mercy? Fairness would be death and the end. The payment for sin is death. We all sin. Therefore, we all die. BUT God is generous. He sent Jesus, His own Son, to pay that debt of sin and through JESUS’S obedience and death, we received salvation and, through faith and baptism, became co-heirs of Heaven. With this kind of generosity as an example, how can we complain about our little moments of unfairness or crow about our moments of generosity?

        The last Sunday in September we have Jesus being questions by the chief priests and elders. He answers with a question and then tells the parable of the two sons: the first says no but does what was asked; the second says yes to his father and doesn’t do what was asked. Jesus ends by asking which had done the will of the father. Everyone answered the first one did the will of the father. There are a few points to ponder. First, we presume that what we perceive as God’s will is what it really is and is what we do/did. But … (you all knew that was coming!) how often do we use that phrase, “God’s Will” (usually when something bad happens, by the way)? As with the parable that Jesus told, we all assume that the father’s will was that the sons went to the vineyard but was that truly the father’s will? Maybe the father’s will was that his sons told him the truth of what would happen. In that case, neither of them did the father’s will. Or maybe they both did the father’s will because they answered honestly what their intention was at the time. How can we know the mind of the father or God at any point? We don’t. We need to remember that God doesn’t need us. In fact, God seems to work quite well all by himself and more often, despite us helping. What we need to remember is that God ALLOWS us to be participants in His will. He allows us to be generous with the gifts He gives us. He allows us to be generous with His love and understanding. He allows us to give back to Him what He first gave to us. Note how Jesus ends this discourse: with a reminder that the tax collectors and prostitutes listened, believed, and changed and therefore are going into the kingdom of God ahead of those who, although they see themselves as righteous, are not.

October 2020

“Questions and Stories"

        “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!” was never actually said by the Robot in the TV series Lost in Space, but that is essentially what Jesus is saying to the chief priests and the Pharisees. Be aware of your own complacency and smugness with regard, especially, with faith and salvation. How often do we hear Jesus bringing the chief priests, Pharisees, and others in power to task about their behavior? This month’s Gospel lessons are full of a few things: The Kingdom of God is like…; the plotting of those in power to find a way to put Jesus to death; and the foreshadowing his own identity and death. This week it is a vineyard owner who leases it to tenants (all people) but when it comes time for them to give the owner (God) his share, they beat and kill his messengers (the prophets). Finally, he sends His Son (Jesus) and He was beaten and killed. Jesus has the listeners fill in the ending – what will happen when the owner returns. This question and answer when reflected upon should be a caution to all of us.  Just as the powerful could not depend on the fact they were Jewish nor that they were in power as a guarantee that they would enter the Kingdom, we being Christians do not get an automatic “fastpass”. God gave us gifts that we are to use to build His Kingdom – what are we doing with them? How confident are you about your place in the Kingdom? And the next question, why? If Jesus told this same story today, how would he address you?

        Jesus continues warning the chief priests, Pharisees, and elders the second Sunday of October. This time it’s the story of a King who was inviting people to his son’s wedding feast. No one who was invited could come. So, he sent servants out to get everyone they could find to come. Even though it was a sudden invitation, the expectation was that everyone who came would be dressed appropriately. The invitation to the Kingdom of God and the Heavenly Banquet is given to all; but that invitation should not be taken lightly – there are standards that need to be fulfilled. Yes, redemption was freely given by Jesus on the cross. Yes, you cannot do anything to earn redemption.  BUT we are called to act from that faith – for a faith without deeds is dead (James 2:26); and like Paul tells the people of Philippi, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Phil. 2:12-13). How are you answering the call of Jesus to the banquet?

        “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's.” (Matt. 22:21) It seems that Jesus got out of another quagmire! A quick bit of history to put this in context. The Herodians supported the Roman ruler Herod Antipas over Israel and therefore would support the taxes imposed on them. The Pharisees did not support Roman rule and apposed their taxes. The Zealots opposed Roman rule to the point of insurrection and would have refused to pay the taxes. If Jesus said pay the taxes, then he would be a Roman sympathizer. If he said don’t pay, then he would be a subversive. By answering this way, he made no commitment. Rather, he put in perspective the relative importance of country and God. God is the most important. Country has value but is never more important than God. We have responsibilities to follow the laws of the land or, if they are unjust, to work to change them. We have a responsibility to cast informed votes in elections; to serve on a jury; to pay legal taxes; to, if necessary, defend the country in just war. These are the responsibilities of citizenship and Jesus does not negate them. Rather, he commits himself to the side of God.  Our faith and God’s law should inform our decisions on how we go about living our responsibilities of citizenship. And, yes, there will be arguments, disagreements, and differences of opinion because each of us responds from our own faith journey; what we understand as our call. What needs to be remembered: that other person is a person; is a child of God; and should be treated with respect. Remember, God first – does He want you to say that? Does He want you to use that language? Does He want you to do that action?

        This week we have The Great Commandment: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matt. 22:37-39). It is a continuation of the people in charge trying to trick Jesus into saying something they can charge him with. Yet again, it did not work. This commandment is the cornerstone of Jesus’s life. He loves the Father with his whole being. This love is the source and summit of his life. But he is not selfish with that relationship. It’s not just him and the Father. That love is then shared through his actions, his compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and truth in relationship with others. Many of us are good with that vertical love. Me and God, we’re good. We’re tight. It’s when we come to that horizontal love of others that maybe, we’re not so good. ANYTIME we qualify another person by externals we are not fulfilling the second part of the law. When we make excuses: why we can exclude, treat as a lesser person, dehumanize, derogate, insult, or treat differently another person we are not fulfilling the second part of the law. Please, look at your own life and weed out those moments and actions. If we all could fulfill The Great Commandment, God’s Kingdom would truly be here.

        The last Sunday of October is Reformation Sunday. The Gospel lesson is always John 8:31-36. In this Gospel lesson Jesus has already dealt with the powers that are trying to get him to say something either against the Romans or blasphemous, but they are failing. At this point he turns to his followers and challenges them to look at how they are living their lives. He speaks on slavery, sin, and freedom. Freedom is a slippery word. It can mean a multitude of different things to each person.  So, what do we do with Jesus’ words in John 8:31-36? Frequently we react the same way the Jews who believed in him did. We claim that we are free. We claim that we are not slaves. In fact, we too can claim to be descendants of Abraham! But Jesus continues by defining slavery as living in sin. But how is sin defined? One definition is sin is self-centeredness, then those who are doing self-centered things become slaves to themselves -- their own wants and desires. Often this is how people may understand freedom -- doing whatever I want to do. But that definition of freedom is actually slavery to one's self. Being set free means having our desires and centeredness turned away from ourselves. Or we can define it as being slaves to our own fears or doubts or prides or you name it. This is where we feel a need to prove my own worth or value. Every person ever created has innate worth simply because God created them. Or we can define it as a rejection of the truth about ourselves. We stubbornly persist in the idea that we are fundamentally in control. Surely our church-going and charitable giving and general all-around respectability is sufficient! In this way of thinking, responsibility for our freedom rests with us. But this negates John 8:36 for there we are told “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Apparently, we are not able to liberate ourselves.

November 2020

“Beatitudes and Judgement”

As we begin November, 224 days have passed since the first “shelter in place” order went out by the Governor on March 20 in response to the novel coronavirus-19. We begin the month with a celebration of all the saints: those living with us, those who are to come after us, and those who have gone before us; especially those who have died this year. For many that number is more than usual. As I am writing this in October, the results of the national election are still a few weeks away and who knows what will happen with that. We have had protests and upheaval. We will be having our Annual Meeting Part 1 in a new way with masks and social distancing. At the end of the month we will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day in a new way and perhaps wondering what we are thankful for. The last Sunday of November is the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of the new Church year. It has been a year of new, different, work-around, fear, hope, concern, reaching out, checking up, and a wild roller coaster of emotions.

But with this all, there are constants that we have to reach for and trust in: God loves us all; God has a plan; prayers will be answered; and we are always blessed in all ways. Our actions should be guided by the gift we are given by Jesus in the Gospel lesson for All Saints Sunday: The Beatitudes: “3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt.5:3-12).

We end the Church year on Christ the King with the Gospel from Matthew 25: “35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” This is what we will be asked about by Christ. Not who we voted for, how much money we earned, what car we drove, or what house we lived in. Rather, we will be asked: how much have you loved; how have you cared for others; and how have you touched other’s lives. From the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20) which are God’s command to love Jesus gave us the Beatitudes which are a promise of the rewards of living that life of love to the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) which simplifies the Commandments and finally the final judgement which gives us all the concrete ways of living out the Commandments, Beatitudes, and the Great Commandment.

If we, as a Christian people, live every day focused on being the blessed people we are and sharing that blessing with others, our lives, and by extension the world, shall be a better place. Let us work on being poor in spirit (recognizing our need for God), empathetic, meek, righteous, merciful, pure, peacemakers, faithful and honorable in our relationship with God and one another. Let us feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. Let us truly love God, our neighbors, and ourselves to the glory of God. May this next Church year beginning with Advent be the year we build the Kingdom of God on earth; a Kingdom of Love.

December 2020

“Advent to Christmas”

        The first Sunday of Advent’s (November 29th) Gospel lesson from Mark is a rather disquieting one, especially in this time of pandemic! Jesus warns of his return and that we need to keep awake and ready to welcome him. In this time of social distancing, having him show up can just be one more worry on our minds! Another guest in the house! Especially when many of us aren’t ready or tired of sharing space with our own near and dear! However welcomed and loved people are, they are a disruption to our usual routine and crowd us. And we all know Jesus; he’s not going to go quietly to the guest room and hang out there! Nope, he’s going to be hanging around the kitchen telling stories, wanting to go shopping with us, help us pick out presents, decorate the house, stay up late watching movies and baking cookies! He’s going to be into everything we are doing. This is what preparing for Jesus’s coming is really about. He wants to be a part of us and live through us in our everyday life. This is what welcoming Jesus is about. This Advent time is a time to look at your words, actions, lifestyle, and values, are they compatible with hanging out with Jesus 24/7??

        The Gospel lesson for the second Sunday of Advent always brings to my mind the opening song from the musical, Godspell. Not one of my favorite musicals (although it is one of Pastor Lisa’s )but this song is a good reminder that we do need to prepare the way the Lord. It’s not just John calling in the desert centuries ago but what each of us should be doing each and every day of our lives, called by our baptism with water AND the Holy Spirit. The call to build God’s Kingdom (prepare the way) and repentance is an ongoing, continuing circle. God cannot reign in an unrepentant heart therefore we must repent to build the Kingdom, repentance occurs when the heart is touched by the reign of God, God is the source and summit of all and we are the ones drawing and sharing that source on our way to the summit (and bringing others with us!). So, step one to prepare the way of the Lord is to prepare ourselves through repentance each and every time we need it. Then we can work on the rest of the world!

        Gaudete (from the Latin word meaning “rejoice.”) Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, we have the reoccurring theme of rejoicing in the first lesson, psalm, and second lesson. We are called to rejoice because of the gifts we have been given by a loving God; especially in difficult times! If we only rejoice, pray, and thank when things are good, we miss out on finding the good in the difficult. This Sunday we get a similar Gospel lesson as the second Sunday but from the Gospel of John. John the Baptist explains that he is NOT the Messiah nor a prophet but comes to testify to the light to come, so that others would believe. How often do we feel like John the Baptist, call out to people who willfully will not listen? And, sadly, how often are WE the ones not listening? Advent is the time to take a closer look at how we are testifying to the light. A time to rejoice and prepare in spite of not because of!

        The fourth Sunday of Advent we have the blessing of a resounding “YES!”. The impossible is always possible with God. The Virgin can conceive the Son. God can walk on the earth. Emmanuel is with us. We are loved, unconditionally. We can be called children of God. We can be heirs to the Kingdom. Perhaps we need to answer God’s requests with Mary’s example, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say.” Maybe God gives us the impossible to deal with to encourage us to turn to him. What impossible situation have you experienced? How did you deal with it? Did you take it to God in prayer or try to go it alone?

        Then we get to Christmas! The Church gives us two Gospel lessons for the Christmas celebration depending on when the Gospel is read (and what the Pastor chooses!). The Christmas Eve Celebration and the first Celebration on Christmas morning has the Gospel from Luke with the baby in the manger and the angels announcing His birth to the shepherds in the field. We still sing a portion of that announcement when we sing the Gloria or recite the Glory to God in Service! It is the best part of Charlie Brown’s Christmas; when Linus explains to Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas, he quotes this Gospel passage. This is where many of us stay – Jesus as that baby in the manger and missing the point that this is the beginning – how he had to start here to get to the cross (where others stay) but our salvation and redemption is not completed until we finally get to the empty tomb on Easter! It is the reason for our faith. The baby had to come. This is the beginning of Jesus’s ministry to bring us all home to him and the Father and the Holy Spirit.

        The Gospel for the rest of Christmas Day if from the beginning of the Gospel of John. It is the testament of WHO Jesus is. He is the light. He is the Word of God. He is the Son of God. He is God. The Word became flesh and walked in the world to give us life and direction. This is the Jesus we are all waiting to return. This is the Jesus that reminded us to keep awake at the beginning of Advent, specifically for his Second coming! It is the light that John the Baptist testified about. This is he who John was not worthy to unlace his sandals.

        The last Sunday of December the Gospel lesson from Luke is a story of God fulfilling his promises to Simeon and Anna just as Joseph and Mary fulfilled the requirements of their faith in God. All the lessons for this day contain two themes: children and God fulfilling his promises! It is a time to reflect on the importance of family. Family is where most of us first heard about God. It is where we learned about God the Father and Jesus. It is through families that the story of God and the life of the church continues. Family take on may forms as we grow. There is the family you are born into. There is the family you make of your closest friends. There is the family that you may have through marriage. There is the family that you, hopefully, find within the church. There is the family that comes from being a child of God. There is the family from living in the world. There are many types of family that we live with and through. As this pandemic has worn on, we have all become more and more isolated. We have not been able to connect with family and friends, especially during this holiday season.  This Sunday, before the new year begins, may be a chance to reconnect through a phone call or a letter or an email with all the different families you are connected with. It may be the chance to reconcile with that person that you haven’t been in contact with; it may be the time to reach out to someone who you know has gone further into isolation than is healthy (this might even be you). So, reach out!  

        And as Neil Dimond put it in “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”: (Hallelujah) Now you got yourself two good hands [more or less] (Halle-hallelujah) And when your brother [or yourself] is troubled, You gotta reach out your one hand for him (Hallelujah) 'Cause that's what it's there for (Halle-hallelujah) And when your heart is troubled, You gotta reach out your other hand (Hallelujah) Reach it out to the man up there (Halle-hallelujah) 'Cause that's what he's there for.

January 2021

“Power, Divinity, Death”

        When will it end? How much longer? I’m so tired / sad / discouraged / beleaguered / confused / exhausted. There is hope on the horizon. This too shall pass. Just a little bit longer. Are we talking today or are we talking about Jesus’s time or are we talking about the Hebrew Scriptures time? Yes, all of the above. These are historical and life questions. We all go through bad times but we have faith through Jesus to weather them and come through stronger than when they began. The Gospels in January are a reminder that in spite of or, sometimes, because of adversity we come to a better faith and trust in the Lord. Not just a platitude, but true trust that God guides us all, all the time.

        Finite. Definitive. Declarative. John’s definition of WHO Jesus IS is stated in very clear terms in the opening sentence of John’s Gospel. We have a glimpse of the Trinity in this lesson. The Gospel lesson for the first Sunday of January also tells a little of who John the Baptist is not and who we are by our faith in Jesus Christ. It explains why Jesus came and the purpose Jesus’s entire life. Like John the Baptist we to should be testifying to the light. Through our faith we have become children of God. We have received grace upon grace and truth through Jesus. It is through Jesus that we know God. Jesus came to take us home as children of God. We are given the grace necessary to be children of God. We are given grace to testify to the light of Jesus.  What are you testifying to with your grace?

        Power, divinity, death. What odd symbols to bring a new child as “gifts”! But these are the same ideas that are throughout the entire chapter 2 of Matthew’s Gospel. They are the entirety of Jesus human life and death. The connection between Christmas and Easter; Advent and Lent are reflected in the gifts of the magi. Jesus had power but it wasn’t used the same way that earthly power is used by rulers. He used his power to heal, teach, and comfort. The recognition of his divinity was lacking through out his human life. Even his followers didn’t always “get” the divinity of Jesus. It is only AFTER his death and through his resurrection that the fullness of his power and divinity were recognized by his followers.  What gifts are you giving to Jesus at his Epiphany?

        The Trinity shows up at Jesus’s baptism! In this lesson from the Gospel of Mark we have the Divine Trinity presented as Jesus the man, the Holy Spirit as the dove, and the voice of the Father stating, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” But, like many, it was not recognized at the time. Jesus did not need the baptism of John’s as a repentance of sins rather Jesus was baptized to identify the beginning of his public ministry – a change in his life.  How did your baptism change your life? How is it continuing to change your life?

        "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" What a question from Nathanael! The third and fourth Sundays of January has Jesus beginning his ministry by calling people to be his followers, and those people then calling to others. Phillip became a follower but, other than the first declaration by Nathanael, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” we really hear nothing else about him. Then the fourth Sunday we have Jesus calling Simon and his brother Andrew; then James and his brother John (sons of Zebedee). The most interesting thing I find with all of this not Nathanael walking away but rather, “Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.” WHAT?!!? Who’s walking away from job and family to follow an itinerant preacher? Still amazes me. I’m not sure I would be able to do that.  What have you been called to give up, change, or go against your natural response by God? How have your responded?

        The last Sunday in January we have a question of authority. Jesus teaches with authority. Jesus has authority over the unclean spirits. Later the authorities question Jesus about by what authority he teaches, preaches, and heals. defines authority as: the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine. And we are back to the first Sunday’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus has authority because he is God! We all need to trust in the authority that we follow. When that trust breaks down, chaos happens. In Jesus’s authority we can find not only trust but also calm, order, and guidance.  What chaos in your life do you need Jesus to have authority over? Are you willing to allow his authority to guide you?

February / March 2021

“Proclaiming the Gospel”

        February finds us ending our time after Epiphany and beginning our Lenten Season (on February 17 with Ash Wednesday). Time seems to be going very quickly this year!

        The first Sunday of February we have one of those Gospel lessons that could go anywhere. Do we talk about mothers-in-law, or about pain and suffering, or prayer, or the need for solitude, or do we talk about Christian discipleship, compassion, care for others? I’m going with the last bit! Getting ready to write, I was reading through the lessons for this Sunday and started snickering when I got to the second lesson from the first of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. How many of us can say, as Paul did, “If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” (1Cor 9:16)? Really, this is how we should be! As we claim to be Christians: followers of Christ, living the Gospel values, seekers of the will of God in our lives; this also should be our mantra. Jesus, in his ministry, through both words and action, teaches us that the care of the needy, service to others, compassion for all. This is what discipleship is about! Simon’s mother-in-law, after the fever left her, got up and started serving. This is how we should be reacting to Jesus’s toughing our lives; not complaining about what we don’t have or what we wanted or how someone else has more or different. We need to rise up and serve.  How do we get there from here? Through prayer. Through times of solitude. Through listening both to God and others. Through forgiveness. Through looking at and for the bit of God within each person. Through proclaiming the Gospel in your every action and word.

        We began the time after Epiphany with the Baptism of Jesus and end it with the Transfiguration of Jesus. The presence of the Trinity on both occasions includes the Father claiming Jesus as His own and giving us directions to listen this time! How did Peter, James, and John react? Fear but wanting to stay on the mountain. To dwell here. Instead, Jesus brings them down the mountain and tells them not to speak of what happened – until after the resurrection.  This is one of the issues when you decide to become a follower of Jesus – what we want to do verses what Jesus want you to do. The “yes” to follow the call comes with a price; usually involving pain and sacrifice but definitely fear and confusion. We don’t get to hang out on the mountain top with God; we have to go down and deal with the nitty-gritty of reality and people.

        February 17 is Ash Wednesday. We again are on a mountain! This is from the Sermon on the Mount and gives us the guidelines for what we will be working on during this Lent (and hopefully beyond). It is our annual call to alms giving, prayer, and fasting.  After this past year of fasting from many of our usual activities it seems that Lent might just be a bit redundant. Maybe this year we really dedicate ourselves to those Lenten practices (it might be a little easier!).

        Remember just about six weeks ago, when we heard about Jesus’s baptism, we’re back again! But this time we get the follow-up – what happens after the baptism. But being Mark’s Gospel, we get no details. Jesus is out there for 40 days with Satan tempting, wild beasts, and angels. And then he is in Galilee, after John’s arrest, proclaiming the same message as John: The Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe. Mark is fast. He’s here, he’s there, always on the move and hurrying. Mark is not a great story teller. Not the “stay awhile and listen” kind of story teller.  It is this immediacy that could propel us to action this Lent: to really pay attention to our actions and words and how we proclaim the Gospel through them.

        Ah, Peter. You try so hard and are constantly slapped back down by Jesus. What happened just before this Gospel selection is that Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah. Good job Peter. Now, Peter is hearing something he cannot understand or wants to comprehend, so he tries to “correct” Jesus! And Jesus verbally slaps him down and goes on to soften the blow by reminding ALL his followers that they ALL need to carry their cross. Each of us have a cross to bear. Sometimes it’s noticeable to others and sometimes it’s hidden; sometimes it’s easier and sometimes it’s harder; but it is always there. Remember the first Sunday where we talked about Christian discipleship, compassion, care for others? We are back there again.  Not only do we bear our own crosses but we should also help others with their own. Really, if we all did this (rather than stepping on other’s crosses to make them heavier) we could, perhaps get through this together!

        The Gospel lesson for the third Sunday of Lent this year is on that frequently makes people stop and really thing about who Jesus was. So often Jesus is thought about as simple, loving, kind, understanding, peaceful person preaching about love your neighbor and forgive others. That kind of person sounds a bit weak to change the world! Rather, this Gospel lesson about the money changers in the Temple reminds us that Jesus was really a radical person. WWJD?!? Well, he could heal, forgive, cure, challenge the status quo, shine a light on hypocrisy, and flip a table. Jesus ate. Slept. Jesus hung out with friends. Jesus got angry. Jesus laughed. Jesus cried. Jesus got tired. Jesus was fully human AND fully divine.  It is ZEAL that Jesus had. Not a word we hear a lot of these days. During this Lent, perhaps we could all work a little harder to have that zeal for following Jesus truly and authentically.

        John 3:16. That’s what the most popular take-away from the Gospel lesson for the fourth Sunday of Lent. The small issue with this focus is that it negates what comes afterwards. It’s not just that God sent the Son into the world. It is also that there needs to be belief. And through that belief the guidance of our actions. Satan, the devils, the demons all believed in who Jesus was, but they were not saved.  We need to act in the light of Jesus, not in darkness. We need to continue in shining and sharing the light so that those who see our actions can know they are done to the glory of God. During Lent, be the light of Christ to the world (or at least your little part of it!).
        This Lent, let us all work on our own Christian discipleship, compassion, care for others. Let us all help one another with their cross. Let us support and build others up rather than tearing them down.

April 2021

“How is Your Heart?”

        Lent is almost over! Is it just me, or did it seem to go really fast this year? Maybe it’s because it’s been pretty much one day after another with little change; or because those little touchstones that usually happen during Lent have been missing. But whatever the reason: EASTER IS COMING!!! How have you been doing on those changes you were going to do during Lent? How has your “Give Up and Give” been going? Still complaining to God about stuff? How has that cross bearing been going? Have you helped anyone carry their cross? How has your preaching of the Gospel by how you live your life been going? Discipleship? Compassion and care for others? Don’t worry, there’s still time before Easter.

        “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. 31:33). Is not this the most beautiful thing? It’s from the first lesson for the fifth Sunday of Lent. “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” (Ps. 51:10) or” I treasure your promise in my heart.” (Ps. 119:11) are the Psalm responses. This Sunday we are looking into the heart of those who listen and follow Christ. Jesus echo’s this heart and love theme when he says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (Jn. 12:32). The image this calls to my mind is a parent (or a pet owner) gathering their children (or pets) into their arms when they are frightened or need protection. It’s that parent willing to sacrifice for their child, even if it means their life. Many times, Jesus is described as our Brother but in this instance, he is our parent. Willing to sacrifice himself for the life of the world. To be lifted up from the earth on the cross for all of us. This is truly, the heart of the matter. When have you realized that God’s laws are written on your heart? When have you needed to sacrifice for others? When has someone sacrificed for you?

        Then we come to the last Sunday of March and begin Holy Week with Palm Sunday. The Gospels for Palm Sunday comes from two places in the Gospel of Mark. The Processional Gospel is from Mark 11 and addresses the entrance into Jerusalem. Jesus is welcomed as a king coming into the city. There are many people there since it is the beginning of Passover for the Jewish people (High Holy Days). This Sunday shows the fickleness of people. Some of the people who welcomed him at the beginning of the week are the same people who called for his crucifixion at the end of the week. We have a crowd coming to take Jesus in. We have Peter’s denial. We have friends and followers running away (even going naked rather than be found with Jesus). We have friends watching from afar. We have others that are closer. We have a person pressed into helping and another claiming Jesus after he has died. There is everyone in this story. There is all of us, today, in this story.  Who are you in those different crowds we hear about on Palm Sunday? Are you the ones crying to crucify him, or Simon helping to carry the cross, or the women weeping, or his friends abandoning him, or Peter denying him, or Joseph claiming him after he died?

        April begins with Holy Week and Easter Sunday and the time of Easter going towards Pentecost Sunday (May 23rd). This is the most holy time of year but also some of the most ritualistic celebrations. Each year Christians of all faiths gather together in small communities throughout the world to celebrate the Three Days: the journey with Christ from darkness to light; from captivity to freedom; from death to life and in many of those communities we listen to the same lessons together and participate is similar rituals of Holy Communion, foot washing, reading of the Passion of Christ, the joy and confusion of the resurrection, and welcoming new members into the Body of Christ. This year all of these celebrations may look different from watching on the internet, celebrating at home, watching on television, or (hopefully) gathered in small groups for short periods of time. Each of the celebrations that we join in throughout April can be focused on one of the great words used to describe what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Christ.

        The first word we are looking at is: Servant (Maundy Thursday). Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. This was something that the lowest slave in a household did and here was Jesus doing it. He tells in both word and deed that we to must be that servant to others.

        From Good Friday we have the word: Cross. Some people look at the cross and stay there with the suffering Servant. Others want to bypass the cross altogether and just go to the empty tomb. We need to be willing to do both. We need to be reminded of the walk to Calvary, the nailing to the cross, the two thieves, and the suffering of death especially as we take up our daily crosses. Sometimes we need to help others with their crosses. Each of us have that walk to Calvary we are doing and need to remember we are never doing it alone – Jesus is always walking with us.

        Easter Sunday brings us the wonderful word Resurrection. This is the gift we are given at baptism, resurrection with Christ; the gift that raises us to be co-heirs to the Kingdom of God. Without the resurrection, we would be people of a cross only. We would still be in death. By traveling with Christ through his life and death, we get to also participate in his resurrection. It is the completion of the cycle that brings us to faith.

        The first Sunday after Easter brings us to Jesus appearing to his disciples and to Thomas specifically which bring us to the word trust. We as Christians really depend on trust. We trust that this whole idea of God, Jesus, the cross, the resurrection, the gospel stories, and the promises contained within are true. We cannot prove all of it. We were not witnesses to it. We trust and consider ourselves blessed because of that trust because Jesus said, “…blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29).

Then we are called to witness. The disciples were witnesses to the resurrection, were taught directly by Jesus, and were sent to witness to their experience. We are also called to witness to our belief. We do this by how we live our lives: what we say to others, what we spend our money on, and how we spend our time. You witness when you share what excites and interests you about God or how you have experienced God working in your life.

        And finally, we are called to be sheep. Not in a mindless way but in a way that recognize Jesus as the shepherd – the kind that earns the trust of the sheep by keeping them safe and being willing to lay down his life for them.

        As we journey again through the Three Days and into the time of Easter let us reflect on how we are Christians. We are servants, carry crosses, and believe in the resurrection. We trust and witness to God in our lives and are willing sheep to the shepherd that is Jesus.  The challenge: to continue in faith that God has a plan, Jesus is walking with you, and the Spirit is guiding you in spite of what the trials, tribulations, loneliness, and separation we have all experienced in this last year. Have hope.