Year B — The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Commentary for May 6, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

Acts 8:26-40 
We sometimes find good news in the strangest places.

Philip — deacon, evangelist, obedient follower of Christ — is sent on his way with an angel’s message on the road to Gaza. The text parenthetically notes that “this is a wilderness road.” Having recently traveled in that area, I can affirm that this is something of an understatement.

There doesn’t appear to be anybody or anything on this road; seemingly, it is the waste of a good church member to send Philip on a “mission” to such a godforsaken, barren place.

This, then, is the setup for the wonderful encounter between the Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Talk about outsiders! (Philip is, of course, a Greek — his partner in this episode is twice-marked as an African and “less than” a man.) 


But what they find as they search the scriptures together is “good news.” Both of these outsiders have been brought in to the life of God, in all its goodness, through Jesus Christ. 

Isn’t that still the bottom line for all of us? My birth doesn’t matter, my station in life doesn’t matter, my sexuality doesn’t matter, the color of my skin doesn’t matter — what matters is the life I am offered in Christ. It is God’s life, and receiving it is good news.

Psalm 22:25-31
This portion of Psalm 22 is a reminder that God’s purpose for the world is just that — God’s purpose for ALL the world.

Stop for a moment and think about what that means; what part of the world or its peoples seem to you to be far removed from the presence or purpose of God? How can we pray (and work) for the world to know God’s dominion?

1 John 4:7-21
Okay, I admit it; I am a long-time fan of Dumb and Dumber (you know, the movie with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels.) 

Among the scenes in that classic piece of farce is the one where Lloyd and Harry play a game of “Tag, You’re It!” There are actually two occurrences of the guys playing “Tag” in the movie, and they serve to illustrate (in a wacky sort of way) the enduring bond of affection that the goofy protagonists share. After surviving a crisis that threatens to sever their relationship, they are still best buds in the end.

(Stay with me here…)

When I read the passage from 1 John again, I am struck by any number of important moments:

  • love comes from God
  • when we love, we mimic God
  • we actually “see” God when we see love in action
  • God has sent Jesus as the Savior of the world — an act of love
  • real love is never about fear

But the one moment that really stands out to me in my reading is what I would call the Divine “Tag, You’re It” moment, in v.10 — we did not love God, but rather God first loved us. God sent Jesus as an “atoning sacrifice” for our sins. 

Regardless of your theological take on atonement, it means that sin and its attendant threat of death has been taken care of — finished, kaput, removed, unplugged. God has preemptively and proactively given us life through Christ. All before we ever made any sort of move toward God. We didn’t start the game — God did.

Tag, you’re it!


John 15:1-8 
Dr. Chilton treats the image of the vine and the vinegrower in his sermon below (and does it very well, of course!)

I am struck by the power of Christ’s words here; in fact, Jesus says, “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.” (v.3)

There is a key relationship between our “abiding in Christ” as the source of our life, and Christ’s words “abiding in us.”

What does it mean for busy, time-starved, 21st-century disciples of Jesus to allow his words to “abide” in us?

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“I am the true vine, and my father is the vinegrower.” John 15:1

My subject today is Holy Heliotropism or Divine Radiation and Human Transformation or The Ministry of Plant Rotation

Let me explain.

There are two women in my life: my mother and my wife. Both are inveterate gardeners in the English mold that I call “out messing in the yard”. My earliest memories are of my mother dragging her hose around the house to water her various bushes and flowers.

My sons tell me that their main memories of their pre-school days are of their mother, with sun-hat and gloves and little plastic gardening wagon, puttering around the yard. 

I am not a gardener, but I have paid attention to their gardening; in particular to the methodology of plant rotation.

Some plants are tied to stakes to force them to grow in a certain way: pea vines and rose bushes and tomato plants and certain other flowers and vegetables. 

Other plants are planted in pots and are rotated in the sun, and grow in the direction of the light. They are shaped by being pulled toward the light. Their growth in a certain direction is not forced, it is encouraged. This growing in the direction of the sun is called heliotropism.

Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. (John 15:5) God is our vinegrower, the gardener of our souls. Here’s a question: What method has our vinegrower chosen to use in shaping our lives into a Christlike shape? Are we forced into a particular direction or are we drawn to the light of God’s love?
Conformity seems to be the world’s way. Conformity to the world eventually becomes what the Prayer of Confession in the Lutheran liturgy calls “bondage to sin.”
To be conformed to the world is to be staked out on the altar of popularity or acceptability, to lose your soul in the effort to go along to get along, to live a life in imitation of what others think you should be and should do.
You will live, but you will not be free; far from it, you will find yourself a slave to the will and the way of the world.

On the other hand, God’s way is the way of heliotropism, of inviting us to be transformed by being bathed in the light of God’s love — by daily turning our faces toward the source of life and love itself.

Martin Luther said that in sin, the human will becomes bent, turns away from God and in on itself.

In their powerful little book on the Lord’s Prayer, Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon make reference to this when they say, “The Lord’s Prayer is a lifelong act of bending our lives toward God in the way that God has offered.”
In the hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” we sing about this bending toward God in the lines:
 
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness,
fill us with the light of day!
Henry J. van Dyke
One of the great dangers of the church is that we sometimes try to make other folks conform to our ideas of what they ought to be doing if they are “true Christians.”
We attempt to tie them to the stake of our preconceived ideas of how they should respond to the Gospel and we are disappointed when they resist and pull away.

We are called instead to a ministry of heliotropism. We are called to shine the light of Christ in such a way that others will be drawn to it and will begin to conform their lives to it. That is all.

Most of us, if we think about it, can figure out who those persons, those assistant vinegrowers, were for us.
We can look back over our lives and see the people who lived out the Gospel, who acted in a Christlike manner in such a way that we wanted to be like them, wanted to be the sort of person, the kind of Christian, they were.
That is who we are called to be. Assistant vinegrowers, exposing people to the bright sun of God’s love in Christ.
Amen and amen.

Year B — The Fourth Sunday of Easter

Commentary for April 29, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

Acts 4:5-12
Cheeky answer, wasn’t it?

Peter is standing — along with his accomplice, John — before the very seat of power in Israel of the first century CE. This is you or I being brought before our particular judicatories (synod, conference, presbytery, deacon body, etc.) and questioned about our ministerial practice. The fact that these men were “all” members of the high-priestly family added a bit more gravitas (if any were needed.)

“By what power are you doing these things? Who, or what, gives you the right to act the way you have been acting?”

It’s not a question one wants to answer lightly. They knew that they could get in real trouble. You or I might very well find our livelihoods on the line if brought up for questioning on a similar matter. (What if your entire pension fund were riding on the words that came next out of your mouth, for instance?)

“None other than Jesus of Nazareth — the one you crucified. God raised him from the dead and his is the only name that has been given by which we may be saved.”


Pretty specific; pretty well-defined. Not afraid to be gently, if firmly, confrontational. It’s an all-or-nothing response, when you think about it. 


Are we, who may have much less on the line, just as willing to proclaim our conviction as to the truth of the gospel today?


Psalm 23
The classic Psalm 23 provides background for the qualities of the “good shepherd.” We do well to have this passage in mind when Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.”

As you re-read Psalm 23 — and do take the time to re-read it, no matter how many times you’ve heard it, read it, or even preached it —  what quality (or qualities) of the good shepherd stand out to you? How have you experienced the presence of the Lord as your shepherd?

1 John 3:16-24
True love does a lot more than wait; it gives, it hopes, it perseveres, it trusts, it supports…and a whole lot more (refresh your memory at 1 Corinthians 13.)

Mainly, as the Elder Apostle writes here, it acts. Love is a very active thing to feel and do. Not just the words, lofty as they may be (love poems are among the highest literary achievements in human history.) It’s all about what you do, baby!


Don’t just tell me that you love me — show me! You don’t have to live in Missouri to subscribe to that kind of wisdom!

John says that we have not gone far enough when we have simply believed  in Jesus…we must also love (in word and deed) one another.


John 10:11-18
If you’re just in it for the paycheck, you probably aren’t too interested in sacrificing yourself for anyone at the place where you work. That’s just not a “normal” way to think, is it?

But Jesus says that living life his way is sort of like a shepherd in the old days — most likely, the shepherd had a literal financial interest in the welfare of the sheep. He was owner or part-owner of the flock, so it was in his best interest to deliver them to market (or to the shearer) in the best possible condition. Healthier sheep equals higher dollars.

But more than that, the shepherd shared a bond with the sheep. He knew them each by name (his own pet names for them;) he knew how they acted, which were prone to act up or skip out, which were prone to mind and follow in the way they were led.

The sheep also knew which was their shepherd; they got used to his (or her) voice. Even when penned with other flocks and other shepherds, only the voice of “their” shepherd would rouse the sheep to follow. The shepherd was sworn to protect the sheep, and — evidently — would put himself at risk in order to fulfill his duty.   

So, Jesus says, I am a lot like that; I know you, you know me, we’re really in this thing together. I have given my life for my sheep. All of them. Even the ones you can’t see in this fold. 

Trust me on this.


Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In my little backyard converted shed office, I have a couple thousand books arranged on a variety of yard sale bookcases. As I wrote this sermon, my coffee cup rested on a shelf that contains what I call my “Jesus books.” In recent years there have been a huge number of books written and debate hashed out about who Jesus was, or if indeed he really was.

I own over 30 of these books, and that’s just a small part of all that are out there. They have titles like: “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand up?” The Misunderstood Jew,” “Who Was Jesus?” “Lord or Legend?” “Looking for Jesus,” “The Real Jesus,” “What Jesus Meant,” and my favorite title, not favorite book, but favorite title: “Cynic Sage or Son of God?” (Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it.)

For over 2000 years the world and the church have wrestled with the question of the true identity of the wandering preacher from Galilee.

The whole of Chapter 10 in John deals with this. Who does he say he is? Does his walk match his talk? Is he for real?Are the signs to be believed?

Eventually, in verse 24, the people ask Jesus – “Are you the Messiah? Are you the one sent from God?” Jesus’ answer points to his actions as keys to his identity; behavior reveals character.

He asks them, “Do I act and talk like a Messiah, like a true king of Israel?” “Are the things I say and do for the benefit of the people?” “Do I honor God with the way I live my life?”

In this first part of chapter 10, Jesus talks about being the Shepherd of the sheep, about how the sheep hear the true shepherd’s voice and follow, about the willingness of the shepherd to lay down his life for the sheep.

In verses 7 through 11 Jesus showed the contrast between himself and the other shepherds: “all who came before me are thieves and bandits,” Then he says “I am the good shepherd.” Later in chapter 10 Jesus again picks up the protective and caring shepherd theme.

It may be helpful to us to think not in terms of good and bad, but rather in terms of true versus false; or real versus pretend; or fake versus genuine; or perhaps faithless versus faithful.

What Jesus lays claim to here in this text is to being not a false, not a pretend, not a fake, not a faithless shepherd of Israel; but rather to being a true, a real, a genuine, a faithful shepherd of God’s sheep.

The shepherd was an important symbol in Israel. For much of their history they were a nomadic people dependent upon their sheep for their livelihood. Because of this, sheep and shepherd imagery was very important.

The King was often referred to as the Shepherd of Israel, referring back to King David, the traditional author of the 23rd Psalm. David, a shepherd boy in his youth, is the king by whom all kings are measured.

The ancient kings of Israel were different from the kings of the nations around them. The other kings were held up to be gods on earth, divine beings in human form. The kings of Israel were not believed to be divine; they were known to be ordinary human beings who represented God on earth and ruled in God’s name. The idea was that God had placed the responsibility for the nation in their hands.

The kingdom was not theirs to do with as they pleased. The kingdom was God’s and they were to take care of it and God’s people in God’s name and with God’s help. And even great King David failed to do it right all the time.

Between David and Jesus there were many years and many kings, and all the kings of Israel failed in one way or another. None of them lived up to the image of the good, the true, the real Shepherd of Israel, especially not the emperor in Rome or his puppet King Herod.

Now Jesus makes it plain. The sheep hear my voice, he says, they know their true Shepherd and follow and respond to him.

This is the difficult part of this lesson for me. Just hearing the voice is not enough. Many people hear, but don’t appear to respond, don’t seem to answer, don’t look like they are following, apparently don’t recognize the voice of Jesus.

Those of us gathered here in church on Sunday morning have, in one way or another heard and recognized the voice of God, the voice of our savior and friend, in the voice of the Bible, in the voice of the Church.

Some of us are more sure than others, some of us hear it more clearly and distinctly than others, but all of us have heard it. That is why we are here. But we are left to wonder about those who aren’t here, those who may have heard the word but don’t appear to have heard the voice.

Rather than wonder about if they have heard, or why they haven’t heard in the, our calling today is to live our lives in such a way that the voice of the Christ is shared with the world in the way we live our lives and in the way we tell God’s story.

Pastor John Ortberg tells this story in a recent book:
A man is being tailgated by a woman in a hurry. He comes to an intersection, and when the light turns yellow, he hits the brakes. The woman behind him goes ballistic. She honks her horn at him; she yells her frustration in no uncertain terms; she rants and gestures.

While she is in mid-rant, someone taps on her window. She looks up and sees a policeman. He invites her out of her car and takes her to the station where she is searched and fingerprinted and put in a cell. After a couple of hours, she is released, and the arresting officer gives her her personal effects, saying

“I’m very sorry for the mistake, ma’am. I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, using bad gestures and bad language. I noticed the WHAT WOULD JESUS DO bumper sticker, the CHOOSE LIFE license plate holder, the FOLLOW ME TO SUNDAY SCHOOL window sign, the FISH EMBLEM on your trunk, and I naturally assumed you had stolen the car.
(When the Game is Over, It all Goes Back in the Box, 2007, p. 115)

How we live our lives sends a message to the world. When Martin Luther said that the church is a “priesthood of believers,” he didn’t mean that we are all pastors; he meant that we all carry Christ into the world in our words and in our actions.

In the modern world, we; we, the church; we, all of us in the church; we are the shepherds; and the hurting, lonely, lost people of the world are God’s scattered sheep. Our calling is to go out to them with the voice of the shepherd, calling them home to safety, calling them home to love.

We are the voice of Christ in the world.

What people know of God’s law, they learn from us.

What people know of God’s forgiveness, they receive from us.

What people know of God’s love, they feel from us.

The voice of Christ calls each of one of us out into the world today.

How will you answer?

Will you go?

Will you go out there and love the world in the name of Christ?

Amen and amen

Year B — The Third Sunday of Easter

Commentary for April 22, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

Acts 3:12-19
“Dude, it’s not about us!”

Peter tried really hard to deflect the attention from himself and John on the day a lame man was healed by “their” touch. Preachers are sometimes put in a similarly awkward position when we hear comments along the line of, “That was such a great sermon today, Pastor; you really did your best today!”

Of course, we want to do our best as often as we can, and it’s nice to be acknowledged every once in a while. But, again, the issue here is the ways in which the power of God is made plain. 

Peter makes a definite connection for his listeners: this is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors who has glorified Jesus, his servant. How clearly are we pointing out the presence and power of God to our listeners? How are we helping them make the connection to what they see, pray for, hope for and what God is doing in their midst?

Psalm 4
Psalm 4 speaks a word to busy worshipers (and preachers.) The word is: stop!

We seem always to be in a hurry; even in our “worship” we have an order and a time frame in mind. The old joke, at least among Baptists in the South, is that the preacher must quit in time “for us to beat the Methodists and the Presbyterians to the restaurant!”


Notice that there are two indicated pauses for silence and reflection within the eight verses of this text. (These are the “Selah” moments.) Verse 4 could be something of a theme for this psalm: “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.”

Eastertide is a good time for pondering what it is that we have seen and witnessed in recent days, as well as for considering the “holy disturbances” that God sometimes places in our lives. After all, it took the disciples some time to digest what the Easter events meant for them; why should we be any different?

1 John 3:1-7
For some odd reason, when I read John’s words of exhortation and encouragement here, I am reminded of the little children’s song from my long-ago Sunday School years (it’s actually a “gospel song” from music evangelist Ira Stanphill):

I traveled alone upon this lonesome way;
My burdens so heavy and dark was my day.
I looked for a friend, not knowing that He
Had all the time been looking for me.

Now, it is Jesus and me for each tomorrow;
For every heartache and every sorrow.
I know that I can depend upon my new found Friend.
And so, till the end, it’s Jesus and me.


(Wanna hear it? A “country style” setting is available here.)

No, I’m not advocating the over-simplistic theological stance that you might think; but, I am trying to think seriously about what it means to live as God’s child, knowing that one day, we will see Jesus “as he is”…and that, then, we will be like him.

In the meantime, how should I speak, think, act, live?

  
Luke 24:36b-48
See what I’m saying? 

Even after a couple of post-resurrection appearances, the disciples are still pretty skittish when Jesus happens suddenly upon them. They are having quite a time trying to grasp the full meaning of the “we saw him dead but now he’s alive?” thing.


I love the wit displayed by Jesus here (and by Luke in writing the story this way) — they’re all happy and stuff to see him, but still scratching their heads a bit, when Jesus says, “So, I’m hungry; how about you guys? Got anything to eat?”


He doesn’t chastise them or call them down for their lack of faith. He just finds a way to confront the elephant in the room and teach them yet another lesson. “I told you I’d be here, and now I am here. You can really, really, really depend on what I say to you!” 

Chomp!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

N.T. Wright says: “People often ask me, ‘What after all is the point of Jesus dying and rising again? It’s no doubt very nice for him to be alive again, but what does it have to do with the rest of us?’” (1)

What indeed? What is the point of the story of Jesus and why are we here at church? 

Are we here because it’s the tradition in which we were raised? Because church is a part of the civic fabric of our lives and we would feel a little lost without it.


Why, exactly are we in this community called a church and in this space set apart for getting together to sing strange songs while hearing short speeches and eating a meal that isn’t actually a meal, more like a snack, really.

What is it all about? Why are we here? Is it because we’re all from somewhere else and are a little lonely for a taste, a touch of home, and a Lutheran Church is a part of home? Is that it?

Three verses in our Gospel lesson are there specifically to tell us why we’re here.

Verse 46: and he said to them, “Thus it is written, the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,
Verse 47
: and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem,
Verse 48:
you are witnesses of these things.

Three short verses; in English, a mere 50 words; yet they contain our reason for being and our call to action.

First of all; it is written. Luke wants the early church, and us, to know that what happened to Jesus was not a random act of ugliness; another in a long series of cruelties and indignities that powerful and corrupt people have foisted upon the weak, the innocent and the good.

Jesus life, suffering, death, and resurrection were a part of God’s long term plan to deal with the very human problems of sin, evil, hatred, discord, and death.

Bishop Wright points out that the basic human condition is that the history of the world is one long litany of bad things people as individuals and as communities and as nations have done to each other.

And all our attempts to bring an end to these bad things flounder on our very human sense of self- righteousness. A few years ago the president of Iran was invited to speak to the UN and he used the occasion to accuse Israel of racism, prompting delegates of other countries to walk out and the United States to boycott the whole thing. It is a scene played out all over the world

Wright says, “Each one claims that they have the right to the moral high ground and must be allowed redress, revenge, satisfaction.” (2)

The only way forward is the way of the Christ, the way of the cross. Jesus came and lived among us and showed us that the one who had the most right, the best claim, to revenge, to redress, to satisfaction, chose to go another way. God, in Christ, turned away from revenge and embraced justice; turned away from our death, and through his own death, gave us life.

Verse 47 – repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name throughout the world.

This is the world’s only hope, our only way out of the continual cycle of offense and revenge, of insult and retaliation, of wrong piled upon wrong in a deadly version of the Children’s game of “King of the Hill”

The only way to bring an end to the nations’ battling is through living out the Gospel call for repentance and forgiveness.

Very often, we read this is a private and individual way. If I, DELMER, repent of MY sins, then God will forgive ME, DELMER, of MY sins. That’s one way to hear it, but not the only or the best way.

What about; WE must ALL repent of OUR wrongful ways, OUR destructive paths, OUR vengeful hearts.
WE are ALL called to turn from ways that lead to death, and WE are ALL called to turn to and follow ways that lead to newness of life.

And we are all encouraged; no commanded, to forgive the sins of others, to seek reconciliation instead of revenge, to look for life in the valley of the shadow of death.
What are we doing here? That’s in VERSE 48: you are witnesses of these things.

We are here,

in this place,
in this church,
to be reminded of the story,
to continually turn from death to life,
to receive forgiveness and to learn how to give forgiveness,
to support one another in our lives of faith,
to gather strength from the meal and the community,
and to push each other out the door
to be witnesses of these things in the world.

As Luther puts it in the Small Catechism, “We are called, gathered, empowered and sent,” by the Holy Spirit, into the streets, with the message of God’s amazing Grace.

Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed, Alleluia.

(1) and (2) NT Wright, Luke for Everyone, p.301 ff.

Year B — The Second Sunday of Easter

Commentary for April 15, 2012
Click here for today’s readings
Acts 4:32-35
Does the resurrection have power? If so, what type of power is it — how is it expressed?
Most church attenders (and preachers) would answer the first question in the affirmative. Yes, the resurrection has power! Didn’t we just have a big hullabaloo on Easter? Didn’t you see how many people showed up for worship?

Ah, yes…I love the power demonstrated by the services and splendor on Easter. We all wish that “every Sunday were like Easter.” But, really now…what is the ongoing meaning of the resurrection of the Christ for our lives?

At least a portion of the answer to that second, more probative question is found here in Acts: “the whole group…were of one heart and soul…. With great power [they] gave their testimony to the resurrection…. There was not a needy person among them.”

Now, THAT would be a testimony of the Lord’s resurrection power if THAT happened again today! Not a needy person in America, in Europe, in Africa, Asia, or anywhere else in the world where people name the name of Christ?
Psalm 133
More power in unity. The images are of plenty…so much oil running down the beard of Aaron (at his ordination) that it trails off his head and face and into the neckline of his garment. The dew of Hermon (the highest point in northern Israel) literally runs down and feeds the rest of the country by means of the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee, and other tributaries all the way to the Dead Sea in the desert.

Oil and water are sometimes plenteous, sometimes scarce; but the mercy of God never runs dry!
1 John 1:1-2:2
I’ve always loved the vivid image here of John proclaiming “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes…we have looked at, we have touched!”
Once something has become tangible through you by means of your physical senses, you know it in a way that can never be completely explained in words. How to describe the sound of the water rushing over Niagara Falls? What is it like to see the sun set over the expanse of the high desert with its clear skies? To feel a silken scarf as it flows through your fingers? Can you adequately describe what the first bite of a crunchy apple, freshly harvested from the orchard, is like?

In many ways, our fellowship with Christ and his people has to be experienced to be understood. But it sure is good!
John 20:19-31
Thomas thought he needed to “experience” first hand the resurrected Christ in order to believe what he was hearing from his apostolic brethren. And, he did get a face-to-face shot with the Master.
I’ve always found it fascinating that he didn’t really HAVE to put his fingers in the marks of the nails once he had the chance to. The simple presence of Christ brought him to his knees. 
We might well say, “Well, if I could have been there when they crucified my Lord, I’ll bet I would have got it right! Not like those other faithless disciples!”
Not so fast, my friend; we all have our Thomas moments. And in the end, our response can only be like his: “My Lord, and my God!”
  
Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
I was driving back to the church after a hospital visit one wintry afternoon over 30 years ago. 

The sun was shining bright and directly into my eyes. I turned left at a lonely country intersection and BAM! 

My little Datsun was slammed into by a large delivery truck doing 60 miles an hour. 

He hit me right behind the back door and the car spun round and round like a top, then WHAM! I stopped, wedged into the ditch on the side of the road.

Every window in the car was broken, the steering wheel was broken, the seat was broken. 

My head was in the backseat, passenger side and my feet were under the steering wheel and I couldn’t breathe. I literally COULD NOT BREATHE. That truck knocked the wind out of me.

The wreck was witnessed by one of my parishioners, Kitty Hightower. She ran to my car and leaned in the broken window. “Pastor, Pastor are you all right?” 

Well no, I wasn’t all right. I couldn’t breathe. There was no air in my lungs and I didn’t seem to be able to get any in there. 

I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t even move; I just stared at her with my mouth open.

Kitty started crying, and then started screaming to the men rushing over from the country store, “He’s dead, He’s dead. Oh my God, the Pastor’s dead!” 

Which is, I assure you, a peculiar thing to have screamed in your ear when you are indeed very much alive.

After what seemed like an eternity I was able to get a bit of air into my lungs and was able to lift a hand and touch Kitty on the shoulder; which, in retrospect, was not the best thing to do, seeing as how she thought I was dead and all.

When I touched her on the shoulder, she jerked her head up and looked at me with real terror in her eyes. 

Finally, I squeezed out the words, “It’s alright Kitty, I’m not dead.”

It was an odd thing to find myself in that position; the one who had been hurt comforting the onlooker.

But that is the position in which we find Jesus in our Gospel lesson; the one who was hurt bringing solace to the witnesses.

On the Evening of that first Easter, the disciples were meeting in a room, probably the same room in which they had held their Passover. 

They had the door shut, bolted, locked. 

They were frightened. 
They could not get their bearings. 
They could not breathe. 

They had given up everything to follow Jesus, and this is not how they expected things to turn out. 

Just a week ago, on Palm Sunday, they had entered the city with such gigantically high hope, and now this. 

This, this, disaster. 

This, this, craziness. 
This, this, car crash of an ending. 
Indeed, they had had the wind knocked out of them.

And on that first Easter evening, Jesus the Christ came to the disciples in that locked and airless room and breathed new life into them.

At one time or another all of us are like the disciples were on that first Easter evening. 

We too have had the wind knocked out of us. 

Some of us gathered here have lost loved ones unexpectedly, some of us are struggling with the diagnosis of a long-term illness in the family, some of us have had job losses, 
some of us have lost economic security,
 some of us have failed to get that promotion (or that call) we had hoped for, our children haven’t worked out the way we hoped, our marriages are hurting. 

All of us have had the wind knocked out of us, sometime; probably sometime lately. 

Believe you me, in times like those, the big picture fades away and all your energy is centered on surviving, on breathing, on taking one more precious breathe, and anything other than present personal experience becomes difficult to believe in or focus on.

Writing in Christianity Today, Tim Stafford talks about an object lesson Pastor Stephen Bilynski uses with his confirmation class.

He comes to the very first class with a jar full of jelly beans and asks the class to guess how many are in the jar. He writes all their estimates on the board.

Then he asks the boys and girls to name their favorite songs and he lists those on the board.

Finally the class counts the beans to see who was closest to right. Then Pastor Steve points to the list of songs and asks, “And which one of these is closest to being right?”

And of course the students protest that there is no right answer; that a person’s favorite song is purely a matter of taste and circumstance; purely personal preference. (Which would, I suppose, explain my predilection for Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale.”)

At this point, Pr. Steve comes to the point of the entire exercise: “When you decide what to believe about God, is that more like guessing the number of beans, or more like choosing your favorite song”

In the article, Pastor Steve says he has done this numerous times over the last 20 years, and always, always, the answer, from teen-agers and from adults, is the same:

“Choosing what to believe about God is like choosing one’s favorite song.”

In modern America, we have transferred faith from the realm of fact to the world of feelings. And the problem with that is, we seldom feel like believing. 

Or more accurately, those personal experiences that would convince us to believe in God are few and far between, practically non-existent; and those things that would cause us to disbelieve, that knock the wind out of us, are much louder, persistent and frequent.

This is why what Jesus did in that room with those disciples is so important to us. Jesus reminded them where he came from “Just as the Father sent me,” and then he reminded them where they were going, “So I send you!” 

Then he filled them with the Holy Spirit the way God the Creator filled the lungs of Adam and Eve with the very air we breathe, the wind that gives us life. 

Lastly, he reminded them what their calling was, what they were being sent out filled with the Holy Spirit to do “Forgive sins.”

All this says to us that whether God loves us or not is not dependent on whether we’re feeling the love or not. 

It is dependent upon God’s choice to love us; a choice God made and will never undo.

Whether God is involved in our lives is not dependent upon whether or not our grand plans and schemes for ourselves or for God are working out or not; 

God’s involvement in our lives is again God’s choice, a choice Gad has already made and will not unmake.

All the disciples, Thomas and the others, had an advantage we do not and will not have; they got to see the Risen Lord. 

But we have an advantage they did not; we have seen the fact that the Church and the Gospel are still going strong 2000 years later; again, not because of us, but because of God. 

Amen and amen.

A Word About Ads

Dear Readers of the Lectionary Lab —

You are the reason we write! Both Bubbas have a great love for Christ and His Church — and we have a healthy respect for the far-from-perfect-but-lovable-anyway people that serve the Church.

Our goal in publishing our thoughts here each week is, first and foremost, to be helpful in the weekly task of preaching the Bible’s texts. We both know what it is like to be busy pastors who have calls to make, meetings to attend, services to officiate, and social obligations to meet. And, as most of us have muttered in some form or other on various occasions: “Sunday sure does roll around, don’t she?”

We will continue to write as long as God gives us half-brains to use and clumsy fingers to type — and the content on the Lectionary Lab will ALWAYS be free. That’s our promise to you.

Having said that, you must realize that even a Bubba has to eat…so, in trying to find some simple ways to “monetize” our blog, we are allowing what I call some “gentle” ads from Google to appear on our sidebar. We hope they do not distract from our purpose. That is certainly not our intention.

Having said that AND that, let me also encourage you occasionally to glance over and see what is popping up on your screen, and click on anything that interests you! When you follow an ad and, especially if you happen to find something that’s a good deal or that works well for you (read “buy something”) — well, your friendly Bubbas will benefit just a little bit. And we will be happy. And we will be able to keep churning out commentary and sermons and such for a long, long time!

Okay, that’s about all for now. Just wanted to keep you in the loop about what’s happening. If we decide we don’t really like the ads, we’ll turn them back off after a while. Let us know what you think (if you care to.)

TTFN,

John and Delmer

Year B — Easter Sunday

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

THE RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD
Mark 16:1-8
Some years ago a pastor in SC was invited to a baptism by one of his parishioners who was a guard at the Central Carolina Prison in Columbia.
The pastor arrived at the prison early in the morning. He was searched, IDed, interrogated, moved from waiting area to waiting area for over an hour; all to simply move him fifteen feet from outside the prison walls to the inside.
Finally the pastor met his guard friend and they walked together down long, cold corridors to the prison chapel. It was a small room, with a few rows of chairs and a platform at the front. On this day the pulpit and piano had been pushed to the side against the wall.
In the pulpit’s place, flat on the floor, there was a large wooden box. In the box there was spread blue plastic sheeting that draped over the sides of the box and into the sheeting had been poured gallons and gallons of cold water.
As the small group gathered around the makeshift baptistery, at the very moment the convert stepped into the box full of water and the preacher reached over to grab his hands, lower him into the box and began to say, “I baptized thee. . . “ the visiting pastor had a realization that took his breath away.
The box was a coffin; a standard, prison-issue, pine-box coffin. The man was being baptized in a casket, he was going into and coming up out of the grave.
The Funeral liturgy in my tradition’s worship book contains these words at the placement of the pall as the service begins: “When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised by the glory of the father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 280)
Death and life, despair and hope, going under and rising again; those are our themes today.
When the women went to the tomb, they went in deep sadness and despair. They went into a place of coldness and death, a prions house of the soul.
They went with ho hope, no anticipation, they went reluctantly, to perform a duty, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial, to put their friend into a grave.
But, when they got there they discovered that things had changed. The tomb was empty, the body was missing, there was an angel hovering about.
“Do not be alarmed,” he says. Easy for him to say. “So,” the angel goes on, “you’re looking for Jesus? Sorry, he’s not here. He’s been raised. He’s gone to Galilee. Go tell Peter and the others to meet him there.”
The women are stunned, reeling, speechless. The no wonder the Bible tells us they fled in terror and told no one, at least for a while.
This business of rising again from the dead has never been easy for anyone to believe. It’s not natural, it’s not normal. It wasn’t normal 2000 years ago and it’s not normal now. All of us who proclaim it know it’s not easy to believe.
But it is a story full of possibilities for all of us.
From death to new life isn’t just about going through physical death and then living happily ever after in heaven.
It’s about being changed, transformed, in the midst of our circumstances, here, now.
The prisoner who was baptized in a coffin didn’t get to leave prison because he got religion, far from it. He still had 20 years to go on his sentence.
For him, nothing external changed at all, and yet internally, everything had begun to change completely. After the baptism he gave a “testimony” he which he said he had gone from being a dead man walking, a person already dead in spirit waiting to die; to life as a man filled with the new life of Christ living in him.
The question for us today is this? What sort of prison are we living in? What darkness grips our soul? What cold and clammy tomb is holding us back from a joyous life?
The message of Easter is this:
You have to step into the cold waters of death in order to come out on the other side of the Jordan.
You have to bury what’s holding you back in order to embrace the new life God is giving you.
You have to lay down in acoffin in order to stand up with joy on Easter morning.
We are invited to a changed life today; a life full of hope and opportunity, overflowing with love and freedom; filled with the joy of the Risen Christ.
Christ is risen,
Christ is risen indeed!
Amen and amen.