April Sermon: The Walk to Emma’s

Luke 24:25-34 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.  They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.  They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. The word of God, for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you have so much to show us and to tell us— things that no human eyes have seen, things that no human ears have heard, things that you have prepared for those you love. Mighty God, your promises are like shelter in a storm— to us and to our children, to all those far and near, to everyone who hears your call. O, that we might have the mind of Christ, that we may know and understand your truth. We wait as empty vessels, ready to be filled to overflowing with your living water, as you reveal your love for us through Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

It’s always interesting when a holiday like Halloween falls on a class day in Seminary. People dress up. Some dress as people from the Bible, some don’t dress up at all…during our first year I dressed as Waldo…and then, a group of my friends dressed up as the Lost Boys from the movie Hook. A movie etched in time as Robin Williams played Peter Pan and Dustin Hoffman was the infamous Hook, the eternal bad-guy.

There are a lot of things that can be said about lost boys,  journeying to Neverland, and pixie dust, but that is not the story – nor the point of today’s sermon. Our story begins on a dusty road between Jerusalem and Emmaus.  Two of the disciples, Cleopas and an unnamed disciple are traveling to Emmaus. They’re having a conversation, much like two close friends would. They’re angry, they’re upset, they’re confused, and most importantly, they’re sad. In the span of a week, they have watched their friend, Jesus, parade into town to loud cheers of “Hosanna!” to watching as crowds of people have yelled “Crucify him! Nail him to the cross!”. They don’t know what to think. They’ve watched as people have cried and shared their hearts with this Jesus, and then in a matter of days, have seen what they can only imagine to be the worst in people. Rage, anger, bloodthirst.

Have you ever realized how you never remember every detail of a happy moment? People that are married often say that their wedding day was a blur. People say they don’t remember crossing the finish line of a marathon, they just know once they hit their stride, everything fades away and they don’t realize it’s over til they’ve had a chance to stop and breathe.

And then there are the traumas of life. Have you ever had one of those conversations? One where you just cannot believe what’s happened in front of you? It’s like seeing a car accident happen and you replay every moment in your head. It’s like asking someone where they were on September 11th, 2001. You remember every detail. The clothes you wore, who you were with, where you were, how you felt, what you did in the following hours. You can remember every single detail.

I can’t tell you what I felt the first time I heard and understood the implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Some of that I am still unpacking and will continue to unpack as I grow older and as I learn more.

So here we are, walking on the dusty road. We’re lamenting. We’re confused. How did this all just happen. In a span of three years, we have been in the midst of something exciting. We have seen a man transform water into wine, he’s healed people of crippling pain, he’s raised the dead to life, and then he was murdered. We don’t like to talk about this part of the narrative, but the cross was the Roman equivalent of the modern day lethal injection or electric chair. We want to believe that our current methods of execution are humane and meet the constitutional standard of not being “cruel and unusual punishment.” We want to believe, we would like to believe that we would never execute our Savior, and yet we allowed him to be killed. And here we are. Alone, angry and scared. Like the infamous Lost Boys in Hook, we’re not sure how the person we’ve grown to love and admire could just disappear from our midst.

All of a sudden, a man appears on the road. He starts to walk beside these two friends. He listens to them intently as they’re walking along the road, and asks them “Why are you so sad? What are you talking about?”. They stop, look at this man beside them and cannot contain their un-belief. “What?! What do you mean “what are we talking about?”. Didn’t you hear what happened? There was this man, his name was Jesus, and he was from Nazareth. He performed miracles, he did all of these wonderful things through his words and actions. Didn’t you hear? They executed him, they nailed him to a cross and left him to die. But here’s the thing, his tomb is empty…or so that’s what we’re told. Some of our women friends went to care for his body this morning and his body was gone. They said an angel told them that Jesus was still alive, can you believe it?!”

The man, who cannot himself cannot believe how upset they are looks at them, filled with, overwhelmed with compassion,  and says in reply “Uh…guys? Don’t you get it? Don’t you think it was necessary for this to happen to him? Isn’t that what was said in the scriptures? From the word of Moses and through all of the prophets?”.

The three of them continued on the road. If it had been me, if it had been me on that Emmaus road I think it would have been a walk of silence; perhaps even…. Shame.  I assume they walk in silence. The disciples ashamed, grief stricken. As they arrive in Emmaus, their companion continues to walk on down the road. The disciples stop him, and invite him to eat dinner and stay with them. Evening was coming, and they didn’t want this stranger to be walking alone in the night. They gathered together to eat dinner. This man, this stranger, took the bread from the table, blessed it and shared it. It was then, in that moment, that the disciples realized Christ had been with them all along.

One of the important concepts of the Peter Pan story is the idea of “lost.” In the retelling of the story movie Hook, no-one believes that this grown-up, this man with glasses is Peter Pan. The Lost Boys believe Peter Pan abandoned them, left them all alone to fend for themselves. They were confused why the person they loved and cared for, the person that loved and cared for them, is gone. They don’t believe he’s really there. That he’s come back to them. It isn’t until they sit down for dinner, and they all eat together…and have a very colorful food fight that everyone’s eyes are opened.

What are the implications of this story? May I suggest…

People talk about having “Emmaus” experiences – and Pastor John will be preaching about just what Emmaus is next week. In fact there’s an entire spiritual retreat based around this Scripture, aptly called the Walk to Emmaus. As someone who has walked, there are things you can share, and things you’re asked not to share. It’s not a secret about what will happen – if you’ve ever heard or read the Scripture, then you know that the retreat is about encountering Jesus.

This story for us, serves as a reminder that Jesus is with us. There are times when we are filled with un-belief. It is easy to retell the stories of Jesus. To make them pretty, to make them fit into our nice neat boxes and descriptions of faith. It’s easy to make Jesus out to be the ultimate nice guy and tell those stories to children as if he wasn’t this radical force. Everything that Jesus did was about relationship. From the time he defied leaders, read the scrolls and taught in the Synagogue to the days he flipped tables out of anger and disgust in the Temple. Following Jesus was and is a life contrary to the status quo.

I think that’s part of what the disciples were lamenting on that road. There lives could not be the same again because of what they had seen and heard had been so radically changed. The status quo no longer made sense to them. They didn’t have to follow and adhere to rules that restricted them. They were finally living into a new life. They had a new sense of call and purpose, and then it all seemed to have been taken away from them.

They witness their friend, their savior go through the lowest of lows. He didn’t just die. He was put on trial. He was put on trial and then beaten up. He was tortured, broken, and bleeding. As if that kind of humiliation wasn’t enough to bear witness to. You watched as he carried his own death tool to a mountain top. That would be the same as asking someone to carry the drugs that they’ll be executed with. Like asking someone to load the bullets into the guns for their own firing squad.

I would not be surprised if shame fell upon those who felt they knew him best. They didn’t do more to help their friend in those moments of despair. They did not speak up louder. They were probably so emotionally overwhelmed and wounded. Even more – this had all just happened to them.

We have been made painfully aware these past few days about the attempt in Arkansas to execute 8 people in the 10 day period following Easter Sunday. Driven as much by the expiration date on the drugs as by any notion of justice many emotions have been stirred. My heart was most moved by Ledell Lee, the first of the 4 executions that took place before the rest were stayed. Ledell denied himself the traditional last meal; instead opting for the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

Sometimes, it seems to me, even when everyone around you says it is over, or you are no good; when your sins have found you out and for right or wrong you are bearing the painful consequences of having denied God and love and all that is and ought to be good – you cannot run so fast that you outrun God, sin so boldly that even God is ashamed of you, and your final and greatest hope/desire is to encounter Jesus at the end of the road.

We sit and we watch the news unfold before our eyes, wondering where God is in the midst of the hurt and the pain. What we often forget is that we’re meant to be the ones showing up. God is there. God has always been there. God is there in the hurt and the pain, just as much as God is present in the joys of life. Had the story of the Emmaus road ended with Jesus walking on there would be nothing left for the 2 disciples except shame. Having had the truth revealed to them, and then that truth – the truth of God named Jesus – walk on without them – that would be a burden too heavy to bear.

But he didn’t, did he? Jesus did not leave them alone. All it took was a simple invitation: “Won’t you stay with me?”

Peter Pan, the Lost Boys, Jesus and the disciples. When we look at the condition of our lives, our nation and our world and cry out to God to show up, we have failed to recognize that Christ is present in the world – in OUR world – at this moment. resides within each and every person. We It is us who have failed have failed to show up. The reality is that Jesus by the Holy Spirit is always here, along the road, in the prison, beside us in church, waiting for us at school, and so on. Somehow, in our human ways, we have become numb, we have become blind, and much like the disciples, we’re in our own way and don’t recognize Christ in the person beside us, let alone in ourselves.

And you know what that means…

We must show up.

I want everyone to turn around and look at the people around them. Go ahead, it’s okay. This is the one time you get a “wiggle-pass” from me. Now that we’ve all looked at our neighbor, did you notice anything? Did you notice than some people may seem heavy? That others seem light? Did you notice that some are dealing with things we can never imagine, waiting for test results and that check to be deposited to make ends meet. While others are planning their next vacation and picturing the sand and the sun. That doesn’t mean that Christ has shown up for one and not the other. What it means is that Christ is with us every step of the way. When we’re ashamed, when we’re happy, when we’re sick, hungry, and when we rejoice.

We move through this journey together with the joy of knowing that Christ has not abandoned us. We have not been forsaken. We have a hope and a joy because Christ turned the world upside down. Christ defeated death and gave us a hope and a joy not only for today or tomorrow, but for eternity. We show up for each other, for our neighbors and strangers alike because Christ showed up for us. Christ didn’t only show up for us on the mountain side when he fed the multitudes, he showed up on the dusty road, when we felt like all was lost.

And if Christ shows up in big and small ways, so must we. We have to be willing to show up too. A relationship with Christ, recognizing Christ requires that we engage and give just as much as we expect to get out of it. Like any other relationship in our life, we have to work at it. We have to be willing to be vulnerable. We have to do things that go above and beyond. Why? Because Christ has and continues to go above and beyond for us.

The story of the disciples, the two friends walking along the road matters. It matters because it shows us a glimpse of their humanity. This story matters because the story of God matters. The story of God is for all of creation. Not just for the lucky few who happened to have a revelation. The story of God is for all. From those in palaces and cathedrals, to those in section eight housing and double wide trailers and prison cells. The story of God is for all created things. The story of God encompasses our worst thoughts, the worst things we’ve done and reconciles us to God. The story of God meets us on the road, covered in dirt and heals us. The story of God puts love at the center of all that we are and all that we do.

That’s why encountering Christ is so important. That’s why we are to treat everyone with the same respect and dignity we want and expect for ourselves because you just never know when or where it will be Jesus you encounter.

That’s why today and everyday, we have to be light-bearers. Helping to remind people of the light and love of Christ inside them and around them. Helping to remind ourselves of the light and love that resides in and around us. My prayer today and every day is that individually, and as a community, that we would do more than mourn on the road, but that we would use the joy of the resurrection to empower and push our ministry. Amen.

March Sermon: Living in the Light

Ephesians 5:8 -14 8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— 9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Let us pray:

Gracious God, who created us in Your own image,

we are grateful for all that you have done for us,

for all that you are doing in us,

and for all that you will do through us.

Open our eyes to see your presence among us,

moving in powerful ways at all times

and in all places.

Open our ears to hear familiar words in new ways—

ways that will change us and challenge us

to become the people you created us to be.

Grant us the power and the courage

to come out of the darkness

and into the light of Jesus Christ,

that we may serve you by serving others.

We love you with all our heart, soul, mind,

and strength. Amen.

In December of 2015, I was on a service trip and on the night before our excursion day, we went caving. We drove out into the middle of nowhere on the island of Eleuthera, and we decided to go caving. When we first entered the cave someone had spray painted the wall “Welcome to the entrance to hell”. My first reaction was to turn around and wait on the bus for everyone…but when you’re the leader of the trip…well, you turn on your flashlight and you start descending into the cave.

On our way back through the cave, we stopped to spend some time in silence. We took a few moments to find a semi but not really comfortable place on the damp floor of the cave, and then we were instructed to turn our flashlights off. We all wearily obliged our guides instructions.

Suddenly it was quiet…and it was dark. I don’t mean the kind of dark when you go to bed and you turn the lights off. It was a darkness I had never felt or witnessed before. It was the blackest black I have ever experienced. I imagine it’s akin to what astronauts feel when they’re in space…but I am not an astronaut and I haven’t had the honor of meeting one yet.

There was a fear that sprung up inside of me during those moments of silence and darkness. I had all of these thoughts of what was going to happen to me…but I was surrounded by about 10 people, all who were sitting there in their own silence. The rational part of me knew that nothing was going to happen to me. The irrational, fight or flight part of me was ready to fly and get out of there.

According to a study from 2015, 15% of adults are scared of the dark, coming in just above clowns and ghosts. However, when you think about it…most people are scared of the dark in case there is a ghost..or a clown…or a monster under the bed. Many children, and adults, are scared of the dark.

In the dark, we do not know what waits in the shadows. In the dark, we cannot see properly, if it all. The darkness does not have to be a literal darkness, as I experienced in that cave. For some, darkness presents itself in their health.  A friend of mine shared this with me, and she said I could share this with you all. She lives with bipolar disorder, type 2, but is in a remission of sorts. She said that when she would have a mini-episode, she would feel like she was in darkness. She described it as a suffocating darkness. Another friend said when she feels like she isn’t doing what God would want her to do, that she feels a loneliness. That, for her is darkness. In my own personal life, I have found darkness to be the times where my plans were not the same as God’s plans. That my timeline was not God’s timeline. What is your darkness? Where have you found yourself in a place where the darkness overwhelms your senses? 

I wonder if Jesus felt like he was in darkness during those forty days of temptation? There were glimpses of God, but here was Jesus…fully God AND fully human…wandering alone. Hearing voices, seeing things. It was just him and his thoughts.

When you think of the word “sin”, what pops into your mind? Images from movies of people offering confession to a priest? Do you think of things that you’ve done? Do think of the ten commandments and the words etched onto tablets?

If sin is anything that separates you from God, then what do you think it looks like to be united with God?

It looks like wholeness. It looks like healing. It looks like a dazzling light so bright that you cannot describe it as “white”. It looks like my friend with bipolar disorder being told that even if she doesn’t feel or know her purpose in the moments of darkness, that she does indeed have a purpose in this world. The light for her is being as present as she can be and working towards and living into that purpose. For my friend who feels like darkness is when she is doing things that aren’t what God would want, she finds that relinquishing control and giving things to God in prayer is what brings the light back into her life. For me, I have found that intentionality in my discernment and conversations and relationships is what brings the light to me. When I stop focusing on what it is that I want, and turn to what God wants, the light returns.
As my favorite imaginary theologian Albus Dumbledore once said “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light”.  Happiness. That word to me seems so small when thinking about the scripture from Ephesians. When we are no longer in darkness, no longer held down by the things of this world, and we are living in the light – there has to be something greater than happiness to describe the light. If the light is God, how can you even begin to put words to it?  It’s bigger than joy. It’s the moment in which the light meets the darkness. It’s a moment where a peace beyond all peace occurs. It’s a moment that can be described as “divine”. It’s the moment where God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit boldly make themselves known and interact with us and our surroundings in a new fashion.

In 2009, The Avett Brothers released a song “Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise”. The song is an entanglement of all of the things that we wrestle with. Our political stances, doing what is wrong, doing what is right, fear, paranoia, burden and freedom. They say, in so few words, “there’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded with light…and I’m frightened by those who don’t see it”.

There is, depending on how you approach life, an unfortunate or fortunate darkness that is all around us. We are indeed surrounded by forces and things that can be perceived as darkness. Some people struggle with alcohol or substance abuse. Some people overeat…some people undereat. Some of us really enjoy drinking gallons of coffee a day, while others of us can’t get enough Dr Pepper. There are also some of us in this room who wake up daily full of anxiety, or full of depression. Or full of emptiness. There are some who feel like they live in a permanent darkness with no sense of hope, or no sense of God, the light, being close to them.

There is no one way that a relationship with the Spirit works for everyone. The Holy Spirit can manifest to us in different ways. During Lent, we talk about the things that we give up. I’ve done what my mother calls the “extreme diet” and I’ve stopped consuming any animal product. I’m vegan. I’ve found that I sleep better, that I am more focused. That I feel better overall and it gives me time to focus on taking better care of myself. If my cup is empty, if my body is tired and sluggish, I can’t possibly be the best that I need to be to serve God, let alone our congregation and community.

During Lent, we give up things so that we can make room for God in our lives in new ways. I’ve spent more time journaling. Others have found new ways to embrace their freedom of time. It may mean finding new ways to experience God. I’m not sure how many of you utilize them, but Lynchburg has so many trails and nature walks that there are multiple places you can go to interact with God in creation. For some of you, it could be getting up a half hour earlier to enjoy a cup of coffee in silence and watch the world awaken from your window or your porch.

How do we embrace a relationship with God when the darkness may not only be all around us, but in fact, be battling within us? I think we have to be intentional in seeking out the light. Be intentional in the way that we pray. Pray for the light to not only fill us and flow from us, but to surround us. We have to be intentional in interacting in Bible Studies and small groups. We have to embrace our neighbors and be in relationship with them that is more than saying hello as we pass each other. It requires work and patience.

We often talk about and think about faith in abstract ways. We struggle to make sense of it because it’s a holy mystery. We cannot fit God into nice neat lines. A relationship with God is messy. Like every other relationship we experienced. There are times where we may feel alone, there may be times when we’re angry, there are moments we want to cry and give up. But we don’t. We don’t because a relationship with God is beautiful.  A relationship with God is what keeps the light of the Spirit aflame. Our relationship with God requires work. It requires silence, it requires that we listen intently. It requires that we be willing to have conversations with God that we don’t have with anyone else. It requires us to surrender. It forces us to step back, look at the big picture and see the thread of the Holy Spirit woven throughout the tapestry of our life.

When we enter into relationship with God, we expose the darkness. We take the darkness, put it out there for all to see and guess what?  The God, the light, overcomes it. We do not let our darkness, both personal and corporate consume is. We let God see the darkness. God says that darkness does not have the final word. The darkness has no sting. The light is the final word. The light, the Spirit, is what enables us, empowers us and moves us towards reconciliation and healing. The light overcomes the darkness. It awakens us. It removes the sting of death. It emboldens us to be light-bearers to the rest of the world. It gives us space to be free. It makes room for the Spirit to move in ways that we could not have imagined before. Friends, we are called to live in such a way that people see the light in and through us.

I want to close by offering these words from a famous contemporary Christian song:

Come! live in the light!

Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord!

We are called to be light for the kingdom,

to live in the freedom of the city of God!

We are called to act with justice.

We are called to love tenderly.

We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.

 

Identity Politics

Well, it’s taken me a whole three months to post a new blog. I apologize for that. Here we go, second sermon of 2017, first blog of the year.

Acts 4: 32 – 35

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Continue reading “Identity Politics”

Loving Our Neighbor

Today, September 18th, I had the honor of preaching at Peakland UMC for the first of many times. I want to share with you all the message that I shared with them. Enjoy!

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’;  and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question. – Mark 12:28-34 Continue reading “Loving Our Neighbor”

I Appreciate Your Voice

In High School, no-one would have said this about me. I was quiet, mousey, and tried to avoid talking. When I first started High School, my voice was different, I had a Scottish accent, with hints of my British roots mixed in. I was scared of my voice. I was scared for people to hear it. Today, however, I do not shy from my voice. My accent may have changed, its tone, its inflection, but it is my voice. Continue reading “I Appreciate Your Voice”

Offering Our All

Tonight at Peakland UMC, we had Peakland AfterHours; an opportunity to gather for informal worship, communion and my favorite part…Disney/Pixar movies. The movie tonight was “Finding Nemo”, y’all, I forgot how much I enjoyed this movie.  We only watched selected clips (but truth be told, I’m going to watch it one night this week).  Our Scripture that we read and discussed was Genesis 22:1 – 18, which is about Abraham offering Isaac to God as an offering. Continue reading “Offering Our All”