Good Evening friends. My name is Thomas.
I really don’t know if I should be talking with you right now. I’m taking a big risk being out in public. By now you must know that having witnessed this topsy-turvy week. But for those of you that have been away, or have not been paying attention, someone I admired and someone I was very close to was crucified last night – killed by a conspiracy of powerful interests.
Interests from both inside the empire and the temple, made possible when one of my closest friends betrayed our leader, and all of his followers, for money of all things. The name of the man that was executed was Jesus, and we are all stunned by this because we walked into Jerusalem just a few days ago to a big parade. We couldn’t have felt more welcomed, especially for country folk like me and my friends.
Jesus said he was going to Jerusalem to die. But I don’t think any of us thought it would end like this. Our fellowship which had been formed and strengthened by such promise, has been suddenly shattered and scattered into dark corners of the city, hiding from those that might want us dead too.
So I dare not linger here too long with you, lest I be found and brought to the same kind of so-called justice. Actually, I feel rather guilty about the whole affair, and my failure to stand up for Jesus, who wasn’t guilty of any of the trumped-up charges brought against him. But things happened so quickly and unexpectedly, we all reacted in fear – even though it was one of the things Jesus consistently told us “Have no fear”.
Just a few weeks ago as we prepared this journey to Jerusalem, and Jesus predicted his own death, I shouted to my stunned friends “Let us also go, that we may die with him!” What a hypocrite, I am. One moment I’m willing to join him in his mission unto death, and then when things get tough, I run away and hide like a little boy. At least my friend Peter stood up to the soldiers at first, willing to fight to save Jesus from capture.
But the odds were too much against us, and Jesus himself told Peter to stop, since he did not want any of us to be captured or killed. What kindness, what bravery, what love this man had for his followers. He died, so that we might be saved. But now that he is gone, what will our future be? We’ve lost our master, our rabbi, our messiah, and with Judas’ betrayal, we’re not sure we can even trust each other anymore. Which one will be the next to backstab over a few coins?
But I just remembered something that Jesus said, that didn’t make sense to me at first, but just now is starting to become clearer. Jesus once told us not to let our hearts be troubled, to believe in God and believe in him. Then he talked about leaving and going to prepare a place for us. As a fool, I asked him “Lord we do not know the way you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life!” I thought Jesus was telling us to stay close to him all the way through.
Thomas, you idiot! Jesus didn’t mean that literally, as if you could actually walk alongside him all the way to his destiny. He kept saying he was going to die, but none of us really believed it could happen. We’d seen so many unbelievable things in our time with him. Things that were really hard to explain – including bringing to life some people thought to be dead. With that power, surely Jesus would never die, and he was so close to God, we expected that Jesus could be rescued from any kind of danger.
We never really considered his death as an option, even though he kept predicting it. But Jesus is dead, and some of our friends inside the temple have told us that he has now been buried inside a sealed tomb. How can a dead man, be the way, the truth and the life?
So now that I think of it, as often as Jesus predicted his own death, he also claimed that he could rise again. Once, he even connected his own death and resurrection to the story of Jonah, who was swallowed by a fish, and after three days, emerged to carry out the mission of God to the gentiles.
So I wonder, if his prediction of death has now come true, could it be that his prediction of resurrection will also come true? Is this what he meant about the way, the truth and the life – that the way to the father is to have faith in the power of the resurrection – that God would claim power even over death, and death in the worst possible way?
I was there in Bethany, when Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, and he emerged even after being entombed for four days. It was an amazing moment in ministry, but I can’t say for sure that I really believed Lazarus was fully dead. No one comes back from death, no one. How then can it happen with Jesus? After all, if Jesus were that powerful, he could have spared himself the torture of crucifixion, and frankly have spared us all the grief we are now feeling.
No, I’m afraid, that dead means what it always has meant – dead! And there is no coming back from death. But maybe there is a reason that Jesus died, and the twelve, er eleven of us remained. Maybe after all this confusion is over, something good can come out of it. Well I don’t know what my friends think, they were too scared to even show their faces, but I won’t let it get to me. I plan to live my own life and remember Jesus in my own way.
And now I hear the rumors are starting. by one of the women who went to Jesus’ tomb this morning. I thought they were crazy to go there with the Roman guards in place. They would be chased away, or worse, arrested and imprisoned. This one claims that when they went to the tomb, it was opened and empty – and an angel appeared to them announcing that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and something about going off to Galilee where we will meet him.
Just preposterous, don’t you think. The ravings of some grieving, overly emotional women. Even my crazy impetuous friend Peter will likely believe these tall tales! How can I believe such a thing? No – I don’t expect to see Jesus’ alive again, and I won’t believe it unless I put my hands inside and touch the wounds made by the nails on the cross, and the spear that was jabbed in his side as he was lowered. I don’t suggest you believe it either, at least if you want to keep your life, and your families safe.
But then again…
Holy Week always gets off to an auspicious and promising start doesn't it.
It's become fashionable for congregations to gather in public places, and then process through towns, villages and city streets, waving palms and shouting Hosanna, as they march to their sanctuaries, remembering the glorious parade that ushered Jesus into Jerusalem for the last week of his life.
But while this parade marked a time of hope that a new savior had come for the people, it turns out that the original Palm Sunday parade was more of a funeral procession than a march of triumph. It was not the welcome jubilee for a conquering hero, but an unwitting elegy by a group of people who did not understand the type of savior that had entered the city. They wanted a victorious savior. Instead, they got the savior they needed.
That day, nearly 2000 years ago, the crowd of people lined the streets of Jerusalem and shouted Hosanna, meaning "God Save Us!". Disillusioned by his failure to overturn the government of the oppressors, just a few days later, a few hours later, really, the very same people shouted "Crucify Him". acceding to the execution of Jesus, the one they had welcomed to dwell in their city a the savior of mankind. They didn't get the savior they wanted, but they got the one they needed.
Doesn't this ring true today as well? Don't we want a savior that will come into the world and fix all the problems for us?
That may be the savior we want, but it's not the savior we need.
The savior we need is not the one that led the Palm Sunday parade, but the one that was left beaten, denied, betrayed and abandoned - to die as a persecuted outcast, and one who pronounced forgiveness from the very seat of his own torture.
That's why Holy Week is so important. Not that we celebrate with parades, but that we sit and watch as the week's events unfold, and realize that the kind of savior we need, is so much more dear to us than the one which we think we need.
So when you worship later this week, remember that the savior you hope for is so rarely the one you actually get - but JESUS is the one, the only one you need.
The plight of the world’s refugees holds a prominent place in modern news reports. The United Nations refugee agency has numbered the worldwide refugee count at 21.3 million people, half of those under the age of 18. Nearly 5 million refugees come from Syria alone, a country that was once the cradle of the Christian church. The largest UN sponsored refugee camp is the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya which was established 25 years ago. It’s population in 2015 included 185,000 people who have fled dangerous conditions in their homelands of Somalia, South Sudan and 18 other countries. Conditions at this camp, and others are squalid and dangerous. Here is how the UN describes the Kakuma Refugee Camp:
In 2015, the last year statistics were available, only 107,000 refugees were resettled into new homelands. That’s it, only 107,000!
Ezekiel’s vision of the “Valley of Dry Bones” is one of the most powerful prophetic texts in all of scripture. Ezekiel is brought to a dry, dead valley, full of bones and bereft of any signs of life. Can you imagine the sight of this place? I wonder if the world looks at refugee camps in the same way. These camps are deadly pools of poverty, disease and despair where the most appealing benefit is that the pace of death there is much slower than it was in the refugee’s homeland. We look at the world’s refugees and wonder “Can these bones live?”
It appears that the answer in a great part of the world is “No”. It’s Not that there aren’t many people, including church-affiliated organizations, who are advocating, pleading, funding, and offering places of sanctuary, but governments are becoming increasingly protective and saying no when it comes to opening borders to these vulnerable refugees, these “dry bones”.
God’s people, though, do not take “No” for answer when the question is “Can these bones live?” The Holy Spirit overcomes our fears, our xenophobia, our superiority, and our apathy and says a resounding “Yes”. That Spirit of God has the power to knit those bones together, one by one, and breathe life into something others leave for dead. That’s the same Spirit that breathed life into four days dead Lazarus when Jesus said “Lazarus come out!” And it is the same Spirit that rolled the stone away from the tomb on Easter morn. It is the Spirit of hope in the one who claims “I am the Resurrection and the Life”.
It is also the Spirit that remains in the minds and hearts of the Kakuma refugees. The UN completes their description of the camp in this way:
Can these bones live? What is your answer?
For the text of this week's sermon - CLICK HERE
Devotions for Week of April 2, 2017
I hope you read Psalm 121 today. It is a short Psalm, only 8 verses, but because it is short, it can more easily be committed to memory. That's probably how most people sung and heard this Psalm, listed as one of the Songs of Ascents - words of inspiration sung as travelers approached the Holy City of Jerusalem, which sat on a plateau to which travelers would climb.
It must have been a remarkable and uplifting site to see the Holy City on a hill from a distance, knowing that you were nearing the place where God was thought to dwell among God's people. Traveling was hard, most of it walking or on the back of slow-moving beasts. Weary travelers were inspired when they could look up and see Jerusalem - when the could lift their eyes and see the home of God.
The weary travelers knew the end of their journey was near. Not only was traveling long and tiring, but it was also dangerous. Roads between cities were unprotected, wild places, where many were set upon by robbers, or wild animals. Seeing the Holy City meant they were nearing the end of the danger, moving to a place where the God of all creation, the God who never fails to keep watch, the God who protects God's people made it home.
When you read this Psalm, think about coming home after a long journey, and the return to familiar comforts, welcoming faces, and rest for the weary soul. Then lift your eyes heavenward in the same way those Jerusalem travelers did millennia ago, and remember that the God who created it all will keep your going out and coming in from this time on and forevermore.
This is a photo of our dog Tucker. We adopted him nearly two years ago when his owner died suddenly and Tucker needed a new place to live. Despite his size (about 80 lbs.), he is the gentlest, calmest, most compliant pet we’ve ever had. Like most dogs, he is sad when we leave him home alone, but joyful when we return home. When we are eating, he is right nearby hoping something will drop to the floor. He always sleeps in our room with us at night.
And, Tucker was born blind.
But just because Tucker was born blind does not mean he can’t “see” the world around him. He does everything a normal dog would do except run and fetch. While he doesn’t have functioning eyes, his other senses make up where his eyes fail him. Tucker loves life and we love him.
Indeed, we know that seeing is not always done with our eyes. Most of us probably know people that are sight impaired, yet see the world with their eyes of wisdom, much more clearly than those with 20/20 vision. The first pastor I knew as a young boy was David Mc Cracken, who lost his sight due to diabetes. I never knew him when he had his sight, but I remember him reading scripture using a braille bible, teaching us in Sunday School, preaching occasionally on television, and serving not just 1, but 2 parishes in the Bronx.
Pastor Mc Cracken often told a story of a homeless man who knocked on the parsonage door in the middle of the night, not such an unusual occurrence for a Bronx neighborhood church located just north of the end of 2 subway line. Pastor Mc Cracken invited the man in for some food, warmth and conversation, even though he could see not what he looked like, or assess visually if the man may have meant to do him harm. The eyes of wisdom and love were all Pastor Mc Cracken needed to see the need of the man on his doorstep and to extend the hand of kindness to him. As the encounter came to an end, Pastor Mc Cracken gave that man some money and prayed him on his way. That man’s life was changed that night and his eyes were opened by the love and hospitality of one blind minister. Not only was the man inspired to turn his life around, but he too became a pastor of a congregation in Mt. Vernon, NY where he served for many years.
The eyes that Pastor Mc Cracken saw through that night were the eyes of Jesus. The eyes that see the suffering of the world, and the eyes that help us to see what we would never see ourselves. In today’s gospel, we witness an unusual healing, with Jesus spitting in the dirt and rubbing the mud on a blind man’s eyes and making him see. When I read the passage, I wonder if Jesus is poking fun at all the miracle gazers in the world who look for signs of miracles with noticing what truly happens. In this story a man was blind, and then could see. That is the miracle, because that is what happens every time we meet Jesus and we see something in front of us that we never saw before; when we see potential in someone that the world has forsaken; when we see a need to give, instead of defend our selfishness; when we see what we could be instead of avoiding looking at the possibilities.
Blindness may indeed be a disability in more ways than one. But thank God Jesus opens our eyes to see what we cannot see on our own.
For text of the Sermon - Click Here
Devotions for Week of March 26, 2017
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Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.