Take a Good Look: Sermon by Laura, 6.9.13, Acts Series, Pentecost 3,

Text: Acts of the Apostles 3:1-21

“Why do you wonder at this,” Peter asks the gathered crowd, “Why do you stare at us?”

It’s kind of a strange question. Isn’t the answer obvious? There’s been a miracle, Peter. After all, next to Peter and John is standing—standing!—a man they knew to have been born lame. Just minutes earlier, people had seen him being carried to his post outside at the Beautiful Gate, the place he had made his living by begging.

Actually, most people probably hadn’t really seen him, as they had gotten so accustomed that they really didn’t notice him any more. They just occasionally dropped some pennies in his palm and moved on. Or maybe, as many of us have learned to do with beggars in our streets, the people actively avoided looking at him.

At any rate, if they gave it much thought, people would never have expected to see him inside the temple, not just walking, but jumping and leaping with God’s praises. It’s not just that he couldn’t get there himself.  His physical impairment limited his movement, but according to practices at the time, it also barred him from entering the temple. Clearly, something momentous has happened, and of course a crowd gathers. They want to take a good look.

There must be a human instinct that draws us to crowd around and stare when we perceive something important is going on, whether we are rubber-necking a highway accident or viewing a concert or a sporting event. These days, with 24-7 media coverage and cameras in every telephone, we don’t even have to leave our homes to gather and stare at spectacles across the world. But I wonder, what exactly are we looking for in our staring? Is it our curiosity that drives us? Are we looking for deeper meaning, connection with other human beings or a higher power, or do we just want to be entertained? Does so much looking actually lead to seeing?

Now, it’s interesting that Peter should mention staring, because this story is set in motion when he does just that. Notice how the author of Acts narrates Peter and John’s initial encounter with the lamed man. “When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.”

Why do we need three full verses of “seeing” action? Maybe to help us begin us to notice the difference between just looking and truly seeing. The man’s basic visual awareness of Peter and John is just enough to reach out to them for alms. He probably saw them from ground-level, because he was unable to stand and look them in the eye. He has learned, over his forty-something years, that this is all he can expect from relationships with other people. But Peter stops and “looks intently”—it’s actually the same Greek word used for the crowd’s staring—and he asks for more attention from the man as well. Even before Peter or John lays a hand on this man, they are actively choosing to invest in relationship with him in this intense exchange of attention—and they believe something more is possible from him and for him.  Maybe the apostles’ basic willingness to really see and be present with this man what sets his healing in motion.

But all this reciprocal looking also functions like a magnet for us listeners, drawing us to stop our relentless forward momentum and pay closer attention, too. “I have no silver or gold,” Peter says, “but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” Taking the man by the right hand, the text very carefully says that Peter “raised him up.” The Greek verb used here is the same used elsewhere to say that God “raised” Jesus.[1] We are meant to understand that what’s happening here is more than a healing miracle—it’s a resurrection.

Here’s a little personal testimony. As you know, my father, Ron, had a stem cell transplant for his multiple myeloma cancer this past Wednesday (going well so far, by the way). Now, a week before that, I had finally gotten around to reading some information about this procedure, and as it began to sink in to my brain just what my dad was about to do, I started to get anxious.

Last Sunday morning before worship, I was in our office, starting to study the scripture for today. I often begin by writing the text out by hand, because it slows me down and helps me to pay attention. As I was doing this, Randy Jones stepped in. Having listened to me talking about my anxiety, he offered care and encouragement. It’s not much, he said, but it might help a little to remember others who had gone through this procedure. Yes, I said, what a comfort it is to see David Fratzke in our congregation looking so well after having the same procedure. Randy smiled and went back to the sanctuary, and I turned back to my scripture study.

It might have been a passing conversation, but when I resumed writing, I had come to these words: “All the people saw him walking and praising God…and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” And I realized that, though I had been glad for David before, I hadn’t fully recognized the testimony of God’s healing he has been demonstrating to us. It was just a little holy coincidence, you might say, but those words about the man in Acts 3, set next to Randy’s words of encouragement, and David’s witness, suddenly became for me the Living Word. I felt like God was saying, “Look and see and trust: there will be healing for your Dad, too.”

Even more, I felt my eyes were focused again on something I lose sight of all too often, when I find myself plodding through mundane routines as if there is nothing much worth getting excited about in life. Maybe because of all that media coverage I mentioned earlier, I’m all too aware how much suffering happens, how many people are struggling, and how little it seems I can do to change things. God seems absent, and though I say I have faith, I often function as an atheist. But the truth is that the amazing work of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, healing, restoring, and transforming the brokenness of our world takes place all the time, here and now, before our very eyes. Are we looking? Can we see it?

Sometimes we need a little help. I think that’s why Peter asks the crowd, “Why do you wonder at this?” I think he senses the crowd is looking without seeing. The healing is a sign, but signs are easily misunderstood. As Thomas G. Long notes, “Amazing as it was, the healing by itself was mute, ambiguous, and finally misleading. It took the proclaimed word to tell the whole truth.  The healing was powerful, but its true meaning was hidden until the sermon was preached.”[2] We, too, need the act and the Word together.

Now, when we hear Peter’s sermon, we need to remember that Peter is a Jew addressing a crowd of Jews, talking about a Messiah who was born, died, and raised a Jew. Peter is not taking a superior tone, telling this crowd stuff they don’t already know (how can he, when he himself “rejected” Jesus three times?). He is an insider exhorting his own people to look below the surface and come to a deeper, truer faith as God’s people. Peter wants his sermon to refocus their gaze so they may take a good look and come to truly see the crucified and Risen Lord.

His sermon is a Word for the Church as well, all of us Christian insiders longing to experience times of refreshment from the Holy Spirit. We, too, are prone to looking without seeing, to staring miracles in the face without full recognition. Peter wants to clear up some misunderstandings.

First, how often do we misunderstand the source of healing? It’s so tempting to believe that there are certain individuals with have special access to healing powers, especially when they want to make it all better for us for the low, low price of 19.99! Peter tells us, no: not by our power or religiosity was this man healed. Only by the power of God, the same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose purpose has always been gathering all creation into a harmonious community of security, well-being and joy, does healing come.[3]  Only by the power of the God we know in Jesus, the crucified and risen Christ, in whom God’s purpose comes to fullness, in whom the “times of refreshing” are already here, does healing come. Peter and John could heal in Jesus’ name because they were being healed in Jesus’ name.

Which leads to the second misunderstanding. So often we think God’s healing is special, an incredible exception in a dreary world. But from Peter’s perspective, today’s miracle is just one more extension of the resurrection power God set loose in the world in Jesus Christ. It is just another glimpse into something happening all the time, the deeper reality of God’s kingdom the signs of which are that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”[4] It’s not the exception to the rule, it’s the rule of the Resurrection God, who takes exception to the brokenness and decay in a world created good, who is constantly about the work of restoring creation to wholeness and harmony.

And if that’s the deeper reality, than there is a third misunderstanding. Signs of God’s kingdom call for more of a response than the “Church Lady” might give: “Isn’t that special?” Tom Long writes, “Whenever we see signs of God at work in our world—someone is healed of cancer, a broken relationship is restored, a hungry child is fed, nations put down weapons and work toward peace, despair yields to hope—people of goodwill are full of wonder and joy. But Peter’s sermon lets us know that such events call for an ever-deeper response of self-reflection.God’s healing and restoring work discloses another world, another reality, another sovereignty shimmering amid the wreckage of a decaying culture.”[5]

Friends, we are called, not just to take a good look, but to become people who truly see that “shimmering.” We must become people of attention and imagination. And seeing clearly, we are called to speak and act. But words without action, action without words are indeed prone to misunderstanding. Above all, we must become people who trust in the Living Word, who know the Bible well-enough to recognize the promises of God jumping off the Bible pages and coming to fruition.

So how do we grow in these ways? The Acts church, devoted to teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer, gives us some direction. These practices help us grow to become those who look and truly see. And as we practice together, we grow together, becoming those who both pray and act for healing in every realm of our lives, and we become those who are blessed to give Christ’s powerful name as a gracious gift in the world.

May it be so, Lord Jesus! Amen.

 

 


[2] Thomas G. Long, Pastoral Perspective in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 408.

[3] Diana Butler Bass, quoting Walter Brueggemann in Christianity for the Rest of Us,110-111.

[4] Matt. 11:5

[5] Thomas G. Long as above, 410.

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Still So Much To Say (Bearing the Mystery): Sermon by Laura, Trinity C, 5.28.13

Texts: John 16:12-15, Romans 5:1-5

Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, was 48 years old when he was told he had 3-6 months of good health remaining before pancreatic cancer took its toll. Not long after that, Pausch gave a speech at the university, whose hypothetical premise was to give a lecture as if it were the last you could give before you died, now all too true for him. After the speech got posted on the internet and went “viral,” with more than 10 million downloads, Pausch wrote a book expanding upon it called The Last Lecture.  He reveals that his primary audience wasn’t really the packed house sitting before him, but his three small children, ages 6 and younger. He writes, “When the kids are older, they’re going to go through this phase where they absolutely, achingly need to know, ‘Who was my dad? What was he like?’ This lecture could help give them an answer to that.”[i]

When we encounter Jesus in John’s gospel today, he is giving the disciples his “Last Lecture.” It is the eve of the Last Supper. Jesus has washed their feet, and Judas Iscariot has gone out to betray him to the religious authorities. The hour nears when Jesus will be arrested, handed over to Pilate, and crucified. So Jesus begins what scholars call “The Farewell Discourse,” seeking to prepare his disciples for the time when he will no longer be within arm’s reach, to teach and encourage them in the ways of God.

Today’s snippet of scripture occurs about three chapters into the lecture as John records it. Jesus has already given the disciples quite a lot to take in. So when Jesus tells the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now,” we might imagine he is simply reading his audience well. Not only have the disciples probably reached insight-overload, but until they witness his death and resurrection, until they confront the trials he’s predicting they will encounter, much of Jesus’ teaching will not sink in. I wonder if they felt relief that the lecture was almost over!

But we here and now, also disciples seeking to follow Jesus, might have a different reaction. More than two thousand years later, we are painfully aware how the Church could still use further instruction. In our globalized, technological reality, we encounter situations all the time in which we wish we had clear insight from Jesus. “I still have many things to say to you…” he says, and we want to cry out, “What are they? Tell us. Don’t leave us hanging. We want to know. We can take it.”[ii]  Why couldn’t he have just laid it all out, then and there, given us a complete theological guide or maybe a roadmap for the life of faith, the workings of the church, and a society of justice and peace!

We have so many questions, and there seem to be few clear answers. One of the hardest we wrestle with is the existence of suffering in a world God created and pronounced to be “good.” We are spectators to the others’ lives in ways that people in earlier ages could never imagine. Confronted by images of suffering caused by Oklahoma tornadoes and school shootings, facing the news of a cancer diagnosis, a job loss, or a divorce, we cry out “Why, God?”

But I’m afraid this “why” is a question we will carry with us until we are seated at the heavenly banquet and the tears are finally wiped away.  Until then, we can only honestly say, “It’s a mystery,” knowing just how unsatisfying that is. We don’t much like mystery, do we?Mystery doesn’t fit well into the modern worldview of scientific cause-and-effect, whether it’s the mystery of suffering or the mystery of the Trinity. One God in three persons, distinct from one another yet of the same essential substance? Our minds cannot truly fathom how this works!

Yet to trust in God in Jesus Christ is to bear the mystery.   What does it mean “to bear” something? Among its many meanings, “to bear” can mean “to endure” or “to accept” something, like a hardship or a difficulty; it can also mean “to hold,” in one’s hands or as part of one’s person, as in bearing a load, bearing an identity, bearing emotions. It can also mean “to carry” something, to bring it with or through us in various ways, as we do when we “bear witness,” “bear fruit,” or even “bear children.”[iii]

And when Jesus tells the disciples “I still have much to say, but you cannot now bear it,” I think all of these meanings are there. The disciples cannot yet bear the fullness of God’s Word in Christ Jesus, not just because they cannot take in more words in the moment, but also because they have yet to be fully shaped as vessels sufficient to bear the mystery.

But I think the “good news” today is in that little word “now.” You cannot bear any more of my Word now, Jesus is saying, but you will be able in the future. As you take the long and winding journey of discipleship, the spiral path of prayer and study, action and reflection, as you journey through your own life and the life of this community, you will be shaped as bearers of the mystery of God’s love. And you will not go this journey alone. For when Jesus goes to be with the Father, the “Spirit of truth” comes to guide Christ’s community “into all truth.”

Now, what does that word, “truth,” mean? In our culture, we usually think of “truth” as “facts”, something that can be proved with evidence. But in John’s gospel, “the truth” is something very different, as Jesus tells us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Truth is Jesus Christ, who he is, what he does and says; Truth is that God’s glory is revealed in and embodied in this One who lays down his life for his friends.[iv] So the Spirit comes and guides us to this truth that is a person, the truth that is Jesus Christ, in every new situation we encounter, shaping us to bear forth Christ’s truth as we go.

There is a prayer I read once many years ago, and I’ve never been able to find it again—maybe one of you knows who wrote it and where to find it! Paraphrasing from memory, it goes like this: “O Lord, shatter the bowl that is my heart, putting the pieces back together in such a way that I may be fashioned to bear more of you.”

At first glance, it’s kind of a terrifying prayer, don’t you think? It reminds me of some advice I was once given: “Don’t pray for patience,” my friend told me, “because you know what you’ll get, don’t you? Trials!” My friend was joking, but I think her advice is just the sort of thing we cynically tell ourselves when it’s too difficult to bear the mystery, when instead of bearing it in trust and hope, we sink into our deepest fears.

Looking beyond those knee-jerk fears, we might see how that prayer gives us lovely imagery for the mysterious truth of Spirit’s ways of shaping us, what the Apostle Paul talks about when he suggests that in the Spirit, we are able to boast, not only in our hope of sharing God’s glory but also in the sufferings we encounter in life. “For suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us…”

Now, let’s be clear: Paul is not offering some predictable formula for spiritual growth. No, Paul is countering the idea current in his time, and often still in ours, that a person’s sufferings are punishments for wrongdoing. But let’s be crystal clear. If you hear nothing else today, hear this now: God does not desire or intentionally cause our suffering. God does not give us suffering in order to discipline us or produce spiritual growth in us.

We don’ know why, but simply suffering and trials, are part of human reality. But there is hope for us, hope worth boasting about, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Spirit, and though we will never understand the “whys” of suffering on this side of eternity, we can take a different relationship to it. Since we know that God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit will be with us in our suffering and can use it, can transform it into something good, our suffering need never be wasted.[v] By the grace of God, our sufferings can reshape our character, such that we become those who can bear more and more of the mystery of Christ’s hope, faith, and love.

I don’t know how his children will see it, but to me, one of the most important moments in Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture comes at the very beginning, when he is “introducing the elephant in the room,” explaining to his audience that he is dying of cancer. He says, “That is what it is; we can’t change it. We just have to decide how we’re going to respond to it. We can’t change the cards we are dealt; just how we play the hand.”

Pausch’s lecture and book were one way he displayed the truth of Christ, in whom no suffering is wasted. Pausch used the last months he had remaining to give himself as fully as possible to his loved ones, and through them, to the world. Millions have been inspired by his final work, and no doubt it will bless his children as they grow.

Friends, the good news of the Triune God, God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, is that we are never alone as we play the cards we are dealt. The Holy Spirit will always guide us into the truth of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Bearing that love with us into every situation life can bring, we will experience peace that passes understanding, endurance exceeding expectations, hope which never disappoints, and grace surpassing all measure.

Today we will celebrate the memory of many others who have died, reading a list of the loved ones of our community. As those names are read, I invite you to remember someone in whom you experienced the Holy Spirit and bearing the mysterious truth of Christ into your life, someone in whom suffering produced endurance and endurance produced character, and character produced hope. Let that memory bear you up and carry you forward into the future, come what may.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

“To Infinity and Beyond!” Sermon by Laura, 5.5.2013, Easter 6, Resurrection Stories Series

Texts: Matthew 28:1-20, Jeremiah 31:1-6

In Pixar’s 1995 movie Toy Story, When a boy named Andy receives a Buzz Lightyear action figure as a birthday present,  Andy’s other toys have mixed feelings, especially Woody, a floppy toy cowboy, who finds himself displaced from his position as Andy’s favorite by the newcomer. But Woody soon realizes that Buzz does not know he is a toy. Buzz truly believes himself to be a space explorer, sent by star command to discover new planets. Trying to poke holes in Buzz’s delusions of grandeur, when Buzz shows off his spacesuit’s wings, Woody says, “Those are plastic. He can’t fly.”

Buzz responds, “They are a trillium-carbonic alloy, and I can fly.”

“No, you can’t.”

“Yes, I can.”

“Can’t, can’t, ca-an’t!”

“I tell you, I could fly around this room with my eyes closed!”

“Okay, Mr. Lightbeer,” taunts Woody, who now thinks Buzz is a little crazy, “prove it.”

“All right then, I will.”[i]

Spreading his arms, eyes closed, Buzz launches himself from Andy’s bed, intrepidly declaring, “To Infinity and Beyond!” As the other toys watch, Buzz nosedives into a beach ball, which bounces him up to the ceiling, serendipitously hooking him up to a plane on a mobile, which spins him around at ever-increasing speed until he is finally propelled through the air back toward the bed, on which he lands feet first, right next to Woody. Buzz opens his eyes and says, triumphantly, “Can!”

“To Infinity and Beyond!” is Buzz Lightyear’s mission statement. When we first meet him, he believes himself fully able to carry it out.  I wonder if the disciples, receiving their mission from the risen Jesus at the conclusion of our reading from Matthew’s gospel, feel the same.

This scene has become known in Christian tradition as “The Great Commission.” Doesn’t that title have a majestic sound to it? Doesn’t it seem like Jesus should be standing there, looking like the “Pantocrator, ”[ii] the all-powerful ruler of cathedral iconography, haloed in golden glory, hand extended in blessing, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” his voice booming out and echoing across the vastness of eternity, a vast multitude receiving his words in solemn splendor?

But stepping back from the grandeur of tradition, the text gives us a different picture. There is no multitude waiting on Jesus, gravely accepting a commission of greatness. There is only a rag-tag band of disciples. As Thomas G. Long points out, “The scene is one of near-comic irony… Jesus is on an unnamed mountain in the backwater Galilee with a congregation of eleven, down from twelve the week before, and even some of them are doubtful and not so sure why they have come to worship this day.”[iii]  They are a fragmented group of people, with mixed motives and uncertain convictions. Any delusions of grandeur they might have previously have been pulled out from under them when their leader was arrested and executed. Few of them have forgotten their own shame in abandoning Jesus to death on the cross.

Nevertheless, it is to these people that the Risen Christ appears. It is to these people that he gives the Great Commission:  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” Keep in mind that the word “nations” in the Bible doesn’t mean “nation-states” as we might imagine, but rather “foreigners,” or more pointedly, “Gentiles.”[iv] The disciples were Jews who knew the scriptures, how God has promised Abraham that one day even the alien Gentiles would come to worship Israel’s God. But as Tom Long notes, “like a lot of things in the Bible, this was a truth easier to swallow when it was a nice thought in the prayer book, rather than something you were expected to strap on your boots and get done.”[v]

The gospel of Matthew ends before we get to hear the disciples’ exact response. I imagine some were inspired and caught up in the moment, ready to take action. But that inspiration was surely mixed up with their misgivings. The Great Commission must have sounded “great,”as in bigger than anything they’d imagined and well-nigh impossible to carry out. Jesus may as well have told them, “You must go to infinity and beyond!”

And how do we react to the Great Commission we’ve been given? The challenges we face in making disciples are quite different than the first disciples experienced. For one thing, we have the blessing and curse of 2000 years of Western Christianity to contend with. We must be aware of the ways these words have been used and abused. The Great Commission has been the missionary slogan of the past century, fueling North American and European efforts at converting, and not so incidentally, colonizing the two-thirds world in the ways of “Christian” civilization, sometimes by violent means. Closer to home, these words have also fueled efforts of well-meaning Christians in evangelizing unbelievers. Many of us know folks alienated from the church by overly coercive attempts at conversion. It’s not surprising that we lack confidence in our ability to make disciples with integrity.

Now, forgive me for returning again to Toy Story, especially if you’ve never seen the movie, though in that case I highly recommend you check it out. But I just couldn’t stop thinking about Buzz Lightyear.  In the scene I recounted, he certainly proves he has courage, but, as Woody observes, it wasn’t so much flying as it was “falling with style.” Buzz simply gave himself with a blind sort of faith, into the arms of serendipitous grace. And the blindness of overconfidence becomes a liability. Later on in the story, Buzz loses his sense of mission and descends into a depression when he comes to a full awareness of the limitations of his true identity.  He almost resigns himself to being destroyed when he encounters real danger.

And I think that we, the church, have sometimes found ourselves in a similar funk. Some scholars are calling the era we live in “The Great Unraveling”—Gotta love all these “Greats!”—for the way all our commonly-held stories and ideas about authority have been coming apart in a storm of technological, economic, and cultural changes. Many “mainline” churches, so-called because they were usually founded on the main streets of America, used to experience themselves as established powers in society.

But in these times, we often feel sidelined. We thought we knew how to make disciples, and we work harder and harder at things which used to work to draw people into our congregations. Still, our denomination faces “decline”.  Just like Buzz Lightyear, we had thought of ourselves as having superior action capabilities. Maybe we thought that we have attained “trillium-carbonic alloy” worship services and quick-action teaching, or maybe we assumed our beautiful buildings and decent and orderly governance were enough to make us an attractive congregation.

But maybe we had actually lost sight of our true limitations and our true mission.  For while the continued pursuit of excellence is certainly important, the church has sometimes forgotten that we are not really called to “fly” so much as we are invited to fall with style into the forgiving embrace of God in Jesus Christ, and glide on the uplifting wind of the Spirit. We have forgotten to rely completely on the purpose, presence and power of God.

Now, bear with me as I put a few more “greats” out there, but I like how preacher John Jewell observes that Jesus doesn’t just give a “Great Commission,” without also giving us a “Great Claim” and a “Great Comfort.” [vi] The Great Claim, is that Jesus, the one who gave himself up to death on a cross and was raised three days later, has, in fact, been given all authority on heaven and on earth. This is the One who commissions us to carry out his commands. Our native abilities will inevitably fail us, but the power he gives will never fail.

We know this because of the Great Comfort: this One who contains all the power of the universe in human form, this Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, tells us, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” John Jewell notes that “The English here is anemic compared to the Greek text. The force is more like ‘And GET THIS…I am with you day in and day out until My purpose is fulfilled and earthly history comes to an end.”  Jesus is telling us: I will go with you to infinity and beyond.

At the end of Toy Story, Woody helps Buzz come to a clearer picture, that his mission is to be a toy, not a solo space ranger, a toy who is a gift of joy to a growing child. Holding to that purpose, with a clearer sense of his true gifts, his true limitations, Buzz finds new courage, giving and receiving grace amidst the community of fellow toys. At the conclusion of Toy Story, we find Buzz Lightyear rescuing Woody, using his wings to glide to a safe landing back with the other toys. “Buzz, you’re flying!” Woody says, astonished, but Buzz replies, “That isn’t flying—it’s falling with style.”

My friends, when we put our sole confidence in the Great Claim and the Great Comfort of God in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit, we are able to pursue the Great Commission. And in that context, is truly great. It is the invitation to embark on the “greatest possible adventure life can offer.”[vii]

But let’s be clear: our mission is not to “make converts” or “save people for Jesus” ideas which I think put a little too much confidence in human abilities. Jesus is the one who transforms others’ lives.  Our mission as Christ’s disciples is simply to “make disciples,” to invite others to come and meet this One who has transformed us, to invite others to join the life-long pilgrimage of learning we ourselves are taking. Each of us in the church are but students ourselves, learning by trial and error, by bold action, confession, and repentance, to walk in Jesus’ ways. In our time, most of us won’t have to travel too far to meet someone we’re called to invite on this journey!

Yet in other ways, the challenges are indeed great, for as we grow in our discipleship of Jesus Christ, as we ourselves learn to obey Jesus and teach what we have learned, we will find ourselves exploring the deepest, most hidden terrain of the human heart—our own, and others’—surmounting all the barriers of irreconcilable differences, forgiving and receiving forgiveness, giving of ourselves more and more fully in Christ’s love, traveling to the infinite depths and heights of resurrection life.

“To infinity and beyond!” Let us fall with style and follow with confidence in the Love of God the Father, the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[iii] Thomas G. Long, “Homiletical Perspective” on Matt.28:16-20 in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 3, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011, 47.

[iv] Thomas G. Long, 47.

[v] Thomas G. Long, 47.

Into the Fire: Sermon by Laura, 4.21.13 Easter 3 Resurrection Stories

Text: Luke 24:13-35

Did you ever have a week you just couldn’t get a song out of your head? No, I don’t mean “Beer with Jesus” that Keith quoted last week! The one stuck in my head begins like this:

“The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me, then you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs, into the fire.”

That’s Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Into the Fire,” written in honor of the New York firefighters who gave their lives on September 11, 2001. This song surfaced for me this week as I tried to take in the news of the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the explosion at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Alongside the stories of the survivors and the suspects, we have heard many stories about people who responded immediately, doing whatever they could to help out someone nearby. Like those firefighters in 9-11, who willingly went up the stairs everyone else was trying to get down, the first responders this week ran not away from, but toward the fire; some of them gave up their lives.

But when we first meet Cleopas and his anonymous companion in our scripture this morning, they are walking away from the disaster of Jesus’ crucifixion. We’ll give them a little credit—they had waited in Jerusalem as long as they thought they could on “the third day” after Jesus’ crucifixion, the day he had prophesied he would be raised from the dead. With the others, when the women came from the tomb they had heard the strange tale of the angels saying that Jesus was alive. No one really knew what to make of it.

But nothing further of note had occurred that long day of watching and waiting, and the sun was setting. It was not prudent to be on the road in the dark. So, turning from the city long central to Israel’s hopes, the city which was now the place their hope had been put to death, they slog the seven miles to Emmaus, seeking familiar, safe walls when the utter finality of their disappointment falls upon them.

Of all the characters in the gospel’s resurrection stories, I identify most with Cleopas and his companion. Last weekend, I had the privilege of accompanying some women from our congregation to a convocation in Seattle. We heard some tremendous speakers, women who have given of themselves courageously pursuing peace and justice. Particularly inspiring was Valarie Kaur, a young Indian-American woman, who had gathered stories of the racial violence which had occurred after 9-11 and created a film, “Divided We Fall,” which brought many of these unheard stories to public attention. As she spoke, our hearts were burning with both heartache and joy. It was the kind of story which made you want to get up and do something. It felt like an encounter with the Risen Christ!

Have you ever had such an experience? I hope you have. But maybe then you also know the tension of coming home. As we drove, my companions and I pondered how the speakers’ witness would affect the lives to which we were returning, a struggle between conviction and cynicism began inside me. What significance, what impact, could such an encounter really have on us, with all our mundane challenges of jobs and families and children? None of us could just charge off from such responsibilities to do anything like what she had done, could we?  And I wondered, was there really any way,we could transmit the fire of those speakers to our little old church community back in La Grande?  It seemed to me, just a bit, that we were driving away from the fire; by the time we arrived home, would it have gone out?

I hope you are not too confused by the different ways I am using “fire” as a symbol. I think that’s part of the brilliance of Springsteen’s song—that “fire” can mean a dangerous conflagration which must be extinguished to save life, even as it can also symbolize the hope, the energy of our life-force, the sacred spark of God’s image within us, the holiness at the heart of life.

Fire, for Christians, is an image of the Holy Spirit, as we will remember again when we hear the Pentecost story. Fire symbolizes the church’s burning awareness that, in Christ, we are made into a holy people sent to share the good news. We are anointed by fire to go into the fire.

But we are not there yet. Today’s story happens between Easter and Pentecost, between the resurrection of Jesus and the commissioning of the church. It happens in the middle of Luke Chapter 24, in the middle of the road, right in the mundane muddy middle of life where most us of live much of the time. It is a place where we are often faced with difficult choices.

Which fires must be dampened for life to flourish and which ones are calling us “some place higher?” The truth is that any fire has its dangers and we are right to fear getting burned.  Impulsively throwing oneself into every fire can certainly lead to “burn-out!” Sometimes it just makes the most sense to retreat, regroup, and reassess what God is calling us to do.

But the good news is that something happens when Cleopas and his companion are in the middle of that uncertain, uninspiring road. A stranger comes alongside of them. First, he asks them questions, draws out their sad, sad stories. And then, the stranger tells them a story—the story—opening up the bigger picture, connecting their little lives to the greater pattern.

We don’t know specifically what scriptures Jesus used, but whenever we gather here in this place we are also remembering those old stories, how God creates life from chaos, how God delivers a people from slavery to freedom, how God brings a renewed people home from exile. How, again and again, out of suffering and death again and again, God raises new life. How Jesus was crucified and buried so that we might enter into new life with him.

Now, the narrator has let us know the stranger is Jesus, but isn’t it interesting that Cleopas and companion cannot recognize him, not until that moment when they’ve asked him to stay, and they’ve gathered together around the table, and he takes that blessed bread and breaks it open to give it to them.

“Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” we often say in the Invitation to the Lord’s Supper. Recognition of who he is and opening to receive him are part of the grace we experience whenever we take communion. There is something about breaking open the bread which breaks us open to see Jesus wondrously alive, right here with us, he himself who was blessed and broken and given for us and for the sake of the world.

And while we celebrate the birth of the church in the fires of Pentecost, perhaps the church is first born around the hearth of that table, broken open with the bread.[1] For there is no doubt that something changes in those disciples when they recognize Jesus, when they receive the bread he gives. To consume it is to be consumed by the same holy power, the same holy pattern, which shaped Jesus’ way in the world: taken, blessed, broken, given.

That is why, I think, when Jesus vanishes from their sight, they do not grieve this time, but instead, they get up and get back on the road. It is even darker now on that road, but somehow, it seems, they run back to Jerusalem in no time at all.

“May your strength give us strength, May your faith give us faith,

May your hope give us hope, May your love give us love…”

In his song about the firefighters, Springsteen repeats that refrain over and over again. It’s a prayer to partake of the same Spirit which empowers anyone who is called to enter the fires of this world in the service of life. I believe it expresses well why we are here today. This is a place we come off of that muddy road for a moment; we stop here and share the old stories with one another, breaking our own lives open anew in the shape of that pattern. And then we share a meal, the bread and the cup of Christ’s purpose, presence, and power, consuming Christ’s life and energy and fire again so that we ourselves may be given to the world as holy sacrament. My friends, in Jesus Christ, we are being shaped to be first responders in all the killing fires of a world that does not yet recognize life has won.

Soon we will go back out on that road, changed and ready to run back to Jerusalem or wherever disaster has struck, wherever injustice seems to have ruled the day, wherever violence or unkindness or isolation or imprisonment has seemed to have conquered. Every single one of us has countless opportunities to do this no matter how mundane daily life might sometimes appear. A kind word, a prayer, a helping hand in a time of need, a meal shared with a stranger: Let yourself be taken, blessed, broken and given.

And…May Christ’s strength give us strength, may Christ’s faith give us faith, may Christ’s hope give us hope, may Christ’s love give us love.

Amen.

Mary and the Gardener: Easter Meditation by Laura, 3.31.13

Texts: John 20:1-18, Isaiah 65:17-25

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark…” Those are the first words in the story of Resurrection morning. It could be that the narrator of John’s gospel only uses them to set the scene and move the story on to the next event. Truth be told, it’s astonishing that there is a next event, given the last we’ve heard of Jesus, he’s been crucified, died, and laid in a tomb.

But perhaps there’s also a deeper significance in these words. There is another “first day” in scripture, when God spoke a Word into the darkness that covered the face of the deep:“Let there be light.” And there was light. There was evening and there was morning, the very first day.

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark,” the Easter story begins, but this time the darkness is the formless void, the watery chaos, of grief and despair. It clings thick around Mary Magdalene, the first person to show up at the tomb, seeking to honor her beloved teacher’s body. And when Mary sees the stone removed from the tomb, the darkness seems even deeper, insult added to the awful injury of Jesus’ unjust and untimely death. In a pre-resurrection world, the only logical reason for the tomb to be open is grave robbery.[1]

In a panic, Mary runs to tell Peter and the beloved disciple, “They have taken the Lord!” Suddenly there is a lot more running, as the two men race back and forth to the tomb. But there is a stillness in Mary, who stays, weeping, after the disciples have investigated the tomb and the clothing lying around inside.  The beloved disciple “believed,” but we have to wonder, what? Neither he nor Peter has any clearer understanding of what happened in that place. They go back home, saying nothing.

Mary’s stillness is the paralysis of continuing shock and grief. When she finally peers into the tomb herself, even a conversation with angels has little impact. The tomb is still empty of any answers to the mystery. But someone outside in the garden speaks a word, so Mary turns to see who is speaking.

The narrator tells us it is Jesus, so we can smile that Mary thinks he’s the gardener. But then we realize Mary’s made a pretty good guess. The one standing before her certainly knows a few things about the ways of life and death, the cultivation of birth and growth, the mysteries of decay and restoration.[2] And we remember again, back through scripture, to another garden, a place where the first human beings created walked with God in the cool of the evening, before they were turned out for their disobedience. The “gardener” standing before Mary was there in the beginning, according to John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God…All things came into being through him. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

Jesus was with God at the beginning of all things, and now, in this garden outside an empty tomb, we have come to a new beginning. God’s Word spoken anew in the risen Christ, and a new world, a new life, and a new creation have now come into being.[3] Preacher Bruce Prewer likens it to the Big Bang, the scientific theory in which “all time and space began with one unimaginable explosion from a singular, infinitively small point.” “…This time,” he writes, “it was a massive explosion of love-life. Easter is Big Bang, mark II!” [4]

I don’t know about you, but my brain begins to stall out when I try to comprehend the first creation, let alone try to fathom resurrection’s radical reorientation of the cosmos! For that’s what’s happened, you know, and it should be unsettling to us. As one preacher put it, if dead things don’t stay dead, what can you count on?[5]

So I can understand why Mary still doesn’t get it. She just wants the gardener’s help in getting things back under control. If he would tell her where the missing body lies, she can get on with her grim task. It turns out that a special word is needed to break into the shuttered darkness of Mary’s heart and mind, a particular word, in which the cosmic and the intimate come crashing together: “Mary!” At the sound of her beloved teacher’s voice speaking her name, she turns around again into the dawning recognition of a whole new world. Jesus is fully alive and present before her.

But here’s the hard part of the story, for when Mary responds, “Rabbouni!” We can just see her longing to throw her arms around him with tearful relief and incredible joy there in the midst of the garden which seems, for a moment, like a return to Eden.

But Jesus says, “Do not hold onto me.” For resurrection is not a return to the dead past. Our Risen Lord will not be captured or contained by any previous experiences or expectations. We cannot return to Eden, because a new heaven and a new earth are coming into being. From the tiny point of the empty tomb, from the infinitely personal word of Mary’s name, of our names, called out by the Risen Savior, the new creation must expand out and spill from the garden, ripple by ripple, layer by layer, filling the universe with God’s newness.

And so we are, like Mary, sent out of the garden, but this time we do not go, weeping, but rejoicing, going to tell our brothers and sisters a new day has dawned. The Word made flesh in Jesus Christ lives among us still: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Hallelujah, Amen!


[1] Gail O’Day, Commentary on John in The Women’s Bible Commentary, 389.

[2] Jan L. Richardson, Garden of Hollows, 22.

[3] Lucy Lind Hogan, Commentary at Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=4/8/2012&tab=4

[4] Bruce Prewer, “The New Big Bang,” http://www.bruceprewer.com/DocC/C28eastd.htm

With God in the Valley of Tears: Meditation for Good Friday by Laura, 3.29.13

Text:  Psalm 22

Some years ago,a man named Eddie Fogarty was riding his tractor in County Tipperary, Ireland, out to cut some peat to be used for fuel. When he noticed something sticking up out of the peat bog, he got down to see what it might be. Apparently, peat bogs are an environment which slows decomposition, and all sorts of things have been found well-preserved in them. At first, Eddie thought he’d found a purse or satchel, but it turned out to be a book, one of the oldest ever found, a 1200-year-old Christian psalter. When they pulled it out of the mud, the book fell open, and Latin words were visible: “in the valley of tears.”

In the valley of tears. Those words are not in the psalm we just read, but they could have been. Psalm 22 certainly voices the experience of walking such a valley: the anguish of pain in body and soul and the suffering of abandonment. Surrounded by enemies and mockers, at the edge of death, the psalmist cries out to God day and night, yet there seems to be no answer and no rest. On Good Friday, we are particularly mindful how Jesus the Christ also walked the valley of tears, and how, in his final hour on the cross, he prayed Psalm 22’s opening words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

These words were already ancient when Jesus spoke them. Growing up as a faithful Jew, Jesus probably studied and memorized them, sung them in worship and recited them at synagogue. Now, dying in pain, mocked by enemies and strangers, abandoned by all his friends, these ancient words voice for Jesus the affliction of his own body and soul. For us, more than 2000 years later, hearing Jesus speak this Psalm makes clear the depths of Jesus’ humanity. That Jesus knew how it felt to be brought as low as a worm, that Jesus experienced true despair when even he wondered “Where are you, God?”

Because Jesus went to the cross, there is a mysterious and hard grace for us, for now, whenever we go through affliction, we have one answer that it seems he did not.  We can point to the cross and say, “There is God, with us, right here in the valley of tears.” Because Jesus went to the cross, no matter what we must endure, we are never truly alone.

But there’s more. For while he is with us in that awful valley, Jesus is also showing us the way through. For, even as he spoke the opening words of Psalm 22, he must also have known how it ends.  Even as the psalmist questions the seeming absence of God, he does not let go of hope. The psalmist remembers ancestors who trusted in God for deliverance and were not put to shame. The psalmist remembers God’s personal care for him since the day of his birth. Remembering and praying for rescue, the Psalmist is transformed, somehow moving from lament to praise. God did not despise his affliction, God did not hide God’s face; God heard his cry.

And so, when we hear Jesus pray Psalm 22 on the cross, in the hour of his death, we know he did not give up hope. Jesus trusted his prayer would be heard that suffering and death would not be the final word of his story. We know that even when God seemed most distant, Jesus trusted he was never truly alone.

When singer-songwriter Garrison Doles heard the story of the Faddan More Psalter with which I began today, he imagined the ancient monk who first carried that book. poring over its hand-copied pages, taking solace and courage from the still-more-ancient words it contained. And then he imagined Eddie, the modern-day peat-bogger who unearthed it, standing with the monk, one on either side of the psalter, holding it open. “In the mind of God,” Doles writes, “that 1200 years that stands between them, is nothing at all.”

I love that image, and I want us to hold onto it this day, comforted by the treasure of that psalter, the ancient language of prayer which even our Lord and Savior used in his greatest hour of need, which gave him words to voice his faith in God against the pressing darkness. May we also unearth again this treasure from the mud in the valley of tears, and join again the company of all the faithful who have gone before us, including the fully human, fully divine One, who went to the cross and beyond. Praying these very words, may we know as fully as Christ Jesus knew,that we never walk alone. Amen. 

When Repentance Happens: Sermon by Laura, 3.10.13 Lent 4

Text: Jonah 3-4

Friends, we’ve passed the midpoint of Lent; we are on the fourth leg of our pilgrimage through some of the Bible’s 40-Day Journeys. So far, we’ve floated the flood with Noah and heard God’s promise to stick with his creation no matter what; we’ve been up and down Mt. Sinai with Moses and heard God’s promise of forgiveness; and we’ve endured wind, earthquake, and fire with Elijah and heard God’s promise of profound purpose. In each adventure, alongside each towering figure of scripture, we’ve encountered a God whose majesty is matched only by his mercy.

Now, you might expect today’s journey with Jonah is a sea-faring adventure. It certainly begins that way! Commanded to proclaim God’s word in the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, Jonah flees in the opposite direction instead, getting on a boat to Tarshish. When a great storm overtakes it, and the ship is about to break into pieces, the sailors toss Jonah overboard. God provides a large fish, which swallows Jonah. After three days and nights, the fish spits Jonah out on dry land, and God gives Jonah another opportunity to live out his calling. It’s the journey of that second chance we follow today, a dry-land adventure which takes us from the cool water into the blistering heat, both of a desert plain outside a doomed city and of Jonah’s burning, angry heart.

Anger. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to dwell on my experiences of it. Many of us have learned to fear anger, our own and others’, and we anxiously rush to douse it when we begin to feel its heat. But Eugene Petersen offers another view in his book Under the Unpredictable Plant, studying Jonah’s story as her reflects on vocational ministry. He writes, “Anger is most useful as a diagnostic tool. When anger erupts in us, it is a signal that…[s]omething isn’t working right…Anger is our sixth sense for sniffing out wrong in the neighborhood…Anger is infused by a moral/spiritual intensity that carries conviction: when we are angry, we know we are on to something that matters, that really counts.”[1]

Petersen’s perspective will be useful in Nineveh, where Jonah does go, albeit not very enthusiastically. He does the minimum necessary to comply with God’s call, walking one day into the enormous city, proclaiming, “Forty days and Nineveh will be no more,” It’s arguably one of the least inspiring sermons on record. But it turns out to be one of the most effective!

What happens next is, honestly, a little over-the-top. If you think a whale swallowing a prophet is fantastic, the repentance of Nineveh is even more so. Nineveh was infamous as a bastion of brutality and corruption. Yet, the extraordinary good news of this story is that, even for the worst of the worst, repentance happens. The people of Nineveh believed God. As soon as they hear Jonah’s words, everyone from the king on down to the sheep and cows drop everything and begin fasting, wearing sackcloth, sitting in ashes, and crying out to God for mercy. Just picture for a moment all those hungry cattle roaming around wearing sackcloth– No half-measures for those Ninevites! “All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands,” the king decrees. “Who knows? God may change his mind.”

And that’s just what happens. God sees Nineveh’s repentance, and God relents from destroying the city.

Now, it seems to me that whenever people take God at God’s word and open themselves to transformation as profoundly as the Ninevites in this story, there ought to be much rejoicing. But how does Jonah react? He’s just helped facilitate a notoriously violent city turning from its evil ways.  Is he pleased, or at least awestruck that his meager words have had such an impact?

Nope! Jonah is not pleased, not pleased at all! Venting his anger at God, you can almost see him stomping his feet like toddler in a temper tantrum. But we finally learn why he fled to Tarshish when God first called him. “I knew this would happen!” he says, before delivering the punch line of the whole story. “For I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”

Now, these words are part of a formula describing God which is found throughout the Hebrew scriptures. We just heard a more elaborate formulation of them with Moses in Exodus 34, when God forgives Israel for the golden calf incident. That version of the formula heavily weighted God’s compassion, but it also clearly asserted God’s righteous judgment: yes, God keeps steadfast love for the thousandth generation and forgives sin, but God by no means clears the guilty.

But Jonah’s version of this formula leaves judgment entirely out. From his perspective, God is being too merciful to Nineveh, a city full of the enemies of his people, who, in fact, wipe out Israel’s northern kingdom in 722 BCE. Jonah wants Nineveh punished, and God is not acting the way he believes God should. God’s mercy is absolutely overriding God’s justice. In his anger, Jonah feels asks God to take his life on the spot.

Certainly, per Eugene Petersen’s diagnostics, Jonah’s anger is saying with conviction that something is wrong in the neighborhood! But Petersen would also caution Jonah not to be too hasty to point fingers.  “What anger fails to do,” he writes, “is tell us whether the wrong is outside or inside us. We usually begin by assuming that the wrong is outside us—our spouse or our child or our God has done something wrong, and we are angry…But when we track the anger carefully, we often find it leads to a wrong within us—wrong information, inadequate understanding, underdeveloped heart. If we admit and face that, we are pulled out of our quarrel with God and into something large and vocational in God.”[2]

God does not take Jonah’s life, but asks a question, inviting Jonah to carefully track his anger.  “Is it right for you to be angry?” A more literal translation would be, “Is it good that it burns to you?” Now, the word “good” here can mean righteous or ethical, as our translation implies, but it can also mean “good” as in beautiful or pleasurable.

Have you ever taken pleasure in anger? It sounds strange, but I’ve seen it in action. I know a young woman whose older sister had been the terror of her childhood. She learned to tiptoe around this sister so as not to arouse her sister’s notable temper. One day, when the two women had grown up, the older sister entered into Alcoholics Anonymous and began to work the Twelve Steps. In steps 8 and 9, a recovering person makes a list of people they believe they have injured in some way, and then they seek to make amends with those people, except if doing so might cause further injury. The older sister came to the younger one and sought to make amends. At first, the younger sister reacted numbly, but later, her anger burned inside of her, and she threw the amends back in her sister’s face, and she felt a fierce pleasure recounting all the ways she perceived she’d been injured.

Forgiveness is not easy, not just because true repentance is in short supply, but because people who feel wronged do not easily release their anger. There’s a kind of dark pleasure in listing those wrongs that seems to make up for the lack we might otherwise feel. Our anger reliably heats us up with a self-righteous sense of ourselves in a great battle against injustice.

“Is it right, is it good, for you to burn with anger?” God’s question seeks the deeper truth, the way our anger can become a self-serving crutch which actually distances us from justice.[3] God’s question seeks to reveal the deeper truth: as we have received God’s mercy, we are called to extend it to others.

In the story of the sisters, forgiveness finally came, as the younger sister tracked her anger and realized her equal need for mercy. But, like many of us, confronted at the center of our sinful need, Jonah refuses to answer God’s question.  He just gets up and leaves the conversation, setting up camp where he can passively watch the city. Maybe in forty days, doom will still come for Nineveh.

But Nineveh now seems to be in better shape to God than angry Jonah! And it turns out that God may relent from punishing, but God’s mercy is relentless! Since a sojourn in a fish’s belly wasn’t enough for Jonah to make the connection between God’s mercy for him and God’s mercy for Nineveh, God appoints more, curious, messengers. The shade bush and the worm are deployed, revealing that however hot the heat of the day, the heat of Jonah’s self-serving anger is still more perilous.

“You are concerned about this short-lived bush,” God remarks, “Should I not also be concerned about Nineveh’s 120,000 people who are even more clueless than you about my steadfast love and mercy—and what about all those animals?” One of the things I love about the book of Jonah is that God doesn’t forget those poor animals wandering around in sackcloth!

The other thing I love is what this story does to us by ending with a question. And here’s a fun little exegetical tidbit. Jonah’s angry speech to God earlier in chapter 4 adds up to 39 words in the original Hebrew, just shy of 40, which is understood to be a “complete” number.

God’s speech in response to Jonah, ending with this question, also adds up to 39 words. So it turns out, the story is not yet complete. It’s not complete without us. We might have laughed at the miserable prophet, but now we are also called up to answer.

So I ask you this Lent, what is burning you? Is it right, is it good for you to anger? Will you sit there, stoking the flames while it burns you up, or will you let it go and enter into a much greater joy, receiving and participating fully in God’s incredible mercy?

Take heart, because if Nineveh can repent, than anything can happen! And the forty days Jonah proclaimed to Nineveh have only just begun. God’s mercy and forgiveness for us are not complete, until we begin to share that mercy and forgiveness with others.

How will you complete this story?

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.


[1] Eugene Petersen, Under the Unpredictable Plant, 157.

[2] Petersen, as above.

[3] Haskins, 79.