If you have encountered the transformative love of Jesus, you have a great story to tell and we want to hear it. In fact, we need to hear it!
Jesus’ love gives us hope for the future and hope for each other. All of us are strengthened when we share that good news.
So please join us for “What’s Your Story?” — our Adult Forum summer series, starting at 10 a.m. July 9 in the Great Room, as we share our faith stories and real-life experiences of God’s work in our lives.
Margie Dodson, who has been at St. Mark’s since 2007, leads us off this Sunday.
Here are a few things to know about Margie:
She is the youngest of five girls, has been married to Ollie Dodson for 30 years and is blessed with a “big, blended family” that includes two stepdaughters, five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
Margie has worked as a dental hygienist for more than 40 years and continues to work three days a week.
Margie loves music. Her favoriate hymn is “Be Thou My Vision.”
There’s so much more to her story! Join us, bring your questions and see what God has been up to with one of our dear family members.
We have a growing list of folks willing to share their stories and we’d love to add your name. If you’re interested, please contact Margie Dodson or Beth Miller and we’ll be glad to help you do it!
“Worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.” 1 Peter 3:15 (NLT)
“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7)
Have you experienced the welcome of Jesus? Do you remember what it meant to you when you realized that He loved you immeasurably?
Learning more about Jesus’ welcome and how to share that with others is the focus of St. Mark’s 2023 Winter Forum, which we’re calling “Come Unto Me”: Jesus’ Radical Welcome.
The series is held at 10 a.m. in the Great Room.
In our first session, we heard from Ashlei Buhrow of Reconciling Works, who shared a comprehensive approach to that ministry’s work toward full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people and racial equity. Last week, Michael Farthing of St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Wilmington shared his story and the value of becoming a “Reconciling in Christ” congregation.
On Sunday, January 22, we will explore the practical and comprehensive approach to “Radical Welcome” as presented in Stephanie Spellers’ book of the same title. This will be an open discussion, facilitated by Beth Miller and Cliff Smith. Handouts will be provided.
On Sunday, January 29, St. Mark’s will hold its annual meeting (details below). The Winter Forum will not meet this week.
On Sunday, February 5, Dr. Natalia Marandiuc, will join us to discuss the theological and scriptural basis for “radical welcome.” Dr. Marandiuc is associate professor of systematic theology at Union Lutheran Seminary.
On Sunday, February 12, In the final session of Winter Forum 2023, Cliff Smith will guide us in a discussion of “radical welcome” and the implications for St. Mark’s. (Please note the change of date. This was previously scheduled for February 19, but has been moved up to February 12.)
Join us Sunday, November 27, as we start the Advent season with a new study called “Hallelujah! The Bible and Handel’s Messiah,” led by Margie Dodson.
We’ll meet at 10 a.m. in the Great Room for this four-week study.
“Messiah” is a wonderful way into the Bible. We will listen to the voice of God through the prophet Isaiah and the genius of George Frideric Handel’s most-beloved oratorio as we study, discuss and celebrate the birth of Jesus.
These are the portions in focus throughout Advent:
Sunday, Nov. 27: “Comfort, comfort my people.”
Sunday, Dec. 4: “Who may abide the day of his coming?”
Christmas Carols + You + Me: Join us at 10 a.m. in the Great Room for this Adult Education class as we share personal stories of the role Christmas carols have played in our lives. All are invited to share a carol that has a special memory or has shaped your faith in some way. This class is designed as an opportunity to learn more about each other and to reflect upon the significance and meaning that Christmas carols have had in our lives. Cliff Smith will facilitate the discussion.
Christmas Carol sing: We’ll gather outside at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, December 5 (weather permitting), as our St. Mark’s family joins together for a Christmas carol sing.
If you could talk with your Creator — would you keep that appointment? What if you knew the Holy Spirit was interceding on your behalf? How do you talk with God anyway?
Interim Pastor David Mueller looks at prayer in his message today, discussing what it is and also what it isn’t.
Join us for our prerecorded worship service, using the link to our YouTube channel below, which goes “live” at 10 a.m. Sunday. You will also find the text of Pastor Mueller’s sermon below.
Also participating in today’s service are Barbara Sheridan, our worship assistant, and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts.
This week’s virtual choir includes: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, Myrna Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, Fred Meckley, Jan Meckley, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell, Paige Stebner and Teresa Stebner.
“How to Pray” (Romans 8:26-39)
Interim Pastor David E. Mueller
I must admit to having my spirit tested these days as much as any time in recent memory. I like to think of myself as a happy-go-lucky sort of person, who tends to be positive most of the time. I can get depressed, but usually no longer than a day or two. Generally I am happy with myself and am particularly secure as a believing Christian.
The forces attacking us all these days, however, are heavy in the extreme, far too heavy to bear with our typical resources spiritual, emotional, and physical. There is profound political division within our nation, a deadly virus and — at least for now — hotter and muggier than most of us enjoy.
Nothing that I can name then is more important, especially right now, than that we pray without ceasing — that is, regularly. What does that mean? How does it look? What might it accomplish? Please revisit that very special Christian privilege, but before we begin to talk and learn about prayer, let us pray!
Dear Lord, we are being humbled these days and that might just be the greatest benefit of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Allow us to be emptied, forgiven and relieved of all false senses of security. Fill us anew with your love and grace and teach us anew how to pray. In Jesus’ Name, we say, Amen!
Clearly Paul was writing to relatively new Christians in Rome when he shared: “… we do not know how to pray as we ought….” Prayer is such a profoundly beautiful exercise, however, that we might think of ourselves as new Christians. Romans 8 is a jam-packed chapter, but — most important — about prayer.
In Matthew 6:5, we learn what praying is not: “the heaping up of empty phrases … many words.” Also, prayer is not a public but an intimately private matter: “Go into your room and shut the door….” James the Apostle in his letter wrote: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” (4:3)
There is another even more significant revelation about prayer in all four Gospels.
I will stick with Matthew in 26:36-46. There are several extremely revealing truths within this text.
The Last Supper was finished and Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray. In his first petition, he prayed: “My Father, ifit is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (26:39).
The next petition shows a subtle but real change: “My Father, if thiscannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (26:42)
In his last petition we are told he “prayed for the third time, saying the same words.”(26:44)
We may recall that between each of these petitions, he found his disciples taking a nap.
Most significant, however, is what Jesus said following prayer: “Get up, let us be going, my betrayer is at hand.” (26:46) He was ready to face his reality!
The sign on your kitchen wall or on a bumper sticker piously proclaims: “Prayer changes things!”
The reason I am not so sure about that is that it did not work that way for Jesus. His circumstances changed not; he went to the cross.
Often our prayers ask God to change everything and everyone around us but not us, when all too often what needs to change is us. We may need to face our reality and not escape it!
The pleasures James reports we pray for are not all bad. Praying for family, friends, community, country and the like seem so benign. But praying for any of those can often require an empowerment of us so that we might become more significant agents in the family’s or country’s well-being.
And there is more. Paul in Romans 8 makes a definite connection between the Holy Spirit and prayer. As I have shared several times previously, the Greek word “pneuma” can mean spirit, breath, wind. This time around, the “breath” helps us in our weakness … with “sighs too deep for words.” The “breath,” writes Paul: “… intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
If we allow this biblical truth to set with us and sink deeply into our hearts and minds, what we get is that prayer is spiritual breathing, that is, inhaling the word and will of God and exhaling his praise. When that happens, we are fully alive; when it does not, we are not spiritually alive. So breathe, folks, that beautiful and powerful fresh and clean air of the “Holy Breath.”
So far then we are to admit that when it comes to prayer we do not know what we are doing. We offer many words and so many of those words are about changing everything and everyone around us but not ourselves.
When we pray appropriately, we are breathing the breath of God. The promise which flows from this living exercise is that “… all things work together for good for those who love God.” (8:28)
The primary problem I have and share with many if not most of you is timing. God’s promises are seldom fulfilled immediately. We may have to wait a while or a whale of a long time.
What happens in this at times painful meantime is that we are promised that nothing … NOTHING … NOTHING we can name “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The significance of this in a practical way cannot be overstated. I belong to God in Jesus Christ. I have been called by name, made his own and have God’s promise never to leave nor to forsake me!
So, I or a loved one having a significant medical issue is among all other things an opportunity for me to remember joyfully that I belong to Christ Jesus. That can never mean that I sit back and lend no support to the medical professionals. It never means that in any way I fail to be supportive of the loved one. I still do everything reasonable and potentially helpful that I can, but first and foremost I believe that whatever “this” is cannot separate me from the love of God.
If one loses a job, secular and spiritual resources will tell you that whining and complaining and being dragged down won’t help, but remembering who you are in Christ Jesus can never hurt you in your pursuit of another job!
Given the current shape of things political, the current attack of things viral, whatever else is happening or not in your personal life, breathe easy, breathe in the word, will and wonder of God and breathe out his praise and your faith in his promises. That is exactly what prayer is and if it changes anything for sure, it will change you and you will love the change because it will place you in the best possible position and condition to be an agent of positive change in others.
Please note the new 10 a.m. Sunday service start time!
Editor’s Note: This is the 14th Sunday since we worshiped together in our sanctuary! But worship continues — every day in so many different ways. Today, John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, is taking a small, virtual step toward regaining that togetherness, setting 10 a.m. as the time he will make our prerecorded worship service “live” on the St. Mark’s YouTube Channel. As he noted in a message published earlier this week, this is an effort to move us all back to a common time of worship, which — you may recall — we shared either at our 9 a.m. or 11 a.m. service. Now, at 10 a.m. on Sundays, we can “gather” again at a common time. Of course, if you can’t make it at 10, you can tune in later and join in the prerecorded worship.
The goal in the not-so-distant future, when the church has reopened, is to broadcast the service live on the Internet — “livestreaming” it — so that those who cannot be present can join in worship with those who are present in real-time.
For a little while longer, we savor these prerecorded connection points, provided by John Lasher and his team. In addition to John, this week’s leaders include Interim Pastor David Mueller and worship assistant Jeannine Herrmann. Also participating are this week’s Virtual Choir: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols and Cheryl Powell. Additional voices on “The Lord’s Prayer” include: Fred Meckley, Jan Meckley and Teresa Stebner.
You can see the pre-recorded service, starting at 10 a.m. Sunday, on the St. Mark’s YouTube channel at the link below. If you subscribe, you’ll also get weekly notices of the upcoming broadcast.
Also below is the text of Pastor’s sermon, if you’d like to read along.
“Rejoice Anyway” (Romans 5:1-8)
Interim Pastor David E. Mueller
My strong hunch is that none of us would desire or accept a joyless Christianity.
Most of us fully realize that Christmas and Easter are more joyful than Lent. We are aware that there are circumstances in our environment which can, and, in some cases, should mitigate our joy. There is nothing joyful about a deadly virus. While we may support protests of certain kinds, they are seldom joyful.
Clearly, in the midst of such conditions, there are experiences of a positive kind about which we can be joyful, as when neighbors care for the family of a patient with COVID-19 or one sees video of a policeman and a protester kneeling together. Most people want to be happy. We live in a country which celebrates the “pursuit of happiness.” As human beings we need some joy anyway!
PRAY WITH ME PLEASE:
O Lord God, Heavenly and loving Father, we believe in You; we have our Savior in the person of Jesus, Your son, and in Him we know grace and forgiveness; we believe that we need and have Spiritual power to live in the world. Sometimes, Lord, the world can be an ugly and dangerous place to live. Other times, we appreciate the beauty around us and the people in our lives close to us. We rejoice in the beauty of the earth and most of the people inhabiting it. Please Lord, allow us to know joy these days, for we know that no matter how dark the night, joy comes in the morning. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
To be a Christian living in Rome was for the better part of three centuries, a potentially difficult and, at times, dangerous place to be. At one point, the citizens believed that Christians were cannibals because they heard that they were eating body and drinking blood. There was one Emperor who felt that the Christians were making the Roman government look bad because of how much the Christians cared for the poor. There were periods of persecution toward Christians, especially when a scapegoat was needed for government impotence or incompetence. Interestingly, persecuting a religious minority tends to assure their growth.
I personally believe that a person could get along fine in the faith if the only resources they had were one of the Gospels and the Roman letter. Paul’s letter to the Roman congregation is jam-packed with theological and practical significance.
In our second lesson appointed for today from Romans 5:1-8, Paul starts by reiterating how we are made right with God, that is, through faith in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ we have peace with God. In a similar reading from Philippians 4:4-7, Paul reminded the Philippian Church to “rejoice in the Lord, always … do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Interestingly, they and we are not promised answers to the prayers on our terms and timetable, but rather: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This is Paul’s way of saying that being at peace with God is primary and essential and that whatever else is going on cannot violate, victimize or in any way damage that peace.
In Romans 5:2, 3, Paul invites us to boast (other translations: “rejoice”) not only in our hope of sharing the glory of God, but also in our sufferings. The Christian faith, in this case, as in some other circumstances, could not be any bolder.
Always pay close attention to the prepositions. We are told to boast or rejoice IN our sufferings and not because of them. In the midst of whatever sort of difficulties, dangers or disasters one might be in, boast, rejoice!
Paul goes on to delineate the process: “suffering produces endurance, enduranceproduces character, character produces hope.” If then we desire hope in the midst of suffering, boast, rejoice!
“Hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” It is all here: Holy Spirit and love. The love, like the cup in Psalm 23, is poured and running over. We are filled up with and spilling over with God’s love even and especially if we also are dripping with blood due to persecution and pain.
All this, by the way, is love shown us “while we still were sinners” for whom Christ had to die! Perfection or near perfection is not a prerequisite for mercy and forgiving love. It is called grace!
I have found in my pastoral ministry that I could never run into a suffering situation and cry out “Rejoice! Rejoice!” or “Boast! Boast!” We hear a great deal these days about empathy, which is to enter a painful situation close enough emotionally to feel at least some of the pain being experienced by someone else. Sympathy stays at a distance and says “Isn’t it awful!” Empathy moves into the awfulness. Obviously, this is not easy and involves some risks.
While on staff at the University of Virginia Medical Center back in 1976, I was beeped in the middle of the night to come to the Pediatric Clinic. When I got there, everyone, including two physicians, was hysterical. I first insisted that the physicians leave. I learned quickly that a grandmother was in a room with her deceased 18-month-old granddaughter and would simply not give the child up.
I went into the room, introduced myself, and got down and leaned with her against the wall. We talked for a half hour, during which I learned that this was the second grandchild she had lost within a year. She brought tears to my eyes and an ache to my heart. She finally calmed down some, gave the baby over to me, the family crowd calmed and the physicians came back with this look on their faces as if to say: “It’s a miracle!” No! It was just a little genuine empathy.
We live in complex and troubling times for a host of reasons, but also divided times. Perhaps our greatest temptation is not so much to learn to rejoice or boast in our own sufferings, but not to rejoice in the suffering of others!
There is a Jewish “Midrash” — not a biblical but later interpretive imperative — that the Hebrews were not to relish or rejoice in the deaths of Pharaoh’s army when the Red Sea came on them after the Hebrews got through on dry land. It teaches as if to say: “Who do you think you are to relish the tragic deaths of others, even enemies?”
There have been people, some for decent reasons, others for silly ones, who have not worn masks in the face of COVID-19. There will most likely be consequences, but please, do not boast that you were smart and caring enough to wear yours and now those others get what is coming to them. Never boast of yourself or rejoice when others suffer even if they brought suffering upon themselves. Always be glad when justice is served, but not when the one it is served on suffers the consequences of their own acts. Four Minneapolis Police officers are in a whole lot of trouble. Let justice prevail but do not rejoice.
All of this falls into a very different place than we tend to think. What we are to boast about, usually quietly I suspect, is our hope of sharing the glory of God who know that Christ died for us not because we deserved it, but because He loves us.
Might we be so bold as to love even those who would persecute us?
A discussion group exploring the thoughts of modern-day theologians has been meeting since November 12. With from 10 to 14 attending participants, we have had thoughtful, lively, interactive discussions of the books “Unbelievable,” by John Shelby Spong, “Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most,” by Marcus J. Borg, and nine articles on “The Future of Christianity” by various authors from the journal Oneing, from Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation.
Now we are ready to consider and discuss a new book: “Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said?” by best-selling authors Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo. This is the perfect time for any interested new participants to join the MDT Discussion Group. We are now meeting by means of Zoom and the next meeting will be 10:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 23.If you wish to join us, send your email address to Clifford Smith (whose contact information may be obtained from the church office at (302) 764-7488 or firstname.lastname@example.org) and your name will be added to the email membership list. You will then receive all emails regarding the meetings of the MDT Discussion Group, including a Zoom invitation for the May 23rd meeting and all subsequent meetings.
We are a participatory discussion group, more like a book club than an Adult Education Class, guided by the assumption that each person is the “expert” for his/her own responses and expressions of thoughts, emotions, and opinions. We make use of a changing designated facilitator whose task is to keep the group on track but not to be the teacher. Lynne and Greg Landrey will facilitate the discussion of “Red Letter Revolution” for the meeting on May 23. We will discuss “Part I: Red Letter Theology” (pages 3-73).
If you are at all interested, feel welcome to join us and check us out on May 23 or any time thereafter.
As we continue to observe social distance to help slow the spread of the Coronavirus, we give thanks for the technology and leaders that bring us together even when we are apart.
Join us for this pre-recorded worship service, led by Interim Pastor David E. Mueller, Director of Music and Worship Arts John Lasher and Worship Assistant Gregory Landrey. Also participating are this week’s virtual choir: Dave Herrmann, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols and Cheryl Powell and vocalists Fred Meckley, Jan Meckley and Teresa Stebner.
The link to the video is below and you can follow along with the text of Pastor’s sermon here, too.
“Abiding ‘Effectionately’” (John 14:15-21)
David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor
I believe I have previously shared with the people of St. Mark’s about the “Get Well” card we developed at Concordia a long time ago. It bears repeating today. You will see why in a minute.
In my pastoral training, we were taught when entering a hospital room or a living room to take a quick snapshot. In the case of a hospital room, look for cards, flowers, balloons or any other signs that the patient has people who care for her or him. Living rooms are far more difficult to assess.
In hospital rooms, I often noticed a card signed by everyone back at the fire hall, the Kiwanis, or the bowling league. I wondered why we couldn’t design a card from the congregation. A commercial artist in the congregation and I put our heads together and came up with a functional design. A scroll-like oval formed the outer side of an 8 X10 piece of heavy and nice stationary forming the words: “Your brothers and sisters in Christ at Concordia are praying for you.” We passed this around during worship on a clipboard and everyone in attendance signed it. It turned out to be wildly popular both for those who received it as well as a reminder to pray for those who signed it. It folded with praying hands on the cover and a Bible verse on the right inside folded page. The verse was John 14:18, which read in the then RSV: “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.”
Especially during times of spiritual struggle, medical malady, relational brokenness, pandemics and whatever else might be causing a person agony, promises of God become particularly pertinent. The only caveat that invariably must be understood and accepted is God’s timetable.
I have often used the illustration of a toothache, which thank heavens I have not had in a long time. When a severe toothache hits, the whole body becomes almost useless and whatever one is doing or supposed to do comes to a grinding halt until one’s dentist can work her miraculous art. For some period of time we are defined by that toothache. No amount of time spent remembering that your kidneys and other vital organs are functioning fine matters.
In many human circumstances with pain, a person in effect can to some extent be defined by the matter. He becomes a “cancer patient;” she is a “divorcee and single mother;” Mabel has a son who is a “junkie.” The prayers for remedy can be prayed without ceasing even as the tears are increasing and the fears not decreasing. God seems a million miles away, not really giving a rip about my issue, or too busy with more difficult problems, etc. The “I will come to you” promise seems shallow and extremely difficult to believe.
I have been touched in my own struggles with Psalm 6. It’s a short Psalm and I hope you will read it later. In it, David is desperate and depressed. He floods his bed with tears. Nothing is going right. But in short order, long before any actual resolution to his issues, David reaches out and proclaims: “The Lord has heard my supplications; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies SHALL be ashamed….” (6: 9 & 10a) In effect, David seems to have learned to trust God’s timing.
Jesus promised to return and it has been two millennia! God is not in a hurry!
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” (Psalm 13:1-2a;). Here too, David holds nothing back in his questioning, but we need jump only a few verses (5 & 6) to read: “But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”
There is a spiritual art to maintaining faith in the midst of difficulty, disaster, dismay. In John’s Gospel, appointed for today, there are some “holy hints.”
“If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Dutch Priest Henri Nouwen has written about “the wounded healer.” Often, those most effective in helping — even healing — others, are those who are themselves in pain. Sensitivity activates in us that often isn’t present or active when all is well. The current viral crisis has produced incredible amounts and accounts of people helping people even if there are also sad accounts of others being self- absorbed and unreasonable.
Years ago, I was attending another conference and was in great emotional pain. I ended up co-founding a professional organization and the letters I received when I got back astounded me. One Native American wrote: “Everything you said had deep top roots of wisdom.” That sounded and felt good but I didn’t understand how I could have functioned so well, given how I felt. Jesus’ primary commandment to “love one another,” did not abrogate loving God and others as self, but accentuated them. Loving may seem easier when all goes well, difficult but deeper when things are not right.
Jesus also offers the Holy Spirit, the “Advocate.” I love Acts 4:31: “When they (the Disciples) had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of Godwith boldness.” The Holy Spirit empowers us to love.
“Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14: 19b) And that is our hope, no matter how dark the night, joy comes in the morning. (See Psalm 30:5.)
When it comes to God acting, God fulfilling promises, we need faith (trust), love, spiritual empowerment, hope, and … patience. James the Apostle in his letter (5:7) wrote: “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.”
This litany of necessary ingredients to abiding “effectionately,” as well as affectionately, is no small list and of no minor tools of the truth trade. Yet as we receive and employ this equipment, these gifts: “You know him (Jesus), because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” Nothing that can be named (see Romans 8:31ff) can separate us from him, nothing! Jesus means everything! Amen.
As we continue to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic, we again have a pre-recorded worship service for Sunday, May 10. The link is below, along with the text of Interim Pastor David E. Mueller’s message.
Thanks to those who have assisted this week, including John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, Cheryl Powell, worship assistant, and this week’s virtual choir: Dave Herrmann, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner, along with vocalists Fred and Jan Meckley.
And don’t miss the continuing saga of Leroy the Lion and Larry the Lamb, today with a new friend: Lenny.
Here is today’s service:
“There Are a Few Troubling Matters Remaining”
John 14:1-14 & 1 Peter 2:9 & 10
Interim Pastor David E. Mueller
Our appointed Gospel lesson for today from John 14 is a favorite to many. The statement by Jesus “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” is one of those holy hints about eternal glory. Jesus also said “I go to prepare aplace for you,” giving his promise a personal sense. We may have heard elements of this section of John at funerals previously. We need this sort of biblically grounded hope during difficult and dangerous times like right now.
A few weeks back I mentioned the familiar phrase: “I am the way, the truth, andthe life.” I attempted in a simple way to interpret the original Greek so as to give further understanding of “way, truth, and life.” Immediately following this “I am” of Jesus (there are seven of those “I ams” in John’s Gospel), we read: “Noone comes to the Father except through me!” I am not troubled by this last statement, but I am troubled in the extreme by how it is often interpreted, that is, to exclude others who may not believe in Jesus as we do.
The conversation happening here between Jesus and His disciples, two of whom are named (Thomas and Philip), is itself intimate and personal. Their hearts were troubled and in the face of their troubled hearts, Jesus draws them closer to himself. Jesus invites their belief in God and in him. He makes a clear association throughout this whole section of himself and the Father. “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (14:11)
Precisely because of this eternal relationship of Jesus and the Father, Jesus makes promises, some extraordinary, that the disciples were to trust. If they had a problem with that or with the Father/Son relationship, Jesus simply invited them to review the “works” (miracles, healings, etc.) and conclude that no such things could possibly have happened were they not from God.
Earlier in his ministry, the disciples of John the Baptizer, came to Jesus on John’s behalf and asked, “Are you the one or should we look for another?” (See Matthew 11 & Luke 7) Jesus’ response was for them to look around to notice the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the lame walking and the like. Look at the “works.” Notice well the product. Even the Pharisees on occasion acknowledged, if reluctantly, that only God could do that which Jesus did, especially in healing.
I operate with one fundamental assumption when it comes to reported miracles and healings of Jesus, namely, that I want and need a God who is bigger than me and larger and more powerful than any other force we might name. One might argue about a particular miracle or healing in the Christian scriptures, including those accomplished by various disciples AFTER Jesus had ascended, but what good does it do to argue the miraculous itself? Miracles — that is, events usually of a positive kind that defy science, reason and our limited imaginations — happen.
I have personally experienced several miracles. I am careful about sharing them and sensitive because I know of scores of human beings who have prayed and prayed for a healing of their own or a loved one’s illness or a miracle and it didn’t happen. I am no more worthy of God’s attention than any other human being. Many of you know however, that after five years apart, Gigi and I were remarried right here at St. Mark’s 35 years ago, a genuine miracle. Yet after even more prayer than ours, there are broken marriages that are never healed.
Here in our Gospel, Jesus assures the disciples that they have good reasons to not let their hearts be troubled any longer. In effect, “It will be OK as you trust me!”
The Gospel ends with what shouldn’t be but all too often is troubling. “Very truly,I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and in fact, will do greater works than these….” (14:12) Who me? Who us? Yep! The troubling aspect: where is our faith, faith strong enough to move mountains? This seems to strongly suggest that in faith, since I believe in Jesus, I need to believe in myself, not my unredeemed mired-in-sin self, but my loved and redeemed self. We learn elsewhere in Scripture that when loved and redeemed selves get together forming a loved and redeemed Church, all sorts and kinds of great healing, miraculous and caring things can happen.
Turn with me to our second lesson from 1 Peter 2:9-10.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have receivedmercy.”
We are among those communities of believers in Christ, mercifully drawn to him in grace, and, as such, have a very special place in God’s heart. “I am the way, truth, and life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Remember that this was said in a personal and private context by Jesus toward His disciples, who were troubled in heart. Now, as a chosen, royal and holy people, how can we stand before others, any others, and treat them with anything less than dignity and love? I am not chosen to judge others, not royal to lord it over others, not holy to condemn others, but God’s people are to proclaim to others God’s grace, mercy, and steadfast love for them as well.
In my decades of attending national Jewish-Christian conferences, nothing has stood out to me more than a workshop on “Chosen-ness.” It had to be 30 years ago in that workshop that the Jewish and Christian attendees were told by a Rabbinical scholar that “we should never use our chosen-ness to denigrate anyone.” My chosen-ness allows me and enables me to be about those “even greater works.” Denigrating or judging others is not among the greater works.
More than ever, perhaps especially in our own USA, we need to be touching people as Christ touched people, heal as He healed, help as he helped, feed as he fed, forgive as he has forgiven us, love as he has loved us, lead as he has led us! I believe this a time when more than ever we must proclaim the mighty acts of God. Unfortunately there are all too many who are proclaiming the judgment, condemnation and wrath of God.
If God is, indeed, larger and mightier than us, then God can do the judging, but in the meantime, we are charged with doing the loving. After all “Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) It remains for us to understand, celebrate, and share the greater works. Oh, in case you are feeling inadequate about this, “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it!” Amen.
Please allow me a brief postscript. Today might be the fifth Sunday of the Easter Season, but it is also Mother’s Day and about that I would simply say: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you….” (Isaiah 66:13a) We have plenty of reasons for making a connection between good and loving parenting and a good and loving God! Enough said except again: Happy Mother’s Day!