Tag Archives: resurrection

“Nevertheless, She Persisted” – Sermon on John 11:1-45

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Try to imagine yourself in the story. 

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 

11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

As we get to act two in our story, take note of the emotions of and the interactions between the women and Jesus.

17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 

28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when (Mary) heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 

In act three of our story, pay close attention to how Jesus takes on the pain of Mary and Martha and how he responds to it.

34(Jesus) said, “Where have you laid him?” (The women) said to him, “Lord, come and see.”35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 

41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to the (crowd), “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. – John 11:1-45

If we keep reading past our assigned text for this morning, we would see that this very loving and compassionate act of raising Lazarus from the dead is what leads to Jesus’ death sentence on the cross. Take a few moments in silence to reflect on what this means about Jesus’ love for Mary and Martha and what it means about his love for us.

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She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

These words – which were originally used to quiet the voice of a woman senator in February – have been turned into the powerful battle cry for many women this past month. It didn’t take too long before these words were made into a hashtag, were being shared through memes, and were even being proclaimed on tattoos and t-shirts.

While many women today know quite well what it’s like to be quieted, nevertheless, they have persisted.

I love how these words especially ring true this morning.

For one thing: here we are, on the first Sunday after the one Women’s History month has come to a close. And while women still continue to be silenced at the pulpits… Well… let’s just say I’m very thankful for the many women who have gone before us to pave the way and for the many communities who do support women in ministry.

Nevertheless, they persisted.

But these words can also be heard crying out this morning through our Gospel text in John.

Here, in the midst of our very long story about the death and resurrection of Lazarus, we keep hearing the voices of Martha and Mary.

And despite the fact that their female voices had no importance or place in society: nevertheless, they persisted.

Now, as we are getting ready to follow Jesus toward Jerusalem beginning next week, some of you might be wondering why I would focus on these women rather than focus on what might seem to be the obvious good news of this story: Jesus’ act of raising Lazarus from the dead and thus foreshadowing his own death and resurrection that we will soon encounter.

And, yes: this is – indeed – good news.  Through Lazarus’ resurrection, Jesus conquers death and brings forth new life… And not just in a heavenly kind of sense somewhere “out there” in another time and another place.  But the resurrection of Lazarus shows us that we don’t have to sit around and wait until our physical bodies die before we get to experience this new life Jesus offers us. And we don’t have to wait until Easter before we get to live as resurrection people. Rather, in Lazarus’ resurrection, Jesus actually brings about new life right here and right now.

You see, just as Jesus calls Lazarus to emerge from the tomb, he calls us to do so, as well. Jesus calls us out of the tomb, from our own sense of lifelessness, and he frees us from the worldly expectations, insecurities, and sin that bind us. Yes, Jesus offers us new life, calling us to no longer live as we are dead, but rather to choose to live our lives fully.  This is, indeed, good news!

But the thing that I think is often missed when we look at this resurrection story in John is that this good news would not have been proclaimed had it not been for the two women. The resurrection of Lazarus would not have even taken place if it weren’t for the persistence of Martha and Mary.

You see, it was Martha and Mary who sent a message to Jesus letting him know Lazarus was ill in the first place. And when Lazarus died because Jesus had waited around for two whole days before going to Bethany to see him, it was Martha who confronted Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Nevertheless, she persisted.

And when it seemed like Jesus was not going to do anything about the death of Martha’s brother, it was Martha who ran to her sister, Mary, and told her to go find Jesus.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

And when Mary was distraught over the death of her brother, it was she who fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Nevertheless, she persisted.

You see, it was the persistence of these two women (whom Jesus loved dearly) that opened his eyes to their pain, which greatly disturbed him in spirit and deeply moved him to tears.

It was Mary and Martha’s persistence that moved the one who is the Resurrection and the Life to compassionately respond to their suffering by raising Lazarus from the dead, calling him out of the tomb, and inviting Jesus’ disciples to help free Lazarus from all that kept him bound.

So may we too – like Martha and Mary – keep on persisting, even and especially in times that feel hopeless. May we too – like Jesus’ disciples – open our eyes to the good news being proclaimed through those who do persist. And may we too – like Jesus – be greatly disturbed in spirit at the suffering and injustice around us and thus be deeply moved to respond.

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“Jesus’ Good News To the Invisible: ‘I see you.'” – Sermon on Luke 7:7-17

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“Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town.When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.”

Luke 7:11-17

In early May, I was incredibly moved by the speech given by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch as she denounced the North Carolina bathroom law. (If you haven’t already listened to her speech, I highly recommend that you do.)

After announcing that the Dept. of Justice was filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state of North Carolina because the bathroom law “create[s] state-sponsored discrimination against transgender individuals,” she stated: “This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms. This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them – indeed to protect all of us. And it’s about the founding ideals that have led this country – haltingly but inexorably in the direction of fairness, inclusion and equality for all Americans.”

While her statement was particularly powerful, as Loretta continued to boldly claim this was a civil rights issue, what blew so many people away (and brought me to tears) was her closing statement as she spoke directly to the transgender community: “Some of you have lived freely for decades. Others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives you were born to lead. But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Dept. of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.”

LGBTQI advocate Bob Witeck explained that Loretta’s closing remarks were so important because LGBTQI Americans are “used to living invisibly.” Yet, here Loretta Lynch is going “out of her way to tell them that she (and the Obama Administration) see them. That they are not invisible.” That their lives do – in fact – matter. And that they are going to commit to doing the justice work of fighting for full inclusion and equality.

And Mara Keisling, Executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality said that this was an empowering statement because Loretta Lynch was acknowledging “that we are people…” and to many transgender people, esp. in North Carolina, that acknowledgement is needed. “The relief is just almost overwhelming,” Mara explained. “To just be so dehumanized [by the state of North Carolina] for six weeks now and then to be so humanized by the attorney general – it’s just amazing.”

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“We see you, we stand with you, and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.”

These words are similar to the words we hear Jesus speaking in our Gospel text this morning.

It’s an emotional scene in Luke.

Our attention is first centered on a large, excited crowd surrounding Jesus. To their amazement, Jesus has just healed the centurion’s servant in the town of Capernaum. And so this large crowd – along with Jesus’ disciples – follow Jesus, hoping to see what he will do next.

As Jesus and his entourage get close to a town called Nain and approach the town gate, we see another large crowd passing through the gate. But unlike the first crowd, this crowd from the town is weeping and grieving, as they follow the leaders of the group who are carrying the body of a man who had passed away.

This second crowd is participating in a funeral procession. But this is not just any funeral procession. As the author of Luke quickly points out, this dead man was the son of a woman who was poor, powerless, and on the complete margins of society: he was the son of a widow. And – as Luke emphasizes – the dead man was this widow’s only son. Luke’s earliest readers would have known what the funeral procession meant for this first century widow. Since women in first century Palestine were considered property of men and depended economically and socially on first their father, then their husband, and if widowed – their sons, this widow was not only facing another incredible loss in her life. But the death of her only son left her completely destitute without a home, job, health care, and if she received no charity from the community – she would be left with no way to survive.

She was now completely invisible.

No wonder she was sobbing as she passed Jesus at the entrance gate to Nain.

Now, it would have made sense for Jesus, this first century rabbi and his followers to just keep going on their way… For, they had important places to be and important things to do.  And why would they notice this widow in the middle of a large crowd in the midst of a funeral procession, anyway?  She would not only have been lost in the crowd, but she was also invisible to the world.

However, this widow was not invisible to Jesus. Maybe it was the volume of her weeping and wailing or the desperation in her eyes that caught Jesus’ attention. But whatever it was, as the two large crowds converge, Jesus sees the widow and he stops what he is doing. He has compassion for her: “Do not weep,” he urges her.

Then in front of both large crowds, he does the unimaginable. With no concern for his own reputation, he touches the bier – or the corpse – an act that was forbidden by the law because the corpse was deemed unclean. Then, speaking to the corpse, he says: “Young man, I say to you: Rise!” and then the dead man sits up and starts speaking. And as Jesus gives the man to his mother, the hope of this once destitute and invisible widow for a future and a holistic life has been resurrected.

It is as if Jesus is saying to her: “I see you, I stand with you, and I will do everything I can to protect you going forward.”

Now, I think it is important to note that this kind of compassion Jesus has is not just a light-hearted sympathy for this woman. The Greek word for compassion used here comes from a Greek noun that means the kidneys, the bowels, the heart, the lungs, the liver: the internal organs. In other words, when Jesus sees this widow in her grief and desperation, his entire insides – his guts – churn. They overflow with concern, compassion, and love… for her.

And this is not the only time Jesus stops what he is doing and performs a miracle for people who are invisible – people who are on the margins – because he has a deep, internal compassion for them. When he sees the sick, he is moved with compassion and heals them. When he sees the hungry, he is moved with compassion and feeds them. When blind beggars cry out to him for help, he sees them, is moved with compassion for them, and gives them sight.

“I see you, I stand with you, and I will do everything I can to protect you going forward.”

And thus is with the grieving, destitute widow in our text in Luke.

Here, at the entrance gate to Nain, Jesus sees this invisible woman for who she truly is. Jesus denounces the labels and images that society has placed upon her and instead he sees and affirms the imago dei – the image of God that she was created in before she even left her mother’s womb. Jesus sees and acknowledges her beloved-ness and her humanity – which society has failed to see in her. And seeing this widow in all her pain and in her deep desperation, Jesus is moved with compassion from his most inward being, and he does what he can in that moment to liberate her from the bondage that society has placed upon her.

“I see you, I stand with you, and I will do everything I can to protect you going forward.”

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This is the good news that we have in Jesus Christ.

This is the good news that Jesus proclaimed to the first century widow grieving the death of her son outside of Nain and this is the good news Jesus proclaims to us today. He is our loving God in the flesh who sees the unseen. Who affirms our humanity and beloved-ness when the world denies it. Who – when he sees us in all our pain and desperation – his very insides churn and he is moved with deep compassion and love for us. He is our Savior who places his concern for our well-being far above the laws of the religious. He is our advocate who would risk his own reputation in order to ensure that our basic needs are met so that all God’s children can live holistically, as God created us to live.

And because as followers of Jesus we are the eyes, the ears, the hands, and the feet of Christ in the world, Jesus calls us to open our eyes to see and to open our hearts and our guts to be moved with deep compassion, as well.

So I’d like to leave us all with a challenge from St. Louis pastor and Black Lives Matter activist Rev. Traci Blackmon, who said in her sermon at the Justice Conference that “we have a moral obligation to see…[to] notice who is invisible.” That we must ask ourselves: “who are those that are missing, who are those that we do not see? … The challenge for us is to see what we’ve been conditioned not to see… Wherever the marginalized are not seen, heard or cared for, our covenant is broken… [Therefore], look into the eyes of another of God’s creation… past their skin, past their gender, past their sexuality. Look until you see Jesus.”

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A Message For Troubled Hearts” – Sermon for the funeral of my beloved Grandpa Wes

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Supper at Emmaus – He Qi

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me…

‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. – John 14:1-6, 25-27

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As I was thinking about memories of my grandfather, Wesley, many of the memories that first came to my mind were times when our family shared meals together. The memories stuck out not necessarily because of the food – though because it was never cooked by Grandpa – the food was always wonderful. But these meals were special because they were always times where cherished conversations and storytelling took place.

The dinners were often shared at my Grandpa Wesley and Grandma Harriet’s home, with Grandpa at one end of the table, looking out quietly and smiling at his wonderful family he always said: “we were sure lucky to have.” But these meals also took place at my parent’s home, aunt Becky and uncle Lloyd’s home, or at a lovely picnic spot overlooking the Mississippi River at Eagle Point Park. And let’s not forget the meals that took place at the grandkid’s favorite birthday celebration location: Happy Joe’s Pizza.

But no matter the location, the same thing often occurred during these meals. The family would sit around sharing funny family stories – often the same ones over and over again that we all knew by heart… and that sometimes lasted for hours.

And with a group of pretty expressive Heitzmans – Grandpa Wes – the quiet one of the bunch – usually sat there listening, taking everything in, chiming in when he could, but most definitely smiling and giggling with the joyful twinkle in his eye that everyone knew him by.

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Though he was often quiet, anyone who knew Grandpa knows that he wasn’t quiet because he was disengaged. Rather, he was quiet because he absolutely enjoyed being with the family he loved.

And this is one of the greatest gifts Grandpa gave to those he encountered: the gift of truly being present with others.

This past August, much of the family had the opportunity to get together for one last meal at Eagle Point Park to celebrate my Grandpa Wes’ 92nd birthday and Grandma Harriet’s 90th birthday. We did not know at the time it would be our last supper there with Grandpa. But even still, we had a very special celebration.

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 Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid.

These are the words we hear from Jesus this morning in our reading from the Gospel of John.

Jesus says this to his disciples – his students and dear friends – during their last supper with him. Throughout the meal, Jesus has been dropping hints about having to leave them soon and no longer being physically present with them.

And so the disciples are a bit scared. They had left their homes and jobs to follow Jesus, had spent the past few years traveling with, learning from, and hanging out with him, and they no longer knew what life would look like without him. So now what are they supposed to do when their rabbi – their teacher – was to leave them? How were they supposed to continue to share the good news about God’s love through Jesus Christ without Jesus, himself? How would they know what to do when he was gone? And how on earth would they be able to get by without their dear friend, whom they loved?

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid.

Jesus’ words not only speak to the disciples, but they are also speaking to us today, as we sit here grieving Wesley, our beloved friend, uncle, father, father-in-law, grandfather, husband.

And yet, if I am honest with you and with myself, I can’t help but feel a little troubled. I can’t help but feel a little afraid.

Troubled that my Grandfather had gone so quickly – without more than a few month’s notice.

Afraid of what it will be like at family gatherings and holidays without him. Knowing it will not be the same.

My grandpa Wesley will be missed. Even family friends who barely knew him said in the last few days: “Wes made an impression on me. He was truly a gentleman. Wes was so hospitable. He was such a sweet and kind-hearted man.”

So how can any of us here who did know and love my Grandpa not feel a little bit troubled?

And yet, this is also a wonderful gift that we have. To be able to feel the love we do for such a wonderful man. To come here today in this place and to celebrate the beautiful life that Grandpa Wes did live and to know that we will not be the same because of him. To recall and cherish the lovely memories we have with him.

And to hold onto, emulate, and carry on the love that he shared and the legacy that he left this world with.

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…And boy, did he ever leave a legacy.

That Grandpa Wes of mine left a legacy that will always stand.

As a life-long Dubuquer, no matter how much he enjoyed traveling with his wife to places like Turkey, Singapore, Switzerland, Dubuque, Iowa was his favorite place to be. He loved it so much that he brought his beloved wife, Harriet, whom he met at Iowa State, back to share a life and start a family in.

He loved Dubuque so much that he had to come back to it with a grand entrance… One I’m not so sure Grandma Harriet was too excited about – as it definitely took her by surprise. When Grandpa, his father, and my grandmother were moving a piano from Spencer, IA to their new Dubuque home, they decided to place the piano in the back of a pick-up truck on top of several bails of hay. As they entered Dubuque, Grandma looked out the rear view mirror to see what had happened as she wondered why on earth a bunch of fire trucks were flying down the street with their sirens blaring… And as the trucks got closer and the sirens got louder, she soon came to realize that these trucks were actually following them… That these firefighters were there to put out the fire in the back of their pick up truck… A fire that was caused by our very own beloved Grandpa Wes, when he threw his cigarette out the window and it hit the bails of hay, setting them ablaze.

If Dubuquers did not already know the Heitzmans were moving back to town, they sure did then!

But little did any of these (probably now quite terrified) Dubuquers know that this very same Wesley Heitzman would also leave a legacy here in Dubuque that would make an impact on and be enjoyed by many generations to come.

As an architectural engineer in a long family line of builders, Grandpa developed a strong passion and love for building. Several years after moving to Dubuque, he, his brother, Don, and his father William started the highly respected Heitzman Construction Company and began their work of beautifying his favorite place in the world.

And did he ever beautify this city! From commercial and industrial projects to schools and buildings on the University of Dubuque campus, Grandpa created places where people will work, play, learn, and grow for many many years.

And Dubuquers have Grandpa Wes – along with his good friend Wayne Norman – to thank for saving the 4th street district buildings from being torn down when they decided to buy and refurbish many of them below and around the Cable Car. History in this town stands and will continue to be enjoyed by people for years to come because of the acts of love and care made by our dear Grandpa Wes.

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Our family has Grandpa Wes to thank, as well. Influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, Grandpa prided himself on using natural and quality materials when he built his lovely family home on Sunset Ridge, which encompasses so many cherished memories from our past and will house many more with the Heitzman family as Grandpa’s legacy continues to live on in it.

And as a life-long and dedicated member of Westminster Presbyterian Church – one who was baptized as an infant in its original downtown location – Grandpa was inspired to devote his time and energy to building this new church structure we are sitting in today. And as someone who had a deep love for God and for the people in this community, this became the project he was most proud of – even in his final years.

Yes, Grandpa Wes left a legacy in Dubuque that will stand for many generations. And we have received this gift from him: that we will always be connected to Grandpa in a special way whenever we drive past a building he built, take a ride on the Cable Car, worship at Westminster Presbyterian, or share a family meal together in the dining room at Sunset Ridge.

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Now, though Grandpa Wes was a very hard worker and made sure the work he did was always of the highest quality, he also made time for his family.

From picnics in the parks to annual family vacations in Chicago, Grandpa Wes loved spending quality time with his family. He took his children fishing and canoeing, he spent some time talking with his sons while they would watch him shave, and he often took his kids with him to the construction sites to show them around and allow them to play while he conducted inspections.

Grandpa attended his kids’ and grandkids’ sporting events, practices, and performances as much as he possibly could (even when they were out of town). He helped move his grandchildren when they relocated (and would often be seen with half of his body outside their apartment windows, scrubbing away, to ensure his grandchildren had the cleanest windows on the block.) He was even caught at his granddaughter’s new apartment at age 88 carrying boxes up two flights of steps.

Grandpa loved through his ears, his actions, and his generous heart. He always took his grandchildren aside and shoved a few 20 dollar bills in our pockets, insisting that we needed it for gas money. He took special care of Grandma when she broke her arm several years ago. He would give his daughter the keys to his Dodson Z when he and Grandma went on vacation because he knew how much Becky loved that car. And when he saw his daughter-in-law rock her first newborn back and forth with her body while sitting on the couch, he went to the store, bought a rocking chair, and had it dropped off at her home that Mother’s Day.

Grandpa Wes loved all of his family and was so proud of each and every one of them. I remember how excited he was when his granddaughter, Peili, was first adopted. He kept saying over and over again: “Boy, she’s such a great kid…” as he laughed in his regular sweet and quiet way. I knew that meant he immediately fell in love with her.

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Grandpa was also extremely proud to be a great-grandfather. He loved to hold all of his great-grandchildren – no matter their size. And he really enjoyed watching them play together – along with Peili – and tickle, tease, or wink at them through his glasses – when he could, while he smiled and giggled to himself in the most gentle way.

Grandpa found joy in the little things in life. His face lit up any time he was around dogs… especially Ducheous – the family dog – and Oscar, his god-dog. He enjoyed playing bridge and poker with his friends, card games with the family, and he loved to put together puzzles with his grandkids while eating oreos and listening to kid-friendly comedians on the cassette player out on the screened-in porch.

As many of you may know, though Grandpa was sweet and giving, he could also be quite stubborn… He was a Heitzman, after all. He would often be found on the roof cleaning the gutters… even in his late 80’s. And no matter how many times his children and grandchildren urged him to fly to his annual trip to Aspen, he insisted on taking a few extra days to drive. Though he loved spending time talking and singing hymns with his life-long friends when he and Grandma arrived in Colorado, those long drives with Grandma were always the highlight of the trip, he would tell us.

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Grandpa Wes was talented in many ways. He was a fantastic dancer and an impeccable dresser. He gave great back rubs, could fit large amounts of luggage into the back of a car when nobody else could, and his specialty was making his famous root beer floats whenever his grandchildren came to visit. One of the things he enjoyed most was zipping around Dubuque in his Dodson Z dressed in his black leather jacket and cap… Sometimes he enjoyed this so much that he’d drive right past his own kids while they were walking home from school, not even noticing they were there.

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Now during the last supper with his disciples, just before our reading in John, Jesus gets on his knees and begins to wash the disciples’ feet. The disciples were shocked and did not want him to do this, as the act of washing one’s feet was something that only a servant would do for a houseguest.

Yet, after he finished, Jesus said to them, “You call me Teacher and Lord. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

Then a little later, he goes on to say: “I am with you only a little longer… [So] I give you a new commandment, just as I have loved you, so too, should you love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Here, Jesus is preparing his disciples for the fact that soon he will no longer be physically present with them on this earth. So he commands his disciples to follow him. To follow his way of life. A way that was full of compassion, service, and love for others.

And it is through the compassionate and loving acts of these disciples – when they do follow this way of life Jesus has set out for them – that others will – in fact – experience God’s love. In other words, Jesus is commissioning his disciples to continue Jesus’ ministry when he leaves this earth by being His hands and feet to the world. This is the way, the truth, and the life. This is how people will come to know and experience the love of God the Father.

I think St. Theresa of Avila explains it best: “Christ has no body now but yours.  No hands, no feet on earth but yours. 
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world. 
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
 Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. 
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet. Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
 Christ has no body now but yours.”

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And this is exactly what I think of when I think of Grandpa Wes. Though he loved quietly, he always loved first with his ears and eyes and then through his hands and feet.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid.

One of Jesus’ disciples – Simon Peter – can’t let go of the idea that Jesus will soon leave them. “Can’t I go, too? Can’t I follow you to God the Father?” – he insists just before our reading for today. “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now,” Jesus responds. “But you will follow me afterward… when it is time… Believe and trust in God. Believe and trust in me, also.

For in my Father’s house there are many rooms.”

After my cousin, Sandi, found out that Grandpa passed away, she posted a picture on facebook of Grandpa, his brother Don, sister Lois, and his parents. Under the picture, Sandi wrote: “All together again.”

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This is the hope and promise we have in Christ. While we know the tragedy that comes after Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, as he journeys toward his brutal death on the cross, we can have hope because we know what happens next. Jesus’ death is not the end of the story. It is only the beginning. Through his resurrection, Jesus conquers death and brings forth new life. And as children of God, and children of the resurrection, we – like Jesus – are promised this gift of the resurrection, as well. Like Jesus, we will be resurrected from the dead and given new life eternal with God and with one another.

Yes, in God’s house, there are many rooms. One for Simon Peter, Thomas, and the rest of the first disciples. One for Great-grandma, Great-Grandpa, Uncle Don, Aunt Lois. One for Grandpa Wes and for my Uncle Lloyd. One for me, and one for each one of you.

And yet, as Jesus says to the disciples, as we wait for our time to follow him to our God the Father, let us continue to follow his way of compassion, service, and love. Let us be Christ’s hands and feet, as Grandpa was, caring for one another – especially in times like these. And in those painful moments when we just don’t know how we might get by, let us remember that we are not alone. For the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, is always with us, teaching us, guiding us, and comforting us in our greatest times of need. And we know that Grandpa Wes is right alongside her as She does.

As Jesus says: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.

Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Do not let them be afraid.

Amen.

“Wide Awake” – Sermon on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

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Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.

So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

– 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11


A week ago Friday night, I took 19 of our youth to the ELCA Chicago Synod Ultimate Lock-In, which meant that I stayed up all night with about 300 12-18 year olds playing arcade games, racing around in go-carts, zapping each other with lasers under a black light in the laser tag room, and watching and discussing a movie. While this is a really fun event that our youth look forward to every year, you can just imagine that it’s quite exhausting for those of us who have long passed our teenage years. So it’s a little ironic that the movie we watched at the event was called “Wide Awake” – something that most of us “older” attendees were struggling to be that night.

Now, if you have not seen this movie, it is about a 10 year-old boy named Joshua whose beloved grandfather had recently suffered from bone cancer and passed away. Throughout the movie, Joshua has flashbacks of times he spent with his grandfather. One of the most touching flashbacks is when Joshua tells his dying grandfather through buckets of tears that he is scared, and when he fearfully asks him if he, too, is scared, his grandfather replies, “You know I’ll be alright because God will take care of me.”

Yet, after his grandfather passes away, we watch as Joshua struggles to find interest in his school and friends, and as his parents have to drag him out of bed every morning and encourage him to have some fun. We later find out that Joshua fears that his grandfather is not – indeed – alright. That maybe there is not in fact a God who will take care of him.

Fear had gotten the best of Joshua. And throughout the beginning of the movie, we see how it consumes him and keeps him from experiencing the joys in the people and the world around him.

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 Fear.

As with Joshua, this is something that gets the best of many of us.

And it is at the heart of the situation that Paul is addressing in his first letter to the Thessalonians. You see, these early Jewish and Gentile Christ-followers in Thessalonica had a lot to fear. They had only recently become converts to this new faith movement. And, yet, it is not too long after Paul begins his ministry with them, that he and other leaders start to face severe persecution for teaching about a King who would save God’s people from the oppressive Empire. And soon thereafter, Paul and the other leaders are kicked out of the city, leaving these early Christ-followers to fend for themselves.

These new Christ-followers are scared. Scared for the safety of their new friends. Scared for their own lives. Scared for their future.

Scared that maybe Paul had gotten it all wrong.

Because if Paul was right about this Jesus being the Son of God, the Messiah – the one who is supposed to come and bring them salvation – then why on earth were they facing persecution for following him? And if Paul was right about this Jesus who is supposed to return again and deliver them from death, then why hadn’t Jesus come already before some of their friends and relatives had already died? What will happen to those deceased friends and family now? Will they be left behind when Jesus comes again?

Fear.

I think this is an unwanted neighbor that many of us here meet too often and know too well. Our news stories are full of reasons for us to fear: the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, the potential spread of Ebola, the ever-growing fear of terrorism and world war. And for some of us here, a new wave of fear may have even swept over us in the last few weeks after we heard the results of the election.

Fear also seems to continuously pound on our front doors and stare us directly in our faces in our daily routines, taking control over our lives and holding us back.

We often tend to allow our fear of failure and the unknown future to hold us back from taking chances; our fear of our children’s safety to keep us from letting them try new things and grow up as unique individuals; and our fear of loneliness and rejection to keep us from opening up in new relationships.

And we tend to allow our overwhelming fear of the wavering economy to keep us from giving to those who are in need around us; we let our fear of change hold us back from experiencing the joys and opportunities in the world that we have never seen or known; and we let our fear of illness and death hold us back from actually living.

Fear is a natural and normal human feeling. One that Paul, Silas, and most likely the rest of the early church missionaries felt at numerous times. One that even Jesus – the Messiah, the Son of the living God – felt and so honestly and passionately expressed while hanging from the cross as he cried out to God before taking his final breathe. And fear is something that we – too – will in fact experience at many times in our lives, and therefore must honestly express it before God and one another.

And yet while this is true, we need to be cautious when we respond to the fears that are urgently knocking on our doors. Because if we open up our doors widely and allow these fears to come rushing into our homes and our lives all at once, they can immediately swoop in and strongly overpower us.

And when we let these fears consume us, they can take over our lives, causing us to be so focused on protecting ourselves that we forget to look at the beauty and blessings in the world that God created.

They can drag us down into a deep darkness – where we become blind to the needs of our neighbors. They can transform us into being people of the night, rather than of the day, where we spend most of our time in bed with our sheets pulled over our heads to block out the light shining in and with our eyes shut to the joys and struggles around us.

I think Gandhi explains this well: “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is fear.”

And once we let this enemy drown us in darkness and we become people of the night, it can be very difficult for us to get out of bed in the morning… and to live.

But Paul compassionately reassures the Thessalonian Christ-followers that they need not be consumed by fear. And Paul’s pastoral words to the Thessalonians are also words for us today. In chapter 4, just before our passage today, Paul explains that we must not be uninformed about those who have died and we must not grieve the loss of our loved-ones as others do who have no hope. For we can be assured that “through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.”   When Jesus returns, these beloved ones will not be left behind. For just as Jesus has died and resurrected from the dead – so too shall those who have died, be raised from the dead when Jesus comes again. And – as Paul says – for those of us who are alive at Jesus’ return, we – too – will join with those who are already deceased to meet and be with Christ forever.

And this is why we can boldly proclaim with hope the words we confess every week: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Therefore, Paul urges the Thessalonians: “Encourage one another with these words.”

Paul provides further encouragement in our text for today in chapter 5.

Now regarding the times and the seasons, Paul says, we will not know the time Jesus will return again. It will happen quickly – when we least expect it – like when a woman’s labor pains suddenly kick in or when a thief appears in the middle of the night.

However, we must not live as so many others do – in fear and without hope. For we are children of the light, not of the darkness. We are children of the day, not of the night. Yes, we will experience hardships and suffering, persecution and pain in this lifetime. We will face many great fears while we are on our journey. But we must not let those fears consume us and pull us into the darkness. We must not allow those fears to get ahold of us and keep us from living in the light with our eyes open to the beauty, blessings, and joys of this world. We must not allow these fears to hold us back from seeing the suffering and the needs of our neighbors and doing what we can to address them… Doing what we can to shine the light of God to others around us who are consumed in pain and darkness.

*****

Now, you may be wondering what happened to Joshua in the movie Wide Awake. After a while, he finally announces one day that he is going to go on a mission to look for God to make sure his grandpa is okay. And so throughout the rest of the movie, Joshua goes in search for God. And while on his journey, Joshua begins to find some joy through his friends and a new adolescent crush and relationship with a girl, whose name –of course – is Hope. And he eventually gains empathy for those whom he had least expected, including the not-so-popular annoying kid who longs for attention and the class bully that Joshua later realizes is using his aggression to cover his insecurities and struggles at home. By the end of the movie, Joshua is able to get out of bed easily, have fun with his friends, and find joys in the world around him. And he finally comes to the conclusion that his grandfather is okay because he had found God. Because God had, indeed, been present in the little things in life, through the people he had encountered, and through the empathy and compassion he had shared with others.

At the end of the movie, Joshua explains this as he reads a poem he wrote in class: “I spent this year looking for something, and ended up seeing everything around me. It’s like I was asleep. I’m wide awake now.”

******

I think this is sort of what Paul is talking about in his letter to the Thessalonians when he encourages his readers to live as children of the day. As children of the light. For – Paul says – we can hold onto the hope that God has not destined for us wrath, but rather God has destined for us salvation through Jesus Christ. A salvation that comes through and because of our Messiah, our loving Lord and Savior, who died for each one of us, so that we might live with him – whether we are awake or asleep. That not only will we live with God for eternity after we pass on from this world, but that we might also live with and experience God – here and now – as we are awake and alive in this world today.

It is for this reason that Paul urges us to be not afraid. To shield our hearts with faith and love. To protect our minds with the hope of salvation that we have in the promise of Jesus, who died for us so that we might live.

So let us now choose to live.  Let us now choose to be wide awake.

Let us choose hope over fear.

And therefore, as Paul says, encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are already doing.

Amen.

For the Women Who Hear “You Can’ts”: An Easter Story of Hope #StoriesofEaster

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{This post is my contribution to the Stories of Easter syncroblog hosted by Convergent Books.}

It was a Sunday morning my senior year of college. I was sitting in church with my fiancé and his family as I thought about how nice the service was: the music was incredible and the people were really friendly.

But then came the sermon.

I began to feel a little uneasy when the pastor started reading 1 Corinthians 14 about women remaining silent in the church. And things only got worse when the pastor continued to preach about how women had their own special “roles” in the faith community… And that these “roles” did not include teaching adult men, preaching, or serving as pastors, among other things.

This troubled me… as I had been raised in a church with a female pastor, in a family where women were seen as equal to men and could be anything they wanted to be, and where I – myself – started to feel called into ministry in high school.

At a young age, I met and had fallen in love with a Jesus who loved me for who I truly was and who – despite my struggles, faults, and failures – kept washing my feet, calling me his “beloved,” and for some odd reason kept urging and empowering me to follow him.

But there – on that Sunday morning with my fiancé and soon-to-be in-laws – this Jesus I loved was being silenced. He was being beaten down, spit on, and mocked.

And this was not the only place I heard these messages… I had been hounded by “you cant’s” because I was a woman in my campus ministry since my freshman year and would continue to be hounded by them later in my marriage for many years until my divorce.

The Jesus I knew for so long – who had been my true friend, advocate, and encourager – was on trial and the prosecutors were winning. And I began to fear that I would never see or hear from him again.

*****

I wonder if this was how the women who knew and loved Jesus felt as they watched him from afar during his arrest, his trials, and as he slowly and painfully journeyed toward the cross.

The Jesus who had allowed women to touch his cloak, rub his feet with their hair, sit in the places where disciples sat, and who rebuked the men who criticized such women was now being spit on and mocked. The Jesus who not only taught these women the Scriptures, but also empowered them to speak their voices and allowed them to accompany him on his ministry was now being flogged. The Jesus who had loudly and boldly proclaimed that these women – “the least of these” – were just as cherished and beloved in God’s Kingdom as any man was now being silenced, as he was forced to walk – with a crown of thorns on his head and a heavy cross over his back – toward his violent death.

I wonder what those women who loved this radical Jesus thought as they gazed up through their tears at his broken and bloody body as it hung silently and still on the cross.

Would they ever see or hear from him again? Were they really going to be cherished in the Kingdom of God or was all that he had proclaimed and done for them done in vain? Was Jesus truly the One he said he was or did they completely misunderstand him?

Who would advocate for them now?

Their grief, confusion, and anger over the loss of their beloved Jesus must have been incredibly overwhelming as they heard Jesus cry out in anguish on that dark night: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and watched him take his final breath.

And yet, in the midst of this grief, confusion, and anger, some of these women decided to go back to his tomb after he was buried. We don’t know why. It may have been the same reason they chose to follow him to the cross, while almost all of Jesus’ other disciples bailed out on him.

Maybe they wanted to make sure the tomb was being taken care of, just like he had made sure they were taken care of. Maybe they needed more opportunities to say what they didn’t have the chance to say to Jesus before his arrest. Maybe they thought they would feel closer to him if they were close to his body.

Or maybe they held onto hope that this Jesus really was the One he said he was, and that death would not defeat him.

Whatever the reason, they went back to the tomb.

And it must have been a shocking and horrifying moment when the women found the tomb empty. Had someone stolen Jesus’ body? What did this mean for them now?

And yet, they must have been even more shocked when they were greeted by their loving Jesus, himself – before anyone else – and were commissioned by him to be the bearers of the good news of his resurrection.

The Jesus they knew and loved really was the One he said he was. And this Jesus who loved, advocated for, and empowered them before his arrest was now continuing to do so in and through his very death and resurrection.

*****

When I felt voiceless as I heard and watched others mock and deny the Jesus I knew and loved, no matter how strong and loud their voices were, I could not give up hope that Jesus might still be the One I had experienced him to be. And so I followed him on that long, bumpy road toward his death. There were times when I felt hopeless: at the bottom of the cross, gazing up at what seemed to be just a broken and bloody body hanging silently from it.

And yet, somehow I felt a constant urge to keep returning to his tomb. To see if he was still there. To see if he was, indeed, the One I knew him to be long before. And though there were times I felt alone when I found the tomb empty, after continuously returning to it, I finally realized that those loud voices that led him to his crucifixion did not, in fact, win.

For there standing in front of me was the very Jesus I knew and loved for so long: calling out to and commissioning me – his beloved – to go out and spread this great news of his resurrection to all who fear that his death would keep him away forever.

*****

For all the women out there whose loving Jesus has been crucified before your very own eyes: may you find hope in this Easter Story, as well. When others around you ridicule, spit on, and beat down the Jesus who has claimed and cherished you, follow him to the cross. When you witness his crucifixion, visit his tomb… over and over and over again.

The promise in this Easter story is that no matter how loud those voices are around you that mock and deny your Jesus, death will not defeat him. And though these voices wish to silence him, he is proclaiming on your behalf louder than ever as he hangs silently and still from the cross.

And in a few days time, the Jesus you once knew and loved will appear to you in full form – claiming you as his own, and commissioning you – his beloved – to speak your voice and share this good news.

 

 

“From Palms to Passion” – Sermon for Palm Sunday for the Passion of Our Lord

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Palms Text: Matthew 21:1-11                     Passion Text: Matthew 26:14-27:66

 

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Well, it’s Palm Sunday for the Passion of our Lord. And it’s the beginning of Holy Week, which means we are finally coming to an end of the Lenten Season. I don’t know about you, but I am getting a little weary of wandering in the wilderness. This cold and snowy Chicago polar vortex went on way too long, and I’m definitely not looking forward to the snow that is predicted for tomorrow; I am sick and tired of soup dinners, somber reflections, and the practice of self-emptying; and – quite honestly, I am ready to get back to drinking the coffee that I gave up for Lent.

Give me Easter already!

And how many of us here wish we could have just gathered outside the chapel this morning for our great Palm Sunday procession, waving our palms, shouting joyful shouts of “Hosannas” to the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and singing “All Glory Laud and Honor…”

And then have called it a day…?

Or, I guess, for many of us, even called it a week… Until we come back next Sunday to celebrate the resurrection – and, of course, skip all that comes in between?

I think that author Anne Lamott puts into words what I – and so many others of us – feel as we begin this long, solemn Holy Week. She says:

“I don’t have the right personality for Good Friday, for the crucifixion. I’d like to skip ahead to the resurrection. In fact, I’d like to skip ahead to the resurrection vision of one of the kids in our Sunday School, who drew a picture of the Easter Bunny outside the tomb; everlasting life and a basketful of chocolates. Now you’re talking!”

Isn’t this familiar? Isn’t it common for us to just avoid and skip over the cross?

Don’t we tend to avoid the suffering that is constantly dominating the headlines of our international, national, and local news? Don’t we tend to skip over the pain that is continuously taking over the lives of our friends, our colleagues, our neighbors, and those we pass by as we walk to the train? And don’t we even sometimes tend to avoid the betrayals and persecution that we – ourselves – would have to experience if we did – in fact – speak out against injustices that marginalize the “least of these” in our society and sometimes even us?

I get it. I am with you. I am sick and tired of the wilderness and just want chocolate bunnies and Easter egg hunts. I want Hosannas, Alleluias, and new everlasting life.

And I especially want coffee!

And yet, as followers of Jesus, we are called to be resurrection people, living lives here and now that bring forth light into darkness and proclaim the promise of new life that comes with the resurrection to both our neighbors and ourselves.  And to avoid and skip over the pain and suffering of those around us and even within our own lives is to choose to not live into the resurrection.  It is making the choice to not accept and proclaim new everlasting life.  For we know that we cannot have and experience the resurrection and the promises that come with it without first experiencing what comes before it.

We cannot have the resurrection without first having the cross.

And so, for those of us who are here this morning – on Palm Sunday – wishing we could just hear about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and then “call it a day,” I’m sorry to disappoint…

After waving palms and shouting and singing joyful “Hosannas,” we must suddenly take a quick turn and hear and accept what comes next on our journey… and what was once bright and joyfully loud becomes dark and eerily silent as we veil the cross in black and hear the long, dark readings about Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, persecution, and suffering as he slowly journeys – with a crown of thorns digging into his skull – toward the cross.

Those joyful shouts of “Hosannas” have now become angry shouts of “Crucify!”

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But this is life, isn’t it? There have and will be times in our lives when we think we are just about out of that wilderness; just about ready to see and experience new life… But just as we begin waving our palm branches and shouting “Hosanna! Salvation has come!” things unexpectedly take a downhill turn. Those we trust the most may turn on us and betray us, the crowds around us might spit on us and mock us, and what looks like our escape and release from captivity sometimes ends up being the very thing that captures us and leads us on our own painful journey on a dirty and bumpy road through Jerusalem.

But it is in these times when we need the cross the most. It is in these times when we realize that we – indeed – need a God who not only was resurrected, but who also walked a similar path. That we need a God who knows what it’s like to experience broken relationships, grieve the loss of loved ones, watch those closest to him look directly in the face of injustice, and be betrayed by friends and ridiculed by crowds. And when things get really dark, we need a God who knows what it is like to feel completely and utterly alone and abandoned – even by his own Father, even by God – to the point where he cried out in his final moments of anguish and pain: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When we skip over and avoid the cross, we miss out on a God who knows and understands our pain, our suffering, and our doubts. We miss out on a God who is personal and who is near us. A God who is with us in the flesh, walking alongside us as we walk what may sometimes be a long, lonely road.

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But to skip out on the cross also causes us to miss out on a radical and bold Jesus we are all called to follow.

One of the reasons that we read the Passion texts (the texts about Jesus’ arrest, persecution, and suffering as he journeys to the cross) on the same day we celebrate Palm Sunday is because Palm Sunday is not an event we should separate from the rest of the events that occurred after it that led up to Jesus’ crucifixion.

In fact, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem – the center of religious and political power that alienated and marginalized so many – was “the moment of dramatic confrontation,” as Walter Brueggemann puts it.  It was the inaugurating event and the beginning of a series of actions Jesus took that ultimately led him to his violent death.

And though riding in on a humble donkey and colt rather than on a chariot pulled by warhorses – as the worldly kings would have done as they began their kingdom ruling – Jesus entered Jerusalem boldly and loudly… In the name of the Lord, proclaiming a new Kingdom – the Kingdom of God – that would soon turn the unjust worldly empire upside down.

And it was his loud voice that angrily shouted as he turned over the tables in the temple after he entered Jerusalem and saw that the temple was being made into a den of robbers; a place where the religious leaders and the money changers were taking advantage of the poor.

It was his loud voice that cursed the religious leaders for placing heavy burdens on others that were hard to bear, for seeking honorable seats in banquets and synagogues and exalting themselves in public while exploiting the poor and the sick, and for publicly tithing expensive elements while neglecting justice, mercy, and faith.

It was his loud voice that preached that the greatest commandment is to love God fully and in doing so, to love ALL our neighbors as ourselves; that those who welcome, feed, clothe, and visit the least of these, do so for him and will be blessed, while those who do not do these things for one of the least of these, will be cursed.  It was his loud voice that declared that those who humble themselves will be exalted and those who exalt themselves will be humbled.

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Jesus was a rebel rouser. A troublemaker. He challenged the unjust and dehumanizing hierarchical political system that not only took over Rome but also dominated the way of the Temple.  And it was Jesus’ loud, subversive voice that shouted and proclaimed on behalf of the “least of these” that got him into trouble in the first place and led him to be silenced on the cross.

But – although those who nailed Jesus there did so to suppress him, after Jesus breathed his last breath, the temple curtain tore in two, the earth shook, and the rocks split.

Death did not have the final say that dark night.

And after three days, we will realize that Jesus’ voice was shouting and proclaiming louder than ever before as his broken and bloody body hung silently and still on the cross.

Brothers and sisters, when we skip over the cross, we miss out on the center of the Gospel. We miss out on a God who came to be with us in the flesh, walk alongside us in our darkest moments, and carry and release us from our heaviest sins and burdens; a God who came to advocate for all who have been dehumanized, to conquer death and bring about life, and to enter in a Kingdom here and now that will elevate the humble and humble the elevated…

A Kingdom that is brought forth on and through the cross.

So this Holy Week, let us not forget the cross. Let us choose this resurrection life and do so by following Jesus on his journey through Jerusalem, remembering – as we do – that Jesus is right alongside us as we take every step, guiding us on which way to go.  Because when we do, we might be overwhelmed at how much we really do need this loud, radical, and personal Jesus of the cross that we too often miss.

 


Related Articles:

 The Politics of Palm Sunday (Adam Erickson on ravenfoundation.org)

Palm-Powered Protest (Rev. Adam Copeland on adamjcopeland.com)

Palm Sunday Ponderings: Jesus and those in Need (Rev. Grace Ji-Sun Kim on gracejisunkim.wordpress.com)

Holy Week and the Importance of Weekday Christians (Rev. Emily C. Heath on Huffington Post)

Prepare the Way (Again) (Sermon from All Peoples Christian Church)

 

On Death and Resurrection: Thoughts, Reflections, and a Sermon for the funeral of my Great Aunt Lois

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What Is Success? – by Bessie A. Stanley:

“To laugh often and much;
 to win the respect of the intelligent people 
and the affection of children;
 to earn the appreciation of honest critics 
and endure the betrayal of false friends; 
to appreciate beauty;
 to find the best in others;
 to leave the world a bit better 
whether by a healthy child,
 a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; 
to know that one life has breathed easier
 because you lived here.
 This is to have succeeded.”

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This Tuesday was a bitter-sweet day.  I officiated my very first funeral… for my dear, sweet, fun-loving great-Aunt Lois… my “3rd grandma.”

Bitter… Dealing with death is never easy.  And it’s especially not easy when it’s someone you love and you will miss… someone whose positive outlook on life and joyful laughter were incredibly contagious… someone who has truly found joy in every aspect of life and has lived it to her fullest… someone who was independent and strong and – though she never married nor gave birth to children – she loved and embraced her nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews, and even great-great nieces and nephews as her very own…

And it’s not easy to maintain composure as you stand in front of your family – of whom are grieving – and pray that you can at least speak a little hope in the midst of such a painful loss and be able to somehow capture in words the incredible person she was to all of us… What are words when a life was so fully lived?

Sweet… When I offered to officiate her service, everyone kept asking me if I really was sure I wanted to…  if it would be too much to deal with.  But I confidently responded “yes” – because I was sure… To get the opportunity to listen to my family and Lois’ friends talk about what they remembered and loved most about her made my heart smile… To hear about how full of life she was, how much she made an impact on people, and how she made everyone around her feel special… To remember how sweet and fun she continued to be in her final days – and to recall the incredibly strong, independent, and adventurous woman she was before her memory began to fail her… To be surrounded by my amazing family whom I don’t get to see even close to enough and to laugh and to cry together over a woman who connected and brought us all together during her life and now continues to connect and bring us all together in her death… To be able to officiate my first funeral only a few weeks after my ordination for a woman who taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be… including a pastor.

This was not only a healing process for me… but it was a gift.  Maybe – as my second cousin, Linnea, suggested – it was a gift from Lois.

So I will take this bitter-sweet gift and cherish it always… and while I’m at it: maybe I’ll make myself a bitter-sweet scotch old fashioned in Aunt Lois’ honor.  Cheers to you, Aunt Lois!  Cheers to a life fully lived!

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“You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living.  In one of them I shall be laughing.  And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.  And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me.  You will always be my friend.  You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure…And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky!  Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’  And they will think you are crazy.  It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you…It will be as if, in place of the stars, I had given you a great number of little bells that knew how to laugh…”   – Excerpt from “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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The sermon I preached at Aunt Lois’ funeral:

Acts 9:36-42:

“Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.”

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When I was trying to decide what Scripture text I was going to preach on this morning, I was struck by a passage in Acts 9 that talks about a woman named Tabitha.  Now we don’t know much about Tabitha.  Actually, this passage in Acts is the only place she is mentioned in the entire Bible.  And all we are told about her, is this incident we see here in Acts 9 – after she has died.  And yet, as we read this passage, we can come to understand her character and how much she meant to the people she encountered during her life.

What we see in our text for today is that Tabitha was a special woman who was a widow (which – in the first century – meant that either her husband died or she never actually got married.) And Tabitha had a very special ministry for a community of other widows: a special ministry that was extremely necessary.  Since women had no inheritance rights and were property of men at that time, if they never married and their fathers cut them off financially or their husbands passed away, they would lose all their identity, their possessions, and their sense of belonging, and they would often be abused or taken advantage of.  For this reason, the widows in a port town called Joppa were in need of someone to provide for them… And here is where Tabitha comes in.

Our text for today suggests that Tabitha – the only woman in the entire Bible who was referred to as a disciple – was sort of this provider for a community of widows.  In this passage, we see that Tabitha was devoted to good works and charity, and she made tunics and other pieces of clothing by hand and had given them to the widows.  These articles of clothing would have been very valuable in the first century, and it would have taken an incredible amount of time for Tabitha to make each item.  And, yet, she sacrificed her time and money to make these pieces of clothing.  She saw the needs of these widows, and out of love and compassion, she did whatever she could to provide for them.

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As we can see, Tabitha was an incredible caregiver for this community.  And my guess is that she knew and loved each one of the widows dearly – like they were her own sisters, nieces, or possibly even grandchildren.  Not only that, but Tabitha was a leader. She was independent… a woman who stood strong and carried on even as she faced the harsh, patriarchal system that oppressed women in her day.  She was ahead of her time: and instead of living into the expected gender roles and allowing them to dominate her and bring her down, she chose to live an incredibly fulfilling life.  She used her experiences as a widow to reach out to other widows and set up a community where they could find belonging and hope, and where she would love them, nurture them, and encourage them to be strong and independent women.

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Tabitha reminds me a lot of Lois… Sure, we all know that unlike Tabitha, Lois did not weave or knit tunics or shawls with her hands… or cook… or do anything for that matter that was particularly an expected “gender role” of her day.  But that was one of the things that was so great about her.  Like Tabitha in the first century, Lois was – in many ways – ahead of her time.

She was determined, intelligent, full of life, excited about new opportunities, and she was extremely adventurous.  As the executive secretary at the American Can Company, she was always finding ways to move to a new branch that was opening – if it was in a city that sounded exciting to her.  And her bosses obviously had confidence in her competence and her skills because they were always willing to send her off to the new branch to help with the start-up process… From Chicago to Minneapolis, to Los Angeles and San Francisco and back to Milwaukee: Lois had so many stories to share about her adventures.  Lois was a leader and extremely gifted at what she did.  And she taught her family to be independent and strong, always encouraging us – espially her nieces and great nieces – that we could do and be whatever we wanted – even and especially because we are women.

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Lois was devoted to her commitments: she was a regular member of bowling and golfing leagues she joined with her niece Sandi, and she was an active member of Westminster Presbyterian Church up until the past few years when she started slowing down.

In addition to this, like Tabitha, Lois was incredibly loving and nurturing and made sure her flock was provided for.  She attended games, choir concerts, plays, and graduations of her nieces and nephews – even if it meant traveling out of town, and she called several of us at least once a month to check in on us when we went off to college.  She never missed birthdays, she brought gifts back for her family from her vacations, and she always gave her great nieces and nephews chocolate bunnies for Easter.  Just this year, when she said goodbye to her 7 year old great-great nephew Wesley, she told him to make sure his grandparents didn’t let him walk away without cash in his pockets.  And – just as her father made sure her pockets were always full of cash, she would often shove a few bills into her great nieces and nephew’s pockets – which usually were a bunch of $2 bills… She always had a stash of $2 bills.

Maybe it was her love of parties – but she somehow managed to attend almost every holiday celebration and bring joy and laughter to the family gatherings.  She cracked jokes, played a lot of family card games, and was one of the active participants in sharing stories about the family around the dinner table after the food was eaten.  And she could always be found 1st: in the kitchen – sneaking a “sample” of dressing or turkey before it was served and 2nd: back in the kitchen after dinner with her nephew-in-law, Lloyd, washing the dishes.

She joined her family on so many road trips and vacations: whether it was traveling to Estes Park or to Chicago for the Heitzman/Peters annual Christmas trip, vacationing in Florida or Arizona with the Apels or traveling to Maine with her brother Wes and sister-in-law Harriet.  And just as when she, Wes, and Harriet somehow entered their destination city in Maine from the north rather than the south: there was never a dull moment with Lois.

Lois looked forward to treating her great nephews and nieces to movie dates, joined them for pool parties in the Apel’s back yard, and prided on hosting sleepovers at her house with all of the great nieces and nephews: which consisted of many Skippo games, Ninja Turtle movies, and talent shows… And – even after the time we all sang and danced to “In The Jungle” down her apartment staircase at the top of our lungs – she still somehow decided to keep inviting us back for more.

Like Tabitha, Lois saw the needs of her family members and did whatever she could to make sure she provided for them.  When her mother was living at home with a caretaker, Lois would come home from Milwaukee at least once a month to help care for her.  And several years after her brother Don and his wife Jeanne had passed away, she moved back to Dubuque and began to develop a more intimate relationship with their daughter Sandi, thus becoming a very special sister figure and best friend to Sandi and a grandmother figure to Sandi’s kids.

Lois absolutely loved her family.  She prided on being a daddy’s girl and as the youngest and only girl of three, she was cherished and dearly loved by her older brothers, Wes and Don. Lois loved her siblings and siblings-in-law, nieces and nephews, both “great” and “not-great,” and her great-great nephews and nieces.  (She always loved to brag about how she was the GREATEST aunt because she was the ONLY GREAT-GREAT aunt in the family.)

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When talking to numerous family members, friends, and acquaintances about Lois, the thing that everyone has said about her – even if they didn’t know her very well – was that she had a sweet and joyful spirit, never had an angry bone in her body, and people always loved to be around her – up until her final day… Oh, and also that she was a “character.”  She even was a part of a breakfast group that was named after her: based on “Tuesdays with Morrie,” the group was called “Thursdays with Lois.”   And even in her later years and final days as her memory started to fade, she laughed about it and found ways to embrace it.  When she forgot the name of Sharon, her caregiver, over and over… and over again: she gave her a new name: “Whosit,” which has stuck with Sharon (and is what people at Hy Vee continue to call her.)

While her memory began to fail her in her later years, Lois never forgot how to love and find joy and laughter in life.

So as you can see, Lois was a lot like Tabitha in our passage from Acts chapter 9.  As we have seen, Tabitha was loved and cherished by her community of widows.  So it is no wonder that the widows in our text mourned so much when she died.  It is no wonder that they called out of desperation for Peter – the man who by the power of the Holy Spirit had been performing great miracles in the name of Jesus Christ – when they heard he was near Joppa.  And it is no wonder that when he arrived, they wept and passed around their tunics and articles of clothing that were made by Tabitha, reminding themselves and one another of the memories they shared with her and of the many pieces of clothing she had woven out of love and compassion for them.  These women had lost their dear friend, their aunt, their sister, their grandmother figure, and the one who had clothed them with the love of Jesus Christ, invested in them, and helped them speak their voice and find belonging when they had not found such things elsewhere.

And it is no wonder that we come here this morning – as well – weeping and grieving as we experience the shock of Lois’ sudden death without warning and as we gather together to recall our wonderful memories of her.  For we have also lost such a special woman who has left a loving and joyful imprint on our hearts that we will always hold onto.

We will truly miss her.

And yet, just as our passage does not end with the grief and mourning of Tabitha, we have hope that our journey with Lois does not end here in our grief, either.

As we see in our passage, after Peter appears to the widows, he heads up to the upper room.  And after listening to the widows, he sends them out of the room, and then he calls to Tabitha to “get up.”

… And she gets up.

And Peter calls to all the saints and the widows to see that she is alive.  And all who were there believed in Jesus.

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This miracle in Acts reminds us of the center of our hope.  This act of Peter resurrecting Tabitha from death points us to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise he gives us (as we see in Luke chapter 20) that we – as children of God, are children of the resurrection.   And as Paul states in our passage that was read from Romans 6: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his… if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”

Now Jesus – in the book of Luke – and Paul – in his letter to the Romans – do not lay out what exactly will happen in the bodily resurrection – in our life after death.  As much as many of us may wish that they did: they do not tell us details about how we will be resurrected, what we will look like, what age we might appear in, how we might be reunited with our loved ones – all of those questions we often ponder when we think about death and eternal life.

For Jesus and Paul, these details are not important – and my guess is, once we experience eternal life with God after death ourselves, they won’t be important to us either…

At Easter and every time we say the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, we proclaim our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  – That in his resurrection, he conquered death and brings forth new life.  And because of this great act that occurred 2000 years ago because God so loved (and loves) the world – we – as children of God and as children of the resurrection – are promised this, too.  We are promised that we, too, will be resurrected from the dead and given new life eternal.  Death does not win.  It does not have the final word.  And when we are resurrected, we will be reconciled to God and, in Christ, to one another (however that may look)… for all eternity.

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Aunt Lois knew she lived a joyful and fulfilling life – up until her final day.  And we can find comfort knowing that she looked forward to the time she would be united with God and reunited with her loved ones – her father William and mother Lena, her brother Don and sister-in-law Jeanne, and her nephew-in-law Lloyd – as she often told many of us several times the last few years: “I’m going up THERE (pointing up) sometime soon.”

We are coming up to a time of year that often brings us joy and yet sometimes brings us pain – as we miss those who can no longer gather around the table and celebrate the holidays with us.  This year, the holidays will be more difficult without Lois.  And yet, we can find joy as we come together as a family: remembering, crying over, and laughing about all of the wonderful holidays she brought joy and laughter to.

I would like to leave you this morning with a quote by Anne Lamott: “You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

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Sermon: “Children of the Resurrection”

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The sermon I preached at Immanuel Lutheran Church on Sun., Nov. 10, 2013.

“Children of the Resurrection”

25th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 27C:  Luke 20:27-38

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless.

Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

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Working with youth keeps me up-to-date on the teen movies and books that the youth are into or that touch on issues that teens and kids face today. One movie that came out years ago and yet still is a popular movie among many youth I work with is an old Lindsay Lohan movie that is loosely based on some events that occurred years ago in a high school in the Northern suburbs of Chicago. If you haven’t seen the movie, you can just guess what it is about by its title: “Mean Girls.”

In the movie, Lindsay Lohan plays a character who moves to the Chicago suburbs and begins to attend public high school for the first time after growing up in Africa as a missionary kid and being home-schooled her whole life. There is a scene toward the beginning of the movie that sets up how the rest of the movie will be played out: with a clique of mean girls that refer to themselves as the “plastics” who try to control who is or isn’t included in the “in crowd” – through all sorts of mean and nasty tactics. This early scene takes place in – what many of you – if you ever had experiences like I did growing up – may know to be as one of the worst places for cliques in high school: the school cafeteria during lunch period.

During lunch on her first day of school, as Lindsay Lohan’s character enters the cafeteria, she looks around, trying to determine where to sit. All of a sudden, she is approached by several of the “Plastics,” and the ring-leader, Regina, begins what first seems to be a friendly conversation. Regina asks Lindsay’s character why she doesn’t know her, and when Lindsay’s character explains that she was from Africa and was homeschooled, Regina answers: “Really, but you are like really pretty.” Taking this as a compliment, Lindsay’s character thanks Regina. And then something happens that Lindsay’s character had not expected. Out of nowhere Regina says in a sly and challenging voice: “So you agree…?” As you can probably imagine, Lindsay’s character is thrown off guard, and she becomes defensive. Regina continues to push her: “So you agree? You think you are really pretty?”

What seemed to be a nice and friendly conversation and compliment by Regina quickly turned into a trap: As you continue to watch the movie, it becomes clear that Regina did not really want to compliment Lindsay’s character… to Regina, Lindsay’s character was a threat – a new girl in school who seemed to be getting positive attention by others – which – to Regina – looked like competition for popularity and power. So Regina intentionally corners and sets Lindsay’s character up: by making what sounds like an authentic compliment and gesture turn into making Lindsay’s character sound arrogant and haughty around the others listening.

This reminds me of our text in the Gospel of Luke for today. Jesus is basically in his own kind of “high school cafeteria lunch period” setting. However, in order to understand how this is so in our text, we need to back up a chapter in Luke.

Jesus has recently entered Jerusalem – where crowds of people who had heard of his great acts – had greeted him with shouts of royal acclamations: “Blessed is the king! Hosanna in the Highest!” If you’ve been to church on Palm Sunday, you know the drill.

And not long after his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus goes to the Temple – not to worship – but rather to drive out the money-changers who were selling goods in the Temple at high prices and taking advantage of the poor. From there, Jesus remains in the Temple – teaching every single day. We don’t know exactly what he taught during that time, but it was likely similar to the teachings we hear throughout Luke: about how God’s love requires equality for all people – especially the poor and oppressed – and it possibly included denouncing several of the religious leaders (as we see earlier in Luke) for boasting in their honorable positions of power while “neglect(ing) justice and the love of God” and loading burdens onto the common people.

So you can imagine how many of the wealthy and powerful Jewish leaders felt challenged by Jesus as He was continuing to gain a large following. – Jesus was a threat to their own popularity, power, and lifestyle. And so, of course, we see at the end of Luke chapter 19 that many of the Jewish leaders and the leaders of the people began to look for ways to kill Jesus. The only thing that was stopping them by that point was the growing number of people who were spellbound by what Jesus was doing and saying.

And so here comes our “cliquey high school cafeteria setting:” As a means to try to find a reason to arrest and put Jesus to death, many of the religious leaders start to find ways to trap Jesus in his words while He is teaching His followers in the Temple. This occurs several times throughout chapter 20 in Luke: first the scribes and chief priests challenge Him about His own authority. When that wasn’t successful, they send spies to Jesus who try to trap him through questions about taxes. Again, they were unsuccessful. And this is where we come to our passage for today.

Here, in our passage, Jesus is being confronted by a group of Sadducees, yet another group of Jewish leaders. However, these leaders are a little different from the others: unlike many of the other religious leaders, these elite and aristocratic Sadducees did not believe in the bodily resurrection – they did not believe that after death, people would be resurrected and given new life.

And in order to trap Jesus, they pose him with a very ridiculous scenario and question in order to make Jesus and his understanding of the bodily resurrection look ridiculous: The Sadducees begin by referring to a levirate marriage law that is found in the book of Deuteronomy – which protected women who were widowed and remained childless by requiring her dead husband’s brother to marry her. (Now, to those of you women out there who are now starting to feel a little uneasy: while this may not sound like a “protective” and a life-giving law – remember that women at this time were property of men. When their husbands died, they lost all of their rights, their land, possessions, their status. This levirate marriage law would protect such women from loosing everything.)

So, referring to this levirate marriage law, the Sadducees ask Jesus: What happens to a particular woman who – when her husband dies – marries the dead husband’s first brother. When this brother dies, she marries the second brother, and when he dies, she marries the third brother, and so on until she’s gone through all of the seven brothers who end up dying and leaving her childless. So, the Sadducees ask: after she finally dies, whom does this woman belong to in the resurrection? … Kind of a ridiculous story and question, right?

But Jesus – who is a pro by now in responding to his challengers – keeps his cool and responds to them: “those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” In other words, marriage in this age – in this time here on earth – is no longer relevant in the resurrection… and by golly: in the resurrection, women in particular, are no longer considered property of men and given up in marriage.

Now, without the rest of the context of what was happening in Luke at this point while Jesus is teaching in the Temple, we might look at this text and think that Jesus is talking about what literally happens in the resurrection… that in our life after death, we will not be reunited with those we married on this earth. – Which to many of us – but maybe not all – would not be very good news.

However, as we know, the Sadducees were not looking for a literal answer. They were looking for a way to trap Jesus. And in response, Jesus – in his usual way of speaking in generalities and in metaphors – wasn’t really giving a literal answer to the Sadducees’ ridiculous question.

In His answer to the Sadducees, Jesus does not lay out what exactly will happen in the bodily resurrection – in our life after death. As much as many of us may wish He did, Jesus does not tell the Sadducees and the other observers exactly how we will be resurrected, what we will look like, what age we might appear in, how we might be reunited with our loved ones – all of those questions we often ponder when we think about death and eternal life.

For Jesus, these details are not important – and my guess is, once we experience eternal life with God after death ourselves, they won’t be important to us either…. What IS important to Jesus is seen in the rest of Jesus’ response to the Sadducees: “those who are worthy of that age and in the resurrection cannot die anymore, because they are like angels, children of God, being children of the resurrection.”

At Easter and every time we say the Apostle’s and the Nicene Creeds, we proclaim our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. – That in His resurrection, He conquered death and brings forth new life. And because of this great act that occurred 2000 years ago because God so loved (and loves) the world – we – as children of God and as children of the resurrection – are promised this, too. We are promised that we, too, will be resurrected from the dead and given new life eternal. Death does not win. It does not have the final say. And when we are resurrected, we will be reconciled to God and, in Christ, to one another (however that may look)… for eternity.

So, to Jesus, the Sadducees in our text for today were asking the WRONG question.

A few years ago, when a reporter asked former Royals baseball pitcher Dan Quisenberry about the future, he responded: “The (future) is much like the present, only longer.” The Sadducees had a similar understanding of this in regards to the future… of life after death. Their understanding was that IF there were a resurrection, the life after death would be much like the present, only longer.

But to Jesus, this is an important point to debunk. Eternal life will NOT be like the present only longer. As we all know too well, the present life on earth is full of death. It is full of hatred, racism, violence… pain, suffering, injustice. Many of us experience death – and Hell, might I add – here on earth… as we deal with depression, fear of deployment, lack of sufficient health care, abuse, fear of our children facing violence on their way to school, terminal illness, unemployment or lack of fair wages at our current jobs that do not enable us to feed our family every day. And many of us here today experience Hell in our own personal brokenness: as we continue to make decisions for our lives that we later regret because they weigh on us and eventually pull us down into a pit of what feels sometimes like death, itself. So what Jesus is stating in our text for today IS good news. Our future in the resurrection – in life eternal – will NOT be much like the present, only longer. Rather, in it, we will be freed from this captivity of pain, suffering, brokenness, and death for eternity.

Now, while finding hope in this different future in the resurrection is a crucial part of our Christian faith, it does not give us an excuse to maintain an “escapist” understanding of hope in the resurrection… We cannot just sit around on butts in this life here on earth – and waddle in our sufferings, in our pain, in our brokenness – and just wait for the future resurrection as we watch others throughout the world or even allow ourselves to experience violence and injustice in this present age. For, as Jesus finishes His response in our text for today: He proclaims: “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

And this proclamation has a twofold meaning: God IS the God of the living – both of the living in the future age to come in the resurrection – AND of the living in the present age. And in the same way, the promise of the resurrected life is not just for our future life after our bodily death, but it began 2000 years ago when Jesus entered and left this world in the flesh and it continues with us today in the present age: in the here and now.

As Katie Faerber, a teacher at the Geneva School in Florida writes: “We live in hope for new life with (God) after our physical death, but he also calls us to be new creations, engaging in the daily practice of death and resurrection. When we pray for his kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, we are asking God to bring to life all that is dead, to resurrect here and now.”

And as Nadia Bolz-Weber, founder and pastor of the Lutheran Church, House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, explains in her new book Pastrix: “The Christian faith, while wildly misrepresented in so much of American culture, is really about death and resurrection. It’s about how God continues to reach into the graves we dig for ourselves and pull us out, giving us new life, in ways both dramatic and small… Smiley TV preachers might tell you that following Jesus is about being good so that God will bless you with cash and prizes, but really it’s much more gruesome and meaningful. It’s about spiritual physic. Something has to die for something new to live.”

We are currently in the midst an interesting time of year – both in the church calendar and in our own secular calendar. Last week we commemorated all the saints – including our loved ones – who have paved the Christian way before us and who have passed on from this world. And as we commemorated them, we celebrated the promise that we somehow will be reunited with them in the resurrection. We are also coming up on the holiday season: for some of us, this is a time of joy – where we gather with our loved ones over food and conversations. Yet, for others of us, this is a time of suffering – as the holidays become painful reminders of those we no longer can gather with. And, finally, we are also coming up on the time of advent in the church calendar, where we prepare for the coming of Jesus – who both came in the flesh 2000 years ago and who will one day return.

As we enter this time of year where death constantly collides with resurrection, let us remember the promise we have been given: that we are children of God, and children of the resurrection: both of what is to come and of what already is. So in our sufferings, may we find hope in the future of freedom from death; in our joys, may we find hope in the greater joys to come; and in all things, may we always live fully in the present: dying to our old selves, and being resurrected into new life here and now.