I had the privilege to be with the good people of Zion Lutheran Church in Benedict, Nebraska and Calvary Lutheran Church in Swede Home (outside of Stromsburg), Nebraska today (April 28, 2019) thanks to the invitation from Pastor Kimberly Belken. I was invited to visit the congregations and preach. What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from, based on the appointed readings for the Second Sunday of Easter (Year C), especially the Gospel of John 20:19-31.
Grace and peace from the Risen Christ who loves you, is with you, and is, for you. Amen.
It is great to be with you today. Thank you so much Pastor Kimberly for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring greetings on behalf of Bishop Brian Maas and your Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Megan Morrow, as well as from your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ, who with you are the Nebraska Synod. I’m grateful to be with you today, to wonder a bit with you about what God in Christ might be saying to us this week; to proclaim with the disciples that we too have seen the Lord; and to wonder about how we respond to God’s call and activity in our lives; and how we respond through being part of God’s church and work together in the world.
The Good News for you and for me
Friends, I think we must start here, much like we did last week though. Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia! This is good news for you and for me. And it’s the good news that gathers us, grounds us, and sends us out. It’s the good news which Jesus makes as plain as day in appearing to the disciples in the story today. And it’s the good news that the gospel writer concludes today’s story with. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” The point of this whole Gospel of John, the Good News for you and for me, is so that we may believe and have life through God in Christ.
It’s good news we need to hear this day and every day. It’s good news the disciples needed to hear too. They were afraid, terrified really. They were hiding behind locked doors. They were uncertain of what was to come, and if the previous three days were any indication, they were rightly in shock.
We too often find ourselves lost and afraid. The world may seem to be changing and unfamiliar around us. The days of leaving one’s car and home unlocked even here in the country might be rare now. If one turns on the TV, the radio, reads the paper, or goes on the internet anywhere, it is nearly impossible to not hear something that might make you worry or afraid. If one looks at the numbers, the trends may not be good. It may well seem that things are out of control, something is very wrong, and there is nothing we can seemingly do about it except try and ignore it or hide from it. Fear. Uncertainty. Darkness. Death.
But it is to a world like this, that God in Christ comes and says, “Peace, be with you.” To the disciples who were afraid, and astonished by Jesus’ appearance and presence time and time again, Jesus says, “Peace, be with you.” Jesus says this to us today too. “Peace, be with you.” And in these words of peace, the truth of the resurrection begins to spread. A truth that moves the disciples from fear, doubt, and mourning, to wonder and rejoicing. We too are moved. But I wonder, what is our response? Do we rejoice? Do we share the peace of Christ with all those we meet? Do we tell the story of God in Christ, and pass it on?
When Jesus speaks to us, what is our response? When we see God’s work all around us, what do we say? What do we do? Do we stop and wonder? Do we give thanks and praise? Do we share all about it, and invite others to come and see that the Lord is good? Or, do we keep it to ourselves, afraid of what it might mean, and what changes might come that God is calling us to be a part of? Or, worse yet, do we ignore it, and hide away in our homes or sanctuaries, trying to bury our heads in the sand, in the hope that for a little while anyway, things might just stay the way they’ve always been?
“We Have Seen the Lord”
Just as the women told the disciples that Resurrection morning, the disciples tell Thomas in today’s story. “We have seen the Lord.” You know how this story goes. Eventually Thomas comes to believe as he too sees the Lord. And from that day he, like all the other disciples and women at the tomb will say, “I have seen the Lord.”
But you know, this isn’t a declaration limited to those there that first Easter. We too have seen the Lord. I wonder, how have you seen the Lord? How have you seen God at work in the person sitting at your right and at your left? I wonder, how has the person sitting at your right or left seen God in you?
I have seen the Lord friends. I have seen the Lord a lot lately. This week I have seen the Lord in the work of death and resurrection. In the Holy Week and Easter work that we all traveled through over the last two weeks. But in my family, we have seen it this week too as we had to say good bye to our cat Buddy. He had been with my wife Allison and me since halfway through seminary, through two cross-country moves, lots of Holy Spirit wrestling, and even to help us learn what it might be like to coexist and live with a family of more than two. And then a year ago, Buddy became a big brother as we welcomed our daughter Caroline into the world. It was a hard week this week, but one where God was present. Yes, as Buddy went home to his creator, we saw the Lord. The next day as our daughter Caroline went under anesthesia to have tubes put in her ears, because of ear infections, we saw the Lord. God is present in the midst. Up to something always.
I have seen the Lord in the way communities and congregations have stepped up to pray for and support their neighbors and strangers across this synod and state after the flooding and blizzards of the last two months. I have seen the Lord as our sisters and brothers of this church have stepped up not just here in Nebraska but across this whole church in holding all the communities affected by bridges being out, roads washed way, homes condemned, and people facing the existential questions of what’s next because their very ways of life have been turned upside down, by holding them all in prayer and offering to help when the time is right. But also in stepping up and in supporting the synod’s disaster fund with people calling and giving gifts from other synods in Wyoming, Montana, New York, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Texas, Washington, California and more.
Where Stewardship Fits In
I have seen the Lord through your stewardship, in response to the Good News. Through your congregation and your 100,000 sisters and brothers and the 245 congregations of the synod, recognizing that as the psalmist makes clear, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it.” That all that we are, and all that we each have, then is God’s. And when we remember this, we remember that our stewardship really is our response to all that God has done, continues to do, and promises to do for us.
It’s our response to the promise we know most clearly through the Easter story of the Resurrection. It’s our response through the witness we all share of the events of the cross and tomb, and what happens next behind locked doors and out on the Road to Emmaus. It’s our response to what happens next when the Holy Spirit is set loose, and we are all caught up in God’s redeeming and reconciling work for all of God’s children and God’s creation, which God loves and calls and creates us to be a part of, and to be in relationship with each other.
We’re all unique Children of God. Created with all that makes us who we are, which is what God entrusts to our care so that we might live abundant resurrection life, sharing the good news, and doing some of God’s work in the world through us. Big picture, think about it. If all that we have and all that we are, is God’s, doesn’t that change the way we see everything? That means that: our bodies, souls, hearts, minds, and relationships are God’s which God entrusts to us. It means that our time, talents, gifts, strengths, passions, dreams, questions, ideas, and stories, are God’s too, entrusted to us. It means that all our finances, treasure, property, assets, money of all kinds, are God’s too, which God entrusts to us to use, manage, and care for. And it means caring for all of creation that God calls us to steward too.
This is what stewardship is all about. It’s the response to the good news, really, it’s our joyful response to the Easter story. It’s being so caught up with what God has done, that we can’t help but say here in this room, out in the parking lot, out in the fields, and wherever we might find ourselves, that “we have seen the Lord.” And then be so bold, to wonder and listen, to sense what God might be up to, and to see and witness to it. Right here in our midst in the world, and right here as God fills us, calls us, and sends us out to be a part of God’s work in some way.
In Gratitude for You
I know you have seen the Lord. Because I have seen the Lord through you. Another way I have seen this is through your congregation’s continued participation in mission share. Though times may be hard, and there’s plenty of uncertainty in the world to go around, your congregation sees fit that it can do more good, more ministry in the world, as part of the larger church together.
One of those ways really is through your mission share, which are your undesignated offerings that you share with the Nebraska Synod and the larger ELCA, through which you do ministry that spans the globe changing lives. Through it, people often around this state, country, and the whole globe say, “they have seen the Lord” through you. Through mission share you help support and raise up new leaders, pastors, and deacons of our church. Through it you spread the gospel near and far through supporting missionaries around the globe and through supporting new and renewing ministries across this Big Red State.
Through it you help youth and young adults hear of God’s love for them in part through supporting Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry and campus ministry. And through mission share you go and share Christ’s love and peace with the world through supporting the church’s many serving arms including Lutheran Family Services, Lutheran World Relief, Mosaic, and Lutheran Disaster Response, just to name a few. You do so much as part of the church together. If you hear nothing else from me today, please hear this. Thank you! Thank you for being a part of it. Thank you for being Christ to your neighbors. I have indeed seen the Lord through you, and I am grateful for it.
We Have Seen Resurrection Life- and it’s for us!
In today’s story, just as the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. The on-going presence of God breathed on the disciples and fills them. In short order, the Spirit will send them out around the world. They won’t be able to stop. Because as they are filled with the Spirit, they can’t help but go, show, share, and do what God’s love looks like. They will not be able to do anything but share the Good News, this life changing, world changing, news about the resurrection of the “Alpha and the Omega… the Lord God, who is and who was, and who is to come.” These disciples have seen the Lord, but not just any god, the very resurrected Christ.
We too have seen the resurrection life, and it’s a life for us. New life out of death. Hope and joy out of mourning, pain, and suffering.
Not just the kind of resurrection that some of you might have seen like me over the last couple of days in a certain Avengers movie, but a resurrection of God coming and turning the world on its head. A resurrection with a promise that our God is for us, loves us, and is with us. And this resurrection work continues today.
I wonder, how might God be up to resurrection work around all of you?
In the hand and help of a neighbor or stranger to someone trying to figure out what’s next after the flood. In the hopeful words of another offering a new idea or opportunity. In the person who might seem too busy, but makes time anyway to hang out and talk with and listen to a young adult, helping each other find purpose and wonder about what God might be up to. In spending time or offering a shoulder to cry on and ears to listen as one waits for news, or receives a hard diagnosis. And in the very act of splashing in the baptismal waters and giving the bread and wine in the sacraments.
God is up to something. Not just in the resurrection of one Easter, though God was certainly active in that. But God’s creative, redeeming, reconciling, and resurrecting work continues today for you and for me. It continues sometimes even in ways that might be right in front of us, calling us to come and see that the Lord is good. It continues even perhaps through us. Friends, I have seen the Lord, and I hope you have too. Because God is here. God in Christ is not locked away in some tomb, nor should we hide away in fear. No. God is with you. God loves you. And God is for you. And that is what the resurrected life looks like. May we be so bold to witness to it, and to share in it as God in Christ’s disciples and stewards. Amen.