Category Archives: Easter

Who Will You Tell? Sermon on Matthew 28:1-10 Easter A

April 16, 2017

For those of you who haven’t been with us throughout the season of Lent, let me bring you up to speed. We’ve been reading a book together called Unbinding Your Heart. It’s about learning how to share our faith. Some of you are here today because someone handed you a green card and said, come worship with me on Easter. Welcome! We are really glad you accepted the invitation.

You need to know that, before the person who invited you here today put that card in your hand, a lot of us were praying for you, not even knowing your name. Our hearts are getting unbound, and I hope that today, your heart will be opened, too, so that you can let in a little bit of the love that is filling this church.

Last Sunday, I talked about expecting the unexpected when Jesus shows up. We considered the fact that Jesus is always with us, but we have to start expecting him in order to see him. And it was a Sunday full of unexpected surprises.

One of the behind the scenes surprises was that the palms did not get delivered as we had expected. I had gone to bed Saturday night expecting to improvise, inviting everyone to wave the palm of your hand. But Cleo, faithful servant that she is, went to HyVee early Sunday morning to pick up the palms, so we had leafy branches to wave after all.

Claire brought her whoopee cushion to the children’s message. That was unexpected. Continue reading

Get Up and Go – sermon on Jonah 3:1-5, 10

May 1, 2016 Easter 6C

Did you ever try to run away from home when you were a kid? Do you remember why you wanted to run away? I remember the time I got so angry at my mother that I decided I just had to leave. I think I was about eight years old.

I had some vague notion in my head that people who ran away from home had to tie up all their belongings in a bundle and hang it on the end of a stick. But I didn’t have a stick, and I didn’t know how to make a bundle, so I settled for the next best thing: A plastic doll case. I couldn’t squeeze very much into it, so I took just the essentials: a favorite stuffed toy, some socks, a comb, a small box of raisins in case I got hungry … that was about all that would fit.

As I made my way across the back yard, I ran into our neighbor, Mr. Perry. “Where are you going?” he asked me.

“I’m running away.”

“Oh, well I was hoping maybe you could help me crank the ice cream.”

Mr. Perry made peach ice cream that was to die for. As I turned the crank on the ice cream freezer, we talked. To this day, I do not remember what had made me mad enough that I thought I had to run away from home, but by the time Mr. Perry took the paddle out of the ice cream and handed it to me to lick, I wasn’t mad anymore. I took my plastic doll case back up to my room and unpacked it.

My mother never even knew I’d left the house.

Like my eight year old self, Jonah got so mad, he decided to run away. I really was surprised when I realized that the story of Jonah was missing from our 31-week walk through the Bible. How can you skip Jonah? It’s a universal story. Every known religion has some version of the Jonah story in its mythology. Continue reading

Making All Things New – sermon on Revelation 21:1-6

April 24, 2016 Easter 5C

Will your mourn with me? Will you rejoice with me? Twice before I have preached on this text from the book of Revelation, but they were both funeral sermons. Twice this week, we have gathered in this sanctuary to celebrate the promise of eternal life for members who have gone to be with the Lord.

Friday night, as I finished one funeral sermon and sat down to review my notes for this one, I was listening to a live broadcast of The Minnesota Chorale and the Minnesota Orchestra performing the Brahms Requiem under the direction of Helmuth Rilling. Some of you know that I sang under Herr Rilling’s direction for eight years, and we performed this beautiful work by Johannes Brahms at least twice in that time. I knew what to listen for on Friday night. “How lovely is thy dwelling place… blessed are they who die in the Lord …”

Brahms didn’t use the standard Requiem Mass Latin text, but put together selections from scripture, using the Luther Bible. He wanted the words to be easily understood in the language of the people. It was a new way of presenting a Requiem. No composer had ever done something like this before. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. All flesh is grass.” This beautiful music has given comfort to many who grieve.

But something stood out to me this week, as we laid Mike and Florian to rest, and as I listened to Brahms. Continue reading

Fish and Sheep – Sermon on John 21:1-19

Easter 3C
April 10, 2016
Watch a video of this sermon here.

Many psychologists will tell you that there are two things all human beings need in order to live happy, productive lives: we need a sense of belonging, and we need a sense of purpose (David Lose). By “belonging” I don’t mean “fitting in.” In fact, fitting in might be the exact opposite of belonging. When you try to fit in, you adapt yourself to a group’s expectations. When you belong, you don’t have to change a thing. You are accepted the way you are. Being accepted as we are by a larger group gives us a stable view of ourselves, and helps us shape our individual identity, according to the psychologists.

And a sense of purpose gives us a reason to get up in the morning. We need to believe that what we do matters, that we make a difference in the world. Our sense of purpose drives our decisions about the way we spend our time and energy and financial resources. Believing that your life has meaning and value can motivate you to face challenging circumstances with courage and perseverance, even joy.

We need to feel like we belong, and we need to feel like we have a purpose in life. In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus offers us both. Continue reading

What’s in a Name? Sermon on Acts 2:37-47

April 3, 2016
Watch a video of this sermon here.

When my older son was in third grade, he decided to change his name. The name he had been given at birth was no longer an option. A girl in his class had the same name. It was spelled differently, but it sounded the same. They were both Gail. And that would not do. So for several months, he tried out different options. The one that lasted the longest was “Spike.” Over the summer, the name thing seemed to be less of an issue, but when school began in the fall, I wondered what he would want to call himself. I didn’t have to wait long to find out. On the afternoon of the first day of fourth grade, I got a phone call from my son’s teacher.

It seems she had distributed index cards to each of her students at the beginning of the day, and had asked them to write across the top of the card their full names, as those names appeared in her official records. Then she said, “Underneath your full name, write the name you want me to call you. For example, if your name is Robert but you want me to call you Bobby, write it down so I’ll know.” My son had written “Gail Young II” across the top, and underneath that, he’d written, “Kevin.” The teacher wanted to know where this name had come from. I had to think a minute. It did sound familiar. Then it struck me. Kevin is Bruce’s middle name. My son, Gail, had decided to name himself after his step-dad, Bruce. That name has stuck, more or less, for more than 25 years.

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare’s Romeo once asked Juliet. While a rose by any other name might smell as sweet, in the Bible, a name has great significance. A name carries with it the essence of a person’s character. Your name defines what kind of person you are. But what happens when your name changes? As we move from the shock of Easter morning into the beginning of the Christian era, we find a group of Jesus’ followers who struggle to define their identity. Like my son, who had to try on several names before he found one that fit the way he saw himself and wanted others to see him, these early followers of Jesus didn’t know quite what to call themselves. Continue reading

Resurrection Hope – Sermon on Luke 24:1-12 EasterC

March 27 2016

Watch a video of this sermon here.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. – Luke 24:1-12

You’ve heard this story before, right? It has either changed your life, or you have let it wash over you every year without having any measurable effect on you. It’s an all or nothing story. Either it makes no difference to you at all, or it makes all the difference in the world to you. Why is that? Why do some of us listen to this story year after year, but never see why it matters?

My guess is that some of us aren’t very different from those first disciples who heard the news from the women – this message doesn’t make any logical sense, and so we dismiss it as an “idle tale.” Or maybe we accept the story as fact, but it happened so long ago, we can’t imagine how it matters to us now, in our current situation. You might believe it, but it hasn’t changed the way you act or think. Your life has not yet been transformed by the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

I could give you a verse-by-verse explanation of the important details Luke puts into his version of the resurrection story, and we could compare and contrast Luke’s version to the other gospels. I might even be able to share some bit of knowledge from biblical scholars with you that you didn’t know before, and if you could remember it past coffee time, you could discuss it with others over Easter dinner. But it would not change your life. And Jesus died and rose again to change your life. Continue reading

Being God’s Kids – Sermon on 1 John 5:1-6 Easter 6B 

5/10/2015 (Mother’s Day)

It may seem that the heretics we read about in John’s letters are far removed from us. After all, they lived more than 2000 years ago, and a lot of theological water has gone under the bridge since then. We’ve had plenty of time to figure out what it means to be Christians.

Biblical scholars have written tons of books to explain the hard parts of scripture for us, and great leaders in the church have managed to refute most of the questionable beliefs that emerged during the early years of the faith. Those crazy ideas about Jesus being just a spirit who appeared to be human sound strange to us. It would never occur to us that Jesus was ever anything but fully God and fully human.

We live in a time when we don’t hear much about people standing their ground in theological debate. Our scholars and Christian leaders aren’t famous for hashing out the finer points of Christ’s identity as the Son of God. Instead of arguing about who God is and who Jesus is, we argue about who can be married in our churches or preach in our pulpits, or how we should respond to global warming, or what we should do about bigotry in all its forms.

That time seems far away, when Paul and John and Mark and Luke were still defining the very essence of Christian faith. And yet, the questions they faced were very much like the questions our culture asks today:
Who is God, anyway?
Why does Jesus matter?
What if I want to be “spiritual, but not religious?”
How can I know what lies beyond this life?
Who is going to love me, when I don’t love myself? Continue reading