Apr 292015
 

We go way back! We’ve been friends as long as I can remember”, I say as I introduce an old friend to someone else.    And we stand there in the warm glow of our shared history.  We stand there and bask in how good it feels to be in the presence of someone who has known us throughout all the chapters of our lives.  “We’ve known each other since we were knee high to a grasshopper”, we say with a smile.

You know how that feels don’t you? We all surely have someone like that in our life. Someone who knows what we are thinking without us having to say it.  Someone who can tell funny stories about us from the past and instead of feeling embarrassed by that we feel loved and special in a really deep down way.   We all have or have had these people in our lives, whether they be school friends, cousins, siblings or mom or dad – people who in this world who know us better than any of the rest. Someone really special who makes us feel really special.

Ant isn’t that how we feel this morning as we come into the presence of the 23rd Psalm?  Isn’t it like meeting up with that old friend?  “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” I don’t even remember a time when I didn’t know those words.  They come when nothing else will do.  They are the words that comfort like a lullaby. They calm the troubled soul. As on preacher wrote:

“When life made us wonder if God was there for us- if God cared – it was Twenty-three who put comforting arms around us and reassured us of a God who makes, leads, restores, comforts, prepared anoints so that in darkness or light, life or death, we might dwell with God.” (William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 22, No. 2, p.16)

 

And so we are glad when we see this psalm approaching and we reach out for it when life is nearing the end for us for someone we love. As we approach the valley, we like sheep gathering around a Shepherd, gather around these familiar words. “It’s not simply because e know these words by heart.  It is because this psalm dares to speak openly about the end, the dark valley, and names it as a place where the Good Shepherd comforts us.” (Ibid)

Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Yes this psalm seems to follow us along life’s pathways, like a good Shepherd, showing up when we are most in need.  Btu wait there is a nuance to these familiar words.  In Hebrew, the original language of this psalm, the word that we translated as follow can also be translated pursue:

“Surely your goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life.” Has a little bit of a different ring to it doesn’t it?  But isn’t it the truth?  Don’t we sometimes need to be pursued by God’s goodness and mercy, when like headstrong sheep, we think we know what’s best and so ignore the voice of the Shepherd?  I bet if you asked anyone who knows us really well would tell you some stories about headstrong moments from our childhood and even beyond.  All we like sheep have from time to time gone astray.  And so we do need a Good Shepherd God, pursuing us to the dead ends of our agendas to being us back to the path of life – back to the fold of God – back to the flock to be fed and cared for.

But then, Jesus says, there are also sheep who don’t gather in with us.  What of these other sheep – who follow other paths, and may not hear the voice of the Good Shepherd in the same way we do?  They are the sheep of a different fold that Jesus mentions in this morning’s Gospel.  What will happen to them?  From what Jesus says here he looks forward to drawing those sheep in too, so that there will be one flock, one shepherd. How will that come to be? Consider this story which comes to us from William Willimon who is a Methodist pastor and preacher:

“His name was John. He was a mean old man – resentful, bitter.  Someone said that his bitterness was justified.  Beloved wife, died giving birth to their one child. The child died shortly thereafter from complications. ‘He had reason to be bitter.’ They said in town.

Never went to church. Never had anything to do with anyone. When in his late seventies they carried him out of his apartment and over to the hospital to die, no one visited, no flowers were sent.  He went there to die alone.

There was this nurse.  Well, she wasn’t actually a nurse yet, just a student nurse. She was in training and because she was in training she didn’t know everything that they teach you in school about the necessity for detachment, the need for distance with your patients. She befriended the old man.  It had been so long since he had friends, he didn’t know how to act with one.  He told her ‘Go away! Leave me alone!’ She would smile – try to coax him to eat his Jell-O.  At night she would tuck him in. ‘Don’t need nobody to help me’, he would growl.

Soon he grew so weak that he had not the strength to resist her kindness.  Late at night after duties were done she would pull up a chair and sit by his bed and sing to him as she held his old gnarled hand. He looked up at her in the dim lamp light and wondered – wondered if he saw the face of the little on whom he never got to see as an adult.  And a tear formed in his eye when she kissed him goodnight. For the first time in forty, maybe fifty years he said, ‘God bless you.’

As she left the room, two other remained breathless, whispering softly in the old man’s ear the last word he heard before slipping away into the dark valley: they whispered, ‘Gotcha!’ The word was whispered in unison by Goodness and Mercy.

I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also… So there will be on flock, one shepherd.” (Ibid.  p. 18)

“Surely your Goodness and Mercy will pursue me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

In the name of Christ Jesus, our Good Shepherd.  Amen+

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday April 26 2015 The Fourth Sunday of Easter  Posted by on Wed, 29-Apr-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday April 26 2015 The Fourth Sunday of Easter
Apr 222015
 

Sermon for Sunday April 19, 2015 The Third Sunday of Easter   –  The Rev. Martha L. Hubbard

Even though his first words to them were, “Peace be with you”, they still shuddered and shook.  I tried to put myself in their place this week as I read this Gospel passage.  How would I feel if I had deserted a dear friend and that dear friend had gone on to die a horrible death?  Terrible- crushed by a massive weight of guilt – that is how I would feel!  Replaying the event over in my mind, wondering why I had chickened out, whishing I could go back and make it right – that is what I would be thinking.  And how would I feel if then I began hearing that this friend who had suffered such a horrible end had been seen again by other friends – ALIVE?  Nervous, disoriented – wondering what was going on- that is how I would be feeling.  I’d wonder if it was a haunting, and I would begin feeling nervous that he might confront me too.  What would I say to him?  How would I possibly begin to explain myself and my pitiful actions on the night of his death?  And then this week I realized that the feelings in the pit of my stomach as I imagined all this aren’t just imagined.  I have felt them before as I suspect we all have.  They are the feeling that bubble up when we have unfinished business with people in our lives who we know we have not treated well.  All of us have let others down at one time or another – or have put ourselves before others  – or have given into fear and run scared, leaving others to t face the music alone.  All of us at one time or another…

But suddenly he is there and the opening words he chooses are “Peace be with you”.  From our vantage point it may be easy to gloss right over the enormity of what takes place in this moment.  What has just happened is that someone who has been tortured and killed is raised again and does not seek vengeance!  While it is absolutely amazing that he has risen from the dead, it is equally amazing that he comes with words of peace for those who deserted him in his hour of need.  This is not the usual way of our world.

Something is emerging here and old way is passing on!  Jesus died because of human sin and in response God raised him to life so that all would know that sin cannot defeat love.  And in raising Christ and returning him to his followers, God had made available to all people the power to live in light rather than darkness; in community rather than estrangement; in peace rather than enmity.  Salvation through Christ comes by letting God claim us for life by this new order.  God is redeeming the world through people who dare to let themselves be moved in the ways of peace and forgiveness. And indeed, this Gospel passage ends with Christ telling his followers to go and proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name.  No more revenge!  No more power plays!  Peace and forgiveness in his name.

For centuries Christians have been trying to get this witnessing right – sometimes we have made great strides and sometimes we have fallen terribly and even tragically short.  There I a book I have read that offers the profile of one group of Christians who seem to get closer than many others in living into this facet of resurrection.  It is titled, Amish Grace and it is a boot about how the Amish people seek to live out the peace and forgiveness that our Lord unleashed in the world that first Easter Day.

The incident  that revealed Amish grace to the world at large was a school shooting on October 2, 2006, when Charles Carl Roberts, a non-Amish milk man, killed five Amish children inside the Amish school House in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, before turning the gun on himself.  The book gives an in-depth look at what when on in the Nickel Mines community after that shooting.  I want to share just a few excerpts from that book with you this morning.

The authors of that book report that on the day following the shootings, a family member of Charles Roberts visited one of the bereaved Amish families.  He told the authors:

“I knew the father and grandfather of the children who were killed. We met in their kitchen and shook hands and put our arms around other”… “They said there were no grudges. There’s forgiveness in all of this.  It was hard to listen to, and hard to believe.” Describing what happened in the following days he said, “There have been many Amish stopping [at the Robert’s house] and expressing their forgiveness and condolences to Amy [widow of Charles Roberts] and bringing her gifts.” (Amish Grace, p.44)

The authors also report that several of the bereaved Amish families:

“Invited members of the Roberts family to attend their daughters’ funerals.  More surprisingly, when the Roberts’ family gathered on Saturday to bury Charles, [who had done this terrible thing] more than half of the seventy-five mourners were Amish. Amos, an Amish neighbor who was present at the gravesite, thought it was simply the right thing to do… [He told the authors] ‘Many of our people went up to Amy and greeted here and the children.’ In fact some of the parents who had buried their own children just a day or two before offered condolences and hugs to Amy at the graveside.” (Amish Grace, p.45)

These events were widely reported in the media.  One Amish woman when asked by a reporter to explain what was happening said, “We have to forgive in order for God to forgive us.” Reflecting on these events, Diane Butler Bass writing on the Faithful American Blog wondered:

          “What if the Amish were in charge of the war on terror? What if, on the evening of Sept. 12, 2001 we had gone to Osama bin Laden’s house (metaphorically of course as we did not know where he lived!) and offered him forgiveness/ What if we had invited the families of the hijackers to the funerals of the victims of 9/11? What if we were to ask the Amish to assume leadership for the Department of Homeland Security? After all actively practicing forgiveness is far better than living in perpetual fear.” (Amish Grace, p.62)

The Book goes on to report that the grace extended by the Amish did not end when the media spotlight left Nickel Mines.  The Authors describe ongoing deepening of this forgiveness and solidarity between the families of the slain children and the Roberts family.  For instance, weeks after all the media had left, a meeting took place between those families which was by all accounts a remarkable time of sharing and healing: “In the words of an Amish participant, ‘There were a lot of tears shed that day. There was a higher power in the room.’” (Amish Grace, p.46)

Jesus stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  We are witnesses to these things.  “Peace be with you.”  These words are not just Gospel imperatives. They move beyond our Sunday morning liturgical greeting. “Peace be with you.”   Knowing themselves forgiven, some have actually found ways to live these words out.  “Peace be with you.”  Resurrection, which is the radical realignment of life to the laws of love, is afoot in our word – may we all be passionate participants in it.  “Peace be with you.”  In the name of the Prince of Peace. Amen+

 

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 Sermon for April 19, 2015 The Third Sunday of Easter – Peace be with you  Posted by on Wed, 22-Apr-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for April 19, 2015 The Third Sunday of Easter – Peace be with you
Apr 142015
 

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I have a friend who tells me that in her early 20’s she had problems maintaining friendships. She says that she had no trouble making friends, but that after just a few weeks of friendship most people began avoiding her. She wondered about this and finally got up the nerved to ask one of these acquaintances to tell her what was going on. Luckily the person she asked was honest and found a charitable way to let her know that her extreme emotional neediness was driving people away. She says she will never forget the piece of advice that this truth teller offered her. She said, “Honey, don’t lead with your wounds all the time!”
My friend did not quite get what the other person meant by leading with her wounds. It bothered her enough to get her into some counseling, and her skilled therapist was able to help her come to see how she was carrying some unresolved issues from her childhood that came out as emotional neediness that turned other people off. Over time, with the help of this counselor, with the support of others who had experienced similar difficulties in their families of origin, and with the support of her faith community, my friend began to find healing for herself. A transformation began to take place and she began to live life from a place of strength and joy, rather than from a place of woundedness.
I was reminded of her story again this week as I read our gospel lesson for today. In this passage from John, we encounter Jesus who is not leading with the wounds of Good Friday, but rather with the power of resurrection. We are told that Jesus came and stood among his disciples and spoke to them from a place of authority and strength, telling them, “Peace be with you.” Isn’t it amazing that his devoted followers, the ones who knew him best, only fully recognized him when he showed them the wounds of crucifixion still visible in his resurrected flesh? The Gospel tells us that they did not begin rejoicing at his presence until they saw those wounds. And then there was Thomas who missed out on this first encounter, who declares that for him faith requires close inspection of Christ’s wounds. He says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my hand in his said, I will not believe.”
I had always assumed that these reactions from the disciples had to do with the wounds being a way to identify Christ as the real thing – proof that he was indeed the Jesus who had been crucified. But now I wonder whether it went deeper than that. I wonder if the wounds spoke the highest of hopes to those who saw them – the hope that resurrection does not obliterated wounds, but rather takes them in and incorporates them, transforming wounds into signs of peace and new life. That indeed would be good news for wounded people like the disciples, my friend I spoke of earlier, and I dare say for you and me – for a wound world like ours. Not all of us are as disabled by our wounds as my friend was in her early life, but we all do get wounded by life. So the good news might be that all wounds are fertile ground for resurrection power to flow in our lives.
That is good news because it means that we don’t need to wait to be made whole and wound free to be vehicles of Christ’s resurrection power. That is good news because it means eternal life and victory over death begins now, even as we live with our wounds in this life. It means nothing is wasted all is being salvaged. Nothing about who we are and what we have done, or what has happened to us, is beyond the reach of the life of resurrection, if we are willing to bring all of it into Christ’s light and let him breath divine peace upon us. That is what the Gospel speaks to me today and that is what the life of my friend I mentioned earlier speaks to me as well.
The amazing thing about this friend of mine, who used to repel those whose friendship she hungered for, is that she has the opposite effect on people now. This is not because she is fully healed – she would be the first to tell you that the wounds of her childhood still bleed and pain her from time to time. But she has found a way to live with those wounds that has transformed them so that they no longer hold her captive. She no longer leads life with those wounds out front. Rather she leads life now with a strength that has resulted from facing her wounds and learning to live with them in creative and loving ways. Other wounded people who are seeking healing seem to sense this strength in her and are attracted to her. And her friendship has been a balm to many. I the language of Henri Nouwen, she has become a wounded healer.
She is just one among many who reveal the risen Christ alive and active among us. May he also be known through us and our wounds as we walk this way of healing together. And whenever we find wounded places in ourselves, or in each other, or in our world, may we look for Christ there – for there he will surely be ready to reach forth his healing hands to bless us. And feeling his touch may we cry out with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” In the name of Christ, our wounded and yet risen Lord. Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday The Second Sunday in Easter April 12, 2015 – Wounded Healers  Posted by on Tue, 14-Apr-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday The Second Sunday in Easter April 12, 2015 – Wounded Healers
Apr 082015
 

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This Easter morning story from Mark’s Gospel is a little different than those from Matthew, Luke & John.  It invites us to meditate on the emotions and experiences of the first 3 witnesses of the resurrection as they encounter the open, empty tomb.  So this morning I’m collaborating with  Mark and the choir in this sermon time.  I will be offering a series of meditations on what it must have been like for those 3 women that morning, and Mark and the choir will lead us in some music in between those meditations.

Richard Blumencheid sings “were you there…” final verse

We were there, and the experience traumatized us beyond belief.  Life won’t ever be the same again.  After the whole awful thing was over we ran, we hid, we grieved.  We found in those few days that we felt the absence of Jesus even more strongly than we had felt his amazing presence for those 3 years before. None of us had ever before experienced missing someone else that much.  In our own ways we just kept asking each other “Where was God in this?”  None of us had an answer that satisfied us.  Mostly we just wept bitterly together.

O God, Why are you Silent, stanza 1  

When the Sabbath was over 3 of us women, couldn’t stand it any longer – we needed to do something!  So we went at first light, in the early morning shadows, to the tomb. All we were hanging onto was our sense of ritual –  it was the only thing that gave us any sense of normalcy.  He had been wrenched away from us and we did not understand why, but at least we could do what was required.  On the way I imagined our tears mingling with the spices and the oils as we anointed him one last time and I wondered how we would ever get through it – but there was this sense of urgency moving us forward.

O God, Why are you Silent, stanza 2

When we got to the tomb we froze. The stone was rolled back. All was quiet – we did not move a muscle for a long time.  We just stood and listened and looked for any clue about what was going on.  Finally one of the others got up the courage to go in and we followed her.  His body was not there, but once our eyes adjusted to the dim light we saw someone sitting there, a young man none of us had ever seen before.  I almost screamed and my impulse was to turn and run! But then I heard his voice-  it was calm, gentle and sweet to hear. Through the beating of my heart in my ears I heard him saying something about Jesus rising

 Now the green blade riseth, stanza 1

          The young man told us that Jesus had gone to Galilee, where we had first met him and that we should go tell Peter and the others that Jesus would meet us there.  My grief stricken and now startled brain could make no sense of what I was seeing and hearing.  It was like I was moving in a dream.  I felt I was losing all sense of reality and it was terrifying me.  When I looked to my sisters I could see that they were feeling much the same way.  The young man looked at us in such a way that I felt he was reading our minds and hearts.  Then he spoke to us words that Jesus himself had spoken to us time and again in word and action: “Do not be afraid.”

Be not Afriad (Taize)

Despite his reassurances to us, we did leave the tomb that morning afraid.  If Jesus was alive through the power of God, then the whole march of history was reversed and we sensed that the world as we knew it was about to be turned inside out and upside down.  We had always believed that death is final – isn’t it?  Everything must die – that is the truth that humanity has lived with since the dawn of time.  We all have our ways of coping with that reality.  But if Jesus is risen, life has out maneuvered death, and God is on the loose and on the move.  We ran! In that empty tomb we were challenged to let go of the world according to our expectations and assumptions and we caught sight of the world according to God with all its new possibilities! Quite frankly it scared us more than anything we had seen before.  We knew those divine possibilities would require major changes in us – and like many of you we were afraid of change.  Our plan that morning was to tell no one!

The summons, stanzas 1

Funny thing was, as we ran into our uncertain future, we kept hearing him calling to us.  Each one of us felt it.  We had to share it with the others.  We had to test our experience with them.  And when we did we all began to hear him and experience him alive among us.  There was no going back to the way life had been before- only moving ahead with each other and him in a new way.  We stayed together and he was among us, guiding us, leading into deeper connection with each other and God.  And as we prayed and strengthened those connections he showed us how serve the world in his spirit and in his name.   I know it sounds crazy but it is real. All I can say is listen for him.  He is calling you too. Will you follow him?

The Summons stanza 5

Now I invite you al l to be seated, except the children.  I want to invite the children to come forward and join me by the foot of the cross where I have something to share with each of them. We will be singing the first stanza of Welcome Happy Morning as the choir moves to their seats and the children come forward.

Welcome Happy Morning , stanza 1 (Hymnal 179)

 

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 Sermon for Sunday April 5, 2015 Easter Day  Posted by on Wed, 8-Apr-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday April 5, 2015 Easter Day
Apr 032015
 

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 Sermon for Good Friday April 3, 2015  Posted by on Fri, 3-Apr-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Good Friday April 3, 2015
Apr 032015
 

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 Sermon for Maundy Thursday April 2, 2015  Posted by on Fri, 3-Apr-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Maundy Thursday April 2, 2015
Apr 012015
 

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          Most Sundays we have the sermon following the Gospel, but on Palm Sunday I like to offer a homily before we have the reading in parts of the Passion Gospel, in order to set the stage a bit and then just let the Gospel speak for itself.  Recent Biblical scholarship* reveals a lot about the context of the Gospel we are about to reinact.  Here are a few things it is helpful to know to give context to what we are about to read together:

  • Did you know that the animal Jesus chose to ride into Jerusalem, the donkey, was the animal that a woman or a peasant would have ridden in the Israel of Jesus?
  • Did you know that the day that Jesus chose to ride into Jerusalem was the beginning of the week of Passover the holiest week of the Jewish?
  • Did you know that on that same day, as Jesus led a peasant procession from the east, down the Mount of Olives, on the other side of town, the Roman Governor of Jerusalem, was leading the annual procession of Roman military might into town?
  • Did you know that each year the Romans made such a procession into Jerusalem at the outset of Passover week in order to communicate to the throngs of Jewish faithful who were there for the sacred festival, that the might of Rome was ever present and ready to act if any sort of Jewish uprising should occur?

We may not have known those things, but we can be sure that Jesus did.  And so did the people who cheered him on that day.  It was a calculated action on Jesus part:  A protest ride by young Jewish rabbi who was intoxicated with a passion for God and God’s kingdom.  By entering Jerusalem in that way Jesus was making clear to that group within the Jewish temple authorities who were cooperating with the Roman occupying force, that he had come to announce a different way:  A way of non-violent resistance to Rome; A way whose goal was passionate love of God and neighbor, the fruits of which would be economic justice and peace.

The crowds who were crushed under the domination or Rome caught the vision and hailed Jesus with Hosannas as he rode in.  Those who were colluding with Rome decided he must be stopped, but they feared the crowds who supported him.  So they found a traitor among his number and ambushed him by night. The crucifixion of Jesus was their “No!”  to his passion for the dream of God’s Reign.

As I mentioned to you a few weeks ago in my sermon, the word believe has its roots in the word belove.  When we believe in Jesus, we love what he loved.  We give our hearts to the passion that was his.  That led him to the cross.  He so completely believed in God’s dream of economic justice and peace for the earth, that he gave himself totally too it, even when that self giving ended on Golgotha.

Of course we know that next week we will be here singing his praises and glorying in the resurrection, which is God’s resounding “Yes” to Jesus’ passion for the coming of God’s reign.  But as we journey through this week, may we enter into the story once again and have our eyes opened more deeply to the facets of our lives as individuals and as a people that still echo the “No!” of the crucifixion.  When we come face to face with those facets of ourselves this week, let us trust him – for he is ever trustworthy – and offer those parts of ourselves to his most compassionate and healing touch.  If we do amazing things are bound to happen. Then we can go again into God’s world as bearers of  Christ’s light and as those intoxicated with his passion. In the name of Jesus.  Amen+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*The material for the “Did you know…?” section comes from The Last Week, by Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossen

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 Sermon for Sunday March 29 2015 – Palm Sunday  Posted by on Wed, 1-Apr-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday March 29 2015 – Palm Sunday