May 12, 2019 Sermon by Pastor Melody Webb
Scripture: John 21:1-19
In today’s gospel reading, we have another post resurrection appearance by Jesus. After the dramatic events of Passover which included a last supper with Jesus, his arrest in the garden, and the betrayal and denial of his closest followers before being brutally beaten and executed, Jesus’ followers scattered for a time and then found their way back to that upper room where their world last made sense. Late on the day of his resurrection, as his disciples’ fears forced them to hide behind locked doors, Jesus appeared to them, bringing them peace and reassurance that he had conquered death and lives again. But just as he told Mary Magdalene in the garden not to hold on to him, and just as he had vanished from view of the two friends in Emmaus, almost as soon as they recognized him, so now, Jesus does not stay with the disciples. So his disciples do the only thing that makes sense – they return home to Galilee, to the lives they knew before Jesus; back to that same place where many of them first encountered Jesus when he met them as fishermen and invited them to “Come, follow me.” When Jesus appears to them in Galilee, it is with a surprise breakfast of fish and bread.
I don’t know if any of you have ever experienced a surprise breakfast before. Maybe that’s not really a “thing” here in Iowa, but when I was growing up in Mississippi, my mom threw me a surprise breakfast for my 16th birthday. I woke up that morning to a bedside of giggling friends, yelling “Surprise” and singing “Happy Birthday.” My mother had arranged it all with them, had even gone and picked up a few of my friends who didn’t drive, and had cooked breakfast for us, all before 6:00 am! (It was a school day, after all!) I remember thinking at the time that I couldn’t believe my mom would go to that much trouble to do something that extravagant for me! By the time I had turned 16, I had already racked up a number of mistakes, and knew there were plenty of times that I had disappointed my parents and broken my mother’s heart. There were plenty of reasons, some seemingly small and some more serious – talking back, telling lies, staying out too late, pulling pranks that bordered on trespassing and vandalism, and the list could go on – reasons for my mother to have stayed angry at me; reasons I should have been grounded for life. And, as I recall, it was around that age that I flung terrible words at my mother, once. Words that, as I mother myself now, I understand how incredibly hurtful they are: “I hate you!” And so, on that morning of my 16th birthday, when the recognition hit me of all the things my mother had done to orchestrate this breakfast with smiling friends and painted toast, my first response was tears of shame, at the ungrateful, irresponsible, and unkind daughter I had been.
On this mother’s day, I think it’s fitting to think of Jesus there on the beach cooking up this surprise breakfast for his dear children – for the ones who have deserted him and denied him, and who undoubtedly are experiencing their own shame and regret as the realization finally and fully dawns on them of all that Jesus is and how he loves them.
As we look closer at today’s scriptures, I want to invite you to step into Peter’s shoes. Remember that even as Jesus warned Peter that his faith and courage would waiver, that before the dawn came after Jesus was arrested that Peter – the Rock – would deny Jesus three times, Peter indeed found himself huddled around a fire that night, and succumbed to self-preservation. Peter must be wrestling with his shame over his inability to remain faithful to Jesus, over his fear which led him to tell lies, denying that he even knew the man, over his regret that he abandoned Jesus the moment things began to get hard or real. As you imagine Peter’s struggle, I want to ask you to think about your own. When is the last time that something you did or failed to do left you feeling embarrassed or humiliated? What was it that left you feeling like you had failed to live up to a promise, or a something entrusted to you? Or, when was it that you last said or did something out of fear or anger that you really wish you could take back? As you take a moment to think about this, I invite you to acknowledge and confess this to Jesus silently as we pray:
Prayer: God with a mother’s heart, you gather us as your children. You comfort and hold us in your warm embrace. When we hurt your arms enfold us. When we are afraid your wings protect us. When we are hungry you feed us with the bread of life. Today, as we acknowledge the ways that we have failed to love you with our whole hearts, and as we confess the things we have done or left undone that have denied you, that have betrayed your love for us and for all of your creation, we ask for your love to come and heal our brokenness, and to restore our relationship with you and those whom we’ve hurt. Remind us that your love and mercy are new every morning. For this we give you thanks and praise. Amen.
So, how often does our regret leave us feeling guilty or ashamed? That’s the part of today’s gospel that I want us to focus on today. Peter is likely wrestling with guilt and regret over the way that he denied and abandoned Jesus. And these feelings would only be compounded in Jesus’ absence, without a way to make amends. Sometimes, when we are struggling with our own feelings over things that we regret or for which we are left feeling guilty, like Peter, we go back to what is comfortable. Peter seems to need to do something to take his mind off things, so he announces, “I’m going fishing.” Fishing is what Peter did before he met Jesus, before Jesus made him a fisher of people. And in this uncomfortable state that Peter finds himself, he goes back to what he knows. Maybe we do something similar when we are discomforted by our own failures – we begin to doubt or deny the person we think we’re supposed to be; we may tell ourselves we’re not really good enough to do that new thing, to be in that relationship or part of that group; we may talk ourselves out of trying too hard to take on something difficult. And so, we go back to what we know, back to what’s comfortable, back to our old habits, or our old ways.
I’ve mentioned before that in my early 20’s I found help for turning my life around through a support group that practiced the Twelve Steps. If you’re not familiar with the twelve steps of recovery, I encourage you to go home today and Google them. They were written specifically for those who needed a disciplined way to stop drinking; but they have been adapted and used by a variety of other support groups these days, and can even be a way to practice the spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith. After all, they are based on Christian principles! These steps begin with an admission, or confession of the problem, a belief in a Higher Power, and a decision to turn one’s will and life over to the care of God. The next few steps deal with a “searching and fearless moral inventory,” admitting our shortcomings to ourselves, God and others, and making amends to those whom we have harmed. I think this story of Peter’s encounter with Jesus is a wonderful example of the restoration that can come about as the result of making amends.
Peter is out on the sea, in the dark, wrestling with his shortcomings. What a metaphor! The sea can be stormy, tumultuous, deep with mystery and difficult to navigate – just like our human lives. And the darkness can represent our confusion, or the things that we hide, or the things that bring us pain or regret. And that regret can lead to shame. Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher who has written extensively on shame and vulnerability. You may be familiar with some of her books such as, The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and her latest one, Braving the Wilderness. She has written, “Based on my research and the research of other shame researchers, I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort. I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.”
What Jesus does for Peter in this resurrection story is to restore Peter’s connection and relationship, both with Jesus, with the community and with himself. In essence, Jesus takes away any feelings of shame that Peter may be experiencing because of his failings. Notice that when Peter recognizes it is Jesus calling to them from the beach, he first covers himself. This may remind us of Adam and Eve in the garden after they have disobeyed God by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. In becoming self-aware of our failings, we may be tempted to internalize the feeling of guilt to such a point that we let the failing itself define us as a person. If we give in to shame, we may begin to believe that as a person, we are worthless, that as a person we are a failure. I remember sitting around the table in those 12-step meetings and listening to person after person describe themselves in this way. And their descriptions echoed my own. I began to realize that from an early age, I had so internalized some of the most insignificant failings of my youthful self as something that was wrong with me! As if that’s just who I was – a disappointment, a failure, a rebel. I began labeling myself, and then acting like those labels. And it wasn’t long before other people started labeling me, and I began acting like those labels, too. Many of us who found ourselves struggling to life life in a healthy and productive way found that because of our shame, we had come to believe that we were unlovable, unforgivable, and unworthy. We lived out the rule of the self-fulfilling prophesy. We assumed that others thought we were just as much of a failure as we did. So we acted the way we expected that others’ thought of us, and then others’ thought of us that way.
According to Dr. Brown, shame can drive people to try to hide it or numb it; shame can lead to resentment, anxiety or depression; shame can erode relationships, destroy careers, and even cause physical harm. According to her research, the only way to end our shame is through vulnerability. Vulnerability looks like becoming honest with ourselves and others about our stories. She says, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
In the light of the dawn, Peter recognizes Jesus, and becomes vulnerable enough to throw himself into the water and swim for dear life towards Jesus, towards second chances, towards the hope of something new. On the beach, Jesus begins this work of restoration with table fellowship – with a breakfast of bread and fish. I can’t imagine how hungry Peter and the others must have been; so hungry for this opportunity to be nourished and fed again by their Lord; to be brought back together in community by the One who made them a community; and to be able to experience firsthand the presence of the Divine.
After breakfast, Jesus walks with Peter. To me, this is where the real miracle of the story happens – this is the real encounter with resurrection. Maybe Peter was hoping that Jesus wouldn’t say anything about, would just gloss over his mistakes. Isn’t that the way of it in our own relationships sometimes? We fail, we disappoint, and then we just ignore the other, or they ignore us, until – one day – the freeze out is over, they start talking to us again, and we just pretend that never happened. Or… we have huge argument about it. We keep score, we bring up all of the past mistakes, all of the other hurtful words that have ever been said; we punish, we resent, we hold grudges. But not Jesus. He neither avoids the topic, or uses it as a weapon. He simply invites reconciliation.
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 He asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (vs. 15-17)
Jesus made it safe for Peter to return to the incident of his denial. Without blame or resentment or punishment, Jesus opens the door for Peter’s own interspection. With Jesus’ questions, Peter is able to make a searching, fearless moral inventory. Yes, three times I denied you. Yes, I abandoned you and everything you taught me. Yes, I forgot who I was, the purpose you gave me. You know everything. But Jesus also opens the door for Peter to reclaim his identity, for Peter to find renewed purpose. Fish for people. Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. You are not a failure. You are my child. I love you. I will never leave you or forsake you.
In the days following Jesus’ resurrection, his appearances were not to multitudes of people like they were in the days when he was teaching on the hillsides. He appeared in the context of relationships, and fellowship, and in the breaking of the bread. He appeared at times when it was least expected; when hearts were broken, when hopes were dashed, when guilt and regret stood in the way of love and community. Jesus comes to us in the same ways today. What is it that is standing in the way of you seeing your place in the eyes of Jesus, your place in the context of family or community? Or, who do you know who is struggling today with a broken heart, a broken dream, or a broken life? Jesus still comes to us offering to be our Bread of Life, offering to heal our shame, offering grace upon grace to remind us that we are each a Beloved child of God.
05/05/2019 Sermon by Pastor Melody Webb
Scripture: Luke 24:13-35
It is the first day of the week, and three days have passed since Jesus’s death on the cross – long enough, in Jewish belief, for the soul to have left the body. Those who followed Jesus and believed him to be the Messiah, the one sent to deliver Israel from Roman domination and restore its earthly kingdom, have stayed in Jerusalem for three days after the Passover; now, they begin to return to their homes – disillusioned and disappointed. Despite Jesus telling them he would be raised from death, nothing has happened. They heard a rumor that some of the women claim that he is alive, but when John and Peter went to see for themselves, all they found was an empty tomb. It just doesn’t make sense. How could we have been so sure that this was the answer we’ve been waiting for? That God had finally heard our prayers and our hopes and dreams were finally coming true? And now, God just pulls the rug out from under us. It feels like a cruel joke.
We’re beginning a worship series today called, “Unraveled: Seeking God When Your Plans Fall Apart.” One thing our gospel lesson reminds us today is that we’ve all experienced times of disillusionment and disappointment. We’ve all gotten out hopes up for something, only to have our plans, or our world, fall apart. So in this series, we’ll be seeking to answer the questions, How do we move forward when our tightly-knit plans unravel into loose threads? What do we become when our identity—or the path we’re on—comes undone? What if all of this is not the end we fear it will be?
I want you to take a moment and think about the most recent time that you became disillusioned or disappointed. When is the last time your plans, or your world, started to become unraveled? Perhaps it came with an unexpected illness or injury; maybe it was a job or promotion that fell through, or a relationship that ended, or any other number of life situations that didn’t work out they way we had hoped. As you remember that sense of loss, those feelings of sadness or despair, don’t be afraid to confess silently to Jesus, to tell him about your disappointment, as we offer a prayer together:
[moment of silent prayer]
Our scripture today begins when Cleopas, a relative and follower of Jesus, along with his unnamed companion, set off on the road to Emmaus. They are leaving Jerusalem, their place of shattered dreams, their place of pain and disappointment, their place of grief. As they journey, they feel free to discuss their pain and disappointment with each other. It is good that they have one another for this journey, so that they don’t have to suffer alone, in isolation. It is also good that there is an openness, a vulnerability between these two friends, that makes it possible for them to be real with one another, to speak honestly about their grief and despair. There are no masks to be worn here, no reason to hide or pretend. This is what spiritual friendship looks like. In church lingo today, we may call this friend our accountability partner – that person who shares your faith, your beliefs, your values, and who is there to listen when you need to talk and who will offer encouragement and prayer and support. And you offer the same to them.
One of the first things I want us to hear from the text today is that this is a pattern for spiritual friendship that God expects us to have with others. Corporate worship can only take you so far on the journey of faith. We all need close spiritual friends with whom we can talk and share intimately about our struggles, our disappointments, our fears – as well as our joys and hopes. And, we need to learn to be this kind of spiritual friend to others – to be willing to listen and not cast judgment, to be a safe place where confidences are kept, and to be an encourager to others on their own journeys. Spiritual friendships like these most often develop out of smaller settings, out of Bible studies, Sunday school, and small groups, or out of conversations over coffee, or pie or even a beer. Remember that even though Jesus taught crowds of people, he gathered regularly with a group of 12, and had an even smaller inner circle of three – Peter, James and John, with whom he was even closer. If our faith is a journey, then who are the two or three close spiritual friends that you are journeying with?
As we return to our text, notice how, when a stranger begins to walk with these two friends they bring him into their conversation. Even though they didn’t know it at the time, this stranger was the Risen Christ. Their willingness to share openly with each other created an opportunity for Christ to join their conversation. Does that ever happen to you? Have you ever been willing to share something about your life or faith experiences with another, and as they begin to share something about their own life or faith, you suddenly recognize that this is a God-moment? That there is a divine presence in the conversation, that in connecting with another person in this way, you’ve somehow entered into a holy encounter with the divine?
Over the past few weeks, I have been privileged to have some of these encounters. They’ve occurred as I had coffee or lunch one-on-one with another, or as I sat and talked with a family in distress, or as I’ve listened to others ask or reflect on questions in our Wednesday small group. When we experience doubt, worry, fear, disillusionment, grief or disappointment, and then are willing to share those experiences with another in a search for hope, for answers, for God to help make sense of it all, then we’ve opened a door for God to step into that very situation, that very pain, and to take the unraveling and do some mending. Psalm 139 reminds us that God hems us in, before and behind. (v. 5) This is the next thing I want us to learn from this lesson today: God is always waiting for us to offer our doubts, our shattered dreams, our sense of loss, our pain and despair, to God; then, God can show us what resurrection looks like.
In the midst of the conversation, as Cleopas and his companion begin sharing their pain and disappointment with this stranger who has joined their journey, Jesus begins explaining the scriptures to them – explaining the whole God story. Theologian N. T. Wright imagines this part of the conversation, with Jesus saying, “Hasn’t it occurred to you that all through the Bible God allows his people to get into a real mess – slavery, defeat, despair, and finally exile in Babylon – in order to do a new thing? Isn’t that what the prophets and the Psalms were about as well? Passage after passage in which Israel is promised that God will rescue them from slavery, even from sin, and sometimes even from death – but first they have to go through it and out the other side? Well then, supposing that’s what had to happen to the Messiah himself, Israel’s personal representative?” (Lent for Everyone: Luke, Year C: A Daily Devotional. Westminster John Knox Press.) In other words, Jesus is giving them the new picture, the new pattern for faith. That even though our world is filled with pain and suffering, that even though our plans sometime become unraveled and world falls apart, that the holy work of resurrection and restoration occurs precisely out of such circumstances. It is only when we have let go of the other things we use to try to bring joy, healing, comfort, happiness, and admit the truth of our pain, our loss, and our need for restoration that God can begin to mend.
After a long journey of talking together, the two friends invite this new companion to share a meal with them. They’ve made a connection, a new friend, and so they extend their hospitality – welcoming him even further into their lives. I want us to consider honestly for a moment when we have made room for someone new in our lives? Have you ever asked a complete stranger into your home for a meal? That may be taking it a little too far, you may think. So let’s think about the context of our faith community. When is the last time you personally invited someone from church to your home for a meal, or to meet you for coffee, or lunch? In what other ways might God be calling each of us, individually, and the church as a whole, to be inviting others into our lives, into our homes, into our inner circles – for friendship, for community, for encouragement and support along the journey of life and faith? When is the last time you offered a meal to someone – someone grieving, someone recovering from surgery, someone dealing with a long-term illness or injury, someone that just had a baby, or someone who eats most of their meals alone? Aren’t we all hungry? Not just physically hungry, but aren’t we all longing for connection and relationship? Don’t we all have unravelings in our lives that need mending, and that it sure would be a relief to just talk to someone about?
When the friends invite this stranger to a meal, their eyes are finally opened to see that this is indeed Jesus when he becomes the host himself, taking the bread, as he had done before, blessing it, breaking it and sharing it with them. When Jesus broke the bread, something in themselves broke open. Hope welled up within them. What had seemed like an ending maybe wasn’t an ending at all. True, Jesus would not be there in the physical body to continue teaching and healing they way he had before. But Jesus wasn’t dead. Christ is alive! His teachings are true! The kingdom is real! And they’ve just had the privilege of experiencing it firsthand!
Rachel Held Evans, a 37 year old Christian author and progressive evangelical, died yesterday from complications due to an allergic reaction to antibiotics. She forged new paths for women in the more evangelical and fundamentalist denominations of Christianity, most of whom do not accept the authority of women to be pastors or faith leaders. She sort of rose to fame with her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. But the first book of hers that I read was a sort of memoir called, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church. I was drawn to it as soon as I saw the title, because I had had my own journey with losing and then finding my faith. You might say it was my own journey to Emmaus. I left behind the Jerusalem church of my childhood, where nothing made sense to me, the words I most often heard quoted from the bible were used as weapons to shame and denounce some, while being used to justify the power and control held by others. Many of us in the Christian community are grieving Rachel’s death. As one of my friends wrote yesterday, “I’m not one to be emotional about a person I’ve never met, but this one is very difficult. Feels like I’ve lost a friend.”
I want to share an excerpt from her book, Searching for Sunday:
“The very first thing the world knew about Christians was that they ate together.
“At the beginning of each week they gathered – rich and poor, slaves and free, Jews and Gentiles, women and men – to celebrate the day the whole world changed, to toast to resurrection. While each community worshiped a bit differently, it appears most practices communion by enjoying a full meal together, with special prayers of thanksgiving, or eucharisteo, for the bread and wine. They remembered Jesus with food, stories, laughter, tears, debate, discussion, and cleanup. They thanked God not only for the bread that came from the earth, but also for the Bread that came from heaven to nourish the whole world. According to church historians, the focus of these early communion services was not on Jesus’ death, but rather on Jesus’ friendship, his presence made palpable among his followers by the tastes, sounds, and smells he loved.”
She goes on to quote another writer, Barbara Taylor Brown:
“With all the conceptual truths in the universe at this disposal, Jesus did not give them something to think about together when he was gone. Instead, he gave them concrete things to do – specific ways of being together in their bodies – that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself… ‘Do this,’ he said – not believe this but do this – ‘in remembrance of me.’”
“So they did.” (Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Nelson Books.)
In the United Methodist church, we believe that in the sacrament of holy communion, when we share the broken bread and the cup of blessing, that we encounter the presence of the Risen Christ. Jesus used table fellowship to teach his disciples how to live in the kingdom of God. Jesus himself sits at the table, and everyone is invited to be fed with the Bread of Life; and to drink from the cup of salvation. When our world falls apart, Jesus says, let me fill your need, your hunger, with my Bread from heaven. As you remember my body being broken, remember that I know your own brokenness, your own pain, your own suffering. And I have overcome death and hell. So eat this bread, be filled with my love, my compassion, my strength, my hope. Let me quench your thirst for justice and righteousness with the cup of blessing, offering forgiveness for many. Eat and drink and be restored. I am with you. I will never leave you or forsake you. There is grace and mercy and healing at my table. And look, look at all those others sitting around the table with you. They are on this journey with you. You are not alone. You have a whole community of spiritual friends who also know what it is to experience pain, and loss, and discouragement. But they also know the miracle of resurrection. You are all my witnesses. So walk with each other. Invite strangers into your conversations. Tell them about the power of God’s love to heal and mend, to restore and bring new plans and new relationships to life, to give you a hope and a future.
When Cleopas and his friend realized what they were experiencing, they got up and ran back to Jerusalem, to tell the others their story of hope and resurrection. And when they arrived, they found out that others had also seen the Risen Christ – had their own resurrection stories. And so the church was born.
Prayer: Abide with us, O Lord, for it is toward evening and the day is far spent; abide with us, and with Thy whole Church. Abide with us in the evening of the day, in the evening of life, in the evening of the world. Abide with us in Thy grace and mercy, in holy Word and Sacrament, in Thy comfort and Thy blessing. Abide with us in the night of distress and fear, in the night of doubt and temptation, in the night of bitter death, when these shall overtake us. Abide with us and with all Thy faithful ones, O Lord, in time and in eternity. (A Lutheran prayer)
Easter Sermon by Pastor Melody Webb
Gospel Lesson: John 20:1-18
Throughout the forty days of Lent, we have been on a journey with Jesus – one that began in the wilderness as he prepared for his three years of public ministry: healing the sick and afflicted, seeking the lost and the outcast, restoring dignity and relationships and connections to the community, and demonstrating time and again what it means to love God by loving your neighbors, by sowing seeds of peace, and by humbling oneself to serve others.
Throughout our journey, we have seen glimpses of God’s own heart – how God longs to provide for our needs; how God longs for our love and devotion; how God longs to nourish us toward vibrant, fruitful life; how God longs to welcome and celebrate those who have wandered, who have squandered, who have lost everything and are finally willing to come home out of desperation; how God generously pours out love in a way that liberates, and heals, and restores; how God is Love itself and longs for us to live out of our relationship with Love by loving and serving one another; and how God’s love took our very humanity and endured all the cruelty, hate, fear and abuse of power that mocks, tortures and kills the spirit and the body.
Today, our journey with Jesus takes us to his grave with Mary Magdalene. The gospels tell us that Mary Magdalene is one of the women who traveled with Jesus and his disciples. Mary herself had been healed by Jesus of seven demons that had tortured her own body and spirit. She had seen and heard Jesus as he preached and ministered to the crowds throughout the region of Galilee. And she journeyed with Jesus on his final pilgrimage to Jerusalem. She, along with Jesus’ mother and his mother’s sister remained at the cross with the disciple John to the bitter end, even after all the other disciples had fled out of fear.
John’s gospel tells us, “There was a garden in the place where Jesus was crucified, and in the garden was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish Preparation Day and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus in it.” (John 19:41-42) Sabbath began that day at sunset, and so they had to ‘make do’ with what they could pull together in order to bury Jesus’ body according to their customs. Someone brought some aloe and myrrh and linen cloths, and they quickly wrapped his body and laid it in the tomb.”
John’s gospel tells us that “Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark,” Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb. Perhaps she felt they had not given Jesus’ body a proper burial in their rush on Friday. Or perhaps she returned, as many of us have, to the graveside of a loved one in order to grieve, in order to try to better remember the face or the voice, or in order to feel near them once again. So as we remember and celebrate all that Easter means, I don’t want us to skip over this part of the story – because it is so much our story.
Let’s take a moment to go to the tomb with Mary. It is still dark. The full weight of grief and despair fill her heart. Having been forced to leave the tomb after witnessing such a cruel death, maybe she has been trying to make sense of all that has happened. Maybe she walks to the tomb to confirm the reality of Jesus’ death. And so she goes to confront her worst fears, to see the lifeless body of the One who called himself the Bread of Life.
How many of us have had mornings like these? You wake on the day after something terrible has happened, or on a morning in a season of despair, and maybe for a moment you forget… but then the reality comes crashing into your consciousness, and the pain is there immediately. Today is the day you must deal with hard things, the day you must face the very thing causing your pain, your distress, your heartache. Many of us have experienced this day. The day after a tornado or fire destroys; the day after an accident or diagnosis; the day after a child leaves home or a spouse walks away; the day after a death – death of a dream, an expectation, a belief, or the death of one we love. It is a day that begins in darkness as you become fully aware of the defeat, the devastation, and the loss.
So Mary goes to the tomb and only has her grief compounded when she realizes that Jesus’ body is missing! Despair turns to confusion and panic. And so she goes for help. I think that is such a wise choice in that moment. She realizes that the situation has become too much for her to bear alone, and so she returns to her community, to her tribe, to find strength in numbers, to ask someone else for their perspective.
John, the faithful disciple as well as Peter who denied Jesus and ran away, both come with her the second time. And they run to the tomb, even, it seems, racing each other to see who can get there first – as if there is some merit for that. It seems almost inappropriate against the seriousness of the situation. We could understand them running with urgency, to get there as quickly as possible. But why should they race? Why does it matter who arrives first? Didn’t Jesus say something about how the first should be last? On this morning of darkness, the disciples are confused, too. Do they race each other as a distraction from their own grief and despair? Or maybe, John ran faster than Peter because Peter is just not ready yet to face the guilt and shame from abandoning just days before Jesus. What we can see is that all three of these followers of Jesus – Mary Magdalene, John and Peter – each make the journey to the tomb on this morning, carrying with them their own baggage, and their own perceptions. And we see that they each leave with their own conclusions, as well.
John arrives first, looks inside and sees the grave-cloths lying there. Peter doesn’t just peer inside but enters the tomb and sees more than John. He sees not only the grave-cloths, but also the facecloth. And it’s not just lying there, but is folded up in its own place. John then decides to enter, as well, and apparently sees enough to “believe.” But it doesn’t seem to be enough for him to understand. Perhaps he believed that Jesus had simply ascended to heaven. But his behavior doesn’t indicate any change of heart, because he and Peter both return right back to that room where they and other disciples have been hiding.
Mary Magdalene doesn’t leave with them. Even through her grief and tears, she’s still looking for answers. When she enters the tomb, she sees even more than the other two. “She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot.” (v. 12) And they ask her why she is crying. But their presence doesn’t seem to shake Mary from her grief. She continues her search for Jesus by telling them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” (v. 13) There are two angels dressed in white, sitting inside the tomb. Peter and John didn’t see them, but Mary does. And yet, she seems completely unfazed that two of God’s messengers have appeared to her. In her panicked search for what she’s lost, for what she believes has been stolen, she dismisses these angles only to turn around and nearly bump into Jesus himself.
He also asks her, (v. 15) “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.” Sometimes our grief, and despair, and heartache over what we’ve lost can cloud our sight and our judgement to the point that we don’t even notice God’s presence.
And then, Jesus calls her name. “Mary!” And suddenly, it’s as if she’s been shaken from a dream, or a nightmare. As if a heavy fog has lifted and she can finally see. When he calls her name, she immediately recognizes him, and responds to him, “My Teacher.” Because Mary chose to remain fully present – physically present at the tomb, but also mentally and emotionally present to her pain and grief – she is blessed with the appearance of Jesus. And I think that’s an important part of our story, as well.
Deep pain like this – raw and heart-wrenching sadness and grief – these are not pleasant. Some of us would do almost anything to avoid experiencing the deepness of these feelings. So we may deny or avoid our feelings, stuffing and burying them, ignoring them, or pretending they don’t exist. Or we may try to numb them or cover them up with alcohol, painkillers, food, or other distractions. But eventually, these feelings will tear us up if we don’t allow ourselves to acknowledge them, to fully feel them, and let go of our need to try to control them. When we are able to be fully open to those feelings, then we also open a door for Jesus to appear. When we acknowledge our grief, our brokenness, our need we find God drawing near; we hear Jesus calling our name.
But here’s the most important part of the story – what Easter morning is really all about. When Mary recognizes Jesus, she tries to reach out and hold on to him. She is probably reacting to her memory of who Jesus was, and so she is relieved that he is alive. But what she doesn’t understand at first is that Jesus was not just resuscitated, like Jesus did for Lazarus. This is not Jesus in the physical body that was beaten, tortured and executed. This is the resurrected Jesus. This is Jesus after the holy and mysterious work of defeating death and hell once and for all. Mary did not recognize Jesus because of how he looked, but because of the way he called her name. Jesus tells her (v. 17) “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
"Don’t hold on to me.” Remember the words of Isaiah 43:18-19, “Don’t remember the prior things; don’t ponder ancient history. Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness.”
Don’t hold on to the past. When you have encountered your worst day, when the worst possible thing has happened in your life, when you wake up to deep darkness, and grief, and despair, look for Jesus. Bring your pain and your sorrow to Jesus’ tomb and wait there until you see him, until you hear him call your name. God can take our worst days, our worst experiences and transform them with resurrecting love, to bring life out of death, and to create a new thing – a new way forward, a new normal.
Next week, we’re going to celebrate what God can do in song. Our entire worship next Sunday will be a service of Easter hymns and a celebration of our ministries at Maple Grove. You’ll also have a chance to hear next week about upcoming ways that you can get involved in making a difference right here in our community with some mission and outreach projects. And then, beginning May 5th, we’re going to explore the Easter stories of resurrection and Jesus’s appearance to others in a worship series called, “Unraveled: Seeking God When Our Life Falls Apart.” Because the Easter story is our story.
We have all had a ‘worst day.’ Some of us are living through that day, or that season, right now. And we are all looking for resurrection, for God to come to us in our time of struggle, worry, and grief, when everything starts to come unraveled, and to mend our pain and brokenness, to lead us to a new path, a new morning of light and healing and a new creation. And once we’ve experienced resurrection like that, then we, too, can say with Mary Magdalene, “I have seen the Lord!” (v. 18)
Scriptures for the Fifth Sunday in Lent: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8
In this season of lent, we’ve been invited to journey with Jesus to the very heart of God. We began with Jesus in the wilderness, a time of fasting and spiritual preparation for his earthly ministry. In that time, we remembered with Jesus how God’s people, once enslaved in Egypt, had their own wilderness experience – and we learn along with them that God longs to bless and provide, sending them mana, bread from heaven, and quenching their thirst by creating a stream from a rock in the desert. Next, we found ourselves with Jesus at the end of his earthly ministry, as he is about to enter Jerusalem for the last time, knowing that certain death lies ahead. And we catch a glimpse of God’s heart of tenderness and mercy, like a mother who longs to gather and embrace her children, protecting them and even willing to sacrifice her own life in order to save her children. We listened to stories Jesus told, like the parable of the fig tree that seemed to be a waste of space, and learned how God is like the gardener, wanting to give us time and nourishment and second chances, helping us grow and bear spiritual fruit. And we heard the parable of prodigal son, and learned how God is like the good father, always looking and waiting for the first opportunity to welcome back the ones who have wandered away.
What we will learn about the heart of God today? What does it mean that God is about to do a new thing?
Today, we are with Jesus in the home of some of his closest friends, just six days before Passover, before Jesus himself becomes the sacrificial Lamb. He’s staying in Bethany with Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. Bethany is located just outside of Jerusalem, and was an easy walking distance away. It seems that the home of these friends is precisely where Jesus stays whenever he makes the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Now you remember Mary and Martha; once before when Jesus visited them, we witness a sibling spat between them. Mary spends time sitting at the feet of Jesus, hanging on his every word, listening as a disciple would to learn what she can from this great Teacher. Martha, however, is busy with other things. Too busy to sit and listen. And she complains that Mary is leaving her with all the ‘work.’ But Jesus invites Martha to consider how Mary’s choice to sit and listen is the better choice.
And recently, Jesus has been called by these sisters to come quickly because their brother Lazarus is dying. Jesus has his reasons, though, for taking his time. And by the time he finally arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for four days. When Jesus is confronted by Martha and Mary, who both blame him in their grief for not being there to save their brother, he is moved to tears. And then he demonstrates the resurrecting power of God, bringing Lazarus back to life. This event was witnessed by many. And word spread all over Jerusalem and the hillsides of Judea. In fact, word traveled quickly to the Pharisees and chief priests who began to fear that miracles like this will amass such a following that Rome will think that Jesus is mounting a national revolution and will destroy their temple in retaliation. They’ve been trying to squash out Jesus’ ministry for some time now, but after this, they are afraid. They’re afraid of Rome’s retaliation, they’re afraid of losing control of their own power over their religion and the people who used to come to them for answers. And so they decide that Jesus must die.
Knowing this, Jesus even goes into hiding for a few weeks, withdrawing once again to camp out in the wilderness. But six days before Passover, he returns to the home of his friends. By now, Jesus’ closest followers are aware of the threat against Jesus. But they are hoping, and some even expecting, that Jesus – their long-awaited Messiah – will ultimately stand up to these threats, and free Israel from its Roman occupation. Remember that among Jesus’ disciples were at least a couple of zealots – extremists who wanted a military takeover of Rome. Over these past three years, Jesus has been trying to show them what God’s kingdom will be like – one where all people are welcomed, healed, liberated, restored, fed. He’s been trying to show them the merciful, tender heart of God. And even now, some of them still don’t get it.
But one who does get it sits again at Jesus’ feet. We can only imagine how grateful, how surprised beyond her wildest imagination, Mary must have felt that Jesus brought her brother back to life. And we can only imagine the conflict at knowing that this miraculous act is the very act that signed Jesus’ warrant for arrest and execution. Mary has received a gift so extravagant that it will cost Jesus his very life. How do you say ‘Thank you’ for a gift so precious? How do you convey your deeply, heartfelt gratitude? Mary wanted to offer Jesus something extravagant and meaningful in return. Maybe she decided that if his gift to her ultimately does end in Jesus’ death, that the least she could do is attend to his body afterward. So she buys the most expensive nard, or myrrh, she can find. It cost three hundred denarii, or about a year’s wages. But for some reason, she decides not to save it for after Jesus’ death. It was customary in those days for the host of the home, or for their servant if they had one, to wash the feet of their guests as a sign of hospitality. And so Mary decides, as she washes the feet of Jesus, to go ahead and lavish on him this precious gift, to show him while he’s still with her, the depth of her love, adoration and gratitude for what he’s done.
The spicy, earthy aroma of the myrrh would have filled the room. And Mary goes beyond merely anointing Jesus with the perfume, but uses her own hair to wipe his feet in a scene so tender and so intimate we’re almost embarrassed to imagine. Think of the disciples in the room while this happened. John’s gospel tells us that one disciple in particular was quite vocal about his disapproval of this gesture. Judas tries to shame Mary for this act, calling attention to the extravagant cost of the perfume, money that could have been spent to help the poor. And just so we’re not fooled by this act of protest, John goes ahead and lets us know that Judas isn’t really concerned with the poor, but rather with his own greed; as the treasurer of the group, he had started helping himself to the money pot, skimming from the top – a little here, a little there. And if three hundred denarii had been added, well just think of how much he could have gotten away with! But Jesus tells him, “Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it. You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.”
Jesus’ answer has unfortunately been misquoted and taken out of context for generations as a way to justify NOT helping the poor. But Jesus, as he so often does, is quoting scripture – this time it is part of the code of conduct, or law, that Moses gave the Israelites just before they crossed into the promised land. This was part of a classic passage in Deuteronomy which focused on God’s goal of there one day being a society where everyone has what they need, and there are no poor. Sounds like one of those kingdom goals Jesus was constantly teaching us about. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 commands,
“7 If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. 8 You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.”
It goes on in verse 11 to say, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’”
Open-handed generosity vs. tight-fisted selfishness. Can you see the contrast in this story? Are you starting to catch a glimpse of the heart of God?
Jesus chooses to act in a way that puts his own life at risk by bringing Lazarus back from the dead. Mary chooses to pour out every drop of the costliest perfume to show her adoration and gratitude for Jesus. And John’s gospel tells us that Jesus himself is God’s costliest gift – the gift of God’s own Son. Jesus was sent into a world that did not request him, yet he acts entirely for its benefit. And soon, Jesus will lay down his life for his people (John 10:17–18), not because he is asked to do so, but because he chooses to give himself.
As we think of our own journey of discipleship, we may find at times that we resemble Mary, willing to perform extravagant acts of generosity and service, willing to unashamedly show our devotion and worship of God. But we may also find at times that we are more like Judas, willing to judge and shame others so that we don’t look as bad in comparison; wanting to hold back and keep the ‘best things’ for ourselves, for our own agenda, or to suit our own desires. But the extravagant love of God willingly goes to the cross and lays down his life for both Mary and for Judas.
God loves us so much that God sends streams in the desert to parch our dry and thirsty souls. God loves us so much that God sent Jesus to show us love that heals, restores, feeds, nourishes, and ultimately gives his own life for us. And as disciples who are called to take up our own cross and follow the way of Jesus, we are called to love just as extravagantly.
We are on the edge of holy week. When Jesus leaves the sanctuary of his friend’s home the next day, we will be taken up in a whirlwind of emotions – from the praises of “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday, to the intimacy of communion on Maundy Thursday, to the cruel shouts of “Crucify Him” on Good Friday. And then we’ll wait for the dawn of resurrection and new life on Easter.
God’s extravagant love is about to do a new thing. It’s about to sprout up like the crocuses and daffodils. Like streams in the dry desert. Will you recognize it?
PRAYER: God of new things, like Judas, we like to complain about your generous ways, rather than living in your grace. We believe the poor will always be with us, so we justify ourselves in ignoring them. In our memories, we see a perceived golden past, so we close our eyes to the new things you are doing in our midst. We are so enamored with our achievements that we are not willing to throw them away in order to follow Jesus. Forgive us, Restoring God, and help us to notice the kingdom springing forth in our midst. By your grace, may our fears turn to faith, our seeds of grief produce a bumper crop of joy, and our tears turn into torrents of tenderness as we journey with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, to Jerusalem.
Scriptures for the Third Sunday of Lent: Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
An older Italian man lived alone in New Jersey. He wanted to plant his annual tomato garden, but it was very difficult work, as the ground was hard. His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament:
I am feeling pretty sad, because it looks like I won't be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I'm just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. I know if you were here my troubles would be over. I know you would be happy to dig up the ground for me, like in the old days.
A few days later the father received a letter from his son:
Don't dig up that garden. That's where the bodies are buried.
At 4 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived at the old man's house and dug up the entire area. However, they didn't find any bodies, so they apologized to the old man and left. That same day the old man received another letter from his son.
Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That's the best I could do under the circumstances.
How many of you are gardeners? Gardening is one of those things that I think you either love or hate! I grew up in a family of gardeners. My grandparents on both sides had acres of corn, beans and peas, along with rows and rows of squash, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. And there were plum and apple orchards, and flower beds, and I spent most of my summers helping in some way with the gardening. Planting, weeding, watering, harvesting. So when I grew up, it was really no surprise that I have felt a need to garden everywhere I’ve lived. I loved gardening! But gardening is hard work. It takes time, dedication, and physical labor – all things that I find myself having less capacity for as I get older. Even houseplants are starting to be neglected in my house these days. So the parable that Jesus tells in our gospel lesson today is one that I can appreciate.
I’ve heard someone say that gardening is ruthless work. You have to be willing to yank out the growing weeds along with weak or diseases plants; to kill insects and rodents; to prune and chop and deadhead and divide. So in that respect, it’s not that hard to understand why the owner of the vineyard would look at a tree that seems to be weak or sick and say, “yank it out. It’s taking up good dirt and space that could go to a healthier plant.” But we gardeners sometimes get attached to the things we’ve planted, don’t we? And the gardener intercedes, and advocates for giving it a little more time with focused attention. ‘I’ll aerate, I’ll give it better fertilizer; don’t give up on it quite yet.’
My dad is a huge fan of Miracle Grow. Anytime I have something growing, he reminds me to make sure I have a regular schedule of fertilizing it. Sure, whatever I plant will do okay with decent soil, water and sunlight – but add in a regular routine of fertilizing, and you suddenly become a master gardener! The leaves are greener, the stalks are hardier, and the blooms are double or triple what they would have been, which, of course, yield two to three times more produce.
Jesus tells a story here that has a good lesson for us in and of itself – as followers of Jesus, there’s certainly an expectation to bear spiritual fruit. In one of Paul’s letters to the early church he explains that allowing Christ’s Spirit to live in us produces fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) But as it goes with Jesus and his stories, there’s more here for us. Jesus tells this story right after a group of people have come to him with a story of what amounts to a horrible act of state-sponsored terrorism – Pilate having a group of Galileans killed in the temple, and mixing their blood with the blood of their sacrifice! The agenda here was to test Jesus, to see if he would be just as outraged as they were, to find out if this Messiah was ready to take up their cause to overthrow the Roman empire. That’s what they were hoping and waiting for – a militaristic savior who would lead the Jewish revolt against the occupation and take back their land once and for all. The people were also very much ruled at the time by the idea that any sort of pain or affliction was divine retribution from God for a person’s sins – either their own or someone in their family. That’s why people with diseases or other physical ailments were considered ‘unclean.’ They must have done something that has cause God to curse them so.
Jesus sees through their agenda here. He is neither going to play their game of inciting fear and violence against the Roman government, or going to cast judgement on the Galileans. He asks them point blank if they think those Galileans who were murdered in the temple were worse sinners than a crowd of people who died the other day when a building fell on them. He’s trying to lead them to think deeper about these long-held assumptions about God. God who led our people out of slavery in Egypt; God who fed them in the desert with bread from heaven that was new every morning, and quenched their thirst with fresh streams of water that flowed from a rock! God, who has the best wine and the best milk and tables overflowing with the best foods – at no cost – free! Free, free, free! God, who made an everlasting covenant with Abraham and David. God, whose plans are no our plans, and whose ways are not our ways. Jesus is trying to help them remember that God is faithful, and just and full of mercy! God doesn’t go around striking people dead. Everything does not happen for a reason! Your status in life, your physical health, even your mental health – these are not divine punishment! Please hear that from Jesus. Our God is merciful and tender, like a gardener who sees something that others might flippantly cast off as just taking up space, not producing fruit, something that seems to be weak, and says, “let me add some fertilizer, let me nourish it and feed it.” God’s mercy is like that!
Over these past two weeks of Lent, we’ve also been called to remember – to remember God’s faithfulness to God’s people in the wilderness; to learn from Jesus’ own example of wilderness and temptation and to remember that God is always with us, providing for our every need, even in our wandering. We’ve been reminded that we can trust God to shelter us from those things that threaten to harm our spirits, and our faith. And that God, like a mother hen, will ultimately sacrifice herself to save her chicks. Today, we’re invited to think of God as an attentive gardener, tenderly nourishing our spirits back to health. But…
Jesus ends his parable with a warning. “Unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die” just like those Galileans, or those people in Jerusalem who were crushed by a collapsing building. Unless you start producing fruit, you’ll be cut down just like that fig tree. These may seem like harsh words from Jesus, especially now that we’re feeling all warm and fuzzy from such pleasant thoughts about God’s care and nurture. N. T. Wright, whose reflections we’ve been reading on the gospel of Luke in our Daily GPS Guides compares these words of Jesus to those of a fireman who bursts into a building to find people sleeping on the top floors while the building is burning below them. The merciful thing is to tell them to Wake up! Get out of here, or you’ll die! These words of Jesus are not meant to be a scare-tactic. He’s not joining in with the fear-mongering of those who presented this story to Jesus to begin with; he’s trying to wake them up. Don’t you see – these stories of divine punishment, they’re distracting you from noticing that I’m here to show you what God is really like. God sent me to build God’s kingdom on earth like it is in heaven – NOT like it is in Rome, or even in the old days when David ruled. God’s new kingdom will not depend on a government to rule justly – God rules justly over all kings, all governments, all powers. Don’t put your hopes in some nationalism, hoping to “Make Jerusalem Great Again.” Turn around! Repent! Notice what I’ve been about for these three years – restoring sight to the blind; healing the sick and the broken; feeding the hungry; befriending the sinners and tax collectors and the outcasts.
The Greek word used here for ‘repent’ is ‘metanoia’ – ‘meta,’ meaning change, and ‘noia,’ meaning mind. So it literally means a change of mind. Lent gives us an opportunity to repent – to turn around and notice Jesus more. To spend time reading and reflecting on God’s word, to increase the time we spend in prayer by giving up those things that crowd out our faith, and by responding in some way – producing fruit – living our lives in such a way that others see Christ in our actions and reactions; in the way we serve, in the way we love our neighbors, in the way we exude joy, or practice patience, kindness, goodness and self-control. In the way we die to our selfish wants and desires, and allow God to give some fertilizer to that faith inside us, so that God’s Holy Spirit produces a harvest of spiritual fruits in us.
We can think of Lent at that period of time when Jesus the gardener says, let me add some fertilizer – let me see what can happen when one of my followers turns around and notices me, and adds scripture reading, and prayer and service to their daily lives. Let’s see if following me, and growing closer to me produces fruit in them that turns their grief to joy, that turns their bitterness and resentment to gentleness, that turns their apathy and laziness to love and service, that turns their worries and fears and anxieties to peace. That’s the kind of harvest God wants.
The question for us is, will we repent? Will we have a change of mind, a change of heart, that allows us to turn around and notice that instead of shopping over there where everything’s marked up, and nothing is quality, and nothing lasts, God has the best wine and the best milk right over here – and it’s free! Free, free, free! Will we stay barren like the fig tree, just taking up space, not caring about anything but ourselves, our comfort, our self-righteousness, or will we decide that my dad really knows what he’s talking about when it comes to scheduling a regular feeding of Miracle Grow! Will we accept the nourishment of spiritual disciples so that God’s Spirit can grow in us.
Our reading from Isaiah 55 stops after verse 9, but listen to verses 10 & 11:
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Jesus is on his way to the cross. But on the way, he’s warning us – Wake up! Notice me while I’m here. God’s ways are not your ways – God is merciful and tender, longing to feed us, to nourish us… so repent! Change your mind about what you think you need. Let me break up that hard, arid dirt. Let me add some fertilizer. Then see what God’s Spirit can grow in you!
Prayer: Rejoicing yet thirsting (based on Psalm 63 by Christine Jerrett)
We do rejoice in you, God our God
We rejoice in your steadfast love and faithfulness
— a rich feast for our souls.
We rejoice that you shelter us in the shadow of your wings
— strong protection against the storms.
We rejoice that you are more powerful than
the troubles that trouble us.
We rejoice that, when we wander far from You,
losing our way,
you do not leave us on our own.
You come to us in Jesus, your Word made flesh.
dwelling among us,
full of your grace and your truth.
O God who has drawn near, you know us as we are:
the songs of praise
tell only part of the story.
We have wandered down many paths,
seeking happiness or glory,
we have trusted in lesser gods,
looking for safe haven from the dangers that threaten.
But the deep hungers are not satisfied;
the fears and anxieties still haunt us.
And now we know:
our souls thirst for you, the living God.
Show us your power and your glory.
Take our weariness
and send your Holy Spirit to renew our hope.
Take our fears
and grow new courage in us.
Take our resignation to the way things are
and pull us into your passionate love.
you meet us in the wilderness of our days,
and fill us with the bread of life.
You meet us in the desert of our loneliness
and streams of living water start to flow.
We drink deeply of the gift of your presence,
and we rejoice,
for you have made us glad. Amen.
~ posted on Christine Jerrett. https://christinejerrett.wordpress.com/