I do not want to be a downer on this beautiful morning when we are gathered together in person. I also do not think it is faithful for people of faith to ignore what is going on in the world.
Here is how it went in my head when I thought about what to say during worship about world events:
Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo–killed by police officers. What does this do to law enforcement in my own family? To law enforcement officers I have gotten to know in Nampa? Mass shootings in Boulder, Atlanta, Indianapolis. The eight-year-old girl killed in Emmett, Idaho. The West Middle School student who committed suicide. Our lack of mental health resources in Idaho. Our lack of work force housing in the Treasure Valley. All of that is domestic. I have not gotten to the global stuff. We are called to action–to help bring in the reign of God however we can. Prayer is not enough. Prayers are also not nothing. So this morning, join me in this prayer of for our our community, nation, and world.
Gracious God, keep us working and praying for the day when your justice will roll down like waters, and your righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Replenish our strength and stir up our hope as we look for signs of your coming reign. And fill us with the peace that passes understanding—the deep peace of Jesus Christ our Savior, in whose holy name we pray. Amen. (All Creation Sings, Prayer of Lament)
Prayer of the Day
Holy and righteous God, you are the author of life, and you adopt us to be your children. Fill us with your words of life, that we may live as witnesses to the resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.
12[Peter] addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
17“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”
1Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause;
you set me free when was in distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
2“You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory;
how long will you love illusions and seek after lies?”
3Know that the Lord does wonders for the faithful;
the Lord will hear me when I call.
4Tremble, then, and do not sin;
speak to your heart in silence upon your bed.
5Offer the appointed sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.
6Many are saying, “Who will show us any good?”
Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord.
7You have put gladness in my heart,
more than when grain and wine abound.
8In peace, I will lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me rest secure.
1 John 3:1-7
1See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
4Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
36bJesus himself stood among [the disciples] and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.
44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.”
Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove
There is much to relate to in today’s story from Luke’s gospel. The vaccine may be giving some of us mental peace of mind, but there are still the variants. There is still so much we do not know about how this pandemic will end. We got through a turbulent election cycle, but some doubt the results. I look at our own state legislative session and though I know some important bills passed, it seems that a lot of their collective actions were motivated by fear. Fear of what? I am not entirely sure I can name it, but I think it’s a collective sense that the world is just going to keep on changing—quickly. This change is liberating for some. For others, the change feels frightening. On top of this, most of us are just plain tired. In a committee meeting earlier this week, one of our members named that all of this has led to a general hesitancy in people. I think she is right.
I enjoyed almost all of last week away in the mountains. It was just enough rest that some of my self-awareness returned. Reading my emails, I came across one from Luther Heights Camp Director Kelly Preboski about the rostered leaders retreat in the fall. She has changed the dates for this retreat to before the Confirmation Retreat. Only for the purposes of this sermon will I tell you that my reaction to this email was so disproportionate to its contents. The rostered leaders retreat is always after the Confirmation retreat! It’s been that way forever (like six years), but it feels like forever. How could Kelly do this? How can we relax if we are anticipating the weekend with junior high kids? How will I ever get parents to drive the kids up on Friday? On and on it went in my head. My fear was real, even if unfounded.
I know myself well enough to never respond to emails that push my buttons right away. A few hours later I was laughing at myself and fine with the change. This is a vignette about a small matter with unjustified fears. But I assume most of you can relate. Further, most of you have current fears or doubts, or know people who do, which are much bigger than my story. Fears might be related to a diagnosis, a job search, the death of a loved one, too many news cycles, conspiracy theories. Whether or not we judge the thing causing someone’s fear and doubt, the emotions are real. Not all fear is unfounded or bad. More on that later.
So, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine the emotions of those disciples behind locked doors. They are afraid that the authorities will come after them. They struggle to take in strange reports of Jesus’ resurrection sightings. Even if they had hoped he would be raised from the dead, dead people are supposed to stay dead. If he has been raised, what does that mean? Then, Jesus is there in their midst, “opening their minds,” and setting them free from their fears.
The disciples gathered in the room are already on edge. When Jesus appears in their midst, they are “startled and terrified.” They think they are seeing a ghost. Earlier, the women talked about the empty tomb, sharing the news that Jesus had been raised. The two from Emmaus have told their own story of Jesus being revealed to them in the breaking of the bread. Still, no one was ready for Jesus to materialize behind those locked doors.
It is telling how Jesus responds. His first words are, “Peace be with you.” Jesus both understands and challenges their fears. “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” Jesus meets the disciples where they are, fears and doubts included. Then he invites them to touch and see. He even eats some fish with them. In all of this, he encourages them to move beyond where they are.
What does this lead to? We read, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” Joy, disbelief, and wonder. If we have ever asked, how can I feel multiple emotions at the same time, this line of scripture puts us in good company. In response, Jesus uses familiar words of Scripture to remind them of the prophecy. Jesus opens their minds to begin to see that death is not the final word. Set free from those bonds, they are commissioned to become witnesses. The seeds are planted that will bear fruit on Pentecost.
It is hard to escape our fears. I don’t think we can. I cannot say precisely which metaphorical locked doors each of us is hiding behind. As I mentioned earlier, some of those fears and doubts might be incredibly personal. Some of our fears are more communal. You may not have them now, but I am quite sure that you have had fears and you will again. Some fears help us to be mindful. It is not necessarily getting rid of them that’s the goal. The goal is to not be held captive by them. When we are captive, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to witness to the great joy that is ours in Jesus’ resurrection.
Witnessing to the joy of the resurrection, to the deep hope that is ours, is motivated by courage and whole heartedness, but not fear. Yesterday I participated online in a teach-in session. One of our teachers, Rozella H White, said, “Fear and anger cannot be the foundation of a movement that is sustainable, liberating and life-giving.” Let me repeat that, “Fear and anger cannot be the foundation of a movement that is sustainable, liberating and life-giving.” We, here at Trinity Lutheran, might feel small and insignificant. But we are in fact invited into a movement as followers of Jesus. The foundations of this movement are love and courage.
Freedom from being captive to our fears is possible. Transformation can happen. Closed minds can be opened. The potential is for a release—a powerful release. God call us to deep peace rather than security. One pastor said that this passage asks us, “How are we to be released from those fears in order to be a proper witness?”
Dorothee Soelle was born in Germany in 1929 and grew up during the years of Hitler and the Nazi regime. Her writings are theological reflections on coming to grips with the horrors of the concentration camps and life after World War II. She realized that her heritage of Protestantism had failed to stop both the Holocaust and the war. She challenges the human tendency for wanting to feel safe, to feel secure from any threat, by seeking that from God.
Now you could make a quick jump and say, we are captive to the fear of the virus. We should take off our masks, crowd up and trust God. But remember that fear can help us be mindful—and we are mindful that even with the vaccine, the pandemic is still happening even here in Idaho. And we have used the tools of communal discernment to move forward slowly. We bring mindful people together and make plans with new information and old guideposts. We still do not want to overwhelm our healthcare system. We still want to care for the most vulnerable among us. But we are not captive, we are moving forward, even if it is slowly.
God provides the inner strength and security when we do things that look crazy to the world around us. Dorothee Soelle wrote, “because you are strong [in Christ], you can put the neurotic need for security behind you. You do not need to defend your life like a lunatic. For the love the poor, Jesus says, you can give your life away and spread it around.” (Jesus’ Death).
I am not saying that what Soelle suggests is easy. To take risks like implementing COVID precautions a little longer or going into affordable housing or standing up for the neighbor everyone derides or questioning family norms after generations. And where exactly does the strength of Christ come from this many years after his Ascension? It comes from the strength of Christian community, the nourishment of the sacraments, the solace of prayer, the words of scripture, and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not easy, but it is faithful.
Jesus suddenly appeared in the midst of his early followers. He brought change to their lives as they moved from fright and alarm to joy mixed with disbelief to open and understanding minds and hearts. The shift in the core of their beings led them forth to take great risks, witnessing to the risen Christ. Jesus did not bring them security. Instead, they risked all in following this call. For they had come to understand that Jesus had conquered the ultimate threat, death itself. Their fears were groundless. Jesus’ own words, “Peace be with you!” came true in their own hearts.
I’m going to end a little differently today, with a prayer for Courage by Meta Herrick Carlson. Let us pray:
The world is filled with good reasons to hide, to turn away or inward to preserve some distance and dignity.
But the struggle remains, and justice beckons your attention to come alive and together for the here and now. The Spirit of God stirs, even in fear, so you might keep moving through thresholds with hearts wide open to heaven revealed in good courage. Amen.
Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)
Alive in the risen Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we bring our prayers before God who promises to hear us and answer in steadfast love.
A brief silence.Living God, in the midst of Easter joy we are still filled with questions and wondering. Open our hearts and minds as we encounter the scriptures, so that the church embodies repentance and forgiveness in the name of Jesus to all nations. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.
Creating God, like a master artist you have fashioned the universe out of your love and delight. Heal your creation where it is in need of restoration (local concerns for creation may be named). Provide all the inhabitants of earth a peaceful and sustainable home. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.
God of all, the nations hunger and thirst for your righteousness. Many call on you for guidance and strength. Answer their hopes with the peace of Christ and give your lovingkindness to national, state, and local leaders of people. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.
Healing God, you hear the cries of those in need and answer them in their distress. Grant to those who are sick and suffering your compassion and nurse them back to health and wholeness (especially). Be close to the hearts of the lonely. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.
Loving Parent, you have given us such love that we should be called the children of God. Reveal yourself to us so that we in this community of faith will become more and more like you in our mutual love and bold witness. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.
Lord Jesus Christ, your own mother looked on when your life ended in violence. Our hearts are pierced with grief and anger at the deaths of Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo. We commend the slain to your wounded hands, and their loved ones to your merciful heart, trusting only in the promise that your love is stronger than death, and that even now, you live and reign forever and ever. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
God of all times and ages, those who have died in you now see you as you are. We thank you for their lives among us (especially). Assure us of the peace you have promised, that we may join them in everlasting life. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.
In the hope of new life in Christ, we raise our prayers to you, trusting in your never-ending goodness and mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.
Thank you, Pastor Meggan!