Friday, April 8, 2016

2nd Sunday of Easter (April 3, 2016)

Easter 2 2016c
Trinity Lutheran Church (NALC), East Flat Rock, North Carolina
John 20:19-31 & Revelation 1:4-8

In August 1992, Hurricane Andrew plowed through South Florida. The 140 mile per hour winds were strong enough to peel roofs from homes. Over 135,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, 250,000 people were homeless. Total storm damage exceeded $20 Billion.
During the cleanup, inspectors found something interesting.  Houses that were leveled had poor construction: staples used instead of nails, steel straps to trusses were never installed. In stark contrast, one set of homes withstood the hurricane with very little damage.  Those were the houses  built by the Christian organization, Habitat for Humanity.
          Former President Jimmy Carter helped build some of those homes, and he explained why those houses stood up to the storm so well.  Carter said, we don’t just meet the building codes "we exceed the building codes, whereas a lot people in Miami violated their own building codes."
The strength of a building, it turns out, is determined by its infrastructure… what holds it together. And in a way that’s like our belief in God.  Because if the core of our belief is rooted in our hearts, then our faith will be strong.  But if it is rooted in our minds, then our relationship with God will be something less than He intends for us.
In our Gospel today Jesus comes to his disciples while they’re gathered in a locked room.  They’re in that room probably because they’re afraid: they know that the authorities are searching for them to arrest them.  And, suddenly, in the midst of their fears: Jesus is standing. How he got through the locked door is a miracle.  They didn’t expect him to be there… they saw him die on the Cross.  Yet there he is, and his first words indicate what he desires most for them. “Peace be with you” he says.  In Hebrew this word ‘peace’ means serenity and the wholeness of life.  The disciples had been feeling anything BUT serenity and wholeness, but Christ knows that’s what they need… he wants them to have it, and they encounter him and they believe and experience the peace of God.
Everyone, that is, except Thomas.  Poor Thomas is out and about somewhere when Jesus comes.  We don’t know where he was, but we know that when he returned: everyone was feeling peace but him.  And the others told him what had happened, and he refused to believe it.  “Unless I touch the wounds in his hands… and the wound in his side… I won’t believe” he says. 
Now, let’s notice something about Thomas here. So often when we read this passage we infer that Thomas refused to believe.  But the issue for Thomas here is not belief… it is pride. Thomas was absolutely certain that he was right, and everyone else was wrong.  Thomas insisted in basing his belief not in his heart, but in his mind.
“We have seen the Lord!” the 10 disciples told him.  ‘We discerned him among us, and he gave us guidance of what we’re supposed to do – He is sending us out to lead others to forgiveness in Him.’ “We have seen the Lord!”  And Thomas answered. “No, I don’t think that’s what we should do.  I disagree with all of you.  I think it should be different.  “Unless I touch the wounds in his hands… and the wound in his side… I won’t believe”
The belief of Thomas was based on personal knowledge and personal judgment.  That kind of belief is a problem for us.  You see, God calls us to be constantly changed in sanctification, but if our belief is rooted in our minds, we will resist being transformed by a renewing of the mind, as Paul encourages us in his Epistle to the Romans.  Change is hard for belief that’s rooted in the mind.
It’s like the man who went to the store and bought himself a new radio.  He took it home and plugged it in and tuned it to his favorite radio station… and after that: he pulled all the knobs off.  His wife asked him why he did that and he told her that he’d already tuned the radio to what he wanted to hear and he never wanted to hear anything different!
Sometimes people approach God just like Thomas did: set in their ways, and insisting that God conform to them. They look at our reading from Revelation this morning.  They see in verse 4 about those seven churches in Asia that John writes about, they focus on that.  But they miss the real heart of the Gospel that’s in verse 5 Jesus Christ… who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.”
The heart of the Gospel is God’s love. And it is the Gospel that draws us to the Lord… the love of God in Christ Jesus, and him crucified, dead, and risen. 
We don’t encounter the Risen Lord in our minds, we encounter him in our hearts.  And if we are to experience the peace of God in our lives, then we must surrender and base our faith on the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ, and nothing less.
A man named Richard Phillips is a consultant who companies hire to help managers be more successful. In his training sessions, he always asks one question: “What is it about this company that made you stay long enough to become a manager?”  One day he got an answer that he didn’t expect.  A woman named Cynthia raised her hand and she said, “The reason I’ve worked here so long… is a $ 19 baseball glove.”
Phillips asked her to explain.  She said that she began working as a clerk in the store after her divorce.  It was the only job she could get and she really needed the money; things were hard.  On the 2nd or 3rd day she was working there the manager called her to his office.  She said that she thought she’d done something wrong, but it was only a phone call from her son.  The boy told he needed a baseball glove to play in Little League.  The store manager couldn’t help overhearing as Cynthia told her son that money was really tight… there were bills to pay.  Maybe in a few weeks she’d have money for a baseball glove, she said.  She told him goodbye and she left the office and went back to her register… wiping tears from her eyes.
The next day when she came to work the store manager asked to see her in his office.  He told her to sit down, and then he handed her a box and said “I overheard you talking to your son yesterday, and I know it’s hard for kids to understand how things are sometimes.  This is a new baseball glove for him.  I want you to know that we care about you here, and I want you to know that you’re important to us. Take that glove to your son as a gift from us.”
Cynthia said after that day she couldn’t imagine ever working anyplace else.  “How could I ever work any place else after I experienced love like that?”
When it struck Florida, Hurricane Andrew showed people how important infrastructure was in their homes.  This morning God is reminding us that infrastructure is important in our belief as well.
For we encounter God in the love he showed Jesus Christ.  Not by the efforts of our human minds, and not by any theology or philosophy or anything we read in a textbook.  And if we shed our human pride and encounter him in his love, then we will be transformed.  And transformed by love… the peace of God is ours. AMEN

Pastor Mike 2016
Permission is granted to reproduce this work in whole or in part if the glory for its content is given to the Lord
Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Easter Sunday, 2016

Easter Sunday 2016c
Trinity Lutheran Church (NALC), East Flat Rock, North Carolina
Luke 24:1-11

A man was driving along the highway when all of a sudden the Easter Bunny hopped across the road and jumped right in front of his car. He couldn’t help it and he hit the rabbit: eggs and candy went flying everywhere.
          He pulled over and felt terrible.  A woman driving by stopped to asked what was wrong. The man said, "I accidentally killed the Easter Bunny!”  The woman told him not to worry. She knew exactly what to do.  She went to the trunk of her car, pulled out a spray can, walked over to the Bunny and sprayed the entire contents of the can onto the furry little carcass.
          Miraculously: the Easter Bunny came to back life! It jumped up, picked up the eggs and candy, waved its paw at the two humans and hopped on down the road. 50 yards away the Easter Bunny stopped, turned around, waved and hopped on down the road another 50 yards, turned,  waved, hopped  another 50 yards and waved again!!!!
The man was astonished. He said, "What in the world was in that spray can?" The woman turned the can around so that the man could read the label.  It said: "Hair spray. Restores life to dead hair. Adds permanent wave."
 So, what does this story about the Easter bunny have to do with what we celebrate this morning? Well aside from a rodent being the symbol for the holiest day of the year, it reminds us of the reality of life… and death.  Reality check: there really is no magic spray that can restore life to dead things.  That’s just the way it is: once you’re dead, you’re dead.  It’s always been that way. Temporary life and permanent death are the hallmark of our existence.  Or… are they?  Because the accounts of eyewitnesses some 2000 years ago seem to introduce a new reality, a reality that changes everything.
As Mary Magdalene and the others walked to the tomb that early morning, tears probably rolled down their cheeks.  Three days before they had experienced the mother of all reality checks.  For years they had followed Jesus, watching him heal the sick, watching him feed the hungry, even watching him raise people from the dead. And they’d heard Jesus speak of a new kingdom, of life beyond the limits of this life.
But on that first morning of the week at early dawn, that dream was dead.  They’d seen his body… watched it lowered to the ground with their own eyes. And now as they walked to his tomb to anoint his body for a proper burial, the reality check of inescapable death and separation held them in despair.  They would never see him again… never hear his voice… never again feel his hand tenderly rest on their shoulder.  They shared the grief that had held humankind captive since the dawn of time.
But our God is the God of the New Reality.  When we are most lost, His reality sets us free.
As they came to the garden, the massive stone that had covered the opening to the tomb was rolled away, and when they stooped down to peer inside… there was no body!  And the women were shocked, stunned, who could have done something so mean as to steal the body of Jesus?
But suddenly two angels were there… dressed in clothes that glowed, revealing them as messengers of the Lord Most High.  And those angels asked those women a question: a question that changed everything!
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
 It was angels, remember, who proclaimed the birth of the Messiah in the skies over Bethlehem one night, and it was angels now who proclaimed a new reality in that cemetery.
 No longer would the soft tears of the graveside mark a barrier between life and death that could never be broken. No longer would we live and die in a cycle of futility.  Jesus had shattered the grasp of the grave.  “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, he has risen!”
Those were the words that changed everything… EVERYthing.  God’s new reality had come.
Some years ago Leadership magazine had a story about a young boy named Philip.  Philip was a special child; Down’s syndrome they called it then.  He attended a Sunday School class for 8 and 9 year olds, and on Easter Sunday his teacher brought a basket of pantyhose containers to the class; the kind that look like plastic eggs.  And she handed out an empty egg to each of the kids and gave them an assignment:  they had 10 minutes to go out in the yard around the church and find something to put in their egg that symbolized new-life in Jesus’ resurrection.  Back in the classroom they’d all gather around and look at the symbols that everyone had collected.
When they got back in the room the eggs were opened one at a time, and all the kids  ‘ooohed and aaahed’ over a cocoon and a flower and all the things they’d found.  Then the teacher opened an egg that was empty.  The kids all began yelling that someone hadn’t done it right.  Little Philip spoke up and said, “That’s my egg; I did so do it right!  It’s empty – just like Jesus’ tomb was empty.”  Silence fell, then all of the kids agreed that Philip did it right after all.
Later that year, Philip fell asleep and didn’t wake up.  At the funeral, the mourners watched as a line of 8 and 9 year old Sunday School children went forward to the coffin… each one gently placing inside a large plastic pantyhose egg… every one of them empty. 
They understood the new reality, you see.  They understood the angel’s words that morning so long ago. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, he has risen!”
Over the years we’ve developed lots of symbols for this day. Colored eggs, pretty flowers, and (of all things) a rabbit!  But even that silly rabbit can point us to God’s new reality that came to us at Easter.
Some years ago someone wrote a book.  It was called “Everything I Need to Know About Life I Learned From the Easter Bunny” and, despite its silly title – it actually had some wisdom in its pages.  Wisdom like   “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.”  “Everyone needs a friend who is all ears.”  “Keep your paws off of other people’s jelly beans.”  “Some body parts are just meant to be floppy.”  And, oh yeah, “Sometimes things are not as they seem.”
And that is what we celebrate this morning. Things are not as they seem… not as they used to be.  Because the old reality was to stand at a graveside and see an impenetrable wall.  But now we live in a new reality, and the wall has become a door.
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, he has risen!”
And because Christ rose, we who live and die in faith will awaken from our sleep of death and live forever with him.
For He is risen!  (He is risen, indeed!).  And THAT… changes everything.  AMEN

Pastor Mike 2016
Permission is granted to reproduce this work in whole or in part if the glory for its content is given to the Lord
Soli Deo Gloria