Think for a moment about how you might respond; would you respond with; “Nah, I’m good. I don’t need to know.” “It’s okay, just keep it to yourself.” Of course not! your ears perk up; you know you’re going to hear about something extraordinary--maybe you’re even the first to hear it. So you’re all ears. Nobody says something like this and follows it up with something boring, like:
“You’re not going to believe what I just saw. There was a guy at that picnic table over there? You know the one under the tree? And you know what he was doing? He was EATING A SANDWICH. Right there. I saw it with my own eyes!”
Nobody says something boring after that phrase. It’s more like; “You’re not going to believe what I just saw; there was a dog riding a skateboard.” Whatever it is, you know that a person who says “You’re not going to believe what I just saw” has a story to tell. They are a witness to something extraordinary.
A witness is made when something extraordinary happens, they see it, and they tell the story.
It is a heavy thing to bear witness;
A witness is one who testifies to their presence and attention in a particular moment in time when something extraordinary happens. A witness stands up in a moment of uncertainty and says; “I was there. I saw it. This is what happened.”
This is the kind of moment that met the first visitors to the tomb of Jesus on that early Easter morning so long ago. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and some other women who were with them had come to the tomb to finish the customary burial rituals they had begun to prepare before the sabbath. While surely this was a sad and difficult moment for them, it would not have been out of the ordinary. This ritual happened every time someone died; it was simply what the women always did.
But when they arrived at the tomb, we are told, something very out-of-the-ordinary happened. They found the tomb empty, and the stone rolled away from the entrance. Then they were met by two men in dazzling clothes, who told them the body wasn’t there; that Jesus had risen, just as he said he would. And at this moment; something fundamentally changed; these women became witness-bearers. They now carried with them the weight of a story only they could tell; for only they had seen it.
And what is characteristic about Luke’s telling of the story of Jesus’ resurrection, is that the stories keep coming in rapid succession, like an action film. In Luke’s telling, we are led from one scene to another as the resurrection story gets out; after he hears the women’s account, Peter runs to the tomb to find it empty just as they had said. He goes home amazed. Then Luke tells us that on that same day two of those who had been with the women and heard the story were talking about it on the way to Emmaus, when they were met by a man who asked them what they were talking about. So they bore witness to this man, they told the story, and the man turned out to be Jesus himself!
They broke bread together, and then Jesus disappeared from their presence. So immediately, “that very hour” the text says, they got up and went to the rest of Jesus’ followers and told them what had just happened. I can just imagine them rushing into the room and blurting out; “You’re not going to believe what just happened.”
Then in the very moment that they were discussing this together, Jesus himself appeared to them. He showed them the scars on his hands and feet, ate some fish, and then gave them the greatest commission of all. He told them;
As I read chapter 24 of Luke’s gospel, I am struck by the way Jesus appears to these disciples, these dear and beloved friends of his. It’s like he is giving them opportunities to articulate for themselves the wonder of what is happening, as it is happening. First, the women; then the two men on the road to Emmaus; then the disciples who can’t help but chatter amongst themselves in wonder Jesus could have appeared to everyone all at once; but he doesn’t. It’s like Jesus is giving them a chance to practice the art of bearing witness for themselves; so that the story is not just Jesus’ story--it is their story too.
Luke’s gospel concludes by telling us that these newly commissioned witnesses…
Friends, the message Jesus gave to his disciples is the same one that he gives us today; “we are witnesses to these things.”
We have a great story to tell! A story of one who patiently walked alongside us, sharing in the dust and grime of ordinary life, lifting up those who had been ignored and left behind, healing and restoring, bringing new life into dead places and finally conquering death himself so that we might have eternal life. This is the story of Easter.
So what is your story?
Perhaps today is a day when you have found it hard to be joyful.
Challenge after challenge seem to come your way. You try to do all the right things and make good choices, and yet, you find yourself empty, like the men on the road to Emmaus who said; “But we had hoped he was the one.” We had hoped things would be different. Maybe you’re there today; confused that things have not turned out the way you expected. Allow Jesus to reveal himself to you in these moments of worship. Trust that the risen Lord is bringing new life to you.
Perhaps you have been through a recent devastating loss;
like the women rising on that first Easter morning you are going through the motions, doing what is expected, all the while carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. May you find in the resurrection story the hope that reminds you that God brings life out of death in ways you might find hard to believe at first; but that are nonetheless real and true.
Maybe, like Peter you’ve heard the story and you’ve come to see for yourself. I hope that like Peter you might be surprised to find an empty tomb bereft of its prize; I pray you find in this blessed sanctuary a room crammed with joyful witnesses, an invitation to believe, and the courage to tell your very own resurrection story.
As we approach the table of the Lord on this Resurrection Day, hear this, beloved of God; Christ invites all to come to his table who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another. In the United Methodist church we practice an open table; we do not put limits on whom God invites to God’s table. And so, all are welcome to come, be nourished, and be made new as we share in this outward sign of God’s inward redeeming grace. Do you love him? Do you seek forgiveness? Do you seek peace with your neighbor? Come and be fed.
We continue today our sermon series:
Sometimes we can make assumptions in our relationships about who is sick and who is well. As we open ourselves to radical hospitality, both in the giving and the receiving, God begins to gently open up the sick parts of us to healing from surprising places and people.
Nouwen was opened up to a new level of spiritual intimacy and vulnerability when he was led to serve at L’Arche Daybreak, a home for those with physical and mental disabilities in Canada.After straining and striving in the hallowed academic halls of Yale and Harvard, he found himself among those facing enormous challenges in navigating the very simplest tasks of daily life. There he met Adam, about whom he writes;
I think about the community Nouwen describes here, and compare it to times when I’ve been in professional gatherings. Many of us have gone to them; they may be organized around a particular profession, or an academic discipline or a business venture; I find when I have attended these things I sort of grit my teeth through the posturing and the preening, as we all try to “make an impression” or “get noticed”; pass around business cards or instagram handles and do our best to look successful. It’s exhausting. You know what the best part of those gatherings is? After all the formal sessions. When people gather in groups of haggard people, tired of the show, and be themselves.
Intimacy is not fostered in great halls of power but in quiet side rooms where people allow themselves to be vulnerable, in a community of the weak.
In our text today, Jesus receives the radical hospitality of Levi Matthew the tax collector. He reclines at table with those the powerful people ignore, overlook, judge, or ridicule. He enters into spiritual intimacy around food and drink in a community of the weak. It is his way. And it makes no sense to the powerful people in town.
I’m sure there were many who raised their eyebrows at the Harvard and Yale professor who left the halls of academic prestige and influence to spend his days with those who struggled to get dressed in the morning. But thiat is the way of Christ. And Nouwen found in community with them that vulnerability leads to solidarity--when all are included, all are built up and encouraged in the Body of Christ.
It is the first Sunday of the month, and as such it is our custom here at Brookings First UMC to celebrate communion. There is a distinctively Methodist practice when it comes to communion that demonstrates our commitment to Jesus’ radically inclusive way in the world. We practice an open table. Consider the scene at Levi’s house on that joyful evening. He invited all his friends. The disciples were there. Jesus were there. All were welcome, even the scribes and Pharisees if they could have stopped looking down their noses at these people long enough to see them. All were welcome around the joyful table of radical hospitality, this rowdy, celebrating group of misfits. This is the way of Jesus; it is the way of shocking welcome, of arms wide open, of spiritual intimacy and open communion.
IN her book Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans said;
As we gather around our communion tables, whether it be here or in our homes, we are practicing the radical hospitality, the spiritual intimacy, and the open communion that are hallmark’s of Jesus ministry on earth. The sacrament of communion opens us up to communion with God and communion with one another as we share the bread and the wine; as we remember the body broken and the blood poured out. We celebrate, we remember, we give thanks. It is a most intimate, incarnational act.
What does it look like to be a community of the weak? It looks like saying “yes” when Jesus meets us along the way of our lives and calls out; ‘Follow me.” It looks like sitting down at the table of abundance with no one left out and always room for more. It looks receiving the gift of one another, letting our hair down, and passing the bread and cup. As we come to the table today, know this; you are welcome. You are always welcome. Come and celebrate the feast of Christ.
Let us pray:
Lord as we gather around this wonderful meal
everywhere and in every place;
bless us all your children.
As we eat this bread and drink this cup
linking arms around the world,
pour your grace into us all.
Grace us with your presence
as we quietly and loudly pray to you.
May we see in each other
your light, your love and you.
May it not matter our differences,
our names, our languages,
our looks, and our way of doing things.
May what matter today and everyday be that we are one in you.
And as we pray many we call to mind our brothers and sisters
who are unable to be with us today whether in body or spirit.
May you bring comfort to those who are grieving, lonely,
heartbroken, ill or broken of spirit.
May you strengthen those whose lives feel shattered,
don’t make sense, in crisis, and experiencing loss.
May you say the healing word to those who need it.
May you bring the human touch of love
to those who have not been touched.
May you love the unloved through us.
May you shine your light
into those whose world is covered in darkness.
May you use us to feed the hungry,
clothe the ones who need clothes,
give a cup of water to those who are thirsty,
shelter the homeless, visit the sick and those in prison.
May our lives be awakened to you, Lord,
to your love and to your kingdom
whose door is always open to all. Amen.
(introduce Closing song)
Benediction: Go in peace and may God’s peace go with you; and may you bring bring hope and healing and radical welcome to all whom you meet. AMEN.
From Fear to Love
By: Pastor Krista Ducker
(Gary Norton at 10:00 service): Our scripture comes to us today from Psalm 27, verses 4-5:
We are continuing our Lenten journey through Henri Nouwen’s book Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. Each week, we have focused on different movements of the spirit as we mature in Christ: from Opaqueness to Transparency, From Illusion to Prayer, From Sorrow to Joy, from Resentment to Gratitude, and this week, from Fear to Love.
In the companion video for this week’s movement, REv. Rebecca Trefz, our District Superintendent, highlights Nouwen’s insight that that these movements indicate not stepwise progressive stages of development, but rather, “movements, from the things that enslave and destroy to liberation and life.” As we have witnessed countless times throughout our global history, nothing enslaves and destroys like fear does. And consequently, nothing frees and rebuilds, like love can.
In this chapter, Nouwen reminds us of the story in scripture, in Matthew 8, of the disciples huddled in terror as their boat crashed among stormy sea waves; Jesus, calm and steady, reminded them of the truth--they were held in the presence of the One who held sway over the wind and waves. And their faith was strengthened.
There are many things that can trigger that deep pit-of-the-stomach dread that is an all too familiar feeling these days. Perhaps it is the looming phone call from a doctor with what could be a serious diagnosis; perhaps the fear we will be rejected by a loved one or a colleague if we find the courage to tell the truth; perhaps we fear for our children in a culture that seems all too willing to injure the sensitive and vulnerable; even a simple act like opening our social media apps or turning on the news can bring on feelings of fear, anxiety and dread without warning. We live in uncertain times. In such times, it is natural to respond by building our walls, putting up our defenses and protecting our turf. But this is not the way of love. Fear leads to bondage; but love leads to freedom.
Nouwen offers a powerful cautionary picture of the end result of our fearful efforts at self protection: isolation;
This is the end of all our capitulations to fear. It is the way of the world we live in; but it is NOT the way of the world we come from. Let us remember that our home is not of this world; we are citizens of another country; God’s country. And in that country, love, not fear, holds sway.
Our home is with God; the God who chose to dwell with us, so that we could find our home in him. In the Gospel of John, Nouwen reminds us, we are told that Jesus came to earth to “make his dwelling place with us” (1:14).
Jesus admonished his disciples (and by extension, us) to “abide in me, as I abide in you.” (15:4) As once we Adam and Eve did with God in the Garden of Eden, Jesus invites us to dwell, to live, to hang out, with him, there to find rest for our souls. In Jesus, we have enough. In Jesus, we are enough.
I don’t know about you, but I often feel like the way of this world is the way of “never enough.” There’s never enough time; never enough money; no matter how much effort or energy, or wit, or humor, or resources, we pour into the things of the world, it is never enough to quiet the shouting voices of fear in our minds or untie the knots in our gut. The truth is, the world uses us. But God loves us. Sometimes even in the church we can get confused and forget that we follow the way of Jesus; we are an outpost, a way station, a pit stop for the faithful on the way to our true home with God. We need to look more like God’s world, than this world. We need to remember our way is not a way of fear, but a way of love.
I’ve heard it said that the phrase “Don’t be afraid” occurs 365 times in the bible. I’ll admit I haven’t counted. But I like that idea. One for every day of the year; a reminder every day that fear is not the essence of our being. In Hebrew, the command looks like this:
In Hebrew you read from right to left, not from left to right; so the first word is actually that one on the right: al. Then you read the word on the left: tiyra. Al-tiyra. What I love about the word order is that reads a little like Yoda; “Not afraid shall you be.” Or, put a little more simply; “be not afraid.” Notice how the emphasis changes; it is not a negative (do not be afraid), but a positive; “BE not afraid.
The state of freedom from fear is how we should be; in the very core of our beings, we are unafraid people. We have been created for love; love of God, love of neighbor, love of ourselves. Fear is foreign to our nature, and it is the mechanism by which this world lures us back into slavery. But we have been freed. Our home is with God, and God’s way is love.
So when we are afraid, how do we find our way back to our home in love? Through prayer, Nouwen tells us. So much of what drives our anxieties and fears is the enemy’s lie that we are not okay; that we will not be okay; that somehow we can worry our way into okay-ness. But when we pray--that is, when we take time away to waste time with God and open our hearts to God’s loving Spirit work within us--we are reminded that all the machinations, pressures and distractions of the world only serve to lure us away from our true home in God; the God of love.
The work of love is daily work. It calls us toward a movement of growing up into Christ. It is not a quick fix. It isn’t glamorous. It won’t make us famous. But it will make us free. Every day we have a choice:
Will we run like the prodigal toward the empty promises of the world, or will we turn toward our true home in God?
I know we have wandered a bit from our text today, so let me remind us of it; from Psalm 27:4-5:
Often when I have come across these verses I have focused more on the first one: that I would live in the house of the LORD forever. But it’s interesting to read these two verses together; they imply that God’s loving protection doesn’t stay just in one place. Look at it; God hides us in God’s shelter; God conceals us under his tent; God sets us high on a rock. So think about it; these verses taken together tell me that God’s home moves with me. Whether I am at worship, or whether I am out doing my daily work, or on a journey, wherever I am, God’s protection is with me.
That means that at any point in my day, and you in yours, we can be covered in God’s protection, like a tent. We can find a way station along the way for shelter. When we are confused and can’t see the way, we can trust that God will set us in a place of clarity. What if we looked at our times of prayer this way?
I want to invite you to try that this week. In your devotion time, or in those moments you steal for quiet reflection in your day, especially if fear begins to take hold, say to yourself; “I’m going into God’s tent for a little while.” The psalmist reminds us that God is always with us, always caring for us, always available, anytime of the day. Even if it’s just for a minute or two--we can go into God’s tent; we can hide in God’s shelter; we can seek to find a high rock where we can see clearly. God’s home is not a specific place; God’s home is wherever we are.
The people of Israel were accustomed to moving around. For most of their history they were nomadic peoples; sometimes they were able to worship at a temple, but even then, many of them were spread far and wide; a vast diaspora that continues to this day. For them, as for us, the mobility of God’s presence, whether it was symbolized in the Ark of the Covenant, the pillar of fire, the pillar of cloud, or the sacred words of scripture, has provided a grounding sense of home.
For us, that home is Christ who saves us. That home is the Holy Spirit, who guides and sustains us. That hope is God, our creator who made us, breathed life into us, and continues to make us new. We can be unafraid. God is with us; and we are going to be okay.
From Resentment to Gratitude
By: Pastor Pete Grassow
Luke 15 The Prodigal Son
Intro: There are a number of really well known parables that Jesus told: we learn them in Sunday School and repeat them to our kids –
I can think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan / the Sower and the Seeds – but the most preached is the Parable of the Prodigal Son: we know all about the son who took his inheritance and ran away from home: who came to his senses and returned home…
Do you know that this parable is not just about a son who ran away: it is really a story about two sons:
Listen to it again..
11 Jesus went on to say, “There was once a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to him, ‘Father, give me my share of the property now.’ So the man divided his property between his two sons. 13 After a few days the younger son sold his part of the property and left home with the money. He went to a country far away, where he wasted his money in reckless living. …..
17 At last he came to his senses’ 20 So he got up and started back to his father.
25 “In the meantime the older son was out in the field. On his way back, when he came close to the house, he heard the music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him, ‘What's going on?’ 27 ‘Your brother has come back home,’ the servant answered, ‘and your father has killed the prize calf, because he got him back safe and sound.’ 28 The older brother was so angry that he would not go into the house; so his father came out and begged him to come in. 29 But he spoke back to his father, ‘Look, all these years I have worked for you like a slave, and I have never disobeyed your orders. What have you given me? Not even a goat for me to have a feast with my friends! 30 But this son of yours wasted all your property on prostitutes, and when he comes back home, you kill the prize calf for him!’ 31 ‘My son,’ the father answered, ‘you are always here with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be happy, because your brother was dead, but now he is alive; he was lost, but now he has been found.’”
Intro: From Resentment to Gratitude
His younger brother had abandoned his responsibilities on the family farm to go off to the city and do whatever he liked. Not only that – but he had taken some of the family money with him…..
And just when everything had settled down – and things were returning to a new normal: the young man is back… and his father was welcoming him with a party.
I really do understand the resentment of the brother who stayed at home: Surely loyalty should be rewarded!
This cuts close to the bone:
“Resentment is the curse of the faithful, the virtuous, the obedient, and the hardworking” (Henri Nouwen).
Jesus tells this story about the two sons in a specific context:
Luke 15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." 3 So he told them this parable:
The religious leaders of Israel were complaining that he was telling sinners and social outcasts that God loved them…
and that this was unfair because surely God should love only those who were faithful and loyal. And Jesus says that this is not how God’s love works: God’s love is freely given – both to those who think that they deserve it, and to those who know that they do not.
If we are honest: we who are religious struggle with this: we want God to be conditional: to reward those who are good and punish those who are not (and obviously we expect that we will be among those who are rewarded!)
Here’s the core teaching of this parable: Some might have strayed further from home than others – but we have all strayed…
Romans 3: 23 tells us that none of us deserve God’s love – because all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…
Rom 3:23 everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence. Rom 3:24 But by the free gift of God's grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free.
Lutheran Biblical scholar Helmut Thielicke suggests that this parable should be called “The Parable of the Waiting Father”:
The father waited for both sons, because both had strayed from home: The one son went far away and the other son went only as far as the garden – but they both were not in the home:
And the Father waits for them both with equally gracious love….
This is the way of God – is called Grace: the abundant favour of God offered to all people: So the challenge of today: to move from Resentment to Gratitude.
The best way to deal with our resentment is to take our eyes off our good deeds – and see the goodness of God: To return to the parable. Listen to the complaint of the older brother:
What have you given me? Not even a goat for me to have a feast with my friends! 30 But this son of yours wasted all your property on prostitutes, and when he comes back home, you kill the prize calf for him!’ 31 ‘My son,’ the father answered, ‘you are always here with me, and everything I have is yours
The father is saying: “Take you eyes off the one feast I have given your brother, and you will see the size of the blessings you already have…”
Let us too take our eyes off the blessings other people have – and see our own blessings.