Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Humble Heroes

Here's an old sermon that I could have preached last week! Don't sue me for plagarism if this sounds familiar. I took the idea from an issue of "Pulpit Resource" at the time.

Humble Heroes
2 Kings 5:1-15
July 8, 2007

2 Kings 5
Naaman Healed of Leprosy
1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. [
2 Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. 3 She said to her mistress, "If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy."
4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 "By all means, go," the king of Aram replied. "I will send a letter to the king of Israel." So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents [
b] of silver, six thousand shekels [c] of gold and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: "With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy."
7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, "Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!"
8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: "Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel." 9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha's house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, "Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed."
11 But Naaman went away angry and said, "I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?" So he turned and went off in a rage.
13 Naaman's servants went to him and said, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, 'Wash and be cleansed'!" 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant."

In contrast to Namaan’s military might, his wealth, his bluster, and his miraculous healing, there are humble heroes in this story.

She was just a girl, a long way from home. A great army, lead by the man she called “Master,” destroyed her town. Her house, the merchant’s shops, the synagogue, all gone. She, and many other young, healthy Israelites were bound and marched across the desert to a foreign land. Torn away from mother, father, and family, this young girl was thrust into the life of a servant.

I wonder when she first noticed that her master, the great and powerful commander also a powerless victim of leprosy, a life-threatening and contagious disease. After all she’s gone through, who could blame her for reacting:
  • “Serves him right, the sorry dog! I hope his death is slow and painful.
  • “What kind of people are these Arameans, don’t they know that lepers should be cast out of the village? I’m not going near him!"

Maybe she had those reactions at first, who knows? Maybe it took a while for her to develop a sense of compassion for her master. Then, one day, alone with the mistress of the house, brushing her hair or helping her dress, this little girl, the most powerless person in the home of the most powerful, utters life-changing words, “You know, if the master could only visit Elisha, he could be healed.”

If anyone deserved the hatred, the ire, of this little servant girl, it was Namaan. He was the man that lead the army that destroyed her home. Most of us would let him die! This young girl held a flicker of hope, fueled by love, and pointed her master toward salvation.

The heroes of this story are humble ones, those whose egos are not “puffed up” by power. Take Elisha, for example. He doesn’t really do anything in this story. His presence is known only through the messages he sends – to the king and to Namaan. When it is time to heal, at the climactic moment of this drama, he sends a messenger out to hand the great and powerful commander a prescription. A humble prescription at that! Wash seven times in the small, muddy trickle they called the Jordan River.

It’s the humble heroes of this story who have the faith! Namaan is offended at Elisha’s lack of deference, ready to take his 900 lbs of silver and gold and 10 sets of garments, and go home, forever a leper. It’s the ones who carried the 900 lbs. of silver and gold and 10 sets of garments who say, “What have you got to lose?”

We can also imagine these same men, shouting from the bank, “One more time, Master, that’s only six! The prophet said seven!” The same flicker of hope that lived in the servant girl lived in these men.

That’s the way God’s power works sometimes, through the most humble means. Paul put it best, “God has chosen what is foolish to shame the wise.” We “Namaans” of this world can become too reliant on our wealth, our reputations, our power. When we do, God sneaks up on us from surprising sources. God uses the humble servant girls of this world to remind that faith is more powerful than ego, and obedience more important than honor.

I once took a youth group on a mission trip to the hills of Tennessee. Most of the group came from the more privileged homes of our town. Most of them were the “Namaans” of their worlds – comfortable homes, cars, “spending money” in their pocket – they had it all! One was a boy named “Andy.” Not only did he have it all, he had two of them! Divorced parents competed for his affections with gifts: two homes, two bedrooms, each equipped with the stuff a teenage boy needed in 1993, stereos, video games, televisions.

One night, Andy and I sat by the campfire cooking supper, watching foil-wrapped potatoes bake in the coals (this trip was even more rustic than I expected). Andy finally spoke, “You know, these people up here don’t have anything! No malls, no TV’s, no nothing!”

“Yep,” I agreed.

“But the weird part is,” he went on, “they’re happy!” He shrugged, poked the fire with his stick and resumed his silence.

That night, he got his first taste of God reaching the powerful through the humble heroes of faith. That night, this young “Namaan” took his first dip in the Jordan River.

That’s just the way God works sometimes. We powerful folks get comfortable, thinking we are protected by our position in society, safe behind walls of wealth. Then, God sends us a message so simple that we almost miss it:

  • “Love one another . . .”
  • “Turn the other cheek . . .”
  • “When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me . . .”

As we sit here in worship, most of us have lugged our “900 lbs. of stuff” in with us, expecting it to save us, or at least make salvation a little easier to attain. To us, God has a simple message – “Come to church. Say this creed. Sing this hymn. Hear this scripture” – simple tasks chosen to shame our reliance on human wisdom. Sometimes, we have to try them “seven times,” but these simple tasks are the humble ways that God still reaches us.

"Hello!" and "Goodbye . . ."

Well, it has been a long time since Easter and much has happened. I have survived the "Season of Hope and Dread." I'm talking about the United Methodist season of moving; that period from January to June in which Methodist preachers must live in eternal (at least until the DS calls) and torturous uncertainty about their future. During that time, if you pay attention, you can learn a lot about yourself, and the people around you.

First thing? People are much better at "Hello!" than they are at "Goodbye . . ." "Hello" always comes with an exclamation point. "Goodbye" (if said at all) always fades away into those three little dots that mean you've run out of things to say. The ellipsis (that's the "three little dots" for those who are grammatically-challenged) is an awkward pause in print, written proof that you are uncomfortable.

Compare the number of people who stop by to say "Hello!" versus the number of people who stop by to say "Goodbye . . ." There's no comparison! How many friends just stop calling, or get mad at you for something just before you leave? Its because saying "Goodbye . . ." is too hard for most folks.

For a new preacher, the "Hello!" is overwhelming! So many people help you unload the truck, hang pictures, put up ceiling fans, etc. It is great! Hospitality is the most under-emphasized Christian virtue, but it is definitely the most sweetly received.

Thank God for new beginnings! Thank God for people who say "Hello!" Thank God for people who welcome a weary traveler and his family, especially when that traveler is the new preacher.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Part Three: Easter – “God Found a Way!”

This is probably a partial sermon. I "ad-libbed" a good bit of it. As is usual in preaching, the energy of the service (especially high on Easter) led to more of a sermon than is on the printed page. The gist of it is the same, but I think it was better "live" than in print.

Luke 24:1-12
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' " 8Then they remembered his words.
9When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

If there is a theme for Holy Week, it has to be this: “That’s impossible!”

One week ago, amid a raucous and triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus uttered impossible words, “If these children are quiet, the stones will shout!” God will find a way to get his message proclaimed, even if He has to use a bunch of rocks!

On Thursday, at their last meal together, while still hoping it was all some cruel joke, the disciples heard more amazing words, “This is my body . . . this is my blood.” Is this really what God intended for His Messiah? No way! Its not possible!

On Friday, Jesus was dead. Three years of following and teaching and miracles - over! Its impossible that all that the Kingdom of God could be wiped out so fast!

On Saturday, the hard reality was sinking in. Evil had won. The hopes the disciples had for the Kingdom of God really were over!

On Sunday, three women were about to discover they didn’t know the meaning of the word “impossible.” Mary Magdalene, Joanna (whoever she was) and “Mary, mother of James” went to the tomb out of obligation; they didn’t go expecting to see a miracle. They went to finish preparing Jesus’ body – dead for three days, wrapped in linen – not a job many of us would volunteer for!

It was an unpleasant job also because it was their friend, their teacher, their Savior in that cave! They were as sad as the 11 remaining disciples, but they got up and did what they had to do.

This is the first place I find a point of identification in this story. These three women had reached their lowest point, but still found the strength to go on.

How many of us have been there? Working for 40 years only to find your retirement funds drained . . . losing friends and loved ones . . . waking up and wondering what happened to the joy of life? I’m sure we know what the three women were feeling.

They had the basic ingredient for faith – perseverance, pure, dogged determination to put on foot in front of the other. Without that perseverance, they never would have seen the greatest miracle of all time!

By their actions, they remind us of another truth: there is no resurrection without death, no Easter without Good Friday. We cannot experience the heights of glory without the depths of despair.

When, like Mary, Joanna, and Mary, we feel defeated, we sometimes get to glimpse into God’s mystery.

I wonder, if on that Easter morning, the women remembered Jesus’ words from Palm Sunday, because one more stone had something to say.

One more stone had a shout of praise. Sitting over there, beside the empty tomb, that great, big stone, shouted the news – Jesus is alive!

Truly, nothing is impossible for God. God found a way! God finds a way! God will find a way to reach us, to help us, to encourage us, to love us!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"God Will Find a Way:" Part 2

Maundy Thursday – “April Fools!”

Luke 22:7-20
7Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover."
9"Where do you want us to prepare for it?" they asked.
10He replied, "As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11and say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' 12He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there."
13They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
14When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God."
17After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. 18For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."
19And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."
20In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

Once again, we find the mysterious Jesus acting mysteriously. Just like Palm Sunday, he seems to know what will happen before it happens. On Sunday, there was a donkey waiting. Today, there’s a room ready for thirteen men to celebrate Passover.

You’d think by this time, the disciples would realize that when Jesus says something is going to happen, it will happen! After two occasions like this, they might have put a little faith in statements like, “The Son of Man will be killed and on the third day rise again.”

But here they are, gathered in a borrowed room, on the most holy night of the Jewish faith. It’s the last time they will be together, though they don’t know it yet.

They’ve reached the end of the feast. They’ve eaten the bitter herbs and unleavened bread. It’s just about over when Jesus lifts the bread. “This is my body . . .” Then he lifts the cup. “This cup is the new covenant . . .”

It hasn’t really sunk in yet. The twelve don’t really “get it,” that when Jesus says something is going to happen, it happens! Somewhere in the back of their minds, they’re hoping that Jesus is wrong. Maybe they’re waiting for Jesus to shout, “April Fools! I just was just messin’ with you!”

The meal ends in drama, with Judas named as the betrayer. Three disciples follow Jesus to Gethsemane. Still, it hasn’t sunk in because Peter, James and John fall asleep while Jesus sweats blood.

Then, on Friday, as they watched their friend and teacher die, maybe they were thinking they were the fools! Fools for thinking Jesus was different. Yet, he ended up like all those other pseudo-messiahs – dead at the hands of Caesar.

So sure were they that the last three years had been a fool’s errand that all but John deserted Jesus. Peter made a fool of himself by cursing at a servant girl who recognized him as a disciple of Jesus.

You’d think by now, they would know – when Jesus says something will happen, it happens!

They dispersed, thinking themselves the greatest of fools. Little did they know that, on Sunday morning, they really would feel like fools, though not for the reason they expected.

Little did they know, they God would find a way to defeat even death!

Challenging Complacency

I found out recently that it really is true what they say about the internet - never put anything on there that you don't want someone to read, or read in the future. So, I've tried to keep the embarrassing college photos off facebook! I can't control all the crazy people I went to college with, though.

Anyway, I was meeting some people from my new church (so new that I won't be their pastor for another 2+ months). One of them said, "I read your blog, the letter to the Bishop." Outwardly, I responded, "Oh, really?" Inwardly, I was "Oh, crap!" It turns out he was impressed with the letter (Whew!) - more impressed, actually, than the "Bish" himself.

That event inspired me to return to "persisting." I started this thing as an effort to express myself in light of some of the changes within my Annual Conference, as a way of resisting the change. I later realized that I would be better served to persist in defining myself, writing in answer to the question in the tagline: In what will I persist, no matter the place, no matter the time, no matter the circumstance?

Persisting is always better than resisting. Persisting is better because it helps you stay on course. In pastoral ministry, there's always things that draw you away from what is most important. Admittedly, what is "most important" may change from church to church, or from time to time in one's tenure. If you persist in what you determine to be God's direction for you, then you will be more honest, more open to God, and a better leader.

An example: At my current church, I (along with my wife) discerned that God was calling us to do something for the teenagers of our community. They were lost, confused, lacked healthy adult influence and spiritual direction. We also believed that by working with and through the kids, we might open doors to reach the parents. All signs indicated that my church could be convinced to join with us.

After a year and a half of this venture - youthspace - we've had varying success. Some kids have found a church home, and more importantly a Savior. Their parents haven't. We've learned that most of these parents are so overwhelmed by poverty, drugs, general "Jerry Springerish" drama, that they've pretty much opted out of a lot that has to do with their kids. The church turned out to be more alarmed by the presence of "out of control" kids than we predicted. It is astounding how much most of these kids didn't know (We gave many of them their first Bible, and their first Communion).

Because it didn't meet with outstanding success, because it didn't change the community, or change the church's relationship with the community, is it a failure? Were we wrong? Did we hear God wrong? The answer to all questions is "No." We did something. We were not satisfied with the status quo. We tried!

That all leads me to say this: I will always persist in challenging complacency.

There is always more to do, always something new to do, in ministry. That's because God is always more than we can concieve! God is always creating something new!

Monday, March 29, 2010

"God Will Find a Way:" a three-part Easter sermon

Part One: Palm Sunday – “Shouting Stones”

The intensity that accompanied the following of Jesus was “amped up” in the days preceding Passover. It seemed Jesus was purposely causing trouble:

  • He healed people on the Sabbath – twice.
  • The Pharisees approached him with a warning: “Herod wants to kill you!” Doing his best Clint Eastwood imitation, Jesus replied, “He knows where he can find me. Make my day!”
  • He told fabulously deep parables: The prodigal son, the lost sheep, the rich man and Lazarus
  • He talked about the end of the world and the destruction of Jerusalem.

Worst of all, he kept saying that he was going to die!

He did all of this while he was walking toward Jerusalem.

Jerusalem was a “hornet’s nest.” It was the Jew’s holiest city. The time was Passover, the holiest feast of the Jewish faith. Crowds of people poured into the city from all over the known world. Some of them were disgruntled people; Rome ruled the city of their temple. If the wrong mood got started, it would be like throwing a match in a powder keg. If the wrong sort of leader started causing trouble, Rome would not be happy.

The Jewish leaders were understandable on edge. They ruled only because Caesar let them rule. They were allowed a modicum of power as long as they kept “the Jews” in line. Rome liked its subject people to be compliant. They weren’t afraid to enforce that compliance with violence – even death, if necessary.

Luke 19:28-40
28After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30"Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it.' "
32Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?"
34They replied, "The Lord needs it."
35They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!"[
a] "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!"
40"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."

The stuff about the colt only seemed to heighten the mystery – “Who is this man and how does he know such things?” He heals lepers, isn’t scared of Herod, and knows the future!

People gather to praise him – shouting and singing as they walk beside Jesus on his borrowed donkey. John tells us that “a large crowd of Passover visitors took Palm branches and went down the road to meet him.” Matthew and Mark say the people threw their coats on the road, along with the palm branches – a sign of reverence. They didn’t even want his donkey’s feet to touch the ground. The truth is probably a combination of the four reports.

Whatever it was, it was a huge commotion! Just exactly what the High Priests and Pharisees didn’t want to see! Too great a commotion, and Rome might silence them – permanently! Too much trouble and their heads would be on the chopping block.

But what’s the big deal? It was Passover, after all. Didn’t they expect a celebration? The Jews were celebrating the day when God delivered them from an unjust ruler named Pharaoh. Its not too big a leap to imagine that they might, with Jesus the rabble-rouser in the lead, decide that God wanted to deliver them from another unjust ruler – Caesar. They might take matters into their own hands!

Here they were, waving palm branches, a symbol of royalty. Here they were, shouting for Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, just like the Prophets foretold. Any good Pharisee that valued the status quo, that valued the sensitive state of affairs that granted them jus a little bit of power would know: this means trouble!

So, in a well-meaning effort to save their own necks, and the necks of the pilgrims who have come to Jerusalem, they approach Jesus with a command. “Tell these people to hush! They’re gonna get in trouble acting like this!”

“Mr. Pharisee,” Jesus replies, “Don’t you know? You can’t hush the praise of God! If we stop, the stones on the road will pick up the cheer!”

“Don’t you know, Mr. Pharisee, that no earthly power – not you, not even Rome – can quiet the true praise of God?”

God doesn’t care who wants his people to hush, when there is praising to be done, He will find a way to make it happen, even if He has to use a bunch of rocks by the side of the road!

2000 years later, there are still Pharisees in this world who would just as soon hush all Christians who want to praise God. Sometimes we want it to hush because it makes us uncomfortable. Sometimes it embarrasses us. Sometimes it even might make the “powers that be” think we want to cause trouble.

Jesus’ reply tells us that God doesn’t care if we’d rather have things quiet. If there’s praising to be done, He’ll find someone or something to do it!

So great is God’s power that no effort of human will can stop it. No political party can stop it! No earthly ruler, no well-meaning “church person” can silence the true praise of God!

If there is praising to be done, if there’s “rabble” to be “roused,” God will find a way to do it!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

harder than I thought!

I'm discovering something about myself - I'm much better at resisting than I am at persisting. I really fired off lots of stuff when I first starting this blog. That's when I was resisting nearly everything. Now, that I am trying to discover "that at which I would persist, no matter where I am" the ideas are much harder to come by.

So far, here's what I've got:

  1. Music - I love playing guitar, though I am only almost good. I love iTunes. Is there a 12-step program for downloading music? I need it, because I am powerless to control my habit.

  2. Crossword puzzles - I've done one every night for the last 7 years. has my favorites. Where else can I use my knowledge of the arcane? Heck, nobody around here will play Trivial Pursuit with me! I can only shout answers at game shows for so long before I'm carted away. For instance, where else can I show I know the name the Nick and Nora Charles' dog? Asta. I also know who Nick and Nora Charles are.
  3. God's arms are open wider than we can ever imagine - Seems like churches always want to limit who God reaches. No, I promise not to bash my church! I think it's just human nature to want to share a faith with someone who is like you in other ways - dress, politics, football, skin color, etc. Often, the ones who are the most exclusive forget to read the Gospels. Jesus did not make any disctinctions, in fact, he went out of his way to tear down ALL distinctions.

So, I think, no matter where I go as a pastor, I would always play guitar, do crossword puzzles, and try to reach out. Sounds wierd, huh?

more to come . . .

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Whoa! What happened?

Yeah. I changed it. My guru (Stewart Jackson) posed a question - again! Dang him! "How much have you said about who you are?" he asked, between clouds of incensce.

"Everything!" I answered.

"Ah, my child, but isn't 'Resistance' just telling everyone what you are not? Instead of what you are?"

Like I said - Dang him! He was right. That's good, because you don't want gurus to be wrong.

So, the question remains - In what would I persist, no matter the time, the place or the circumstance? For those of you into Family Systems theory, it's a matter of Self-Differentiation (defining self, staying connected to others).

Who am I? How does who I am help me minister to my congregation? I suppose that's the biggest question of all.

So, those of you who have navigated here hoping to hear me rant about one thing or another, will have to keep browsing. From now on, I will be exploring persistence rather than resistance.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What Are You Afraid Of?

Here's my sermon for April 26, 2009. After re-reading, it's obvious I was preaching to myself!

Luke 24:36-48 (New International Version)
36While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."
37They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."
40When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."
45Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.

What was it like for the twelve between Good Friday and Easter, between the moment they knew Jesus was dead and the moment they knew He was alive?

Were they hurt? Probably. Jesus was dead. Their hopes were dashed. They were most likely sad; not only had they lost a Messiah, they had lost a friend. Spend three years with someone and you’re bound to feel close to Him. His death changed all that, and there was loneliness to their gathering.

They most likely began to doubt everything they believed when Jesus was with them. Maybe God wasn’t as powerful or loving as they thought? Rome had won the battle and probably the war. Jesus just “clammed up” and took on the cross. Where’s the power in that? Jesus argued with the Pharisees; where was that Jesus when his life was on the line?

Luke tells us clearly that they were afraid. Afraid of what? An uncertain future? Could you go back to fishing or tax collecting after three years like they experienced? Afraid of punishment? If Pilate could get Jesus, he could surely get them!

I doubt you could find a more confused bunch of folks than these twelve men (and maybe a few women) – unless you look around our sanctuary this morning. We often find ourselves stuck in the same sort of “funk” that the disciples were in. We’re in that “in-between” time, too. For 40 days of Lent, we looked forward to Easter; we talked about how great it would be. It was! We got a glimpse of what a full sanctuary looks like, families were reunited, both nuclear families and spiritual families. We felt God’s glory through the worship at sunrise, the fellowship of breakfast, and the beauty of the lilies.

But now? Where’s the Easter Jesus when you need him? A couple of weeks later and its back to the same old grind. Kids go back home. Lilies wilt. We struggle to make it to pay day. There’s work to do. Glory never lasts!

Are we hurt? Scared? Lonely? Sad? Could be. But, then, there’s a knock on the door, and into our rooms of drudgery and disappointment comes Jesus – the Risen Lord!

His first word to us is the most important – “Peace!” In the midst of turmoil, he brings peace. “Don’t be afraid,” he says, “Touch me. Shoot! Go ahead and hug me! I’m no ghost!”

His second word is just as important, “Got anything to eat?”

In these two statements, we hear a remedy for the lost and lonely times in which we find ourselves:
  • Touch – Have you ever felt as if the touch of a loved one’s hand is all you need to feel better? When emotion is welling up inside of us, the touch of a hand is all we need to feel supported and loved. Holding a hand is often a “release valve” for all those emotions. Touch lets us know another’s presence is real, that their love is tangible and warm.
  • Food – I’m glad I serve a church that knows how to eat together. In a few minutes, we will go into the Fellowship Hall and share a meal. Never underestimate the importance of eating together! That’s where we talk, where we laugh. While our bodies gain nourishment, so do our spirits.

Yet, when times get hardest, these ways of connection are often the first casualties. Some of us withdraw from others when bad times hit. When we are overwhelmed by bad feelings, we shut ourselves off from friends and family. When things get rough, more often than not, we refuse to let others know. We stay home from church. We don’t go out. We certainly don’t invite anyone to a meal. The very thing we need is the very thing we avoid.

After Jesus reminds them about presence and the fellowship of a meal, he gives them a purpose: “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

It’s not enough to feel the loving touch of a fellow Christian or to share a meal together. To truly defeat the sadness and confusion of hard times, we must have a purpose. We must be about the work that Jesus has given us to do. Repentance and forgiveness must be proclaimed, starting right here! Starting with us! The Great God of Life needs the Good News to get out and we are just the ones to do it!

Even though we suffer, even though we might be sad, we are the ones called to proclaim the Good News. We are the witnesses of the Living Lord!

Even though we are filled with shortcomings and failures, even though we doubt, we are the perfect messengers because we know the power of the Risen Christ!