Missing St. Mark’s? A ‘critter congregation’ has saved your seat

Bob and Cindy Maser with the critter congregation

Church families — including ours here at St. Mark’s Lutheran — are really missing each other during this grievous COVID-19 pandemic that has swept our world. We love to be together, worship together, serve together, laugh, weep and grow together.

In this very special week — Holy Week — the separation is palpable, with grim realities all around us, great loss, great need and also the living and powerful hope that Easter represents to those who follow Jesus.

Our own Bob and Cindy Maser saw a photograph of the empty pews at St. Mark’s and were inspired to do something. Those empty pews represent our respect for the guidance of health care officials and our commitment to do all we can to stop the spread of this virus and protect our community and each other — even if it means we must be apart for a while.

“But Easter should be a time of rejoicing,” Cindy said, “and we need to bring a smile to everyone at a time like this.”

So they conspired — remotely — with Interim Pastor David Mueller, drawing inspiration from a Facebook post Cindy had seen.Pastor David Mueller with Leroy and Lion and Larry the Sheep

“In these increasingly difficult and sad times, we felt a little fun might help!” Pastor Mueller said. “So while we cannot get to church these days, my good friends Larry the Lamb and Leroy the Lion invited a few of their friends to come by.”

And they came, all right — some two by two, some solo, all with appropriate social distance.

“They were very enthusiastic and wanted to come but I only had room for two bags full,” Cindy said.

Pews with stuffed animals

And a critter congregation — sort of a Zoo Lutheran fellowship — assembled for just a few minutes of “togetherness.”

It’s true that the pews and the buildings have no humans in them — for now. But we’ll be back soon. And the heart of the Church is beating and full of love and hope for the future.

“As you can see — the church is not empty!” Cindy said. “And God loves His creatures, great and small. Spread the message to all!”

Mickey and Minnie

A couple of critters sitting atop hymn books

“He gave him no answer, not even to a single charge:” Palm Sunday message from Pastor David Mueller

Palm Sunday banner

[Editor’s note: We thank Interim Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, for again recording this message and music for us during this season of Coronavirus pandemic when we are unable to meet together. You can follow the text below and listen to the audio by clicking on this link:]

 

Opening Hymn: Ride On, Ride On In Majesty (verses 1, 2 and 5)

Download hymn sheet music here

Words and sheet music for Ride On, Ride On in Majesty

Good morning, people of St. Mark’s.

It is Palm/Passion Sunday morning. Please imagine being in church at St. Mark’s this morning. We have read the Palm Sunday Gospel about Jesus humbly entering Jerusalem. One of the regal hymns appropriate to Palm Sunday is being sung. The crucifer is processing, followed by the choir. You have turned and faced the cross as it passes you and have placed your palms in the aisle.

This imagination and the memories from which it comes is what we have today. But worship on in a humble but hopefully faithful way we will.

Listen now to the passion, according to St. Matthew:

NARRATOR: Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked Him:

PILATE: “Are you the King of the Jews?”

NARRATOR: Jesus said,

JESUS: “You have said so!”

NARRATOR: But when He was accused by the chief priests and elders, He made no answer. Then Pilate said to Him:

PILATE: “Do you not hear the many things they testify against you?”

NARRATOR: But he gave no answer, not even to a single charge; so that the governor wondered greatly. Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them:

PILATE: “Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?”

NARRATOR: For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him:

PROCULA: “HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THAT RIGHTEOUS MAN, FOR I HAVE SUFFERED MUCH OVER HIM TODAY IN A DREAM!” 

NARRATOR: Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the people to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them:

PILATE: “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?”

NARRATOR: And they said:

CROWD: “BARABBAS!”

NARRATOR: Pilate said to them:

PILATE: “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

NARRATOR: They all said:

CROWD: “LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED!”

NARRATOR: And he (Pilate) said:

PILATE: “Why, what evil has He done?”

NARRATOR: But they shouted all the more:

CROWD: “LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED!”

NARRATOR: So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washing his hands before the crowd, said:

PILATE: “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves!”

NARRATOR: And all the people answered:

CROWD: “HIS BLOOD BE ON US AND ON OUR CHILDREN.”

NARRATOR: Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered Him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe upon Him, and plaiting a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and put a reed in His right hand. And kneeling before Him they mocked Him, saying:

SOLDIERS: “HAIL, KING OF THE JEWS!”

NARRATOR: And they spat upon Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they stripped Him of the robe, and put His own clothes on Him and led Him away to crucify Him.

NARRATOR: As they went out, they came upon a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; this man they compelled to carry His cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means the place of the skull), they offered Him wine to drink, mingled with gall; but when He tasted it, He would not drink it. And when they had crucified Him, they divided His garments among them by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over Him there. And over His head they put the charge against Him, which read,

ALL: “THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS!”

NARRATOR: Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one at the right and one at the left. And those who passed by derided Him, wagging their heads and saying:

RIGHT SIDE: “YOU WHO WOULD DESTROY THE TEMPLE AND BUILD IT IN THREE DAYS, SAVE YOURSELF! IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD, COME DOWN FROM THAT CROSS.”

NARRATOR: So also the chief priests, with the scribes and the elders, mocked Him, saying,

LEFT SIDE: “HE SAVED OTHERS; HE CANNOT SAVE HIMSELF. HE IS THE KING OF ISRAEL; LET HIM COME DOWN FROM THE CROSS AND WE WILL BELIEVE IN HIM!”

ALL: “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD DELIVER HIM NOW, IF HE DESIRES HIM; FOR HE SAID, ‘I AM THE SON OF GOD.’”

NARRATOR: And the robbers who were crucified with Him also reviled Him in the same way. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice:

JESUS: “Eli, Eli lama sabach-thani?” [That is…] “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

NARRATOR: And some of the bystanders hearing it said,

RIGHT SIDE: “THIS MAN IS CALLING ELIJAH.”

NARRATOR: And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar and put it on a reed, and gave it to Him to drink. But others said:

LEFT SIDE: “WAIT, LET US SEE WHETHER ELIJAH WILL COME TO SAVE HIM.”

NARRATOR: And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit.

NARRATOR: And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from the top to bottom, and the earth shook and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of their tombs after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him keeping watch over Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said,

ALL: “TRULY THIS WAS THE SON OF GOD!”

Hymn: “Ah, Holy Jesus” (verses 1, 2 and 5)

Words and sheet music for Ah, Holy Jesus

 

Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. amen.

As the week we call “Holy” is about to begin, along with fellow Christians around the world, we are unable to worship together physically. We read in John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

Ours is an incarnational faith with Jesus having entered our history. It feels very non-incarnational to be away from each other in the flesh and for Christians to be “meeting” in some virtual manner. Better that, however, than to allow the Feast of the Resurrection and the events of the prior week to go utterly unacknowledged.

Please pray with me:

Oh God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, may the Holy Wind blow mightily among us and our Christian family the world over today and into the days ahead. Grant us wisdom for dealing with our reality, which unfortunately includes a deadly disease. May we remain trusting and caring in the midst of crisis, and in this precious season, may we be renewed in our hope. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

I have believed for a long time that a most significant scene in this Passion Drama is Jesus standing before Pilate. Freeze frame this image for a minute or two. Just stare at it: A Representative dignitary of the then most powerful Empire on the planet, sent to Palestine precisely because he was so good at dealing with crises, and The Son of God sent to this world precisely because God so loved the world, facing each other. Stare some more at both men, one having at his hand the power of empire; the other whose power was made perfect in weakness.

“Stare some more at both men, one having at his hand the power of empire; the other whose power was made perfect in weakness.”

Earlier, Pilate had asked Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus simply said:  “You say so!” Now, seconds later, in response to Pilate’s asking of Jesus about the accusations against him, Jesus “gave him no answer, not even to a single charge.” In Mark’s Gospel account of the same scene, “Jesus made no further reply.” (Mark 15:3). Luke also has Jesus saying only “you say so.”

John reports Jesus as having said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews…. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” (John 18:33-38)

Without denying Divine inspiration, it seems to me that John simply couldn’t accept the quiet of the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke), and couldn’t resist adding at least some qualifier in this his much later Gospel.

Generally, we are stuck with this quiet even poignant scene, the seeming helplessness of Jesus against this worldly “Goliath,” known as Pilate and everything he represented.

“For God’s sake, Jesus, say something!” “For Jesus’ sake, God, do something!”

This plea has come from countless people throughout history since Jesus’ time on earth, when injustice was occurring, when diseases were spreading, when Jews were dying in the camps, when Armenians were being slaughtered by the Turks, when illness or accident had taken a loved-one, when marriages were breaking up, when financial ruin was rampant, when, when when…. In the face of human tragedy, God seems so silent, so powerless, perhaps even so indifferent. DO SOMETHING! ANYTHING! Lord God, where are You when most we need You?

One of His disciples would betray Jesus, another would deny Him, the others  abandoned Him — and we? Clearly, we would surely have operated differently, better somehow, more faithfully! Yeah, right! The human condition is portrayed in living color here, with us like them — but what of the Divine position?

The very fact of Jesus having died FOR us reveals that God is still dying WITH us, at least for now. Ours is a faith of apparent defeat, of cross-centeredness, not yet one of triumph and victory. The victory can be hoped for and believed in but not experienced just yet. The Kingdom is not of this world! We may not rule here. We may not get our way here! We may not insist that others share our perspective on anything here! And we will need to die rather than kill, bear our crosses before we wear our crowns.

And that is what takes so much faith, gobs of grace, mounds of mercy, loads of love and pounds of patience. The Kingdom has not yet been fully realized and we must continue to pray: “Your Kingdom come” and in the meantime: “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.”

In our rather quiet way this year, we will celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection, as the victory it was for Jesus and one day will be for us! In His holy and precious Name, Amen.

‘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.

‘There are still some issues remaining:’ Sunday message from Pastor David Mueller

Pastor David Mueller

Editor’s note: Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, have been meeting to record Pastor Mueller’s sermons while St. Mark’s is closed to help curtail spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. We include a link to the audio here and also the text. We’ll be back together soon!

Here’s the link to the audio:

Sermon by Pastor David Mueller

We still are unable to meet this Sunday for corporate worship. Once again, therefore, we are providing the members of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church a sermon and a song, something to keep our spirits fed during this very unusual and frightful time. We will provide these weekly until the crisis is passed. As is our usual custom, we begin with prayer.

Heavenly Father, good and gracious God, hold all of us, our families and friends, and people the world over in Your hands and allow us relief from this unseen, silent, but lethal enemy. Give us the courage and confidence of faith to face our realities, personal and collective. Grant us a renewed sense of the Holy Spirit so that we might be agents of hope, healing and helpfulness in the times ahead. We ask in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Grab your Bibles and turn with me to the appointed Gospel from John 9. Please take a quick gander at this chapter, which I will not read now but hope you will read in its entirety later.

One of the issues of life that causes us concern and consternation is suffering. I have previously shared while at St. Mark’s that suffering comes from more than one source. For the Christian, there is suffering for what is right and just. We fight for righteousness and justice in the world for others as well as ourselves and risk trouble for it. We suffer for Christ, although in our culture and political context, the risks of suffering for Christ are few for most believers; not so in other cultures and political contexts throughout history.

We suffer because we live in a fallen world. Here on the planet, there are consequences. If we smoke, there is a good chance we could get lung cancer. If we drive recklessly, we could hit a tree and get hurt badly or killed or worse, hurt or kill others. If we consume too much alcohol, we could get cirrhosis and other social problems. Oh, there are exceptions, like some old guy in Arkansas who when asked about what his secret to living for 104 years is, replies “a cigar a day and a pint of good whiskey.”

Then there is suffering by coincidence: being in the intersection when someone blows a stop sign or red light; sitting on the front porch when a bullet meant for someone else hits you; walking in the woods when a tree falls on you, etc. It is perfectly acceptable to refer to these sorts of things as “bad luck.” There are accidents: slipping on ice, a ladder falling, etc. And finally, there is the issue of bad genes, picking the wrong parents.

The suffering questioned most often is of coincidence. We need a cause even if it is cruel or wrong. The Disciples were like that, except they looked for causation in another place: “Whose sin caused this man’s blindness, his own or his parents?” This was a typical notion in those days: the cause must be the sins of someone. Obviously, they had a lot to learn. The verse was also true for Pharisees: “Whose righteousness was responsible for their success and prestige?” Why their own, of course. It was a simple if inaccurate way of looking at the people of their world: black and white, absolutely no ambiguity or mystery.

Can you imagine persons being so cold and sure of themselves as to be simply incapable or unwilling to celebrate a man born blind regaining his sight? The Pharisees interrogated his parents and got nowhere with them because they really didn’t know how their son received his sight. They then threatened them with being thrown out of the Synagogue, whatever that meant? Sad, sorry and spiritually bankrupt this was!
Pastor David Mueller's Bible
The man, formerly blind, knew! It was Jesus who did it with a healing touch of his eyes. He did not, however, know who Jesus was when asked, but later came to know when Jesus revealed Himself to him! Is it not truly amazing that this man was given no time, due in large part to the hang-ups of others, to just look around at his world, to see for the first time the parents who raised him, to enjoy the sights of trees and flowers blooming, to wonder about how the many building he now saw could ever have been built? The Pharisees drive him out; thank you Lord for the capacity to keep sinners out and unable to influence our well-being!

Oh my, what a sinner this Jesus must be, to help and heal on the Sabbath! Horrors! In a very real way, the Pharisees were more blind than the formerly blind man. The “Sabbath” issue is another sermon.

Might we be able in faith to make the quantum leap of two millennia and from blindness affecting one person to a virus affecting the whole planet? Let’s try!

Already there are those who know exactly why the Lord is so inflicting us or who are the main targets of wrath even if a slew of others must take some hits. It is inevitably and invariably those other sinners, whose sins the “knowers” of God’s will gladly confess. It also could be yet another demonic plot to deceive us or to distract us from other real societal or human issues. Unfortunately, Pharisee-like Christians are still around in force. That is what is so demonic or “wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing” like. Jesus warned us to be weary and worried about false prophets.

Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I was a member of the Institutional Review Board of Christiana Care, having followed Carl Sachtleben, by the way. Over supper, between screening treatment protocols, interesting conversations would take place. For instance, Northern Delaware and its surrounding valley has a high incidence of breast cancer in women and prostate in men. Is it due to chemicals buried in the ground decades earlier or poisons in the air or streams? Good guess in our region, except that most people in Delaware at least, were not born and raised here. Could it be that people who have moved here brought with them a predisposition for these cancers?

Who will get very sick and possibly die from Coronavirus and why? There are some hints: age, health, social contacts, etc. Yet within those categories, there are many exceptions. How can we deal with the mysteries of it all? Together! Instead of Pharasaic blaming, shaming, gaming and judging, this can be an incredible opportunity to care for and about each other: doing the unusual and not doing the usual for our own and the sakes of others. If the good Lord has anything at all to do with this, it is jumping in and trying to get all of us to reorder our priorities in life. The Disciples finally would come to learn this but the Pharisees never did!

Just as with the Samaritan woman at the well and the “living water, welling up to eternal life” last Sunday, so also with this formerly blind man: “I believe” meant that his sight was not just restored but his relationship with God was sealed forever. Amen.

We love you — stay home!

St. Mark’s Church BUILDING is Closed

I can’t believe I am writing this. In the course of two weeks the way we do church has changed dramatically — at least for now. New words and ideas are now part of my daily life —pandemic, social distancing, Coronavirus, CDC, stay safe. Maybe stay safe should always be there! It’s happened fast and for many of us it’s a little hard to keep up. Watching the news makes me crazy. Not watching the news makes me uninformed. It’s hard to know what to do. I know my sons want me to turn it off.

St Mark’s Leadership Council had an emergency meeting on March 17 to discuss the Delaware State of Emergency and the best course of action. We want to do the right thing — for the larger community, for St Mark’s and for each other. We decided that we had to close the church building. It’s the right thing to do. We are sad, but we don’t want to get each other sick. It’s really that simple. STAY HOME. It only takes one person with no symptoms. We decided to re-evaluate the decision on April 19. Council will meet remotely via a web call. If that sounds very techie to you — it does to most of us, too. It is new for us but it is the right thing to do. I am grateful for technology right now. This will pass. In the meantime – STAY HOME. We will be communicating with you.

IN THE MEANTIME:

  • A brief sermon and music will go out with a link in an email each Sunday afternoon. The website will also be updated.
  • Each day from 6 p.m. through 6:10 p.m., we ask members to be praying for each other, the church, and the world.
  • We will update and send out emails as needed. Please be sure to check the website daily and check your email spam (or junk) folder. We know that not everyone has email. Call the office and let us know if you need USPS mail.
  • We are trying to creatively establish ways to keep our spirits up during this crisis. Be patient, please, as we learn together what is most effective.
  • The Transition Team is still meeting! Please mail your Green Sheets including the first one, if you did not already do so. This is absolutely essential – especially now!
  • Help us help you! Let us know if you need anything including Pastoral Care. The office will remain open (Cheryl is answering the phone during office hours even if she is working remotely sometimes.) The office number is (302) 764-7488.

We love you!  Stay home! Stay Safe!

Kitty Dombroski, president, Leadership Council

The Rev David Mueller, interim pastor

‘Astonished by a Woman:’ Sunday message from Pastor David Mueller

Pastor David Mueller

Good Sunday to you! We visit from a distance during this season of Coronavirus, having canceled services at the recommendation of health officials who hope to curtail the spread of the pandemic.

This morning, Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, met in our conference room to record Pastor Mueller’s sermon. We include a link to the audio here and also the text.

Lay low for now. Watch for weekly communication! Take care of yourself and others. Rest assured that God is with you and in the midst. We’ll be back together soon!

Here’s the link to the audio:

You can follow along with the text here:

“Astonished by a Woman”

Pastor David Mueller

It is not often that we cancel church worship services, but today is one of those occasional days when environmental circumstances require it and there may be more until the Coronavirus, as it is commonly known, is controlled and a vaccine is developed and produced.

Let’s begin with a word of prayer:

“Lord God, Gracious and Merciful Father, on behalf of and most probably with all of the citizens of the world You created, protect and preserve us all from the harm and danger this germ could cause. Teach us humility in the midst of this crisis so that we will realize anew that there is so much is beyond our control. Allow healing

and hope to happen universally. Turn us to You and, Lord, please help us all. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Now please bear with me as I learn with you to speak and hear a sermon in a communal vacuum. It clearly is odd for me not to have faces to see or expressions to notice, I trust that some instruction and inspiration will occur even though we are not here together.

John Lasher and Pastor David Mueller
John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, met with Pastor David Mueller in St. Mark’s conference room to record his sermon.

I presume that you have a Bible handy and can turn to John 4:5-42. It is the first of three quite long Gospel lessons from John during the next three weeks. I am not going to read it here. Actually, I was not going to read it in planned worship at St. Mark’s anyway. I had a song ready to play about this encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman.

This story is jam packed. Given its content, I must admit that I believe it would be better to have a woman and not a man interpreting it. Hard as I may try and diligently as I may pray, it is nearly impossible for me to relate to this woman’s life. And as we all know, I am not Jesus either. But as usual, let’s jump in.

After a long morning haul, Jesus was traveling through Samaria on His way back to the Galilee region to the north. He was tired and was sitting by Jacob’s Well at the noon hour, a usually quiet place at that time of day when it began to get hot.

Earlier in the morning, the area around the well would have been noisy and busy as the women of Sychar, the town, came both to get water and to catch up with each other about scuttlebutt and such. They had long since gone back to their homes, but a lone woman came to draw water when Jesus was there.

Freeze frame this scene for a moment, for a woman alone encountering a man, let alone a Rabbi, was itself rare, risky, and even inappropriate. This may sound benign in our day but back then in that culture. The disciples later on were astonished that Jesus was talking with a woman — any woman. Set aside, please, the water part of this encounter and we will pick it back up in just a bit.

The conversation leads to this woman’s marital history and present state: five previous husbands and now living with a man who was not a husband. Now it is no longer benign. Most of us view her, initially at least, as pathetic, perverted, promiscuous, not a very nice lady. That, by the way, is exactly how the other women in town saw her. Had she gone to the well with the others earlier, she would have been scorned, belittled, shamed and laughed at.

In taking a closer look at her, mindful of life back then, she is also a victim. The prerogative for divorcing was exclusively the man’s. And because of economic circumstances back then, a woman would have to prostitute herself in some fashion to survive. Perhaps one or more of these five husbands died. But that changes nothing. A woman would essentially be destitute. So if you are into blaming, blame the husbands as well as the woman.

Jesus in no way was pejorative with her. He states the facts and treats her with a certain quiet dignity she may never before have known. And what soon becomes most incredible is Jesus’ revelation to her that genuine worship of God has little if anything to do with where — there in Sychar or in Jerusalem — or with whom — Samaritans or Jews. Worship, He freely shares with her — having not yet shared it with anyone else, male or female — is of Spirit and Truth, for God is Spirit.

Next thing we notice here is that this woman ran right into the village where she was usually scorned and badgered and became the very first know evangelist, evangelism at its root meaning “Good News.” To make a still long story a but shorter, people in the village believed her so very authentic testimony and later went to check out this “Messiah” for themselves, becoming even more convinced.

Now, please move with me back to the early water wonder here. After asking her to give Him a drink, Jesus brought up the issue of “Living Water.” Water from this well or any other physical source would have to be drunk every day, but not living water “gushing up to eternal life.” Here Jesus treated this scorned, abused, and misunderstood woman with more dignity and respect and opportunity than she knew existed. “Sir, give me this water.”

I am reminded of the Prophet Amos (5:23 & 24) when he said on the Lord’s behalf: “Take away from me the noise of your songs. I will not listen to the melody of your harp. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

This woman asked for this water and it would have been cruel and unreasonable for Jesus to have denied it to her. So at this moment this water would have gushed up within and without her and whatever sin she had committed in her obviously sad and sorry life were washed away, making her righteous and granting her justice.

This is powerful, beautiful, and terrifically loving stuff. The disciples were astonished that Jesus was talking with a woman and a Samaritan to boot, but we get an even better look than they did at the time and I hope we can be astonished as well, but by the righteousness and not the risk of it. And may we remember our Baptisms when living water was offered to us. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Altar during Lent

Ash Wednesday

Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return

Please join us for a special Ash Wednesday worship service as the Lenten season begins. Pastor David Mueller will be preaching.

We will meet for worship every Wednesday throughout Lent.

Beatitudes: Blessed are the persecuted

Christ is your righteousness

[Editors note: This is the eighth part of an Adult Forum series on the Beatitudes, a class  Pastor David E. Mueller taught. To find the previous classes, search for “Beatitudes” in the search box.]

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12) 

The litany of difficult, dangerous and disastrous problems in the world is not one we need to reiterate or elaborate upon, for even the slightly attentive among us know of them. All of us to some extent will know the stress and strain of it. Some are hurt badly.

Decades ago, the book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” was a top seller. We call bad things tragedies, but often feel persecuted if the bad thing happens to us. “Why me?” That is an incredibly difficult question to answer, but ask it we will; and answer it we will try. It is especially hard to accept living in a world where things can and all too often do get rough without some sort of reason.

Jesus got this and spoke to it on any number of occasions. He invites us to cast those burdens on him. Human beings have a friend in Jesus who helps them their grief and sorrow to bear. Woven into the fabric of the Beatitudes is the righteous management of living in a complex and evil world, about surviving, indeed, thriving in a hurting world.

As things turn nastier, it is essential that we know well that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:39). The link, established by God’s grace and received in faith, is eternal. “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29) Nothing or no one can separate us, but some will try. Leaving God’s presence heart-bent on healing and peacemaking in the world is bound to occasion resistance at least and rage at most. We cannot attempt to sabotage the world’s warring ways without the warriors fighting back.

If indeed we have taken Jesus Christ seriously on the mountain, then things are going to get pretty rough in the valley below, far rougher at times than had we not taken the hike.

It saddens and maddens me when Christians, some quite prominent, proclaim: “Get Jesus and everything will go just fine. From finances to family, from early education, employment to retirement, from birth to grave, all will be just swell.”Bunk! This is false promise and prophecy. Chances are if Jesus gets you, which is a far more appropriate way to put it to begin with, your troubles may just expand and intensify.

When Jesus is Lord and Savior, then our climb up and down, that is, “paths of righteousness” will take us to the “valley of shadow and death” as well as by “pools of still waters.” (Psalm 23) His leading is ALWAYS on paths of righteousness, no matter what may be along the paths. If one doesn’t want to accept the risks of danger, possible death, at least persecution “for righteousness’ sake,” then go walk the flatter, wider, smoother and safer path. Just know that it leads to destruction. Whatever one escapes by walking it, one gets back multifold at the path’s end.

Jesus speaks to this reversal of immediate and ultimate: “Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24-26)

The world can stand peacemakers and true lovers of humanity, as God loves humanity, only so long. Turning the cheek may result in getting smacked even harder on the other. If you do give one of two coats to one who has none, you could end up cold yourself. If you do pray for those who persecute you, you might just make them madder than hell. If you really do operate on Christ’s behalf and for righteousness’ sake, then you will be accosted verbally if not physically. All kinds of evil and false accusations will be flung at you because the world cannot and will not accept the truth.

Please note that what is so offensive to the world is our utterly outrageous claim that God in Christ really does forgive sins. Forget the moralizing we are truly tempted to fling back at the patently immoral and amoral sinners in our world. It is about forgiving the immoral and amoral before anybody can genuinely change.

While I hesitate to bring it up because it is one of those issues which could take us off on an incredibly long tangent, the Chik-fil-A matter cries out for comment here. Company management, claiming a Christian duty, pronounced gay behavior outside of God’s will, a position for which they evidently have gotten massive public support. Gays are crying “bigotry” and calling for a public demonstration of an outrageous sort. How can we, as Christians willing to accept persecution and accusation, bring healing to this matter? Merely taking a side will most assuredly only muddy the matter.

The world gets enraged with us because we are right. We are NOT right because we have learned to behave. We are NOT right because we have come to control our unrighteous impulses. We are NOT right because of correct political inclinations, right racial backgrounds, right breeding, right upbringing, right sexual attitudes and actions, right anything in ourselves. We are right because we have been declared right (Romans 3:21-22) in Christ Jesus, washed in the blood of Christ Jesus, given by the Holy Spirit faith in Christ Jesus, and sent to share Christ Jesus in the valley where anyone and everyone can also be right in Christ Jesus.

None of this is easy and there simply has to be resistance throughout your body and soul by now in this sermon of Jesus Himself. We can take no enjoyment or glee in what could come our way because of our eternal Christian connection. We do not have to go looking for it as if it has some sort of sacramental value.

We are attracted to a smooth sweet happiness without hassles, truth without trouble, hope without horror, peace without problems, joy without justice. None of us wants to suffer.

We prefer a “bless this mess” Jesus to a “master this mess” Lord. We like the god who allows us to “do what you want to do, say what you want to say, think what you want to think and, if it is wrong, I’ll forgive it!” “Go right ahead and be too ashamed or afraid to speak a word of healing, love and peace in the hurting, hating, hostile world. I understand!” “I will stick up for you even if you do not stick up for me.” THAT GOD IS A FIGMENT OF VIVID BUT SORRY IMAGINATIONS.

What we are invited to do by Christ on this spiritual pilgrimage up and down the mountain is not to rise above the world’s issues in order to better deal with them down below, but to know and believe that theirs is NOT the real world to begin with. Fighting, drugging, cheating, stealing, killing, spouse abusing, family faithlessness, grabbing, stabbing, nabbing and all the rest of it are NOT God’s design and therefore cannot produce happiness. Neither can the simple opposites of all the above. It has been said: If you win the rat race, you are still a rat.

We will take our hits knowing that earth and heaven belong to Jesus and He has promised them to us. No amount of hype or hurt can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. No amount of radical ridicule, ridiculous reviling, or rambling rationale will make rats of us. We are and will forever remain fully human.

Now watch closely what happens here. I have emphasized that we are together on this holy hike. It is a communal effort. We are not alone. The Lord gives us wonderful spiritual and social company.

In the first eight Beatitudes, the designation is “blessed/happy are those who….” But this last one reminds us that we are loved and led personally as it is said, “blessed/happy are you when you are…” persecuted for what is right and for Christ. The “good news” of Christ Jesus has cosmic, communal and deeply uniquely personal implications.

As a Christian Pastor, though I have known you and you me for mere months, I genuinely desire your spiritual, physical and total well-being. I truly want you to be happy/blessed. But I will not — because I cannot — offer cheap alternatives, false promises, easy answers, when Jesus has offered to us what truly lasts even if along the way it hurts.

The formal interim process, with which I trust we will become increasingly familiar, is not pain-free. Being changed in Christ cannot come without natural resistance. Being the gathering of Christian believers together for mission and ministry into the future, will require far more of all of us than might have been anticipated. None of this, however, is without blessedness/happiness. There can be nothing more important and meaningful than praising the Christ with our lips and serving the Christ faithfully with our lives.

As we close this series on the Beatitudes and spend next week on the Lord’s Prayer, also from this sermon of Christ Himself, may your faith in Him be deepened, His eternal love for you received and His care for the world shared no matter what! Amen.

The Beatitudes: Blessed are the peacemakers

A dove on a branch.

Editors note: This is the seventh in an Adult Forum series on the Beatitudes, a class with Pastor David E. Mueller. We meet at 10 a.m. on Sundays (between the 9 a.m. service and the 11 a.m. service). Join us in the Great Room!

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

Traditionally, military personnel wear uniforms, which identify their nation, the service they represent and the rank they hold. They are paid; it is their job as well as their duty. Their purpose is to kill enemy combatants in the event of a war and be ready in the meantime.

Peace “freaks” and “niks” are often viewed as scruffy folk, young and old, who hang out in public places displaying signs and shouting slogans. They often appear as if they do not have anything better to do or cannot find reasonable work. If they do work, most do not use their lunch hours to protest. If they did, they would most assuredly not be wearing expensive business suits. “Peacemakers” seem to have an image problem.

I am fully aware that in all the Beatitudes, there are political ramifications, especially to this one. With wars going on, most of us have serious and sincere political opinions. Most Christians of any depth do NOT want to hear partisan political posturing from the pastor. I will not violate that boundary this morning. My political, military and other opinions are not the point here and neither are yours. If a genuine and complete peace is what we seek, then it is God’s and not our will which must be discovered and heeded.

Our task today is not to discuss peace keeping but Christian peacemaking. THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL! Mercy was the last thing known and shown before reaching the top of the holy hike and seeing God. Mercy is what flows with us as we descend back to the valley below. To refuse peacemaking obligations for the Christian is no less a failure in duty than a soldier refusing to fight. In both cases, it is cowardice.

I have to believe that those who have faithfully climbed and seen God are now descending with a powerful and beautiful sense of God’s presence and promise, short-lived though the audience may have been, and terrifying as it may be to face what lies below. As we descend, peacemaking as children of God is far removed from what is usually thought to be peace. The world at war will refer to us by all kinds of names, but “children of God” is not one of them. All periods of world history involve war.

Christians are not to be striving for the absence of conflict or for simply treating a particular tension. Peacemaking is both the most difficult and dangerous exercise there is. The dangerous part we will need to address next Sunday. The difficult part is that peace, by Biblical definition, has to do with all and not some aspects of life. It is, therefore, very long and hard work. It is comprehensive!

The techniques and strategies for war are studied. We have military academies and other institutions for that purpose. Can the techniques and strategies for peace be studied and learned? Why don’t we have peace academies? We do! They are called “Christian congregations.” This congregation is a peace academy or is not fulfilling its purpose.

War has to do with two or more sides fighting for death. Peace has to do with working for life. Both cost time and money. War destroys property and people by its nature; peace builds and preserves people and property by its nature.

War can be waged on the ground, in the air, or at sea. Peace is to be in relationship to everything. “Shalom” in Hebrew; “Salaam” in Arabic; “Pax” in Latin; “Erineis” in Greek, all speak of peace in every way, in everything with everyone, even if those who use those languages have difficulty equal to our own in achieving it.

It is especially difficult and demanding for Christians to be called upon to make peace where there exists conflict: between nations, neighbors, spouses, races, political parties.

Imagine the six-pointed “Star of David.” Peace with God and with oneself in Christ is at the center of the star. To whatever point in the star one turns, there is opportunity for peace.

Every family has disputes. One could take a side, cast the problem aside indifferently, establish a tough position of one’s own, or prayerfully seek to make peace. This is true with neighbors, friends, enemies, work and schoolmates, and all other points of the star. Are we stars who shine brightly in peace or people who whine nightly in conflict?

Peace, as Jesus gives it, and as we are to make it, is not as the world gives (John 14:27) precisely because it is peace on every front. As we will note next week, much of the world’s people will despise us for being serious about achieving true and complete peace.

Christians, whether we like it or not or are called upon to participate or not, fully understand that war happens. When war is unavoidable, it must be fought with killing and not kindness. Evil is real in our world and cannot be ignored.

Today there are Christians who believe that Jesus is returning to rule the earth for a millennium either before or after a period of tribulation. I am not judging this; Christians can and do differ on Biblical interpretation and theological/ethical position. I wonder, however, why so many of these seem so merciless about the punishment to be dealt out when Jesus returns? For some, even peace is the sign that things are wrong and not right. Why then, does Paul write unconditionally, “Pursue the things that make for peace.” (Romans 14:19) What did Paul have in mind when he wrote: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) David the Psalmist sang: “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace and pursue it!” (Psalm 34:14) Are these authors of holy writ trying to fool us?

What Christians ought to share above all else is the love of Christ, deep and abiding prayer in Christ, and the peacemaking Christ Himself has given us to do. It is this “peace that passes all understanding and keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Philippians 4:7) It is the absence of this peace expressed which has caused many outsiders to be stressed about Christians. Jews can rightfully ask: where is the peace?

I served as a “Mediator” for over 15 years in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. I was formally trained as a “Peacemaker.” Peacemaking is at the top of a curve, with slippery slopes on each side of the top. On the one side is “peace faking,” which at its extreme leads to suicide. On the other side is “peace breaking,” which leads to murder. Clearly in the conflicts I have been asked to mediate, neither of the extremes were realized and on occasion, genuine peace making was experienced.

Christians, who know the healing of their own relationships with God, self and others, see the potential for peace in the relationships of others as well. Some marriage partners in conflict would seem rather to kill than heal. Just read any newspaper. We know some nations at war would rather kill than seek peace. Just read any newspaper. We Christians keep believing in the “Prince of Peace,” and would rather die for him than kill. We break nothing, we fake nothing, we make peace.

The symbol of our peace is not an eagle with olive braches in one claw and arrows in the other, although I, like you, respect that symbol for what it means. Ours is not a buzzard, which feeds on death, a hawk which looks for prey, or a duck which quacks, but a dove which lights gently on hearts burning to heal in newness and life.

Luther initially wrote the tract: “Can a Soldier be saved?” because his friend, Assa von Kram, a soldier, had a conscience problem and was unable to reconcile his Christian faith with military service. Luther concluded that military service was not inherently in violation of Christian conscience. This is a decision, however, which each Christian must make in his or her heart. Some might in conscience choose not to serve and seek alternative service to military service. THERE IS NO CHOICE IN PEACEMAKING. IT IS OBLIGATORY!

Here also, is a piece of what Luther wrote in his commentary on this Beatitude: “With an excellent title and wonderful praise, the Lord here honors those who do their best to try to make peace, not only in their own lives but also among other people, to try to settle ugly and involved issues, who endure squabbling and try to avoid and prevent war and bloodshed … (others) have no other goal than to stir up unrest, quarrels and war. Thus, among the priests, bishops and princes nowadays practically all we find are bloodhounds. They have given many evidences that there is nothing they would rather see than all of us swimming in blood. If a prince loses his temper, he immediately thinks he has to start a war … they cannot rest until they have taken their revenge and spent their anger, until they have dragged their land and people into misery and sorrow. Yet they claim to bear the title ‘Christian princes’ and to have a just cause.”

Note that Luther had no patience or respect for either secular or spiritual leaders gone awry. He went on to write: “All this comes from the shameful, demonic filth which naturally clings to us.” He further pointed out how Christians must be peacemakers in both their personal and communal lives.

Things have gotten far worse since Luther, in terms of the numbers, nature and nastiness of conflicts and in the amount of damage that has been and can still be done, most usually in the name of good and not evil. This is the very nature of evil, that is, deception. Perhaps the Psalmist is most timely today as we hear: “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (34:14) Maybe Paul was right on when two millennia ago he commanded us “to pursue the things that make for peace.” (Romans 14:19)

Take peace out of the Scriptures, cut the word out every time it appears, and watch the Bible begin to look like Swiss cheese.

Unfortunately, wars and rumors of same will continue to increase. It is the nature of fallen humanity. Christians will not be blessed by being agents of conflict and war. We are told nowhere in our Bibles to go and wage war. Even President Dwight Eisenhower said that every bomb built, whether dropped or not, is bread and butter taken from the mouths of children. But there is hope and we need to be agents of peace in anticipation of it.

Possibly one of the most troubling matters these days is the apparent complicity of the Syrian Christians with the Assad regime. They seem to be saying little or nothing about injustice and violence on both sides. German Christians were similar 75-80 years ago. And what of us right now?

Listen to this: “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak; for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet, righteousness and peace will kiss each other.” (Psalm 85:8-10)

The Beatitudes: Blessed are the pure in heart

Climbers reach the top of the hill

Editors note: This is the sixth in an Adult Forum series on the Beatitudes, a class with Pastor David E. Mueller. We meet at 10 a.m. on Sundays (between the 9 a.m. service and the 11 a.m. service). Join us in the Great Room!

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

With all the Beatitudes but especially this one, I need to rely entirely on the promises of Jesus Christ. I am utterly unable to make God appear.

In time, each of us wants to be in the presence of God. This is our ultimate hope realized fully when temporal life ends and eternal newness in Christ begins. While “hope that is seen is not hope” (Romans 8:24b), “we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:25b).

The presence of God in the meantime eludes us when we seek God and can spook us when God shows up unexpectedly. We are perhaps more comfortable with the “real” world down below, despite imperfections and even evil the likes of which occurs every day. The presence of God is almost too much to take. Just yet!

Travel back with me to an incident in the Hebrew Scriptures (Exodus 3:1-6). Moses was out and about keeping sheep. On Mount Horeb, he encountered the burning bush. He was intrigued and looked closer, at which time the Lord called out and said: “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father … Abraham … Isaac … and Jacob.” Moses then “hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”

A few thousand years later, Jesus invited Thomas to touch His post-resurrection wounds. Jesus went on to speak about the blessedness of those who do NOT see and yet believe (John 20:29). While at first seeming to be a contradiction, Moses not touching and seeing is complementary with Thomas getting to touch and see. We need to explore this!

With today’s Beatitude, the pure in heart are promised an audience with God that is visual. We must be careful, however, not to make more of the sense of sight employed than the presence of God enjoyed. Moses was to take off his sandals so that he might feel the sacred earth beneath his feet. Feeling God’s presence, hearing God’s word, knowing God’s will, smelling and sensing the holiness and majesty of God are at work here, too. Our whole being needs to be engaged in experiencing the presence of God.

Remember that this Beatitude is the highest point of a hike that included five previous stops. This one, like the others, builds on, flows from and requires the previous ones. Each needs and leads to the next. We arrived at this point having made the whole holy hike. We are on holy ground. How are you doing? How are those around you? We are in this together. We may not all be in the same faith place right at this moment. This, however, does not change the nature of the moment. This is a communal and not merely a personal encounter.

The promise of Jesus is utterly essential. I would never try to conjure up God. We do not practice some goofy form of Christian voodoo. This is not about saying the right words because this is not about words. The marvel of this moment is beyond comprehension and verbal expression. Are you seeing and otherwise sensing God? If not, the clouds blocking vision are not on the mountain but in your eyes: spiritual cataracts perhaps.

Like a pilot waiting to take off, we need to go over the checklist one more time. Have you shown and known mercy? Is there something going on in you that you do not believe God forgives? Are you holding back on forgiving someone else?

Ophthalmologists can look into your eyes with precise and expensive equipment to determine if you have heart disease, which your cardiologist may not have picked up on. Speaking of hearts, the organ of note here, plaque can clog an artery, throw a clot and cause great damage, even death. Sin is like that. It blocks the view and (or) can cause a heavy heart to die and faith to fail. Mercy is the spiritual surgery you need. Jesus died for every sin of every person every where in every time. Believe that or there is no seeing God. A small sin is an impurity; only the pure see. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (James 2:10) The only way to be absolutely and completely pure in heart is to be purified.

God is not hiding. God wants you to see! Again, this is not my promise but that of Jesus. “The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sins.” (1 John 1:7b) Either “all” is all or all is nothing at all. This is a time to take sin seriously and to take mercy faithfully.

Have you been hungering and thirsting for what is right and just or for something else? The “something else” may be blocking your spiritual vision.

How is the meekness coming? Non-meekness is genuine weakness.

Is the mourning over what and who was given up to take this hike? Tears of grief and fears of grace can affect the sight every time.

Do you remain humble and poor in spirit? Only the poor in spirit can be lifted to pure in heart. You have to be perfect at nothing here. Jesus is the perfect one. The Holy Spirit is working hard to allow you, move you, empower you to set aside that which blocks you from being purified and seeing clearly.

You SEE, the audience is on God’s terms and not ours. We are NOT forgiven our sins and empowered to see God in order to continue on our silly, sick, and sinful ways.

This hike is distinctively Christian. We are NOT as Christians to be judging others: (Luke 6:37 & Romans 2:1-11), including Jews, Muslims, Hindus or atheists/agnostics. It is our responsibility to witness to others. “Believe like us or you lose!” “Drop your pagan ways, misguided theologies, conceptions of God which flow from vivid but limited imaginations.” Is that our testimony? Fine, but what credibility and integrity do we have if we fail to follow the very teachings and leadings of Christ ourselves? DO WE REALLY BELIEVE IN AND DO WE PRACTICE SPIRITUAL POORNESS, MOURNING, MEEKNESS, RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND MERCY? We are judged for being Christian rather than for avoiding the pitfalls of other faiths.

The Ten Commandments, or “The Law” in Biblical language, are thought by some to need promotion anywhere and everywhere. But do WE keep them? The whole seventh chapter of Romans, along with many other Christian Scriptures, proclaims that we do not and cannot. With the Law comes the increase and not the decrease of the sin. We tend to judge others who break laws we are good at. That’s hypocrisy! We may be judging others in this very room right now for doing something other than what we feel we do right ourselves. It is blinding us, deafening, numbing, dumbing, destroying us.

The Commandments are demands on us which we cannot fulfill adequately. The Beatitudes are a trip Jesus takes with us to encourage us, empower us, enjoy us. He picks us up when we fall or fail along the way. He draws us together in community not of competition but cooperation, not of duty but of delight, a community of faith and not fright. He dies for us that we might walk with Him in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

Listen to this wonderfully appropriate portion of Romans 7 (4-6): “In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.”

It ought to be fascinating to us that the Christian life begins at Baptism, a moving down into the depths of water. Here, however, we have climbed in faith to the pinnacle, the height of holiness, where only those who have been washed are pure enough to see God.

This “holy hike” is not a one-time excursion into the incredible mysteries of God, but a daily journey into mysteries that in Christ have been revealed. There is nothing cryptic or complicated about any of it. It is as plain as day.

We are invited by Jesus to follow Him, empowered by the Spirit to believe in Him, freed and forgiven in His blood to serve Him. If anything else in this precious pilgrimage is also clear, it is that we need to make this trip together. You cannot believe for me, but you can believe with me. It is only together that we can see God. I actually need to go one step further. It is only in each other than we can see God.

It has been said that spiritual sight is not like a camera shot of a panorama as much as a surgical scope that a physician might use. With the scope there is more precision and perspective. The camera is more of a broad angle. We could translate all the Beatitudes as “Blessed are the focused, for they will be forever fixed.”

What has happened or should have is that the distractions are gone. We are here looking up and not back down. I like panoramic views, but this is NOT one of them. As we look up to view God, God invites us to look at one another. What we see, indeed, who we see, are not sinners, but saints. We are living saints, “holy ones” not holy in ourselves but having been washed, cleansed, declared holy by THE HOLY ONE!

Down below, in the valley to which we shortly must return, people often look at each other and note the nastiness, focus on the flaws, failures; the fights and the blights and the dark nights. Down there, it is rare to treat others as we would be treated. People are too busy being rude, crude and causing a feud. In all too many instances, there are senseless deaths. Is there any question that at times we can see the devil in certain individuals?

Not us, not up here! We are too near the presence of God. God calls us to look upon each other as He sees us, forgiven; given a new chance. We belong to God; we were “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). We belong to each other because we have bought-ness in common. The “unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) holds us together with God and one another. We see God in each other.

How could it be different? “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. NO ONE HAS EVER SEEN GOD; IF WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER, GOD LIVES IN US AND HIS LOVE IS PERFECTED IN US.” (1 John 4: 9-12)

In closing, there are two things I would ask of you:

1. Close your eyes and imagine being on the top of the mountain on a clear, crisp, beautiful day. It is in the silence that God is: no volcanic eruption, no thunder and lightning. Let there be silence! “Be Still and Know That I am God” as the hymn goes and as the Psalmist says (37:7).

2. Look around at each other! Let go of the past and the arguments over whatever! Look into the eyes of each and every person here, redeemed in the Christ, and see in Christ’s people here, God! The future of this congregation depends on your faith in Christ and your love of one another.