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

The Dash of Life

James 2:14-26

Showing faith

14 My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? 15 Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. 16 What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? 17 In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.

18 Someone might claim, “You have faith and I have action.” But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action. 19 It’s good that you believe that God is one. Ha! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear. 20 Are you so slow? Do you need to be shown that faith without actions has no value at all? 21 What about Abraham, our father? Wasn’t he shown to be righteous through his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 See, his faith was at work along with his actions. In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions. 23 So the scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and God regarded him as righteous. What is more, Abraham was called God’s friend. 24 So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone. 25 In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute shown to be righteous when she received the messengers as her guests and then sent them on by another road? 26 As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

One of the movies I grew up watching was called Gettysburg. It was meant as a somewhat historical retelling of the Battle of Gettysburg. At one point in the movie, a Union colonel is imploring some soldiers who are refusing to fight to join him in the battle. “We are an army out to set other men free,” he tells them as he appeals to their better natures. I share this quote with you today because Memorial Day was started, in part, after the Civil War as a way of remembering the soldiers who died in the war, who died to set other men free. Memorial Day is a day about remembering people who died, but what makes them special is not their death (after all, we all die) but how they lived.

There are several “funeral poems” that have been written that note the importance not of the dates of our birth or death, but rather what happens in the “-” in between them. What they attempt to capture is a sentiment similar to that of the significance of Memorial Day: what is important in the midst of death is how a person lived their life. In Memorial Day we honor the soldiers who died for the sake of their country. Today in worship we remember the people who serve in law enforcement who also put their lives at risk to try and make our communities safer. Their value comes from what they are doing with their lives, not just for themselves but for others as well.

Today is Becky Lippert’s last Sunday as the leader of our Praise Team. Last week we celebrated her departure and prayed over her. If we think about her time with us, what is important is not her starting date or her ending date, but all the days and all the worship serves in between. While it is amazing that she has been leading us in worship for the last twelve years, what is more amazing is the level of skill and creativity that she has brought to her position that has made those twelve years so special and so memorable. It is about what has happened in that dash that matters.

Our passage from James today is a good reminder from scripture about the importance of what we do with our lives that really counts. What James is trying to argue is that claims about our faith are meaningless if they are not also seen in how we live our lives. To use the example of our soldiers, what makes them important is not they are soldiers, but rather what that demonstrates, the willingness to put one’s life on the life in the service of their country. James wants us to remember that being a Christian is not merely measured with a confession of faith, but rather is a product not only of what we believe, but how we act.

The former priest, Brennan Manning, once wrote “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” I have seen my own reminder of this is the impressions that many of my non-Christian friends have based on their experiences with the church and with Christians. We have powerful statements of faith. We have a message of radical love and inclusion that is spoken by Jesus and yet people see the church and Christians as not living out those commands or living into those values. Instead they judge us by what we actually do, and unfortunately, too often, that means they find our faith unconvincing.

How does your life reflect your faith? How does your occupation or your activities or your practices reflect the values you believe in? James says that through our works our faith can be seen. What do our works tell us about our faith? If you are like me, you might be a little worried that our works would find us lacking.

The quote from Brennan Manning has received a lot more attention because of its inclusion in a song by the Christian group dc Talk called “What if I Stumble.” The song expresses the concerns about trying to lead a good Christian life in the midst of the pressure to not stumble and, “risk making fools of us (Christians) all.” The pressure is a real one. It is felt by clergy and it is felt by laity. Right or wrong, people use our actions to judge not just each of us as individuals but the collective groups we represent. If you do not believe me, just ask the police officers who are constantly judged (often negatively) by the actions of others who wear, and sometimes disgrace, the uniform.

Martin Luther hated the book of James. He famously wanted to even have it excluded from the Bible. He felt that the message of James, with its focus on the value of our actions was inconsistent with the Gospel, which teaches us grace. I think this is important for us to remember as we read this text. It is meant as a strong reminder of the importance of our actions, but we cannot get overwhelmed with the importance of our actions. After all, a key part of our faith is in the importance of God and the need for grace.

One of the more vocal atheists in my life was recently decrying the value of any religion. What I think he forgets is that Christianity is a religion for imperfect people. Perfect people have no need of Christ, because they have not sinned and so are not in need of grace. What is more, perfect people might not even have a need of God, since they can do everything themselves. Christianity, by contrast is a group of sinners. We are here because we know that we are not perfect, that we make mistakes, and that we need God’s grace and God’s help.

When it comes to thinking about how we live our faith, we need to remember that part of living our faith is the aspirational claims that Jesus makes to love God and love our neighbor. The other part of living our faith is living the reality that we are not perfect and that we will make mistakes and that we will need God’s grace. To me, an important part of our faith is demonstrated by how we handle failure. Do we do so with grace or with guilt?

Memorial Day is a day to remember. It is a day to remember our loved one’s and the legacy that they left with their lives. It is also a day to be challenged to do something about it. One of the traditions that I love about Memorial Day is the tradition of what we do with the flag. For the first half of the day, flags are flown at half-mast in honor of our soldiers who have died. Then at noon, the flag is raised back up, a reminder to us all that we will not let their deaths be in vain. Memorial Day is a day to ask ourselves if we are honoring their memory with our actions and what we are doing with the dash in our lives.

Questions to Ponder:

How do you see your faith reflected in your actions or your choices?

Who is someone you know who really embodies their faith and why?

What can you do with your life to honor the memory of those who have died for you?

When is a time you have needed grace in your life because your actions did not reflect your values?

Prayer:

God of grace and God of glory, we pray this day for all who gave their lives to make other people free. We give thanks for the blessings we enjoy as a nation and the work that is done for us to enjoy those blessings. Help us to live lives that are worth of this sacrifice and lives that reflect our faith in you. Strengthen us to be your faithful serves so that in our doing, your love might be known by all. Amen

God is In: Celebrating Presence

Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost

2 When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

5 There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. 7 They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? 8 How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young will see visions.
    Your elders will dream dreams.
18     Even upon my servants, men and women,
        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
        and they will prophesy.
19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
20 The sun will be changed into darkness,
    and the moon will be changed into blood,
        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

If you were going to describe Pentecost, how would you do it? You might talk about how it gets its name, for being 50 days after the resurrection. You probably would talk about the tongues of fire that come on each of the disciples. For most of us, we would use short hand like that to talk about this day: it is 50 days after Easter and it is the time the disciples receive the Holy Spirit.

For those who do not remember all the stories of the resurrection, one of the promises that Jesus gives the disciples before he ascends into Heaven is that he is going to give them to the Holy Spirit. It is thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit that the disciples are going to be able to live into the Great Commission that he gives them to make disciples of all nations.

It is only natural therefore that when we think about Pentecost we associate it first and foremost with this gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the day that Jesus’s promise is fulfilled, and the disciples receive the Holy Spirit that they have been needing. If that were all, then we only would have needed to read four verses today. The fact of the matter is that there is so much more to this story than just the fact that the disciples received the Holy Spirit. This gift is really only the beginning, not just of the story, but of the Church.

If the disciples had received the Holy Spirit but not done anything with it, the story would have ended right there. Instead, they took this gift of the Spirit and they shared it. They spoke in tongues and opened themselves up so that all those who had gathered from the ends of the world (well at least as far as they were concerned) were able to hear and understand the message they were conveying. The gift of the Holy Spirit was not something just for the disciples, but a gift that was meant to be shared.

I feel I would be remiss if I did not make an observation about the scope of the vision the disciples would have had for their task. They were charged by Christ to go and make disciples of all nations. Reading the list of the people gathered in the courtyard, it might have felt like they were well on their way to achieving their goal. Gathered around them were people from all parts of the Roman empire, which to them would effectively have felt like all the nations of the world. If they were really learned (something I am not sure we can say about the disciples) they might have been aware of regions outside the empire like Gaul and India. For them, all the world was the Mediterranean and that was who they were called to reach. God’s vision was so much greater and encompassed the tribes of Africa, the people of China, the aborigines of Australia as well as the tribes of North and South America. God’s vision was much greater than the disciples’ vision.

In the United Methodist Church, we talk about supporting the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. If we are honest, that last one is the one that makes us the most uncomfortable. Many of us would probably want more than just the gift of the Holy Spirit before we would be ready to start preaching and teaching in front of a crowd of strangers. I wish I could say that I was any better, but I find it really hard to share my faith outside of comfortable spaces like church gatherings.

I want us to realize that our witness can go far beyond the words that we say. We can bear witness to our faith in so many different ways. Our Sunday school teachers do it each week when they pass along our stories and help our children (and adults) to grow in their faith. Our musicians, like Becky Lippert, do it each week when they inspire us with songs that give praise to God. Even things like our offerings are a witness to our faith. We do not give our gifts because God needs our money. Our offerings are a testament to the faith we have in God and the transformative work that we want our money to do in the world.

We do not have to pull someone aside and tell them that Jesus died for them in order for them to know how much Jesus loves them. People need to hear that message, but they hear it when they see how we welcome people into our church and when people chose to spend the night here at church so that families who have no where else to stay can find safety and shelter here. Acts of kindness, like Meals on Wheels, are another way that we are preaching and teaching about God’s love without ever having to use words. The disciples are not the only ones who have been give the gift of the Holy Spirit. We all have been blessed by the Holy Spirit in our lives. The question is what are we going to do with it?

The disciples shared the gift of the Holy Spirit with all of those around them and I am not sure they could have done otherwise. Have you ever been around someone who is newly in love? You can tell by the grin they have, the gleam in their eye, and the way they cannot help but talk about this new person in their life and how great their affection is for them. They just have to share what they have experienced. They cannot hold it back. It reminds me of a hymn:

It only takes a spark to get a fire going and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing. That’s how it is with God’s love once you’ve experienced it; you spread his love to everyone; you want to pass it on.

What a wondrous time is spring, when all the trees are budding; the birds begin to sing, the flowers start their blooming. That’s how it is with God’s love once you’ve experienced it; you want to sing, it’s fresh like spring, you want to pass it on.

I wish you for you my friend, this happiness that I’ve found; you can depend on him, it matters not where you’re bound. I’ll shout it from the mountaintop; I want my world to know; the Lord of love had come to me, I want to pass it on.

Questions to Ponder:

What ways have you felt blessed or gifted with the Holy Spirit?

Who is someone you know who shares the Holy Spirit with people all around them?

When is a time that you have felt the Spirit stirring in your heart?

What is a vision or a dream you might have that God wants to enlarge?

Prayer:

God you have blessed us in so many ways, but most importantly with your presence in our lives. Fill us with your spirit and helps us to share that spirit with others. Give us the courage to pass along the blessings that you have given to us that others might come to know you through our witness. Amen

Passages: Special Moments

Joshua 4:1-7

Twelve stones at Gilgal

4 When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Pick twelve men from the people, one man per tribe. 3 Command them, ‘Pick up twelve stones from right here in the middle of the Jordan, where the feet of the priests had been firmly planted. Bring them across with you and put them down in the camp where you are staying tonight.’”

4 Joshua called for the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one man per tribe. 5 Joshua said to them, “Cross over into the middle of the Jordan, up to the Lord your God’s chest. Each of you, lift up a stone on his shoulder to match the number of the tribes of the Israelites. 6 This will be a symbol among you. In the future your children may ask, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ 7 Then you will tell them that the water of the Jordan was cut off before the Lord’s covenant chest. When it crossed over the Jordan, the water of the Jordan was cut off. These stones will be an enduring memorial for the Israelites.”

 

Thoughts on the passage:

How do we mark special moments in our lives? Some of us do it with photographs and pictures of where we have been and what we have done. Some of us do it with mementos and keepsakes, like a sea shell from our beach vacation or a Mickey Mouse hat from our trip to Disney World. Some of us do it with stories and legends that we tell and retell over and over again, like the time that Dad got us lost going to Grandma’s house or the fateful Christmas where the oven broke. There are lots of ways that we do it, but the reality is we all find ways to mark those important moments in our lives.

Today in worship we are honoring two different groups of people, mothers and graduates. Moments of graduation and moments of becoming a mother are some of the most powerful moments people have in their lives. They also share a common trait of being a transition into a next stage of life. Once you give birth to a child, your identity changes and the next stage of your life is defined by your new role as a mother. The same is true to a lesser extent for graduation. While it is a ceremony that marks the end of an accomplishment, the is a reason that it is often celebrate as “commencement” because it is the start of something new as well.

Our story today marks an important moment of transition as well. It is the story of the Israelites as they travel across the Jordan river and into the Promised Land. This moment marks the culmination of years wandering in the wilderness as they fled Egypt. It also marks the beginning of something new as they move into this new land and a new relationship with God. They have been seeking to live into a new relationship with God for years and now, entering into this land that has promised to them, they must learn to fully trust and depend on God.

There is a lot of significance to the transition that is occurring as the people cross the Jordan. Years ago, the people had sent spies across the river into the Promised Land and they returned with stories of giants. In fear, the people despaired. Their lack of trust in God prolonged their stay in the wilderness as they struggled to place their whole trust in God. The parting of the Jordan also brings with it memories of how the people passed out of Egypt and God parted the sea for them.

To mark this historic passage, the culmination of a generation’s struggle to trust in God, the people are directed to bring with them stones. These stones are then placed together to build a monument. Now, for years to come, people can point to the pile of stones and use it to tell the story of how they came to trust in God and how God delivered them. This deliberate act of building something and having something physical will help anchor the memories of the people, not just for one generation, but for generations to come so that their children, grandchildren, and beyond will know about God.

Last weekend, I went back to Glenwood to run in a race. Glenwood is the town where both Zoe and Bryce were born. While I do not need to be in Glenwood to remember their births, being in that physical location certainly is helpful. Bryce was born by an emergency c-section. While it was not a super-rushed event it was not a planned event. What this meant was that there was not a lot of time to get ready. In order for me to be present for Bryce’s birth I needed to suit up in scrubs. Since it was a Saturday and we were in a hurry they had me use the locker room for the male surgical workers. There is a small window in that room that looks out from the second story of the hospital over Lake Minnewaska. I can still remember pausing to take in the view as I tried to calm myself in the midst of that moment. Now, when I go back to Glenwood, I can look up to the second story of that hospital and remember the moment again.

Whether it is the birth of our first child or our graduation from school, it is good to mark those special moments in our lives. These moments are passages from one state to another. They mark a shift in our identity. When we don the cap and gown we go from being a student to a graduate. With the birth of a child we take on a new role of parent, one that will never leave us. When we have those stones, literally or metaphorical, it helps us to point back and remember, both what we were before and what we have become since.

What are the stones we have for our own faith journeys? What are the tangible reminders, the photos, and the stories we have of how God has been at work in our lives? I often tell you my stories of when I have experienced God. When I look for worship liturgy it is in a Book of Worship that was given to me at my commissioning service. A certificate on my wall marks my ordination and every Pentecost (and other times) I drape myself in a red stole that was made for my ordination classes and ties me not only to my call to ministry but to those who knelt beside me on that day nine years ago. These are some of my stones and my reminders of God’s presence and God’s call in my life. What are your stones?

One of the things I am not sure we do enough of is the building of monuments and reminders of what God has done in our lives. We do a good job of bringing our kids to church. Our teachers do a great job of teaching our kids the stories of our faith. What we often fail to do is to tell the kids how God has been at work in our own lives. We do not point to the pile of stones and tell them of our own faith journey and what God has done for us. We do not pass that legacy on to the next generation.

Today we are celebrating our graduates, and yet one of the sad truths is that too many of our graduates leave the church after high school or college never to return. We celebrate Mother’s Day and yet the sad truth is that for too many of our adult children, this is one of the few times they come back to church. There are lots of reasons that people leave the church. We cannot fix all of the problems that cause people to leave. What we can do is make sure we are telling our stories. We can make sure that the legacy of what God has done in our lives does not end with us but is told by those that come after us. We mark the special moments in our lives and then point back to those stones and say this is a time when God was at work in my life, let me tell how God delivered me.

Questions to Ponder:

What are the ways that you remember special moments, is it through stories, or pictures, or something else?

What moments in your life have you experienced God to be at work?

Who do you need to tell your story to?

Prayer:

God you have walked with us through the wilderness. You have parted the waters and led us into the Promised Land. Even in the midst of our fears and our doubts you have been there. Help us to remember your presence in our lives. Help us to find those stones we have so we can point others to your presence and your unending love for us. Amen

The Struggling Times: Facing Illness, Loss, and Grief

Psalm 31:1-5

Psalm 31

For the music leader. A psalm of David.

31 I take refuge in you, Lord.
    Please never let me be put to shame.
        Rescue me by your righteousness!
2 Listen closely to me!
    Deliver me quickly;
        be a rock that protects me;
        be a strong fortress that saves me!
3 You are definitely my rock and my fortress.
    Guide me and lead me for the sake of your good name!
4 Get me out of this net that’s been set for me
    because you are my protective fortress.
5 I entrust my spirit into your hands;
    you, Lord, God of faithfulness—
    you have saved me.

Psalm 31:21-24

21 Bless the Lord,
    because he has wondrously revealed
    his faithful love to me
    when I was like a city under siege!
22 When I was panicked, I said,
    “I’m cut off from your eyes!”
But you heard my request for mercy
    when I cried out to you for help.

23 All you who are faithful, love the Lord!
    The Lord protects those who are loyal,
        but he pays the proud back to the fullest degree.
24 All you who wait for the Lord,
be strong and let your heart take courage.

 

2 Corinthians 4:7-18

Physical bodies and eternal glory

7 But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. 8 We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. 9 We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.

10 We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies. 11 We who are alive are always being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies that are dying. 12 So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

13 We have the same faithful spirit as what is written in scripture: I had faith, and so I spoke. We also have faith, and so we also speak. 14 We do this because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus, and he will bring us into his presence along with you. 15 All these things are for your benefit. As grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory.

16 So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. 17 Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. 18 We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

Theodicy is the fancy theological term for attempts to reconcile an all-powerful, loving God and the existence of evil and suffering in the world. If God loves us and cares for us, then why is it that we suffer. This question gets asked over and over again and is one that we all must struggle with. It is asked by almost anyone who has dealt with a serious illness like cancer. It is asked by almost anyone who has had to deal with a tragic death in their family. It was asked by most of the world when we learned about the horror of the Holocaust. How is God blessing us and how is God with us in the face of so much pain, and grief, and death?

I wish I could promise you that I would have all the answers for you in one short easy sermon. The reality is that my sermons are not often that short (sorry) nor is it really something that is easy to answer. Theodicy, is a quest to find meaning to something that might feel very meaningless. Even knowing the reason for something does not necessarily help us deal with it. I can know the cause of cancer or a heart attack, but that does not lesson the sense of tragedy I would feel if it was one of my parents who had died. Reason may help us deal with suffering, but in the end, these feelings are real and stem from the care and compassion we have for those around us. We cannot limit our sense of loss without limiting our sense of compassion.

One solution to suffering, and it is a case that I feel Paul is making in his letter to the Corinthians, is to put that suffering in perspective. For him, physical pain, illness, and even death are not nearly as big a problem because he believes that our true value comes in our relationship to God. When we have a new life in Christ then what occurs in this life does not matter nearly as much. If we are able to recognize that our worth comes not from our physical bodies but from our immortal spirits and we know that those spirits are promised a new life in Christ, then what happens to our physical bodies diminishes in value.

Ultimately, Paul is reminding us to think about what is really at stake. Many of you know that I am a runner. I have run in several marathons as well as a growing number of local races. I have never come close to winning a race. If I place value on my abilities as a runner this might be devasting. Instead it does not bother me at all. Running for me is a vain effort to stay healthy and lose weight, not a measure of my worth. By contrast, I do take some pride in my abilities as a fencer and have staked some of my worth on it. For example, I would be really sad if my sister ever beat me in fencing. What Paul would remind me, is that my worth is not really measured by who is a better fencer, but that both my sister and I are beloved children of God, regardless of who is better at poking the other person with a sword.

A few years ago, there was a TV show called House, which told the story of a doctor who suffered from severe pain caused by muscle damage to one of his legs. In one episode we learn that when the problem initially presented itself they talked about amputating the leg. His doctors and friends tried to convince him that it was just a leg, but he kept saying “but it’s my leg.” Even if we intellectually know it is just a leg, and losing it is not nearly as bad as losing your whole life, we are attached to things and that attachment makes such a loss hard.

Not placing too much worth on ourselves sounds easy enough, but in practice it gets a lot harder. We can remind ourselves about our faith in a resurrection, but when faced with pain, illness, or tragedy, that faith can seem less substantial compared with the certainty of what we are feeling in the moment. Grief is real and is not something we should try and get rid of.

One of the most compelling answers I have heard to the question of God and suffering is that God does not protect us from suffering but rather God choses to suffer along side us. God is present with us in the pain, the grief and the loss. Through Christ’s life and death, God knows what it means to be human and understands our pain. Tragedy is not a sign that God has abandoned us. Rather, tragedy is a chance for us to be reminded that God is with us.

Every month when we celebrate communion we are reminded of the suffering that God has experienced. In the broken bread and the cup that is offered we are given a chance to know the extent that God loves us and how willing God is to be with us. Rather than avoid the pain of death, Christ takes it on out of love for us. When we tell the story again and we share in the elements, we are connected again to a God who lives, suffers, and dies for love of us.

When we confront our own sense of tragedy and loss, we can be reminded that rather than being far from us, these are the moments that God is closest to us. Those times of illness, grief and loss are chances for us to be reminded of what really matters. What we are meant to treasure is not the physical which will perish, but the spirit that is eternal. It is tempting to hold on to the physical because it is what we know, but instead we should remember that our physical bodies are just the beginning of something much greater.

We have all probably heard the story of the person who sees their life as a series of footsteps in the sand. When they look back on their life they see mostly two sets of footprints, one for them and one for God, but in the hard times there is only one set. It is in those hard times that God has carried them. In our times of grief, suffering, and loss, God is carrying us too. God is there to help us to get through the pain and bring us to what is next. We are an Easter people, we believe in a God of resurrection and new life. Amen

Questions to Ponder:

When is a time you have faced great suffering or tragedy?

How have you experienced God’s presence in the midst of grief?

Who is someone you know who is struggling to experience God in the midst of their suffering?

Prayer:

God, be with us in the midst of our pain and our loss. Comfort us in our sorrow and help us to know that you are with us even in the worst of times. Give us a sense of peace in our times of need. Help us to find a hope in the resurrection that is promised to us through Jesus Christ. Amen