Resurrection Faith

  • 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!
  • Hope in Endings

    Addendum to Executive Summary for Living Waters Hope

    Revs. Linda and Dan Anderson-Little

    June 3, 2015 

    Bishop Roger Gustafson asked us to reflect on “how we experience hope in the closing of Living Waters”.

    It’s a wonderful question.  We both have remained hopeful about the future of the church, the need for continued mission and experimentation in our changing culture, as well as personal hope in the presence of God in our own lives.  Below we highlight some concrete sources of hope:

    Impact:  We know that we have made an impact in some people’s lives; we have given skeptical and hurting people a new conversation, a new opportunity.  We trust through the miracle of the Spirit, this will continue to ripple out.

    Small Group: The impact we’ve made is most notable in the Small Group that met consistently from the very beginning of Living Waters.  The depth of conversation and shared intimacy has far surpassed any experience either of us has had in our traditional church experience.  We are heartened that at least 6 members of this group will continue to meet 3x/month with us as part of our personal outreach and spiritual practice which continues to be a source of great hope.

    Support: We have been humbled by and so grateful for the support we have received from every corner of the church – both as we imagined Living Waters, carried it out and closed it.  We have had wonderful conversations and engagement with the staff of our local and national judicatories, colleagues, our Steering Team and Intercessory Prayer Team, as well as those in “official” committees tasked with decisions to support us and offer oversight.  Even as we struggled with Linda’s health challenges and the decision to close, we have been buoyed by the prayers and love of so many, which continues to give us hope.

    Discernment: We both feel God’s continued presence and grace in our lives.  We’re discerning what we gained from this experience and are still in process of listening to what God might be up to next for us.  Dan is pursuing some possible Interim Pastor positions to provide income during this process.  Linda is exploring what kinds of ministry and commitments will be compatible with health and well-being.  We have also realized that we can “discern rightly and still decide incorrectly”.  We rightly discerned the need for mission with the “Nones”, trying bold experiments in ministry, and that we both have gifts for mission development.  However, Linda engaging in this kind of ministry, and perhaps trying to build ‘fast and big’ were not correct decisions.  The gift of distinguishing between discernment and decision, gives us hope that God’s faithfulness is ever true, even in the midst of our limitations.

    Funds: We’re grateful for the shared discernment of our judicatories, coach, Steering Team and Prayer Team that it was time to conclude the ministry before all the resources dwindled.  We find hope that there is still $47,000 still available for new mission in the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy and the Central States Synod. 

    Faith: Because this has been such a positive experience in so many ways, we are sad, disappointed and very sorry Living Waters did not work, but we have not been brutalized or torn up by it.  We rest with conviction on the very core of our faith, which is that God raises new life from death and God always has the final answer.  We trust in our resurrection hope that death is not final and that the Holy Spirit will always work new ways to bring grace and love to all of creation.

     

    Photo Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_piep600'>piep600 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

  • Like Mother, Like Daughter

    Empty Bench Near WaterLike most women I know, I've gone through several phases in my relationship with my Mom. There were rebellious times when I didn’t want to be anything like her; there were grateful times when I recognized that some of her qualities are unmistakably a part of me, and there was everything in between.

    Today, I feel a deeper connection to her 3 ½ years after her death and I wish so much that I could talk with her about that of which we never spoke.  Things like how she prayed, the ways she experienced God, how her volunteerism was connected with her faith, what she gave up by being a stay-at-home Mom, what she would change about her choices if she could, what she would do exactly the same. 

    Six months after she died, I was at annual district church meeting called Synod Assembly. During the opening worship, we sang 3 of her favorite hymns. I could see her in my mind's eye, standing near the heavenly throne singing with me in her full beautiful voice. Quite suddenly, I saw a window into heaven that slid open from the inside and an awareness came over me that said, "your Mom had a call to ministry." 

    I stopped singing and sat down to process the gift of this awareness, while worship continued around me. I thought about all of the activities my Mom had done throughout her life and of course, so much of it was ministry: running our girl scout troop, writing the church newsletter, managing the hospital gift shop, leading suburban women's education, hosting parties and great fellowship events, and the list goes on. Had she been this vibrant woman today, her pastor would have encouraged her to go to seminary. And I thought I was the family weirdo who is the first and only pastor in my extended family.

    Accepting with gratitude that I am more like her than not, came over me again a couple of weeks ago when my sisters and I went through her worldly possessions with the daunting task of deciding what to keep and what to give. We first tackled her dozens and dozens of cookbooks – we took pictures of the recipes she had marked in the books we gave away, and found more recipes tucked in the pages of many of them. But in one cookbook, I found a hand-written sheet of paper on which she had written a reflection about Silence. I had written the reflection about The Gift of Nothingness (which I posted last week, and you can read below on my blog or link to here) just a few months before. The language and the sentiments are remarkably similar. Here are her words:

         Silence – the chance to eliminate all sounds so the blood which beats in your pulses

         become the only conscious awareness you have

         A quiet and peace return as you begin to relax and your blood pulsing begins once again to recede and be natural.

         The quiet becomes manifest and your being fades into the stillness of the moment –

         be it dawn, high noon, dusk or midnight.

         Dawn – a new beginning, a chance to be aware, to feel, to experience, to begin new thoughts and ideas; 

         to re-establish the positive of yesterdays, 

         but keep open to the gifts and newness of today

         High noon – bright day time, highlighting motives, thoughts, ideas

         no shadows- no hiding

         dealing with what is visible, what blossoms open.

    It looks like she started a reflection similar to praying the hours throughout the day, but she didn't have a chance to finish writing on the silence that comes at dusk and midnight.

    We'll have a lot to discuss when it's my turn to join her in the choir around throne of God. Until then, I'm glad that death has not stopped me from learning more about her and loving her more deeply.

     

  • Ready When You Least Expect

    Nov 27Message for Advent 1 on Matthew 24:36-44, Romans 13:11-14 for St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas. You can view a video of this sermon by going to our YouTube page and watching the worship video here. 

    And here it is, one of the Bible passages Christians have used to terrorize people for centuries. Everywhere else you go this weekend; you hear Christmas carols and holiday cheer. Not so much at church—I know it’s a rude awakening for those who are new here.

    The season of Advent gets us ready for Jesus’ to come—it would seem it is for the birth of the babe in Bethlehem, and that is part of it, but it is really about preparing us for the second coming of Jesus at the end of time. We become aware of how much the world needs a Savior, and we feel more deeply, the disconnect between the world as it is, and the world as it should be—the world we envision as God’s kingdom. So, Advent begins with an apocalyptic passage about the end time when Jesus will return and set it all straight. (I know we heard this just a couple weeks ago from Luke—lucky us—but Jesus gave me something new to say!)

    Even though Jesus clearly tells us that no one knows the hour or the day of his return, it’s human nature to try and figure it out anyway. We are so uncomfortable with mystery, with living in the gray. We have grown accustomed to data analytics, artificial intelligence, long-range forecasting, 538 poll aggregators, Doppler radar, storm trackers and so on —all of which feed into our control-freak nature, that to step into the mystery of faith, into a relationship with God who does not give us all the answers—well, that proves difficult if not downright impossible.

    We might take a cue from Jesus himself, who seems comfortable with this mystery; he, himself is not privy to the answers either. And for all of our imaginings about judgement and who is in and who is out, the truth of the matter is, this passage does not identify punishment nor reward. In Noah’s time, it was not good to be left behind and swept away; but to first century ears, it was much better to be left behind than to be taken by the Romans--when one could be imprisoned, and possibly tortured or worse. The passage is purposely ambiguous—why? Because About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father!

    So, what are we do to?

    • We embrace not knowing (take a deep breath)
    • we accept we are not in control (relax your shoulders)
    • we lean into the gray of our relationship with God where we do not have all the answers (unclench your jaw and your hands)
    • we sink into mystery (relax your hips and your feet. When you relax all this main muscles the rest of your body follows)

    As we do this, Jesus calls us to pay attention, just like we when read a mystery novel, or meet someone new and get to know them. We keep alert, we remain vigilant, watching for the details, looking for the signs of God’s presence and power that will keep showing up when we least expect them, giving us clues to God’s complete presence and love for us in Jesus.

    For even in the mystery among questions that do not and will not have answers, we do have rock solid assurance of that which is most important: We live in the time of resurrection and the defeat of death—Jesus has already conquered our most feared unknown—death itself—so we already know that whether we are left here or there, whether in this life or the next, whether next week or the next millennia, we are with Christ Jesus, raised from the dead, whom God sent to save us.

    This truth gives us new ways of living in the mystery of what has not yet been resolved in this life. Romans tells us to “wake up sleepy head! Put on the armor of light!”—look for resurrection, watch for life, be vigilant in noticing the power of Jesus’ victory over this present age in all of your circumstances!”

    When I went into prayer and meditation and asked the Lord what he wanted me to say to you to today, I heard exactly this: Resurrection is around us all the time, every day—we just do not see it because we expect to see bad news, destruction, and death. We experience what we expect to experience. We see what we expect to see.

    Psychologists and scientists have studied this for decades. It is called “motivated perception”—and studies show that what we see is biased, selective, and malleable. Our thoughts, wishes and preferences affect what we see and perceive. Well, be biased toward resurrection! Be selective about looking for the life of Christ! Be malleable when it comes to seeking the good, the noble, the Christlike, the signs of hope, and renewal and life! Change the channel in your brain and attitude to the Resurrection-Jesus Station! Tune in to RJS—this is better than all the other alphabet soup out there—MSNBC, FOX, CNN, CBS and so on!

    Jesus calls us, as disciples, to be people with great expectations—to be people who expect to see and experience resurrection— to prefer, wish, think, and be motivated to see Jesus at work in the world. Jesus calls us to look for and participate in instances of new life, healing, forgiving, transforming, comforting, feeding, clothing, praying, housing, and offering hope in all circumstances. Our job is to look for Jesus everywhere, to watch for him, to be vigilant in seeking him—to train our eyes, our minds, our brains, and our attitude toward the expectation of seeing and experiencing Jesus breaking into our everyday life and situations.

    Did you know that in Matthew, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary arrive at the tomb empty-handed? They do not have spices to anoint Jesus’ dead body. They believe Jesus who announced that he would rise after 3 days. They are not going to see the dead but the living—they are showing up expecting resurrection! And they are the only ones who actually get a front row seat to the earthquake, the angel, the empty tomb, and the risen Lord on the road!

    Where has new life and resurrection broken into your life recently? And if you did not call it resurrection, can you see it that way, now?

      • Maybe it was a conversation over Thanksgiving, with a loved one in-person, or who lives far away
      • or being able to travel to be with people you rarely see;
      • maybe it was a moment in nature when you felt peaceful, and at one with God,
      • perhaps it was a connection with a stranger while out shopping
      • maybe it was cuddling with your pet in a moment of blissful hibernation
      • or the attention of the healthcare workers attending to someone you love,
      • or the love and generosity of an unexpected gift--

    After Paul and I discussed the opportunity for him to work in a position at his own church, I was driving home and started praying about what I was going to do about an Administrative Assistant coming up to the holidays, and the Holy Spirit immediately said to me, “hire your son, Daniel.” That’s the honest truth. I did not think of it myself, even though the option was right in front of me, living in my own house. Now I know it was a moment of resurrection!

    Since the ransomware wiped our office drive, we have had on-going computer issues, and this week, Daniel has solved two of them—the email scam and the fact that my emails were not being received by church office computer. If you have ever found it impossible to get anything done during one of your busiest seasons because of computer problems and then had some of it fixed, you know it’s an experience of new life and resurrection!

    We are here together because we have great expectations of experiencing resurrection—in each other, in the grace of forgiveness, in bread and wine, in music, in the children, in conversation, in community!

    Jesus’ resurrection is around us all the time, every day. How and when Jesus’ resurrection will show up in your life and my life this week remains a mystery.

    Your calling is to watch for it, recognize it, and then to share it! Every day, we will have Advent posts on St. Luke’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter—please respond to these posts, sharing where you see Jesus’ resurrection and new life breaking into your daily experience!

    We prepare for Jesus’ second coming by expecting to see the new life of Christ everywhere. Jesus may come back when we least expect him—but when we are looking to see his presence and power every day, we will be ready when he shows up!

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