Second Sunday of Easter
Sunday, April 8, 2018
Pastor Ed Foster
Timmy came back from college for the first time for Thanksgiving weekend. The whole family had taken him to college and dropped him off and there were lots of tears in the car on the way home. Mom and Dad and little brother, Joey and little sister, Susie. There were even a few tears in the dorm room when no one was watching, but Timmy didnít want anyone to know that. So, finally after all of those long months Timmy was home. Joey had tried to talk his parents into letting him take Wednesday off school so that he could be there when Timmy arrived. Of course, Timmy wasnít going to arrive to late in the evening, so, his parents told him, fat chance.
Finally, on that cold, blustery night before Thanksgiving Timmy arrived. Joey ran out the door before he even had the car shut off and everyone welcomed him with big hugs and open arms. They brought him in the house and he told them all of the stories about that first semester of college, about all of the things he had learned, and all of the classes, and about the young lady that he had bought coffee for the week before.
Finally, it was time that everyone went to bed. The sun came up the next morning and it was the perfect Thanksgiving Day. And every one got up and started getting ready for grandma and grandpa to come for that Thanksgiving dinner. And it seemed like all of the Thanksgivings before Timmy was there and there were wrestling matches and video games and lots of coloring book pages to be colored.
Then grandma and grandpa showed up and there were lots of squealing children running to meet them. Timmy was surprised to find himself being one of those squealing kids because he thought he had outgrown all of that.
Then they sat down to Thanksgiving dinner and everyone looked at grandma, grandma was the spiritual and theological center of the family and she was always the one who prayed. And Grandma said, I think Iíll let Timmy pray this year. Timmyís face went white. And he started to hyperventilate just a little bit and whispered and mumbled out, I donít think I should say the prayer today because I donít believe in God.
The table was silent, until Joey burst out in sobs, Timmyís going to hell. And Grandma got up and left the table and Mom went after her. But after a few minutes, Joey stopped crying and Grandma and Mom came back and the family mumbled out a ďCome, Lord JesusĒ and dinner began.
And it must have been a spectacular turkey dinner because no one said a word and they stared at their plate. Everyone, except Grandpa. Grandpa acted like nothing had happened, he acted as if Timmy hadnít just declared that the had lost his faith. He told stories and he asked questions and he ate seconds and thirds on some things. Some members of the family wondered if Grandpa hadnít hit the sauce on the way to the house.
Finally, dinner was over and people separated to different parts of the house like always, some to the kitchen, some to the living room to watch football, but Timmy went to his room. After a few minutes, Grandpa appeared at the door.
Iím sorry, Timmy, I should have warned you. I should have warned the rest of the family. Now Timmy wondered why Grandpa is sorry and what in the world is he apologizing for. But Grandpa went on. You know, Timmy, lots of young people when they go to college and experience all of the different ideas that there are out there in the world, lots of people start to question their faith, and you are a deep thinker, Timmy, and people who think deeply realize that these things that we say about Jesus are really rather remarkable and incredible and serious people have to consider them deeply. But itís going to be okay Timmy. Mom and Grandma and Joey, we all love you and Jesus is alive and you know he will make himself known to you as time goes by.
Now Timmy wasnít quite sure what he thought about all of this. For one thing, he wanted to think that he was unique and original. He didnít particularly like being told that lots of people had had this same experience. On the other hand, he liked it that Grandpa thought that he was a deep thinker and a serious person. And that feeling of love made him wonder if Jesus wasnít really there. Well come on, Timmy, letís go downstairs. Grandma will be mad if I eat that whole pie by myself.
On the first Sunday after Easter there are two things we need to deal with. One of those is doubt. You know the lessons every year, we have a three-year cycle and every three years the same lesson comes up, but not twice, except for the Sunday after Easter. The Sunday after Easter, every year, itís the same story Ė Doubting Thomas.
One of the jobs we have on the Sunday after Easter is admitting that this thing that we believe, that this thing that is the very core and center of our faith is incredible. It is amazing, but it is also, without Godís help, unbelievable. Christ died. He died on a cross and they stuck him in a tomb, in a cave on the side of the hill, and he laid there for three days. And then he rose from the grave. This thing that we believe, that is the core and center of our faith, it seems to be too good to be true.
There is a second thing that we have to deal with today and that is, now, that Christ is risen, what kind of community is it that he is creating, what is it that Jesus is up to? What did he create this community, this family of people who believe?
Can you imagine what it was like that night in the upper room. Here the disciples are, all gathered together and they are terrified, terrified that the Jews are going to come and do the same thing to them that they did to Jesus. But beyond that, they must have also been ashamed. For everyone of them had turned their back on Jesus. Some had denied him, some had just fled in terror, and Peter who said I will never abandon you, he denied Jesus three times before the morning started.
There in the midst of them Jesus appeared. Jesus appeared and he forgave them and he gave them his Holy Spirit and showed them his hands and his side. He let them believe.
But it doesnít even end there, does it? Because poor Thomas wasnít there. And even after hearing the story from his friends, Christ is alive, weíve seen him! Thomas said, I am not going to believe it until I see him myself. And Jesus says to him, have you believed because youíve seen me? Blest are all of those people who havenít seen and yet come to believe.
Everyone of his disciples doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead. Shouldnít be surprising that we have doubts, too. Indeed, we do, and indeed, we will. This thing that brings us together, this thing that is the very core of our faith, it is incredible, it seems impossible. Jesus created this community. Created this family to be the place where we can be loved and forgiven and nurtured in that faith.
John says thatís the reason he wrote this gospel so we could hear this story, that we could hear these words about the Word that was with God and the Word that was God. That we could come to believe.
Jesus created his community to be the place where he would live with us and in us and through us and where we could come to believe this most incredible, almost unbelievable thing, that he had died and he is risen. Because he lives, we will live, too. Amen.
April 1, 2018
Pastor Ed Foster
Anna Markís entire life was a testimony and example of hope. Anna Mark was born in Hungary a few years after the 1st World War. The town that she was born in had been nearly decimated by the 1st World War. Most of the young men in town had been killed or left to never return. So, when little Anna was born she was the sign of hope for that whole town. Everyone was aunts and uncles and grandparents to her and her life as a small child, as she described it, was almost a fairy tale. Everyone wanted to fill her life with joy and happiness, with magic and fun.
But as the time went on and the Nazis started rising to power the people in that little town realized that things were likely to get bad for them again and so, Anna Markís parents and grandparents arranged for her to go to England and then to America.
And so, she and her grandfather put her bags in a wheel barrow along with her little dog. And they pushed that wheel barrow from Hungary to Serbia and there, three or four days before the port was closed, she made her escape. She and her bags and yes, her little dog.
They made their way to England and then she made her way to America and to a little farm in Iowa. And there she and her little dog begin to live that life of hope. She went to college in a little town in Nebraska and there she met her husband, Howard. And she and Howard raised a beautiful family, three daughters, who each seemed to have that same joyful, hopeful faith of their mother, and yes, many generations of descendants of her little dog.
One spring Anna Mark got ill and they had to move her to the nursing home. So, on Easter Sunday the pastor came to visit. The family was all gathered there, eating dry nursing home ham and suspicious looking deviled eggs, and they were all telling grandma, no, Grandma they are not nearly as good as yours and they had to have been right.
And she asked the pastor, what did you preach about this morning? And I said, Well, I preached the Easter story, that Jesus is risen and because he is risen we will live, too. That Jesus, just as he met his disciples in Galilee, just as he had promised that he is going to keep all of his promises to us as well.
And her eyes began to twinkle, and with the same voice, I suspect that 16-year-old girl leaving Hungary, Oh, pastor, I canít wait. I canít wait to see Jesus. And I canít wait to get that new young body. And then she looked at Howard and said, I bet he canít either!
A few weeks later Anna Mark passed away. And we did, we had a funeral for her that was truly a celebration of life. Her life and Jesus resurrection. We sang Easter songs. And we read the Easter story. And all three daughters got up and told funny stories about their mother. Iím not sure but I think there were little dogs out in the truck.
And we made our way to the cemetery and then the grief kind of started to get us, and the daughters began to cry and grandpa began to cry, and then one of the little granddaughters jumped up in grandpaís lap and said, Grandpa donít cry, donít you remember Grandma said sheís got a brand new young body, and she canít wait.
Iím not quite as ready as Anna Mark was for my Easter day, but I am so excited for that day when Christ will come and keep all of his promises. That indeed the graves of our loved ones will be open and they will be raised to live with God and with us forever. That day when violence and anger and hatred and poverty and hunger and discrimination and all of the ugliness and hatefulness in the world is finally gone forever. This day, that empty tomb proclaims that all of Christís promises to us they are real and they are coming to us. Life, love, the presence of God and all Godís people. I canít wait. Amen.
March 25, 2018
Pastor Ed Foster
I love Palm Sunday. Yes, part of the reason I love Palm Sunday is when I was about this tall somebody put a palm in my hand and my best friend and I had a sword fight, and then we got dragged by the ears outback, but nevertheless when you get to do something like that Ö but nevertheless it is one of my favorite Sundays.
We come and we proclaim Jesus as our king and we do it in a way thatís not just with words, but with our actions. It is a celebratory event. We come to church and we meet out in the Commons area, when do we ever do something weird like that? And we march together down the aisle and put our palms in the receptacles and we say, Hosanna, Hosanna to our King!
It is one of the few events in church when it really feels like we are participating in something that has gone on since the first Holy Week. We proclaim those words that Jesus in one of the other lessons says, if we didnít cry out, the rocks would cry out Hosanna, Hosanna to our King. On this Sunday we get the words right.
On that first Palm Sunday people on the road to Jerusalem got the words right, too. Their king who was riding into town and cutting palm branches and throwing their coats on the road, that is how you welcome your king to town. And they got the words right, Hosanna, yeah God! Our King is coming!
They got the words right and yet they had no idea what it was that they were saying. They were welcoming their king to town and they thought they were welcoming a king like all those other kings, they were expecting a king who would be a mighty warrior, who would raise an army to defeat the Romans, send them packing, and tell Caesar to leave them alone. They were expecting a king that would be a political leader who would clean up all of the messes in their country and in their government. Get rid of all of the corrupt politicians.
They were expecting a king who would be a religious reformer, that would bring heart and soul back to their religion and make that temple a holy place once again. They were expecting a king who would make them powerful. A king who would make them important, respected and feared. A king who would bring wealth and prosperity to their land. They got the words right, Hosanna, hosanna to our King. But what they thought those words meant was a far cry from the king they got.
Hard to miss the irony in that, for in just a few days those very same people who were crying out hosanna to our king, at least some of them would then crying out crucify him, because he turned out to not be the kind of king they were expecting. They got the words right, but what they meant by them, was completely off. They got the words right, but their hearts were wrong.
When I was 24 years old the church sent me out like all third-year seminary students to be an intern. I was 24 years old, I had been to two years of seminary. I knew it all. There was very little that you were going to get past me, my theology was sound. First thing, maybe second thing I was told when I got to my internship site was, Ed, stay away from that church up by the park. Those guys up there Ė their theology is bad. They are extremists. They are radical. They might even be dangerous.
One day I was walking through the park and this little boy comes running out from behind the trees like something was after him. He dodged between the swings, leapt the teeter-totter in a single bound and then wiped out in the sandbox. As I was going to make sure that he was okay I saw what he was running from.
Two little girls who were soaked were chasing this little boy. Now they were a little smarter than their brother, they went around the swing set and the teeter-totter but just as they were about to get to their brother, here comes Dad, wearing a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, and also soaked, and he was warning the two little girls not to pound their brother.
Water balloons are a wonderful thing, especially when youíre a little boy. So, Dad came and we visited for a minute and shook hands and introduced himself. He was the pastor of that dangerous, bad church. Of course, he invited me for coffee the next week and so we met. And we realized we kind of liked each other and we visited and became fairly good friends.
I was 24 years old. I knew everything about theology and his was a mess. They were radical and they were extreme, but over the course of that internship year I realized that even though they didnít get the words right, they were far from being dangerous. Their theology was a mess, but their hearts were right. If anyone was getting the words right, and not understanding it was me.
I love Palm Sunday. We come to church on Palm Sunday and we say the right words, Hosanna to our king. And now through the next week we get to see what it was that we just proclaimed. How it is that Jesus was kingly. How it is that Jesus saved us. And we may be challenged this week, maybe challenged to see where is it that we get the words right, but we donít understand what they mean. We get the words right, but our hearts are still not correct.
Folks in Jerusalem were expecting a totally different kind of king. They were expecting a king who would leave them very much the same as they were, but just take away all of their challenges. One who would make them rich and make them powerful and make them strong. And they got a king who was arrested, beaten, humiliated and died. They got a king who rose from the grave and saved them from the power of sin and death and all of the evil in the world.
Gathered together today and we say the right words, Hosanna to our King! And this week we will be challenged to make those words mean what Jesus meant them to be, that we have a king who suffers and dies to save us. Amen.