Easter Sunday Video
3 Easter A • Sunday, April 26, 2020 Gloria Dei Lutheran Church,
Coos Bay, Oregon
In the CBS reality TV show, Undercover Boss, cameras follow high level corporate executives as they slip anonymously into the lowest level jobs within their companies. Each episode features an executive who changes appearance and talks with those who don’t recognize him. The boss spends a week undercover, working in various areas of the company's operations. The boss is exposed to a series of predicaments and invariably spends time getting to know selected company employees, and learning about their professional and personal challenges. They also get to hear what other have to say about him. At the end of the week undercover, the boss reveals his or her true identity and rewards the company’s conscientious employees. Wikipedia informs me that the show was based on a British television series of the same name. But I think someone in the British company must have remembered this story from Luke. The events of those incredible, horrible days hadn’t quite sunk in to the two travelers that first Easter evening. Their walk home to Emmaus was not what they had expected. Instead of feeling joy and hopefulness, they likely dragged along, grieved, confused, depleted, and exhausted. If you’ve ever had your own dreams destroyed, perhaps you could relate to how the disciples felt. They must have begun to lose faith in the future they longed for. They had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, come to save them from the oppressive Roman rule. But these hopes had been shattered when Jesus was executed. They marveled that some of their women friends had made an outrageous claim earlier that morning. . .but they still couldn’t believe their story. They’re so distraught that they haven’t really been able to process anything about this traumatic experience. But then, Jesus broke into the lives of these two. Like a curious undercover boss, he began to ask questions -what are discussing? Or maybe like an inquisitive friend, he asked how they felt…What ARE the things that have happened? Tell me more. Jesus models generosity and hospitality by asking these questions…because, it’s in the answering of his questions that these disciples are able to clarify for themselves all the things that had happened in the last three days. Because sometimes, when we’re in the midst of a heartbreak, we can’t see, we can’t understand what is going on. It’s only in the looking back, in the retelling of the story we can begin to clarify its impact on us. The more times you tell the story, the more we remember and the memories become clearer. Really, being asked these questions to allow these disciples to process their grief is a gift. Jesus simply asks provocative questions to get them to share. Imagine a God that wonders… A God that asks questions. What are the two of you talking about? Jesus asks. What are you discussing with one another? Stop and listen, pay attention, slow down. What is on your hearts? How do we invite the people we know to share their stories, to share what’s underneath the surface? How do we let them uncover for themselves what they’re going through, what they’ve experienced? How has Jesus shown up in their lives? So Jesus breaks into the lives of the two travelers on the road home to Emmaus… He leads them through the Scriptures, opening up new interpretations beginning with God working through Moses to liberate the Hebrew people and explaining how the disciples’ path with Jesus has led them to this time and this place. Yes there is death and destruction, but God is making a way through all of that to continue to be present in the world. The liberating love of God cannot be killed! Now, I want you to notice how, when this couple gets to the fork in the road, they invite the stranger into their home even before they recognized who he was! Something about their time with Jesus must had rubbed off on them. They weren’t ready for the conversation to be over. Even if “Mr. Know-it -All had talked a really long time. They invited the stranger home with them to hear more. The day was almost over, so Cleopas and his wife invited this stranger home with them, to share a meal. What they get in return is a blessing from Jesus. And, amazingly, while they were at the table, Jesus opened the eyes of Cleopas and his wife so that they were able to recognize him sitting with them. Maybe it was something familiar in the way he broke the bread. Maybe when Jesus held out the bread to them, they could see the wounds in his hands that they wouldn’t have seen while walking on the road. Jesus, the guest, had become Jesus, the host. In that instance, their eyes were opened…Jesus was revealed to them, and they understood. And then Jesus disappeared. Someone at text study on Tuesday said it was because Jesus’ presence was now no longer necessary. They had seen and encountered the resurrected Jesus. Jesus gave them just enough to chew on. I imagine these two said to themselves, almost at the same moment… ”We have seen the risen Christ! But their understanding – their eyes being opened came as a result of the shared meal! Times have changed, but Jesus reveals himself the same way today – through His Word and through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. He is with us today in the Word and in the breaking of the bread and in the wine – The Lord’s Supper is one of the places where Jesus has promised to meet us. What keeps us from recognizing Jesus in our lives? What keeps us from recognizing Jesus in the faces of others? To recognize Christ in each other? To recognize Christ in the stranger? The poor? The person sitting outside Walmart with a sign asking for help? Okay, how about recognizing Christ in our political adversaries? The last person that hurt you physically or emotionally? At the Zoom women’s bible study on Friday, Cathy Denton asked, “Do we not recognize Christ in others because we are afraid? These days, We’re all afraid. Each of us has experienced what it is to be in exile. To be the other. This pandemic is the great equalizer. And you know what? We can see that we’re all in this together. Mahatma Gandhi said that each of us has the opportunity to be the change we want to see in the world. And I think the changers we’ll need most of are encouragers, empowerers, and cheerleaders. Early on that first Easter morning, when Mary Magdalene was at the empty tomb, she thought she had seen the gardener. When he spoke her name, Mary recognized Jesus. He told her not to hold on to him, to avoid the temptation to control him to keep him for herself. And in that, he empowered her to go tell the others. Later that evening, in this encounter with Cleopas and his wife, Jesus doesn’t hold onto these disciples, either. Instead, what he DOES is empower them to GO TELL what they have seen. And they run back the seven miles to confirm that they, too, have seen the risen Christ. When we look back on any event that changed us, we gain some perspective, and recognize those people who have helped us. And we begin to see where God was in our story. If we go deep enough into that experience, we might feel our hearts burning with appreciation, with longing, with love. It’s hard to acknowledge those things in the present. It’s only in the retelling that we come to understand. These two travelers on their way back home to Emmaus, and those first women at the tomb were able to share only moments with the risen Jesusbut what they saw was enough for them to go and tell others. What kind of encounter with Jesus would it take for US to go tell the amazing news of the risen Christ? Amen.
The Rev. Peggy J. Yingst
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The Day of Pentecost – A • Sunday, May 31, 2020
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Coos Bay, Oregon
Before time began… God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. God commanded the earth to put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind that bear fruit with the seed in it. And it was so. God’s voice commanded that the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and birds to fly above the earth. And God created the great sea monsters, and every living creature that moves, the wild animals of the earth, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground. And God saw that it was good.
But still, God was lonely. Then God said, let us make humankind in our own image. And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
What does this mean for us?
The Greeks call this breath, Pneuma (πνεῦμα), which is an ancient word for "breath", and in this context, pneuma means "spirit" or "soul." Other living things were created, but the human was given a soul when he received the Holy Spirit in the very breath of God. Another word, ruach implies a power that is within God’s breath and in wind, which is connected to the name Yahweh. The Holy Spirit is the power emanating from Yahweh, the creator God. It is Yahweh’s power that puts all things into motion. It is Yahweh’s power through this ruach that breathes life into all creation.
Thousands of years later, in about 29 AD (or 29 CE, as scholars now call it), God came to dwell on earth and took on a human body. His human name was Jesus.
He taught and healed and treated everyone with radical, subversive love. He challenged the religious authority of the time, and for that, he was hung on a tree and murdered. But proving that death does not have the last word, that he came to save all of us from the finality of death, Jesus rose from the dead three days later on the morning of what we now call Easter.
On the evening that very first Easter, Jesus made an appearance in the locked upper room where his frightened disciples were hiding from the authorities. He came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When Jesus had said this, he breathed on them that pneuma, that ruach from God and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’
What does this mean for us?
In his life, Jesus showed us what the life God intends for all of us, looks like. It’s a life of radical inclusion and compassion. And his example was such a profound departure from the ways of the world, that following his example today, isn’t easy. It’s more than pouring water over your head. It’s more than Zooming a church service on Sunday morning. It’s more than reading your Bible faithfully and following the 10 Commandments. Our life from God is a life of death and resurrection. It’s dying to the ways of the world around us and being resurrected to a Jesus Way of life. It’s saying no to segregated gatherings and yes to open communities of faith. It’s saying no to injustice and the exploitation of the poor, and instead, saying yes to justice and service to all who are in need. It’s saying no to violence in all its forms, and yes to compassion and understanding. It’s saying no to our need to be the best and have the most, and yes to cooperation and denying ourselves for the sake of others.
It’s saying no to “What’s in it for me?”, and yes to “What does it mean for the community? What does it mean for the world?” It’s saying no to judgmentalism, and yes to love.
This past Monday night in Minneapolis, nearly 2000 years after breathed on his disciples, forty-six year-old George Floyd, down on his luck, passed a counterfeit $20 bill to a store clerk. George Floyd, who has been described by his friends as a gentle giant, a man of God, was taken into custody by the authorities, handcuffed and forced to the ground. An officer held him pinned to the ground with a knee on his neck. At least one witness, Donald Williams, told CNN that he was about to walk into a store when he saw Floyd "panting for his life." As he was crying for mercy, George Floyd’s last words were “I can’t breathe…”
Then he was murdered.
The breath of life that was breathed into him by his creator, was snuffed out.
What does this mean for us?
Cory Booker, the US Senator from NJ said Friday night, “The question is no longer, Are you or are you not a racist? The question now is, what are you going to do about it? It’s not enough to claim that you are not racist. You must become actively anti-racist.”
Our parent church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) reaffirms its commitment to combating racism and white supremacy following the recent murders of Black Americans.
Ahmáud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Dreasjon (Sean) Reed, and George Floyd were our neighbors.
On its website, the ELCA has issued the following statement: “As the Conference of Bishops, we condemn the white supremacy that has led to the deaths of so many unarmed Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color in our country. We grieve with, pray for and stand in solidarity with the families and friends of all whose loved ones have been and continue to be victims of injustices run amok, racist violence and the insidious venom of white supremacy.”
Following Jesus has always been a subversive perspective in this world. When our positions cease to be subversive, when our actions become part of the status quo, they cease to be the Jesus Way. If you’re watching today because you want to follow the way of Jesus, really follow Jesus, then this very gathering is a subversive activity. If this community is not here to reinforce the values of the status quo but to push us toward living the Jesus way, we are a subversive community. It may not be for everyone. But if you’re being called to a Jesus way of life, to open yourself to God’s Spirit of transformation, to encounter death and resurrection in your life. And to get ready for the breath of God.
And so I ask you, dear friends, how is the Spirit of the living God blowing around, moving in, surprising you in your life?
I wonder about what, when, and where might the next Pentecost take place?
Who might it involve? How will YOU be involved?
How might this community of faith respond to God’s call and, empowered by the Holy Spirit, respond in faith to the summons issued by God through the needs of neighbor and community?
The Holy Spirit will most certainly lead us to go where love leads and to serve where love calls - filled with peace, joy and the courage to boldly participate in what God is up to in the world.
This is the central importance of Pentecost: the Holy Spirit’s coming into the church to create a community of disciples that goes back out into the world transformed to do what God has required of you - to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.
6 Easter A; Sunday May 17, 2020
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Coos Bay, Oregon
“Nearly everyone, at some point in his or her life, has said to another person, 'If you love me, you'd . . .,' followed by some request, ranging from the mundane to the extravagant. “If you loved me, you’d stop smoking,” “If you loved me, you’d take out the trash without me having to ask,” and, “If you loved me, you’d give me that last piece of bacon.”
David Lott, a friend who used to work as an editor at Augsburg Fortress, writes that it's a manipulative little ploy we use sometimes in jest, sometimes in full earnestness.
But that is not what Jesus is doing here when he tells his disciples, 'If you love me, you will keep my commandments.' There is no ego or selfishness wrapped up in that statement, as it is usually is when we use it when we relate to those who love us. Rather, the true meaning is revealed a few verses later, when Jesus states, 'They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.' What he is talking about here is how our actions reveal our love for him, not how they are a condition of our love…or his for us.
But Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments…”
And what are the commandments? Well, there’s a whole slew of them aren’t there?
But Jesus tells us, the greatest commandment is to love one another… that at their most basic level, all the commandments boil down to “love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Simple enough, isn’t it?
If we love Jesus, we will keep the commandments; Love God, love one another.
So what happens when we don’t… because I know that there are times in my life when I can be called anything but loving- not toward my family, or my friends or my neighbor, and there are lots of times when I am not even loving toward myself. And despite the Holy Spirit dwelling in me… and I in Christ… and Christ in me… I go another way.
And I have to ask myself, if I love God, why the heck do I act this way? Do I really have the love for Christ that I claim to have? Does the Spirit really live in me, even when I’m doing despicable things? (Yes, I used the word despicable… I could have said: wicked, appalling, shameful… if we look for more than a moment at some of the behaviors we have, and how we treat each other at times… ‘Despicable’ is a pretty accurate word)
And during those times it’s very easy to forget that the Spirit is still there… because by the appearances of our hypocritical actions… it seems like we have either abandoned that Spirit or she has abandoned us… there is no semblance of anything Holy in us…
And so as a rule, we have come to look for, and even depend on outward behavioral signs as a way to assure ourselves that Christ is indeed still with us.
In 1985 St. John's head coach Lou Carnesecca got a gift from an Italian basketball coach- a striped sweater. Carnesecca wore the sweater one game and the team had a big last minute win- it became “the lucky sweater.” He wore the sweater every game for the next 18 games- St. John’s had a 19 game winning streak going. When the team members saw the sweater walk onto the court, they knew they had the game won… it became a symbol of their success…
But the day of the championship game against Georgetown, Hoyas Coach John Thompson walked into Madison Square garden with a sport coat on- strolled over to the St. John’s team, opened that coat and flashed the team and the crowd- underneath his coat he had on the exact same sweater as Carnesecca. He had gotten a replica made- and he was quoted as saying “you don’t have a lucky sweater… we’ve got one too.”
The plan worked- Georgetown crushed St. John’s 85-69. In fact the game is called “The John Thompson Sweater Game.”
You see, the St. John’s team was so caught up in the outward appearance of the sweater; their symbol of success, that they let that one thing dictate the way they played the rest of the game! They got so flustered, that they forgot that it wasn’t what was on the outside that had helped them be a great team, but what was within them- All their training, practice, skill; confidence was shattered because they had put their faith in an outward symbol.
Why do I tell you this? Because sometimes we let our sweaters determine who we think we are… the things we wear on the outside… the way we act or treat each other… the behaviors we exhibit, good or bad… those behaviors don’t determine who were are inside. The things we do, good or bad… don’t change how God views us, or what God thinks of us, or the Holy Spirit’s power within us.
And what’s more, we use those things to determine and judge the God in me… and God in others… it gives us a way to measure our own walk, and judge the way others may or may not be in tune with the “Spirit.” After all, Jesus said it himself- “if you love me you will keep my commandments” so if we aren’t keeping the commandments…???
In Greek, “if” and “when” are the same word. So while you can translate this text, “if you love me”, it is just as correct to translate it “When you love me, you will keep my commandments.” " If/When, you love me…. If/when you come to the understanding of my love for you… you will keep my commandments… you will live in love for others… the way I have for you…"
Within each of us lies the power and the living Spirit of God- and there are NO varying degrees of Spirit-( that some have more than others or that God somehow gives some people an extra dose while leaving some people high and dry) It's also NOT true that the amount of spirit you have is exhibited by how you act.
What Jesus is imploring his disciples to do, is to understand that regardless of how they ACT on the outside, regardless of whether they see Jesus physically, or feel him in Spirit, that they are never without him. And that whether they are keeping all the commandments or not keeping the commandments, he loves them just as much; that the promises he gives are for always, not just when they are acting 'God like…'
Jesus knows you inside and out. He knows that there were going to be times in our lives when it would be difficult if not impossible to try to act the way he would want us too. And I’m not giving permission for anyone to hurt another person, or excusing shameful behavior. But sometimes when we know we have acted badly toward another human being, we start to question... 'how long will God let this kind of stuff go on before God just gives up on me?'
And I want you to know today that the Spirit that lives in you never gives up on you; that is a gift and a promise, and in fact, it is your future. If/when, you are in that spot, and you are feeling like not only has God abandoned you but that you don’t deserve to have the Spirit in the first place… don’t go around looking for the sweater. Don’t go searching for signs 'out there' that God is still with you. Step back… look inside and ask yourself… 'What’s going on? What in me is feeling challenged, or threatened or rejected. Where is this behavior coming from?'
And then, look deeper within you…look inside and you will run right into the Spirit that lives and abides in you because God is there no matter what you see or feel or think… even when your own actions tell you that God has deserted you… you’re never alone… present in every breath in, and every breath out, is the helper, the comforter, the advocate, the consoler… not judging you or fed up with you, but loving you…
If/when you come to understand that that is the kind of love that God has for you… then living out Christ’s commandment to love one another can become as natural as breathing… as God in me and I in God…