Worship Where You Are

The Worship Where You Are blog contains what we think of as "first drafts" of the sermon for each week.  They are prepared mid-week for people who might not be able to be present on Sunday morning but wish to still participate in the worship experience.  They contain scripture, the sermon text, a few questions to ponder and a closing prayer.  May they help you in your faith journey.

All Bible verses come from the Common English Bible

Being a Church of Resurrection - Doubting Thomas

John 20:19-31

Jesus appears to the disciples

19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

Jesus appears to Thomas and the disciples

24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”

26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”

28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

 

 

Thoughts on the passage:

For the last few weeks we have been looking at stories of the early church and the reactions of the disciples following the resurrection. The Easter season would not be complete for me if we did not look at the story of poor Doubting Thomas and his struggles to accept the good news that Christ rose from the dead. As we look at what it means to be a church of resurrection, I think it is important that we acknowledge the struggles we can have to believe in the new life that God promises. Sometimes it just seems to good to be true.

For many of us, the story of Easter is not something new. We have always known that Christ died and rose again to offer us new life. If you are like me you do not remember the first time you heard the message of Easter. Recently I have had the pleasure of hearing my kids talk about what they are learning in Sunday school. I just need to give a shout-out to our Sunday school teachers and to Lynn VanNurden who has been running a Connexion group for kids. Thanks to the hard work of so many of you, my children, and others like them, are learning the lessons of Jesus at an early age. I can safely say that both Bryce and Zoe have always known the story of the resurrection.

I share this insight with you because I think we can forget just how hard to accept the idea is that Jesus really rose again. The fact is that for many in the early church, the idea that Christ physically rose again from the dead was hard to believe. Doubting Thomas is just the first of many in a long line of Christians and followers of Jesus who believed in both him and in God and yet struggled to believe in his bodily resurrection. The resurrection is something that is hard to believe. For those of us who cannot directly experience it, like Thomas does, we must instead take it on faith.

The role of reason and faith is a difficult one. Philosophers and theologians have for century struggled to explain the connection between the two and whether they stand in opposition to each other or can work in concert with one another. For many of us, solid evidence and clear explanations are helpful in our understanding of God. Like Thomas we crave those tangible signs that we can point to or touch that help us to know more about God. In the end however, we must make a leap to faith, accepting that no amount of signs is fully going to get us to our believes, we must simply trust and jump.

One the strands of Lutheranism that I love is the idea that our faith comes not from us but from God. We can never rationally reach God, instead we need the faith and love that comes from God and allows us to leap forward into the arms of the divine. Like Thomas, our doubts are a real and human part of us. The hope we have is that Jesus is always there for us, ready to appear and welcome us, to show his wounded and hands and side to us, and help us to know the love of God that has been present in our lives from the very beginning. The author of John emphasizes this in the message from Jesus that even those who have not seen Jesus can still come to have faith in him.

Being a church of resurrection means being willing to take leaps of faith. It is easy to try and root ourselves in what we know and of what we are certain. Instead, we have to trust in that which have not seen and believe things are possible that we can only begin to imagine. Last week we asked for funds to help with a medical procedure for a person in need. We did not know if we would raise the funds. Susan shared with me that she hoped we would be able to cover half the expenses with the special offering and the Aid Program would pick up the rest. By Thursday we had raised the full $550 thanks to the generosity of our members. We are taking a big leap of faith with our Miracle Sunday and our goal of raising $75,000. Sometimes I am not sure which is the bigger leap of faith, that we will be able to raise the money, or that we believe our church will be around long enough to make use of the funds.

I do not lift this up because our church is in danger of closing tomorrow, but because all over the United States we see churches in decline, and we see churches struggling to stay open. All of the demographic data and polling points to a growing number of people who do not think they need church. Even among Christians, the numbers of people who go to church regularly or are members of a congregation is on the decline. Being a church of resurrection means trusting our future not to what we can learn from statistics but instead to God. It means believing that the resurrecting power of Christ is not limited to Easter morning but is available to all of us, each and every day.

Today we are celebrating our graduates and that seems a fitting time to talk about leaps of faith. Graduation feels like a leap of faith. After years of education we still can only know so much, and we have no way of knowing if it is really enough for what will come next. I still remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach when I saw the sign “Beloit College Next Exit” as my parents took me off to college, and my own wondering about what I was getting myself into. I remember that feeling only getting stronger that first night when my parents had left, and I was all alone on campus. I was taking a leap into the unknown.

The theologian Soren Kierkegaard was the one to famously write about the idea of a leap of faith. At the same time, he struggled to write about faith. For him it was something deeply personally and even the act of committing ideas to a page and writing them down felt wrong. In the end faith was something that was unexplainable and inexplicable. Writing this sermon, I understand what he is talking about. I want to try and rationally explain something that is completely irrational to you. In the end, we can never know everything, and we have to take it on faith.

I could go on and on. I could tell you of the experiences of the risen Christ that are recorded in the scriptures. I could tell you about my own experiences of God’s presence in my life. I could tell you dozen of stories about how people have felt the Holy Spirit moving and stirring in their midst. All of these signs and stories might help, but in the end, it comes down to each of us: are we ready to believe? Being a church of resurrection means taking a leap of faith that God really is moving in our midst. It means taking a leap of faith that Christ really did die and rise again for each of us. It means taking a leap of faith and trusting that the Holy Spirit is ready to lift us up and carry us forward into God’s loving arms. Amen

Questions to Ponder:

What does it mean to be a church of resurrection?

What does a leap of faith look like to you?

When is a time that you have struggled to believe?

Who is someone you know whose faith inspires you and helps you to know God better?

Prayer:

God, you are the resurrection and the life. Thank you for walking along side us in the dark times of our lives. Fill us once more with the joy of the new life that is promised in Christ’s resurrection. Help us to be a church of resurrection that shares that joy and new life with others. Amen

Being a Church of Resurrection - Commissioning of Stephen

Acts 6:1-8

Selection of seven to serve

6 About that time, while the number of disciples continued to increase, a complaint arose. Greek-speaking disciples accused the Aramaic-speaking disciples because their widows were being overlooked in the daily food service. 2 The Twelve called a meeting of all the disciples and said, “It isn’t right for us to set aside proclamation of God’s word in order to serve tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, carefully choose seven well-respected men from among you. They must be well-respected and endowed by the Spirit with exceptional wisdom. We will put them in charge of this concern. 4 As for us, we will devote ourselves to prayer and the service of proclaiming the word.” 5 This proposal pleased the entire community. They selected Stephen, a man endowed by the Holy Spirit with exceptional faith, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 The community presented these seven to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 God’s word continued to grow. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased significantly. Even a large group of priests embraced the faith.

Arrest and murder of Stephen

8 Stephen, who stood out among the believers for the way God’s grace was at work in his life and for his exceptional endowment with divine power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.

 

 

Thoughts on the passage:

When I was in school, my approach to most group projects was to plan on doing most of the work. I was one of the better students in class and so usually I was both more determined to get the project done than other people and often understood the material better than they did. Rather than go through what seemed like a long tedious process of trying to get other people to care about the assignment or do their share, it was easier to just do it myself. I also felt like I was helping them by doing more of the work since that meant they had to do less.

Church growth experts will talk about how there are different sizes of churches, and one of them is a pastor-size congregation that worships about 100-125 on a Sunday morning. The focus of the church is usually around the pastor and the connections that the congregation has to that individual. Larger, program-size churches focus not on the pastor but on the small groups and programs that people connect to. If you take a pastor, who is used to being the focus of ministry and put them in a program-size church, they will often unintentional shrink the church down to a size where they can be at the center of things. Similarly, when a pastor-size congregation starts to grow, one of the biggest barriers to that growth of the church can be the culture of the congregation that is used to connecting to the pastor and that is no longer sustainable because of the size of the congregation.

Obviously, we cannot simply ascribe 21st century church growth theories to the 1st century church, but I feel like we see a similar dynamic that is going on in our story from Acts. As you may know, Acts is the book that describes the history of the early church, from its official birth at Pentecost to its growth around the Mediterranean region. Our selection today comes at a time that the church is starting to really grow. New converts to Christianity have been made both in Jerusalem and around the region. The growth has been so great that now they have a problem. The widows of the church are not getting carried for.

The leaders of the church talk about the problem. They assess their time and realize that to properly care for the widows would mean a change in how they spend their time. Rather than detract from their important work of spreading the faith in order to do the important work of taking care of the widows, they look for help. They do a search and find seven qualified individuals to take on this challenge. In turn the leaders of the church commit to remaining focused on the task that was given to them.

There is a lot we need to see in this story. The initial comments by the leaders can seem dismissive of the issue. After all, they sound like they think they are too important to be bothered to “serve tables.” Quite the contrary, what they see is that they put their best people on the task. They demand that the people assigned to the job be possessed both of wisdom and the Spirit. This is not a job they pawn off on a few interns. In fact, to lead the group they select Stephen, “who stood out among the believers for the way God’s grace was at work in his life and for his exceptional endowment with divine power.” Their decision clearly pays off because they are now able to care for the widows the church but also see the church grow significantly.

I am not going to lie, when I read the book of Acts, I tend to get a little jealous. I would love to see a church that I am a part of grow significantly. Some of that is probably just my own ego and competitive spirit, but a lot of it is grounded in my sincere belief that a growing church is the sign of a church that is having a greater impact both on the lives of the people who attend but also on the community. To me, being a church of resurrection means that we are not only experiencing new life for ourselves, but we are sharing it with others.

The question we have to ask ourselves is what are the barriers that are keeping us from reaching more people with the life-changing message of Easter? What are the things that hold us back from inviting people to worship? What is stopping us from doing more to share the blessings we know in Christ with the community?

Now, I know that one of the things we need to do more of is to actually reach out and invite others to come and join us in worship or in a small group. I know there is a lot more we can do to tell our story with the people who are not already a part of our church. Still, I am not sure that this is the only thing we need to do. If we look at the story from Acts and the commissioning of Stephen, the important step they take is not a new marketing campaign to reach the Hellenist Jews, nor is it a door knocking effort in Jerusalem. What helps them grow their church? It is by getting good leaders to care for the people they already have.

When I look at our church, I wonder if one of the things we could be doing better is taking care of the people we already have. In Acts the problem was making sure the widows were cared for. We would probably instead talk about the need to make sure our shut-ins are visited. Now, some of you may be thinking, wait isn’t that the job of the pastor or the Care Ministries director. I would say, yes, it is. Remember what I said earlier about how churches can shrink so that they can all be cared for by the pastor. I am just one person, and I can only do so much. Susan is just one person, though I swear she does the work of three or four of me. If we build the ministry of our church around what Susan and I can do, we will still not truly be the church of resurrection I know that we can be.

Instead, we need your help. We need people to get involved in our care ministry efforts. We need people to be on the prayer chain and lift our needs in prayer. We need people who are willing to work with Susan and I to visit people who are sick or shut-in, or just need some company. We need people who are willing to care for our youngest members by teaching Sunday school or volunteering in the nursery. We need your help.

I believe that we are a church on the cusp of greatness. I believe that we can truly be a church of resurrection that shares the new life of Christ with each other and the world. I believe that God is ready and waiting to do wonderful things in our church. To make that happen it is going to take all of us. We cannot simply assume that the people who do many things already will be able to do what is needed to get us to the next level. It is going to take all of us stepping up to make a difference.

I think we are like those small groups I was a part of in school. Sure, when I did most of the work, we got the job completed and we probably got a good grade, but a couple of things did not happen. Everyone did not get a chance to learn the material. We did not do as good a job as we could have either. When everyone gets involved, even if the final grade is the same, the learning and the experience is so much better.

The same is true with the church. When we all get involved it is so much better. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are not going to do that with just our staff and a few heavily invested volunteers. It is going to take all of us. We need to all be ready to invest our gifts, our time, and our talents so that we can be the church of resurrection that God wants us to be. We need to do it so we can be the church of resurrection that Willmar needs us to be. Amen

Questions to Ponder:

What does it mean to be a church of resurrection?

What gifts and talents do you have to bring to help others in the church?

When you are in a group do you tend to be the one to do the work or the one to sit back and let others get it done?

Who are the “widows” in your life that need to be cared for?

Prayer:

God, you are the resurrection and the life. Thank you for walking along side us in the dark times of our lives. Fill us once more with the joy of the new life that is promised in Christ’s resurrection. Help us to be a church of resurrection that shares that joy and new life with others. Amen

Being a Church of Resurrection - Feed My Sheep

John 21:1-19

Jesus appears again to the disciples

21 Later, Jesus himself appeared again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. This is how it happened: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples were together.3 Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.”

They said, “We’ll go with you.” They set out in a boat, but throughout the night they caught nothing. 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus.

5 Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”

They answered him, “No.”

6 He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net. 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they weren’t far from shore, only about one hundred yards.

9 When they landed, they saw a fire there, with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught.” 11 Simon Peter got up and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three of them. Yet the net hadn’t torn, even with so many fish. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Jesus and Peter

15 When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 He asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 I assure you that when you were younger you tied your own belt and walked around wherever you wanted. When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and another will tie your belt and lead you where you don’t want to go.” 19 He said this to show the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. After saying this, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.”

 

 

Thoughts on the passage:

When I took a creative writing class in college, I remember the professor harping on the difference between showing and telling the reader something. Telling was explicit wording, where as showing was more implicit. “Frank was mad,” is an example of telling. “Frank slammed his hand on the horn as the car swerved in front of him,” is an example of showing. In both instances we know that Frank is mad, one time it is because we are simply told it. The second time it is made clear by the way we describe Frank’s actions. The fact that he uses the horn and the fact that he slams his hand against it are both details that show us how Frank feels.

When I read our story from the Gospel of John today, I am struck by the details that the author includes. Rightly or wrongly, my mind goes back to those lessons from my creative writing class. What I heard is that the writer of the Gospel is showing us, rather than telling us how Peter is feeling when he sees Jesus by the shore. When Peter realizes the man is Jesus he gets dressed and then he jumps in the water and splashes to the shore. Never does the author tell us how Peter feels at seeing Jesus, but we are shown how Peter feels by his actions. He is almost frantic in his desire to get to Jesus. He gets dressed, and then he jumps into the water, and while he is busy swimming or wading to shore the rest of the disciples, still dry and comfortable, pilot the boat to shore. Peter is like any parent who is running late, frantically trying to get kids dressed and out the door in the morning. There is nothing logical about his actions. Instead he is driven by his excitement at seeing Jesus.

These details are amusing and provide a nice background to the story, but they also serve as an important counter-point to what is coming next. Peter is asked by Jesus how much he loves him. Imagine the scene for a minute. Here is Peter, perhaps still dripping wet and maybe a little out of breath from his frantic scramble to get to Jesus and Jesus is questioning how much he loves him. Not only does he ask once, he asks three times. The seeming absurdity of the question, and Peter’s insistence of his love of Christ is bolstered by his wild dash to be with Jesus. We have been shown by his actions how much Peter loves Jesus.

Jesus is doing this for a reason. He is trying to prepare Peter for what is ahead. Peter has been through a lot already and he has had his ups and downs. He professed his love of Jesus before only to deny Christ when his own life was threatened. Peter has been following Jesus since the beginning and yet his bumbling answers and confused questions can make us wonder if this really is the rock on which Jesus is going to build the church. This final test is a challenge to strengthen Peter for the difficult journeys ahead when Jesus will no longer be physically with him.

This question, “do you love me more than these,” is a hard one. For Peter is being asked to reflect on his willingness to follow Jesus despite the costs. Will he give up fishing to serve the risen Christ? Will he give up his very life if that is what it takes to follow Jesus? These are stark questions and challenging ones. It is no wonder that Jesus asks it again and again, seeking to push past the enthusiastic instinctual answers that Peter gives to get to that really heartfelt final answer, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.” You can almost hear him pleading by that point, begging to receive that understanding from Jesus.

I have been wrestling with that same question, “do you love me more than these?” It has been rolling around in my head ever since the General Conference meeting in February. I grew up in the United Methodist Church and have never thought I would be anything but United Methodist and yet I find myself asking myself that question, do I love being United Methodist more than I love Jesus? Is my commitment to the institution, or to the living Christ? What are the sacred things in my life that have cluttered and crowded out Jesus? What are the things that Jesus might wonder if I love more than him?

I suspect that I am not alone in wrestling with those things that come between us and following God. They have different names for us, loyalty, career, money, hockey, dance, fishing, and the respect of our peers. what are those things that we value and sometimes start to place ahead of Jesus in our lives? We would never make the claim that they are more important than God, but when we look at our lives, our choices tell us a different story. Jesus is asking all of us; do we love these things more than him.

I am teaching this class on the Wesleyan principles of money, specifically, his idea to earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. In the chapter on saving all you can, the author shares the idea of a 10, 10, 80 formula. You give ten percent to God, you save ten percent, and you use the rest for your own needs. This is not how our culture teaches us to use money. Often, we start with our needs, then maybe we give something to God, and if we have anything left over, that is what we call our savings. Intentionally following this formula forces us to think hard about what the things are we really need and what is it that we love more than giving to God or saving for the future. Now, I have a lot of things I love that I spend money on. I have often joked that I will serve anywhere the Bishop wants, if I can get high-speed Internet. Do I really love that more than Jesus though? I like eating out with my family, but do I love that more than God? I love my technology and my toys and getting fun things for my kids, but do I love those things more than the risen Christ?

Jesus is asking the same question of our church. Do we love these things more than we love him? If we are truly to be a church of resurrection the answer to that question obviously needs to be an empathic “no.” Our words and our actions will reflect how we choose Jesus first and how deeply we love him and seek to follow him.

I believe that we are a church of resurrection and I see it in how you all answer that question over and over again in different ways. I see it when time and time again our women and men answer the call and help out when we have a funeral, offering God’s love and grace to families in their time of great need. I see it when people respond to our mission of the month for UMCOR by giving more than $8,000 to bring resurrection and new life to people whose lives have been devastated by natural disasters. I see it when people respond to our new Family Ministry position by given over $8,000 to help fund the position beyond their giving to the general budget of the church. I see it in the ways that people are always showing up to help, whether it is stuffing Spires, working on crafts for the Bazaar, or helping with Meals of Wheels or visiting our shut-ins.

Our challenge in being a church of resurrection is to stay focused on Jesus. We will face challenges and distractions in the future. We will have obstacles to overcome and difficulties to be handled. We need to stay constantly focused on the one who calls, claims us, and asks us to follow him. We need to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, our hearts filled with love, and our hands open to offer his peace to the world. Jesus is calling us to feed his sheep, tend his lambs, and to follow him. Let us answer the call! Amen

Questions to Ponder:

What does it mean to be a church of resurrection?

What are the things in your life that can come between you and your love of Jesus?

Who are the lambs and sheep that Jesus is calling you to help?

What does it mean for you to follow Jesus?

Prayer:

God, you are the resurrection and the life. Thank you for walking along side us in the dark times of our lives. Fill us once more with the joy of the new life that is promised in Christ’s resurrection. Help us to be a church of resurrection that shares that joy and new life with others. Amen

Being a Church of Resurrection - the Road to Emmaus

Luke 24:13-35

Encounter on the Emmaus road

13 On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. 15 While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. 16 They were prevented from recognizing him.

17 He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast.

18 The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”

19 He said to them, “What things?”

They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. 20 But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. 22 But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning23 and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive.24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. 26 Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.

28 When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. 29 But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”

33 They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together.34 They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” 35 Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.

 

 

Thoughts on the passage:

I hope your Easter experience was a powerful one. For many of us the thrill of brass sounding off on “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” is a holy experience. For others the church filled to the front pews with friends and family is a wonderful one. I know that I work hard to provide a message for Easter that challenges us to live into the hope that we find in the empty tomb and the message of the resurrection. Whether it is on Sunday, or Monday, or maybe Tuesday, at some point the energy of Easter fades away and our lives return to normal. The joy of the resurrection has left us.

I want to challenge us to try and reclaim that joy and energy of Easter morning. The Wesley Choristers were our youth choir years ago and from what I understand their signature song was “Every Morning is Easter Morning.” I want our church to be a place where that is true. I want us to be a church where resurrection is not a once a year event but an every day experience. We won’t have brass every week and we probably will not be full every week either. What I do hope we experience each week is a reminder of the earth-shattering message that comes when God’s grace and God’s love overcomes our sins and even death itself and we find new life.

Our sermon today focuses on one of my favorite stories of Easter, the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. The powerful Communion imagery that we see when Christ is known to the disciples in the breaking of the bread is awesome. It is my tendency to often focus on that line and to use it as segue to yet another experience of Communion. We are not going to be doing that today. Instead we will be looking at the story in another way.

As a philosophy major at Beloit, I was required to take Logic. It was probably the easiest class I took in my four years of college and that is saying something since I took a class on the history of animation. At the same time that my logic class was a breeze for me, it was a seemingly insurmountable challenge for many of my classmates. So much so that many of them needed tutoring and so I was hire by the college to help my classmates that were struggling to understand the material. What I learned in trying to teach my friends logic was that no matter how much I explained it, you either got it or you didn’t. Until it clicked for a person, the best I could hope to do was help them memorize things.

We have probably all had the frustrating experience of trying to explain something to a person who is just not getting it. First, we will try one way to make sense of it and then another. We will use examples. We will try and find the simplest way to reduce it. We will look for comparisons to other ideas or concepts we think they understand, anything to help them grasp it. When they cannot understand it, it is easy to get really frustrated.

I wonder if Jesus felt the same way, walking along the road alongside his disciples. They engage him in conversation, but they do not recognize him. Instead they proceed to tell him that they do not understand this story of the resurrection they have heard from the women, even though they have the evidence right in front of them. Jesus tries over and over to explain to them what God is doing in the resurrection, using example after example from the scriptures but still they do not get it. He is ready to go on, but they persuade him to stay and so he gives one final example by breaking the bread and sharing it with them. Finally, it all falls into place and they realize that he has been with them the whole time.

Are we any different than the disciples? How often have we struggled to understand what God is doing in our lives? We have all probably heard the story about the footsteps in the sand, where a person looks back on their life and sees it as a trail of two sets of footprints, but at times there is only one set. They assume that these are the times that Jesus abandoned them, but the reality is those were the lowest moments of their lives, when God carried them. Like the disciples, and I think like each of us, they were unable to see God in their midst, even when God was carrying them.

What makes the message of Christ so powerful is that it is incarnational. Christ is alive and walks among us. The teachings of Jesus are great, they show us a lot about how to be better people. His commandments like loving our neighbors and praying for our enemies are important and worth study and practice. What makes them really work is the fact that Jesus did not just teach it, he walked it. He did not just talk about it, he lived it.

Jesus tries to teach the disciples with words, opening up the scriptures to them. Unfortunately, in the grief of the moment they are unable to understand. I think we can all understand that. In really powerful, emotional moments, what we do not need is cold logic and rational explanations, we need to be in touch with what our body and our emotions are telling us. Jesus is able to reach the disciples when he re-enacts the last supper and they are reminded again of his incarnational presence and the very real sacrifice that he made for them. The resurrection becomes real not because of the scriptures, or even the message of the women, but because they live it and experience it.

There is a story I love to tell about a man who falls into a hole while walking. First, a doctor walks by and the man calls for help. The doctor stops, writes a prescription, tosses it into the hole and moves along. Then a pastor comes along and again the man calls for help. The pastor stops, writes a prayer, tosses it into the hole and moves along. Finally, the man’s friend comes along and again the man calls for help. Much to his surprise his friend jumps into the hole with him. “What are you doing?” he asks. “Now we are both stuck.” “Yes,” the friend explains, “but I have been in this hole before and I know the way out.”

What we do not need more of in our life is advice that gets tossed to us while we are stuck in a hole. Whether it is the well-meaning advice of friends or the carefully researched and considered advice of experts. We do not need more people telling us how to get out of the hole or how to deal with our problems. What we need is someone who will be in that hole with us and show us the way out.

I know that whatever hole you are in, Jesus is in there with you. Jesus was with the disciples in their grief on the road to Emmaus. Jesus was with the disciples in their fear in the Upper Room. Jesus is with each of us as well. Even in the darkest moments and hardest times of our lives, Jesus is with us. Jesus is ready to carry us. This is the hope of the resurrection.

If we are to be a church of resurrection, we need to be incarnational like Jesus. It is not enough for us to know the right answers. It is not enough for us to tell others of the new life that comes from Christ. We need to live it and we need to show it. We need to live like people who have found new energy and new hope at the empty tomb. We need to live like people who know that through our darkest hours, God is with us. We need to show others by our actions, not our words the overwhelming power of God’s love and grace.

Jesus was known to the disciples in the breaking of the bread. How can we use our relationships to show others Christ’s love? How can others find resurrection in our lives? In our communion liturgy we talk about how we are meant to be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood. What does that look like?

We have all been in holes in our lives and with God’s help we have gotten out again. We all know people in our lives who are still stuck in holes. We need to be ready to jump in there with them and show them the way out again. Let us have the courage to go where people are hurting and show them Christ’s love. Let us have the courage to go where people are afraid and show them God’s grace. Let us go find people who are hungry, homeless, tired, frustrated, sick, and even dying, and show them the resurrected Christ. Let us be a church of resurrection. Amen

Questions to Ponder:

What does it mean to be a church of resurrection?

What are the holes your life where you have needed the help of Jesus to get out of?

Who is someone you know who is struggling in their life and needs resurrection?

Prayer:

God, you are the resurrection and the life. Thank you for walking along side us in the dark times of our lives. Fill us once more with the joy of the new life that is promised in Christ’s resurrection. Help us to be a church of resurrection that shares that joy and new life with others. Amen