Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, November 27, 2022

YEAR A 2022 advent 1

Advent 1, 2022
Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44
Psalm 122

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So . . . as I remind you every year, the church and the society around us are not in sync when it comes to Christmas.  Five seconds after Halloween was over, people started putting up Christmas decorations.  Stores started selling wrapping paper and lawn displays.  And, best of all, the breweries started releasing their Christmas ales.  

HOWEVER, in the life of the church, we don’t celebrate a thing until it happens.  Easter begins at sundown on Holy Saturday, and goes for 50 days.  Christmas begins after sundown on Christmas Eve and goes for the 12 days of Christmas.  (If only there were a song to remind us of that.)  Point being, in the church, we are now waiting for Christmas, no matter what the piped-in music in the stores might be telling you.

We get to soak up four weeks of blue before Jesus gets here.  (Well, plus also a little bit of rose two weeks from now, thanks to our awesome sewing guild.)  Nonetheless, the contrast between what is happening all around us and the Gospel reading we just heard is pretty stark.  But speaking of scary readings, let’s start here . . . 

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “Left Behind” series.  If you haven’t, good for you!  Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins teamed up to write a bunch of books based on their premillennial dispensationalist interpretation of the end times.  (I’m just gonna let that sentence sit there because we don’t have nearly enough time.)  The first book, called “Left Behind,” was inspired by the Gospel reading we just heard, based on what some people call “the Rapture.”  In a nutshell, some Christians believe that God will snatch away the believers to a safe place and then let evil take over the world.  In this misunderstanding of the passage, you do not want to be left behind, because that means you will have to go through the great tribulation to come.

But if you look at the words we just heard, that has it all backwards.  In the story of Noah, which Jesus mentions, the other people are swept away, and Noah is left behind.  If there is a big flood that sweeps away everything around you, you want to be left behind, in that ark, with the animals.  And, though I don’t want to get too deep into the Greek weeds here, a legitimate way to interpret the other two examples Jesus uses is that one woman will be “taken away,” and the other will be “forgiven.” 

Being left behind means you are spared, not cursed, is the point I’m making.  Not only that, since all the biblical references to heaven indicate a time ON EARTH in the future, rather than a time right now SOMEWHERE ELSE, the place you want to be is right here, in the future.  You want to be left behind.  So, please leave behind any “Left Behind” thoughts you might have from this reading, because those books are just misinformed fantasy writing.

Now.  The two things I want to talk about this morning are promises and hope.  Promises and hope are tied together, and especially in today’s readings.  When we go back to the text we heard from Isaiah, we hear a promise that, “in days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains.”  It is a promise for the future, though we are not told when it will come to pass.  And here’s a tricky thing about promises and the future:  God can already see that future.  It is not a thing that might happen, if everything goes according to plan.  It is not a promise that will occur, if we all behave, or whatever.  No, from God’s vantage point, it is a done deal.  We just can’t see it because we are constrained by time.  But, in days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains.  Shall be.

Promises and hope. If God has promised something will happen, and we trust in that promise, then we hope for the future.  Our hope roots our focus in the future, you could say.  We’re not there yet, but when we have hope, we have a stake in that future promise.  Hope keeps us in two places at once, confident that a thing will happen in the future, and living in the present, before that thing takes place.  You can maybe see how that is different from just wishing a thing might happen.  Hope anchors us in the future, a lifeline to the time when God's promises shall be fulfilled.

But, of course, we want to know when these promises will be fulfilled.  In fact, a few verses before today’s gospel reading from Matthew, the disciples come to Jesus asking him when the end will come.  And Jesus says that he “will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”  But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Salvation will come.  But we don’t know when.  And the angels don’t know when.  And Jesus doesn’t know when.  So we live in the sure hope that it shall happen, because God’s promises are true.  Our salvation is already accomplished, but it is not yet here.

So, it’s like Advent.  As you and I move through the Church year together, we always know what is coming before it gets here.  We know there’s a baby coming, but he is not yet born.  We know who his mother is, and we know he will grow up and gather his disciples, and be arrested, executed, and rise from the grave, telling his disciples to tell the world that we too shall rise from the grave and  . . . But he is not yet born.  We know what is coming, but it is not yet here.  The cycles of our church year get us in the habit of trusting a thing is coming, even though it is not yet here.  We know it will happen, even though we still wait for it.  That’s Advent.

I want to briefly touch on the Psalm we read together a few minutes ago.  “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’. . . Pray for the peace of Jerusalem . . . For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, ‘Peace be within you’.  For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.”

There is a theme throughout the scriptures that peace is always accompanied by justice.  I don’t mean 21st century legal punitive justice.  I mean a just society, where the naked are clothed, and the hungry are fed.  And if you give it some thought, you’ll see this is not just a biblical concept.  There really can be no peace where there is no justice.  Even if you take compassion and love out of the equation, if some people have nothing while others have everything, no one will ever really have peace.  There will always be anger and bloodshed and violence.  And look at what the psalmist says in that closing line:  “For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.”  

If I truly seek what is best for you, truly love my neighbor as myself, there will be peace on earth.  From Isaiah today, we heard “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”  And here we see, it’s not just that war stops, or that the need for war stops.  There’s a second step, a constructive step.  A step where we stop turning the tools of violence toward our neighbor, and instead turn them into a means of helping our neighbors.  Swords into plowshares.  Fists of violence into hands of help.  Peace and justice go hand in hand.

And so, back to waiting for Jesus . . .
The sudden and unexpected return of Jesus we heard about means . . . what?  Well, clearly that will vary according to what you’re expecting, and what you feel is expected from you.  But the Spirit of God convicts each one of us to do something to get ready.  And the reason we want someone to tell us the exact date is because deep down we’re each afraid we’re not doing enough to get ready.  

Sure, the Spirit convinced Noah to build an ark.  But remember the other examples:  two people working in a field, two women grinding grain.  We are not all called to build arks.  (If we were, the world would be awfully crowded, and there would be no trees.)  We’re also not all called to work in the fields or grind grain.  But in our baptismal covenant, we do all promise to work for justice and peace.  We can’t all clothe the naked, or feed the hungry, or do whatever.  But you are uniquely called and equipped to do something to bring about God’s Kingdom.  

There is some part of preparing for Jesus’ return that you alone can do, because of who you are, and where you are, and because of what you are:  a claimed and redeemed child of God, a living witness in the world, proclaiming the hope of the one we are longing to welcome.  That same one who offers himself to us this day, at this altar.  

We do not know the hour that Jesus will return, but we do know that in this hour he is present among us.  We know that when we gather together in his name, he is already here.  So, as we wait for God’s promises to be revealed, I invite you to come to this altar, and welcome Jesus into your life once more, in the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.


Sunday, November 20, 2022

YEAR C 2022 christ the king

Christ the King, 2022
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, this is the last Sunday before Advent starts.  No more green!  It’s the end of our year spent hearing from the Gospel of Luke.  We call this day Christ the King Sunday, and it signals the close of the church year.  And knowing that it’s Christ the King Sunday might lead you to ask the obvious question:  Why is Jesus the king on a cross?  Why don’t we hear instead about Jesus’ resurrection?  Or, you know, some part of the story that looks a little more like reigning victorious rather than dying beside a couple two-bit thieves?

Well, since we’re right on the verge of Advent, it will probably help to start with how God arrives on the scene in the beginning.  As you know, the Jewish people were waiting forever for the Messiah, the anointed one.  They wanted and expected God to send someone to knock the Romans off their perch and throw off the yoke of oppression.  You know, someone riding in on a white horse with a blazing sword who could set things right.  A king of restoration, when it comes right down to it.  

But let’s take our minds back to what we vaguely remember from the Hebrew scriptures.  God told Moses, if the people would serve God as King, they would have no need for kings. They needed a leader, yes, but not a king.  (And Moses, you’ll remember, was a shepherd, not a king.)  So God says, I the Lord shall be your king.  And Israel was led by prophets and judges for generations.  (I’m paraphrasing whole books here, so bear with me.)

After 400 years of being led by prophets and judges, the people approached the Prophet Samuel, clamoring for a king “like all the other nations.”  This desire to be like other nations is the root of the problem for them.  God did not want them to be like other nations; God’s ways were not their ways.  And having a king (as they would soon find out) would lead them right down that same path.  Then we get Saul, and David, and a whole list of kings who do what is evil in God’s sight.  The kingdom splits in two:  Judah and Israel.  The people are taken away to foreign lands in captivity, and the Jewish people start coming back five hundred years before the birth of Jesus.

(Almost done.)  Then Alexander the Great takes over Palestine in 331 BC; then the Jewish people revolt and take it back (which you’ll find in the books of Maccabees); then the Romans take over, the Parthians invade, and Herod gets the Romans to support him in taking it all back.  Herod dies, and his three sons take over (two of whom also named Herod, because of his creative child-naming skills), and this leads us right up to what we could call year zero.  Or, maybe more accurately, 4 AD, but who’s counting?

After all this violence and oppression, God’s chosen people again want a mighty warrior king who will overthrow the Romans and restore them to their land and heritage as a free people.  And what do we get?  A baby.  Born to an unwed mother.  In a feeding trough, behind a sold-out hotel.  This Jesus cannot possibly be the Messiah they’ve been waiting for.  He’s a defenseless baby.  He is no king.

Now . . . fast forward 2,000 years and here we are.  Gathered on a Sunday morning, and looking for a king.  It’s Christ the King Sunday, so we’re expecting to see our Savior in the most elevated position possible, right?  Jesus our King, lifted high in glory, having defeated all his enemies and ours.  A king who will overthrow the evil forces all around us and restore us to our heritage as free people.  And what do we get?  Not a king lifted up in glory, but a man on the verge of death, hung between two thieves.  One who is beaten and mocked and disgraced.  God’s people wanted a king, and instead they got a baby.  Now we want a king, and instead we get a man about to die.

You know what we have in common with God’s people across the ages?  We don’t understand kingship the way God shows kingship.  We associate being kingly with being powerful and getting our way.  We expect a ruler to force their will on others, for better or worse.  In fact, we have come to expect a ruler to act like the people all around Jesus in this gospel reading.  Mocking, taunting, humiliating, full of arrogance and spite.  We expect the king to be the one who sentences someone to death.  You know, like your Pontius Pilate, or your Herod, son of Herod, brother of Herod.

But, turns out, the King is the one on the cross.  The King is the one who is willing to suffer, and willing to lay down his life for others.  Not what we would expect.  And that leads us to the disconnect in this gospel we just heard.  

Notice how everyone is setting up these if/then scenarios for him.  
The people say, If he is the Messiah of God, let him save himself.  The soldiers say, If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.  One of the criminals says, Are you not the Messiah? Then save yourself and us.  And we might say, if you are a king, come and save us as well!  Come and make things better.  Come and save us from the senseless violence and creeping despair.  Come and save us from the pain and darkness in our world.  If you are the Messiah, come and save your people!

You see where that puts us, of course.  If we are expecting that Jesus, the Christ the King who will squash our enemies and stamp out evil . . . well . . . we kind of end up sounding like the people mocking Jesus, don’t we?  Jesus has to prove himself to us through his mighty deeds.  And we end up speaking the words of the angry crowd, the mocking soldiers, the taunting thief on the cross.  And that’s the natural reaction to this scene, isn’t it?  Jesus never claimed to be a king.  But the people wanted a king, like the Israelites wanted a king, and so they made him a king.  And when the king can’t defend even himself . . . well, what kind of king is that?  Off with his head!

But today we see God offering us a different way.  We see that victory is through surrender.  We see that serving is winning.  If our way of life requires others losing, others dying, others suffering, then it is not the way of God.  Because here we see that God loses, God suffers, God dies.  God sacrifices for us.  This is kingship.  This is royalty.  Christianity turns everything on its head, every time, and God’s ways are not our ways.

And this is the point where you say, okay Father Preacher man, that’s all well and good.  But it sure doesn’t sound like . . . you know . . . good news.  We get that Jesus came to serve, and we get that Jesus is willing to lay down his life, but . . . well . . . so what?  But maybe we ask those questions because we’re still thinking like the crowd, and the soldiers, and the mocking thief.  So let’s look at the other person in this story.

Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  Jesus replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

When we set aside our natural drive to get Jesus to prove himself, when we set aside our quid pro quo of “if you really are who I say you are,” when we step back and focus on what we really need from a savior rather than from a king, then we can say to Jesus what we really need to say.  And it is just this:  Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

That’s the one request that matters.  That is the true sign of faith in the midst of turmoil and despair.  If we ask one thing of Jesus, it should be this:  Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

And it is interesting, to me, that this other thief on the cross should word it this way.  The others are saying, if you are a king, then save yourself.  And if you are a king, then save us.  But the thief on the cross is saying, when you are a king.  When you come into your kingdom.  When you come into your kingdom, remember me.  When you are seated at the right hand of God, remember me.  When the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven forever sing this hymn . . . remember me.

Which brings us to this Altar.  That hymn, that song, is going on at this very moment.  You and I are remembered in that kingdom, a kingdom that is not of this world.  And in a few minutes, you and I will once again join in the timeless stream of that eternal hymn.  It is not a song sung to some ruler on earth, as though we were just paying homage to some temporary ruler.  No, it is a song that goes on forever, to a Savior who rules our hearts forever.  It is a song that unites us with people of every time and every place.  A song of praise to the King of heaven, and the Savior of the world.  Christ the King, who rules this Sunday, and all the days to come.  Lord Jesus, ruler of our hearts, remember us in your kingdom.  Remember all of us in your kingdom.


Sunday, November 13, 2022

YEAR C 2022 pentecost 23

Pentecost 23, 2022
Malachi 4:1-2a
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Well, this is quite a collection of readings this morning, I think you’ll agree.  To quote Gimley: Certainty of death; small chance of success.  What are we waiting for?

We don’t have sufficient time to fully deal with the reading from second Thessalonians, but I feel like I have to say something. It really needs its own 40 minute sermon, which you won’t be getting from me.  But it is important to remember that not everything in the Bible has equal weight.  A letter written by an apostle to the church in some city is not the same as the words spoken by Jesus in one of the four gospels.  Whatever this Thessalonians reading is, it is not the heart of Christianity. It most certainly is not what Jesus taught.

“Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”  It sounds like something we intuitively agree with, which is why it’s so dangerous. It fits with how we view the world. We pass laws saying parents receiving government assistance must also work while also watching their children.  And it’s a quick slippery slope to talking about the “worthy poor,” which somehow implies the existence of the “unworthy poor.”  And don’t even get me started on that blasphemous concept!  But we can see that this is not the message of Christianity by just asking a few questions . . .

If those who don’t work should not eat, explain to me the parable of laborers in the field, where those who show up at closing time get the same amount as those who worked all day.  Or, how has Mary “chosen the better way” by just sitting at the feet of Jesus while Martha toils in the kitchen?  Or, taken to it’s extreme, why should we ever feed babies or our pets, since they clearly haven’t worked a day in their lives?

This reading is a red herring for Christians. Don’t believe the hype.  Whoever wrote second Thessalonians was writing to a specific group of people experiencing specific problems in a specific time and place.  We are not those people.  So let me just say this:  People who do not work still deserve to eat, no matter what you just heard in this reading.  Rant over.

Now, about that Luke reading.  In some ways, this is the perfect Gospel text for our politically troubled and divisive times.  Some people see what has been happening in our country as a good and proper thing.  And others sense that everything has been torn down.  We are in one of those times where two people can look at the same exact thing and yet somehow see exactly the opposite.  Some see a restoration of goodness, and others despair over something that has already been thrown down.  And the problem with both those views is that we are putting our trust in things human.  We are putting our hopes in things that will ultimately pass away, whether those things are currently ascending or descending.  We cling to what is fleeting and temporary, just as the disciples did.

But, Jesus says, “do not be terrified.”    We are used to Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid.”  He says that a lot.  But here, he says “do not be terrified”—or, what he actually says is, “may you not be terrified.”  These things will happen, yes.  And when they do, may you not be terrified.  Personally, I prefer that Jesus says “may you” here.  Because when he says “do not be afraid,” that sounds more like a command . . . like it’s up to us to do that thing.  But “may you not be terrified” sounds more like a blessing to my ear.  “May you find peace” as opposed to “FIND PEACE!”  But I digress.

When we hear or read this part of Luke, we get focused on the destruction and despair.  The wars and insurrections, the nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  We fixate on the great earthquakes, and famines and plagues, and dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.  You know, the timeline we’ve all been living in since 2020.

It is an unsettling text, yes.  But it is meant to be settling . . . or, I mean, reassuring.  Bottom line: Jesus is not telling us what the future holds.  He is telling us who holds the future.  He is not saying, “Though there will be suffering . . . you got this.”  He is saying, “Though there will be suffering, God has got you.”  God holds the past; God holds the present; God holds the future.  Our story is God’s story; the two are interwoven from the very beginning, and God will not let us go until the story is entirely written.  Jesus is saying: what is important is not what the future holds, but who holds the future.  Remember that.

When bad things happen (and they will), may you not be terrified.  You and I are not likely to be dragged before kings and rulers.  We probably will not be handed over to prison for our faith.  And some of the things Jesus describes will probably never happen in our lifetimes.  But there will be suffering for each of us, in one way or another.  Marriages will fall apart; family members will disown one another; jobs will be lost, and loved ones will pass away.  These things will happen . . . and may you not be terrified.

We want to be saved from suffering.  We want God to prevent sorrow and pain.  But God does not save us from suffering.  God saves us in the midst of suffering.  Since our story is God’s story, God continually meets us in our pain.  I don’t need to tell you that suffering is part of life.  Being a Christian does not mean you will not suffer.  In fact, based on what Jesus says to us today, being a Christian just might be the cause of suffering.  That was certainly true for his disciples, who suffered horribly under Roman persecutions.  Our suffering is different from theirs, but it is still our suffering, and we still need God to meet us in our pain, just as much as the disciples did.

We look for God in our suffering.  But we should never look for God as the cause of suffering.  There are people who like to say, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”  
Please.  Just.  Don’t.  

God is not sitting around handing out suffering to see how much you can bear.  Let me say this clearly:  God does not cause the suffering in your life.  God meets us in our suffering; but God does not cause it.  Sometimes it’s us; sometimes it’s other people; and sometimes it’s just the way things are.  But no matter the cause of our pain and grief and sadness, the important thing to remember is this:  God does not cause it; but God meets us there.  

In today’s gospel text, Jesus tells the disciples, “make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”  He has just warned them about the persecution they will face, and says that persecution will give them a chance to testify.  But he tells them not to plan what they will say in advance, because he will give them the words they need.

How does that relate to us?  Well, let me suggest something like this:  Maybe we should avoid having prepared bumper sticker slogans, like “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”  Maybe we should resist the temptation to always have a pat answer to explain away evil, and pain, and heartbreak.  God does not cause the suffering in your friend’s life; but God meets them there, and we meet them there.

Maybe we should face whatever suffering comes our way by finding where God is meeting us in that pain.  Because God is there.  Perhaps it is more helpful and faithful to seek God in the moment, trusting that God is there.  That God will give us a word when we need it.  Rather than preparing in advance to explain God’s absence in our pain, we’d be better off looking for God’s presence in our pain.  Trusting Jesus when he says, “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”

But enough of that.  Here’s what I really want to get to this morning.  This section of Luke’s Gospel finishes with Jesus telling the disciples, “You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”  Let me start with that last sentence.  Though the translation we get sounds like a thing we have to do—that is IF we endure, we will gain our souls in the future—the actual wording is more like, “keep your souls in patience.”  Which is more akin to saying, “do not let your soul be anxious.”  It’s not an if/then, meaning “If you want to gain your soul you must endure.”  Rather, it is more like, “Keep your soul at peace.”  Two very different things.

And secondly, the hair thing.  Jesus promises, “not a hair of your head shall perish.”  This is a metaphor.  I point to my own head by example.  I have lost a lot of hairs over the years.  They are lost to me, but they are not lost to God.  I’m not saying God has a bag of my hair on a shelf in the closet—since that’s weird, and kind of gross.  This is obviously a metaphor.  And the metaphor can be interpreted as something like this . . . 

Whether or not elections turn out the way you wanted, and whether or not you got the job, or kept the marriage, or made it through the operation . . . you are never lost to God.  The Temple that Jesus talks about was the center of Jewish worship—the very place where God was thought to dwell.  People marveled at its beauty  And it was utterly destroyed. 

Yet even in the destruction, it is still known to God.  Just as you and I are known to God.  The hairs on your head, and the love in your heart, and the despair you may sometimes feel, all of these are known to God, and all held close at hand.  God knows you intimately, because your story is part of God’s story, and that story is still being written.  And for that reason, no matter what may come, the blessing from Jesus remains:  may you not be terrified.  May you never be terrified, because God holds your past, God holds your present, and most importantly, God holds your future.  God has got you, just as God has always had you.  May you never be terrified.


Friday, November 4, 2022

Rhea Oberlin Hollar

Rhea Oberlin Hollar, 11-4-22
Psalm 121
Romans 8:14-19, 34-35, 37-39
Psalm 23
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 35-38, 42-44, 53-58

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In most cases, when it comes to planning a funeral, I find myself sitting with family members suggesting which readings to choose, and I usually end up choosing those readings myself.  As you probably know, this was not the case with Rhea Oberlin Hollar.  The readings for this service were chosen long ago, as was the music for this service.  The one person who had input on what we will hear and sing today was Rhea.  The rest of us are just along for the ride.

And I have to say, I wish more people took time to plan out their own funerals.  Because, in some ways, doing so sends a message to those of us who gather to honor and to mourn.  In a way, it’s one final act of evangelism.  A chance to remind the living that there is hope, that God is present, and that we will be together again.  And, I can tell you, Rhea chose well.

For example, as we heard in Paul’s letter to the Romans, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.  We sort of give intellectual assent to that claim, but I think we also carry around a secret list of the exceptions.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God . . . except, you know, drinking and smoking, or voting for the other party, or loving the wrong kind of person.  We all want to add the “except for” to Paul’s words.  But the word here is “nothing.”  Nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death.  Nothing.  We are safe, and we are loved.  Thanks for that reminder Rhea.

And then that reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  How a seed has to die in the ground before it can blossom into what it was meant to be.  There is no better metaphor to hear at a funeral than this one.  What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.  A seed goes into the ground, and a beautiful flower comes forth.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  Where indeed!

And then, we come to the beloved 23rd Psalm.  And many of us share a love of that little piece of ancient poetry.  Maybe it’s the pastoral imagery.  Or maybe it’s the assurance of God’s presence in our lives.  Or maybe it’s just that final line, about dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.

But what I really love about Psalm 23 is the actual language of the part that gets translated as God’s goodness and mercy following me.  The Hebrew word that becomes “follow” is actually more aggressive: like chasing, or hunting down.  Goodness and mercy don’t just follow us home, like a stray kitten, or something.  No, God’s goodness and mercy hunt us down, like a tiger.  We cannot escape them, even if we wanted to.  And notice that it is not God’s wrath that hunts us down: no, we are being relentlessly pursued by God’s goodness and mercy.

Rhea lived her life hunted down by God’s mercy and goodness, and she did not mind getting caught.  And receiving that goodness and mercy from God, she turned right around and passed it on to others, her family, her friends, and her church.  I hope you will find inspiration in that, and continue to do the same in your own lives.

In these readings this morning, we have heard of God’s love and mercy.  We have heard that we do not need to be afraid.  We have heard that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  And that God’s goodness and mercy will never stop pursuing us.  These are good lessons for us to hold onto as we leave this place.  No one is ever beyond the reach of God, and nothing can ever separate us from the love of God.  Because everyone is constantly being chased by God’s love and mercy, even when we see them no longer.  God loves you, and God will catch you, no matter where you are.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  Where indeed!


Wednesday, November 2, 2022

YEAR C 2022 all souls

All Souls, 2022
Wisdom 3:1–9
Psalm 130
1 Thessalonians 4:13–18
John 5:24-27

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today we observe the Feast of All Souls, now unfortunately called the Feast of All the Faithful Departed.  That puts up something of a wall between ALL the departed, and the faithful departed.  I know that wasn’t the intention of the name change, but—in my opinion—it takes us a step backward.  But never mind all that; let’s take a moment to distinguish between All Saints Day from All Souls Day.

The Feast of All Saints is intended to honor all the saints who have gone before.  You can quickly get the gist of the intention by looking at hymn #287 in our hymnal, “For All the Saints.”  The Church sets aside All Saints Day on November 1st to remember all the heroes of the faith.  But it does not necessarily include all the heroes of our own personal faith.  The ones who drove you to Sunday School, or mentored you through middle school, or who brought you back to Jesus after your own personal time in a “distant land.”  Not to mention the people of a different faith or of no faith who still impacted your faith.

All Saints Day is a little muddy about whether my grandma Baum and your Aunt June are included in the feast.  And that’s why I’m so grateful that we have this day, All Souls Day, set aside to honor those we love but see no more.  These ones don’t enter into the level of having the Pope notice them, but if we’re honest, we might place them above the Pope.  For each of us, there are people we remember because of their incredible impact on our lives, whether or not anyone else remembers them at all.  In a sense, as long as we have breath, these loved ones will be remembered and celebrated, whether or not anyone else still remembers their name.

And so All Souls Day is set aside for us to remember and mark them as beloved of God, and beloved of us.  They may not have a feast day in the Church, but they have feast days in our hearts.

As we heard, Paul writes in his first letter to the Thessalonians:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

That can sound strange to our ears, as though Paul is telling us not to grieve for those we have lost and loved.  But that is not what he is saying at all.  When Paul writes, “so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope,” he is not suggesting that we should not grieve.  The key to that sentence is the phrase “as others do who have no hope.”  

It’s a different kind of grieving, you see?  We all mourn losing the ones who mean the world to us—the All Souls for whom this day is named.  We grieve and we mourn because it is how God created us to be.  It is right and good that we should grieve, because the measure of our pain is an indicator of the depth of our love.

But we should not grieve “as others do who have no hope.”  We do not grieve as others do because we grieve with hope.  We grieve as people who have hope in the promises of God.  We grieve as people who have hope, because we trust that no one is ever beyond the reach of God’s loving embrace.  We grieve as people who trust that those who are gone to us are not gone to God.

It is good and right that we should mourn and grieve the absence of those whom we love yet see no longer.  But we grieve and mourn as people with hope, because we worship the God who created it all, redeemed it all, and saves it all.

“The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.”  All are made righteous in Jesus, and they are all, ALL in the hand of God.