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How to AMAZE Jesus

blogpic boywithfishA Sermon preached on May 29, 2016

Have you ever wondered what it takes to AMAZE Jesus? It’s a funny question because Jesus is always the one who amazes us. But in Luke 7, Jesus is the one who is amazed—he is amazed at the centurion’s faith. There is only one other time in the Gospels that Jesus is amazed and that’s in Mark 6:6 when he is rejected in Nazareth and he is amazed at their unbelief. The centurion, whose story also appears in Matthew, is the only person who AMAZES Jesus with his faith. I would much rather amaze Jesus with my faith, than with my unbelief, wouldn’t you?

So who was this centurion who amazed Jesus with his faith? He is the most unlikely person in Scripture to have an amazing faith.
1. For starters, he’s a foreigner, a Gentile and not a Jew— He most likely is a practicing pagan—which in Jesus’ time meant believing in many gods—a god of fertility, a god of war, another for weather and harvest and so on.
2. He’s a military man, and as such, he’s part of the oppressive Roman military that occupied Palestine during Jesus’ life. A centurion is a captain of 100 foot soldiers in a Roman Legion, whose job it was to subject the Jews to the Emperor’s rule. He was a man of war who achieved his rank by distinguishing himself above others in battle and in the Roman martial arts.
3. This centurion has no intellectual understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, the story of the Israelites exodus from Egypt and why the Messiah, arriving in the person of Jesus matters so much.

The centurion did, however, have some good points: He ruled not by force and terror, but through compassion and empathy. He built a Temple for the Jews to worship and cared for their well-being; he even cared about his slaves. And because he cared for the people’s well-being, the people cared for his well-being so they appeal to Jesus to heal is slave.

So what was it that amazed Jesus about this centurion? Was it just because he was a nice guy, unlike most of the Roman military?

No, it was more than that. The centurion amazed Jesus because through his own experience, he recognized Jesus’ power, his authority and his mission. The centurion used his own experience to see God at work in Jesus. He had heard the stories of Jesus healing people with a simple word, a simple command. He could understand this kind of power because he had experienced it himself: For I am also a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go” and he goes, and to another, “Come” and he comes, and to my slave, Do this” and the slave does it.

The centurion couldn’t use his authority to heal his slave, but through this window of experience, he recognized that Jesus’ words also did what he said. Jesus marvels in amazement that through his own experience, the centurion completely trusts in Jesus’ power.

Today, the centurion invites us into his story and asks us to reflect on our own experience, and how some of our experiences help us trust in Jesus’ power, recognize his mission and embrace his authority and presence in our lives.

I think sometimes as Lutherans, we can get too caught up in our intellectual understanding and reason, in correct behavior, in rote memorization and repetitive liturgy, forgetting that our experience is also a crucial part of our faith life! I’m not saying the Bible study, moral behavior and liturgy aren’t important—of course they are—and I embrace and practice all of them.

But our experience is also a wonderful gift of our faith that’s easy to avoid because we don’t want to be too touchy-feely, or overly emotional, or too spiritually far out and “oogie”. Well, the centurion uses his experience to embrace the mission of Jesus, and he isn’t too touchy-feely, emotional or gives us the oogies. Paul in Galatians affirms that the Gospel he preaches came not from humans, not from teaching, but from his experience of Jesus Christ. We also have to remember that Martin Luther himself embraced the grace-filled love of God in Jesus Christ because of his experience that he couldn’t achieve salvation through works, and that experience became the bedrock of the Reformation.

You may feel like the centurion, that you are the most unlikely person to amaze Jesus with your faith. But I would offer, that is not true. I want you to reflect for a minute about your own experiences and how they inform your faith. What experiences have helped you embrace, feel or understand the work of God in the world? We call this our spirituality in everyday life.
• Maybe you’ve served in the military or are a supervisor and you, like the centurion, have a window into seeing how Jesus’ words do what he says.
• Maybe you’re a teacher, you understand why Jesus teaches in parables because your experience gives you a window into the transformative power of stories.
• Maybe you work in the medical field, and every day, you get why Jesus went to the lepers, the sick, and the outcast, because you have a window into how isolating illness can be.
• Maybe you’re a mom on a tight budget and with a grateful heart, you can make one chicken give your family 4 dinners and your experience give you a window into how the loaves and fishes multiplied.
• Maybe you’re a coach and you encourage kids to try something they’re afraid they can’t do, and your experience gives you a window into why Jesus invited Peter out of the boat to walk on water,
• Maybe you’re a dad who lost one of your kids a 6 flags and your experience gives you a window into the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin and you understand that desperate search in your guts.
• Maybe you’re a gardener and have insight into the created order of the universe from your own backyard.
• Maybe you’re a parent and you have sacrificed something for your kids to have what you didn’t and this begins to give you a window into the kind of love that motivated Jesus to die for us.
• Maybe you’ve suffered physical illness and your experience opened a window of compassion for Jesus’ suffering.

The good news is that Jesus is no longer a person bound by history--he rose victorious from the grave so that his resurrected Spirit is everywhere at the same time, and he dwells inside each one of us every second of every day!

Because of the in-dwelling presence of his Spirit, your daily life is full of experiences of God when Jesus makes himself known to us. And in order for us to receive the spiritual benefit from these experiences, it’s important that we identify them and share them. I had a seminary professor say, “we don’t learn from experience; we only learn from experience that is reflected upon and shared.” So I encourage you to share with your pewmates, your friends, your family today, one experience of your faith that came to mind. Make it a daily habit to share “God-sightings” and these experiences that inform your faith, your understanding of Jesus’ power and mission, and of God blessing you.

I had an experience that opened a window to a deeper understanding of what Holy Communion is all about: Our oldest son, Daniel was not quite 4 and we were at the community pool for swimming lessons. When his lesson was over, he said, “I want fish for dinner.” I said, “Okay, but why fish?” His response: “It will make me swim better.” When we got home, I asked my husband, Dan if we had any fish sticks in the freezer because Daniel wanted fish for dinner. Daniel piped up and said, “No! I want REAL fish—only REAL fish will help me swim better.” We went to the store and got some REAL fish!

It’s why we trust in the REAL presence of Jesus in, with and under the bread and wine in Holy Communion—only the REAL Jesus can help us live more faithfully. So, come to the table! Come to the table with all of your experiences and all of your faith, and the REAL Jesus will be amazed and fill you again. 

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Taking Psalm 23 to Heart

blogpic shepherd on the way to hampta pass1I shared this message on 4/17/16 with Zion Lutheran Church in Ferguson, MO as they enter a pastoral transition.

Psalm 23 is probably one of the best known and most beloved Psalms and passage of Scripture. Both Psalm 23 and John 10 portray Jesus as our Shepherd. It’s a popular, bucolic, and wonderful image of Jesus several places in the Bible. But I wonder how many of us have deeply delved into what this really means for us?

If Jesus is the Shepherd, what does that make us? Sheep.

I don’t know a lot about farming and cattle, but what I can tell you is being compared to sheep is not a compliment; in fact it’s a bit of a slam. This is not your ego-boosting-you-are-a-marvelous–creature-the-crown-of-creation-kind-of-image.

For starters, sheep are dumb. They’re not the sharpest tool in the shed. They’re a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic.
• Sheep get lost easily. They find a yummy patch of grass and just keep eating and eating their way along and pretty soon their separated from the flock and out there all by themselves, vulnerable to wolves and other predators.
• Some sheep, especially in England have strong herding instincts, but others will forget that there’s safety in numbers and just go astray.
• Sometimes, sheep don’t know to move along to fresh grass and will overgraze the patch they’re standing on.
• Sheep do not have the good sense to get out of the elements—the barn could be right there next to them, but they will stand outside in the rain and the cold in the middle of the storm, unless the shepherd comes and shows them the way to protection.

But wait! There’s more! Sheep are weak; they’re not very strong at all.
• They have little or no protection, other than the flock against their predators. That phrase there’s safety in numbers? This probably was made up for sheep.
• They can’t run away from a wolf like an antelope or a deer can;
• They can’t camouflage themselves like stick bugs, butterflies, lizards, chameleons and so many other creatures can;
• They can’t fight back, spray, or poke like others animals—goats, geese, skunks, porcupines—caterpillars even have more defenses then sheep.
So they are very vulnerable. The really strong sheep with a herding instinct work their way to the middle of the flock since that is the safest place, but they don’t get much to eat there because it’s so mashed down and overgrazed, since everyone forgets to move. So once again, they are dependent on the shepherd to fight off their predators and move them along to fresh grazing grounds.

But wait, there’s more! Sheep are also stubborn, so stubborn that sometimes it’s hard to get them moving. Without herding dogs, a shepherd might use small rocks, tossing them at the sheep from behind to get them moving.

So what have we got here? Sheep are dumb, weak and stubborn. Sheep need to be shown everything—they need to be shown what, when, where and how to do just about everything to keep them healthy, safe and fed.

Now how do you like being called a sheep? The Bible might as well say that for the human creature, we are a few cards short of a deck; we’re a few bricks short of a load. How many ways can we say this? They light is on, but nobody’s home.

What’s so surprising to me about Psalm 23 is that it was written by David—King David of the Old Testament who grew up being a shepherd. So why does someone who knows how dumb, weak and stubborn sheep are, compare himself to one in this Psalm? He could have written about God as rock, fortress, mother, creator, fountain, protector, source of life, father—and all the other hundreds of images we can use for God.

But no, David was a shepherd himself, so he knew more than anyone what sheep were like. He knew more than anyone, what he was like, how much he needed a shepherd, how much he was like a sheep. For wasn’t David the youngest and the smallest of Jesse’s sons? And didn’t David lose his way as king and commit adultery with Bathsheeba? And didn’t David put Bathseeba’s husband, Uriah, at the front lines of battle so he would be killed? That’s pretty dumb and lost, pretty weak and stubborn. And didn’t David need Nathan to throw a stone at his behind to get him moving in a different direction? David knew he was a sheep more than he ever was a shepherd.

And isn’t that true for us when we’re really honest with ourselves? Sometimes, we’re dumb. Sometimes we lose ourselves in pursuit of greener grass and unawares, we munch ourselves away from our community.

It could be in the pursuit of our career, earning more money, or gaining recognition and popularity. Not that these things in and of themselves are necessarily bad, but then we look up and notice that we’re out there all alone, and have alienated ourselves from friends, family, church and community.

Sometimes it’s easy for us to get lost and we’re too weak to find our way back. Who among us have not wandered off at one time or another in our life, forgetting where we belong? Grief and loneliness, confusion about the direction our life is should take, or being overwhelmed by the demands that surrounds us can cause us to isolate ourselves. We stand in the storm alone when a barn full of friends, family and church members are right there ready to help us. All we have to do is go inside. All we have to do is ask. All we have to do is open our mouth.

But sometimes we don’t have the good sense to take care of ourselves, to ask for what we need, to exercise regularly, to sleep when we’re tired, to eat when we’re hungry and stop eating when we’re full. Instead we overgraze the pasture, hoping this aching tiredness and stress will go away. We leave ourselves exposed to dangerous elements, pumping our body with caffeine to keep going, and later alcohol to relax and wonder why we feel so unsatisfied, and can’t get a good nights’ sleep.

Other times we need help just to get moving. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut, stubborn in our own self-righteousness and someone needs to toss a pebble at our behind to push and prod to get us moving in the right direction.

So when you think about it, being compared to sheep is not too off-base, is it? Jesus came because we do need to be shown everything— where, what, when and how to live.

And the good news is, given the way the shepherd takes care of the sheep, given the way our Lord takes care of us—it’s really not such a bad comparison after all. King David also knew how much God did for him, how much God does for all of us!

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. The shepherd provides everything we need—the what, when, how and where for our life. Just like a shepherd tending sheep, our Lord provides for us food, shelter, clothing, protections, family and community. When the Lord is our shepherd, we may not get everything we want, but we have what we need.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. God gives us rest and nourishment. When we don’t know how to take care of ourselves, God makes us like down in a restful place without anxiety, without fears, without dreams that wake us with a start—without worry about kids or family or money, but long rest that restores not only the body but the mind as well. Then we can come to a Lutheran potluck for the nourishment of the green pastures. God leads us beside still waters—it’s hard to drink from rushing waters, you can’t take a sip from fire hydrant. The Shepherd leads us to still, quiet waters that refresh us. Psalm 46 says, be still and know that I am God. Drink deeply of the cool refreshment, of the complete and constant presence of God. This kind of care revives us in body, mind and spirit. We can take the next right step with hope. 

He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Jesus leads us in the right way so that we do not go astray, so we don’t munch our way out of the flock. Right paths are well-worn paths. They are the crevices from the wheels of a cart or like the wagons that headed west on the Santa Fe, California and Oregon Trails. Jesus, the Good Shepherd guides us along right paths that have been traveled by him first and then by the cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. All we have to do is look to him for guidance and listen for his voice, and get our wheels set into the track of faith.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me. We live in a fallen world, and God doesn’t promise to take us out, but instead he enters into this world with us! Christianity is a “down” religion—God comes down to us, we do not have to earn our way up to God. So when evil stalks around and tempts us to do that which is not godly, when we experience death and loss, and illness, when we struggle with the challenges of this life—we fear nothing—for the Lord, the Shepherd walks with us. We never walk alone.

The Shepherd never leaves the sheep alone. For this reason, the sheep learn to recognize the voice of their shepherd—there could be multiple herds in one area, but the sheep will always recognize the voice of their shepherd. So Jesus says, My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. No one and nothing can take us away from Jesus! Jesus protects us from all predators, even the predator of death, taking us through death and into eternal life.

Your rod and your staff—they comfort me. The rod is what the Shepherd uses to keep the sheep in line—for us that is the Bible—the Word of God to guide us in the way of righteousness and grace. The staff is what the Shepherd uses to hook the sheep and bring them back in when they are wandering off—for us the staff is the Holy Spirit, the Comforter—who leads us back when we have wandered off.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Even when we are beset by troubles, God provides for us. We can even celebrate God’s goodness, God’s healing, and God’s abundance in the midst of difficulty (this is why we have funeral lunches with good food, laughter and sometimes music!).

I need God to do all of these things for me! Don’t you?! Well, the truth is, you can call me a dumb, weak, stubborn sheep every day of the week, if all of this is what it means to have the Lord as my shepherd. For with the Lord as our shepherd, surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life and we shall live in the house of the Lord, forever!

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Discipleship Defined: The Tortoise and the Hare

blogpics thetortoiseandthehareI shared this message on 4/10/16 with Zion Lutheran Church in Ferguson, MO as they enter a pastoral transition.

When our children were little, we loved to show them Living Books on the computer. This was early in the tech era and these books came on a CD. We could click on different parts of the page for some action to happen, like birds singing, the doorbell ringing, and so on. Our favorite Living Book was based on Aesop’s Fable, The Tortoise and the Hare.

You know the fable, the Tortoise and the Hare engage in a race. The Hare is over-confident in his speed and he gets distracted during the race. He forgot to eat, so he stops to eat breakfast, he takes a nap, and he stops to tell on-lookers how great he is. Of course he’s so distracted and full of himself that the Tortoise crosses the finish line while the Hare is racing to catch up. At the end the narrator asks the crowd around the finish line, What is the moral of the story? The crowd pipes up with
The journey is the reward?
• Don’t act like such a big shot?
• Always eat a good breakfast?
No, says the narrator, Slow and steady wins the race!

I think the disciples in Jesus' third resurrection appearance described in John 20:19-31, are learning some of the same lessons as the Hare in Aesop’s Fable.

Peter and the disciples are at a loss; they don’t know what to do. The resurrected Lord has appeared to them 2 times, Jesus has breathed on them the Holy Spirit and sends them out—As the Father sends me, so I send you. If you forgive the sins any, they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

There it is. There’s the call. The disciples are sent out, scars and all, with a Gospel to proclaim, sins to forgive, peace to offer, and a church to build—the only problem is they don’t seem to know how to get started. They’re at a loss for what to do, exactly. Following Peter’s lead, the disciples go fishing.

Ironic, isn’t it? It was not long ago that Jesus called them away from their boats to fish for people. But now, despite the miraculous resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the disciples have returned to their old way of life. They’re almost like the Hare in the fable—the disciples are easily distracted from the path that Jesus has set them on. Instead of sharing the incredible news of God’s power over death, they stayed hang up a sign that says, “Gone Fishing.”

As a congregation, you may feel like the disciples in this passage. You have a mission and ministry in this community, but now you’ve entered a time of pastoral transition, and you are still grieving the loss of a very beloved and key member. You may feel at loose ends—at a loss for what to do, what’s going to come next, what the future holds. What’s the next step and how do we take it?

We can feel this way in our personal lives as well. This last year, I have been unsure myself of what God wants me to do. My husband and I were working very hard at new mission development and we had to stop due my chronic migraines. I was at loose ends—I was not sure what to do, what was going to come next, and what the future was going to hold.

Our temptation in these situations of uncertainty is to join the disciples in going backwards—to re-tread the past—to go back to what we were doing before, rather pay attention to what new thing God might be doing. I would encourage you to resist this temptation because you’ll notice that this did not work for the disciples. They were experts at fishing –and they fished all night and caught nothing! They’re totally flunking. Going backward hardly ever moves us forward. We can learn lessons from our past, but our future is not there.

But then the story in John shows four practical ways to move forward on the path in front of us, even when we don’t know what to do, nor what the future holds.

1. Jesus gets the disciples set back on the right path by appearing on the beach that morning. He invites them to cast their net on the other side of the boat—we know that the sides of the boat are port and starboard, but I might call this the forward side instead of the backward side of the boat. And they caught 153 fish—it strained the net, but it didn’t break!

It’s an odd number- 153. It doesn’t appear anywhere else in the Bible, so why 153? One hundred fifty three is the known number of species of fish during the first century! Jesus did call them to fish for people, so perhaps this is John’s way of foreshadowing that the good news of Jesus is to be proclaimed to all “species” of people to the ends of the earth. Everybody’s in! The net won’t break because God can hold us all! You are in! Ferguson is in! The journey is the reward—and being part of God’s great plan to love and redeem the world is blessing enough! You may be in transition, or at a crossroads, but the mission is the same—reach everyone with God’s love no matter what. The journey is the reward.

2. Then the funniest part of the story comes—Peter is fishing naked, and when he sees Jesus, he puts on his clothes to jump in the lake and swim ashore. Don’t we usually work while clothed and strip down to jump in the lake? (In the first century the one who saw someone naked was dishonored, so Peter is actually honoring Jesus by putting on his clothes, but it seems all backward to us!) But the point is, Peter is naked. John wants us to see Peter in all his vulnerability. He denied Jesus three times, and even though Jesus has given him a new mission since the resurrection, Peter has reverted back to his old profession and he’s failing miserably at it.

Jesus sees right through Peter—he can put his clothes back on, but none of us can hide ourselves from God. Jesus sees us and knows us in all of our failings, fears and falling backwards. So stop trying to hide. Don’t act like such a big shot. You’re not so bad God can’t love you and you’re not so good you don’t need Jesus! Peter gets to Jesus as fast as he can—he got this part right! Come to God in prayer, talk with Jesus throughout your day—rant and rave if you need to, cry if you feel it, dance when you’re moved—just don’t run the other way from Jesus because he already knows all of who you are and all of what you need and all of what you’re capable of. Don’t be such a big shot—join Peter and come to Jesus as fast as you can. Take it all to the Lord in prayer.

3. In the midst of this complete, stark-naked-knowing, Jesus invites Peter and the disciples to join him for breakfast on the beach. Jesus feeds them, body and soul with the physical food and the spiritual relationship they need to run with perseverance the race he has set before them—to carry the good news of God’s love throughout the world. Always eat a good breakfast. We can’t survive on this journey of faith, this mission of good news without proper nourishment. We need to be fed and loved at this table, where Jesus appears to us in Communion—our breakfast on the beach—to be loved, forgiven and strengthened for the day, even and especially when we don’t know what’s coming next. Always eat a good breakfast physically as well. We can’t carry out the mission of peace and love when we do violence to our own bodies by over-functioning as if the kingdom depended on us while not taking care of ourselves! This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn.

4. Jesus re-establishes a relationship with Peter and all the disciples based not on their good behavior, not on getting everything right, but based on love. Peter’s 3-fold denial is redeemed when he affirms that he loves Jesus 3 times–which he can do only because Jesus has already loved and nourished and forgiven and blessed him. It’s not just about how much Jesus loves us, it’s about how much we love Jesus! Slow and steady wins the race. Take time to experience Jesus’ love and let Jesus know you love him! Slow and steady wins the race. You don’t have to rush to prove yourself. You don’t have to rush to find an interim. You don’t have to race and around and make sure everything is done just so. It’s about love; it’s about being as much as doing. Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Order your life around love: love of God, love of each other, love of all 153 species of God’s people, love of your community, love of Ferguson.

Even when we don’t know what to do, our faith gives us the daily and weekly practices we need to remain faithful in the in-between times of transition. I was off work for a year—but I knew I wasn’t forgotten, because like all of us, I ‘m part of God’s mission in this world, part of the 153 species! I came to Jesus in prayer, I ate a good breakfast and came to worship and Communion, and because church’s like you asked me to preach, I knew God still loved me, so thank you, Zion! Thank you for helping me.

God loves you Zion as an important and valuable part of God’s mission in this world. The repetition of your faith practices will serve you well as you use them to discern the next task, the next month and the next chapter of your life together! All you have to do is the next right thing. So fear not, Zion! And remember that

  • You are part of the 153 species that God loves, so the journey is the reward!
  • God knows you fully and completely, so come to Jesus in prayer and don’t act like such a big shot!
  • Nourish yourself in worship, Communion and in your physical well-being - always eat a good breakfast!
  • Your mission is all about love-how much God loves you and how much you love God, so remember that slow and steady wins the race!
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Doubting Thomas: A Model for Ministry with Millennials

blogpic doubtingthomasCan you imagine being called a Doubter for 2000 years? Thomas was also a Twin, but no one calls him that. Can you imagine showing off the family photo album? This is Laura, who married a nice boy from Bethany; here is Terrence—he runs a sheep-shearing business in Jerusalem; and that one’s Terrence’s Twin, Thomas —well… He’s a Doubter. What does a guy have to do to get a new reputation? Well, maybe Thomas' time has finally come.

The other disciples (in John 20:19-21) have experienced a miracle—Jesus, risen from the dead in the flesh and speaking to them. But Thomas wasn’t there—Scripture doesn’t tell us where he was, but I suspect that he was working.

Tradition holds that Thomas was an architect and a carpenter - a discipline that requires, not just that one talk about what he can build and what will look good, but proves it in reality with buildings that hold together, that withstand storms, and stand the test of time. In other words, in order to get new clients, Thomas had to “show his work.” I bet every student here has heard their teacher, especially in math, to “show your work!”

I’ve lived in Missouri for 23 years and the first thing I learned was that this is the “Show Me” state. Missourians are people who say, don’t tell me – show me!

And isn’t this the very nature of our tradition as Lutherans? Martin Luther himself said to the Roman church in the 16th century: Show me! Show me where indulgences, purgatory, & popes are in the Scripture? Instead, Martin Luther showed that we are saved by grace through faith and not by our own work or merit.

All of which is to say, that Thomas is not a Doubter – he’s a Lutheran from Missouri!

Thomas doesn’t want to be told what to believe—he wants to experience it for himself. He doesn’t want to take something as serious and life-transforming as Jesus resurrected from the dead on the word of someone else—especially when those someones are too scared to leave the house. He wants to touch, see and hear Jesus himself—“show me!” Thomas says. Thomas needs a real relationship with the risen Lord.

Thomas’ desire to experience Jesus for himself gives us a crucial window in how to be the church and carry out mission in the 21st century. Since the Reformation in the 1500’s, we have lived in what historians call the Modern Era—the Age of Enlightenment, the Age of Reason. Scientific understanding and methods, the power of logic, and tools of discovery have fostered the belief that that we can not only gain knowledge, but we can know THE truth—Truth that has authority in our lives. We trusted the authority of denominations, government institutions, scientific experts—we sang, Jesus Loves Me This I Know, for the Bible Tells Me So and that was good enough!

But now, as we began the 21st Century, we are leaving the Modern Era and entering the Post-Modern Era, even a Post-Christian Era.
   • Truth claims no longer have the power they once did.
   • Authority, including the authority of Scripture, is questioned,
   • institutions are mistrusted,
   • and the church no longer holds a central place in our culture and in people’s lives.

Those who identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious” is growing. That is, they believe in God and have a spiritual life, but do not express it by attending a church. Pew Research tells us that among the Millennial generation, especially those ages 18-34, a full 1/3 of them are religiously unaffiliated or are the so-called, “Nones” (not Catholic Nuns!) because they check the box, None, when asked about their religious affiliation. Is it any wonder? They have come of age in a time of
   • dramatic climate change,
   • war and terrorism,
   • fewer job opportunities,
   • rising costs and
   • increased college debt.

Younger generations today are very much like Thomas—they say to us, Don’t tell me what to believe, show me! Don’t tell me about God and your faith, I want to see, feel, hear and experience it for myself. I’m not going to believe because the church or a book of ancient texts tells me to, Show me! Show me—not in a building or in an institution—beautiful and wonderful as it may be—show me out in the world—show me in your daily life.

Notice in our Gospel story, that Jesus offers Thomas exactly what he needs in order to believe in him! Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. The resurrection is real, Thomas, you can believe! I am here to make a relationship with you!

Jesus also shows up for the other disciples too-even though they still seem to be locked in a room with door shut! Whether we’re locked up inside and afraid to go into the world, or whether we are like Thomas, saying, “unless I experience it myself, I won’t believe”—the good news is that Jesus appears to us to show us the resurrection is real. He loves us into a relationship with him.

Then Jesus says, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. And he breathes on us the Holy Spirit—all the power we need to go out through the doors and into the world, helping people experience that the resurrection is real! Church tradition tells us that Thomas brought the Gospel through Syria, all the way to southern India where congregations in the state of Kerala trace their beginning back to the witness of Thomas!

Far from a Doubter, Thomas is the Patron Saint of our Post-Modern Era! The world will continue to change around us, but remember, we are Lutheran Missourians! Millennials, the Nones, the Spiritual but not Religious—that doesn't intimidate us. We’re all about that Show me-faith, Show me-resurrection, Show me-Jesus in the world. That’s our bread and butter!

Jesus calls us to follow him in giving the Thomases of today, the relationship with God that they seek, and the experience of the risen Lord that they crave. And that relationship begins with you and me. For this generation, the need to have a relationship and sense of belonging (which is not the same as "membership!") first and then they begin to believe (whereas in my generation, we believed in God and then found a place to belong). Young people today want to be involved in hands-on mission and service in the world and they seek authentic community. Terrific! We're experts at this! The congregation I'm serving as an Interim Associate Pastor has a community garden, they're taking youth on a mission trip this summer, they have a school that builds a relationship with Jesus as well as teaches knowledge, they give out sack lunches for members to give to people in need, they serve breakfast to the homeless every month, they have a Service Day coming up on Saturday, April 23rd with a group called Congregations in Service and the list goes on!

All we need to do when we encounter young people waiting on us at the Starbucks or the Jiffy Lube, or when we talk with our kids or grandkids’ friends, is to build a relationship with them. Get to know them and what they’re passionate about, what worries them and what they want to do about it. Then invite them to participate in the community garden, or serving the homeless breakfast, or Service Saturday or whatever interests them. They’ll enter into a relationship with Jesus and come to believe in God, when we love them and show them how faith gets lived out in the real world.

Then this new generation will join us and Thomas with the bold confession, “My Lord and My God!”

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Quotation of the Week

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