Sermon for 7 Easter—May 25, 2017
Lutheran Church of the Cross, Nisswa MN
George H. Martin
Three words: Watch, Wait, and Witness. All coming from our lesson from the first chapter of the Book of Acts.
Why do you disciples keep starring into the heavens? That’s the question two angels ask the disciples who just saw Jesus ascend and disappear into the sky above them. What’s behind that question? I think it’s a fairly simple answer.
We need to be looking around us. It’s staying in the world where the disciples are suppose to be. That’s in our Gospel as well. We are in the world. And here for a reason. And here to watch.
I want to remind you that when we gather in community for worship how much of our worship is based on seeing, and acting, and walking, and standing up and sitting down, and its involves lighting candles, and carrying a cross, and the various places where people stand, and there are different books we use, and then there’s the bread and the wine, and our hands reaching out to be fed.
That’s behind these boxes that Kari Erikson has created for parents to use with their children in worship. They can light their own candle. Make out their own gift to place in the offering. Write out a prayer concern. Follow along the reading in their own bible.
The one thing many of our smaller children can’t do is receive communion. But we’ve been writing to our parents that their children are welcome to receive when they give approval. And why? Because baptism is all you need to be qualified to receive communion. Let me tell you: our children, the little ones, are watching us receive bread and they don’t understand why they can’t have what is clearly a piece of bread. Only here in their short time of living, and being part of family, are they excluded from eating. Pastor Kari and I are welcoming children of any age to receive. Many a parent has to pull back the hands of their child reaching for the bread. It’s OK by us if they receive. We want our parents to know this. And for all of you to understand that as they receive and share fully in worship they are growing up in Christ alongside of us.
Now the wait part: They were to stay in Jerusalem, and they did stay in prayer. All before the day of Pentecost, which comes next week.
So last week as we had a small group gathering on Sunday night, to affirm the importance of being in a small group, we had Sister Joyce with us. She is a dear friend of Pastor Ray Averson , from his days as Chaplain at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Cloud. Sister Joyce taught us about “Centering prayer.” Not new to all, but to most of us. It involves sitting quietly, having a single holy word in mind, breathing in and out, putting aside as many other thoughts as possible, and just waiting for God. At first it’s hard. As one person said, “We sat there, Sister Joan said, for five minutes in total silence. It seemed like two hours to me.”
We had a chance to ask Sister Joan some questions and she made some observations about our time of praying. She said that she had sensed that Jesus was walking in our midst while we prayed.
Now I didn’t see anyone fall off their chair when she said that, but I thought that we tend to have a more cerebral rational approach to faith.
Jesus coming near to us? The Holy Spirit touching us? God tapping us on our shoulders? God speaking a word of comfort, or maybe even asking us to take on some task?
Yes. If we will give the Spirit some space in our lives, and will push away at the external noise, and our extensive near-ending “to-do” lists, and quiet all those other voices, there can be moments of serenity, of peace, and of confidence and faith. And knowing the presence and love of God. We must wait before we are sent.
Words of Jesus: You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the Earth.
First witness where you feel at home. That’s the meaning of a witness that begins in Jerusalem.
Judea signified something else: Then in those nearby areas where others live, but they don’t live exactly like you do, and may have an accent or look a little different.
I went to Hobart College from Toledo Ohio. Most of my classmates came from the East coast. Coming from New York City, about 300 miles away, this was the furthest West they ever come and ever intended to come. That was their Judea!
And then there’s Samaria: it’s those places where you have people who really don’t worship as you do; who’s ways of living, eating, and in so many aspects of their lives they are foreigners and strangers. and in some cases we may have been were taught to think of them as our enemies.
If that’s not far enough…go on to the ends of the earth. Where you know you’ll be challenged.
But what shall be our witness?
The traditional answer, ever since the 19th century was to send Christian missionaries to teach them or make them be Christians. I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant here.
What if out witnesses isn’t words, or compelling arguments regarding matters of faith? But what if our witness is simply how we live the story that we know is centered in the death and resurrection of Jesus and with the gift of the Holy Spirit? Not what we know intellectually about that story, but how it shapes and forms the way we live our lives.
You all made a witness this morning. You drove here. You didn’t stay home.
I daresay if we look at your checkbook we’ll see that it speaks to who you are as a follower of Christ. Your daily calendar probably reflects the same with the time you spend as a volunteer, or the trips you make to help someone, or the cookies you baked and gave as a gift.
Yesterday we had a funeral service thanking God for Doris Knudson, who belonged here for over 40 years. So many of our paraments were made by her. Her busy hands as a seamstress and as a knitter told you who she was, and how much she cared for her church. The same can be said for Betty Jean Carlson who graced the life of this church with her high heels and her joy.
So our witness can be here. But it is to also reach out into the world.
Let me tell you about the name used within the Roman Catholic Church for the service of Holy Communion or the Holy Eucharist—the latter is probably the oldest name we have for this worship.
Roman Catholics call it The Mass. Do you know that the word is a corruption of the last words spoken at the end of the Latin Mass. Ite, missa est. Go. You are dismissed. So the Latin word “Missa” for “dismissed,” became the name of the service.
And in some ways it is a great name to use. Why are we gathered together here? Well it’s so we can be sent out in the world, in the name of the Lord, to be Christ in this world.
It means that we are a people to be formed into a life with habits grounded in a set of virtues, many of which are befuddling to a world shaped by theories of management and control; these will be the habits counter-intuitive to the thinking that force and the threat of violence are the preconditions for peace and community.
Jeremiah once said “Seek peace in whatever city you find yourselves in.” And Jesus would endorse that.
If they strike you with the left hand, turn your other cheek, Jesus said.
In a world that relies on violence and revenge, bring non-violence and offer forgiveness.
Now it’s not that these are easy virtues or habits, but they are the ones that represent Jesus. They are counter-intuitive. In many ways they are play ground rules, just not always extended into the rest of life.
So what is our witness?
Exclusion of others, or the embrace of others?
Fear of the stranger or welcoming the stranger?
Tolerating injustice or resisting injustice?
Do we build walls and tear down bridges or we do the opposite: we build bridges and tear down walls?
I had a dear friend, Philip Bozarth Cambell, an Episcopal priest who died way too young. I asked him one day why his license plate had the number 4 and the word “Bear” on it?
He replied: “Its’ what Alla and I had read at our wedding, from Colossians. We promised, you see,” he said, “to forbear one another.”
Let me close with a list of the virtues that describe the kind of witness we are to have to claim Jesus as Lord. From Colossians 3:12-17
12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord[a] has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ[b] dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.[c] 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”