Today’s message: ‘The Messy God’

Interim Pastor David Mueller

We gather again today to share a prerecorded service with worship, prayer and a word from Scripture. Our building remains closed in this time of Coronavirus pandemic and we are thankful indeed for the work of Interim Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, which allows us to continue to meet and share a common experience, albeit from afar.

Also participating in today’s service are Nancy Myers, worship assistant, and this week’s Virtual Choir: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner. We will also hear from vocalist Paige Stebner.

The link to the prerecorded video is below, along with the text of Pastor Mueller’s message: “The Messy God.”

Also, be sure to check out the new “St. Mark’s Midweek Extra,” which offers a more informal encounter with Pastor Mueller, who offers to reply to questions we submit and also shares his reflections and thoughts on a range of other issues for about half an hour. The broadcast started on Wednesday, July 8, and it is planned as a weekly event, usually arriving online by 10 a.m. You can find last week’s discussion — and all those to come — on our YouTube channel.

“The Messy God” (Matthew 13:1-9, 36-43)

David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor 

You may or may not find it interesting that seminary education in Lutheranism traditionally has included four theological disciplines: Biblical theology (exegetics), history, systematics, and practical theology. I am troubled that far less history is required these days.

I want to center for just a minute on systematic theology, which is like engineering. If the foundation of a bridge has not been built correctly and strongly, it could easily collapse. The engineers have to put the design together in such a manner so that various parts of the bridge support rather than conflict with each other, making the whole a safe and practical bridge.

Systematic theology, which includes our Lutheran Confessions, seeks to make certain that various points of theology, belief and practice fit together and in no way contradict. Systematic theology is structural and quite technical. It is an attempt to neatly package what we believe even if complex.

Along comes Jesus speaking in parables which often defy neatness and order. I will not go through a number of them to prove my point, except to look at the Gospel lesson appointed for today about the sower and the seeds, which, as Jesus reveals when He explains what He first spoke, is really about the word and kingdom of God. God the sower flings seeds all over the place, in hopes that some will fall on good soil, take root and grow.

Seeds cannot and do not germinate on the road with birds eating what is not destroyed by traffic, like the devil coming along and snatching the seeds away.

Seeds cannot grow well on rocky ground either for the soil is not deep enough, which is like a person believing initially until the going gets hard and persecutions and other troubles come along and the person falls away.

Seeds can fall among the thorns and weeds, but get choked by the thorny cares of the world and wealth, yielding nothing.

Finally, seeds grow best on good clean and rich soil. The word is received, understood, the seeds germinate and produce fruit in various measures.

Interestingly, in the appointed Gospel for next week from just a bit later in Matthew 13, the weeds and thorny things are left to grow together.

It is all very messy and doesn’t seem to fit together very well. God does the things God does whether flinging seeds in reckless fashion or allowing weeds and seeds to co-exist.

In the familiar Psalm 23, we hear of cups running over, making a real mess on the table. God can be and often is quite messy.

We do ourselves and anyone else no favors by looking at the various places seeds land and identifying people we know who are like that. Good old Charlie gets very involved in things at the church but can never sustain his excitement. Henrietta simply cannot keep up with the thorns and weeds which end up killing off her many efforts. Mortimer always has his mind on what is best for himself and how he can make a killing. We all know people who seem to fit into these three categories. We can even identify the ones among us who do all the work, take little credit when all goes well and take a lot of guff when things go badly. These characters are all here at St. Mark’s in full and living color.

But what if there is a deeper interpretation without meaning to outdo Jesus here. What if in each of us there are four kinds of soil? What if there are birds which take the seeds in us which have not been smashed by traffic? What if in a spiritual sense we have rocks in our hearts much like stones in our kidneys which can act up? What if we find ourselves so wrapped up in the things of the world that there is no room left for the things of God? What if there is in each of us really good soil? If all this is true, what to do? Move to the good soil and let the word and will of God grow; avoid the other places in our lives where no growth of consequence is possible!

There is a parable in Matthew 21:28-32, where one son said yes when asked by his father to go out and work in the vineyard but who did not show up. The other son said no to his father but showed up and did the work. Which son did the work of the father? Obviously the one who showed up after all. This is a messy business as well because to have said “no” to a father in those days would have been asking for real trouble. It would be nice if sons or daughters always said a loving and obedient “yes” and did the work. But a case can be made that two sons like that or daughters are in each of us, doing some sort of battle. Which of them wins in us? It is like the soil. Move to the good soil in yourself!

I believe I have shared about the Native American grandfather who told his grandson that there were two wolves in each person, a ravenous, angry, dangerous one and a kind, friendly, but protective one. “Which one wins?” the grandson asks. “The one you feed,” said the grandfather.

There is clearly an eternal implication to all of this, that is, what is it that makes life last forever and not just for a while? But there is an immediate temporal significance and benefit as well.

Listen to the Prophet Isaiah in our first lesson as he lists the beautiful things God will do: to summarize, there will be joy, peace, hills singing, tress clapping hands. There will be no thorns but the Cypress, no brier but Myrtle. It is all an everlasting sign that people will not be cut off from the Lord.

Paul in our second lesson (Romans 8:1-11): set our minds on the things of the Spirit and live or on the things of the flesh and die!

As we ask ourselves what we want out of life, we Christians are invited to believe that the word, will and wonder of God is well worth it, while the stuff of bad soil, bad boys and big bad wolves are worth nothing in the end. Believing then and having living faith is setting aside our stuff — whatever it is — and allowing God in Christ to sow His abounding and steadfast love in us, on our hearts and in our minds.

There is clutter like thorns and thistles in us. There are false but formidable forces calling us to destruction. Let Jesus die for that so that you might be good soil on which God sows good fruit! Amen.

St. Mark’s Midweek Extra starts today!

Interim Pastor David Mueller

Here’s your chance to ask those questions that have been bugging you and  listen in as Interim Pastor David Mueller tackles them and shares his perspective on the past, observations on current events and ideas about the future.

We’re calling it “St. Mark’s Midweek Extra” — a half-hour-ish video hosted by Pastor Mueller and posted on Wednesday mornings. This week, Pastor Mueller will discuss “hating the sin but loving the sinner,” explain what led him to accept the Interim Pastorate at St. Mark’s and share some observations about the future of the Church in general and St. Mark’s in particular.

Check it out by clicking the link below. Then send an email to the St. Mark’s office. with questions you’d like Pastor to address in future encounters.

Pastor Mueller’s Message: “Rest? What is that?”

A yoke with the words "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me" written above it.

It’s a holiday weekend — and happy Independence Day! But it is a strange holiday indeed. With much of our world still shut down in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have a different perspective on the idea of freedom and liberty and what it means to care for each other in sacrificial ways.

We know many are carrying heavy burdens. Today’s prerecorded worship service includes a sermon from Interim Pastor David Mueller that looks at Jesus’ invitation in Matthew’s Gospel: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

The service, which is available at 10 a.m., is led by Pastor Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts. Also participating are Greg Landrey, worship assistant, and this week’s Virtual Choir: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner. There is other special music, too.

The link to our YouTube channel is below, along with the text of Pastor’s sermon.

“Rest! What is that?” (Matthew 11:25-30)

David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor

We are into a moment in history where there are those who seem given to the taking of risks, especially young folk but some older folk who should know better as well. Being in a crowd — whether in a bar or a church — not wearing masks and keeping distance is as risky as it gets these days. There are Christians who claim they are exempt from or immune to the virus due to the protection of God.

In the book of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — all Jews — were thrown into a furnace of blazing fire for refusing to give homage to Nebuchadnezzar, but God preserved them (Daniel 3:8). Christians meeting without protections are like those running into a burning building not to save anyone but to prove God would protect them, like our three friends from Daniel. They might just be in for the surprise of their lives. With one exception, we are not to tempt or test God.

I am reminded again of the book of Daniel when in Matthew 11:25, we read: “I thank you, Father, the Lord of Heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” That sounds very much like Daniel 2:20 and following: “Daniel said: ‘Blessed be the name of God … for wisdom and power are his … he gives wisdom … and knowledge … he reveals deep and hidden things.’”

In the Zechariah passage, which foreshadows Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, the King comes “triumphant and victorious, but humble and riding on a donkey.” Just as the entry of Jesus was a slam on Roman pomp, so also Zechariah’s is a slam on the comparatively ridiculous image of seemingly more powerful earthly kings with their decorated steeds, banners and well armed troops. The earthly powers here mean nothing. The King of kings is The Humble One!

And He comes for the humble ones and not the proud; the poor and not the rich; the common folk and not the “upper crust,” that bunch of crumbs connected by a lotta dough. We would do well to listen to the words of the Prophet and those of the King.

“Come to me, all you who think you are special, who wield the power, who have the wealth, who believe they need nothing.” Whoops! Wrong book! That is an unholy book. The Holy book invites the weary, burdened and nearly worn out!

It would seem that if you are rich, you lose! Is there inherent blessing in being poor? Doubtful. So what is going on here? It is simply that those who don’t have much are open to gifts Jesus offers. Those who have much don’t need Jesus!

The “yoke” here is an interesting matter which requires an explanation. The image is of the yoke that holds two cattle together leading a wagonload of whatever. What we are offered is a trade, the yoke we are burdened with in exchange for that of Jesus. What we get with this trade is relief and rest.

We have all heard it said that so and so has a great cross to bear due to reasons of poor health, broken relationships, financial ruin, job loss, etc. We may have said that of ourselves when we feel overloaded. There are, indeed, crosses like that to bear, but Jesus invites us to “take up our cross and follow Him.” We get a new cross; it is His cross and not ours. The cross must be born before the crown is worn. Here also, we get a new yoke, Christ’s yoke, which is easier and lighter.

We turn to Paul who must be exaggerating his flaws when he makes his claim in Romans 7. “Wretched man that I am!” Even on the surface, there is a lesson here. Just imagine Paul if instead he claimed: “I am the greatest of Apostles! I know everything! I am holy! I am wise! Whatever sins may linger in me are few! Do what I tell you and maybe you can be the wonderful Christian that I am!” It would be as if he were still the Pharisee he was. Instead: “I am the least of the Apostles and the greatest of sinners.” I can relate to that.

It really takes a great deal of energy as well as nerve to pull off being someone we are not nor meant to be! It can be exhausting. The person who has wealth, power and influence could use all of that in the service of humanity and the praise of God, but all too often does not. To be free of self-centeredness, false pride, which is the only kind there is, and the desire to manipulate and take advantage of others is to become open to caring and sharing and daring to be truly alive. That is what Jesus offers here! “Give me all your junk and I will give you joy!” “Give me your burdens and I will give you rest!”

There is something else here. Scholars believe the “yoke” is the “Law.” The Ten Commandments are good, but to think we can keep them is a burden for sure. Jesus kept them. In trusting Him and casting our sins and shortcomings on him is to be free to live; free to let the law come alive in its invitation to love God and others and ourselves for positive reasons. It is the intelligent wise thing to do!

Jesus here in Matthew claims: “I am gentle and humble in heart.” In Biblical Greek, “gentle” is “praus” (“meek”) and “humble” is “tapenos” (“of poor estate”). Remember that Jesus entered Jerusalem, as did the king in Zechariah, on a donkey, the humble beast of burden and not a war horse. If Jesus is who he says he is, then to have wisdom and intellect capable of knowing him is to be humble and of poor estate ourselves. Those of the high and mighty crowd just don’t because they cannot get it.

Jesus offers a prayer here as well, not only thanking God as did Daniel, for who are the truly wise and intelligent ones, but claiming this as God’s “gracious will.” God the Father, gives “all things” to Jesus and Jesus offers “all things” that matter to us. Wealth, power, influence and the like will not last, but “all things” do!

Jesus is not a spiritual sleeping pill, nor a tranquilizer to numb the effects of our reality, whatever that may be, nor a pious cocktail to calm the nerves. Jesus is the one who offers us freedom from burdens of guilt, shame, blame and whatever other game our unredeemed hearts and minds would have us play. In THAT freedom to love and care, to rejoice and share, there is genuine rest because THAT is what we were initially created to be and do.

I don’t know how much we really need open bars and restaurants right now. I feel for the owners and managers of those businesses. I cannot for absolute certain believe that what we need is open churches and other places of faith. I do know that God-given and Jesus-won wisdom and smarts requires of us to humbly wear masks, keep appropriate distance, stay out of large crowds and wait patiently as God’s gifts of medical scientists do their thing.

Oh, there is plenty else to be about in hopeful, healing and helpful ways to come. In this meantime, let there be rest and quiet rejoicing.

Go and sin no more!

Interim Pastor David Mueller

Editor’s Note: Happy Father’s Day! We join together again at a common time — 10 a.m. — with hopes of doing so in person soon. If you have arrived here later than that, the link to the prerecorded service on our YouTube channel will still work.

We are thankful to Interim Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, for their faithful delivery of these services that have kept us connected even while our building is closed during this Coronavirus pandemic.

Also participating in this service are worship assistant Beth Miller and this week’s Virtual Choir: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner.


“Go and Sin No More!” (Romans 6:1b-11)

David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor

Bishop [William] Gohl was to have been with us virtually today, but he prefers to wait until he can visit with us physically, which all of us hope is sooner than later, even if we are prepared to wait until the disease diminishes.

Our second lesson from Romans 6 is one most of us are familiar with if only because it is traditionally read at all baptisms.

Before moving on, we pray:

“Lord God, Heavenly Father, help us this day to remember and be renewed in our baptisms. This “rebirth” — like birth itself  need not be and cannot be remembered as usual. We did not choose our rebirth any more than we chose to be born to begin with. Just help us, O Lord, to know that You called us by name, made us Your own and promised never to leave nor to forsake us because of Jesus Christ. In His Name we pray and say “Amen!’”

The first insight I need to share with you is about prepositions and their importance in Scripture. In Paul’s letter, Chapter 6, it is especially important to note them.

Notice the preposition “into!” We are baptized INTO Christ Jesus and INTO His death.

Notice also “with.” “We were buried WITH him by baptism into death” and “if we have been united WITH him in a death like his, we will certainly be united WITH him in a resurrection like his.” The language here is intimate. “We know that our old self was crucified WITH him.”

In other words, in baptism we are drawn back to Christ’s death and, as we shall see, Christ is drawn forward to our lives now. It is all an extremely close encounter of the spiritual kind.

The question this occasions is: “How then shall we live?” If we are WITH Christ and were baptized INTO His death, what does this mean in this life and the next?

There are those in history and now who would answer this question in a behavioral way. Being IN Christ, we behave differently and better than we would otherwise. To some extent we should genuinely hope that is true. I would certainly like to think that not only in whom I believe but how I behave is vastly influenced by being IN Christ. That, however, has its limits and its downside.

Werner Elert, a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and ethicist, after World War II, wrote that we Christians lift up an ethic to which we cannot possibly attain. We can never come close to being or behaving like Jesus. Martin Luther is often quoted for having said: “Sin boldly!” Before we experiment with that one, please note that he was speaking to those who felt they did not sin boldly and about how important grace and forgiveness are in the face of our sinfulness. Paul, a little later in this letter (7:19) wrote: “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” While in a way that may sound like double talk, Paul is serious about openly sharing his reality.

If on the one hand Paul invites us not to continue in sin but goes on to admit that he continues in sin, even if he does not want to, what does this mean for us?

Sin most typically is understood as either bad behavior (commission) or as good behavior avoided (omission). Once again, we must stress that to some extent our behavior is influenced by being “en Christo” (in Christ). But is behavior what Paul is referring to here, and —if not — what in God’s name is he talking about?

I believe and many theologians are with me on this that Paul is here speaking of condition of relationship. Sin is brokenness with God and others. We are not to live in a broken but in a forgiven state. In Christ, our broken relationship with God is healed. God remains God and I, with all of my faults and sins, remain who I am. I am still not near perfect in anything, especially my behavior. With the relationship healed, God’s grace constantly flows with forgiveness toward and into me, having me live not in sin but forgiveness.

Maybe a pertinent metaphor would help.

It is Fathers’ Day! I love our children and they love me. I trust my bad behavior is at an absolute minimum especially as it regards my flesh and blood. I would never intentionally harm any of the three of them. I have sought nothing but their good even during those times I had to be firm. You might best be served by asking them about my imperfections. I could share with you about theirs.

But our love for each other is because of the relationship and not just the behavior. Our love is not just familial (phileo) but unconditional (agape). It can be damaged by bad behavior just as it can be affirmed by better behavior, but only in extreme instances can it be damaged, leaving permanent scars.

God is my Heavenly Father, my utterly perfect Heavenly Father. I am far from being His perfect son, who is Jesus and not me! But God still loves me because of the relationship, and with the relationship healed in Christ, I have the benefit of receiving and knowing God’s unconditional eternal love.

When Jesus encountered the adulterous woman in John 8 — followed by a crowd of Pharisees and others with stoning on their minds and hearts — He spoke of the one in the crowd having no sin getting to cast the first stone. By their own silence, not one of them stood the test. Jesus said to the woman: “Go and sin no more!” There are those who act as if Jesus said: “You are forgiven; go and sin some more!” Obviously, what Jesus actually said with “sin no more” had implications about her lifestyle or what we might more accurately call her “deathstyle.”

We are not forgiven so that we can misbehave, but are forgiven because we know where forgiveness can be found when we do misbehave. In the meantime, who among us would argue about good behavior like loving God with all of our hearts, souls, strengths and mind and our neighbors as ourselves? Go and sin no more!

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?

‘It’s NOT so simple:’ A message for Holy Trinity Sunday

Interim Pastor David Mueller

Editor’s note: Our Leadership Council and Worship Committee are developing plans to reopen our sanctuary for worship after this long season of social isolation, which was made necessary by the Coronavirus pandemic. But again this week, we join in worship by way of a pre-recorded video. The service is led by Interim Pastor David Mueller, John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, and Brian Schmidt, worship assistant.

This week’s Virtual Choir includes Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, John Lasher,  David McClure, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner. Additional voices on “The Lord’s Prayer” are Fred Meckley, Jan Meckley and John Nichols.

The link to the pre-recorded service on YouTube is below, along with the text of Interim Pastor David Mueller’s sermon.

“It’s NOT So Simple” (2 Corinthians 13:11-13)

David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor

Every day is for Christians a time of acknowledging the Trinity, whom we cannot explain, but can proclaim. For a millennium, the Church has designated the Sunday after Pentecost as “Holy Trinity Sunday.” It has been a tradition to confess the Athanasian Creed on this Sunday, one of the three “Ecumenical” Creeds in our Lutheran Confessions. That tradition has waned because the Creed is repetitive, long and tedious to confess.

When I first looked at lessons a while back, I thought the second lesson was the familiar 1 Corinthians 13, only to discover later that it is 2 Corinthians 13. I have come to believe this lesson is no less significant than 1 Corinthians 13 about love.

In his letter to the Ephesian Church, Paul wrote: “I … beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.” (4:2,3)

The importance of unity within the Church cannot be overstated. In Matthew 12:25, we read: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” I mentioned a short while back that in His “High Priestly Prayer” (John 17) Jesus prayed that His believers be one even as He and the Father are one. Sadly, this prayer of Jesus has been not yet answered.

But God is One. The three persons within the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — are together in God’s work with us. We have consigned the Creation to the Father, Redemption to the Son and Sanctification to the Holy Spirit. Jesus saving us on the cross is not in conflict or competition with God’s creation, nor with the movement toward holiness in the Spirit. Being “saved” means a greater and deeper appreciation and stewardship of the earth and a special need for Spirit-led fire power. It is in the Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit that we are to seek to reach, teach and baptize people in all nations.

We Lutheran Christians ought to be especially aware of and sensitive to the buildup of tensions and tests of truth within the Church. By the late 15th Century repressed tensions had been building up in the Western Church for a long time. When Luther came along, did what he did and said what he said, there was an explosion of sorts. On the positive side, there was a return to faith and away from ecclesiastical regulations, the keeping of feasts and fasts, and a plethora of other required behaviors. On the negative side, the Church became divided as ever.

As Americans, we ought to be especially aware of and sensitive to the buildup of tensions, especially over taxes, which led to the Revolution, hardly a non-violent protest. And please, I say it with sadness, but America since has been one of the most violent nations on earth and at this moment are The Divided States. One wonders if the Civil War settled anything!

Regardless of political perspective, most people with a heart deplore the violence extended to George Floyd and especially others of color who have suffered a similar fate not just in recent years but for centuries. America’s “Original Sin” of racism is a cancer. It would seem that no amount or type of political chemotherapy or targeted radiation can cure it.

That is where we Christians come in. We know full well that it is about hate which cannot be legislated away. Only changed hearts can destroy hate, hearts which have known and shown love. That is 1 Corinthians 13, unconditional, unmerited and — unfortunately — often unwanted love.

But in 2 Corinthians 13, Paul wrote, directly to the congregation there but by implication to anyone else: “Put things in order.” In other words, establish priorities; know what really matters and what does not. The liver, the kidneys, the spleen, the stomach, the heart, and yes, the brain of a black man are all the same color as mine. Excuse the anatomical metaphor here! How much, if at all, is the skin color to matter? And did not God create all of us, seek in Christ to redeem all of us, grant the Spirit to lead and empower all of us? Hate, discrimination, denigration are always very bad priorities leading to extremely bad and deadly outcomes.

“Agree with one another!” In the Church this ought to be easier than in the secular political world. Capitalist economic systems are governed by self-interest, while faithful ecclesiastical systems are governed by community interests.

For believers, it is simple. If you and I believe in Jesus as Savior, the rest is secondary. If I forgive you and you forgive me, what do we have to fight and disagree about? In the Lord’s Prayer, God does it all, except that we forgive as we are forgiven. I realize I am being idealic here because in my lifetime, the Church has been divided as ever. More than anything else, that ought to deeply concern us. Some of the people I disagree with these days most vehemently are those who call themselves Christian. I do not — cannot — believe Christians should ever celebrate what separates.

“Live in peace and the God of love and peace will be with you.” The implication here is plain. If we live in conflict and division the one thing we can absolutely count on is God’s absence! In the Prophesy of Amos (5:14) we read: “Seek good and not evil that you may live, and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you.”

St. Paul wrote the same in Romans 12:9: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.”

“Greet one another with a holy kiss!” There was never anything sordid in the Middle East about sharing kisses. Sure, Judas greeted Jesus with a kiss that was anything but holy. In holiness, would you kiss your worst enemy?

None of this is easy, is it? It is easier to hate and kill.

On a personal level, I am not a racist, nor, thank God, are any of our adult children or grandchildren. I will vouch for that. But my family, like yours, lives in and has privileges that people of color, poorer Caucasian people and some others do not have. On a whole lot of different levels, it is killing them and to be frank, it is killing us, too. This is systemic racism.

Now if we truly believe that Jesus did not die simply to save me from my sins, but died for the sins of the whole world, then that is a world which is not operating in a righteous and just way. It is a nation and world which needs forgiveness.

SMLC [St. Mark’s Lutheran Church] is also a system, as well as a collection of forgiven sinners. Paul refers to the Church as a body, which, if all parts are functioning, is healthy. If a leg is not doing its part, then we limp. Attending to the leg, for the sake of the whole body, is the smart thing to do.

Especially now people of color are crying out, certainly not for the first time. The repressed anger and frustration are being expressed. It is good for the American system for all of us to hear the cries and attend to the injustices and disparities. Otherwise we all are brought low and fall down. That is the way a political system like ours is supposed to work. If not corrected, divided we fall!

Listen again to the Prophet Amos (5:15a & 16): “Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate…. In all the squares there shall be wailing and in all the streets they shall say ‘Alas, Alas!’” The days of Amos are right now!

In so attempting to listen and seeking to respond appropriately and effectively, as Christians and as Americans, we do not have to accept violence and looting by the few who would destroy rather than construct a more perfect union.

Today, in a special commemoration, we acknowledge and celebrate that all of God is for and available to us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are being attacked from without by a virus and from within by a cancer. Both are deadly. We are a people of life, eternal life. We do not just live abundantly but share generously of our privileges.

“Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy (if virtual) a kiss…. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Pentecost Sunday message: ‘More on Living Water’

Interim Pastor David Mueller

Editor’s note: A link to our pre-recorded worship service video is below, including a message from Interim Pastor David Mueller, Scripture, prayers and music. Also participating in today’s service are John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, and Judy Stadler, worship assistant. Musicians include this week’s Virtual Choir — Dave Herrmann, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols and Cheryl Powell — along with vocalists Fred and Jan Meckley and Teresa Stebner.

Just below the video of the worship service is an additional brief video message from Pastor Mueller, addressing the issue of racism and the protests and demands for justice that continue nationwide.

The text of Pastor’s sermon is included below the videos.

“More on Living Water” (John 7:37-39, alternative Gospel)

David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor

Back in the Lenten Season, we read in John 4 about the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well, a long and powerful story about many things. In this encounter, Jesus offered the woman “living water.” “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14b)

Next Sunday is the Feast of the Holy Trinity. The appointed first reading, from the Hebrew Scriptures, is the whole creation account from Genesis 1 and a portion of 2. We will not be reading that lesson next Sunday; it is just far too long. Near its beginning, however, we read this: “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) Here at the very beginning wind and water go together.

In the encounter of Jesus with Nicodemus (John 3), Jesus shared with him: “… no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (3:5) Here again, water and Spirit go together. As I tend to prefer, water and wind, for the Greek word “pneuma” can mean spirit, breath, wind. The Church has historically associated water and Spirit or wind with Baptism.

Today as we celebrate the “Birthday of the Church” with the advent of the Holy Spirit, let’s begin with prayer:

Gracious, merciful, loving and empowering God, in the name of Jesus Christ your Son and our Savior, allow the Holy Wind to blow among, over and onto us — each of us — today in a powerful yet peaceful way. We are not gathered in one place, but appropriately separated as a precaution due to what we may rightly call an “evil wind,” a microscopic beast which is wreaking havoc and death all over the planet. Keep us safe these days, O Lord, but not just safe. Keep us believing and empowered for Your worship and service. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

It has been my honor to have traveled well over a dozen times to Palestine/Israel, mostly to lead pilgrimages but also to study at St. George’s College, attend weddings of friends and celebrate the dedication of Dar Alkelima, a facility in Bethlehem designed by Lutheran Christians there to promote health and peace.

Each and every time there, I have been struck by the spiritual as well as physical significance of water. The litany of stories about wet places and circumstances is long. Some stories are sad. Saddest to me is the dramatic receding of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the planet at 1,300 feet below sea level. Some stories are fascinating — as in the incredible lengths to which ancient peoples went to assure a supply of water in a siege. Water in that part of the world has been relatively scarce, making the stewardship of water absolutely essential.

For at least 25 years, every baptism I officiated at Concordia Church was with water from the Jordan River. That did not make it any more of a baptism but it usually held special feelings for the parents and congregation.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus cried out: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink…. Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37, 38)

The Festival of Booths noted here is one of several festivals the Hebrews were to keep in the course of a year or after a number of years. Interestingly, this festival had an association with the number 50. We remember that Pentecost, which is yet another festival, fell 50 days after Easter. Within the Festival of Booths offerings were presented by fire. We associate Pentecost with the fire of the Spirit. I bring up all of this, to show how so many of our Christian practices find their roots in the history of the Hebrew people.

In Isaiah 12:3 we read: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say on that day: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name….’”

Please notice that embedded in this festival and the others is thankfulness and joy. The people of God were to stop at various times during the year to consider anew their relationship with God as one in which to know and celebrate joy and thanksgiving. Here in John 7, we note that Jesus was speaking about the Spirit not yet received by believers for that could not happen until Jesus was glorified in his death and resurrection.

OK, folks, we are two millennia on the other side of the first Advent of the Christ and all that it has meant. The Holy Spirit (Wind, Breath) has been granted to the Church of Jesus Christ, that power source we need to accomplish the ministry and mission assigned to us.

Within the lifetimes of most of us, we have not experienced a desert the likes of which we are now in. I am not speaking of the virus and its devastation, but of this time when membership in the churches is rapidly declining with young people especially leaving the flock in droves, leaving we graying folk behind. It is sadder than the receding of the Dead Sea. What we need to reverse the trend is not just ingenuity, creativity and renewed commitment, but power.

The images of wind, water and fire are all of Spirit power. Early Christians were powerless until Pentecost. “Spiritual” renewal needs now to take place for we, too, are powerless. Many or most of us may be afraid of a personal and corporate Pentecost. We don’t wish to end up behaving in odd even if productive ways.

Please let me share a couple things. First of all, the image of the Holy Spirit taken from the Baptism of Jesus himself is that of a dove. Power can be calm, quiet, and gentle rather than boisterous and brutal. I always need to go on to suggest that a dove is not a buzzard. Empowerment is to enliven the heart and not eat it.

We spoke early on today about the Wind moving over the waters and of how important and essential water is to life, especially in the Middle East where it can get scarce. The Scriptures are in a real sense soaking wet with water images, which, with the exception of the Flood, tend to be positive.

Many people fear the images of the Book of Revelation, which is one of the reasons some of us are studying an early portion of it in our Zoom class on Sunday mornings. Listen to how the Revelation ends (22:17): “The Spirit and the bride (Church) say ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let everyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

My prayer as your Interim Pastor is that we drink of the Spirit together and regardless of age or other circumstances, become empowered together for renewal, revival and rejoicing.

The Sanctity of Suffering: Pastor’s message for May 24

Interim Pastor David Mueller

Editor’s note: On this Memorial Day weekend, we thank God for those who have served our country and given the ultimate sacrifice. We pray for those who suffer in body, mind or spirit. And we gather once again — together in spirit, yet from afar — to worship by way of this pre-recorded video during this time of Coronavirus pandemic.

Thanks to Interim Pastor David E. Mueller, John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, and Barbara Sheridan, worship assistant, who lead us today. Also participating are members of 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. Our pre-recorded service is linked below, with the text of Pastor’s message included here if you wish to follow along.

 

“The Sanctity of Suffering” (1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11)

David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor

The Easter Season is about to end and next Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, that Festival of Empowerment occurring 50 days after Easter. I have spoken previously of the number 50, which in Biblical numerology means “Jubilee.” Jubilee is an opportunity to start over again, cleansed and redeemed from the past. Read Leviticus 25 for the origins of Jubilee.

The Gospel lesson for today (John 17:1-11) is a portion of Christ’s “High Priestly” Prayer, one of only two times we to get to listen in on the very prayers of Jesus. The other is in the Garden of Gethsemane following the Last Supper and just prior to His arrest. The prayer here is about the relationship between the Heavenly Father and Jesus, that of complete “oneness.” Jesus prays that those who believe in Him, His disciples throughout history, might be “one as He and the Father are one.” Perhaps the greatest tragedy of Christian history is that the Church remains as divided as we do. Christ’s own prayer has not been answered.

I am opting to use as my text today the second lesson from the first letter of Peter. Before we jump into Peter’s words, I believe it best that we first pray:

Heavenly Father, good, glorious and gracious God, we thank You for allowing us still to meet during this viral crisis, even if we do so removed physically from each other. Enable us, however, to be spiritually one, united and knowing the bond of peace, willing and increasingly able to represent You in positive, loving and uplifting ways to the world brought low by all kinds of forces, including right now, a virus. May our words to others and — if possible — our deeds bring healing, helpfulness and hope. We ask as we have been taught and invited to ask, in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

As I have shared on previous occasions, there are various forms of suffering we can experience:

1) Standing for what is right and just (if anything, there is not enough of this);

2) Suffering for Christ (probably not much of that either);

3) Suffering because we live on a fallen planet. Of this we tend to think there is far too much. In living on planet earth, we can suffer from either consequence or coincidence. It must be said that if you go out in public without a mask and don’t keep social distance, you could get COVID-19 or give it to someone else. That is consequence. If you happen unknowingly to get the virus even when taking appropriate and necessary precautions, that is coincidence.

The suffering Peter speaks of, however, is purely because of Christ.

We often incorrectly think of persecution as a common risk for early Christians everywhere. This was not true. Only during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (late 3rd and early 4thcenturies) was persecution universal within the Empire. Prior to that era, persecutions were regional and sporadic. Peter was writing at a time when persecutions could happen. It sounds as if, indeed, they were.

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) On Sunday mornings we are in the midst of a study on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor as are recorded in Revelation 2 & 3. Frequently in most of those congregations, refusal to venerate the Emperor in some way, thought by Christians to be idolatry, guaranteed serious sanction.

I must admit to becoming particularly upset with those who believe that saying “Merry Christmas” became forbidden with those saying it anyway being persecuted. I never stopped saying it even as I also have said “Good Hanukkah” to my Jewish friends. Rabbi Grumbacher says “Merry Christmas” to me and my family. Jesus warned us about straining for gnats and swallowing camels. (Matthew 23:24). This is a perfect example of such and hardly persecutory.

There were precious few Christians in Nazi Germany and their occupied countries who took the risk of saving Jews from not just persecution but annihilation. The greater masses of “Christians” in those territories either didn’t care or were too afraid to act. Claiming they didn’t know what was going on was pure nonsense. There are eras in Christian history when the Christians were the persecutors, as also in the Spanish Inquisition. This is as sad as it gets!

In our own day, literally right now, we are learning that COVID-19 is having proportionately far greater incidence and impact among people of color and the poor. What is an appropriate and effective manner for Christians to speak out about and act to mitigate this reality? Regardless of government action or inaction, are Christians, in America and elsewhere, willing to risk some form of sanction or persecution precisely because Christ mandated us to care for the vulnerable ones? It is a greater problem with us when we become indirectly persecutors. Ignoring this reality is a deadly sin of omission.

We “rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings … if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the spirit of glory … is resting upon you.” (1 Peter 4:14) Paul wrote the same thing in effect when he also invited Roman Christians to rejoice or boast in their sufferings, speaking specifically about suffering for Christ right there in the capital city. (Romans 5:3-5)

While not seeking to suffer, which would be a genuine sickness of spirit, there is something sacred about suffering, especially suffering for Christ and (or) suffering for what is right and just according to Christ.

Perhaps the sanctity of suffering is most revealed in Peter’s invitation to “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God so that he may exalt you in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6) Humility is the first of the seven saving virtues. Especially Luke the Evangelist employs these reversals like those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted; the first shall be last and the last first. There is that timing issue again in Christian understanding of God, namely, that suffering, injustice and the like may be the norm now, but the promise patiently trusted is coming when the Lord decides.

“Cast your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves … resist him (the devil) … and after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace … will himself restore, support, strengthen and establish you.”

We are not in Christian teaching promised immunity from anything difficult, dangerous, diseased, etc. What we are promised is that in the midst of any of those, we are loved, cared about and promised ultimate relief. In the meantime and in the midst of whatever suffering we incur, especially for Christ, we are to rejoice.

There is something holy in such suffering. There is sanctity in suffering. We do not and, indeed, must not, go looking for suffering in order to know sanctity, because as we are living for Christ and what is right and just, suffering will come on its own. The “world” cannot stand true righteousness and justice and all too often will not accept true love and care. Our purpose and our prayer is that the people of the world may come to see the sanctity of our suffering and rejoice with us in the Christ who suffered for everyone everywhere. Amen!

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!