Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 14, 2020

CLICK HERE for a worship video for Sunday, June 14

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 14, 2020

Matthew 9:35-10:8

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus went about the cities and the villages, from urban centers to small farming towns, and wherever he went, as he looked out at the crowds, what did he see? He saw that the people were like sheep without a shepherd.

The Bible frequently describes human beings as being like sheep. It is not a compliment. Sheep are notoriously foolish creatures. They are known to wander and get themselves lost. They are stubborn, always wanting to go their own way regardless of what is good for them. They are also extremely vulnerable creatures – especially when they are without a shepherd.

And so when Jesus looks at the crowds as he visits both the cities and the villages, he sees that the people are “harassed and helpless.” That’s a good way to describe sheep without a shepherd. They are set upon by predatory and destructive forces. They are without hope. They are harassed and helpless.

These are decent translations of the Greek adjectives here. They have the alliteration, which I always appreciate. But these adjectives can be translated in other ways to bring out the shades of meaning these powerful words are trying to convey. When Jesus looks at the people, he sees that they are threatened and bewildered. They are hurting and afraid. They are mangled and lost. This is what Jesus sees when he looks out at the people in the cities and the villages: that they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

If the Lord Jesus was to do a tour of our world, or our country, or our state, or even our island today, would he see anything different?  If Jesus appeared in the flesh today for a tour of our cities and villages would his assessment of the human condition change? Have we made much progress in the past 2,000 years? Are things so different?

How can we possibly say that anything has changed? When we ourselves look out at our world, as we look out at our cities and villages, how can we not see that people are still very much harassed and helpless? How can we not see that they are set upon by destructive forces and often without hope? A tiny virus has upended our society. Racial tensions are higher than they have been in decades. The economy is in shambles, especially for those in the lower income brackets who are least able to weather the downturn. Our cities are in flames. Fatal drug overdoses and suicides are off the charts. Alcohol and marijuana use are way, way up. Keep those dispensaries open – gotta keep the sheep numb. People are spiritually lost, having wandered from God to stubbornly do their own thing.

Don’t think that we aren’t counted among those sheep. “All we, like sheep, have gone astray,” says the prophet Isaiah – and his words are as true today as they have ever been. We have all wandered. We have all stubbornly wanted to go our own way. And what has it gotten us? Can you honestly say that you haven’t felt harassed and helpless, hurt and afraid, bewildered and set upon and maybe even a bit mangled?

When our Lord Jesus looks out at our present world, when he looks at our cities and our towns, when he looks at our lives, does he not see the very same thing he saw in our gospel reading for today?

But what does Jesus do about it? Does he throw up his hands in despair? Does he say, “Ah, the hell with it!” Does he head for a cabin in the woods? That’s what I’m tempted to do sometimes!

But that’s not what Jesus does. No, not our Lord Jesus. Jesus looks out at the people, he sees that they are harassed and helpless, he sees that they are like sheep without a shepherd, and he has compassion on them. The very Son of God, the incarnate Creator of the Universe, looks upon his broken world, and he feels for it from the depths of his divine being with an aching love. He looks upon his foolish creatures and he cares for them. Jesus has come so that he might give them the very Shepherd that they need. And so he went about announcing that in him the kingdom of heaven had come near. He went about healing as a sign of this kingdom’s arrival.

Jesus didn’t just see a bunch of sheep without a shepherd. He saw an opportunity. Here the metaphor changes from shepherding to farming. As Jesus looks out at the people he also sees a ripe crop out in the fields, just waiting to be harvested. He sees rows and rows of corn or wheat that are ready to be gathered into this kingdom he is bringing!

Jesus needs laborers to gather in this crop, and so he calls his twelve disciples. They are a motley crew, these guys. You have some brothers in there. Some fishermen. Interestingly, you have Simon the Cananean, a member of a Jewish nationalist group committed to overthrowing the Romans, and you have Matthew, who was collaborating with those same Romans, working as a tax collector. These represent polar opposites on the political spectrum of Jesus’ time. Can you imagine Republicans and Democrats finding common cause like this today? Can you imagine Jay Inslee and Donald Trump collaborating without constantly sniping at one another? Can you imagine populists and globalists, conservatives and liberals working together? Well, Jesus can! He puts Simon the Jewish nationalist and Matthew the Roman collaborator together on the same team!

And he did so because what he was up to would transcend all their earthly squabbles. Jesus was coming to bring salvation and healing and forgiveness and mercy to a world that was badly broken. He was coming to restore health and hope to a people who were harassed and helpless. He was coming to be the Shepherd that these wandering, stubborn, and hopeless sheep so badly needed, a shepherd who would ultimately lay down his life for the sheep, so that they would have forgiveness and eternal life with him.

When Jesus looks at our cities and villages today, he sees the same thing we do. He sees a bunch of people who are like sheep without a shepherd. When he looks at our lives, he sees the mangled mess that comes from our wandering and our stubbornness.

But he continues to have compassion on all of us. He continues to feel for us from the depths of his being, aching for us in love. But he doesn’t just have the feels for us. He has done something about it. He has laid down his life for us. He has come to take our sin upon himself and raise us to new life in him. He comes to us today in the power of his Word to be our shepherd, to guide us, to protect us, to save us.

And then, switching metaphors, calls us to do some farming with him. He sends us out as laborers in a harvest that is ripe indeed. He sends us out to bring healing and hope to a hurting world. He sends us out to gather people in by proclaiming the good news that in him, the kingdom of heaven has come near.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church

 

Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday – June 7, 2020

CLICK HERE for a worship video for Holy Trinity Sunday

Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday – June 7, 2020

Matthew 28:16-20

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday – the only Sunday in the church year dedicated to a doctrine. This doctrine deserves its own Sunday, as it teaches us some important things about who God is. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God exists as a relationship. At the core of God’s very being is a relationship of love and unity between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There’s a lot more that can be said about the doctrine of the Trinity, but this is its essence: God is three distinct persons but exists together as one, bound together in eternal love.

On this Holy Trinity Sunday we hear our Lord Jesus give what is often called “The Great Commission.” He gives his disciples their marching orders. He gives his church its calling. We are to make disciples. We are to baptize. We are to teach. And we are to do all of this in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Part of what it means to do ministry in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is to do it on behalf of God. We are God’s agents. We are God’s instruments. But there’s another element to what it means to do all these things in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It also means we are to do it all in the character of the Holy Trinity.

Recall when Jesus invited his disciples to pray “in his name.” Whenever they pray “in his name,” he told them, they would receive everything they asked for. But Jesus’ name isn’t a code word to get free stuff! To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray in his character, it is to pray for the things that he would want for us.

So it is with doing ministry in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We not only do it on behalf of God, by God’s authority, we are also called to do it in the character of the Holy Trinity. And so we are to do it all united as one in the eternal love of God.

We are to take this love to all peoples. “Make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said. The English word “nations” suggests other countries, other places you can locate on a map, and that is certainly part of it, but the original Greek word is ethnos, which can also mean ethnicity or race.  Jesus was telling these disciples to get this love of God out to the Gentiles, out to those who were not ethnically Jewish. And so the church isn’t just to send missionaries off to other lands. This love of God is to be shared with people of other races, people who might live very near to us.

I really wrestled with how to faithfully observe this Trinity Sunday and stay faithful to the text in front of me while also trying to say something about what our country has been going through this past week, with several consecutive nights of rioting in our cities. I think most of you know that I am very careful to not try to make a given scripture passage say something it doesn’t just so I can spout off on the hot issue of the moment. But I see a legitimate connection in language of the Great Commission and what our country has been experiencing recently. Jesus calls his church to make disciples of all nations, all ethnicities, all races. We are to do ministry in the character of the Holy Trinity as we seek to bring the love of God to all people, whatever their nationality, or ethnicity, or skin color. This means we cannot ignore the experiences of those who are crying out in pain right now. We cannot ignore the experiences of our African-American neighbors.

Has the rioting gone way beyond what happened to George Floyd? Absolutely. Are there other forces hijacking the protests? Absolutely. Are there people fanning the flames for their own selfish purposes? Yes. Is this a complicated issue with many strands, many factors? Also, yes. All of that is true.

But what started all of this was watching an unarmed and handcuffed black man die in broad daylight with a white police officer’s knee on his neck while he begged them to stop, saying he couldn’t breathe, finally crying out for his mother before he died. This ripped scabs off of deep African-American wounds across the country. It stirred up all kinds of pain that has been simmering below the surface for a long time.

I listened to a recent press conference with Russell Wilson, the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson is someone I have long admired, not only as an athlete but as a person and as someone who has been very public about his Christian faith. He isn’t an activist or a politician, so he doesn’t have an ax to grind or a platform to advance. But he spoke very emotionally about what George Floyd’s death stirred up in him. He talked about how when he was a young boy, how his dad taught him to never put his hands in his pockets whenever he was in a store because people would think he was stealing. Russell Wilson didn’t grow up in the hood. He went to a private school! His dad was a lawyer! But because of the color of his skin he faced greater scrutiny. He was often looked upon with suspicion.  I’ve been raising three boys and never once has it ever occurred to me to tell my boys keep their hands out of their pockets at the store.

Wilson went on to talk about being at a breakfast buffet at a nice restaurant just days after the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2014. He went up to get some breakfast and an older white man said, “This isn’t for you.” This was in California. In 2014. Russell Wilson had just won the biggest contest on planet earth, but because of the color of his skin someone thought he shouldn’t be at the fancy breakfast bar.

There was so much pain in his voice when he shared all of this. That pain is something we as Christians cannot ignore, especially from a fellow brother in Christ.

Russell Wilson said something else in his press conference that jumped out at me. Two things, actually: He said he didn’t have all the answers, and he said he just wanted to love like Jesus.

I don’t have all the answers either. I don’t have all the answers about the mystery of the Trinity, that’s for sure! I don’t have all the answers about our current cultural moment either, which is indeed very complicated. There are a lot of factors I cannot address because I just don’t know enough about them. I don’t have all the answers, so I hope I don’t sound self-righteous or badgering or more woke-than-thou. I hate when people do that – especially pastors!

But if we are going to do ministry in the character of the Holy Trinity, if we are going to share the eternal love of God with all nationalities, all ethnicities, all races, we cannot ignore their pain – even when it comes out sideways. Before we can baptize and teach effectively, we need to listen and love.  To do ministry in this sacred name that has been revealed to us is to strive to love like Jesus: humbly, selflessly, sacrificially, and with special concern for those who are vulnerable or hurting most.

This is a tall order. The Great Commission always has been. But Jesus doesn’t just give us orders to follow. He also gives us a promise: “I am with you always,” he says, “even to the end of the age.”

Christ is with us in this hard time, when the crises just seem to keep piling up.

Even as we don’t have all the answers, Christ is with us: loving us, forgiving us, and empowering us for ministry in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church

 

Sermon for Pentecost Sunday – May 31, 2020

CLICK HERE for a worship video for Pentecost Sunday.

Sermon for Pentecost Sunday – May 31, 2020

Acts 2:1-21

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Something dramatic happened in that house where the apostles were gathered. It was so dramatic that Luke, the author of Acts, had to resort to similes to try to describe the scene: there was a sound like the rush of a violent wind; divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them. Yes, something dramatic happened. Something profoundly spiritual – in the truest, most literal sense of the word!

But at the same time, what happened on Pentecost was also actually pretty down-to-earth. The apostles “were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages.” A miracle? Sure! Suddenly, the Holy Spirit installed Google translate into the brains of each of the apostles. They could speak in other languages! It was like they all had instantaneously been through those Rosetta stone language programs! As the apostles spoke of God’s deeds of power, those Jews “from every nation under heaven” who were in Jerusalem could understand what they were saying, each in their own native language.

But this is the point: the apostles were speaking ordinary human languages. This was not some kind of esoteric spiritual language. Their tongues weren’t just randomly rolling around in their mouths. This was not that kind of “speaking in tongues.” The apostles were speaking actual, established human languages. They were speaking the native languages of the people gathered. These Galileans, many of them fishermen whose linguistic talents didn’t go much further than being good at bartering and cussing in Greek, were now fluent in the mother tongues of people of people from every nation under heaven. This was a miracle, but it was a down-to-earth miracle. It was a miracle of simply speaking and hearing.

A seminary professor of mine likes to describe these native tongues as their “heart language.” The ancient near east, like much of the world today outside of the United States, was multilingual. People spoke at least a little of two or three different languages. But then there was your mother tongue. There was the language of the home, the language of the dinner table. There was the language you heard while sitting in your mother’s lap or on your father’s knee. My great-grandparents spoke both English and Norwegian, and the scant memories I have of them include me sitting in their laps, loving on me in Norwegian. All their terms of endearment were in Norwegian! I could hear remnants of those exotic vowels in my grandmother’s voice as well. That’s the language of the heart. The disciples were speaking of God’s deeds of power in the languages that would reach these people most deeply. The Jewish people had a perfectly good language to use to pray and proclaim the word of God. They could have said all of this in Hebrew, their official “spiritual language.” But now this word was going out in everyone’s mother tongue.

This not only empowered a sense of intimacy, of closeness to God, it also empowered a profound sense of inclusivity. God’s Word could go out to all people, meeting them where they were. It could be heard in languages that they could hear and understand, leading to faith. As St. Paul would later write: “faith comes by hearing.” This was the fulfilment of God’s original promise to Abraham, that through his line all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

Peter points to an important passage from the prophet Joel to interpret what they were all experiencing. God had promised through Joel that a day would come when his Spirit would be poured out on all people, so that they would prophecy – which does not mean predicting the future, it simply means speaking God’s Word. That is what has happening. God’s Word was being spoken so that it would be heard, so that it would be received in the heart, so that, as Joel wrote: everyone who calls on the name of the Lord would be saved.

Lutheran Christians have been accused of being weak on the Spirit. Sometimes we ourselves think the Spirit is given in greater measure to those Christians called “Pentecostals.” Nothing could be further from the truth! A big part of the problem is that sometimes people associate the work of the Spirit with feelings, specifically with enthusiasm – like having team spirit or something. Then it almost becomes a competition to see who can be the most spiritually hyper. Surely the Spirit moves our hearts to joy and peace and to passionate proclamation. But most of the time the work of the Spirit is surpisingly down-to-earth. The Spirit’s primary work, as we hear in this account of Pentecost, is found simply in speaking and hearing the Word of God in normal human languages. And the Spirit has been at work among Lutherans in this way from the beginning. Martin Luther’s most consequential reforms were to translate both the Bible and the words of the liturgy into the language of the people. Our liturgy contains remnants from Greek, like kyrie, and remnants from Hebrew, like alleluia and amen, but for centuries now Lutherans have been at the forefront of this Spirit work of translating the Word of God into people’s mother tongues. Did you know that the first ever attempt to translate a European document into a Native American language was in the 1640s, when a Lutheran missionary translated Luther’s Small Catechism in the Algonquin language? Now you tell me – who are the real Pentecostals?

I say this (half jokingly) not to be sectarian or to pat ourselves on the back. I say it so you will know that the Holy Spirit is at work in your life – right here, right now! It doesn’t matter how you might feel. You aren’t required to have some kind of ecstatic experience to prove you have the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is at work in your life in this very moment in a very down-to-earth way through the speaking of the Word to you in a language you can understand.

The deeds of power the apostles were speaking of was the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This becomes clear later in Acts when we hear the rest of Peter’s sermon. These are God’s deeds of power: that Christ died for our sins and was raised so that we would live with him, today and forever! As these very words are spoken and heard, the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit are still at work in dramatic, but down-to-earth ways – moving our hearts to faith in him.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church

Sermon for the Ascension of our Lord – May 24, 2020

CLICK HERE for a worship video for the Ascension of our Lord.

Sermon for the Ascension of our Lord – May 24, 2020

Luke 24:44-53

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Usually farewells are sad affairs. We are sad when friends move away – something we are all too familiar with in a military town. Parents often cry when beloved children go off to college or boot camp or start a new job in another state. We grieve for loved ones when they die. Goodbyes, when they involve people we care about, are usually sad affairs.

But this is not the case when it comes to the Ascension of our Lord. Jesus ascending into the heavens forty days after his resurrection is indeed a farewell scene of sorts. Jesus gives the disciples some parting words. He gives them some farewell instructions and a farewell blessing. He then withdraws from them as he is carried up into heaven. Jesus leaves! He disappears into the clouds above. “Jesus has left the building,” we might say. But as St. Luke tells us the story, he points out that the disciples were not sad about this. They were happy! They were filled with great joy as they headed back to Jerusalem without Jesus!

Why? Why were the disciples so happy that Jesus had withdrawn from them? Why were they so happy that their beloved Lord had levitated up into the clouds until they couldn’t see him anymore? Were they thinking, “Whew! He’s gone! Now our lives can get back to normal!” I don’t think so! So why were they filled with great joy?

And for that matter, why does the church celebrate the Ascension of our Lord? Why do we have a special day in the church calendar for it? Why in the world do we celebrate that “Jesus has left the building?”

What makes this event a cause for celebration, for the disciples and for us, is not that Jesus has left, but where he has gone. Luke tells us in our gospel for today that he was “carried up into heaven.” In the version of this story Luke tells us in Acts it says he was taken into a cloud, which, given biblical symbolism, means he was taken into God’s holy presence. In Ephesians, St. Paul tells us Jesus was “seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places.” We say something similar just about every Sunday as we recite the creed, saying: “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”

What does all of this mean? This is symbolic language. The right hand represents power. There’s nothing wrong with being left-handed, of course, but about 90% if the human population is right-hand dominant. For the vast majority of the human population, the right hand is their strongest hand. It is the hand you use to get things done. The right hand is the hand you use to sign your name or crank a wrench or flip a pancake. The right hand is the hand you use to accomplish things.

And so in ancient times the right hand symbolized power and strength. This symbolism carried over to the seating arrangements in the courts of kings – the highest ranking official would always be seated to the king’s right as a sign of his power. This communicated to everyone that this was the person the king used to accomplish things. We use the phrase “right hand man” even today.

Jesus ascension is his enthronement as the eternal “right hand man” to God the Father. Jesus is taking his place as the one who has the ear of the Heavenly Father, who acts with his authority, who carries out his will. Jesus, as the “right hand man” to God the Father, is the one who will continue to get things done. He will continue to be at work. He will continue to accomplish things. That’s what the right hand man does, right?

The disciples are full of joy rather than sadness because they know that Jesus’ ascension means he isn’t really leaving – he is instead about to be powerfully present with them in a different way. He will be powerful present in the world and in their lives as the right hand man of God the Father to get things done, to be at work, to accomplish things.

Jesus will be present with them through his Word. Before he ascended, Jesus told his disciples that the law, the prophets, and the psalms were all about him. He has fulfilled everything they pointed to, and he can continue to be found there!

Jesus will be present in the community of believers. His ministry will continue through them. As his disciples, past and present, take up the call to be his witnesses, as we proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name, as we baptize and teach and serve, he continues to be at work in the world!

Especially during this time when are unable to be together for worship in our sanctuary, it is important for us to remember where Jesus is exactly. As we are unable to gather in our sanctuary for worship, it is helpful for us to understand that Jesus has never been confined to our building, As special as our sanctuary is, as much as it is indeed a holy place, as much as I miss having people in it, Jesus has never been contained within those walls. Jesus has ascended and sits at the right hand of God the Father, and it is from there that he is continuing to get things done!

He is getting things done through his Word as we find him present in the scriptures, in the word of Law and Gospel. He continues to do his work in us through his commands and his promises – calling us to repent and forgiving our sin, calling us to die to sin and then raising us to new life in him.

Our Lord Jesus is getting things done through his people as we bear witness to him to others, and as we serve others in his name.

And so we rejoice in the Ascension not because Jesus has left us, but because of where he has gone. We rejoice because he is powerfully present with us no matter where we are. He is at the right hand of the Father, still at work, still getting things done.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 17, 2020

CLICK HERE for a worship video for the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 17, 2020

John 14:15-21

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

I’ve been reading a book lately called “Lost Connections” by Johann Hari. The subtitle is: “Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope.” This book was recommended to me by a pastor, and I hasten to add that I’ve been reading it for professional, pastoral reasons rather than personal reasons. Sure, I get down and anxious from time to time like any other human being, but I’m fine! I don’t want you to worry about me. I’m reading it so I might be more helpful to others.

Hari acknowledges that brain chemistry is responsible for some depression and anxiety, but the main argument of the book is that the vastly more common cause of these maladies is “lost connections” of various sorts. He argues that depression and disconnection go hand in hand. Here are some of the chapter titles: Disconnection from Other People, Disconnection from Meaningful Work, Disconnection from a Hopeful or Secure Future.

This book was recommended before the pandemic hit, but today it is more relevant than ever. The virus itself is bad enough, but our mitigation efforts are causing all kinds of other problems, all kinds of lost connections. We are disconnected from other people. This is increasingly difficult for just about everyone, but I’ve been hearing that it is especially hard on special needs kids, who are regressing without that social contact they need, and on nursing home residents, whose dementia is advancing more quickly without social interactions with friends and loved ones. Many people are disconnected from work. Thirty-six million people in our country have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began, pushing the unemployment rate to almost 15%. And with so much unknown about the virus or how it will behave or what treatments or vaccines might become available and when, just about everyone is disconnected from secure future. There is just too much that is unknown right now.  The virus itself is bad enough, but if Johann Hari is at all correct, these lost connections are likely to create a tidal wave of depression and anxiety. Mental health workers are already warning us about it.

It is a very helpful and convincing and fascinating book – quite a page-turner given the subject matter – but there is a glaring omission in it. There is no mention of our connection with God.

In our gospel reading we return to the Upper Room, where Jesus is preparing his disciples for all that is to come. We are still in the Easter season, but this is a flashback scene of sorts. It occurs before his death and resurrection. And here we hear Jesus promising his disciples that although it will seem like he has gone away, they will not lose their connection with him.

“If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” This word “advocate,” paraclete in Greek, is hard to translate into English. Broadly speaking it means “one who comes to your side.” There is sometimes a legal connotation to it, like a defense attorney or a guardian at litem. Sometimes it is translated as a comforter or a counselor. Jesus goes on to describe this “Advocate” as the Spirit of truth. “You know him, because he abides with you, and will be in you.” Their connection to Jesus will be maintained through this Spirit, who will be with them forever.

Then Jesus says to the disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned.” Jesus is going to die for the sins of the world – theirs, yours, mine – but he will not leave them orphaned. He will not leave them alone to fend for themselves, like a child without parents. “I am coming to you,” he promises. “The world won’t see me, but you will see me, and because I live, you also will live.” Even death itself – his or theirs – will not result in a lost connection with Jesus!

But Jesus isn’t done yet! “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me and I in you.” And then: “Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Such a wonderful promise is given here to those who love the Lord Jesus! We are in him and he is in us. We are united to him. We are loved by him. He makes himself known to us! There is no disconnection, none at all.

We are disconnected from so very much right now as the people of God. We are disconnected from each other, only able to interact through computer screens or car windows or phone calls. We are disconnected from many of the liturgical practices that have formed and fed our faith. We are disconnected from our voices being joined together in song.

But make no mistake about it: we are not disconnected from our Lord Jesus. He sends us the Advocate, the paraclete, the Spirit of truth, to come alongside us as a comforter and a counselor. This Spirit abides with us, maintaining that connection with God by turning our eyes to scripture and our hearts to prayer and our hands to loving service to others. This Spirit abides with us, filling us with a love that moves our hearts to joyfully, willingly, keep our Lord’s commandments.

We are disconnected from much, but we are not disconnected from Christ. He has promised that he will not leave us orphaned. “I am coming to you,” he says. We might be isolated from one another, but we are never alone. He is with us.

We are disconnected from much, but we are not disconnected from God. “I am in the Father, and you in me and I in you,” Jesus says. There is no social distancing going on here! No disconnection at all! We remain united to him in love. “Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them,” Jesus tells us.

We are disconnected from much, and if you feel depression or anxiety or even just quarantine fatigue setting in, I hope you will reach out. I’m here for you. Your brothers and sister in Christ are here for you. Your Lord Jesus is there for you. He is coming alongside you even now through the Spirit of truth, to assure you of his presence, to fill you with life, to strengthen you with his love.

We are disconnected from much, but we are never disconnected from a hopeful or secure future, because our Lord Jesus has sent this Advocate, this comforter, this counselor, to abide with us forever.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 10, 2020

CLICK HERE for a worship video for the Fifth Sunday of Easter.

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 10, 2020

John 14:1-14

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

At our online Bible study this past week a few of us were talking about how hard things are right now for people who like to plan, for people who like to organize. We have a plan now for reopening the state of Washington with four phases and a minimum of three-week intervals between stages, with some details of what is allowed in each phase. But we don’t really know when each phase will be implemented. There are general dates, but they should all be written in pencil because they are subject to change.

I’m a planner, and this makes this frustrating for me. Usually I pretty much know what we’re going to do for worship three or four months in advance, and right now I’m not sure what we’re going to do next Sunday, let alone a month from now, or this fall.  I’ve had a frustrating week this week as I heard the governor announce that drive-in worship was OK, so I planned around that, and then very strict rules for how those services could happen were sent out several days later, causing me to ditch many of the plans I had and make new ones.

I know many of you are planners too. Even if you aren’t, I’ll bet many of you are anxious about what to expect or how to plan as we move forward. I know some of you are wondering about the status of a trip you have planned this summer. Some are wondering when they’ll be able to be out and about again without being in danger. Others are wondering about when they can finally get a haircut! Whether we’re planners or not, we’re all wondering about the way forward.

Thomas and Philip were planners. They wanted details. They wanted specifics. Jesus was preparing his disciples for what was coming, and they wanted to be able to plan for it. Jesus had told them to not let their hearts be troubled. He invited them to believe in him, to trust him, to have faith in him. He was going ahead of them to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. He promised to come again and take them to himself, so that where he was, they would be also.

This wasn’t enough for Thomas. “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Give us the plan, Jesus. Show us the way. Give us the details. Give us an address we can Google!

Jesus responded by saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This isn’t exactly a plan. It isn’t a map or an address. Instead, it is another invitation to trust. It is an invitation to trust that Jesus is the way, and that by staying close to him, he’ll get you where we need to be. It is an invitation to trust that he is the truth. He is not “a” truth, or “my” truth. He is THE truth, the true revelation of God. It is an invitation to trust that he is the life, that through believing in him we would have life in his name. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, Thomas.” Jesus says. “Believe this. Trust this, and leave the details to me.”

Philip still needs more to go on, so he says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.”

And now Jesus is disappointed. Now Jesus is frustrated. You can hear it in his response to Philip: “Have you been with me all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?” Jesus goes on to tell Philip that he and the Father are one. “I am in the Father and the Father is in me,” Jesus says.

This was quite a thing for Jesus to say. He was claiming complete and total unity with God the Father! Philip was hoping for some kind of sign, apparently, something tangible and specific by which he could get his bearings. What he got instead was another invitation to trust in Jesus, to have faith in him, to believe that if he has seen Jesus, he has already seen the Father.

This virus has created so much uncertainty in our lives. We don’t know the precise way forward. We don’t have many specifics right now by which we can get our bearings. Even if you aren’t a planner like me, this uncertainty about so many aspects of our lives often leads to anxiety, and to frustration, and to disappointment. It often leads to hearts that are troubled.

Jesus didn’t give Thomas or Philip any specific details. He didn’t give them a timeline or an address.

But he did say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” He told his disciples that he was going ahead of them to prepare a place for them, so that where he was, there they would be too. This is his promise to us too! You can’t untrouble a heart just by commanding it to not be troubled. You need to push out the trouble with a promise. And Jesus gives us just such a promise here!

Jesus didn’t show Thomas the way with explicit directions, but he did say, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” He invited Thomas to trust in him, to follow him. He invites us to trust him too. As we stay close to our Lord Jesus, he shows us that he is the way to the Father. He is the truth. He is the one who leads us into life.

Jesus didn’t give Philip the sign he was fishing for. But he did reveal to him that he and the Father were one. Jesus invites us to believe this too, so that when we look to Christ, we will trust that we have seen the Father’s heart towards us, full of love and grace and mercy.

I still wish I could make plans. I don’t like all this flying by the seat of my pants! Jesus doesn’t give us plans, but he does give us promises. And through these promises he is inviting us to trust in him to get us where we need to be.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church