Archive for April, 2015

Jesus Is More than Wallpaper

Rebecca Sheridan

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Luke 24:36b-48

            Have you ever watched a movie, got to the end, and said, “Whoa, wait a minute – I’ve gotta watch that again!”  I remember watching The Sixth Sense and The Matrix and thinking that.  A more recent movie I watched was Tailor, Tinker, Soldier, Spy.  It was super complex and confusing until I watched it a second time.  There are some movies and books that you can’t put all the pieces together until you get to the end.  Then you have to go back through the details and the foreshadowing throughout the story to really “get it.”  The disciples are at this point when Jesus appears to them in the gospel of Luke.  It’s like everything Jesus told them before is finally starting to make some sense.  Luke tells us, “Then Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’”

The disciples know the scriptures.  They’ve heard the law, the prophets, and the psalms.  They’ve heard Jesus tell them numerous times that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die and be raised to life again, but it didn’t all make sense. It was more than a little bit hard to believe.  Even at that very moment with Jesus with them, they are trying to make sense of the ending:  perhaps Jesus stayed dead and they were seeing a ghost.  Maybe this wasn’t really Jesus, but a mirage.  Or… Jesus really was raised from the dead. Jesus shows the disciples he’s real, that HE’S the end of the story.  He eats a piece of fish with them, shows them his hands and feet, to reveal what his resurrection is all about – a fulfillment of the scriptures, a true real, life, flesh and blood resurrection, the Messiah in their midst.

I think if I would’ve been one of Jesus’ disciples, I probably would be right with them at not noticing or realizing for a LONG time that Jesus was really the Messiah—that Jesus really is the Son of God.  First of all, like many Americans, I tend to be skeptical of supernatural or miraculous events.  Prove it to me that Jesus exists through scientific, rational means, and I’m all on board.  Ask me to trust with faith that Jesus is for real, and that’s a much harder thing.  But also, unlike some of you who are gifted with paying attention to details (I’m jealous, by the way), I have a very bad habit of getting so absorbed in my own thoughts and agenda for the day that I can completely miss pretty significant things happening around me.  For example, I’ll drive all the way home and not remember the entire trip, I was so lost in my own thoughts. Our neighbor’s house across the street had a for sale sign outside of it for a month before I noticed!  I quickly forget to pay attention to what’s happening around me, to  connect the dots to seeing God at work EVERYDAY in my life.

Luke notes that the disciples are a bit airheaded, too, in this gospel passage.  “Jesus himself stood among them” Luke says, but the disciples are still frightened and still have doubts that it’s really him. They’re slow to notice how Jesus HAD been at work in them the whole time they were following him.

Our presiding bishop Liz Eaton says that as longtime Christians sometimes we become hesitant or even forget to talk about Jesus with others, even at church.  We forget to pay attention to Jesus being at work in our lives, too.  Sometimes we just assume Jesus is there – “Jesus has become like wallpaper” she says, “we know it’s there and everyone can see it, but we don’t have to talk about it.”  I like this description of how we tend to treat Jesus.  Pretty soon, just like the wallpaper or artwork hanging on our walls, Jesus becomes something in the background for us that we rarely even notice, we’re so used to him just being there.  We don’t expect Jesus to show up and be ACTIVE in our lives, eating with us, talking with us, guiding us in our daily lives, making a difference.  We assume that if our friends and family know we’re Christians, then that’s enough – we don’t have to actually talk about our faith.  We assume that everyone else knows about Jesus, too — that they have the same wallpaper.

The awesome thing about this resurrection appearance in Luke this morning is that Jesus calls us witnesses.  He reminds the disciples of what they’ve seen and heard about him.  He reminds us that he’s not just wallpaper, he’s standing here, right at the center of our lives in flesh and blood as God in human flesh.  Jesus walks the disciples back through their journey with him – reminding them of what happened if they had spaced out or forgotten in their distress about Jesus’ death on the cross. He eats with them and shows them his hands and feet so they know he’s real, that’s he’s not just wallpaper.  They HAVE seen the risen Lord, and he has given them the power to forgive sins, to bring healing to the nations, and to share with people the good news that they have life through his name.

So what witness do you have to share? When has Jesus really showed up for you in your life?  I could tell you many stories of when Jesus has showed up for me, but I’ll just share one.  When I was in college, I was struggling with what I was supposed to do with my life, like many college students do.  I had thought I would be a teacher, but I didn’t really like my education classes, and what was worse is that I discovered in the classroom, I really didn’t care for working with many little kids.  At Augustana, a Lutheran college, we were required to take a few religion classes, and one day I went to talk to my religion professor, a guy I really respected, about a paper.  I walked in, and he said, “Rebecca, are you thinking about being a pastor? Because I think you should consider it.  You have real gifts for ministry.”  Whoa, that was like Jesus calling me to follow him in a whole new way I hadn’t really thought about seriously before.  Before then, Jesus was more like some pretty cool wallpaper in my life – I liked him, I liked learning about him and even talking about him, but now he was calling me to follow him with a career change.  I can tell you my life has never been the same, because Jesus showed up.

You may not have all of the answers, and Jesus might still be helping you put all of the details together to figure out this whole faith thing, but I can assure you that Jesus is showing up in your life over and over and over.  Sometimes we just have to take our heads out of the clouds or out of our own little worlds to notice that Jesus is way more than just the wallpaper around us.  When you share your stories of how Jesus has shown up for you, you are being faithful witnesses to the resurrection, along with the disciples.  You can help remind others that Jesus is more than wallpaper in our lives, but changes lives dramatically for the better.  May you see Jesus standing in your midst this week, showing up for you.  Amen.

Jesus’ Peace

Rebecca Sheridan

Sunday, April 12, 2015

John 20:19-31 

            “Peace be with you.”  Three times today!  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”  It’s Easter evening, the disciples have seen the risen Lord — well, everyone but Thomas has — and rather than going out to share that amazing news with everyone, the disciples are sitting in a locked house for “fear of the Jews.”  It’s surprising, really, that one of the first responses to the Easter miracle of Jesus rising from the dead is not joy, as we might expect, but fear.  Partly, the disciples’ fear is rooted in the reality of danger:  they know that just a week ago, throngs of people were dancing in the street and waving palms as they welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, only to turn on Jesus just days later and sentence him to death.  The disciples also remember what happened when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead – the religious and political authorities tried to kill Lazarus again so that people would not see the power that Jesus had.  And the disciples ALSO know what DID happen to John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, who was beheaded for sharing Jesus’ message that the messiah had come.  There was plenty for the disciples to be worried and fearful of, even as they sat face to face with the risen Lord.  To give them courage and allay their fears, Jesus says again and again, “Peace be with you.”

Is there anything that’s bothering you, or worse, causing you to be afraid this Easter season?  What fears and worries might be keeping you from venturing out of the safe confines of home and church to live a resurrected life with Jesus?  Or here’s a simpler way of putting this question:  “What keeps you up at night?”

When Pastor Rich and I first moved out to the country, seven miles outside of Stromsburg, Nebraska, we were scared.  That might sound strange to you, and it was hilarious to many of our parishioners and neighbors – what’s there to be afraid of in a small town?  We had come from living in Hyde Park on the south side of Chicago, where petty thefts, muggings, and gun violence were much, much more prevalent, as you might imagine.  The horrific Chicago traffic meant you were WAY more at risk of being injured in a car accident.  Police, ambulance, and fire sirens were just a part of the background noise of living in Chicago.  But honestly, it could’ve been our young age or just that we were used to growing up in a city, we felt safe in Chicago most of the time.

When we moved out to the country in Nebraska, it was quiet-too quiet.  The first month we were there, I awoke one Saturday night to country music blasting outside our bedroom window.  I looked out to see that somebody was sitting on our front porch at 3 in the morning!  I quickly called the sheriff’s office, and it took thirty minutes for a deputy to respond, while in the meantime the loiterer had thankfully taken off.  The Chicago police had a response time of less than 60 seconds.  While we lived in Stromsburg, several teenagers were killed tragically in car accidents.  We had a bank robbery and a high-speed police car chase of two fugitives through town.  One of the houses in our little hamlet burned down in a fire.  We experienced several tornadoes coming close to where we lived, and we lived too far from town to hear the tornado sirens.  Living in small town Nebraska taught me that no matter where you live, there are things you can be afraid of.  We cannot escape the tragedies of life nor the sinfulness of the human condition that causes people to do horrible things to their neighbors.  No matter how safe and secure we try to make life, hiding behind locked doors, fear can chase us down and find us. Fear makes it very difficult to trust in that peace that Jesus talks about.  So on that very same day as Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples batten down the hatches, locking all the doors in their safe house out of fear.  But before tragedy strikes, Jesus finds them first and says, “peace be with you.”  Then he says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Finally, he breathes on them, giving them the power of the Holy Spirit to go out with courage despite their fears.

After Jesus SENDS the disciples out and strengthens them amidst their fears, Thomas shows up a week later.  Thomas get a bad rap, doesn’t he?  But I think Thomas is one of the most relatable characters in all of scripture because of his honesty with Jesus.  He’s a real human being with doubts and fears like all of us.  And I’d like to know WHERE Thomas was when all of the other disciples were huddled in a locked house out of fear.  Could it be that Thomas actually had more courage and faith than the other disciples, to be out and about, still calling himself a disciple of Jesus, that convicted and crucified criminal, even if he had some doubts? Notice what Thomas demands to see: he wants to see and touch Jesus’ wounds.  He wants to see for himself and know that Jesus had not just risen from the dead but had suffered and died.  He sees that Jesus had faced all the fears that we ourselves face as humans:  rejection, abuse, injustice, and death.  He sees that the risen Christ still bears those marks of suffering and death – that this Jesus overcame death and the grave for us so that we can face our greatest fears with courage and with the power of Christ’s peace.

I don’t mean to dismiss legitimate fears you may have, and I don’t think Jesus dismisses your fears, either.  I do think, however, that it is human nature to quickly forget how a resurrected life changes us so that we can live a life of courage in spite of the fears we may have.  Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  By the death and resurrection of Jesus, the son of God, we have been given the gift of life abundant and eternal.  No one can take that away!  No fear is more powerful than that!  What’s more, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been given ultimate, final victory over ALL things that may cause us to fear, including victory over death itself.

Locked doors can’t keep Jesus out. Our worst fears aren’t more powerful than Jesus.  Jesus tells us over and over again, “Peace be with you.”  This isn’t just a casual phrase that hippies use.  It’s not a false hope that life will be quiet and comfortable without any conflict or struggle.  I kind of think the English language has watered down the power of those words Jesus tells the disciples and tells us.  In Hebrew the word for peace, “shalom,” means something like – be well, be whole.  Jesus’ resurrection has restored us to wholeness.  Jesus’ peace, Jesus’ shalom, breaks down the fears and locked doors that divide us to bring people back into relationship with each other and with God!  Still today, every Sunday, we tell each other “peace be with you,” to remind us that Jesus’ peace is our peace.  The world around us may try to scare us and drive us into hiding with fear-mongering tactics.  But as followers of Jesus, we know have been made whole because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Jesus’ peace has conquered all our fears.  Our relationship with God has been restored.  Jesus sends us out with the Holy Spirit breathed upon us, so that we don’t have to stay behind locked doors, whether it’s at home or at church, but can venture out into the community, taking risks for the sake of the gospel.  We can share the peace of Christ, which is more than a feel-good phrase, but God’s vision of wholeness for our lives and for our communities.  When we greet one another with “peace be with you,” may those words be more than a casual hello, but words of Jesus that sustain us and strengthen us for life in and outside these walls.  Amen.

Maundy Thursday

Rebecca Sheridan

Maundy Thursday, April 2, 2015

John 13:1-17, 31-35

Today is Maundy Thursday –does anyone remember what the word, “Maundy” means?  It is the Latin word for “command.”  Of course, we hear Jesus giving us a new commandment today to love one another, but I also hear Jesus giving us another, more difficult commandment.  Jesus says, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”   Some Christians — most notably the Mennonites — have used this passage in John to go so far as to argue that foot washing is actually a sacrament, along with Holy Communion and Baptism.  As we discussed the sacraments in worship last Wednesday night, a sacrament is a visible sign attached to a command from Jesus – “do this.” You have to admit, foot-washing does seem to fit – water, feet, Jesus’ command to wash one another’s feet just as Jesus does for the disciples.

But I don’t know about you, I did not grow up with a foot-washing service on Maundy Thursday.  Like good Lutherans, it was well and good just to talk about foot-washing, to hear this passage from John every year, to imagine what it must have been like for Jesus’ disciples, but to actually do it – well, it is just not proper to take your shoes and socks off in church! I know that people have very mixed emotions about other people seeing and touching their feet.  I think the majority of us would respond exactly like Peter does, “You will never wash my feet.”  Jesus takes us WAY out of our comfort zones to consider what it might mean to let him not just look at but touch and wash our dirty feet.

Lutherans have just in the last few decades begun to bring the practice of footwashing back in our worship, to remember this act of service Jesus did for the disciples just a few days before his death on the cross.  The disciples and Jesus walked A LOT in sandals.  Their feet got dirty, so they washed them frequently.  Footwashing was a common sign of household hospitality, and before the Passover meal, it was a cleansing ritual for Jews.  It was a little less shocking of a practice than it is today.  We would find it very strange today if before eating supper, we offered to wash our guests’ feet, even if it was at a summer picnic!  So what does foot washing have to do with us and with our faith?

As we will experience in a few minutes, foot-washing is a holy moment.  It is a vulnerable place to put ourselves in- for both the foot washer and the one being washed.  For as much as we like to put our “best foot forward” in our society today (and yes, pun is intended!), when we come forward tonight, we reveal to one another that the feet we have to offer aren’t necessarily the best parts of ourselves!  For the most part, this early in April, our feet have been well-covered and hidden from the public all winter. These feet may not have seen the light of day outside of our own home for quite some time!  I have to admit I did put a fresh coat of polish on my toes and gave them a prewash before tonight.  And yet, at Jesus’ leading, we offer our feet to one another. We share the dirt, the sweat, the smell, the worn calluses, corns, bunions, warts, chipped toenail polish and yes, perhaps even some toe hairs.  We take them out of the comfort of our shoes and socks to be washed by someone else. We do something extra-ordinary for one another, because it is our testimony of what Christ has already done for us.

Perhaps this is the point of Jesus’ command to wash one another’s feet.  It’s like Jesus is saying, “here’s one pretty intense way to love someone else – wash their feet.” What a way to communicate what love looks like — how Jesus loves us!  In the vulnerability of our exposed, naked feet, we understand something deeper about what it means to truly love one another.  To love one another is to see someone’s warts, worn & tired places, their times of darkness, and to love them even there.  To wash these sometimes unsightly feet is to remember the One who first washed us in the waters of baptism, to remember the One who claimed and loved us completely, who loved even the messy, dirty, calloused parts of ourselves that we like to keep fully clothed and protected from public view if possible.  To allow these parts of us to be washed is to trust in the love of Christ, a love that understands the journey our feet been on and why we have those blisters and calluses.  And to wash each other’s feet is also to understand more fully the journey that Christ’s feet have made for us – a journey of love that took him from Bethlehem to Nazareth, around the sea of Galilee, to Jerusalem, and finally, to the cross.

My good friends washed each others’ feet at their wedding.  Many of their guests hadn’t been to church in a long time or didn’t claim any religious affiliation.  I don’t know exactly what everyone there was thinking during that moment, of course, but I still wonder if it caused at least a few people to think that maybe this is something of what marriage is about.  And perhaps some started to think that maybe this is something of what Christianity is about – living a life of service that causes us to humble ourselves enough to find it an honor to wash another person’s feet.  We humble ourselves enough to find it an honor to allow another person to wash our feet, because Christ first washed and loved us.  For Jesus in today’s gospel shows that regardless of our titles and positions in life, all of us are capable of serving one another in love.

Whoever we are – Teacher, Student, Nurse, Retiree, Father, Grandma, Daughter, Son-  the one name we share, “Christian,” allows us to love and offer hospitality toward one another.  As Christians, we serve not by just seeing the feet (that is, seeing those who are in need and acknowledging they are there) but we like Jesus dare to touch them, to care for them, and to send those same feet on their way of service.  AND, we look beyond the feet to see the face of Christ in the face of our neighbor. We ask, “What is my neighbor’s need?  How can I let them know they are loved and claimed by Christ?”  We try to let people know that as Christians, we’re the last people to walk around judging others, because just by looking at our own feet, we know we have parts about ourselves and stories from our lives that are less than perfect.  We try to be open to loving people as they are, and even if they’re not squeaky-clean model Christians.

Tonight, Jesus tells us that “all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Faith is as simple as that: love God and love one another.  Yet, just as we wash our own feet almost every day in the shower, it is not as simple or easy to put our feet out there to be washed or to wash someone else’s feet.  It is not always easy to love one another.  When we dare to be servants for one another, when we take the risk of loving one another, though, people notice.  So as some of you take a risk to come forward today to have your feet washed, may Christ also send those same feet out to proclaim the love and forgiveness you have seen and experienced, so that the world may know the love of Christ.  Amen.


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