Tag: gospel of john

Sermon: “The Interactive Church”

I preached this on the Fourth Sunday of Easter in 2008, which is also called Good Shepherd Sunday.

Acts 2:42-47, John 10:1-10
April 13, 2008 (Good Shepherd Sunday)
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

I’ll admit it; I’m a geek.

friendsbreakbreadSome of you know I wrote the main article in this month’s church newsletter. It’s called “Church 2.0.” I talked about how my job as a communications specialist for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area has used my knowledge of blogs, social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace has changed how we communicate with each other.

I’ve been working with blogs and social networking sites for several years and they have helped me create new relationships that would have been impossible in the past. I’ve made true friendships over the Internet with people from across the nation. Heck, I even met my partner Daniel through an online dating service.

What I find interesting is how this information revolution is changing society and what clues it has for the church, especially the mainline church and specifically, Lake Harriet. As I just said, this brave new world of blogs, podcasts and interactive web pages, is forming relationships where none might have ever existed. I am reminded that Tammy Rottschafer the Associate Pastor here at Lake Harriet has reminded me over and over that being church is about relationships. God may just well be calling us as a faith community to be more of an “interactive church,” a place that connects and relates with each other, with the outside world, and with God.

In the Second chapter of Acts, we are given a brief description of the nacsent church. It was just after the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples as flames of fire. Peter testified about Jesus and the scripture says 3,000 joined this new community that day. The passage that was read today, is about the day-to-day life of the church after that day. It’s a short passage, but I think it packs a wallop. The devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, they held all things in common and helped those in need, the broke bread together, had glad and generous hearts and praised God. The result of all this is that their community grew daily.

While this all happened long ago, I see a lot of today in this passage. This is a church that is interactive. Like working on a weblog, there are people relating to each other. This passage isn’t telling us that we need to be exactly like this church, but it does describe what the church should be about.

The church is called to be a place where we are devoted to learn to be a follower of Christ. The church is a place where we have fellowship with each other, where we care and love each other. The church is a place where we realize that our material possessions are not the goal in our lives, but to use what we have to help those in need, especially those in our community, but also those outside of it. The church is a place where we come together and break bread in table fellowship together, realizing that it is Christ that calls us to the table regardless of who we are. The church is a place where we are happy in Christ and are generous to friends and strangers.

Notice it doesn’t say that a church needs to have a pastor that will bring in more people, or have an awesome sound system, or a brand spanking new building. What IS needed is a visible faith community living in the light of Christ.

You know, as compact as this passage is: being a journalist by training, I could sum this up in about five words: “the church is about hospitality.”

If you read this passage over and over, what becomes apparent is that this new church was a place where people where caring to each other and to strangers. They fellowshipped, they broke bread together, they helped each other. They were caring with each other and people noticed. That’s why their community grew and grew.

As many of you know, I was the pastor of a new church for several years. It ended up closing or as I like to say, it was shelved for the time being. For a long time, I was lead to believe that to be a growing church, you needed to do things that would attract people. So, we had these innovative services that were supposed to pack them in and it didn’t. I remember wondering what I had done wrong. We were an open and affirming community, meaning we were openly welcoming of gays and lesbians, and yet that didn’t do a lot to bring people in.

What I learned from that experience is that I failed to really have relationships with people. For many people who had been burned by the church because of their sexual orientation, it didn’t really matter if we were Open and Affirming if we didn’t have relationships and chats over coffee with gay and lesbians and be Christ to them.

This church is going through change and getting ready to start a new journey as a church. I don’t know if I am in a position to offer words of advice, but I will any way. Remember that being church is not about having some hotshot pastor or big programs. It’s about relationships, it’s about hospitality. It’s about what we do during prayer time here and on Wednesday evenings, when we pray for our friends here in church and around the world. It’s when we give flowers on the table to someone in the hospital or a stranger as a sign of friendship. It’s when we pack food packets that go to feed the hungry. It’s when we welcome people regardless of sexual orientation even if we don’t understand it all. It’s about developing relationships with those who cross our path and showing them Christ in our lives, not to convert them (the Holy Spirit does that), but to be a living witness of who Christ is.

Today is what has generally been called Good Shepherd Sunday. We read from John 10 where Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd. We read from Psalm 23 which talks about God being our Shepherd that is always with us. In the past, I always looked at this passage as being about God being the shepherd and that we sheep are to be good followers. But I now see it as God in relation with God’s church. God cares for us and looks after us in ways we can’t imagine, because God is in love with us; God has a relationship with us. As a community that is loved by the God of the universe, we are called to care for one another- not because it’s something we have to do, but because it’s who we are. And when people see us living as a Christ-led, hospitable community, they will take notice.
The response we sang during the call to worship is by the hymnwriter, Marty Haugen. The song is called “Shepherd Me, O God.” The refrain says, “Shepherd me, O God; beyond my faults, beyond my needs, from death into life.”

Lake Harriet has some experience with death, with dying to old ways and to what we once were. In fact, many might even feel like we are dying now. But this song should be our prayer: that God will lead us, beyond our faults and needs from death into being the Easter people that we are.

Take heart, my friends. Know that God is with you, raising us up from death into life. And along the way, make friends, be hospitable and welcome everyone, everyone to this Table. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Like The Woman At The Well?

Like the woman at the well, I was seeking
For things that could not satisfy.
And then I heard my Savior speaking—
“Draw from My well that never shall run dry.”
Fill my cup, Lord;
I lift it up Lord;
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul.
Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more.
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole.

The Samaritan Woman - John 4:1-42We are going to be singing the song “Fill My Cup,Lord” (the song above) in church on Sunday. It comes from the story in John 4 about the Woman at the Well. It happens to be one of my favorite stories in Scripture. When I went to China fifteen years ago, I got three wall hangings of the work of He Qi, the Chinese artist who depicts religious stories in paintings. The three I bought were based on stories I love, the Good Samaritan, the Road to Emmaus and the Woman at the Well.

I love this story because it is a story of Jesus breaking boundaries left and right. But I really love it because it is about grace and about Jesus being the friend of sinners.

I will be preaching on the text Sunday, but as this Sunday grew near I felt a bit of hesitation. You see, over the years it seems to get harder to preach this story. Over the years, I’ve heard people reflecting on the story and well, challenging one aspect of it: the role of the woman.

This woman (who is unnamed) comes to draw water in the middle of the day. In very warm climates, you would not be out when the sun is at its hightest. No, you would draw your water in the early morning or the evening when it is cooler. The fact that this woman comes at noon indicates that she is some sort of outcast. During the conversation with Jesus, he asks her to go and fetch her husband. When she says she has no husband, Jesus replies that she is correct. She has had five husbands and the man that she lives with now is not her husband. Now, traditionally people have thought that she might have been doing something that was considered sinful. However, another story has come forward in recent years that rejects seeing the woman as a sinner, but more as a victim of some sort. The Bible never really tells us what this woman has done, if anything. The passage raises question about this women and what has led her to be an outcast, but we are never told what happened.

What I loved about this story is that God can work through someone deemed a sinner. The kingdom of God is for this person as well. Friend of sinners indeed.

But that view is starting to fall out of favor at least in mainline circles for this newer viewpoint. There is no mention of sin. There is no repentance. They argue that the traditional understanding of the woman at the well is full of misogyny and moralism.  Here is what David Lose said in a Huffington Post article in 2011:

She is not a prostitute. She doesn’t have a shady past. Yet when millions of Christians listen to her story this coming Sunday in church, they are likely to hear their preachers describe her in just those terms.

Her story is told in the fourth chapter of the Gospel According to John. She is a Samaritan woman who Jesus encounters by a well. Jews and Samaritans don’t get along, and women and men in this culture generally keep a safe social distance from each other. So she is doubly surprised when Jesus asks her for a drink. When she makes a remark to that effect, he offers her living water. Confused, but intrigued, she asks about this miraculous water. He eventually invites her to call her husband, and when she replies that she has no husband, he agrees: “You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband” (4:18).

And that’s it. That’s the sentence that has branded her a prostitute. Conservative preacher John Piper’s treatment is characteristic. In a sermon on this passage, he describes her as “a worldly, sensually-minded, unspiritual harlot from Samaria,” and at another point in the sermon calls her a “whore.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen her as a prostitute, but I guess I could see people thinking that. So if this isn’t the correct interpretation, then why is it being used?  The continued oppression of women:

So if this seems at least as probable an interpretation as the more routine one, why do so many preachers assume the worst of her? I would suggest two reasons. First, there is a long history of misogyny in Christian theology that stands in sharp contrast to the important role women play in the gospels themselves. Women, the four evangelists testify, supported Jesus’ ministry. They were present at the tomb when their male companions fled. And they were the first witnesses to the resurrection. Yet from asserting that Eve was the one who succumbed to temptation (conveniently ignoring that the author of Genesis says Adam was right there with her — Gen. 3:6) to assuming this Samaritan woman must be a prostitute, there is the ugly taint of chauvinism present in too much Christian preaching, perhaps particularly so in those traditions that refuse to recognize the equality of women to preach and teach with the same authority as men.

A second reason preachers cast this woman in the role of prostitute is that it plays into the belief that Christianity, and religion generally, is chiefly about morality. Treating the Bible as one long, if peculiar, Goofus & Gallant cartoon, we read every story we find in terms of sin and forgiveness, moral depravity and repentance. But this story is not about immorality; it’s about identity. In the previous scene, Jesus was encountered by a male Jewish religious authority who could not comprehend who or what Jesus was. In this scene, he encounters the polar opposite, and perhaps precisely because she is at the other end of the power spectrum, she recognizes not just who Jesus is but what he offers — dignity. Jesus invites her to not be defined by her circumstances and offers her an identity that lifts her above her tragedy. And she accepts, playing a unique role in Jesus’ ministry as she is the first character in John’s gospel to seek out others to tell them about Jesus.

I can understand why the traditional view can be so unsettleing.  Christian leaders have used scripture to belittle women.  I definitely would not call the woman a whore with the certainty that John Piper seems show.  We really don’t know what she has done, if anything.  So , we need to be careful in thinking we know the woman’s “sin” if there even is one.  Plus as Lose and other Bible scholars have noted, she might have been involved in a Levirate marriage.

That said, Lose’s alternative understand of this story, one where the woman is offered an identity and dignity seems to be weak tea for me.  Don’t get me wrong, the fact that Jesus treats woman with dignity matters.  The gospels present a Jesus that felt women had a role in his kingdom and it was more than cleaning tables.

But there is something missing in Lose’s interpretation.  Maybe the problem is that this is the kind of stuff I would expect to hear from nice, tolerant liberals.  It has nice words to say about inclusion and about treating women with respect.  But do people need to go to church to hear this?  Inclusivity is important, but I can learn that from a Coke ad.  I don’t need the church for that.

I agree that the woman does get to be a missionary to her people, which is groundbreaking.  All of this is good, I just don’t know if it really says anything about the love of God or what this all means for the church.

As I said before, we don’t know if this woman had sinned.  What we do know is that she was viewed a sinner by the townsfolk- which is why we see her getting water at noon instead of the morning or evening.  Whatever happened, we know that she is an outcast and outcasts are normally made to feel like sinners even if they’ve done nothing wrong.

I think it matters if this woman appeared to be a sinner (note that I said appear.  I did not say she was a sinner.)  If that’s the case, then the story changes.  This is then not about offering dignity but it is about Jesus, the friend of sinners, the one who is willing to impugn his own reputation to love the sinner and the outcast.  THAT is what makes this story so amazing.  Regardless if this woman was a sinner or not, Jesus radically loves this woman, even to the point of causing people to talk.

We all love to talk about Jesus being a friend to sinners, but we get a little nervous when Jesus in the Bible or Christians today, actually try to be friends…to sinners.

Lutheran pastor Delmer Chilton recounts a story that place right after his ordination; one where the newly minted minister ends up in the midst of some “working girls:”

I was ordained many years ago in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in a church not far from Fort Bragg.  An old college friend drove several hours to be there.  After the service that evening, he gave me a ride to the house where I was staying with another friend during the clergy conference that was to begin the next day.  Our route took us through a part of town where “working girls” offered their services to GIs.  We came to a stoplight, and they spotted me sitting there in his open-bodied Jeep.  I was wearing a black suit and clergy shirt.  Several of them came over to the car and began talking while we waited for the light to change to green.  I said to my friend, “Get me out of here or this might be the shortest clerical career on record.”

He laughed as we drove away and then he said, “Well Delmer, I’m just a lowly English teacher, and you know I don’t go to church very much, but the way I read the Bible – aren’t those the very people you’re supposed to hanging out with?”  I’ve known the man a long time and I still hate it when he’s right.

The reason the Woman at the Well resonates with me is that Jesus was willing to be seen talking with someone that at the very least was an outcast and still loves her. Because of that radical love, this woman was able to witness to her neighbors and they too saw Jesus as the Messiah.

In the end, this story really isn’t about the Samaritan woman. She does factor in and is important to the story, but the story is really about a God that is willing to love someone, anyone so radically that one might think God is off God’s rocker. If God is a friend to outcasts and sinners, then God is surely a friend to me. We can rest in the hope that we have a God that passionately loves each one of us.

Hmmm…I think I might have written my sermon for this Sunday….

 

JESUS MAFA. Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48282 [retrieved March 21, 2014].

Sermon: “A Woman and the Son of God Enter a Bar…”

This John passage is the lectionary gospel reading for this coming Sunday.  Below is a sermon I preached in 2008.

“A Woman and the Son of God Enter a Bar…”
John 4:5-42
February 24, 2008
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

I am a terrible joke teller.

Believe me, I’ve tried. But ever since I was a child, I’ve have done a bad job of telling jokes. If I was kidnapped by Al Queda and the only I would be granted freedom is to tell the jokes, well I would be their involuntary guest for quite a long time.

But listening to jokes can be fun. I know that at some point, we have all heard a joke that begins like this: “A priest, a rabbi and a Baptist preacher walk into a bar…” The people who walk in the bar maybe different, but it’s still the same joke. A few people enter a bar who don’t seem to fit. We don’t expect a priest, a rabbi and a preacher to enter a bar together. We don’t expect them to even be at a bar. That’s what makes the joke so interesting: it’s throwing people who don’t normally associate with each other in situations you don’t expect them to be in.

The text from the book of John is one of my favorite stories. Just like the joke, it throws together people you don’t expect to be together in situations you don’t expect them to be in. As the story begins, Jesus and his disciples are traveling through Samaria. Now, most Jews would go out of their way to bypass Samaria. They did this because they didn’t like the Samartians. The Samaritans were related to the Jews, but they were mixed with other heritages and because their role in the past which included tharwting their Jewish cousins, they were called “half-breeds” by the Jews. The Samaritans returned the favor, by hating the Jews back.

So, Jesus travels in enemy territory. He is then left alone at the local water hole while his disciples go into the town to buy food. It was noon. Now, I’ve never been to the Holy Land, but I have been to parts of the world that are known for being hot. I’ve visited my relatives in Central Louisiana and traveled in Spain…in August. In both places, it gets incredibly hot during that time of the day, with the sun high in the sky. You don’t want to be outside during that time, and for the most part, you aren’t. Most people stay inside. But not Jesus. He is sitting here in the hot sun, near a well, with no way to get the water in the well.

At this point, something odd happens. A woman is approaching the well. This is odd, because normally, women, and it was women in those days, went to get water from the well in the early morning and the evening, times of the day when the sun was not so hot. And yet, this woman was heading towards the well with a bucket to draw water for her needs. Many have speculated that this woman might have had a reputation in town and going to get water in the middle of the day, meant not having to deal with the cold stares of the townsfolk.

Jesus sees the woman and asks her, “Give me something to drink.” The woman looks at Jesus and notices maybe by his skin tone or his speech that he is Jewish. That must have sent chills up her spine that her hated enemy was sitting there asking her for drink as if she was his servant. She then responds, “Why in the world would ask me, a woman and a Samaritan, for water?”

Jesus then starts talking about water again- but not the water in the well. He speaks of a Living Water, a water that will quench the thirst of this woman forever. At first, she was still a bit skeptical, wondering how he could get this water without a bucket. Then she starts to ask if there is any way she could get this water and not have to come out in the heat to get water. At some point, Jesus asks the woman to call her husband. She responds quickly that she has no husband. But Jesus sees through this and calls her on it.

You have to imagine this woman was scared. She was already and outcast because of her past, and she didn’t need this Jew looking down on her. But how did he know? She wonders if this man is a prophet and starts talking about God and worshipping on the mountain where her fellow Samaritans went to meet God.

At some point, Jesus reveals himself to her as the Messiah. She runs back to town and tells the townsfolk that this man told her everything about her. Could this be the Messiah?

This story is about grace. This morning, we sang what is probably the most famous hymn: “Amazing Grace.” Many of you know the history of this song. It’s writer, John Newton, was a slave trader. Talk about your shady pasts. He had traded people like commodity. He felt like the “wretch” in the song. And yet, he knew that God had saved him. He was lost, and now he is found. He was blind in sin and now he sees.

This woman was an outcast. Whether or not she was an innocent victim or someone with a seedy past, doesn’t matter; she is on the outside. And yet, Jesus reached out to her. He crossed the boundaries of ethnicity, gender and probably 200 other boundaries to reach out to this woman in grace and love.

But this story isn’t simply about what Christ did, though that’s incredibly important. It’s also about how the community that claims to follow him lives. We call ourselves Christians. Do we respond to the people we meet with the same grace that Christ did? Could we love those who might be doing something we might not necessairly agree with?

The fact is, outside these walls, there are people who are dying of thirst. Not real thirst, though there are people who are dying of thirst, but they want to be loved. They know they have a past, or are doing something people might not like. They have felt like an outcast. All they want is a welcoming hand that loves them regardless of their past. Are we willing to cross our own boundaries to share the love and grace of Christ with them?

Let me tell you the story of a real outsider. Many of you know Jim Galvin, who was a member of Community of Grace. He has shared with me on occasion that having a church that openly welcomed him even though he was gay meant a lot to him. He had felt excluded from other churches in the past because of his orientation, but he found a place to be. Jim found grace.

I don’t share this story to pump myself up, since I was the pastor of this church start. I share it because it is an example of welcoming the various “people at the wells” in our own lives.

The theme for today is baptism and in a short time, I will be passing out a seashell to add to your growing altars at home. Shells are the traditional symbol of baptism. Baptism is a time when we are welcomed in to the church. But there is something more going on here. It is in the waters of baptism that we are reminded that God loves us. God knows us totally; all our faults and all out shortcomings and loves his still. We are loved madly by God. Jesus was willing to sit in the middle of a desert in the middle of the day to tell this woman that she was loved by God. That’s love. Jesus went to the cross to show that love to all of creation. THAT’s love.

Baptism reminds us we are loved that much by God. And if we are loved that much by God, shouldn’t we return the favor by carrying that love forward? Can we cross the boundaries of race, sexual orientation, political ideology, theological differences to love somebody?

Baptism is a reminder that we have been given Living Water, a water that reminds us we don’t have to go anywhere else to feel loved, because we are loved by God, all the time.

A Woman and the Son of God enter the bar…and everything changes for the better. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Picture: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, by He Qi.

Sermon: “You Pay Your Money and You Take Your Chance”

Genesis 12:1-4 and John 3:1-17
Second Sunday in Lent
March 16, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

detroitAs a kid, I loved looking at maps. I still do love pouring over a map, but when I was younger, I could spend hours looking at a map. The Rand McNally map of the Interstate Highway System was like the Bible to me. I look and see what interstate went where, what cities it came close to and the like. I don’t have the time I did to look at map so intently, but a map from Triple A still gives me joy.

Maps have an important purpose: that is to help guide the driver to their desired destination. Maps can tell you if a road is finished or not, or if there is construction. The whole point of a map is to get you to point B in the most direct and easy way possible. A map should help keep any surprises on your trip to a bare minimum.

Our Scripture in Genesis is an important turning point in the Biblical story. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are considered a pre-history. The creation, the fall, Cain and Abel and Noah and the Ark are all part of this pre-history. Beginning in verse 12 we enter a new story that will take up the rest of Genesis, if not the rest of the book of Genesis. God is going to bring salvation to all of creation through one nation. Abram would be the father of what would become the Jews and as God promised, the Israelites would be a light to the nations and through the God’s people would arise the one person to reconcile us to God: Jesus. But all this had to start somewhere, so it starts with an old man named Abram.

What’s interesting about Abram is that he pulls up stakes and obeys God heading toward Caanan. He was going to give rise to a great nation even though, A- he was old, B- so was his wife Sarai, C-they had no children and D- they had no land. I’m guessing that God is that guy that tells you to do something and then says, “I’ll explain later.”

Abram’s faith wasn’t perfect. He did doubt at times and sometimes came up with his own ideas. But he would always come back to trusting in God’s promise- even if God took a very, very, very, long time to bring it to fruition.

The theme we are using during Lent is Jesus Remember Me. In this story God is calling Abram into something new, but for Abram it involved risk. There was no map to guide him, only a promise from an unknown God. Even though the way was not easy, God didn’t forget Abram and Sarai. One day they are blessed with a son, Issac, who would further God’s promise.

Nicodemus is one result of Abrams faith. In the gospel of John, he has a nighttime meeting with Jesus. He has questions and seeks answers from Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t give him a map, but instead answers his question with riddles. The answer is there for Nicodemus, but to see the answer he has to go from mere belief to faith. He had to be born of the Spirit to have this second sight.

As some of you know, I helped plant a church about a decade ago. I remember one time getting a phone call from someone asking a question about the church. They wanted to know if there was a choir or an organ. We were small and didn’t really have either. The man said thank you and hung up, upset that we weren’t meeting his desire. I think he was more interested in being entertained than he was joining a bunch of fellow sojourners.

The question that many of us here at First are trying to answer these days is about our future. The church has shrunk to a handful of faithful members. Some would say that a church this small is no longer viable and should just close up shop.

As think about how to move forward, a funny thing has happened. Thanks to people like Janice Paulson, we have started finding items from the congregation’s past. A pulpit Bible, a sign, pictures of our old building near downtown St. Paul and a list of pastors since the 1880s. These items are helpful for reminding us that this congregation has been a faithful witness for over a century. A century of people trying to live out God’s promises.

The message of Abram for us today is that a relationship with God has to do with faith and risk. A church or congregation is called to leave our familiar places and follow God in faith as we journey forward to the end of Days when sin will be no more. As a gathered people we are called to witness to the world of the mighty deeds of God. We invite others to join us. And we do all of this without a map.

To be part of this congregation, or any congregation for that matter, is not about being entertained. It isn’t about having an awesome choir, there’s nothing wrong with having a good choir, but it’s just not the focus. We are not here for entertainment, but to journey together trusting in God’s promises in baptism, that we are children of God, that we are washed clean from sin, that we are empowered by the Spirit, part of the wider Church and given eternal life with God.

Trying to be church in this day and time is not easy. Church was something that most people in society went to, because that’s what was done. But we live in a different time where church is just one option of many. We long for the old days when are churches were full (and much larger). But maybe we are where we need to be; ready to hear God’s voice to leave familiar places and ways of doing things and sojourn together to where God takes us for the salvation of the world.

That’s a tall order for a small church. Can we do it. With God’s help? Piece of cake. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: “Waiting to Inhale”

I’m planning to write a post on Pope Francis and the reaction he’s getting from progressive Christians.  Until then, I share this sermon from 2004.  It was written during a pretty challenging time in my life.

“Waiting to Inhale”

Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-16

Lake Harriet Christian Church

Minneapolis, MN

June 6, 2004

 

 

I had plans to share with you a deep, theological sermon about the role of the Holy Spirit and what it should mean for this congregation.  When I talked with Terry last week, I shared my ideas and together we planned the service.  However, something happened between last week and now, that is, my life.  As most of you know, I was laid off from my job a month ago.  It was all rather sudden.  There had been rumors that our office might be let go, but the management said we were going to be moving to our new digs and we all prepared for the move.  Then on Monday morning, we were called in and told we were no longer needed.

 

This was not an easy thing for many of us. Many people had made big purchases including myself, buying houses and cars not knowing that they would soon be out of a job.  So, for the last month, I’ve been busy looking for work.  While it maybe true that the economy is picking up, I can attest the job market is still sluggish.  I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes and haven’t heard much, though there are some glimmers of hope.  Being unemployed is probably one of the worse things one can go though emotionally.  In a culture where one is defined by what they do, to not have a job makes you feel worthless.  It’s even worse when you have all the education needed for a job and you are not given a second look by companies.  If there is ever a time that one can feel abandoned by friends and by God, that is now.

 

In today’s text, the Apostle Paul talks about boasting in our sufferings.  He states, suffering produces endurance, endurance leads to character and character leads to hope.  Now, on its face, this seems like Paul is not taking suffering very seriously.  Paul sounds like one who has never known suffering and is offering silly self-help dribble to people who need much more than that.  However, Paul ends this statement by saying that hope does not disappoint us because the Holy Spirit has poured God’s love into our hearts.

 

What does the Holy Spirit has to do with all this?  In today’s Gospel text, we get to listen in to Jesus’ “farewell speech.”  In chapter 16 Jesus starts talking about going away, meaning his death and his ascension.  He tells the disciples that God will send a Paraclete or advocate to them who will remind them of his presence.  Jesus is stating that the Holy Spirit will come and serve as witness to Jesus, make the case that God through Jesus came into this world and saved it out of love.

 

The Holy Spirit is a living reminder of God’s work in Jesus, which is still active today.  We saw that reminder on the first Pentecost when the disciples were infused with the Spirit and began spreading the good news of liberation and salvation in Jesus.  However, the spirit is not limited to just the four walls of a church, because the spirit can’t be contained. Jesus talks about the Spirit as one that reminds the world of God’s justice.  Therefore, we saw the Spirit at work during the civil rights movement. We saw the Spirit at work in South Africa as many South Africans rose up against the racist apartheid regime.  We saw the Spirit at work as communist regimes in Eastern Europe fell one by one.  The Spirit serves as witness to God’s justice in the world.

 

However, the Spirit does not only work on a grand scale.  Let’s go back to my situation.  There are times when I just feel worthless because I don’t yet have a job.  Even then, the Holy Spirit is present “pouring God’s love” on me as Paul says.  I’m reminded of that love in various ways and many of those ways are right in front of me.  You see, the Spirit works in this community called the church.  I am reminded that God loves me because I know that many people are praying for me and have concern for me.  The love that you show is a powerful reminder that God loves me regardless of my station in life.  That is the work of the Spirit.

 

I don’t think I am far off in saying that I’m not the only one here this morning who feels abandoned by God.  What I can say is this:  allow yourselves to receive the love poured out by the Spirit.  Inhale the love, take a big breath and be reminded of God’s love for you.  Be reminded that God cares for all of God’s creation so much that he came in the form of Jesus to live, suffer and die for us.  Being a follower of the Risen Christ doesn’t mean that we get to skip the personal hells that we sometimes fall into.  However, the hard times can produce hope in Christ through the Spirit.

 

As a congregation on the corner of 50th and Beard in Southwest Minneapolis, we have must be empowered by the Spirit to go out and bring this message of hope to those who are in crisis and there are many.  Many people are looking for work or dealing with divorce or some other private tribulation.  Some are wondering where there next meal is coming from or maybe they are refugees moving to a new culture or maybe it’s someone that has to deal with discrimination because of who they are. Let us go out from these walls empowered by the Spirit reminding these folks that God loves them.  Let us do this not only in word, but also in deed, in acts of justice.

 

One of my favorite writers, Fredrick Beuchner, one said this of pastors and the sermons that they give:

 

“The trouble with many sermons is not so much that the preachers are out of touch with what is going on in the world or in books or in theology but that they are out of touch with what is going on their own lives and in the lives of the people they are preaching to. Whether their subject is hope or faith or charity or anything else, let them speak out of the living truth of their own experience of those high matters. Let them have the courage to be themselves.”

 

I hope I was able to be myself today.  Even though I don’t feel it, I am reminded that I am loved by God because of what Jesus did on the cross.  The Spirit reminds me that no matter how worthless I might feel right now, I am loved by God.  I hope you can go out beyond these walls and be yourselves as well.

 

Hope does not disappoint us.  I’m glad that God has not given up on me.  I hope you remember that too. Amen.