Today’s Message: How to Pray

Hands folded in prayer

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, if it 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 this cannot 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.

Amen.

Midweek Extra: Finding joy and making reparations

Interim Pastor David Mueller

Where’s the joy when we’ve got a virus?

Where’s the joy when we’ve got storm troopers in Oregon?

Where’s the joy when we have such animus between various peoples in our own country?

Where’s the joy when we have economic concerns about how we’re going to manage economically and financially?

Where’s the joy?

Interim Pastor David Mueller attends to that subject in today’s Midweek Extra, an informal video discussion of questions sent to him and his thoughts on assorted issues of the day.

He also discusses making reparations for slavery and other injustices.

Have your own questions for Pastor Mueller? Send them to the church office for future consideration.

Thanks to John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, for producing these videos.

 

 

Rejoice anyway!

Interim Pastor David Mueller

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, endurance produces 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?

Exploring the thoughts of modern-day theologians: A discussion group

Modern-Day Theologians Discussion Group

YOU ARE INVITED — COME AND JOIN 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 office@stmarksonline.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.

Clifford Smith

Online service for May 17: “Abiding ‘Effectionately'”

Interim Pastor David E. Mueller

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 God with 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.

Pastor Mueller’s message: “There are a few troubling matters remaining”

Interim Pastor David Mueller in the sanctuary

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.Interim Pastor David E. Mueller with Lenny and Leroy the lions

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 a place 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, and the 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: “No one 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 received mercy.”

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!

The Good and Dirty Shepherd: Pastor Gordon Simmons’ message

The Rev. Gordon Simmons, director of the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Delaware and interim pastor of St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in Dover, Delaware

[Editor’s note: We are thankful to The Rev. Gordon E. Simmons, interim pastor at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Dover, for today’s message as we worship remotely during this Coronavirus pandemic. In addition to his pastoral duties, Pastor Simmons serves as director of the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Delaware. Thanks, too, to John Lasher, our director of music and worship arts, for putting this service together. Among the participants this week: Interim Pastor David E. Mueller and Nancy Myers, worship assistant. Our musicians include soloist Paige Stebner and the virtual choir, which includes Dave Herrmann, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner. You will also hear Jan and Fred Meckley on “The Lord’s Prayer.”] 

Join our pre-recorded worship here and follow the text of Pastor Simmons’ message below.


“The Good and Dirty Shepherd”

The Rev. Gordon E. Simmons

John 10:11-18

INTRO  Those of you who have been hearing me preach for a while know that sometimes I like to preach a little differently. It’s not always the same.

THE PREACHER AS JOHN THE BAPTIST  One week I preached like John the Baptist.Gordon Simmons as John the Baptist

THE PREACHER AS BICYCLIST  One week I tried to illustrate the importance of daily prayer as a spiritual discipline by comparing it to getting dressed up in warm clothes to ride a bike in the winter. Daily prayer is for our protection. Just like warm clothes in the winter, daily prayer is something we really need.

THE PREACHER ON A LADDER  One week I preached my sermon from up on top of a ladder. It was the week when we had the story of Jesus going up on a mountain with a few of his disciples. I said that things look different when you are up on a mountain. We have our own mountaintop experiences when we come to worship.

Now today, we have our text from the 10th chapter of John, where Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” I was trying to think about what modern image we might have for a shepherd. There aren’t many shepherds around much anymore. Most of us aren’t really familiar with them. I’ve never seen a flock of sheep being herded down the street in front of my house. So I wondered: What’s a shepherd image in 2020?

THE PREACHER AS TRASH COLLECTOR  I thought about a trash collector. Someone who has to get down and dirty to do his job. I know, I know everyone has these sweet Biblical pictures of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, holding a cute little lamb. Jesus is always wearing a clean, pressed robe, and, of course, you would expect Jesus himself to be all cleaned up to have his picture taken.

But here’s the truth. Being a shepherd was a dirty job. How do you think you’d smell if you were sleeping with the sheep all the time? And if you’re following the sheep around every day, well, you’d better watch where you step. And your clothes? Hey, you’re living outside, in a desert. You think your clothes are going to stay clean when the wind is blowing the dirt and sand all over the place? When storms come up and you get soaked to the skin? I’m telling you, being a shepherd was a dirty job. Just like when you’re out picking up trash on the highway.

Gordon Simmons collecting highway trashThere are dangers for trash collectors. There are holes you can step in and rain-soaked grass you can slip on, and — I’ll tell you this from experience — most of the cars zipping along the road don’t pay much attention to you. You’re pretty vulnerable when you’re out picking up trash on the road.

Shepherds were vulnerable, too. There were wild animals out there who loved to get their teeth into one of your sheep. And if you’re a shepherd and you try to stand in the way, well, I guess the mountain lion or the wolf wouldn’t mind making a meal of you, too. You really think a shepherd’s staff is going to offer much protection against a wild animal who hasn’t eaten for a week?

So you can forget all these sweet little pictures of Jesus all dressed up as a cleaned-up, neat-looking shepherd. It was a dirty job. Somebody had to do it. I suppose that’s why John held up this story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Jesus was good because he saw the dirty work and he was willing to do it.

In the passage we have for today, from the 10th chapter of John, Jesus says that a shepherd has to be willing to lay down his life for his sheep. If you aren’t, the Gospel lesson says, then the wolf will come and snatch the sheep away.

Sometimes when I’m out picking up trash, a dog will come running out of his house, barking like crazy, chasing me away from his yard. And that’s just a dog. If somebody told me there were wolves out there, I think I’d stay home.

Jesus said, “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” I’m telling you, this shepherding thing in the first century was dirty work. Somebody, though, somebody had to do it.

Of course Jesus wasn’t really a shepherd, but he was someone who laid down his life, someone who laid down his life for the whole world.

You know, it’s only the fourth Sunday of Easter, and here we are, again, already back to the crucifixion. I thought this was supposed to be the happy time. What’s with this “lay down his life” theme coming back again?

One of the great things about the Christian faith is that the joy that we rightly announce, on Easter, and, all the time really, is not a cheap joy. Christians don’t say, “Oh, let’s just be happy and try to forget about all the terrible things going on in the world.” Christians don’t believe that when you become a Christian all your problems will go away, or that everything will always be pleasant. Christians aren’t always wearing smiley faces. Christians understand that there is still a lot of dirty work to be done and that somebody has to do it. But we’re not overwhelmed by this dirty work. We know the victory has been won. Easter songs are always in season. Jesus laid down his life for us so that we can give of ourselves for others.  

Our first reading for today, from the book of Acts, gives us a little peek into what life was like for the very first Christians. It says they held all things in common. It says that they sold their possessions so they would have some liquid capital which they could then distribute to those in need. It says that they had glad and generous hearts.

When you read these verses, it makes being a Christian sound awfully sweet and pleasant. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to be a part of such a loving, generous group? Ah, come on! Get real! Read between the lines! You think everybody was really happy about having to give up all their savings and all their property so that others would have enough? You think everybody who had a little extra was excited about giving it away? You think this was easy? No! It wasn’t easy. It was dirty work, but somebody had to do it. So the first Christians did. And many Christians have been doing it ever since.

It’s because we’re following the Good Shepherd, the one who was willing to, and who did, lay down his life for his sheep. We’re following the one who gave his life for us. And who won a victory while doing it.

So, as followers of Jesus, we’ve got some dirty work to do. And we’re out and about doing it. But it doesn’t overburden us, not really, not when we stop to think about it. This is still Easter! We have a lot to celebrate! So let the celebration begin.

THE PREACHER AS PARTY GOER  It’s time to party! This is still Easter! Come on now! It’s party time! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Virtual meetings, real connections

Two new online classes launch next week

By now, you probably know a lot about Zoom — the online video meeting platform that allows people to “meet” remotely by computer during these days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe much of your work requires such meetings, maybe your family and friends are catching up that way or maybe you’ve just heard a lot of Zoom jokes.

Some St. Mark’s members have been meeting by Zoom to carry on church business and to study. Among them are: the Leadership Council, the Transition Team, the Worship and Music Committee, the Wednesday Morning Bible Study and the Modern-Day Theologians group.

Now two new studies are forming — one studying Martin Luther, led by Gregory and Lynne Landrey, and one studying the seven churches of Asia Minor, led by Interim Pastor David Mueller. Details are below.

Both require a computer and Internet access. Both are limited to 20 participants. If you have not used Zoom before, we’ll help you get up to speed.

Registration information is listed below, depending on which class you wish to join. If you have any questions, call the church office at (302) 764-7488 or send an email to office@stmarksonline.org.

CLASS DETAILS

WEDNESDAY EVENINGS:

Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed The World

Video and discussion

On October 31, 1517, a young monk named Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 debate topics denouncing the corruption of the medieval world’s largest and most power institution to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This act set into motion a series of events that would change the world in ways he could never have imagined.

The PBS documentary “Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed the World” was produced in 2017 to celebrate the 500thanniversary of this remarkable event.

During this six-session class, we will be viewing the movie in its entirety. Each session will consist of watching approximately 15 minutes of the movie, reviewing it, making scriptural connections and discussing how it applies to our lives today.

WHEN: 7 to 8:15 p.m., Wednesdays, from May 6 through June 10

LEADERS: Gregory and Lynne Landrey

CLASS SIZE LIMIT: 20

FORMAT: Zoom

TO REGISTER: Send an email to lhlslp@comcast.net

REGISTRATION DEADLINE: May 4

NOTE:  When signing up, please provide First/Last Name and email contact information. Also, kindly indicate if you are familiar with using the Zoom format or would like to participate in a brief tutorial.

SUNDAY MORNINGS:

The Seven Churches of Asia Minor

(Revelation 2 & 3)

The last book listed in the Christian “canon” has been the subject of abuse by some and neglect by most of us. “Apocalyptic” literature is utterly unfamiliar to us. Apocalyptic literature is characterized by the use of numbers and word pictures employed to assist in giving the best possible understanding of otherwise complex and seemingly cryptic matters.

Revelation can simply be viewed as a series of seven sevens. Do the math and one gets 49. The next number is 50, which in Biblical presentation is “Jubilee” or “The chance to start over again in a fresh manner.” This makes Revelation hopeful even if after some frightening images throughout.

The first “seven” has to do with the Seven Churches of Asia Minor. These are foundational to the rest of the book. Since seven means “complete,” this is a complete commentary by Christ of the Church, today as then.

WHEN: 9 to 10:15 a.m., Sundays, beginning May 10 through June 21

LEADER: Interim Pastor David E. Mueller

CLASS SIZE LIMIT: 20

FORMAT: Zoom. Written copies of each session will be provided via email, each Monday after the session.

TO REGISTER: Call the office at (302) 764-7488 or send an email to office@stmarksonline.org.

REGISTRATION DEADLINE: May 8

‘The Christian Walk:’ Pastor Mueller’s message for Sunday, April 26

Road to Emmaus, by Robert Zund

[Editor’s Note: We continue together — yet apart — as our community continues to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic. We are grateful to Interim Pastor David E. Mueller, John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, worship assistant Brian Schmidt, a member of our Leadership Council, and our musicians and vocalists for their efforts in providing this prerecorded video. Join our worship by clicking on the video below and follow the text of Pastor’s message here on the website.]

 


“The Christian Walk”

Interim Pastor David E. Mueller

I mentioned in Easter Sunday’s message that it was a constant that none of the compatriots of Jesus recognized him immediately after his resurrection. Here again today we have in Luke 24 where Jesus encounters two men, unknown to us but not to Jesus, who didn’t know it was Jesus. We are told: “… but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (24:16) We could spend endless amounts of time trying to figure out their failure to recognize, but let’s not!

The conversation the two fellows and Jesus were having had to do with the events and people surrounding the death of Jesus. That said, they moved on to the still unbelieved accounts of his resurrection. Jesus referred to their foolishness not for disbelieving their contemporaries but for failing to believe their own Prophets.

I have often wondered what life was like for the ancient Israelites. Back then God seemed frequently to speak with various people, like Abraham or Moses, and as frequently to accomplish incredible things before the eyes of the common people, like the Exodus, unexpected victories in various battles, the competition between the prophets of Baal and Elijah on Mount Carmel and so forth. How could any of them “not see” or see and go on to live as if they had not seen? 

I  believe that in the Hebrew Scriptures there is a vivid contrast between the grace of God and the sins and stubborn intransigence of God’s chosen people. Yet here on the road to Emmaus we get the same thing in effect. Even if they did not recognize Jesus, surely they must have been impressed with this stranger’s understanding of and capacity to articulate the Scriptures! At least they were interested and engaged!

Upon entering Emmaus, Jesus started to excuse himself, but the two of them talked him into staying with them. They sat together and when Jesus blessed and broke bread and gave it to them POW!  Their eyes were opened, they recognized Jesus … and then he vanished! There is clearly a Sacramental implication here, but let’s not make too much of it.  

The more significant point is that they were sharing food.

Lutheran historian Martin Marty. in his book “When Faiths Collide,” maintains that in Judaism, Christianity and Islam there is strong emphasis on hospitality and meal fellowship. If, therefore, you

Interim Pastor David Mueller

In my moving around the congregation by phone, among the things I have heard is that families are having meals together for a change. Conversations around the table are occurring and there is joy, even power, in that return to basic human practice. Games are being played together and puzzles worked if only to kill time; it is good.

want to get to know your Muslim or Jewish neighbors better, invite them to dinner. The conversation will be enlightening both ways. In my ministry, I learned much about needs and concerns from men over lunch. Obviously, it has not been appropriate with women unfortunately.

 Also unfortunately, I must insert a necessary warning here. It is being reported that there is a noticeable if not dramatic increase in domestic violence during the “shelter at home mandate” due to COVID-19. I realize that I accomplish little by saying it, but say it I must: DOMESTIC ABUSE IS PATENTLY UNACCEPTABLE, IS A CRIME, AND BETTER NOT BE TAKING PLACE IN YOUR HOME. IF SO, IT MUST STOP IMMEDIATELY! WOMEN, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO TOLERATE THIS IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING IT. CALL ME AND I WILL WEAR A MASK, GLOVE AND A GARBAGE BAG IF NECESSARY TO ESCORT YOU OUT OF THAT ENVIRONMENT WHERE YOU WILL BE SAFE!

 And now back to a more positive point. A very real part of what allows for productive intimate conversation over a meal is the time afforded the conversation. Like much of life, learning about each other takes time.  

Speaking of time, walking together and talking together is also potentially productive in increasing awareness and understanding of each other.

In the familiar verse of John 14:6, Jesus is quoted as having said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life….”  In John 11:25, Jesus tells Martha in the context of her brother Lazarus’ death: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Finally in John 10:10, Jesus says: “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.”

In Biblical Greek, there are two words translated “life:” “bios” and “zoa.” This can get complicated, but allow me to keep it simple: “bios” is life in that there is breathing and blood flowing, while “zoa” is deeper and more significant than drawing breaths and pumping blood. Actually zoa applies to eternal life.

I back up. “Way” means path or road. The two men, one of whom we learn was Cleopas, which does not help us much, were walking on the odos (road). They learned the truth (alaethea). Please do not let the facts get in the way of the truth, it has been said. Truth about Jesus is not simply that he rose from the dead, but that he and his word matter ultimately. Life is being fully alive, filled with the Spirit and grounded in hope. It is entirely possible to be breathing and pumping blood but not having zoa.

Our second lesson appointed for today (1 Peter 1:17-23) presents a clear picture of what being on the path, knowing the truth, and living the life looks like. “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth, so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:22,23) Now that is being fully alive!

It amazes me in these difficult and dangerous days that so many people, Christians included, count personal freedoms as more important than personal responsibilities. It takes genuine if misguided faith to believe that opening up our society soon will not produce tragic results. It would seem that some people just don’t see what is right in front of them! They refuse to believe either that they cannot possibly be harmed by what was normal behavior or that they cannot possibly harm others or both. We must sacrifice for now so that we and others around us may survive if not thrive later.

The Christian walk first involves listening to Jesus, learning to love Jesus as He loves us and others as we love ourselves. It is seeking opportunities to “share” bread, either by partaking together someday or by giving portions of our bread to others. Living is giving in the Christian walk!

In his “Small Catechism,” Martin Luther asks: “What is meant by daily bread” for which we pray in the Lord’s Prayer? “Everything required to satisfy our bodily needs, such as food and clothing, house and home, fields and flocks, money and property, a pious spouse and good children, trustworthy servants (not slaves/my words), godly and faithful rulers, good government, seasonable weather, peace and health, order and honor, true friends, faithful neighbors and the like.” 

In “Ethics,” compiled by biographer Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer claimed that when Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer, they are also praying it for or on behalf of those who don’t or won’t pray it. In effect then, according to Bonhoeffer, I pray for and seek to provide if necessary daily bread for others as well as myself.  

If Luther is right — sometimes he isn’t — then praying for and providing the litany reported above is exactly what we Christians need to be about especially in times like these. This we do, not to win any awards or gain any rewards, but precisely because, as Peter puts it (1 Peter 1:18,19): “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited … with the precious blood of Christ….”

While the pain, sacrifice, sickness and death virtually all over the world is ever so real, what a great time to walk with Jesus in truth and life, to care about and dare to share with others in an obedient and loving way. May it be so with all of you.

‘Where Were You Lord?’ Sunday message from Pastor David Mueller

The Rev. David and Gigi Mueller

[Editor’s note: Again this week, as we remain separated by the Coronavirus pandemic, Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, have collaborated to provide a message and special music for the fifth Sunday in Lent. Pastor’s message is drawn from John 11: 1-45.]

With the link below you can listen to Pastor’s voice as you read the text.

Listen to Pastor Mueller’s message here.

As we begin, please allow me a few brief if also redundant announcements:

  • Those of you with email, our bulk emails often go to spam. Please check yours daily.
  • It is extremely important that you mail in your green sheets. The Transition Team is meeting regularly so as not to get too far behind during the crisis.
  • We hope all St. Markians are joining in prayer between 6 and 6:10 p.m. daily. We are adding a prayer component at the end today, but will be praying in general as we want to avoid publishing names and conditions.

We begin now with prayer.

Dear Lord, during this critical period for the whole world, we ask that You enable us to keep the faith, indeed, grow in the faith. Through these humble efforts that we are making as a congregation to communicate and celebrate with each other, enrich and deepen our gratefulness for grace, mercy and love, which we know You are blessing us with. Guard and protect us from severe impact of the virus upon us, others dear to us and all the unknown people who also are cared about by You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

During the year I was in a Clinical Pastoral Residency at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, a book was published by an adjunct professor at the university. Dr. Raymond Moody was the author; “Life After Life” was the book. Inevitably, upon checking patient needs with nursing staff on any of the units to which I had been assigned, I would be asked: “Chaplain Mueller, so what do you think of ‘The Book?’”

My answer was consistent and most often met with bewilderment and disappointment: “I don’t care!” I suppose folks expect something a bit more spiritual from a Chaplain or Pastor. So I would go on to briefly explain: “There are certain mysteries in life and in the faith which I simply believe must be left alone. Preserve the mystery, even mysticism, of the sacred. After all, St. Paul wrote (Romans 8:24, 25): ‘Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’”  

I believe in eternal life as a gift from God in Jesus Christ by grace through faith, to put it in pure Lutheran/biblical language. If I did not believe that, I had to be lying at literally hundreds of funerals. It is well beyond my pay grade to make judgments of any kinds about other than Christians getting in. Doing so feels like being the Commandant at a German Concentration Camp, saying: “You go to the right into the fields or factory; you go to the left and into the ovens!”  

Also, the issue of eternal life or “life after life” CAN be a distraction from other more pressing and current issues which require our attention. Here I am talking specifically about matters Jesus would have us attend to.

Turn to John 11:1-45 about Lazarus, which I invite you to read on your own later.

The first thing I notice is that the Disciples were reluctant to go back to Judea because “The Jews were just now trying to stone you” (7) on the one hand; and “… many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother” (19) on the other hand. I simply must point out that any speaking of “The Jews,” which is characteristic of John, can never be thought of as “all Jews.” Jews can too easily be the enemy for Christians so we must remember that most Jews were not bad guys. In 11:45, we read: “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.”

Lazarus, whose name means “God Has Helped,” brother to Mary and Martha, had become ill. The sisters sent for Jesus. Curiously, upon hearing about his friend’s sickness, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Since it is said that Lazarus was four days dead and a stench had developed, it is safe to presume that it took about a week for Jesus to get there. I bring this up because one of the issues we take hardest when it comes to the promises of God is the time it takes for God to get things done. Even back then, now was too late.

Jesus finally arrives and each of the sisters takes a turn at receiving him with words that are often read or thought of softly, when it was more likely theyAn arrow that says: Where were angry with him for being so slow to act. “WHERE IN THE HELL WERE YOU?” might have been more like it. In the meantime the Jews were doing the consoling.

Jesus and Martha have a brief discussion about resurrection of the dead, the conversation ending with Martha confessing that she believed Jesus was the Christ, which at that moment changed nothing; Lazarus was still dead NOW!

After encountering the two sisters separately, Jesus goes to the tomb, prays to the Heavenly Father “for the sake of the crowd” to believe and then shouts: “Lazarus, come out!” With the burial cloths still hanging on him and the stench not yet worn off, out came Lazarus!

The incredible thing is that from then on, we hear nothing from or about Lazarus. If one stands at the top of the Mount of Olives and looks down toward Jerusalem, immediately behind about two miles is Bethany. Am I to believe while Jesus was soon suffering in Jerusalem, Lazarus was too lazy or unappreciative to come and lend some support? And, by the way, why is there no book of the Bible written by Lazarus about the post death experience? Inquiring minds want to know! One would think that Lazarus especially would wait outside the tomb of Jesus genuinely believing that he too would be raised from the dead!

The Bible works that way, however, that is certain people come on the scene, do their part, and leave never to be seen or heard from again. Think about Joseph the carpenter. What on earth happened to him? Another mystery! And really, just how much time need we spend on trying to figure it out?

It is interesting that in Luke 16:19-31, another Lazarus is featured in a parable of Jesus. God helped him too, but for the rich man who failed to see let alone help the poor Lazarus, it was too late. He asked to go back to warn his five brothers to get their act together, for not caring about others must have been in their genes. They have Moses and the Prophets and if they don’t listen to them, “neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

The resurrection of the dead is not in a biblical sense a feat performed by God just to prove God can do such a thing. Clearly, it is a promise of a holy and heavenly hope for us who believe. The promise is in the now, however, so we can be free to live in the now in worship and in service. The rich man and his brothers had Moses and the Prophets and we have the words and will of Jesus to be His disciples in the world as it is: dangerous, diseased, war-ridden and the like.

To that world, in the event that we have not already come on the scene and performed our purpose, which is highly unlikely, we can bring help, healing and hope. We are alive and in Christ free to live creatively, generously and lovingly! While we cannot be absolutely sure, my hunch is that Lazarus learned quickly and surely to live that way. Amen.

Post Script: Any number of books have been written and movies have been produced in recent years about Heaven. Since Dante’s “Inferno,” however, few if any have written about hell. Have any of these been helpful? Perhaps to some! For the most part, such concepts remain a mystery. Even after the 43 years since Life After Life and my comments about it, the mystery is still fine with me!

That said, deaths due to COVID-19 are on the rise and are projected to skyrocket soon. There are those arguing that we older ones ought to sacrifice our lives for the sake of others or the economy or both. There is nothing in our beliefs to suggest that anyone ought to be in a hurry to go to glory. Were that the case, why not let more of us, young and old, be willing to die and “go to that better place?” Since that is ludicrous, all of us can do what we can to preserve lives and, in due time, discover “Life After Life,” as Moody entitled his book.