Submit Your Own!
Sermon for Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 20
By David von Schlichten
Sermon on John 14:14
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A,
for Sunday, April 20, 2008
Hitler's Dead; Passover Continues
(word count: 978)
God is not a genie. God does not have to grant us our every wish. The Almighty Being of the Universe, the Great I AM, is not our butler or maid. The LORD is not required to do our bidding, to do whatever we want. God is completely free and is the master of all. Therefore, God is not required to obey us. It's the other way around.
However, even though God Almighty is not required to obey us, Jesus makes a stunning statement in our gospel this morning. In John 14:14, during the Last Supper, Jesus says, “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” Even though he is the Highest, Most Powerful Sovereign Being, Jesus tells us that, if we ask for anything in his name, he will do what we ask. What an extraordinary declaration. God is not obligated to give us anything, but Christ promises here that, if we ask in his name, he will give us anything.
That promise of Christ's is indeed astonishing, but it is also disturbing. It is disturbing because many of us have asked God for things in Jesus' name but have not received what we asked for. On the one hand, Jesus teaches us he will give us anything if we ask in his name, but, on the other hand, when we ask Jesus for things in his name, we do not always receive what we ask for.
How do we explain this apparent discrepancy? Perhaps we do not always receive what we ask for because we lack adequate faith, but Jesus does not say anything here about faith. He does not say, “You will get whatever you ask for in my name IF you have enough faith.” There are other passages that speak of faith, but here Jesus says nothing about it. He just says, “Ask in my name, and you'll get it,” so there is likely another reason why we do not always receive what we ask for.
Whenever we are trying to understand a Bible verse, it is essential to look at the context of the verse. The context of this verse is the Last Supper. Jesus is getting ready to leave the disciples. He is getting ready to take his place upon that excruciating throne called the cross. To prepare the disciples for his departure, Jesus gives a speech. The verse about giving us anything is part of that speech. In this speech, Jesus is saying, in substance, “Don't worry. Even though I am leaving, you will still have power. You will still be able to do my work. The Father will give you the power to continue my work. Whatever you need, just ask for it, and the Father will give you what you need to continue my work.”
In other words, when Jesus says, “Ask for anything in my name, and it will be given to you,” he is not saying, “God will give you whatever you want, even if you want something sinful.” God would not make such a statement. No, when Jesus says that God will give us whatever we want, he is really saying, “God is with you. Even though I am leaving, you are not alone. We will give you what you need so that you can continue my work.”
Christ walked the earth two-thousand years ago. He now reigns from heaven, but he is still with us. God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, still galvanizes us to do his work.
It is tempting for us to think that life is hopeless, that evil is getting stronger, that violence is winning, that morals are crumbling. We feel alone, godforsaken, like the world is spiraling down a funnel toward the frozen center of hell. When we think of Virginia Tech and Columbine, the devil often whispers in our ear, “Give up. It's hopeless. God's not helping you. Evil thrives. Life is dying. The world stinks of sulfur. Surrender.”
The devil whispers these lies to us in the icy dark, but the truth is that Christ continues to reign. Christ died and rose, so we have life forever. Christ has set us free from slavery in the land of despair. Christ has rescued us from that Pharaoh called the devil. Christ led us through the wilderness, through the split sea, into the Promised Land. Even though he no longer walks the earth as he once did, Christ still empowers us, his baptized, saved friends. God abides in us. The Trinity persists in blessing us with strength to have faith, hope, and love. Through Scripture, through the Body and Blood, through the unity of the Church, God enables us to continue. So when Christ says, “I'll give you anything you ask for in my name,” he is saying, “I am still with you, and I will give you what you need to triumph over death and evil.”
You see, what the world fails to understand is that, ultimately, God always wins. Therefore, we always win, ultimately. Evil rises and falls, but God endures, overcomes. Christ empowers us, gives us what we need to continue the Church.
Hitler slaughtered millions of people, including six million Jews. The Holocaust was terrible, terrifying and tragic, but Hitler is dead. Today is the first full day of Passover. Millions of Jews are celebrating, celebrating the day when God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt. Likewise, we Christians, despite war, inflation, young people shooting others to death – despite all terror, we continue to do the work of the Church, continue to praise God, continue to spread the Good News.
How are we able to continue? Because when we ask God for help in the name of Christ, God gives us what we need to continue. Indeed, God gives us more. God gives us what we need to love.
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Response to Rick's Sermon
By David von Schlichten
You manage the four texts smoothly. Further, I find moving and instructive your use of King and da Silva. The sermon is engaging, vivid, and challenging. Thanks.
You make it clear that following the shepherd demands suffering. Do you think you should say more about how this following also produces life in abundance? You have preached well that following Christ means suffering. How does it also mean abundant life?
Great job, Rick. I wish I could hear you.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Slow to Believe
By Rick Brand
I can not remember ever using all four lectionary texts in a sermon, but it seemed to happen this time and so as a curiosity piece, I put it forward.
Text: Lectionary Lessons
Acts 2:42-47; Ps. 23; I Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
"Slow of Heart to Believe"
April 13, 2008
First Presbyterian Church of Henderson, NC
Rick Brand, Pastor
On the road to Emmaus Jesus listens to his disciples talk about their reactions to Good Friday and Easter, and after a while he cannot stand it anymore and he says, "O Foolish men, slow of heart to believe" and then he proceeds to explain his ministry again by use of the Old Testament.
And we are no different than those disciples on the road to Emmaus. We keep having a hard time believing the things that Jesus said. We keep having a hard time listening to the stories of the Scriptures carefully. We keep having a hard time taking the stories in the scriptures and letting them be the formative stories of our lives. We keep trying to blend the stories of the scriptures with the other stories we hear around u.
Peter and the early christian community, after they had been empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, came together as a special kind of community. Acts says that the three thousands souls that were baptized at Pentecost devoted themselves to listening to the teaching and preaching of the Apostles, sharing fellowship and meals together and praying. They became a special community that cared about each other. They had all things in common. In the great expectation that Jesus was coming again soon, they sold their possessions, pooled their resources and gave to each other as each person had need. The early Christian community in Jerusalem lived in the great joy of being an example of the new life in the Kingdom of God. This is how brothers and sisters live where the kingdom of God is made visible. The Kingdom of God is made visible in that community where the pain of one becomes the pain of all. Where the problems of one are the problems of all.Where the resources of some are the resources for everybody. Where the joy and praise of one is the joy for the body. We still have Christian communities all over the world where people are trying to live in that kind of relationship: Monasteries, Convent, Religious Communes, and House Churches. One Faith, One Lord, One Baptism, one community of common sharing and love. The Kingdom of God was lived out then and still has as its dream that it will be a community where the gifts of God are for all the people of God. If we want to call it something, call it Christian Socialism, but it does not come from Karl Marx and is not communism. And to label any preacher who urges his congregation to move in that direction, to live in that kind of way; to label that preacher a communist is simply to be slow to believe what Jesus has come to give.
Foolish disciples, slow to believe. Slow to understand that Jesus claims to be the shepherd of the sheep. His voice is the voice we are to heed. The earliest creed of the church was Jesu Kurios, Jesus is Lord. Jesus invites us to live in the Kingdom of God where all are loved and cared for the same. Jesus is the Leader who cares for his sheep. Jesus is Lord and not Caesar. Jesus is Lord and not Bill Gates and technology. Jesus is Lord and not Warren Buffet and economic power. That is the central affirmation of all Christians that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of their lives. We want to be citizens of His Kingdom. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. Jesus gives us a new constitution of his kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are the peacemakers. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. So when one of the citizens of the Kingdom of God says at Riverside Church in l967 that any nation, any nations, that spends more on military preparation, any nation that spends more on guns and weapons than it does on education for its children, any nation that spends more for preparing for war than it does for health care for its citizens is a terrorist nation. By that definition given by Dr. Martin Luther King the United States of America has been a terrorist nation for the last forty years. That is a declaration of truth by a citizen of the Kingdom of God. That is faithful obedience to the shepherds voice.
Peter in his first letter knows that that kind of statement, that kind of testimony, will get you into a lot of hot water. Peter knows that living in our world as a citizen of the Kingdom of God will not be easy. In fact, Peter goes so far as to say that we are called by God to be servants of the Shepherd's voice and by living as a citizen of the Kingdom of God and doing what is faithful to Jesus calling, we will end up enduring insults, attacks, innuendoes, slander, boycotts, protests, economic pressure, and political attacks. "But if you do right and suffer for it, you take it patiently, you have God's approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you."
If we are going to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ as Lord, we will find that doing what Jesus would do, will get us into pain and suffering. Peter just does not see any way around it. It is the consequences of the life of obedience to the Kingdom of God. Persecution, attacks, slander, and opposition are what comes as we try to do what Jesus says about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, promoting living wages, pushing for fair decent housing, reform of the death penalty, care for the immigrants.
For Peter the life lived in obedience to Jesus Christ is a life that will be like Christ's in that we will evoke the same kind of opposition, pain, suffering, attacks, that Jesus experienced. Now that is a far cry from what is being preached as what is know as the prosperity gospel. God wants us all to be healthy and wealthy, but he does not much care whether we are wise. God has abundance of material blessings stored up for you and all you need to do is get in his will and he will shower those blessings down in ever flowing streams. Peter has not seen it that. Peter, James and John, and all of the disciples in a stained glass window in St. Machar in Aberdeen are all shown to have died a martyrs' deaths. Peter has no expectation that being a citizen of the Kingdom of God, following Jesus will get us to the Bobby McFerrin religion of Be Happy.
The reason Peter can be so sure that as we follow Jesus we will find ourselves in places of conflict, isolation, opposition, and suffering is that he has no illusion about the goodness of human beings. There is the reality of human sin. It is at work in our lives and in our world. The young student employee at a local company begins by arriving at work on time, follows instructions and works hard all morning. At lunch the older full time employees come up and tell him to slow down, work less, because he is making them look bad. What happens if he continues to give a good days work? Do you think the full time employees will be converted and all work hard? Do you think maybe he will get the really nasty jobs? Maybe have an accident? What happen to the lawyer in movie Michael Clayton who went crazy and decided to try to make the multinational corporation pay for the damages done by their firm's chemicals? He was murdered by the corporation.
Foolish disciples, slow to believe. We are not eager to believe that following Jesus is a call to a very challenging and difficulty life that goes contrary to so much around us. We would like to listen to the Good Shepherd, to live in the community of faithful, to have a life that affirms that we are blessed when other revile and persecute us because we bear witness to the Kingdom of Christ. We want to hear and make the center of our faith the kind of promises we hear in the 23rd Psalm. We want to cling to the glorious promises of the Shepherd's care. We shall not want. Our lives will be through green pastures. We trust that God will take care of us. The light will come from God and shine upon our darkest path. "Oh, the things we often forfeit all because we do not take them to the Lord in Prayer." That is where we can claim that God wants us to be happy and blessed. But does not the shepherd simply promise to make a table in the presence of our enemies. The Rod and the Staff they are there, but it does not say that God uses them to beat and destroy the enemy. Peter does not want to rob us of the great passion and joy, that sense of hope and courage that comes as being a citizen of the Kingdom of God. But he does not want us to forget that that joy and adventure comes in the great challenge of being faithful to the great kingdom in the face of great challenges. That is what we as citizens of the kingdom are called to do, to take the painful and ugly realities around us and in obedience to the Shepherds voice bring forth something that bears witness to the kingdom of God. To redeem the sin by the faithful alchemy of redemptive grace. To this we are called, to be a servant of the Kingdom of God, to receive the slander, the pressure, and the opposition and by the manner in which we receive it transform it and make something great. We just had a fortieth anniversary of the shooting of Dr. King because Dr. King as a servant of the shepherd received the persecution and opposition that came with making that terrorist statement and brought forth a great dream.
Tarcisio Feitosa da Silva is currently at the top of the death list that loggers, ranchers, miners and land speculators in the Brazil Amazon region keep. He is now the director of the Roman Catholic Church's Pastoral Land Commission. At 35 he is leading the work to preserve the endangered rain forests of the Amazon River. The work he is doing, fighting for a system of natura reserves that protect millions of acres of land against destruction. Mr. Feitosa describes himself as devoted to the idea of following Jesus, to live a Christian life, to be a Christian citizen and to be faithful in church.
He tells when the Christian life became real for him. He was hunting with some other Christians. They got a great deer, skinned it and brought the meat back to the community. He said he was already tasting the great piece of meat he would get for having been part of the hunting party. But when the hung up the deer, the oldest woman came and cut the first piece, then another elderly woman, then another. In the end, after all the ribs were taken too, all that remained for the hunters was a small piece of meat. My first reaction was outrage. Then I realized that what is on the table is meant to be share, and that was my first true Eucharist.
His home state of Para is considered one of the Amazon's most lawless and environmentally threatened regions. He is convinced that the pain, suffering, conflict will only get worse as the government comes to create the nature reserves that have passed in Congress violence will become very real.
He knows and everybody in his community knows he is on the death list. He says, "If they want to do it, they are going to do it. You can't impede them, I have to trust in God. I go to Mass every Sunday at 6:30 in the afternoon." He says with a shrug,"If someone wants to kill me, they already know the route."
Foolish disciples, slow to believe. That where we follow Jesus the Shepherd's voice and share in his care, we will find ourselves opposed, attacked and betrayed by the evil around us, and yet our great deep sense of peace and courage will be in seeking to make, by the grace of God, something redeemed.
By David von Schlichten
Sermon on Luke 24:13-35
Third Sunday of Easter, Year A,
for Sunday, April 6, 2008
God from Our Sight
(word count: 664)
In our Gospel this morning, the risen Jesus Christ walks with Cleopas and another disciple. Imagine that the other disciple is you. Imagine that you walk along with Cleopas. You have a dull, persistent headache. The sky is a hard, unfeeling blue. You and Cleopas walk toward Emmaus in heavy silence. Two days ago, the Romans tortured and killed Jesus, the person you thought would save us all. Then, early this morning, some women claimed to have seen Jesus alive. That news just compounded your sorrow by mixing it with confusion and a vague hope that you refuse to trust.
A stranger asks, “Can I walk with yuns?” You nod. You don't care. Whatever.
A few hours later, however, you and Cleopas realize that you have been walking with no less than the Risen Christ himself. Something or someone kept you from recognizing him, until – until he broke the bread. Breaking the bread. Holy Communion. Hey, it's Jesus! – and then he vanishes.
What kept you from recognizing him as you walked along the road? Often, when Christ walks along side us, we fail to recognize him. Why? What keeps us from seeing him?
Perhaps Cleopas and the other disciple cannot see Christ because they have made up their minds that he is dead. We mortals fall into that trap, don't we? We have made up our minds, and we are so convinced that we cannot see what is right in front of us. Jesus is dead. I saw his body. He can't be alive. Science says no. It's impossible.
It seems that Jesus cannot be alive, but he is, walking with us. He has his arm around you, He says, “I am with you. I will empower you. You are not alone. I give you life.”
Of course, Jesus could have said to Cleopas and the other disciple right off the bat, “Guys, it's me, Jesus,” but he doesn't. He does not reveal who he is. It is as if Jesus does not want to be recognized right away.
Why would that be? Why would Jesus not reveal his true identity until later?
Perhaps Jesus is trying to teach us a nourishing lesson. If Cleopas and the other disciple had recognized Jesus immediately, then here, at least, we would miss out on a vital lesson. Let me explain. As he walks with Cleopas and you and me, Jesus explains how the Bible reveals him. Then, at the table, Jesus reveals himself through the breaking of the bread, Holy Communion. By keeping his identity hidden, Jesus draws attention to the power of Scripture and Holy Communion. If Christ had revealed himself right away, we would not have this story, which teaches us this important lesson: When we think all is lost, when we feel alone, we are to turn to Scripture and Holy Communion. When we turn to Scripture and Holy Communion, we see, hear, feel, smell and taste that all is not lost, that Christ is alive, that hope crackles within us, that Christ is with us, making all things new.
When you, the baptized, receive in your hand the wafer and the wine, you will encounter what the Book of Concord calls the real presence of Christ. God will delete your sins. God will strengthen the muscles of your faith. Christ is with you.
Now, consider this: In our reading, after Jesus breaks the bread and Cleopas and the other disciple finally recognize him, he does a curious thing. He disappears. Why? He disappears so that we will jog back to Jerusalem to tell the others the Good News.
This disappearance does not mean that Jesus is absent. Even though we cannot see him, Matthew 28 promises that he is with us always. So then, Jesus Christ gives us Scripture and Holy Communion so we can see him, and then we leap from the table to race out to share the Good News with a grieving, starving, frightened world. “Peace be with you.”
Second Sunday of Easter, John 20:19-31
By David von Schlichten
Sermon on John 20:19-31
Second Sunday of Easter, Year A,
for Sunday, March 30, 2008
Christian, Come Out!
(word count: 859)
The disciples in today's Gospel are hiding behind locked doors, but Jesus comes to them anyway. He does not need to open the doors. He needs no key or card. He simply appears in the room, the doors still locked behind him. Further, he is not appearing as a ghost. The risen Jesus is not a ghost. The risen Jesus, the one whom locked doors cannot stop, is alive. He has flesh, hair, bones, tendons, skin, organs, blood, holes in his hands, feet and side. Christ is alive, and no lock can stop him.
What good news that is for the disciples, whose hearts are rapid with fear. Jesus pronounces peace upon them. Jesus breathes upon them, filling them with the dynamic Holy Spirit. Jesus gives them the power to forgive sins and to withhold forgiveness. Jesus bestows upon the disciples tremendous power from on high and never needs to touch the door to enter the room.
The same risen Christ comes to us, as well. Our locked doors cannot keep Christ out. What locked doors do we have? In what ways do we shut out others, hide from the world, full of fear? We hide locked in an old job because we are afraid to look for a new one or go back to school. We hide in the old routine because we are afraid to try something new. We hide in stifling relationships instead of leaving to find happiness alone. We hide in self-destructive addictions instead of risking recovery. We'd rather put up with the claustrophobia than risk unlocking the door and walking outside.
It's cramped here in the locked room, behind this bolted door. The air is stuffy. It smells like mildew. It's boring looking at these same walls day after day. It feels so tiny and crowded behind these locked doors, but we'd rather be miserable and feel safe than unlock the door and take our chances with the unknown.
The disciples in our Gospel hide behind locked doors because of fear. Behind what locked doors do you hide, do I?
Hallelujah that the risen Christ comes to us despite the locked doors. Locked doors, alarms, security systems – none of that can keep the risen Christ out. He stands before you and me, and the room now seems a little bigger. He preaches, “Peace be with you.” He breathes on you and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive someone's sins, then God will declare that person forgiven.” Jesus says, “Peace. You have power because of the Holy Spirit. You have power because of me. You have life. So go out there. Be not afraid. Share the Good News.”
Jesus urges us to unlock the doors. We – the baptized, the children of God, the ones Jesus saved by dying on Good Friday and rising on Resurrection Day – Christ calls us out the door. Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit, feeds us the body and blood. It is frightening walking out the door, but the risen Christ leads us, empowers us, and directs us. Be not afraid to unlock the door and walk out.
Is there danger on the other side of the door? You can count on it. Following Christ is not always safe, even though following Christ is the best course for us. Venturing outside can be perilous. People may try to hurt us. Failure may fall upon us. Rejection may surround us. Through all of these dangers, however, Christ is with us.
Will we have doubts? You bet we will. At one time or another, each one of us is Thomas. We doubt. Does God really care about me? Surely God does not forgive the likes of me, does he? Jesus' death and resurrection saves everyone else, but it doesn't apply to me, does it? Did Jesus truly rise from the dead, or is that just a legend or a myth? Does God even exist? If God is real, all-powerful and all-loving, why is the world caked with evil?
With all these doubts, we may just want to relock the door, shove a dresser in front of it, and hide under the table. There is no risen Christ. He's not alive. He's not coming. The world blazes with evil, full of furious sound, idiotic, meaning nothing, pointless. You hide behind the locked door, rocking back and forth, the walls moving in on you.
Listen. Look. Thomas doubted, but then Christ appeared. See the holes in the hands, feet, and side. Do not doubt, but believe. For two-thousand years, Christ has been washing, teaching, and feeding billions of people. The Father has been responding to our prayers. The Holy Spirit has been driving the Church. God has been forgiving our sins. The devil's wickedness is real, but Christ lives. Two thousand years of Church life in the face of evil assures us that God the Trinity loves us, cares for us, is real, alive and active in our lives for good.
Our Lord and our God! The tomb is empty. Christ is here. Unlock the door. Christ shouts, “Come out of that room. Come out of that tomb!”
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