Faith across cultures

Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 24th, 2016

Acts 11:1-18, Psalm 148, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

 

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The disciples and believers in Judea heard that Peter was converting the Gentiles, and they had a problem with him.  A BIG problem.  Not with the conversion itself.  No, they thought it only right and good that everyone of every tribe and nation should worship God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  So Peter preaching to the Gentiles, that was good, and them responding was even better.  It was exactly what the risen Jesus had commanded them to do—go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  That part was great!

It was how he did it that was the problem.  You see, the Gentiles were … different.  They spoke different languages, they sang different songs, they ate different foods, they had different customs, and in every way imaginable they were … different.  And when Peter went to live among them and preach, God commanded him in a dream to just kinda go with the flow.  To accept their hospitality and speak their language and eat their food and, basically, live like a Gentile while he was among them.  And the Jewish Christians were shocked and horrified.  Worship with them, yes, good!  Share the Gospel with them, wonderful, awesome!  Eat with them?  Their food?  In their home?  Ew, gross, that’s a step too far.

And this is a tendency that Christians have struggled with ever since.  Actually, most times since, we haven’t even been as flexible and open-minded as those early Jewish disciples.  We tend to mix up our culture and the Gospel way too much.  Take 19th Century missionaries as an example: they went across the globe with the best of intentions to bring the Gospel to people who had never heard it … and they hamstrung themselves by insisting that in order to be Christian you had to swallow European culture lock, stock, and barrel.  European names, European-style-houses and family arrangements, European language in worship, European-style hymns, European-style art, European-style clothing.  Consequently, most of those 19th-Century missionaries weren’t very successful at all.  Sure, they got a few converts, and more people who would come to church if it was a requirement for getting some kind of help but not really convert in their hearts.

It wasn’t until the 20th Century and missionaries started working within local culture that missionaries started relaxing and working within the local culture, using local music styles and art and names.  Even lifestyles and family arrangements and other things like that.  Instead of assuming that obviously European/American ways of doing everything were better and more Christian, they evaluated each part of the local culture for whether or not it was compatible with a Christian faith.  And some things weren’t—but a lot was, or could be adapted.  And along the way, many of the missionaries found their own lives and culture changed, too.  They saw the Spirit moving in new and different ways.  And it was at that point—when people could keep their own culture and adapt it to the Christian life, when long-term Christians and new converts could change and grow together—that Christianity took off in Africa and parts of Asia.  Christianity is booming and growing in large parts of Africa, Asia, and India.  It’s flourishing and spreading, because the missionaries learned to listen and be part of the local culture, instead of just preaching and lecturing about all the ways they were wrong.

It makes sense.  Put yourself in their shoes—you’re in 19th Century Africa or 1st Century Caesarea.  Someone comes to town with a great message that they say is good news, something that can change your life and free you from whatever is holding you down.  But they turn their nose up at everything you do—they don’t like your food, or the way you talk, or how you dress, or anything about you.  And sometimes they have a point, but sometimes they’re wrong.  Sure, they’ve got this great message … but what they seem to want most is to turn you into a carbon copy of themselves.  Would you listen, or would you write them off as arrogant jerks and go on about your business?  You’d probably ignore them.  Most people would.

But change the scenario a bit.  You’re in 19th Century Africa or 1st Century Caesarea.  Someone comes to town with a great message that they say is good news, something that can change your life and free you from whatever is holding you down.  And they listen to what you think is holding you down.  They listen to what your fears and hopes and dreams are, and they sit at your table and eat with you and are great friends—not just somebody nice to talk to or shoot the breeze with, but there when you need help.  Not because they have an agenda, but because they respect you and care about you.  And sometimes, they point out when something you take for granted is wrong … but they’re also willing to listen when you point out something that they do is wrong.  Would you be willing to listen then?  Would you be willing to open your heart and your mind to the message of good news that they brought?  Probably you would!  And so the Gospel spreads.

That was what was at stake in our reading from Acts.  When you’re spreading the Gospel as Jesus commanded, how are you going to go about it?  Are you going to assume that your own culture, you own ways of doing things, are as important as the Gospel?  Are you going to insist that everything goes your own way from the get-go, or are you going to meet people where they are?  Are you going to insist everyone does things your way, or are you willing to adapt and learn from the people you are bringing the Gospel to?  It’s not just a question of whether or not you’ll welcome them when they show up at your church, though that’s important too—it’s a question of whether or not you’ll allow them to welcome you.  Will you eat with them, even if it’s something you would never eat otherwise?  Will you open yourself to them just as you ask them to open themselves up to the Gospel?  Will you respect them as you want them to respect you?

It sounds so simple.  Yet it’s really hard!  And it’s particularly important in our world today, because there is a big cultural gap between practicing Christians and the rest of America.  The gap is smaller in North Dakota than it is elsewhere, but it’s growing every year.  We can’t assume that the people outside our doors—the people we are called to bring the love of God to—share the same assumptions and habits that we do.  Often, they don’t … and often, it’s those things that keep them away.  Because here, as in most churches, we don’t like change.  We’d love to have all those unchurched people out there come in and join us … as long as they looked, acted, thought, dressed, and ate just like us.  As long as they just fit nicely into all the things we have going here already.  As long as any change was all on their part.  As long as everything happens in our way and on our terms.

God sent Peter to the Gentiles in Caesaria, to preach the Gospel to them, and the Holy Spirit was at work in them, and so they became Christian.  But it wasn’t enough for Peter to preach; he had to listen, too, and he had to accept them as the Gentiles they were and eat with them.  This horrified his fellow Jewish Christians, because they thought the Gentiles should give up their own culture and become Jewish in order to be a follower of Jesus.  Yet the Spirit was at work in the Gentiles, and God himself gave Peter a vision to tell him to accept the Gentiles’ hospitality.  It took courage to follow that vision, because Peter knew how his fellows would react.  And it took courage for the rest of the disciples to recognize the work of the Spirit, and set in motion the actions that would begin the conversion of the Gentiles.  It took courage because change is hard, even when it helps us grow.  They had to have faith that God would lead them, that God would help them keep the core of their faith strong even as parts of how they lived it out changed.

So what about us?  How do we treat the people outside our doors?  How do we respond to the people who are different, who are not like us?  Do we open ourselves up to building relationships with them?  Do we accept their hospitality and meet them where we are?  Do we open doors that may lead to ministry and a sharing of God’s love?  Or do we close those doors, and welcome them only if they fill the roles we have pre-selected for them?  May God send us the courage and vision of Peter, so that God’s love and God’s Spirit may be poured out on all people.

Amen.

Bearing the Cross

Second Sunday of Lent, Year B, March 1st, 2015

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Psalm 22:23-31, Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

 

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it. I’m talking with someone about their day, and they mention some little thing that annoys them that they can’t change—maybe it’s a co-worker’s irritating habits, maybe it’s a relative’s drama that keeps spilling over to the rest of the family. “Well,” they say, “I guess that’s just my cross to bear.” Really? Jesus’ death on a cross, his sacrifice and agony, compared to Aunt Ethel’s temper tantrums? That’s what you’re comparing it to? When Jesus said “take up your cross and follow me,” you think he meant having to deal with a co-worker who sometimes grabs your lunch by accident or can’t get important paperwork done on time? Really?

Sometimes when I hear that phrase it’s sadder. There’s something truly horrible in someone’s life—abuse, for example—and they don’t think there’s any way out. Maybe they’re scared, maybe they don’t think they deserve anything better, maybe they feel guilty or ashamed. And that’s how they comfort themselves: “I guess it’s just my cross to bear.” And it’s good that their faith is a comfort to them, but at the same time, calling that suffering their cross to bear can trap them in it, make them less likely to reach out for help, because they think their suffering is God’s will. Jesus came that we might have abundant life, that we might be saved and healed, that our sadness and grief and pain might be wiped away. Jesus died on the cross so that we might be saved, connected to God, so that God’s love might be poured out on the world. Jesus’ suffering and death are not meant to trap us in our own suffering, but to free us. To open us up to possibilities.

Devout Christians use that phrase a lot, but I’m not sure we take much time to ask ourselves what Jesus meant when he said it. What is the cross, and what are the crosses that Jesus might be calling us to carry? We tend to apply it to any problem, big or small, that we don’t think can be changed. Sometimes those really are the crosses God has given us to bear. But sometimes, I don’t think they are. So let’s ask the question: what is the cross, and what does it mean to carry it?

First of all, the cross was painful. It was big, and heavy, and public, and nasty, and torturous. It was a big deal. It was an agonizing, painful death, and it was reserved for the worst of the worst. Slaves and foreigners and murderers were crucified. Not citizens. Not anybody who mattered. Nobody was watching Jesus and going, “what a great guy he is for being able to endure that.” They weren’t saying, “gee, isn’t it too bad?” No. They were looking at him and going, he must be scum to deserve that. What a horrible person that Jesus is! They saw him, and they despised him, and they mocked him. The cross killed him, but that wasn’t the only thing it did. It changed how people saw him, from then and ever after.

It even changed how the disciples looked at Jesus. I mean, here Peter is, Jesus starts talking about the cross—talking about the fact that he’s going to have to suffer and die—and what does Peter do? He tries to shut Jesus up. He doesn’t want to think about it. It’s too hard, too bad. Peter wants to think about all the nice, pleasant, good things that Jesus could do. He wanted to think about public respect, and power, and glory, and miracles, and political power. So when Jesus starts talking about the cross—that huge, painful, shameful thing—Peter tries to shut him up. Peter doesn’t want to have to deal with the pain and shame and grief and loss that are going to come hand in hand with Jesus’ death on the cross. He doesn’t want to hear that salvation is going to come through pain.

So when we look at life’s little annoyances and call them our cross to bear, we are really, really misunderstanding what the cross was, and what it did. It was not an annoyance. It was not something to be sighed over and swept aside. When we have crosses to bear, they are big, and they are heavy, and they hurt. Maybe not physically, maybe not where people can see, but they are going to have an impact. And a cross may make people look at you differently. It may make them look at you funny. It may be something that sets you apart, something that people would rather sweep under the rug and ignore, just as Peter wanted to ignore Jesus’ cross. It may be something that causes people—even other Christians!—to be uncomfortable or ashamed or judgmental.

The other thing about Jesus’ death on the cross is that you have to look at what came out of it. Yes, it starts with pain and grief and shame and loss and horror. But that’s not what it’s about. That’s not what it means. Because that pain and suffering did something. It changed the world—it changed us. Jesus died, but he rose again, and when he rose we were dragged with him from death into life. We are tied to Jesus’ death and resurrection. It matters. Jesus’ suffering brought new life, abundant life, and healing, and hope, and joy, and love. It was hell to go through, but it made a difference.

When Jesus tells us to take up our cross, he isn’t saying that suffering is good on its own. He’s not saying that pain, by itself, is a good thing. Pain is bad. What he’s saying is that sometimes it’s necessary to achieve something else. Jesus didn’t die on a cross because he liked pain or because he thought pain was good for him. He died in order to save the world. He suffered so that we wouldn’t have to. That’s what taking up our crosses means. It means doing the right thing even when it hurts. Taking up our cross means following Jesus and being his hands in the world even when it’s not nice, or convenient, or happy. It means living out the Gospel even when your friends shake their heads at you. It means reaching for life and healing even if that means pain in the short term. Taking up your cross means living a kingdom-centered life in a world that wants everyone to focus on money, power, and prestige.

Taking up your cross isn’t about dying. It’s about living. What kind of life are you going to live? Here and now, where are your priorities? What’s most important in your life? Not the stuff you think should be most important—the stuff that you actually treat as most important. Where do you focus your time and energy? Because a lot of people will say “my family and my faith are most important!” but they actually spend more time and energy and attention on their jobs, their sports, their favorite TV show, their latest toys, and keeping up with the Joneses. Because that’s what our world values. That’s what our culture pushes. The rat race: work hard and make more money and look good and do all the right stuff and buy all the right products and you’ll be happy and people will love you and none of the bad things in the world will happen to you. And so people chase those goals, and they get busier and busier and more and more distracted by all sorts of things they chase after in the name of happiness and security, and all too often we don’t even notice the people we hurt along the way, and we try to fill the emptiness by working harder, and you know what? Bad things still happen. The busy-ness and distraction won’t prevent them or fix them.

The life God calls us to is a life of love for God and for one another. If we are truly living that life—if our priorities are truly on that love—it will affect how we act, what we do, how we treat ourselves and the people around us. And it will mean following God’s priorities, instead of society’s priorities. And our society won’t like that. And your friends and family may not like it, either. And following that love may take you in places you wouldn’t choose to go, and living a life centered on God’s love may mean standing up to the broken, sinful things in the world, to spread life and love where there is precious little of it.

But here’s the other thing about the cross: even Jesus didn’t carry it alone. He did for part of the way, but it was too much for him. He couldn’t do it alone, so a man stepped in to help, named Simon of Cyrene. And together, Jesus and Simon carried the cross on their backs. And we don’t have to carry our crosses alone, either. Jesus is with us every step of the way, and believe me, he knows what it’s like to carry a cross! But God also sends us others, people like Simon, to walk with us and help us carry the cross even if only for part of our journey. And yes, it’s hard to carry the cross. But we don’t have to do it alone.

Amen.

Where the Spirit blows

Pentecost, June 8, 2014

Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34, 1 Corinthians 12:3-13, John 20:19-23

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I have a confession to make. I have never seen the Holy Spirit manifest as tongues of fire, and I have never heard anyone speak in tongues. Nor have I ever participated in the kind of mass spiritual experience described in our lesson from Acts, in which thousands of people come to the faith. When I hear of miracles, my first reaction is often skepticism, and when I go to a worship service full of people waving their arms and jumping and dancing and shouting “Amen!” as they feel moved during the service, I feel uncomfortable. And since this is a common attitude for Lutherans and other mainline Christians, I bet there are many of you out there who would agree with me.

This may be why we don’t pay as much attention to the Holy Spirit as we do to the Father and to the Son. Today is Pentecost, which in some Christian traditions is the third holiest day of the Christian year, behind Easter and Christmas. We do celebrate this day more than ordinary Sundays—We dress up! But we certainly don’t plan the service as carefully as we do Christmas and Easter, and people don’t tend to plan big family celebrations for Pentecost Sunday. We don’t expect it to be a big day, just like we don’t expect the Holy Spirit to be a major factor in our lives.

That’s okay, though, because the first followers of Jesus weren’t expecting the Holy Spirit, either, and it came just the same. Imagine the disciples. Jesus had died and was risen again, but they were quite comfortable in their meeting rooms behind closed doors. They were a small group: twelve men, about that many women, a few other miscellaneous people. Outside their doors were the people who had killed Jesus and would be quite willing to kill them, too, if they started making waves. Since Jesus had showed up after the Resurrection, they weren’t quivering in fear, but they weren’t going out and shouting their story to the rooftops, either. They were comfortable. Secure. Happy. They’d been praying, and they’d been talking and retelling the stories about Jesus. But they didn’t know what was coming.

And what came was the Holy Spirit. It dragged them out into the square, and it inspired them to speak, to tell the story of Jesus. Because what God needed then was for the story to spread beyond their walls, beyond their small group. God needed them to spread the word, and so he sent the Holy Spirit to empower them. Empower—it sounds like such a “new-age” word, a word of psychologists and social theorists. Yet that is literally what the Spirit does: it puts power into people. Power to do God’s will—and the skills needed to do it.

I would bet anything you want to name that, had the full planning of the missionary work been left up to those first followers, it wouldn’t have looked anything like this. “Well, we can only talk to the other Jews, because we all know Hebrew and Aramaic. A couple of us know Greek, they can speak to any God-fearing Greeks we find. But there’s no point in seeking out the foreign Jews who don’t speak Hebrew anymore, because we won’t be able to speak with them. We just don’t have the gifts.” That’s what they would have said. “Who can we put in charge?” they would have asked. “Who’ll be the spokesman?” If anyone had suggested Peter, they would probably have laughed. Let’s remember that Peter wasn’t his real name; his parents had named him Simon. Peter was a nickname, and it meant “Rocky.” Peter was a real rock, all right; solid, hardworking, salt-of-the-earth type who would not win any contest of smarts or charisma. Peter’s most common contribution to the disciples was to get things spectacularly wrong so that everybody else had an example of what not to do. He got several things right … and always followed up his good ideas with something boneheaded. Peter, good ol’ Rocky, as the public face of the organization? Rocky as a preacher? Naaaah. He just didn’t have what it takes.

Many churches, if you give them an idea of something they could do, some new ministry they could try or people they could help, will respond with reasons why they can’t. “We couldn’t possibly do it! We don’t know enough, we don’t have enough money, we don’t have anybody who could or would do that …” And I bet you the early church would have been no different. After all, what happened on Pentecost is a lot bigger than starting up a food pantry or sending people out to build handicap ramps or do a mission trip.

And yet, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered them. The Holy Spirit swept into their lives like a rushing wind, and they listened to it. They might not have chosen the things the Spirit empowered them to do, but they listened when it came to them. They followed where it led them, and they all—particularly Peter, good ol’ Rocky—used the gifts it gave them to do the ministry it called them to do. I bet it was scary. I bet it was nerve-wracking, to get out there and trust that the Holy Spirit was going to give them the ability to speak in new languages. They could have said no, but they didn’t. They could have said, “My it’s windy today! Better close the windows tight!” and kept on praying, in their back rooms. But they didn’t. They realized it was the Holy Spirit, and they followed it. And the Holy Spirit gave them the ability to do what needed to be done.

I’ve never seen tongues of flames; I’ve never seen people speaking in tongues. But here’s the thing: I’ve seen other gifts of the Spirit. Because even though we don’t pay much attention to the Spirit, it is here among us, blowing. It is here among us, empowering. It is here among us, equipping us for the ministry that God is calling us to. Which may not be the ministry we’re expecting. But whatever God is calling us to, God is also giving us gifts to handle.

The Spirit gives many gifts. Saint Paul lifts up a few of them in his letter to the Corinthians. Wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts of healing both spiritual and physical, prophecy, discernment of spirits, interpretation, miracles … these are all gifts of the Spirit. But do we notice them? Do we acknowledge them as such, or do we dismiss them? A lot of times we take the gifts of the Spirit for granted. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked with Christians over the years where someone pointed out a gift they or their church had, only to hear them dismiss it in the next breath, find some reason why it wasn’t enough, wasn’t what they needed, wasn’t useful for the ministry of the church. Unless there are bolts of lighting and literal tongues of fire, we don’t tend to notice these gifts of the Spirit for what they are. At the Synod Assembly last weekend, I heard several pastors get up and talk about great things happening in their congregations. And although they were all good pastors whom I respect and admire, it wasn’t the pastors’ actions that were making things happen. It was the congregations, who were willing to respond when someone pointed out what gifts the Holy Spirit had given them. They noticed the gifts the Spirit had given them, and they listened to where the Spirit was calling them, and it has led them to do some amazing things.

Something else to notice from Paul’s account in Corinthians is that nobody gets all the gifts. Everyone has different gifts, and quite often they go together: someone gets knowledge, and someone else gets the wisdom to know how to use that knowledge. Someone gets the gift of tongues, and someone else gets the gift of how to interpret it. It’s only when you start putting those gifts together—when people come together to form the body of Christ—that things start to happen. It can’t be just one or two people—no matter how talented and dedicated. It has to be the body, together, using the gifts the Spirit has given for the common gift of ministry.

When the Spirit came to them, those first Christians were ready. They went where it sent them, they realized the gifts the Spirit had given them, and they used those gifts as the Spirit called them to. And because they did, the Spirit did great things through them. May we, too, learn to hear the Spirit’s call and follow where it leads.

Not a Tame God

Transfiguration, (Year A), February 28, 2014

Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

 May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever read the book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, or watched the movie.  For those of you who haven’t, the story of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a Christian allegory by C.S. Lewis.  Aslan the Lion is the Son of the Father who gives his life for a sinner and is resurrected, and, in so doing, breaks the power of the evil White Witch who has enslaved the land of Narnia.  Aslan, in the story, represents Jesus Christ who died for the sake of sinners so that the power of sin and death might be broken.  The story is told from the point of view of four children, brothers and sisters who find their way into Narnia and help fight the Witch.  After the battle, after peace and justice and goodness have been restored, Aslan leaves, and the youngest child, Lucy, asks why.  Mister Tumnus answers: “He’s not a tame lion.”  Lucy says, “But he is good.”

Yes, Aslan is good.  But he is still not a tame lion.  He can’t be controlled by anyone; and throughout the series he is always surprising even those who think they know him best.  Not because he is capricious, or fickle; quite the opposite.  He is faithful even to those who turn purposefully away from him.  But he is wiser than any other character in the books.  He knows more, and understands more.  He is a constant presence, even when the other characters don’t see his influence.  Even when things seem to be going wrong, or when events seem to have nothing to do with him, Aslan’s hand is at work.  But none of the other characters can see the big picture.  They see only their own little corner of the world, and so they miss Aslan’s presence.  No matter how faithful they are, Aslan can’t be pinned down or fully understood.  He is not a tame lion, but he is good.

Jesus Christ, like the character Aslan who represents him in C.S. Lewis’s stories, is not a tame lion.  And the disciples find that out rather abruptly in today’s lesson.  You see, they didn’t really understand who and what Jesus was, yet.  They began following Jesus because he was a great teacher, and because he had power to do things like heal people; but Jesus wasn’t the only great teacher wandering around the Holy Land in those days and he wasn’t the only miracle worker in history.  Peter had, by this point, figured out that Jesus was the Messiah; but in those days, people mostly thought the Messiah was just going to be another righteous king like David, who would re-establish the kingdom of Israel.  Throughout the Gospels, you can consistently see the disciples missing the point, misunderstanding Jesus’ words.  They send away the children who have been brought to Jesus to a blessing.  They want Jesus to rain down hellfire and brimstone on a village of Samaritans who don’t listen to Jesus’ teachings.  They don’t understand the parables.  They vie for position and ask who is going to be the greatest of the disciples.  They scold Jesus for saying he’s going to have to suffer and die.  They think they know who Jesus is and what he is going to do.  They think he’s tame.

Then Jesus invites them up to a high mountain, and things get weird.  The glory of God is revealed in Jesus, in a light show worthy of an Oscar for Best Special Effects.  Jesus is no ordinary man; he’s not an ordinary king; he’s not even an ordinary miracle worker.  He’s something more than that.

Peter, being Peter, is quick to react … but not necessarily quick to figure out what this means.  Something special has obviously happened, he figures: they came to a new place, and Jesus lit up like a sun and great heroes of the faith appeared with him.  So Peter figures they should stay in this special place where the awesome stuff happened!  He seems to be assuming that the place is special, that it’s the location that caused God’s power and glory to be visible around Jesus.  Peter figures that they can build special ceremonial buildings for Jesus and Moses and Elijah, and maybe if they stay up there on that mountaintop, God’s glory will continue to be shown.  If they build it, God will come.  If they just figure out the right thing to do, the right building project in the right place, God’s glory will be there.  Tame.  Controlled.  Safe and predictable.  Available on tap.

Peter, of course, is wrong.  The mountain isn’t the key; it’s not the reason Jesus is lit up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve, and it’s not the reason Moses and Elijah showed up.  They can see God’s glory manifest in Jesus Christ because Jesus is God; Jesus is God in human form, fully divine and fully human.  God’s glory has always been part of Jesus; they just haven’t been able to see it before this point.  They thought they knew who he was, but they were wrong.  Jesus is not just a teacher.  And he’s not just a miracle worker.  And he’s not just a king—and he’s definitely not the kind of king they’re expecting.  God’s plans are so much bigger than they had ever considered.  God was doing something much greater than just restoring a single small kingdom.  God was saving the world through the life, death, and resurrection of the Son, Jesus Christ.  All the disciples can see is their own little corner of the planet; God’s eye is on the fate of the whole cosmos.

God interrupts Peter’s plans.  While Peter is still talking about the shrines they should build on that mountain top, God’s voice speaks from the heavens: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”  Don’t just take his words and fit them into your preconceived ideas; don’t just assume you know who and what he is.  There is more to Jesus than you know.  No matter how smart you are, no matter how faithful you are, God is greater than you can possibly imagine.  God’s wisdom is wiser than yours, and God’s love is deeper than yours.  God is good, but God is not tame.

How often do we forget that?  How often do we presume we know exactly who God is and what God wants?  There are a lot of people in the world who are just like Peter.  We see the glory of God, and we try and accept it on our own terms, as if our efforts can control God and keep him safely contained, present when we want, where we want.  We assume, as Peter and the disciples did, that our goals are God’s goals.  Yet God sees the world more clearly than we can; God is not limited to our understanding.  God is greater than we are, and Jesus’ transfiguration is only a foretaste of God’s glory.

And sometimes, we need that foretaste.  We need God’s goodness and light to drive away the darkness, to guide us even when we don’t know or understand where we are going.  The disciples certainly didn’t understand what was going to happen; they didn’t understand what Jesus’ mission on Earth truly was, and they didn’t understand what their role in it was going to be.  Even after Jesus told them quite plainly that he would suffer and die, they didn’t get it.  They couldn’t see the threads of God’s plan to save the world; they thought too small.

Not long after Jesus and Peter and the others came down from the mountain top, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem.  He walked there knowing he was going to suffer and die.  He walked there knowing that the fate of the universe was at stake, even if nobody else could see what was going on.  In the dark days that were to come, when those in power conspired against Jesus and a traitor handed him over and the disciples scattered in fear and even Peter denied Jesus, I wonder if Peter looked back to that mountain top experience.  I wonder if it gave him courage and strength, when it seemed like the darkness was going to win, to remember the light of God.  I wonder if it gave him hope when human eyes could only see defeat and death.

Lent begins this Wednesday with Ash Wednesday.  During Lent, we will remember Jesus’ walk toward Jerusalem and death.  We’ll confess our own sinfulness that Jesus died to save us from.  But in the midst of the gloom and sorrow, remember the light of Christ, shown here at Jesus’ transfiguration and again at his resurrection.  Remember that Jesus is not tame, and that he is greater than we can imagine.  Remember that even in the midst of darkness, and sin, and death, God brings light.

Amen.

Pain in the Light of Resurrection

Just realized I never posted last week’s sermon!

The Fourth Sunday After Easter, Year C, April 21, 2013

Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

 

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

It’s been quite a week, hasn’t it?  The Boston Marathon was bombed, triggering a city-wide manhunt.  Someone tried to poison the President.  A factory in Texas exploded.  High tempers and harsh rhetoric over a gun-control.  Floodwaters rising in the Mississippi River.  And America is not the only place in the world having a tough time.  Yesterday there was a deadly earthquake in China.  This last week, there was a coup in the Central African Republic, and so the people of our companion synod there are endangered.  A child was viciously raped and held captive in India, and police tried to bribe her parents into not filing charges, triggering massive protests.

Of course, horrible things have happened before, but they don’t usually come this close together.  And we’ve never been as instantly connected as we are now.  When the Twin Towers were attacked, I spent most of the day wondering what had happened, knowing only bits and pieces.  Even turning on the news gave little information, compared to today.  A few clips of the towers collapsing, the same speculation repeated over and over.  And if those few images got to be too much, it was easy to escape them: just turn off the television.  Today, you don’t have to seek out pictures and information on such tragedies.  Today, you have to work hard to escape, because they’re everywhere.  Not just on television, but online, on Facebook and Twitter and spread by email.  The computer age has given us many, many more ways to communicate, but that comes at a cost.  And one of the costs is that when evil things happen, they are shoved in our faces in ways they never were before.

How do you deal with the problem of evil?  Why does God let such horrible things happen?  Why do the innocent suffer?  What happens to people to cause them to do such things, and how can we prevent it?  Why are things so bad these days?  Are things worse than they used to be, or is it just that we are more aware of suffering in the world, and that victims of horrors are more likely to speak up and demand justice?

We are not alone in asking such questions.  People have been trying to figure out how to deal with evil since the world began.  People have suffered from injustice and natural disasters since the first human beings.  And people have suffered from all manner of physical and mental and emotional problems since there have been human beings on this Earth.  I don’t think people treat one another worse today than they did two thousand years ago, though I do think we are more likely to see and be haunted by the evils that happen to other people in the world.  But all these questions, important as they are, are not the most important ones to ask.  The question we as Christians must ask is this: what does God have to say in response to such horrors?

First of all, we are not alone.  We are not abandoned to muddle through in a world falling to pieces.  God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived a human life and who suffered just as we have suffered.  Jesus was no stranger to pain or grief.  He wept when his friend Lazarus died, and he himself ministered to those in grief.  Jesus spent his time with those who were sick, injured, dying, outcasts, sinners—all who suffered.  He brought hope and healing to all he met.

And we are not alone because we are called to minister to one another in pain and grief.  We see an example of this in our first lesson.  A woman named Tabitha died.  We aren’t told how or why, but medical care was almost non-existent at the time, and what little there was probably wouldn’t have been used for a woman.  She seems to have been of no particular merit or value in society—except to her friends and those she helped.  And when she died, her friends grieved, but the town probably didn’t pay much attention.  Unlike today’s world, where social media shoves tragedy in our face and there are funds and campaigns to send help to those who need it, Tabitha’s life and death were not something the larger society cared much about.

But the family of faith cared.  The family of faith cared even about this woman that society said wasn’t worth worrying about.  Tabitha’s friends cared, and so did Peter, and so did God.  Tabitha’s friends, both those who were within the Christian community and those who weren’t gathered to mourn her.  They let their grief at her passing come out and be seen and heard.  They told stories about her.  They told of the people she had helped, the things she had made.  They cried together.  And when Peter heard that someone had died, he went.  He joined them in their grief.

Now, Peter had a power I don’t have, and neither does anyone here that I’m aware of: God worked through Peter to raise Tabitha from the dead.  Such things have only happened a bare handful of times, and we can’t pin our hopes on an apostle like Peter happening by at the right time.  The victims of the bombs in Boston probably aren’t going to sit up out of their coffins at the funeral.

But Peter points to something greater than just one faithful woman being raised: Peter points to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  You see, Jesus Christ lived and died in a world just as messed up, as violent, and as unjust as the one we live in.  Jesus Christ lived in a world of casual brutality and callous disregard for people outside one’s own group that we can’t even begin to imagine.  And Jesus Christ stood up to that brutality, that violence, and that evil and said NO.  No, evil does not get the final say.  No, Jesus says, you can’t just ignore people you don’t like because even the greatest sinner is one of my flock.  No, you can’t use “they’re not like me” as justification for hatred and violence, for discrimination and abuse.  No, Jesus says, you can’t just shove aside those weaker than you, because they are mine, all of them.  No, Jesus says, the pain you have suffered is not an excuse to go out and inflict suffering on others.  But most importantly, Jesus says no—death doesn’t get the final victory.  Jesus’ NO was so loud that it scared people.  Jesus’ refusal to go along with a corrupt and callous society threatened those in power, and so they reacted as scared, callous people do in a violent world: they killed him.  And they thought they’d won.

But Jesus was not done.  Jesus was greater than that, and when Jesus said “no” to the evils of the world, that “no” was stronger than anyone could possibly imagine.  And when Jesus rose from the grave, he broke the powers of darkness.  He burst the gates of Hell so that it could not keep anyone imprisoned.  From that second on to this very day, evil and violence and brutality and callousness and abuse and injustice are on the defensive, fighting a losing battle.  They may seem as powerful as ever—and God knows that this week, they’ve seemed to loom over everything—but we are people of the Resurrection, and we know that in the end, they will be destroyed.  In the end, the Risen Christ will come again and all people will be raised from the dead.  Not just a faithful few like Tabitha, but everyone, from every time and every place.  Evil will be purged, and in its place will be only goodness and love.  In place of hunger and thirst, there will be good food and drink.  In place of hatred, there will be love.  In place of mourning, there will be joy.  God himself will wipe away every tear from every eye.

And while we wait for Christ to come again, while we wait for the general Resurrection, while we wait for the world to be made new, Christ calls us to join him in ministry.  Christ calls us to grieve for the dead, and for what has been lost.  They rest secure in Jesus’ care, but we will miss them and we are less because they are not with us.  Christ calls us to support those who grieve, just as the faithful in Joppa did, telling stories and crying together and simply being there.

Jesus Christ calls us to stand up in a world full of death and destruction, and proclaim the Good News.  Jesus Christ calls us to stand up in a world of violence and proclaim the coming of the Prince of Peace.  Jesus Christ calls us to stand up in a world of injustice and hatred and proclaim the coming of the Lord of Love.  And we are called to do that not just in word, but in deed.  We are called to live out our faith in the light of the Resurrection, to let every action, however small, and every word, however insignificant it may seem, proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.  We are called to let God’s love flow through us and in us and around us.  We are called to bring healing and hope to those who walk in darkness, whether that is the darkness of what has been done to them or the darkness of their own hate and fear.  We are called to tell the whole world what it means for all people that Jesus Christ is risen.

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Unexpected Calls

The Third Sunday After Easter, Year C, April 7, 2013

Acts 9:1-20, Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14, John 21:1-19

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In today’s readings, we have three “call” stories.  Now, a call story is a story about God calling you to do something.  The most obvious people in a community with a call from God are pastors.  After all, like most churches, the ELCA will not ordain anyone a pastor unless they genuinely believe that you have been called by God to the ordained ministry.  But pastors aren’t the only ones God calls.  In fact, God calls all kinds of people to all kinds of work.  And sometimes that work is something that lasts a lifetime, and sometimes that call is just for one thing, right then, right now.  It’s often something we wouldn’t have chosen, and from the outside it can look kind of strange.  God works in ways we don’t understand, ways we would never have chosen, and sometimes God calls us to do things we would never have imagined.

Our first lesson tells the story of the conversion of Saul.  You’re probably more familiar with him under a different name: Paul.  You see, “Paul” is a more Greek-sounding name, so it’s what Saul called himself when dealing with Gentiles.  So, since we are the spiritual descendants of the Gentiles that Paul brought to the faith—and because most of our knowledge of Paul comes from the letters he wrote to those Gentiles, which have been included in the New Testament—we call him St. Paul.  It’s easy to think of Paul as a wise church leader, an apostle sent by God to preach the faith and guide new believers.  It’s not so easy to remember that before he was a believer in Jesus Christ, Paul persecuted the church.  He was a devout Jew who believed that the teachings of Jesus were leading his people astray from the true word of God, and so he sought out followers of Jesus and prosecuted them.  At least one of those trials, that of a deacon named Stephen, resulted in an execution.  And after Stephen’s death, Paul travelled to Damascus to seek out other followers of Christ to bring to trial.  Paul was a devout man who genuinely, honestly believed that he was a righteous man following God’s will … except what he was doing was directly against God’s will!

Now, if it was you or me, we would not say that this guy would make a good follower of Christ.  If it was you or me, we’d look at this man who was responsible for the death of a faithful Christian and was seeking others to persecute, and we’d say “this guy deserves what he gets—he doesn’t deserve salvation!  He doesn’t deserve God’s love!  Get rid of him.  But that’s not what God did.  God did not attack Paul.  God did not think Paul was beyond redemption—God knew better.  God came to Paul and showed him the error of his ways.  God called Paul to a better and truer and deeper understanding of God’s Word.  Imagine what it must have been like for Paul: God turned his entire world upside down.  Everything Paul thought he knew was wrong.  God did have work for Paul, but it wasn’t what Paul was expecting.  When he started out for Damascus, neither Paul nor anyone else could have imagined where that journey would lead him.  God called him out of his comfortable certainties, his narrow righteousness, into a fuller understanding of God’s love that demanded to be shared with the world.  The call that God gave Paul, which began on that road to Damascus, would last Paul’s whole life long and transform the fledgling movement known then only as “the Way”, which would eventually be called the Christian Church.

The second call story in today’s lessons is that of Ananias.  Unlike Paul, we don’t know much about Ananias.  He seems to have been an ordinary follower of Jesus Christ, nothing special about him that anybody can see.  The only other time he’s mentioned in the Bible is later in Acts when Paul tells the story of his roadside experience, referring to Ananias as a “devout follower” of God.  There was nothing special about Ananias … except that when God called him to do something, he did it.  Put yourself in Ananias’ shoes.  He knew darn good and well who this Saul of Tarsus that God was sending him to was.  He knew that Paul had been persecuting the followers of Jesus.  He knew that Paul was responsible for the death of Stephen, and had come specifically to attack followers of Jesus—like Ananias himself!  Paul was a clear and present threat to his continued life and livelihood.  If you were him, would you have wanted to go heal Paul?  No!  If it were me, there’s a good chance that I’d look upon Paul’s blinding as the least of what he deserved, and take pleasure in his misfortune.  So it’s no wonder that, when God called Ananias to heal Paul’s blindness, Ananias questioned God.

And yet, when it came down to it … Ananias went.  He followed God’s call to heal and teach Paul, and in so doing he participated in something he could never have imagined.  By healing Paul and teaching him the basics of the Christian faith, Ananias helped start Paul’s mission to the Gentiles.  Without Ananias’ healing and witness, Paul could not have learned about Jesus, he could not have travelled throughout Greece and Turkey spreading the Gospel, and he could not have written the letters that have added so much depth and richness to our understanding of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Ananias’ call to heal and teach Paul lasted only for a short time, and yet it enabled a spread of the Gospel beyond anything anybody had seen yet.

Then, in the Gospel, we have a call for Simon, who was nicknamed Peter.  Peter, by the way, means “Rock,” and I’ve always wondered if that was a reference to how hard his head was.  Peter was not the brightest of the disciples.  If there was a way to misunderstand, Peter would do it.  If there was a way to screw up, Peter would find it.  Peter had some of the best moments of any of the disciples, where he “got” who Jesus was better than anyone else … and each time he immediately followed it up by proving he was still missing the boat.  You may have noticed, in today’s reading, the funny thing he does: he’d taken off his clothes to fish, presumably so as not to get fish guts and stuff on them.  Seeing Jesus on the shore, he is overwhelmed with joy!  He’s going to swim ashore to meet Jesus because he can’t even wait for the boat to get there!  And before he jumps in the water and gets soaking wet, he put all his clothes on.  Usually, people take their clothes off before they go swimming, but not our Rock.  Not the brightest crayon in the box, our Peter.  If I were interviewing for a church leadership position and someone like Peter was one of the applicants, I would hesitate.  If I were to pick a disciple to be the backbone of the early church, without knowing Peter’s later role, I would have picked a different one.  Yet Jesus singled Peter out, calling him to “feed Jesus’ sheep,” to care for all of God’s children, and telling him that this call would end with Peter suffering for Jesus’ sake.

And Peter answered Jesus’ call, knowing it would lead him into danger and hard times.  He didn’t miraculously become a different person, he didn’t miraculously become suave and sophisticated.  He never stopped being a bit dense.  Yet God used him to bring many others to the faith.  Peter never managed the sophisticated theological arguments that Paul did, but that was okay.  That wasn’t what Peter was called to do.  Peter was called by God to tell the story, to tell how he had experienced the love of God in Christ Jesus, to tell the story simply and honestly.  And, when disputes among the followers of Christ came up, Peter was called to give common-sense answers and pass on what God told him.  Nothing fancy, nothing complicated.  Through his honesty, his openness, his willingness to follow God even when he didn’t understand what God wanted him to do, Peter had a profound impact on the early Christians.  He helped them see God’s work in their midst, even when it went against what they expected God would want.  Peter fed God’s sheep with simple, wholesome Good News.

In all three of these call stories, God called people we wouldn’t expect to do things we wouldn’t expect.  He picked the enemy of the faith, the ordinary follower of Jesus, the dimmest of the disciples.  And he didn’t call them to do what they expected God would want them to do.  Paul never imagined that he would join the very group he had been persecuting in God’s name.  Ananias never expected he would heal and mentor a man who had been the enemy of his people.  Peter never expected he would be the heart of the followers of Jesus, one of their great leaders.  Yet through their actions, faith in Jesus Christ was spread throughout the world.  We would not be here today without them.

And we shouldn’t be surprised that God calls unusual people to do unusual things.  After all, God is one who does the unexpected.  God is the one who chose to save the world through his own death.  God is the one who came to earth not in a palace, but in a humble stable.  God is the one who came to challenge the forces of evil not like a lion, but like a tiny lamb.  Our God is always turning the world upside down and right side up.  We worship the lamb that was slain, who loved the whole world so much that he could not bear to see any part of it suffer.  We worship a God who calls all of creation to himself, not just the big and might and good but the small, and stupid, and wrong, and bad as well, every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, calls them to new life with the risen Christ.

God calls all of creation to rejoice in the Resurrection, and to participate in Christ’s saving work in the world.  God calls us, too, every single one of us.  We all have our part in the choir of all creation.  We all have our part to play in the Good News.  It may be big, it may be small, but in everything we say and do we are called to proclaim the good news that comes through Jesus Christ.  The question is, will we answer God’s call?  Will we follow where God leads us, even if it’s not what we would have chosen or anticipated?  Will we let the love of God shine through our words and our deeds?

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Light in the Darkness

Transfiguration, Year B, Sunday, February 19, 2012

2 Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9

Preached by Anna C. Haugen, Trinity Lutheran Church, Somerset, PA

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the last two hundred years or so, there have been a lot of debates about the miracles and wonder stories and visions of the Bible.  Did they actually happen?  Did they happen as described?  What natural phenomena could explain them?  Were they hallucinations?  Wishful thinking?  Tall tales?  Poetic license?  If you had a time machine and a video camera, and stood on the banks of the Red Sea as the Israelites crossed, would it look like Cecil B. DeMille’s vision?

Modern society is all about facts.  Cold, hard, facts.  Things you can prove in a science lab or a court of law.  Names, dates, easy answers.  This is just as true for people inside the church as outside it.  In seminary, one of my professors told a story about teaching a Bible study about Noah’s ark to a class of adults whose most pressing question about the whole story was “what kind of wood was the ark made of?”  We treat the Bible as if it were a textbook, full of things to memorize or check off on a list.  We get so focused on trying to prove or disprove the facts, that sometimes we forget about the deeper reality they point to.  We get so blinded by the surface of things, that we forget to look for the truth inside them.

Peter could tell us a lot about being blinded by the surface of things.  It happened to him quite often.  Peter was forever missing the point, and today’s story is no exception.  Picture this: Jesus, Peter, James, and John, had been travelling around Judea for months, now, on foot.  Their clothes were probably in pretty sad shape, with dirt and grime ground in, and I doubt the rest of them was much better.  They probably didn’t look as pretty as they do in pictures, and I wouldn’t want to stand downwind of them.  But while they’ve been travelling, they’d done and seen some awesome things: Jesus had healed many people, cast out many demons, and taught thousands of people about how God wanted them to live their lives.  But not everything was so rosy.  Jesus had just begun telling them that he was going to suffer and die, and the disciples—Peter in particular—wanted to nip that idea in the bud.

So Jesus takes a few of his friends up on the mountain, and there something awesome happens.  Instead of the tired, grimy, ordinary guy they’re used to seeing, Jesus is transformed into a vision of light.  They glimpse, however dimly, that Jesus isn’t just an ordinary teacher, or even an ordinary prophet or miracle-worker.  The light of God’s presence shines in him.  They’ve been spreading God’s light through their ministry this whole time, and now, for the first time, they can actually see it, whether with their eyes or with their soul.  Jesus has said all along that God’s kingdom was near, and now they can see it, however dimly.

As if that’s not enough, Moses and Elijah show up.  Now, any good Jew like Peter, James, and John, knew what that meant.  Moses gave them God’s Law, and Elijah was the most powerful prophet Israel ever knew.  Both died under mysterious circumstances: God took Moses’ body to bury it, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind to heaven.  Nobody ever found either body.  According to tradition, they were supposed to appear when the Messiah came.  So there they were, and there Jesus was, shining with the light of God.  Peter has already realized that Jesus is the Messiah.  This is all the confirmation he could ever want.

Knowing that Jesus is the Messiah, what does Peter want to do?  Stay there on the mountain top, with Moses and Elijah and Jesus shining!  Crowds have been coming to them for some time, willing to come great distances to hear Jesus preach or be healed by him.  Surely, they’ll come here, too.  Then everyone can see what Jesus is.  There will be more teaching, more healing, everything they’ve been doing all this time, except better.  No more talk of this scary “suffering” thing.  Everything will be great.

But that’s not why they’re up there on the mountain.  That’s not why they see God’s grace manifest in Jesus, their friend and teacher.  Because God’s plan isn’t just “more of the same, only better.”  God’s plan is not limited to healing a few lepers, feeding a few crowds, teaching a few people about the kingdom of heaven.  God’s plan is bigger than that, more radical.  God is going to turn the whole world inside out and right-side up.  God is going to heal all the brokenness in the world, all the sickness, all the sinfulness, not just a little here and there but all of it, in every time and every place.  And God is going to do it through Jesus’ death on the cross.

Things are always darkest before dawn.  In the days to come, after they come down from the mountain, as Jesus goes to Jerusalem to suffer and die, things are going to look awfully grim.  There will be high points, but there will also be deep, painful lows, worse than anything Peter can probably imagine at this point.  It’s going to get very scary.  Because brokenness and sin and death aren’t going to give up their hold on the world easily.  The entrenched power-structures of the world that feed off of injustice and evil aren’t going to give up easily.  Jesus will have to suffer and die to break their power.  And Peter, James, and John will be along to watch every minute of it.  No matter what Peter wants, there’s no quick fix, no easy solution.  Knowing the right answers will not make what’s coming any easier to endure.

That’s why the disciples need this mountaintop experience.  They need to see the light of God, because things are going to get very dark.  They need to know that even ordinary things—like the clothes Jesus is wearing, worn and stained from months of travel—can become extraordinary.  They need to know that God’s light is within Jesus, shining forth, even when they can’t see it.  No matter how dark things get, Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the Son of God and Son of Man.  And all the things that Jesus has done before this lead up to his death and resurrection.

Jesus heals people because in the kingdom of God all people will be well and whole.  The brokenness of the world that causes illness will be wiped away.  Jesus feeds people because in God’s kingdom there is abundance for all.  Jesus teaches people to help them live lives worthy of God’s kingdom, lives of grace and mercy and love for God and for all people.  And Jesus dies so that God’s abundant life may be given to all.  No matter how dark things look, God’s light is more powerful still.  Jesus shines on that mountaintop so that Peter and the others can see that.

And so that we can see it, too.  Jesus’ death and resurrection broke the power of sin and death, but the ultimate victory will not happen until Christ comes again.  In the meantime, there is still plenty of darkness in the world.  I’m sure everyone here has experienced that darkness.  We have experienced pain, and suffering, illness and injury, grief and fear and doubt.  We have experienced sin and brokenness and death.  We know that the pain is not the end, that brokenness does not have the final say, that death has lost its sting.  And yet, until Christ comes again we must wait to experience the healing and joy that we know is coming.  We need the light of Christ to shine in our darkness, to help us see that God is working in the world and in us.  We need the light of Christ to remind us that our pain and suffering we experience and see around us are not the ultimate reality.  In the end, God’s love and healing win.

Amen.