Our New Normal

I suspect that you already know that many things are changing.

Most of us, at least in America, have lived our entire lives believing that the right combination of science and good medical care can protect us from viral and bacterial infections. Many of us have not regularly washed or disinfected our hands, and many of us haven’t worn a mask that covers both our nose and mouth at any other point in our lives. We have greeted people by shaking hands and hugging them. We have gathered in tightly packed spaces with few concerns about safety. Those who attend worship have been encouraged to sing loudly and to praise the Lord with joyful hearts and then kneel beside each other to receive Bread and Wine during Holy Communion. We have been encouraged to believe that gun violence only affects other people. We have believed that racism was addressed during the Civil Rights protests in the past and that it is no longer a part of American culture. We have, also, trusted in the fact that our Democratic Republic, itself, will survive the test of time.

The Bible is filled with stories about a God who carries people through times like these.

God delivered people from slavery during the Exodus and provided manna (which means: What is this stuff?) in the Wilderness. God carried the remnant of Israel through the difficult years after the Assyrian invasion and carried the remnant of Judah through a time when the place where people worshiped God was destroyed and when faithful people were dragged into captivity in Babylon. The Bible speaks about God as a God who provides streams in the desert and it speaks about Jesus as the source of “Living Water” that never fails. The Bible bears witness to a God who remains stable, secure, rock-solid and true no matter what you face in life as an individual or even as an American citizen in 2021. Jesus even promises to raise you up strong, healthy and recreated after life and death have done their worst.

We are tempted to look backwards and to idealize a past that never really existed when we face times of change.

We want to relive the days before the pandemic and want our “new normal” to be the same as our “old normal.” We want to go out in public spaces without wearing masks. We want to shake hands and hug each other. We do not want to even think about protecting ourselves from something that we can’t see anymore. We want the Church to be what it was 50 years ago. We want people to stop talking about racism and poverty and violence in America. We want to know again that, even though America isn’t perfect, America will prevail as a nation. Change is inevitable. We don’t like it. We want the familiar.

What would you say if I told you that the “old normal” is never coming back and that you need to open your hands, release what’s familiar, and trust God to give you something new and exciting?

Perhaps, during these times when people are intensely focused upon personal freedom and rugged individuality, God is challenging you to think more deeply about community and what it means to care about others? Perhaps, God is challenging you to listen more carefully to the voices of those who are lifting up the issues of racism, poverty and violence in America, and to be a part of positive change? Perhaps, God is challenging you to think about the fact that, in the midst of a global pandemic, we can’t effectively address the challenge of variants and viral spread by focusing only upon what’s happening in the United States? Maybe God wants you to more readily embrace change at your church, so that your church can move into a stronger and healthier future during a time when the rest of the world is moving on? Maybe God is challenging America and Americans to think about what it truly means to be a nation that boldly proclaims that it is a place of liberty and justice for all?

Faith is the bridge between where I am and the place where God is taking me; and, trusting in that fact, I find the courage to live boldly and faithfully. God journeys with me in uncertain times and Jesus has promised to walk beside me. Faith reminds me that God is moving me toward something better than what I have right now – even as I face times of change and uncertainty that I would like to avoid at all costs. I hope you can say that, too.

May God bless you and those that you love in the coming week. May you have a renewed sense of God’s presence in these changing times. And may the Holy Spirit fill your heart with faith and embolden you as we continue to journey, together, from where we are right now to where God wants us to be.

Our Stories and Our Faith

Our life together, as Jesus people, is built around stories. We gather on Christmas Eve to remember God as Immanuel – God with us in every situation and circumstance of life. We celebrate Easter by listening to a wonderful story about Jesus being raised from the dead; and, on that day, we remember that, even after life and death have done their worst, God is going to raise us up new and whole. Perhaps, you remember a well-known story about Jesus feeding 5,000 people with only five barley loaves and two little fish. Maybe you remember the story of Noah’s ark. Our life together is built around stories.

I have been drawn into the story of the Exodus many times during the pandemic that has so dramatically reshaped our lives. I came to appreciate Moses more deeply as I came to see him as a man who didn’t think that he had the ability to lead God’s people into the future. I came to understand the challenges that the Israelites faced as I listened to people calling me to move in many different directions during a time when I am not always sure what’s best. God has called me to come to Mount Sinai, where I have removed my shoes and spent time in the presence of the Lord in times of daily prayer and devotion. I have even come to understand what it was like when the Israelites looked back and saw the Red Sea closing behind them. There was a sense that God was closing a chapter in their lives and that the only option was to move into an unknown future.

The story of the Exodus bears witness to God’s ability to lead us into an unknown future that is good; and, this week, I would like to encourage you to reflect upon that story. The Church still has many unanswered questions, doesn’t it? How can we continue to be a community of Jesus people when some are worshiping inside our buildings and others are worshiping at home? How can we continue to share the message of Jesus with young people during a time when parents are not sure that it is safe to bring their children back to Sunday School? How can we continue to be a community of Jesus people when we are being called into deep and destructive divisions? How can we continue to move forward with faith during a time when many things we have trusted in the past are changing or fading away? Here are some things to think about:

  • The story of the Exodus reminds us that, in times when we are afraid and uncertain, one of the first things we want to do is go back to a time and place in the past when we felt safe. “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the melons, cucumbers, leeks, onions and garlic.” (Numbers 11:5) I remember days when we needed to put extra chairs in the aisles during worship, so that everyone could sit down. I remember days when my Dad told me, “If you are too sick to go to church, you are too sick to do anything else today” and he meant it. But times are changing. Today, only about 16% of Americans regularly attend in-person worship. What does that mean to us as a community of Jesus people? What can we learn about ourselves as we think about the Israelites creating an idealized picture of a past that they wanted to recapture even while God was leading them into the future?
  • The story of the Exodus also reminds us that God is a God who provides manna in the Wilderness (Exodus 16:13-14). The Hebrew word “manna” means: “What is this stuff?” We don’t always fully understand what God is providing as we journey into a new future. Some folks asked: “What is Zoom?” last year. I never imagined being able to create a Christmas and Easter service using DaVinci Resolve 17. We have been learning how to use YouTube Live. We have been learning how to get a copy of our weekly bulletin into people’s hands by creating a link on our church’s webpage. Sermons that have been preached at Christ’s Lutheran Church are now being heard in 36 countries. We have been using new camera equipment to enable people in California, Texas, New York, South Carolina and even Germany to join us in worship. 2021 is a year when we all need to be asking: “What is this stuff?” What tools and what opportunities is God providing, so that we can move from where we are right now to where God wants us to be? “What is this stuff?” that God is providing to help us to share the message of Jesus with others?
  • And lastly, the story of the Exodus reminds us that leading God’s people into their unknown future is not an easy task, and that those who are trying their best to lead the Church during these strange times need people to come alongside of them as they stand on the front line (Exodus 17:10-12). I often speak about leading the Church through these difficult days as drinking from a firehose. There are few decisions that are easy. People who serve us as bishops, as pastors, as Church Council members and as leaders of every sort have never done this before. Just picture Moses standing with his arms in the air knowing that God’s people win as long as he holds his hands high in the air and that they falter when his arms begin to drop. “How long can I keep doing this?” he surely asked himself. And we read that Moses did his best even when he was weary. But the story of the Exodus tells us that the battle was won after Aaron and Hur got a stone, so that Moses could sit down. And then, Aaron and Hur came alongside of Moses and physically held his weary arms in the air and the day was saved. What a story!

Our life together, as Jesus people, continues to be built around stories; and, this week, I want to encourage you to think about the story of the Exodus. How can we work together to live into the future that God is setting before us during a time when many of us want to return to our idealized picture of a past that no longer exists? How can we work together and move forward in our lives and ministry during a time when we are continuing to ask, “What is this stuff?” as we see what God is providing? And how can we continue to live well with each other and faithfully support those who are trying their best to lead us through a time that none of us could have ever imagined?

Vision and Mission

Churches and non-profits of every kind exist to fulfill their mission.

A food bank’s mission is to get groceries into the hands of hungry people. The mission of a women’s shelter is to provide a place of refuge for women who want to escape their abusive partners and to help those women get a fresh start. Some non-profits focus upon helping people who are homeless or upon preparing meals for people who are no longer able to cook. Jesus created the Church to be a community that spreads the good news of God’s love and to be a community that makes disciples.

A lot has happened in the last year.

We have not been able to gather in groups, and we have needed to stop doing things that we once considered routine. Churches locked their doors and worshiped online. We have all embraced technology in new ways. Zoom became more than what happens when you push your automobile’s gas pedal to the floor. Social media has become rather antisocial. We have become a bit harsh with each other as we’ve grown weary, and we have become people who are more bothered by little inconveniences. We are tired. We’re not sure that we want to make even small commitments. We are grieving because some of the things that we once considered important in our lives have changed, or even disappeared. And, of course, we are all asking, “What’s next?” Will things that we have enjoyed return? Will our churches, non-profits and other organizations survive? What can we do to move into a brighter future? Where do we need to focus our energy?

Churches and non-profits of every kind exist to fulfill their mission, and churches and non-profits that do not claim and live into their mission are going to disappear.

Think about a local food bank that stops distributing food. Think about a women’s shelter that stops providing a place of refuge for abused women. Think about a church that is so concerned about getting people to come back into a building (in a nation where only about 16% of adults regularly attend worship) that it loses sight of the fact that it can spread the good news of God’s love and make disciples using new and exciting technology. These are times when churches and non-profits of every kind need to be focused upon why they exist. These are times when churches and non-profits need to understand and articulate their mission clearly, and when churches and non-profits need to be focused upon what they have to offer and upon what they have been created by God to do.

The Bible says that people perish when there is a lack of vision (Proverbs 29:18). Vision gives birth to mission. Mission gives birth to passion. Passion gives birth to excitement and energy. Excitement and energy give birth to growth and vitality. Growth and vitality can create even more expansive understandings of an organization’s vision and mission, which can lead to even more excitement and energy and growth and vitality.

Churches and non-profits of every kind exist to fulfill their mission, and churches and non-profits that do not claim and live into their mission are going to disappear.

And, with that in your mind, I want to conclude by asking: “If you belong to a church or if you choose to participate in the life of any non-profit organization, how would you define your group’s mission?” “What is God calling you to do?” “What value are you bringing into the lives of those you serve?” These are critical questions we need to ask as we continue to emerge from these challenging times and as we prepare to move forward with hope, direction and focus in these quickly changing days.

Pandemic Ponderings

We have been journeying through a time in our lives that none of us could have predicted. The pandemic left us scrambling to find ways to remain connected to each other and made us find new ways to do almost everything. We stretched our wings, and we embraced new technologies. Many of us adjusted to the pandemic by wearing masks in public and by not eating in restaurants. The pandemic forced us to find new ways to do things like shopping for groceries and it even closed our churches. And now, at least in the United States, we are moving toward brighter days, even as people continue to struggle in other countries.

If you are at all like me, you are tired and overwhelmed. I am tired of adjusting my life to accommodate something that I cannot even see. I am tired of a wearing a mask in public and of remaining distant from people I love. The political atmosphere in America wearies me, and I have noticed that many people are both edgy and more critical. Conflicts fester when people are tired and overwhelmed. We find it more difficult to interpret the actions of others in kind and generous ways when we are stretched and exhausted. And when that happens, relationships in every part of our lives can become strained.

And so, what are some things that we can do to keep moving forward together?

  • We need to begin by realizing that we are all tired; and that, when people are tired, they sometimes do things they normally would not do. This is a time when grace and forgiveness are important in our relationships. I’ve often used the image of people being like porcupines. We can live and move about relatively painlessly, even in times of challenge and uncertainty, when we are alone. But, when we begin to draw close to one another – especially when we are tired and overwhelmed – it is easy for us to stick each other and to be stuck by the quills of other porcupines. People who are tired sometimes say things in less-than-helpful ways. People who are tired sometimes misinterpret the words and actions of other people. We are not always grace-filled when we are edgy; and, because of that, our relationships with other people can be dramatically changed. That is why grace and forgiveness are both necessary and important right now. Martin Luther, the 16th-Century Protestant reformer, taught that the 8th Commandment is all about learning to interpret the actions of other people in the best possible way. That is something that we can all try to do to keep moving forward together.
  • We need to remember that people who are tired need other people to come alongside of them and to help them to carry the load. Healthcare workers, teachers, pastors and other people who live their lives serving others are both exhausted and burned out. A teacher told me, just last week, that she feels like she has been drinking from a firehose for more than a year. Another teacher told me that he wishes that people could understand how much needs to happen behind the scenes to make an Internet link work. Healthcare workers, pastors and other people who have devoted their lives to serving others have decided to switch jobs or retire early. Many churches and other organizations have battled their way through the pandemic with a very short front line. This is a time when the frontline needs your help, your support and your encouragement. That is something else that we need to remember as we keep moving forward together.
  • Lastly, we need to realize that people who are tired and overwhelmed need other people to encourage them, not simply criticize what they are trying to do. We need to remember that we are all trying to do our best in these challenging times. A little note, a text message, an email or even a short telephone call can brighten someone’s day. The spirits of people on the front line are lifted when other people point out what is working and what is going well. I have, fortunately, been blessed by many encouraging messages throughout the pandemic. What can you do, right now, to expand the circle of appreciation? What could you do, today, to ensure that someone who is working hard to make good things happen knows that her/his time and efforts are appreciated? Part of moving forward together includes lifting up what is working well, encouraging people who are working hard, and spurring others on with kind thoughts and caring words, so that they know that they are appreciated – even when things that are happening are not quite perfect.

We are moving forward together and our journey will carry us toward better days.  And, if we can just keep these three simple things in mind, we will find new and exciting ways to come out of these challenging times stronger and more healthy than we were before the pandemic hit. Who can you lift up today? How could you stand beside someone who continues to pour out time and energy both freely and willingly in these challenging days? How is God is at work in your life, right now, to help you to be an encourager who blesses and stands beside people who are doing their best to make good things happen?

Naming Our Anger

We are traveling through an uncomfortable time right now.

We are in the ninth month of our struggle to make sense of the coronavirus and we are both weary and frazzled. 2020 has been punctuated by groups of people who are protesting in our streets and who are even protesting around State capital buildings and entering the legislative chambers with guns. 2020’s election cycle was a difficult one that separated friends and even family members into enemy camps. Many people have lost their jobs and are facing the possibility of losing their homes. Restaurant and other business owners are watching their hopes and dreams evaporate before their eyes. Major issues like racism and immigration, that have not been addressed in helpful ways for many years, are on the table and need to be discussed as we enter 2021. And now, we are being told that we should set aside our plans to celebrate the Holidays and continue to wear masks in public places.

Many people are angry these days. We hear frightening stories about people being thrown to the ground and having limbs broken because they asked another person to wear a mask. I hear automobile horns blowing every time I fail to stomp on the accelerator as soon as the traffic light turns green. I watched a bus driver blow the horn of the bus, pound on the steering wheel and scream at the driver of a hearse who would not allow the bus to enter a funeral procession last week. People are giving each other “the finger.” Little disagreements are turning into relationship-changing arguments. We have stopped even trying to interpret the actions of other people in the best possible way as we are told to do in the Ten Commandments. Many of us are angry, but the challenge I see is that many of us are walking around stomping-mad these days unable to even identify what is really making us mad.

The Bible teaches us that naming things is important.

Most parents talk for many months about what they are going to name their baby when it is born. Think about what happens when somebody in a group calls out your name. Do you turn to see who is trying to get your attention? The name of God was lost in the Jewish tradition because God’s name was never spoken because the Jewish leaders believed that, when you named something, you were able to capture its very nature and its essence. The writers of the Bible named gods like Baal and Beelzebub, but we don’t know how to properly pronounce God’s name in modern times; because, for thousands of years, the Jewish leaders simply said or sang, “G-d” or “the Lord” when they came to the name of God while reading scripture.

Why is unnamed anger dangerous?

We, sometimes, do unusual things when we don’t take the time to clearly identify things that are making us angry. Think about a person who is frustrated at work coming home and kicking the dog. Think about a person who becomes unemployed because of an unseen virus suddenly becoming their own worst critic. Think about someone who cannot pay the bills and make ends meet no matter how many hours he/she works honking his/her automobile’s horn the instant a traffic light turns green. Have you been drinking more alcohol in the last few months? Have you ended relationships with other people because of arguments that got out of control? Have you become more critical of other people and allowed little things to become bigger than they need to be? Do you find yourself talking about other people behind their backs? Have you been screaming at people and even pounding on the steering wheel inside your vehicle? How many people have you “unfriended” because you disagree with what they post on social media? Are the muscles in your neck and shoulders tight? Are you having trouble sleeping because you cannot stop thinking? Our unnamed anger reveals itself in different ways; and, when we do not understand that, we sometimes find ourselves doing things that we cannot rationally explain.

How can naming our anger give us power over it?

Imagine how your life could change if you simply stopped and realized that you are angry because of continuing struggles at work and that your anger has absolutely nothing to do with the little dog, with a wagging tail, that jumps on you because it’s excited to see you. Imagine how your life could be different if you admitted that you are angry because you can’t make ends meet, no matter how many hours you spend at work, instead of honking the horn on your automobile at someone that you don’t even know. Imagine how your life would improve if, instead of allowing little things to become big things that can destroy relationships with other people, you admitted that you are angry because your life is being changed by a virus that you can’t even see? Are you angry because you are being asked to wear a mask in public, or are you angry about something else? Are you pounding on the steering wheel of your car because you are angry at an elderly person who crosses the street too slowly, or is something else lighting your fire? I believe that one of the most important things we can do, right now, is simply stop and identify what is making us angry and frustrated; because, until we take the time to stop and do that, we will continue to vent and release our wrath upon people who have little to do with what is driving the anger and frustration that’s inside of us.

It is, also, helpful to listen to other people when they name their anger, too.

We need to listen to others in challenging times; because, when we allow others to name their anger, we can understand their actions and behavior in a different way. We need to listen to people who are naming their anger when they speak, and who are expressing their anger when they protest after a routine traffic stop turns into an unnecessary, deadly encounter because people have different skin colors. We need to listen to people who are finding it increasingly difficult to simply survive and who are afraid that our country is moving in a direction that could make their lives even more difficult. We need to listen to the anger that people are expressing because they have lost their jobs and because they are afraid that they are going to lose everything that they have saved – including their homes. We need to listen to the anger of people who are financially struggling, today, because they cannot afford to live and pay off their student loans at the same time. We need to listen to people who are angry because they need to choose between buying medicines that they need, and food or fuel to heat their homes. We need to listen to people who are angry because they’re afraid that they will be driven into bankruptcy if they get sick and need to go to a hospital – because they do not have health insurance. We need to listen to people who are angry because they can’t wear a mask in public because of health challenges and who are frustrated because people continue to criticize their behavior because it has become nearly impossible to separate people who are not wearing masks because of health challenges from people who refuse to wear a mask for other reasons.

I want to challenge you to take some time to identify and to name your anger as we travel through these challenging times and as we try to better understand why we are doing what we are doing.

We have power over things that are happening in our lives when we name them. We are far less likely to direct unnamed anger at other people when we take time to think about the things that are driving our anger and that are influencing the ways that we act. Unnamed anger can be a destructive menace in our lives that can turn us into stirred-up bulls thrashing around in a china shop. Unnamed anger is not good for our families and our relationships. Unnamed anger is not good for our country, for our churches, or for our world. But, when we name our anger, we can gain control of it, and understand ourselves and other people in new ways. And, when we find ourselves doing that, we will discover that we are traveling on a helpful and healthy path into the future.

God’s Presence in Times of Change

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We can learn a lot about living faithfully by returning to the Jewish Exile.

The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar invaded the land of Judah, destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem; and, most likely, ordered the Ark of the Covenant to be destroyed. Homes and crops were burned. People were dragged away in chains and yokes, and they were now living in a strange country with different customs. And people began to dream about being able to return to what once was as they continued to live in exile.

Many of the rabbis that I know are referring to the Jewish Exile these days.

We’re not able to go where we want to go and to live our lives in the way that we’d like to live them. Many faithful Christians are still watching worship services online and are far removed from the worship spaces where they’ve come to know God. Some people in our country (and all around the world) are trying to explain away safety measures that we’ve been asked to take while others are refusing to wear any sort of face covering to make a political statement. We are responding to this crisis in so many different ways!

The coronavirus has brought grief into many of our lives.

We usually associate grief with the death of a loved one, but grief is something that’s far more complex. I am grieving because I’m not able to visit my grandchildren. Many young people are grieving because they didn’t get to attend a prom or graduation ceremony. We see young children acting out because they miss playing with their friends. We’re sensing that things are different and that it may not be possible to just return to doing things that we once took for granted in the near future. And many people are still grieving the loss of their job or even of their home, aren’t they? Some are grieving because we know that things that we cherish are going to be different.

We often wish that we could just go back to what once was when we are grieving.

And that’s what we see in Jeremiah 28:1-9. The false prophet Hananiah has started to talk with people who were living in Exile about being able to go back to what once was. Hananiah speaks about bringing sacred vessels back into the Temple (which, remember, had been flattened like a pancake by the Babylonians) and returning to the place that the Jewish people had called their home for generations. It’s almost as if Hananiah doesn’t want to accept the fact that things have changed, and he’s trying to encourage people to believe that they can simply return to what once was and watch the storm just go away. Perhaps you’d like to be able to do that today? But Jeremiah wasn’t that optimistic.

One of the things that I’ve learned in life is that our lives are often lived in cycles.

Good times are almost always followed by bad times; and even the worst times in our lives can give way to much better times. Think about grief. We mourn over what we’ve lost and wish that we could have it once again, but life moves forward and we change as we adjust to our new reality. Christianity is built upon the death and the resurrection of Jesus: Life being lost in death and death giving way to new life. Our faith reminds us of the fact that God blesses us with new life even while we’re still caught in our grief.

Now, think about the Church.

We were knocked off-center when churches needed to close; and yet, in the midst of this pandemic, churches that had never done so in the past have incorporated electronics in their ministry. That’s new life! People who don’t normally attend worship services are listening to sermons and are participating in online worship services. That’s new life! We’ve had the chance to improve our methods of communicating with each other. That’s new life! The church that I am serving is even working with several other congregations to launch an online Vacation Bible School for children in the next few weeks. That’s new life! Leaders throughout the Church have been imagining new ways to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in more creative ways – realizing that, even as we grieve, Jesus moves us toward something new and exciting and life-filled. That’s new life! That’s resurrection!

Listen to Psalm 89:1 – “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations!

This week, I’d like to encourage you to do three things:

  • Think about grief and about how grief might be affecting you, right now. It’s not easy to be told that you can’t do things that you like to do. And it’s very natural for people who are grieving to imagine what it would be like to just to back to what once was even though it’s not possible anymore.
  • Pray for the many people who need to make big decisions today and remember that they are trying to do the best that they can even when you disagree with what they think needs to be done.
  • Pray for patience and offer some of your time, energy, vision and creativity to those who are struggling to discover how we can best return from our Exile and proclaim the message of God’s love and the hope of the Resurrection in new and exiting ways as the people of God, today. You can be a part of the new life that Jesus is creating!

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Conquering Our Doubts Together

Calm to the Waves

We are traveling through a time filled with many doubts and fears.

How have you been responding to the challenges that we’ve all had to face in the last few weeks? Maybe you’re scared? Maybe you’re troubled by the fact that our lives are going to be different after the storm we’re facing comes to an end? Maybe you’ve been forced to think about the fact that you’re far more vulnerable than you like to admit? Maybe the events of the last few weeks have made you think more about the fact that you’re mortal and that you are going to die someday – from a coronavirus infection or from something else?

The story of Thomas that we find in John’s Gospel (John 20:19-31) has some important lessons to teach us about life as we journey through these unusual times.

Thomas was a follower of Jesus and Thomas lived his day-to-day life with Jesus for about three years. Thomas watched Jesus turn water into wine at a wedding feast. Thomas saw Jesus heal lepers and cast out many demons.  Thomas listened to Jesus tell stories, and he heard Jesus talk about the fact that He was going to be killed and that He was going to be raised from the dead. But Thomas was stunned when Jesus was swept away, and when Jesus was crucified. Thomas was totally numb as he listened to news about how the dead body of Jesus had been removed from the Cross and had been sealed in a cold tomb.

It’s sometimes hard for us to know what’s true these days.

People are saying so many different things. Experts seem to be arguing with each other and even leaders in the United States (and all over the world) can’t seem to agree upon what’s best for us. And maybe, at this point in your life, you’ve begun to say to yourself, “Seeing is believing.” Many of us are relying more upon our own personal experiences with the coronavirus than we are upon reports in the news and upon press briefings.

John’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus first appeared to the disciples (after He was raised from the dead) Thomas wasn’t in the room with them. We don’t know why Thomas was not in the room when the Risen Jesus appeared, but we do know that Thomas remained immersed in his doubts and fears for nearly a week after the Resurrection because he was not able to fully believe what other people were telling him. “Seeing is believing” seems to describe Thomas’ approach to life better than any other words. Have you ever said, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t”?

But Thomas remained connected to other disciples even in his time of doubt, didn’t he?

One of the things that’s been driven into my head over and over again in the last few weeks is that we need each other and we need to find ways to remain connected to each other during these unusual times. We need to remind each other that Jesus is walking beside us. We need to pray for each other and explore creative ways to do ministry. We need to be spreading the light of the Gospel with those around us; because, after all, who needs someone to give them a flashlight after the sun has risen and a new day begins? As harsh as it may sound, if Christians can’t find a way to bring a message of light – and the message of God’s love – in dark times like these, who needs us during other times? One of the recurring themes in John’s Gospel is the sharp contrast between darkness and light, and that theme is something that Christians need to be embracing today.

The story of Thomas reminds us that we need each other.

In the beginning, God said that it is not good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Our Risen Lord has told us that He’ll continue to be with us as we reach out to each other, embrace each other and shine light into each other’s lives. Perhaps, what people need more than anything else right now is friends and family members (and a Church) that continues to remind them that the light at the end of the tunnel has not been turned off? Is that what you need to hear? Do you need to be reminded that Jesus is walking beside you and that God has promised you that, no matter what you face in life (or even in death), you will be lifted-up again both whole and restored?

We are traveling through a time filled with many doubts and fears. And we need to remember that, in times such as these, God continues to give us the gift of each other. 

What can YOU do today to remind people that you know that they are not alone in these challenging times? What can YOU do to shine light into the dark corners in other people’s lives, to strengthen them and to remind them that the Risen Jesus is walking beside them during these incredibly difficult days? As harsh as it may sound, if we can’t find a way to share a message of light and a message of God’s love in dark times like these, who needs us? Nobody needs other people to give them a flashlight after the sun rises and after a new day begins. People need us to be reminding them, right now, that the light at the end of the tunnel has not been turned off.

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Jesus: The Servant

footwashing pic

Many of us know that Jesus once washed His disciples’ feet.

Jesus had ridden into the city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey while people cheered and threw pieces of their clothing and palm branches. Jesus had entered the outer courts of the Temple in Jerusalem in a moment of zeal, and He had driven the moneychangers away. And on the night when Jesus knew that He was going to be betrayed by Judas, He was aware of the fact that something terrible was about to happen.

John’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We read: “And then, the chief priests and the Pharisees said, ‘If we let Jesus go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will take away our Temple and our nation.’” (John 11:47) Shortly after that, Caiaphas, the High Priest, said: “Don’t you understand that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people, so that our whole nation will not be destroyed?” (John 11:50)

Everything became radically different in a very short period of time.

And yet, in the midst of that change and uncertainty, what did Jesus do? We read that He got up, took off His outer robe and tied a towel around His waist. And then, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and dried them with a towel. And He said, “Do you know what I’ve just done? I’ve set an example, so that you will do what I have done. Servants are never greater than their master, nor are the messengers greater than the One who has sent them.” (John 13:12-16) And Jesus shows us that when we serve other people what we’re doing is holy in a selfless act of washing feet. Jesus, our Master, shows us that serving others is a “holy act” that we can continue to do even today.

There are opportunities in every crisis.

Many of us are rightfully concerned about the coronavirus and are staying in our homes to prevent the spread of the virus. And yet, even in these frightening times when it’s very easy for us to withdraw and turn inward, Jesus is challenging us to continue to search for ways that we can creatively serve others.

People are continuing to serve others by working at food banks during these uncertain times and others are struggling to overcome steep technological learning curves, so that other people can remain connected. People are picking up their telephones and are calling people who live by themselves, and children are coloring pictures to send to other people. We serve others every time we wash our hands and voluntarily embrace social distancing. Last week, a member of the congregation that I serve asked me if it would be helpful for her to donate money to our church’s Family Fund since she is working in her home and spending less money for gasoline. People continue to serve others by working in hospitals and grocery stores. People are serving others by harvesting food that could simply be left in fields to rot. People are sewing masks for healthcare workers. People are delivering groceries and medications to those who are not able to leave their homes. And every time we do these things (or other creative things) to serve others, Jesus comes into our midst and we discover that we’re doing God’s work with our own hands!

There are opportunities in every crisis.

There are many opportunities for us to join hands (not literally) with other people in our communities who are brightly shining as “Jesus People” in these challenging times. Just as Jesus did not shrink back and turn inward on the night in which He was betrayed, God is calling us to keep moving forward and to keep searching for creative ways that we can serve other people simply because that’s what “Jesus People” do.

Perhaps, in these very unusual days, we have a chance to shine more brightly, as “Jesus People,” than we ever have at any other point in our lives?

May God continue to journey with you in these scary and unusual times. And may God bless all of us as we continue to think about creative ways that we can serve other people and glorify God with our love and good deed.

Click Here for my Maundy Thursday Message

Jesus: Our Savior

 

Palm Sunday Pic

Do you refer to Jesus as your “Savior”?

When Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, people were really excited. The people who were living in Jerusalem needed to be saved from the Roman soldiers and from something that they didn’t have any power to control. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, told people what they were allowed to do and what they were not allowed to do. The governor limited the size of all public gatherings. The governor told people when they were allowed to leave their own homes and when they needed to stay inside. And, once each year, Pontius Pilate was even more strict because, during the time of the Passover, Jewish people from all over the place flocked to Jerusalem and the city was almost always brought to the brink of chaos.

On the first Palm Sunday, Jesus was celebrated as a “Savior” who had come into the world during a time when people weren’t allowed to do what they wanted to do. People cast garments and palm branches on the road while Jesus was riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey because they were expecting God to intervene and to take control of an absolutely horrible situation.

And, maybe today, that’s something that resonates with you?

We’re living in a scary time, and we’re all being told that we’re not allowed to do some of the things we like to do. Governors have closed businesses all across the United States. We have been told to stay in our homes. Government officials all over the world have been trying to control the chaos by issuing orders and decrees that are sometimes even enforced by the police. Some people are still resisting the orders that have been issued by government officials and are doing whatever they want to do with little concern for their own health or for the health of other people. Maybe you’ve been praying and asking God to somehow intervene in the coronavirus pandemic because you believe that God needs to deliver all of us from these difficult days?

People were excited when Jesus rode into Jerusalem.

Palm branches and pieces of clothing were flying through the air. People were shouting “Hosanna!” – “Deliver us!” – because they believed that God was finally going to save them from something that they didn’t like. But what they didn’t realize is that Jesus came into the world to save us from far more than daily inconveniences. Jesus came into the world to deliver us from far more than government officials who tell us how to live our lives.

Jesus came into the world to break-down the power of sin and to take away everything that stands between us and God. Jesus came into the world to save us from the sin and selfish attitudes that destroy relationships. Jesus came into the world to remind us that God loves us and that God is not an angry God who sends horrible pandemics and things like the coronavirus to strike people down. Jesus came into the world because God wants us to know that we’re going to be OK even after life and death itself have done their very worst.

But many of us don’t believe that we need to be saved from anything.

We don’t picture ourselves as the money-changers in the Temple of Jerusalem because we don’t want to be reminded of the fact that we, sometimes, take advantage of other people, too. We’re humbled as we watch Jesus wash the feet of His disciples because we don’t want to picture ourselves as people who don’t take advantage of opportunities to serve other people. The altar is a place of cultural rebellion where company presidents humbly kneel beside people who work for them during Holy Communion. We are all reminded that we are not always swift to forgive as we listen to Jesus ask God to forgive even the people who were killing Him as He hung on the Cross.

If you call Jesus your “Savior,” what do you need to be saved from?

The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that, if we truly want to make amends with other people, it’s best to do it today because none of us are actually sure that tomorrow is even on the calendar. The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that we are a lot more vulnerable than we like to admit. Most of us don’t even think about the fact that we need to be saved or delivered from anything because we believe, deep inside, that we have the world by the tail and that we have the power to shape the future and even our destiny. But, maybe during these unusual times, God is calling us to step back and to look at our lives – to think about our decisions and priorities – to think about ways that we use (or even waste) our time – and to think about the relationships that we all have in our lives that are in need of repair?

If you call Jesus your “Savior,” what do you need to be saved from?

May God be with all of us as we think about that important question in the coming days. And may God bless us and increase our faith as we prepare to celebrate Easter, safely, from inside our homes in just a few short days.

Click Here for This Week’s Message