Wishing for A Jesus Button

Wishing for a Jesus ButtonMessage for Easter 6 on John 14:15-21, Acts 17:22-31 given on May 17, 2020 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas and can be viewed on video here.

I was talking with a friend this week about his struggle to remain faithful in daily life, especially now, when it is so easy to be pulled off track into fear and selfishness. He said he wished that God gave him a button-- 

• A button that he could push when he needed to get on the right track.
• A button that would keep him from the pride that leads him to think he is right when really there is more to learn; a button that would help him remain humble and remember he’s not God and not in control;
• A button that would stop him from feeling that it is always up to him to come up with the right answer and provide the solution that everyone is looking for be at work or at home.

“Wouldn’t it be great?” he mused, “to have a button that would activate Jesus so he could move our minds and bodies to the right side of the line of faith?”

As Jesus is preparing to leave his disciples, they too wished that they could have had such a button. For three years they lived constantly in Jesus’ presence. As they journeyed and ministered with him, he was always there. For three years, they had the living, breathing button of God that they could press to get the right answer or to resolve any of the conundrums of daily life—what to do when the wine ran out at a wedding, how to feed 5,000 people out in the countryside, how to help a man blind man by the side of the road. Just push the Jesus button and something amazing would happen.

But now Jesus tells his disciples that he is going away, and they are going to lose his physical presence. What were they going to do? How are they going to love each other and the world as Jesus loved them? How are they to carry out the mission of love and healing without his power and presence? What was going to happen when the next storm arose, the next crowd of hungry people pressed in and the next conflict came up with the powers that be? What are they going to do without their at-the-ready Jesus-button?

Their questions and their anxiety echo in our own hearts. If only there were a button we could push that would give us the right answers to everything in life that is now so uncertain: When and how do we return to in-person worship? How much should we go out or stay in? Do we go to the office or work from home? Can we make summer plans or not?

We too, want a Jesus button—a button that would give us Jesus’s answers to these questions, and so many other questions that eat away at our souls. Jesus has left us and with him, any chance of having an at-the-ready button to get clear and satisfying answers.

But even though he did say he would leave physically, Jesus did promise that he would not leave us orphaned. Jesus did promise that because he lives, we will live also. Jesus did promise that he was coming to us and that he would send another—an Advocate—the Holy Spirit to be with us forever. Jesus did promise that this Spirit of Truth would abide with us and will be in us always. Jesus did promise that this Spirit, the “Paraclete”, the one “called alongside us,” would be with us always and forever, so that the power of Jesus will always be beside us and inside us.

Jesus did not promise us a button; instead he gives us a relationship. We experience this amazing gift of the Paraclete in so many profound ways: The Holy Spirit lives beside us and inside us as Comforter, Guide, Intercessor, Helper, Companion, Aid, Advocate—whatever we need, the Holy Spirit is it!

• When you are grieving, sad or despondent, the Holy Spirit comforts you;
• When you are lost or in need of discernment, the Holy Spirit guides you;
• When you are lonely and in despair, the Holy Spirit draws close and accompanies you;
• When you are struggling and in need of assistance, the Holy Spirit helps you;
• When you are at your wits end and cannot do or think another thing, the Holy Spirit comes to your aid;
• When you are so exhausted you cannot even pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes for you with sighs too deep for words;
• When you are down and out, the Holy Spirit is advocates for you;
• When you have given all you’ve got, the Holy Spirit abides with you as you rest in the Lord.

Jesus promises, “I will not leave you orphaned.” The Paraclete is Jesus Spirit, right alongside us as a constant, never failing presence to provide us with whatever we need in this world so that we can fulfill Jesus call to love the world as he does.

Jesus promises that as the Spirit dwells in us, we are in Jesus and he is in God, so God is in us and we are in God. We are in the middle of a God sandwich—we can’t be torn apart from God even if we tried because we are in God through Christ and Christ is in God—for in him we live and move and have our being!

We do not need to be despondent that we have no button to push because Jesus has given us an ongoing, ever-present relationship that sustains us, renews us, and restores us. Every day we feel the presence of the living Christ as the Paraclete is beside and within us, giving us all that we need! That is way better than a button!

Every day we can join the Trinitarian party that’s going on inside and around us, sharing in fellowship as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit whirl in their eternal dance with us and through us! When we want to stay on the faithful side of following Jesus with humility and love, with regular corrections to our pride and self-righteousness, we ask the Holy Spirit directly for what we need—whatever that is—Comfort, Guidance, Help, Aid, Wisdom, Companionship, Intercession, Rest.

God does not give us a button because the answer to our problems, to our questions, to our struggles, is not “out there.” Instead God has made each of us the Temple of the Holy Spirit so that God in Jesus can have a living, breathing, loving relationship with you, a beloved son and daughter of the most high that is rooted in here.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God which dwells richly within each one of us. When we ask for help, guidance, wisdom, direction, prayers, rest, hope—whatever we need—the paraclete, who abides beside us and within us, is ready and waiting to love and guide us through whatever we face.

And the gifts of the Spirit come—not in a mechanical sense, but in the blessed assurance, the deep peace, and the hopeful clarity that comes when we trust the agency of the living God above our own.

The Spirit of Truth abides with you and in you. I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. In God we live and move and have our being. Join the Trinitarian dance that is in and around you—there’s no button to enter, for the party is always on and you are already in the middle!

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Monsters and Doors, Shepherds and Gates

Monsters IncMessage for Easter 4 on John 10:1-10 and Psalm 23 given on May 3, 2020 for St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas and can be viewed here.


In the movie Monsters, Inc. doors offered the passageway for monsters to travel from their world into the human world to scare children in their beds at night. Without the right door, there was no getting into specific child’s bedroom and racking up their monster scream score. There are about 36 million doors in the whole movie.

This provides an apt metaphor for today, when it feels like a monster is out there in the world and we do not know when, where or how it will strike. Like a child fearing a monster behind the closet door or under the bed, it scares the bejeezus out of us. The most difficult part is not having an end date to this crisis, knowing full well that what we used to define as “normal life” will not be that way anymore. It seems like there are 36 million ways to get this virus and until there is a vaccine, masks, gloves, distancing, and disinfecting are our new normal. We do not know exactly what the future will look like once we ease into some of our regular activities, how long it will take, nor what future impacts will be. Some days, staying under the covers hoping this will stave off the monsters feels like the best we can do.

“I am the gate of the sheep” says Jesus. It should really be translated, “I am the door of the sheep” but that sounds strange to our ears since, as outdoor animals, sheep do not go in and out of doors—they go in and out of gates. So consistent with the metaphor of sheep, the translation refers to Jesus as the “gate” rather than the “door.” But the point is the same. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who brings us into God’s fold, who seeks us out, claims us, loves us, and provides for us.

Jesus is not giving an abstract speech to the disciples, but rather, he is describing what he has just done from the man born blind described in the previous chapter. This man, blind from birth, was consigned to a life of begging—crying by the side of the road to get what little he could. He was at the mercy of those who walked by—sometimes monsters he could not see, but only hear as they rejected and derided him for his sin, yelling at him to stop bothering them, shoving him aside as they went on with their busy lives. But the Good Shepherd heard is cries for healing—spit in the dirt, made mud and put it on his eyes and told him to wash in the poop of Siloam. As he did, the man’s sight was restored. You would think this miraculous healing would give him a joyous life—a new normal that restored him to the community. But the powers-that-be rejected his testimony about Jesus and threw him out again—monsters indeed. Now he could see, but he was still alone and rejected, cast aside with the door of hope and community slammed in his face again.

But this was unacceptable to Jesus, so he went in search of the man and found him. The Good Shepherd sought out the man so he could enter into relationship and community with the living God and not be left outside the fold ever again. Jesus explains his actions to the disciples by saying, “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

There were plenty of monsters, thieves or bandits ready and willing to steal this man’s life and peace and joy, and lead him astray---but this newly sighted man knew Jesus’ voice, he knew his healing and life abundant lay with Good Shepherd, so he entered the door that Jesus opened and followed him.

There are so many monsters ready to steal our peace and bandits ready to disrupt our life right now—so many conflicting voices telling us what to do and what to think and what is right and what is not. There are so many things we think we should be accomplishing at the same time that so many doors that are being shut in our faces. Who do we listen to and what do we do?

Jesus comes to us today as the Good Shepherd and says, I am the only voice you need to listen to and the only door you need to open. I am the gate. So listen to my voice—

“In me you shall not be in want. You can lie down in green pastures; and rest beside still waters; and I will restore your soul. I will lead down the right path as you listen to my Word and my voice. When you walk through this valley of shadows, you need not fear any evil, for I am with you, I will protect you and comfort you. I will prepare a table for you in the presence of your enemies. I will anoint your head with oil so that your cup overflows. Surely, my goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life and you will dwell in my house forever.”

When we are nourished by the Good Shepherd in body and soul, then we are equipped to discern which voices in the culture, news and medical reports are Christ-like voices and lead us to behavior that follows Jesus in how we live in the world—values that heal and preserve well-being for all, that love and care for our neighbor, that share our resources, that care for the vulnerable, that seek justice for the poor, that honor creation, and that reflect Jesus who came that we all might have life and have it abundantly.
We do so as a community who is called to join the Good Shepherd in loving others into the fold because they too, want a relationship with life-giving abundant shepherd of our life. In The Book of Joy, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, wrote “the goal is not to create joy for ourselves but, ‘to be a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to those around you.’ ” That is what it is to enter the door of the Good Shepherd and to confidently, dwell in Jesus’ fold—to allow Christ’s presence in us to create a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity—that cannot help but be a cup overflowing and drawing others into the fold of the Shepherd.

We have this overflowing abundance because the Jesus the Good Shepherd stands at the gate of the monster of death victorious. When at the last God looks at the whole of our life, marred by sin and brokenness and the door should be slammed in our face, Jesus will stand in our place, crucified and risen, proclaiming, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me is saved. Enter into the joy of heaven for the free gift of grace is life eternal with God.”

Trust the Good Shepherd, for there are no monsters that can defeat the power Christ, or shut the gates of heaven!

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Invite Jesus In

Altar at HomeMessage for Easter 3 on Luke 24:13-35 given on April 26, 2020 for St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas which can be viewed here.

“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” “But we had hoped…”—such forlorn words of sadness, disappointment, and dashed dreams. Jesus of Nazareth was supposed to be the one to redeem Israel, he was supposed to bring liberation to God’s people, but he was crucified instead, and with him all of their hopes and dreams for a new and different life had died. “But we had hoped…”

There has been no greater time in our lives when we too, share the forlorn sadness, the disappointment and the dashed dreams of Cleopas and the other disciple on their way, not so much as they walk to Emmaus, but more as they run away from Jerusalem. We have had to let go of many hopes this spring—

• We had hoped for a festival Easter worship in the sanctuary
• We had hoped to attend a graduation
• We had hoped to go on vacation
• We had hoped to finish our school year with our friends, or our semester abroad
• We had hoped to go to prom or play in our spring concert
• We had hoped to look for a new job
• We had hoped to celebrate our anniversary on a cruise
• We had hoped to hold our new grandchild
• We had hoped to visit our family member at their care facility
• We had hoped to visit our friend in the hospital
• We had hoped…

These disappointments and the grief that accompanies them, are very real. We understand why these two disciples decided to head out of town, trying to leave the bad news and the sadness behind. Would that we could also walk away, head to a different place, have a new beginning, but the most we can do is go on a walk around the neighborhood—with a mask on at that—which is why it is so important to just let the feelings come. Feel the sadness and allow it to move through us and then it will pass on, like a storm.

Jesus does not dismiss their sadness, but instead, he invites them to see that suffering and salvation have always been intertwined throughout the story of our faith. Suffering and loss is not antithetical to God’s plan and God’s power, but the very place we experience it most intimately. Jesus explains this truth to the two traveling disciples starting from with tongue-tied Moses and on through prophets with feet of clay. God’s power comes to us in our weakness, so the Messiah also comes to be victorious through suffering.

This story is so strange because we cannot imagine why the disciples do not recognize Jesus. Perhaps their vision was clouded by their own suffering—by their grief and sadness; perhaps it was simply disbelief that the resurrection could actually happen; perhaps it was Jesus’ own desire to wait for them to be ready to receive the good news…whatever it was, they were kept from seeing the Christ who was right beside them.
As the evening draws near and they arrive at the village, the disciples stop for the night. Their traveling companion does not stop with them but continues down the road. Even though their hearts are broken, and they are suffering grief and confusion, they are moved with compassion and hospitality for this fellow traveler. Their suffering opens their hearts.

So, Cleopas and his companion implore this new traveler to stay with them—they invite Jesus into their dwelling, to join them at the table, to come into their lives. And that is when everything changes. As Jesus gives thanks and breaks the bread with them—just like he broke the bread as he fed the 5,000, just like he broke the bread at so many meals, and just like he broke the bread at the last supper before he was crucified, they recognize Jesus as their risen Lord and Savior.

Jesus always remains alongside us, but to really see him revealed as our Lord and Savior, and to deepen our relationship with him, we must to invite him in—into our home, into our heart, to our table, and to come into our lives. We experience this more clearly right now than ever before. We are worshipping in our homes, making an altar of our dining room, and worshipping with our family in new ways—making real that our home is a sanctuary where we meet Jesus at our table, whether we eat alone or with others. We meet Jesus in our family, in our shared meals, and when we give Communion to ourselves or to one another in the very same place where we eat or pass the bread or tortillas at mealtime.

Jesus spent all that time on the road with them, but he never pushed himself on these confused and hurting disciples. We serve a patient God—always available, always present, and always waiting for the invitation to enter our life.

This is an invitation we can offer anew each morning in prayer—Martin Luther encouraged this as daily remembering our Baptism into Christ. We can invite Jesus in again each week as we receive Communion, as he is revealed in the breaking of the bread. We can invite Jesus in again especially in this time of difficulty and suffering—to remember that we do not have to wait until we are at our wit’s end to ask for help. But to remember that Jesus is constantly with us, walking beside us, always ready and waiting, moment by moment to be part of our life, our fears, our sadness, and also the solutions we seek—be it with work, with our family or just dealing with the grief over what we have lost.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Jesus waits to be invited in. So if you have not specifically asked Jesus to come to your aid and comfort, help and guidance during this crisis, this is your moment—remember to always ask Jesus for what you need, always invite Jesus in, always seek the help of the Lord in all things. For Jesus reveals more of himself to us when we ask him to come into our lives and hearts.

When you invite Jesus into your everyday life, your daily decisions, your work, your home, your family, your dinner table, your heart and your life—be ready for the Spirit to move you! The disciple’s plans in Emmaus changed when they invited Jesus in! Cleopas and his companion immediately got up and headed straight back to Jerusalem! They had to stop running away and had to start running toward their mission; they had to let go of their fear and sadness and they had to embrace hope and joy.

Their story of meeting Jesus inspired the other disciples to tell their stories of what Jesus had done for them, and how he was appearing to them. Their witness gave others the opportunity to invite the risen Lord into their life. Because those first disciples shared their story, we can invite Jesus into our lives today! When we invite Jesus in, the Spirit will move and change our directions because Jesus will give us a new story to tell! The Spirit will also move us to share our story, so others will be moved to invite Jesus into their hearts and lives as well! And the mission of the church continues from this altar to the altar in your home and heart, to the altars in the world where Jesus can enter because you told your story and you shared your experience of what Jesus has done to get you through this time right now.

So ask Jesus to come into your life and heart, not just today, not just on Sundays, not just at church, but every day—ask him anew. Hold fast to the truth that he is beside you and within you and will never forsake you, and that he is risen from the dead with power beyond fear and death unimaginable—and ask him to fill you with that Spirit every day and see what the Spirit does in your life and heart.

God’s power over death in Jesus Christ alive in the hearts of believers got the Gospel to us 2,000 years after the resurrection—and that’s the power that will see us through today and every tomorrow.

Image: An altar at home which we were encouraged to make in the Children's Message

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A Powerful Testimony!

krishen khanna doubting thomas with jesusMessage for Easter 2 on John 20:19-31 given on April 9, 2020 for St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas, which can be viewed on video here

When our children were preschoolers and making the transition from a baby car seat to a toddler car seat, I remember very vividly changing the seats in my minivan. I printed out a nametag to tape to the back of their new booster seat, so that if we were in an accident, and I were incapacitated, they could be identified. I had worked as a chaplain at a children’s hospital briefly, so I knew the importance of adding one more sentence to their nametag: “we support organ and tissue donation.”

But when it came time to actually tape the nametag to the back of the new toddler car seat, I could barely do it. I cried my fool head off. To do so was to acknowledge that raising children in this world and putting them in a car was exposing them to unseen forces and other’s choices I could not control. It was to admit that bad things happen to good people. It was to recognize that I could not always fix, manage or rescue them from harm. To tape a nametag at all to the back of their car seat was to acknowledge death and I so badly, did not want to do that.

I am reminded of this experience when I put on a mask and gloves to go to the grocery store, or pharmacy, or even up to church. To do so is to acknowledge that we are all exposed to unseen forces and other’s choices that we cannot control. It is to admit that bad things happen to good people, and that we cannot always fix, manage or rescue ourselves or those we love from harm. To don mask and gloves is to acknowledge death and we so badly, do not want to do that.

Perhaps this why the disciples remain in a locked room, sheltering-in-place—because they so badly do not want to acknowledge death. Mary Magdalene has already encountered the risen Lord, but it does not seem real to them, so they remain afraid and locked up inside. They fear that as Jesus followers, death will come for them as well—that those who killed Jesus will be coming for them next. They fear that to go outside and live without Jesus is to acknowledge that death won, and they must live a future they have no idea how to manage. They fear ever putting themselves out there again because the best thing that ever happened to them just went to hell in handbasket, and they are still reeling from the shock of it all. They fear that Mary Magdelene has gone back to being possessed by demons—going off about seeing Jesus alive—and none of them are yet prepared to go back to their old life the way it was before Jesus—no one wants a life without Jesus.

The disciples cannot step out of the house and acknowledge death, so Jesus—who did not need the stone rolled away and now does not need a door opened for him—steps into the house, appearing smack dab in the middle of their sheltered fear.

“Peace be with you” Jesus says. And he shows them his hands and side.

Imagine that moment as the grip of death begins to melt as Jesus promises come flooding back into their minds, washing over their whole being:

 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ …  And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

Jesus’ peace moves over them, like rays of sun rising in the dawn, warming them, softening them, filling them with peace and sweet relief—and as everything he said falls into place like the last piece of a puzzle. Death is not the enemy nor even the end—Jesus is here—alive again—just as he said—meeting us and carrying us through to the other side. It really is Jesus—scars and all—holes in the hands and feet, a slit in the side. Somehow resurrection does not eliminate the past, it transforms its pain into life and peace!
We don’t know where Thomas was that day—perhaps he was out looking for Jesus upon hearing Mary’s testimony, or maybe it was his turn to risk going out to get some food from the market. But regardless of the reason, Thomas’s absence meant that Jesus had to return. How unfortunate that Thomas is branded as a “doubter”—especially because the word “doubt” does not appear in the Greek—a better translation is, “do not be an ‘unbeliever’ but believe!”

Thomas simply wants the same experience the other disciples had—what a compelling mission for the church—for each of us! To share such a moving story of our experience and relationship with Jesus that others come to God asking for the same experience of the risen Lord! Don’t we want all of our testimonies leading others to say, “I want that experience of Jesus, too! When I have that experience of Jesus, I will believe, too!”

That gives meaning to our suffering, and our scars. I believe that’s why Jesus’s scars are still visible after the resurrection instead of completely transformed. Because it is our scars and our suffering that gives rise to our testimony. Not to give us bragging rights about what we have survived, (which I sometimes want to do) but our scars give us a testimony of what God has brought us through. “Look what God has done for me—and God can do the same for you!” God has brought us from death to life, from suffering to victory, from pain to promise—that’s why Jesus still has scars in the resurrection. New life does not discount, ignore, bury, or disregard our pain or difficulty, it transforms them into new life which becomes the basis of our testimony to grow faith in others. “Look at my hands and my chest, my back, my hip, my broken heart—this is how God got me through, and I am here to help show you God will get you through as well.”

Thomas had the courage to ask for what he needed, and Jesus came back and found him, and gave him what he needed. Jesus will use our scars to help find the Thomases of the world who are locked up and afraid, asking for God to show up, and they need someone to share their story.

But Jesus does not leave us to our own devices in this new life and future. Jesus breathes on the disciples and us the Holy Spirit—another one like Jesus—the Paraclete—which literally means the one “called alongside” us. And Jesus does not breathe “on” them—Jesus breathes “into” them the Holy Spirit—like a divine respirator! It’s just like God giving breath to the first humans in Genesis, or Ezekiel’s image of God’s breath into the dry bones—the Holy Spirit is divine respiration and life itself and Jesus’ power all in one! This is why I am always saying that God is as close as our own breath!

It is only with divine respiration and Holy Spirit power that sends the disciples into a new future to share their belief and living relationship with risen Christ. The church is sent to witness—to embody the peace, the hope and the life of a living, breathing relationship with Jesus the Christ—that causes other people to react like Thomas, and say, “I want that too!” The church is wherever God’s people gather, and right now which is in our homes, among our family, on the internet, and when we go out occasionally for work and supplies—the Holy Spirit is blessing us with the peace and power of the risen Christ to be the church where we are and to be sustained by our relationship with the risen Christ, scars and all.

The Holy Spirit who gave them breath and power, equipped the disciples for a new future they did not know, and could not predict or plan. We do not know what the future will look like and how exactly our lives, work, or church will change, but we are already equipped to live into the future. The risen Christ sends us with the power of the Holy Spirit who never leaves us, and like Thomas, always finds us when we ask for his presence with us.

I finally did get those name tags taped to the back of the car seats with a message of support for organ and tissue donation, but not by my own strength. I finally trusted in the risen Christ for my children and me, knowing that no matter what happened, we would never be alone; I would be equipped for the future with what I needed through the Holy Spirit, when the time came. That peace helped me be clear about the values I wanted to live by that day.

That’s the most we can do today—trust in the peace of Christ and the breath of the Holy Spirit—and let that peace guide our highest values and choices today, trusting the risen Lord and his Spirit will be with us in the future we cannot yet see.

Image: Krishen Khanna (Indian, b. 1925)

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The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.

 

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