“What Then Will We Have?” – Rev. Tony Romaine – July 5th , 2020
There is an engraving made by Pieter van der Heyden. It is titled, “The Land of Cockaigne,” known in Dutch literature as Luilekkerland (country of the lazy and gluttonous). This was a mythical place where there was no need to work, and where food and drink are so abundant that we need only open our mouths to take in what we desire. In the picture, there are a soldier, a farmer, and a clerk; who are sleeping off the effects of their overindulgence. Some of the remains of their meal are strewn on the platform encircling the tree in the center, while the mountain of buckwheat in the background and the house covered with pies at right indicate this land has plenty to spare. The image's moral intent is to decry the vices of sloth and gluttony, which is apparent from the first part of the Dutch inscription on the bottom frame: "The lazy and gluttonous farmers, soldiers, and clerks get there and taste all for nothing."
What Then Will We Have?
America, we have been given everything we need and yet we desire for more. We have food and drink aplenty, and yet we long for more. We have all the modern conveniences, and yet we want more things that go faster and faster…and for what? Are we so different from the farmer, soldier, or clerk in this print from the 1500’s? Do we not also consume everything, eat everything, have everything; and yet, it is all for naught?
What then Will We Have?
We hear this very same predicament from our Gospel passage for today. The rich young man, comes to Jesus because he knows something is missing in his life. And so he asks Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus responds, as any good rabbi would, with some commandments. So, when the young man responds in kind by saying he has kept all those, Jesus tells him to do the one thing he cannot…sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, then you will have treasure in heaven, then you come and follow me.
It is important, that when the young man comes asking Jesus about eternal life, after confirming that the young man is following the commandments, Jesus speaks these words: “If you wish to be perfect…” And while this may be splitting hairs in some circles, Jesus is confronting this young man with the fact that as humans we cannot be perfect.
See, for this young man who had all the things of the world and kept the commandments, the last step to perfection was to lift up the poor around him so that they too could want for nothing. And in confronting this young man’s imperfection, Jesus teaches us all about imperfection in general. It is significant that Jesus did not tell the young man that he could gain eternal life by doing x, y, or z; other than following the commandments of course, because it alludes to the point that there is only one who ever was and ever will be perfect, and that is God Incarnate. Moreover, that eternal life is guaranteed through Jesus, not the deeds of humanity.
But at the same time, just like the young man, what we are being called to do is examine our imperfections and be confronted with them. Remember, Paul tells us in Romans, it will not mean that we can do anything about our sinful state or sell enough things to bring about our salvation. However, what we can do is work toward perfection and do our best to follow Jesus’ teachings.
This brings us to another part of the tension about how we are to live; all Jesus wants is for us to follow him. All Jesus wants is for us to leave everything behind that would hinder our ability to follow Him. For as we hear later, and from where we get our sermon title today, in Matthew 19:27, Peter also asks, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (By the way, this is truly like Peter to ask the “what’s in it for us?” question, talk about imperfect!) And after Jesus speaks to the end of times and judgment seats, Jesus tells Peter, and all of us, everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, children, jobs, for Jesus’ sake, will receive a hundredfold and eternal life. See, all Jesus wants is for us to abandon ourselves to anything that would prevent us from following him. And while this list may seem harsh that people would leave family or friends or work to follow Jesus; that is exactly what we sometimes are called to do for the greater good.
What Then Will We Have?
Perhaps you are wondering about why I would give this message on Independence Day Weekend; what possibly could this have to do with celebrating our Independence and America? We have been given a great gift by God and we are gluttonous, slothful, and are destroying our very nation. And while as a historian I understand that nations come and go and countries evolve and dissolve, I have a love for America which causes me to mourn for our present course.
We are not only increasingly possessive and reluctant to share with our neighbors, and strangers; but we are also an adulterous country cheating on our relationships with God and with each other. We have broken treaties, we have back-stabbed allies, and we have abandoned our fellow Americans and Christians because we do not agree with them. We use the name of God to promote our own political gains, and we tout ourselves as Christians and belittle others who are Christians because of different beliefs, denominations, or social standing.
We are a country who has not only stolen the land which we sit upon today, but continue to rob and steal from those who cannot protect themselves. We have done so under the auspice that God has gifted us this land and “blessed” some while not blessing others; the very same God who told the young man to care for the poor and who told the disciples that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. We allow the rich to get richer and keep the poor downtrodden and poor, where we can control and continue to rob and steal.
We lie and cheat and bear false witness against our own brothers and sisters, against our own creation, all in the name of the almighty dollar. All so we can maintain power and prestige, all so we can maintain our ivory towers and treasures on earth. We put down and bear false witness against our neighbors, our family, and our friends, all so we can seem wise in the world or so we can be “right.”
We do not honor our mothers or fathers, and we definitely do not love our neighbor as ourselves. This last one is self-explanatory; for if we are honest with ourselves, America is the Luilekkerland that I showed at the beginning, the land where the gluttonous and slothful eat, yet taste for nothing. We consume, consume, and consume while people die in the streets and on the borders, while our neighbors lack clothing and shelter, while people lie sick in hospitals. We think our independence is hindered because we have to wear masks or cannot eat out; while children starve, our family and friends are neglected, and we fatten ourselves at the table of America.
And when we come begging God to tell us what we must do, what good deed we must accomplish to have eternal life; we are confronted by our imperfections. Yes, there are things we can do to change our course, to better the lives of all people, to lift up our neighbors; but the real question is what we are going to do about it? Are we going to be like the young man who turned away grieving because his imperfection was too much and he could not bring himself to give his possessions away; or will we respond differently?
Perhaps today was a different type of fireworks display than you might have expected. And I am sure some of you are none too happy about my message for today. But hear this, on this Independence Day Weekend; The United States of America needs our help. In the grand scope of history, we are a very young nation, almost 250 years old, but we will not last at our current pace, and we will not last with our current trajectory. And this prophecy makes me none too happy myself!
So, on this weekend when we just want to take that break, relax and shoot off some fireworks and celebrate America; let us indeed remember our amber waves of grain and purple mountains majesty. Let us be reminded that we are the nation whose God rules from sea to shining sea, from the Mississippi River to the ends of the earth. Let us remember that we are a nation of immigrants, founded by immigrants, strengthened by immigrants. Let us remember all the things that make us great.
But let us also never forget that we are only a nation because God allows it. Let us never forget that our lands are not ours; but God’s. Let us never forget that any possession we have does not go with us when we die. And let us never forget that we built this nation on the backbone of slavery and stolen lands.
Brothers and sisters, our nation is living tension; because unity is not easy. Our nation is a sinful, slothful, gluttonous nation. And yet, we also have the hope and promise of a bright future. We can be the change, we can end the degradation, we can correct our ways and make sure the sins of our past do not become sins of our future. And we can take all the greatness, all the promise, all the possessions we have and give it all away to follow Jesus. We can lay down our arms, tear down our walls, dash our fears upon God’s rock of hope and follow Jesus.
And on that day, a true day of Independence, we will be able to answer the question of “What Then Will We Have?” For on that day, we will truly be a United States of America! On that day, we will indeed be one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. And on that day, bells will ring and anthems will roar as we will have accomplished our Christian call to let nothing prevent us from loving God and loving our neighbor as ourself.
And on that day, we will not have to ask “What Then Will We Have,” for it will be abundantly obvious, that all will have everything. God make it so! Amen
“What Then Are We To Say?” – Rev. Tony Romaine – June 21st , 2020
As the father to a pastor, every year my dad gets to hear what stories have stuck with me; what I usually share as the beginning to my message on Father’s Day. And while I could list a multitude of stories, today I think it is important we talk about what we should say in the first place.
What then are we to say?
What is there truly left for us to say on Father’s Day in 2020 that has not already been said? What is there that we could possibly explain more about God, how He acts as Our Father, or what that love that comes from Him means? Truthfully, our explanations will most always fall short, and what we have to say is difficult and complicated. But I believe that we, as a society, are missing out on one very important basic step in our process of understanding God; our stories.
It is the memories we have and the stories we share that create the bonds of family, the bonds of continuity, and the bonds of love that we must continue to share regardless of how many times we share a similar story. I am reminded of an epiphany I had one time when listening to my Poppy tell the same story again that I had already heard many times. The epiphany I had was that I was not bored having to listen to it again, but that I cherished hearing it again, because I had heard it so many times that it was becoming my story now too! In fact, I find myself sharing those stories over and over again as if Poppy is telling them through me.
See, we all too often forget that for most of our human history we did not have this great compilation of God’s Holy Inspired Word, that we now call the Bible. For most of our human history we shared stories, we told the stories passed down from generation to generation, we told of our God who created us out of nothing, who loved us into being, who was a jealous God, but ultimately the jealousy is out of love for us. We shared how God flooded the whole earth but saved one family to begin anew. We shared stories of giant fish, of warrior men and women, of imperfect human beings; and we shared those because they not only allowed us to connect with an otherwise other God, but we shared them because in those stories we found ourselves.
In those moments of imperfection where men and women, dad’s and mom’s, children, friends, strangers, and all people lived. We shared because their imperfections were familiar to us; because those very same flaws and failures occur in and through us too. And we shared those imperfections because the humanity of it all was loved across time by an Immortal, Indivisible, All-Powerful, God; who despite our failures, still uses us for good, still believes in us, and ultimately loved us so much as to forgive everything we ever did!
Undoubtedly there are stories we do not want to continue. There are narratives that involve slavery, systemic injustice, war, death, sinfulness of humanity and the list goes on. But in an ironic way, we actually need to share these stories too. Not to hold over our heads as a weight that drags us to the depths of the seas; but rather, as a constant reminder that when we fail to know our history, when we fail to remember our past, when we fail to see the sin within ourselves before we condemn the sin in others; we only set ourselves up to repeat the sins of our fathers and their fathers. This does not mean we need to memorialize or celebrate our sinful past; but that we must learn and never forget. This is why the Cross is such a poignant part of our Christian story. A symbol of the place where Christ died, a reminder of what it took for us to gain eternal life, and a constant lesson in what a people will do to their own people out of religious misunderstanding and zealotry.
What then are we to say?
What we are to say is our story. We are to share what we hear in Scripture today. We are to talk about and remember on Father’s Day, Abraham, the “father” of the three mainline monotheistic religions of the world. As we say in church circles, the three Abrahamic faiths; Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. We are to talk about how Jesus Christ came from Our Father, to return us to Him and that in order to do this God recognized that there was nothing we could do in our power to be completely free from the sins of our humanity. That Our Father in Heaven gave the ultimate gift of becoming Incarnate so that we could recognize and learn and re-shape our pathways of hatred, exclusion, and misguided worship to a pathway of acceptance, love of all God’s Creation, and forgiveness. We must share that there is nothing we can do to gain God’s grace, but that it is a freely given gift from our Father to us. And we must share that while there is nothing we can do to gain eternal life, there is everything we can do to love our neighbor as ourselves in celebration of that gift; so that others may know of our story, of our God’s story, of the unconditional love of a Father.
We are to share that Our God is a giver of great gifts. That those gifts do not depend on how much we give back, that those gifts do not depend on who we are or where we live, that those gifts are not all the same, and that the gifts of our Father come with only one string attached…Our God only wants us to love Him. Let me say that again if I can; our Father only wants us to love Him! And in my human understanding of this great story that God has shared with me a thousand times over, this great story of God my Father, I would add that Our Father only wants us to know we are loved.
What then are we to say?
See this is one thing I feel our churches need to start doing more of; one thing Christians need to start doing more of…sharing the stories of their faith. Maybe that story is one of trial and tribulation where you feel God is a distant father who is never around, sounds like Job to me. Maybe yours is a story of wonder and awe at the very fact that we would be created at all, sounds like Genesis to me. Maybe yours is a story of a humble servant being called to great things despite their short-comings, despite their failings, despite their sordid past or sinful history, sounds like let’s see: Exodus, Jonah, Jeremiah, 1 Samuel, Acts, all of Paul’s letters, Esther, Ruth, and many more! Or maybe the story you wish to share is one where the world was given a chance to change and it did not realize it until it was too late; but now, no matter how late we are, we still have that chance. Sounds like the Gospels to me, or the Prophets, or even Revelations.
But please hear me say this, you do not have to be a biblical scholar to share the stories of the Bible. Your life, the stories you share, are the Bible. Your faith through thick and thin is the story that people want to hear. Your trust in God regardless of outcome is what our world needs. Your faith in the eternal life guaranteed by Jesus Christ without being able to see or know is the faith people will gravitate towards. And while you may not realize it, the impact those stories have, the continuity you provide, is what future generations will one day celebrate. Yes, the Bible is God’s Holy Inspired Word, but you are God’s Holy Creation living and breathing, making and sharing, writing the pages of future Bibles that have yet to be printed; the story of God, Our Father, in the world each and every day through your hands and feet!
I could tell you stories of a dad who carried me on his shoulders, who taught me to catch fish (or not how to catch fish, right dad!), who threw a baseball with me, who was imperfect and yet also perfect, who was patient and impatient, who was there and not there, who to this day I know loves me and I hope knows how much I love him. And while this is my story, this is also your story.
So what we are we then to say on this Father’s Day of 2020? We must share the stories the world has heard a thousand times already, because it needs to hear them again. We are to share the stories that make up our lives. We are to share the stories which make up our faith. And when we have nothing to say, we can fall back on the old standards, the stories we have heard a thousand times over. And in that comfort that comes through knowing the end; through knowing how the whole story ends, it is there we will find ourselves, our fathers, our lives, and our God.
Happy Father’s Day, Amen
“The Substance of Trinity” – Rev. Tony Romaine – June 7th, 2020
Richard Rohr in an article in the magazine Sojourners said in 2016, “The widespread Christian failure to understand and experience God as Trinity has provided a breeding ground for both implicit and explicit racism.” And so to help us understand the “Substance of Trinity,” I thought it best we talk about diversity and unity within the Trinity.
As a UCC and UMC church, we believe that we should be united and uniting. As such, theologian Randi Jones Walker says, "The essential questions facing United and Uniting Churches center on the question, for what purpose are we united?” And answering her own question, she states, “In a world filled with people who, in the eyes of the world are poor, unworthy, guilty, unlovable, shameful, or oppressed, the Church is called to offer family."
The family we are called to offer is Trinitarian in structure. We are called to God's vision for humanity, the united difference that exists within the Trinity, and we are called to re-visit our sources of faith to rely on the Holy Spirit, not our own human ability. As such, we are called to venture into our doubts and fears and rely on our ability to be a covenantal people in union with those we encounter. As we strive toward being more welcoming for those of different races, genders, sexes, etc. we will not always have all the answers. In fact, most of the time we will not have any answers, and this is okay.
But to help us understand better and perhaps grasp at some answers, Richard Rohr when talking about how God as Trinity dissolves racism once said, “To understand a sin (racism) that is as old as history, it is helpful to go back to one of the oldest questions of human inquiry. How can there be any primal unity to reality when what we see is so much obvious and seemingly conflicting diversity? Is there any unifying pattern to “the ten thousand things” that overwhelm our horizon?”
Rohr then further explains, “Let’s look at one of the very destructive effects of a diminished image of God on the ever-present issue of racism. Today, most Christian notions of the Divine are much more formed by pagan and Greek conceptions than by the central Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Even the Latin word for God, Deus, is a direct reformulation of the Greek word for the head of the gods, Zeus. I believe racism is often rooted in this distorted view of divinity; rather than reflecting the One who created all things in God’s own image and likeness, we instead make God into a mascot who, as Anne Lamott brilliantly quips, hates all the same people we do.” In essence, we make God out to be a white, male, authority figure and from this viewpoint, stems the systemic racism which pervades our humanity, theology, and history. We make God to fit inside our box and look like us, instead of being the Omnipotent, Triune God.
Instead, what our Trinitarian beliefs are calling us to be; what the church needs to be to the world, is a witness to the fact that difference does not have to delineate. That in this ever-diversifying world, Christianity can come together and celebrate the diversity within its broad arms without hate speech, judgment, or degrading those who are different. In this manner, the church will return to its roots of being on a mission Jesus led us toward during his lifetime. We will be on mission to love our neighbor as ourselves and in so doing demonstrate love to a world that needs it desperately.
The Korean theologian Chun-Hoi Heo writes, “The price of peace is not the elimination of differences.” In other words, as we come together in a new and multicultural context, our differences should be lifted up as a strength of a broader community, not lifted up so as to create walls of segregation. Or as Rohr says, “God is precisely one by holding together very real difference. The Triune Godhead itself maintains separate identity between Three, with an absolutely unique kind of unity, which is the very shape of Divine Oneness. God’s pattern and goal has never been naïve uniformity, but radical diversity, maintained in absolute unity by “a perfect love” that infinitely self-empties and infinitely outpours—at the same time.”
But herein lies the problem. See, we humans, we like infilling, we like ourselves to be connected and in tune with God. But we do not like outpouring and we do not even know how to make room for that infilling we say we want! Thus, the historical and theological problem that prevents us from truly understanding the Trinity. And the eternal spiritual problem that prevents us from moving beyond denomination and race and gender and class. Our inability to understand and love one another as the outpouring of God’s love; is in and of itself, racism, sexism, classism, ageism, lookism, homophobia, transphobia, imperialism, patriarchy, and all that our tradition refers to as “sin.”
So, brothers and sisters, what if instead we focused on what brings us together in diversity instead of what separates us? I am not arguing for a blanket unity where one cannot be different from one another, rather the utopia I am dreaming is Trinitarian; one where, we hold each other’s differences in unison with what holds us all together, not a blind uniformity, but radical diversity bonded in the perfect love of God. A love which is eternally filled via God, a love which we are called by God to pour out unto the world.
A love which Rohr describes as why Jesus had to dramatically come. Jesus had to, “personally exemplify the entire path of self-emptying to us, making room for the diversity within God’s creation, and had to teach us how to love one another. Because, the Jesus path is a constant visible lesson in both allowing in and handing on, receiving and giving away what is received. Jesus makes the Trinity visible and attractive, so we can trust this always-daring process ourselves, so we can trust that indeed God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; even though diverse and unique, are also God.” So we can trust that differences unite us and unity is diverse!
For only when we fail to see difference as something that fractures our society, only when we stop seeing uniqueness as something which prevents unity, only when we end the historical cycle of delineating and power pyramids and social classification based on race, sex, gender, or creed; only then will we finally celebrate the diversity within God’s creation, within our world, and within ourselves. And only then, will we finally comprehend and live “The Substance of Trinity!”
 Richard Rohr, https://sojo.net/articles/how-god-trinity-dissolves-racism, August 25, 2016.
 Walker, 44.
 Rohr, https://sojo.net/articles/how-god-trinity-dissolves-racism, August 25, 2016.
 Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2013), 105.
 Rohr, https://sojo.net/articles/how-god-trinity-dissolves-racism, August 25, 2016.
“Because I Live…” – Rev. Tony Romaine – May 31st, 2020
I woke up this morning the same way I have woken up the past few mornings, in a cloud of despair and wondering whether or not our world would still be in one piece. For the last few nights I have been falling asleep watching our city, our state, our country burn in protest of a broken system, in protest of the murder of a fellow human; rioting and looting which had nothing to do with the protests, and a world filled with chaos and unknown. But then something marvelous happened to me this morning as I was awaking, the sermon I had been planning on was pushed to the side and God told me it was the morning to talk about what it means to us that Jesus said, “Because I live, you also will live.”
"Because I Live"
“Because I Live,” you are not alone. We are not left to the illnesses and pains of our current struggle. We are not alone in our journey to find ourselves amidst the disorder and destruction of our broken world. We are not alone in our fight for equality, for justice, for peace, for love. Because Jesus lived, we are not alone, because our Savior is right here with us through everything. This will not make anything we have to experience any easier. In fact, it may make some of the things we experience even harder. But what it does, is give us a lamp in the darkness to light our lamp from, it gives us the hope amidst the darkness from which to restore our hope, and it gives us solace to remember and know and trust that our God has not abandoned us to the currents which might sweep us away; but has forever guaranteed that we are saved to a life much better than our current state through the sacrifice of the Cross. How do we know though, how do we know!
"Because I Live"
“Because I Live,” I have sent you an Advocate. It is so stunning to me the language of Advocate that Jesus uses to describe the “Spirit of Truth;” what we later on begin to call the Holy Spirit. See an Advocate is more than just a silent partner who fills you with strength and is with you in spirit. An Advocate fights for you, an Advocate goes before you, an Advocate is right there beside you, and an Advocate is pushing you from behind when you do not think you can carry on.
An Advocate, our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, God’s Eternal Flame, is not just a whisper in the wind, but is the life-force which is filling us now today. The Advocate is not some silent partner who remains on the sidelines of our lives while we are forced to live alone. No, our Advocate is with us, within us, and through us in everything we encounter. For those who have studied Job, they will remember that Job prays for an advocate to come and fight for him. Well my sisters and brothers, we have that Advocate thanks be to Jesus Christ, thanks be to our God who has forever given us the intercessor who will never give up.
Do we still have to experience our lives and the degradation of our communities, bodies, and spirits? Apparently so, but we are not alone in our struggle and we are not alone in our fight for this world to know the love of Jesus Christ. Our Advocate is currently, right now, in this building, in your building, wherever you are, currently working within you to inspire you to do better, be better, work better, love better, and if we just listen and go, the world will get better!
"Because I Live"
“Because I Live,” you also should live! Jesus uses the present tense language because we need to use the present tense language. Jesus is not dead. Hear me say that again, Jesus is not dead! Yes, Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected. But this means that Jesus is not dead, He is alive and well in and through our lives and our actions. That puts a lot of onus on us, and I used that play of words on purpose, because what it means is that how we live our lives is how people will know if Jesus is alive or not.
If we go around and degrade people, put people down, treat fellow humans as sub-grade and not even human, then Jesus does not live, but is downgraded along with all of humanity. Every person we murder, kill, or allow to die because of our senseless need for more and more, is another time that Jesus has to suffer and die upon the Cross. Now this may sound harsh, but sometimes we need to be awakened to the true result of our actions; sometimes the community needs to be reminded that a sin against one person is a sin against the whole community.
Now, all that being said, Jesus lives and because he lives so do, we. This means that every time we lift another up, every time we do to our neighbor as we would have them do to us, every time we work for equality and justice in our communities and lift up even one person in our lives; we lift up the whole community and we live, because we are the living Christ to one another in how we treat one another! And when we stumble and fall and sin again, Jesus has already paid the price for those sins.
But that does not mean we acquiesce and accept the sin and go on sinning, no, it means we clean up our act, we clean up our streets, we clean up our systems, we clean up our brokenness, we clean up what we can clean up, and we live! Jesus was the epitome of the price one person sometimes has to pay to correct the narrative, the price one person seemingly has to pay so that others will notice, the price the world had to pay in order to see the error of our ways; and the price that no one now would ever want Jesus to have to pay. It is time we stop making innocents pay the price for our sins.
"Because I Live"
“Because I Live,” the world may not know you, the world may not know me, the world may wonder where I am, and the world may need you to remind them. Folks, it is 2020 and we are still waging the very same societal struggle that Jesus himself fought against. It is 2020 and we still murder people based on the color of their skin. It is 2020 and we still force people into indentured servitude based on their economic status. It is 2020 and we still fear our neighbors so much that we design weapons of war to destroy them; hiding ourselves behind a thin veil of trust in our own strength, rather than trusting in God’s call to love. It is 2020 and we still destroy and erode our planet for personal gain and fail to recognize the warning signs until it is too late. It is 2020 and we are still talking about how we need to care for orphans, widows, the poor, the downtrodden, the lonely, the sick, the stranger, all those who need our help. It is 2020 and we still do not get it.
When will we begin to tell this world what Christianity is all about? When will we stand up to the world and let them know that false Christianity, false Christian religion, false Christian teaching does not represent the Christianity we ascribe to; the Christianity of Jesus Christ, the great gift of Love? When will we stand up to the world and say that ours is a message of hope, ours is a message of peace, ours is a message of love, and ours is a message that Jesus lives? Jesus was right, our world does not know him. His world did not even know him.
It is about time we use St Francis of Assisi’s advice and preach the Gospel wherever we go, and if necessary, use words. It is about time we use the Rev. Dr, Martin Luther King Jr.’s advice and not be afraid of trying and failing, for, “when you stand up for justice, you never fail.” And it is about time we let this world know that our Savior is alive and well in and through us!
"Because I Live"
We cannot change the injustice that has already happened, we can only change our future. What do we want historians to say about this people that was tested in 2020? What do we want people to say about this religion called Christianity when they were put to the test? When the world declared their religion dead through its actions; when the world declared their movement over through their inaction? What do we want our children and our children’s children to say about us for generation upon generation?
I can only answer for myself and say that I want my future to be one filled with life. I want the future generations to look back and say we tried. I want the future of Little Falls, of Minneapolis/St Paul, of Minnesota, of the United States of America, of our world to say that one day we finally had enough of dying and we finally got to living! And I want future generations to look back at this time and mark it as a day not of victory, but of systemic change, a moment in time when we finally had enough and changed for the better. A time when the world was tired of seeing headlines marred with names of people taken way too soon, of George Floyds, of Ahmaud Arberys, of countless others. The time when Christians around the world finally understood that Jesus only lives when we live.
"Because I Live"
“Because I Live,” I have already given you all the tools you need. We are like those disciples from millennia ago right now. We have long been awaiting the Holy Spirit to rush in and fill us and make a loud wind-like noise and fill our tongues with language and our hearts with Spirit. We are like those disciples who were waiting and waiting not knowing what to expect. Except we are different in one important way; we already have the Holy Spirit with us and we have been given awareness through the teachings of our tradition and Jesus Christ himself. The question is, what are we going to do with it?
Now I understand we are tired and worn down and we cannot all go and protest or help people out in the streets of Minneapolis; I get that, in fact it is probably wise for most of us not to do that during this time of Covid-19. But what I am calling us to do is to examine the places in our lives where we feel the Holy Spirit filling our hearts with the flames of action, and then I am calling us to act. In the simplest way, we can have a great effect through how we interact with one another on a daily basis. In the simplest way, we can have great effect by who we vote into office. In the simplest way, we can have a great effect by praying and calling and sending love to our world. And if so called, in the simplest way, we can have a great effect by joining in the efforts to build a better society through the physical use of our hands and feet. And when we think we cannot do anything, we need to remind ourselves that Jesus sent us the advocate, the Holy Spirit, all the strength we need, and God gave us the tools; we just have to use them.
"Because I Live"
“Because I Live”, you don’t have to be perfect! We don’t have to do everything the way everyone else is doing it, we are called to do things the way we would do them. And we will try and fail, and try and succeed. But it is through trying that we learn and through trying that we find our place where we are called to be the living Christ to one another. But not trying is complete failure and our world has done that enough already.
I awoke this morning tired, angry, sad, and scared…and then I was reminded that I am not alone, I have an advocate, the world needs me, I already have all the tools I need, and I don’t need to be perfect. I was reminded that because Jesus lives, I live, you live, we live…and it is time to live! The only way our world will ever truly know that Jesus lives is through you and me. Make today a turning point, make today the day you decide to try, make today the day you live… “Because I live, you also live,” Amen!
Complete – Rev. Tony Romaine – May 24th, 2020
A brief research on the internet reveals that 58 countries have various monuments to unknown soldiers, spanning from Argentina to Zimbabwe. I’ve selected some for our purposes, especially since this weekend is Memorial Day weekend and we remember and honor those who gave their lives. The idea to memorialize and remember an “unknown soldier” began out of the ashes of World War I, and then again after World War II. Two wars in which millions of soldiers lost their lives. Wars which rendered lives incomplete, and all for what reason?
As a pastor, advocating for peace is not only something I consider my duty as a professional, but something I consider our Christian duty. As a historian, I look to learn from history to see why these wars were fought and for what purpose. From this standpoint, and from the perspective of history and being able to look back, we can talk honestly about how these wars could perhaps have been prevented. How even the atrocities of genocide and mass-murder of millions of innocents could have perhaps been avoided.
For instance, World War I could have been prevented, perhaps, if national pride was not more important than human interest. If alliance with another country was not more important than the actions of said country. If imperialism and colonialism and the allure of power and wealth were not more important than the dignity of every human being and sovereignty of the freedom of all people.
Or take the bloodiest war in the history of our young country, the Civil War, a war which pitted a people against their own people; this war probably could have been prevented if economies were not built on the backs of innocent people, if money was not the driving force behind our national pride, if the pursuit for the common good did not exclude anyone, any race, any Northerner or Southerner, and if a group of colonies which had only recently in terms of world history had formed a country, could have thrown off their colonial and imperial genetics to examine and understand what it takes to live in a republic such as we have now.
And while this is only a cursory evaluation of major conflicts and certainly does not cover all the intricacies of what leads up to war and the perceived need for conflict; tasks a sermon even as long-winded as this one cannot truly accomplish; at some point, is it not in our best interest as humanity to evaluate and remember the reasons, the steps, the entrance points to these wars, so that we do not have to repeat them? Is it not our duty to the unknown and known who gave their lives to protect our “freedoms” to not put those freedoms at risk again; to not have to war over the same things again and again?
And while I am a person who strives for peace, I am also fully aware of the need for those with the ability to do so, to step up and protect the innocent and fight for those who have no rights. Certainly, we honor the sacrifice of all of the known and unknown soldiers who “paid” for this country we have now. But, does it honor those who died if we remember their memory only to forgot what they were fighting for? No, in fact it dishonors the sacrifice of all those who paid the ultimate price; of all those who died to give us life, if we live our lives negligent of our duty to learn from the past and create a better future.
There was once another “unknown” soldier. One who people asked about and struggled to believe that this person was part of their tribe. A soldier not of war, but a soldier of peace. A soldier who taught and demonstrated that the greatest thing we can do for one another is to lay down our lives for each other; but not in terms of weaponry or wars, in terms of placing one’s life on the altar of peace and acting humbly so that all of the great things about life itself can be enjoyed by you and me.
Of course you know the “soldier” I am speaking of is Jesus Christ. Many have misappropriated the teachings of Jesus to justify their bent toward war and fighting. Many have justified their actions by using the very same quote I used above from John 15, where Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Without remembering Jesus’ sacrifice, what he did and how he did it in order to give us the complete gift of life eternal.
Jesus’ self-sacrifice came without fighting, without guns or bombs, without raising a fist in violence. In fact, remember when the soldiers and authorities came to arrest Jesus and Peter lopped off the ear of one of the soldiers, Jesus took it and put it back on and told Peter that this is not the way. And when we use Jesus and his message of peace to justify our own human ways, our own human greed, our own human penchant for war; then we once again do a disservice to the greatest gift we have ever been given.
This does not mean that we roll over and take the world as it is and let bad people off or injustice to reign. But what it means is that we work and strive for a world in which war is not necessary. It means that we strive for a world where no one is hungry so no one need fight over food. It means that we strive for a world where all people are given the same chance at a full and vibrant life so that no one need or desire more than they have. It means that when the world grows crazy and people begin to lean toward war more and more, the voices of peace and prosperity lean heavier and remind everyone of the painful lessons we have had to learn through war.
And it means the world holds people accountable, not by force or might, but by the almighty teachings of Jesus Christ, that we treat each other as we would want to be treated, and that we do not interpret God’s Word for our own validation; but live by God’s Word of love for all creation, love for all God’s children, and love for neighbor.
Striving in this way is not easy, just look at what Jesus endured. So yes, we will suffer and struggle, that is part of being incomplete and finite beings. But when we do so on account of Jesus, when we suffer and are put to trial because we long to live as Jesus taught us to live; then we are not unknown, we are not incomplete, for we are perfected through the sacrifice of Jesus upon the Cross and through our baptism into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We are made complete by the sacrifice that God made for all creation who trust and believe in the promise of the Cross. We are made complete when we strive for the peace Jesus sought, when we put our trust in God, when we lift up our neighbor and long for them to have what we have. We are made complete when we give over our lives to Jesus and trust that God, yes, I know it is difficult, trust that God’s will and wisdom and way is better than our finite human thinking. We are made complete, even in our imperfection, because God loves us and longs for us to learn and grow and trust completely.
And let me say one thing about our current trajectory in the United States and the world: We are dividing ourselves once again. We are creating greater and greater gaps in prosperity, wealth, economy, freedom, food, and care. We are forgetting the lessons of our past and moving toward a place where extremism rules and moderation is seen as weak. We are not progressing, but regressing to a place where we put our trust in weapons, money, and nation; rather than, God, each other, and love. We are not working to lift our neighbors up, rather we are striving to get ahead at whatever cost to our neighbors. And we are fast moving toward a world which will soon again sacrifice innocent lives with the underlying motif of doing so for the “greater good.”
Why; because as history teaches us, nations come and go, power grows and wains, and the only thing that seems inevitable is that innocents pay the price for our failures to grow and learn. See, all of the unknown soldiers whose memorials we briefly saw at the beginning of this message had not always been “unknown.” They had a mother and a father, they had friends and colleagues. They were known as something more than a soldier before they became the unknown and countless who so often perish for humanity’s inadequacies. They were known as teachers, doctors, students, police, fire-fighters, teenagers, children, friends, brothers and sisters; before they became an example for us all to take a breath and examine our histories, our motives, and our ethics. So take a moment and think about your child, your grandchild, your great-grandchild, your brother, your sister, your friend, or even that nice stranger who smiles at you when you get gas or coffee. We are not too far away from them becoming the next “unknown.”
But this message today is not all doom and gloom; for we are not there yet. And we have the incredible human ability to shape our future for the better. So that the promise of hope for today and for our future is that we would remember the sacrifice of all those who we memorialize today. That we would honor their life and their duty and their willingness to answer the alarm. That we would do them the honor of living full and vibrant lives helping others to live full and vibrant lives in the peace that they paid for with flesh and blood. That we would honor our Savior by remembering how he lived, how he died, and how he completed our lives through the resurrection. Not for us to throw away for worldly gain or power, but to lift others up so we could all become complete.
What an incredible hope indeed! My how we could truly honor and memorialize our known and unknown. And when the world seems to be awash with pain and suffering and everything seems to be running toward more pain and more suffering, remember the words of 1 Peter, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.”
So let us, the completed humanity take heart in the message of peace. Let us who suffer now from isolation, anxiety, and the “unknown,” take heart that our God does not abandon us. And let us indeed follow what Jesus told those disciples millennia ago, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” May we ask God for all we need, trust in God’s providence, and rejoice in the complete joy of Jesus Christ.
The inscription that engraves the United States Unknown Soldier memorial says, “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” Our world does not need more statues or memorials; our world needs more memory. Let us indeed honor all those we remember this weekend and live into the completeness of our Savior. So that their sacrifice, Jesus’ sacrifice, would not be in vain; but would be known to all through the living of our lives, through the peace of our hands, and the complete love of our hearts, Amen!
Fishing – Rev. Tony Romaine – May 17th, 2020
Today is Rural Life Sunday, and while we do not necessarily celebrate and bless the fields and our farms and the areas of our rural life like we used to by fasting or abstaining, etc, it is important to recognize and thank God for the blessings of the fields, the farmers, the small businesses and every part of what truly is the backbone of a great society. So what does this have to do with fishing, other than we can go fishing in rural areas? Well, fishing is all about trust, faith, hope, and being content and that has everything to do with rural life!
In our Gospel for today, after a long night of fishing, the disciples had not caught anything. Perhaps it was a sleepless night, wondering to themselves about all of the things that had recently taken place. Perhaps they were going to try and fill nets with fish to provide for this struggling community that was grasping at the loss of its rabbi and teacher. Perhaps they just wanted to get away and go fishing. In any event, they had not caught a single fish until daybreak when a stranger appears on the shoreline and tells them to try the other side of the boat. I wonder if they were thinking to themselves, “Try the right side? Don’t you think we would have done that already!” But nothing could be worse than their empty nets, so they try the other side of the boat and alas, nets full to almost tearing. In this moment they realize it has to be Jesus and they rush to shore.
Perhaps you are like these disciples, tired after the long night of no success. You have been fishing in the dark and long night for something to grasp ahold of, something to give you hope that there is still life in these waters, something that could fill your net and bring you life. Perhaps you are just floating in a lake wondering at what direction you should take. Remember in this boat is not just Peter and John, but also Thomas, who once doubted but now believes. Thomas who is about to go on missionary trips that span all the way to India, about to take the Word of God and share it with the world.
Perhaps you are how I imagine Peter to be in this narrative, as he was the first one to speak up about wanting to go fishing. Perhaps you just want something that seems normal, something that seems restful, something that seems doable. And so, as Peter goes fishing, you also seek to do something that you know you can do well to take your mind off of our current times.
And yet, even though this “something” you are trying is a practice you have honed over the years, is something you have found success in many times before…nothing happens. Until Jesus comes along and tells you to try the other side, try it my way, try to recognize that the very lake in which you are travelling, in which you are fishing is the very same lake I am using to transform you. Try the other side, try fishing out of the waters that I provide. Not the waters of despair and unrest, but the waters where the weary can come and rest and the lost can be found.
And while most commentators will tell you this passage is about discipleship, trusting in Jesus, following God’s call to go and make disciples and our churches will be full; I think this passage has a lot to say about finding ourselves where we are and just how to live our lives.
See, we say to God, “I’ve already tried that, I’ve already fished those waters, I’ve already put my nets out in that deep dark emptiness of the world and every time they come back empty.” But God calls us to try the other side, take a new perspective, trust in God and put our nets in the waters that are filled with fish ready for our nets. Waters that run deep and true.
Fishing is about hope and subsequently requires faith that when I cast my nets, or when I cast my line, there is something out there. We have all been fishing for a while in the night. We are all tired of social isolation and the emptiness of the nets of our lives. We are all tired of having to figure out new things, new pathways, new ideas, new, new, new. When all along, have we been truly taking the time to fish where we are? Have we taken the time to cast those lines, those nets, in the waters we know and seek out fulfillment where we are?
Remember our passage from Job, “But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In God’s hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.” Have you tried the other side? Have you looked where you are for fulfillment where you are? Have you given God thanks for being in the place you are instead of wishing you were somewhere else? Have you given thanks to God for the things you have instead of wishing for the things you do not? Have you cast your net into all the waters of your life seeking the fish in the place you are, or are you only trying one side because you think you know best? Do you doubt that God has a plan for you or for the world? Is not every living thing in God’s hand?
This is not to say that we have not done as the disciples did, that we have not fished every part of what we know to only come back empty. That we should not try new things or find new ways or long after something different. Rather, what we need to be cognizant of is when Jesus calls us that we are ready to indeed try to go fishing again. That even after the long night, hope comes in the morning. That when we slow down and take the time to listen, however long that might take, that when we do hear the word of God beckoning us to try the other side, that we willingly cast our nets regardless of how many times we have already tried.
For when we realize the beauty of the place we are, the blessedness of what we have, the love that surrounds us, then we will be filled with riches at the bursting nets found in our presence. That’s what the author of 1 Timothy is trying to tell us when it says, “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”
Now, how many people do you know who would be content only with food and clothing? Honestly, not many of us would be; and while that is just a basic interpretation of what God provides; what 1 Timothy is trying to key in on, is the very same thing that Job speaks to, and also the foundation of what Jesus is building upon in our Gospel passage today. Until we are content with what God has provided us, where God has placed us, what gifts God has given us, our nets will always be empty for nothing will be able to fill them.
That is until in gratitude, humility, and love we trust that Jesus has us, that God has a plan for us, and that our God loves us so much that when we stop, slow down, listen, take the time, and cast our line in the faith of Jesus Christ, we will have more than we could ever imagine before, we will have so much our nets will be on the verge of tearing, we will have so much that we will want to jump out of our boats and swim ashore to thank God for the bounty…but more so, we will thank God for being present!
See, I used to go fishing with a purpose in mind; with a need to catch something. If I did not, I left that fishing hole and went to another. Until one day I was fishing a small river and I was struck by the beauty of the trees, the energy of the flowing water, the colors of the twilight sky, and just reeled in my line and stood there amidst God’s creation. I had not fished in that way before and in that moment my life would be forever changed, as if I had been told to fish in a different way, perhaps to try a different side, perhaps to be content that I am a part of God’s creation, and whatever may come will come. Regardless of whether I caught anything at all…going was the purpose, fulfillment found in being content where I was, that I was provided for and trusting in God’s creation.
There is definitely something about the exhilaration of feeling the line burst with life, with energy that you might have something on there…that hope fulfilled, that faith renewed, the dedication and hard work we put into our craft rewarded, and the prospect that indeed this river, lake, or sea is not empty but life still exists here! What hope we have that wherever we go with Jesus, wherever we are with God, our nets will be filled, our lives complete.
So let us dream dreams, let us cast nets, let us farm fields and sow seeds of small towns; of rural life; of being pleased, of a life in praise of where God has led us; in praise of our Savior, Amen!
The Rock – Rev. Tony Romaine – May 10th, 2020
In the song called “The Prayer” written by Carole Bayer Sager and David Foster, and sung by Celine Deion and Andrea Bocelli, we hear these touching words:
“Can we touch the soul of heaven
Can we unite a sacred lesson
Every child creates a skylight of beauty
Can you hear cathedrals falling
All the universe is calling
Cry a single cello from your heart
Since the world has lost her way
Loneliness journey, endlessly
Yet the promised chance remains
Gift of what could be”
Gift of what could be. This is the rock that the church is indeed built upon. See, well before Peter would become the rock which Jesus calls to build the church upon, well before we would envision a strong and vibrant Christian church touching billions of people around the world; there was a tiny pebble in the grand scheme of things which God used as the foundation for the church. This tiny pebble which would bear the Son who becomes the rock that was prophesied, the rock that was rejected , the rock that would become the cornerstone of a movement that would inspire us to be better, live better, and love better. Yes, I am talking about Mary, The Rock.
In our Gospel passage today, we hear the story we always hear at Christmas, but should be reminded of this day celebrating the mothers in our lives. A story we should be reminded of more often about how a human being, a humble Mary; as the old hymn says, lowly and pure, became the Rock upon which God would build the Church. And what a stone to build upon!
But therein lies the power of this story and the reason for me to spend our sermon time today talking about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Because before she was the mother of Jesus, we do not know much about her. Some authors have tried to piece together fragments of her life, but there is little historical evidence to say one way or another who she was, other than what we know from our Gospel reading today and other tidbits from early Christian authors. Moreover, here is an interesting fact for you, Mary is mentioned more in the Quran, Islam’s Holy Book, than our own Holy Bible!
I bring this up not to shame us Christians for not recognizing the importance of our own mother of Jesus, although, seriously early Gospel writers, we could have used more information! No, I bring this up to actually highlight the obscurity of Mary before she was known as the mother of Jesus, before she became the saint of all saints, before she became the Blessed Virgin Mary, or whatever title we want to ascribe to her. The obscurity is where the power of her being the Rock we speak of today enters in.
Mary, the unknown, is the one that God chose to send the angel Gabriel to, that God chose to send the Holy Spirit to, the one whom God chose to bear God Incarnate. And we might ask ourselves why God would choose Mary. Why wouldn’t God have chosen someone of higher esteem, someone well known throughout the known world? Why not choose someone who is older or wiser? And if we do not listen closely, we might not hear why God chose Mary.
Sure, she begins with questioning like many might if Gabriel appeared and told you how you would bear a child. So it is not surprising then that Mary responds with her physiological question asking about how all of this is possible. But when the angel responds and tells Mary how anything is possible with God, here is where we see why God chose Mary, for she responds with, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Now I know I am painting over the fact that she is in the lineage we hear about that Jesus would be born into and the correct genealogy following the Davidic line and all of the fulfillment of the prophetic lineage that holds true because Mary falls into that proper heritage. And do not get me wrong, this is very important for continuity and for purposes of hereditary and prophetic fulfillment. However, the immediate trust in God, the immediate recognition that God could choose anyone whom God desires, and that God indeed can do anything…that is why Mary was chosen.
It is very much the same with us in our lives, and if you have not gotten there yet, this is the reason I bring this up today on Mother’s Day. Anything is possible with God. And sometimes we might not even know what great things we have been chosen for until we completely and totally trust in our Mother God who called us into being. We might not even know the impact we have or how we will touch others.
For instance, the Prayer of Confession today was an adaptation of Rachel Field’s Ave Maria. However, this itself is an adaptation of Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria which he actually wrote for an excerpt from the poem “The Lady of the Lake” by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). In fact, Schubert originally called his piece “Ellen’s Third Song,” and as best as can be translated into English it actually says this:
“Ave Maria! Ave Maria! maiden mild! Listen to a maiden’s prayer! Thou canst hear though from the wild, thou canst save amid despair. Safe may we sleep beneath thy care, though banished, outcast and reviled –Maiden! Hear a maiden’s prayer; Mother, hear a suppliant child! Ave Maria! Ave Maria! undefiled! The flinty couch we now must share shall seem this down of eider piled, if thy protection hover there. The murky cavern’s heavy air shall breathe of balm if thou hast smiled; then, Maiden! Hear a maiden’s prayer; Mother, list a suppliant child! Ave Maria! Ave Maria! Stainless styled! Foul demons of the earth and air, from this their wanted haunt exiled, shall flee before thy presence fair. We bow us to our lot of care, beneath thy guidance reconciled; hear for a maid a maiden’s prayer, and for a father hear a child! Ave Maria!”
This is a far cry, as was our Prayer of Confession, from the Ave Maria we familiarly know as:
Hail Mary, full of grace, Mary, full of grace, Mary, full of grace, Hail, Hail, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed, blessed is the fruit of thy womb, thy womb, Jesus. Hail Mary! Holy Mother of God, pray for us sinners, pray, pray for us; Pray for us sinners. Now, and at the hour of our death, the hour of our death, the hour, the hour of our death, the hour of our death. Hail Mary!
Even Schubert was shocked as we hear in a letter from Schubert to his father and step-mother where he says: “My new songs from Scott’s Lady of the Lake especially had much success. They also wondered greatly at my piety, which I expressed in a hymn to the Holy Virgin and which, it appears, grips every soul and turns it to devotion.”
You see, each of us either have that rock in our lives or are the rock in someone’s life. Whether it is our own mother who was the rock who is perhaps obscure and not very many may know; whether it is those among us who are mothers and are impacting their child’s lives in ways beyond our fame and fortune; whether it is those whose mothers were not great rocks in their life and so had to find stability and solidity in other places, or themselves, and are now rocks for their children; whether it is those who could not bear children despite every desire to do so, but are rocks in the lives of so many they may not even know; whether it is those who chose not to have children, but are motherly rocks to children beyond their biological bloodlines; anything is possible through God, and all things are possible through you, the chosen ones of God!
I’m not sure how you feel today. Perhaps Mother’s Day fills you with joy, perhaps it fills you with sorrow, perhaps it brings tears to your eyes, perhaps it brings a smile to your lips. But know this, you are here because God chose you, you impact the lives of so many around you, and your Mother God, the Mother of all Creation, the Mother who breathed life into you, is making all things possible through you…the question is will you trust in that Rock, the Rock, our Mother God telling us to not be afraid, for nothing is impossible to God? Will you answer as Mary did in complete trust and awe?
At the end of the song I quoted from called “The Prayer” it says this: “If you could trust with your heart one more time, Sweet angel conceived, You have forever and always believed.”
You are the Rock God has chosen,
You are the Gift of What Could Be,
You are enough just the way you are,
The sweet angel chosen by God…now trust and believe, Amen!
It Must Be Jesus – Rev. Tony Romaine – May 3rd, 2020
This painting you see here on your screen is from James Tissot and is title, “The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road.”
And for those who cannot see it, there are two pilgrims talking with Jesus, although we know from our Scripture that they do not know it is him yet. The moment captured in the painting is of Jesus telling them everything about the law and the prophets and about himself. What is intriguing to me is the consternation on the faces of these travelers, these disciples of Jesus, these people on the road to Emmaus as they process what they have just experienced, are visibly still thinking about the prophecy told to them. Only again to have this traveler tell them about Moses, the prophets, and Jesus.
It Must Be Jesus
What made me think about this in connection with the Road to Emmaus Gospel we have for ourselves today is the idea that these disciples, people who had been in the presence of Jesus, had walked with Jesus before, had travelled many roads as part of Jesus’ chosen ones; these disciples were so caught up in thinking about what had just happened and so concerned about what was to come, that they could not even slow down enough to recognize their hearts burning inside of them and they could not hear that it was Jesus unveiling the Scriptures to them. If these two disciples who had physically walked with Jesus perhaps even touched Jesus when he was alive could not recognize and slow down and listen and realize that they were once again in the presence of their Savior…then what chance do we have!
What are we missing out on right now…right now as we hurry through our days with nowhere to go. Right now as we worry through our days with anxiety and fear. Right now as we come together and worship and yet are already thinking about what we are going to do today, tomorrow, this week. Right now as we are journeying with Jesus through life and yet cannot recognize our hearts burning at the sound of His Scripture, at the presence of His being, at the table we are about to share.
It Must Be Jesus
We live in the 21st Century with all our modern gadgets and gizmos, to be able to do church via the internet, telephone, television, etc. and yet we still imagine our church being a confined space limited to walls and a roof. We have the ability to be the church through a telephone call, through the power of prayer, through the presence of sending a card or letter; and yet, we still think we must be able to physically be next to someone in order for them to know how much we care.
Do not get me wrong, I am as social a being as anyone; I miss seeing you all on Sundays in person, shaking your hands, sharing a moment of fellowship over coffee or water or juice. But what Jesus is reminding us as we journey along our road with Him is that physical presence is less about physically being next to one another than what we do with that space. In other words, what good is it to be next to one another if we are also not the church when we are apart!
Sure there are things we are limited in doing. We cannot be open to groups or meetings or events or things of those nature. But our hearts are burning in other ways. For instance, there are more people coming to our services now than we have averaged in a long, long time. This means that more people are connecting to church now that we are closed than when we were open! People are checking in on each other much more frequently than ever before, and not just others that would be considered “friends,” but people in our Church community who might not ever have spoken with one another are reaching out and connecting. We are becoming the church that Jesus longs for us to be all the time, not just on Sundays!
I understand this pandemic is wearing on us all. Trust me, I know how daunting this seems when I think about all the stresses and difficulties that come from being closed for another month. But also trust me that if we only focus on the negatives, we miss out on all the wonderful positives that we are currently experiencing as a congregation; all the ways we are being called to slow down and feel our hearts burning inside of us!
It Must Be Jesus
The reason I keep hammering on about all of the ways we are being the church outside of meeting within our building is because there will come a time when we can meet again, when we can be physically together once again, when we will be walking side-by-side with each other along our journey once more. And when we come to that time, we must not forget the lessons we learned while we were apart. We must not forget that our care for one another is not limited to physical space, but to the vast realm of the Spirit, where we can pray for one another, care for one another, and send love to one another in even more powerful ways than hugs, handshakes, or fist-pounds.
We must not forget when we can come back together to slow down and be present with one another, to take the time to listen and care for each other by truly seeking to understand and love one another. We must not forget that when we return to a time of ease, and our physically close selves feel fulfilled by attending Sunday worship in our church once more, that we are called by Jesus to be the church every day of the week. That our Christianity is not limited to the presence of Jesus Christ with us, or our presence with each other, but is eternal, everywhere, and unlimited; that wherever we go, whoever we are with, we are the hands and feet of Jesus.
And if this all sounds exhausting, if this sounds like a dream which is too daunting, if all we can feel now is grief or sadness, then we must also experience those emotions and take those to God as well. For the loss we feel right now is true grief. The inability to extend a caring hand of love or an embrace of tenderness is difficult. The road we are on is not easy and the walk we are amidst is troubling and filled with unknown, fear, and doubt.
But remember, this is where Jesus met these pilgrims too. They had just experienced the physical, extremely physical, departing of Jesus from their lives through His sacrifice upon the Cross. They had just lost the physical representation of their rabbi, friend, and brother. And yet at the same time had heard news that Jesus was resurrected. They were processing all the cynicism and optimism all at the same time; and the grief they must have felt is almost unimaginable.
But in this grief, this place of confusion, they did something at the end of our Gospel for today which is remarkable. They knew the road was dangerous and that this traveler must not travel through the dark. And so they invited him in to share a meal, spend the night, and be safe until he could travel during the day. And in that moment, although they had not yet realized this was Jesus, they were the church beyond their rabbi, they were the church beyond their closed rooms, they were the church by extending care and concern for a stranger, and showing compassion even if they did not know if was their Savior. And in the breaking of bread and sharing of cup at that table along the road to Emmaus, all suddenly became known to them, in the burst of a moment, in an epiphany of light.
We are all pilgrims on the road to Emmaus. We are weary travelers worn down by the journey. We are struggling with grief, the knowledge of prophets, the unknown of the future, the experiences of our fellow travelers. And Jesus meets us where we are to be with us through bread, cup, and time on the road to remind us that we are so much more than we could ever imagine. Listen, slow down, pay attention to your heart afire…for you are Jesus to those around you in more ways than you know. And when in doubt, when you are not sure; trust that within you, It Must be Jesus, Amen
"The Gate" – Rev. Tony Romaine – April 26th, 2020
When I was a child in Elementary school, I can remember lining up by the doors to go outside for recess. I remember the anticipation of wanting to get out and get to the bag for the ball I needed, or to be the first person to race to the swing and get the best of all the swings. I remember the excitement I felt at being freed for even a little bit during the school day to go and run and play and be happy and joyful with my friends. And I like to remember that care-free, child-like nature when I hear this Gospel today about Jesus being our Gate.
But before we can talk about Jesus being the gate, we must also speak about Jesus as Shepherd. Why does Jesus make such a good shepherd? Because he is both at once the lamb and the shepherd. He is the one who will die to take away all of our sins, the innocent lamb that was led to the Cross in order to pay the ultimate price for our degradation of the gifts God gave us. He is, in the words of 1 Peter for today, the one who committed no sin and spoke no deceit. And he is the one who suffered greatly and did not answer back violence with violence, but peacefully laid his life down for all our salvation.
But at the same time Jesus did this, He was also the Shepherd who would lead us into the blessed fields of eternal life. The Shepherd who looks after His flock with unending watchfulness. The Shepherd who would go searching for the one lost sheep, the Shepherd who wants all of His sheep to be in the fold, and again, the Shepherd who puts His own life up against all odds for the sheep in His pasture.
This is why the metaphor of the gate is so wonderful. Remember from our Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” Where once there were locked doors that disciples were hiding behind, now we have open gates. Where once we could not possibly know the way and the truth and the light, now Jesus is our gate and begs us come and find pasture. Where once we were lost and tumbling in a whirlwind of sin and greed, we are now saved through an open door to freedom.
But let us take this metaphor of Jesus being the gate even farther. In the beginning of creation itself, we were given everything, we lived in pastures of green and in the Garden of Eden, we had it all. There was not a gate closed to us at all, except as we know, the one tree we were not supposed to eat from. When we, through our own free will given to us by God, sinned and were forced to leave the garden, the gate was locked and we were not allowed to re-enter the garden ever again. This is not to say that God did not want us there in the garden, that God did not want us to be in pastures of providence, that God did not want us to be safe and in relationship with Him; but we had committed a sin which would forever taint our humanity and that meant the gate must be closed.
Let us fast-forward though, because to me it seems at some point after thousands of years of trying to get the point across to humanity that we must pursue God with all our heart, mind, body, and soul; that we were given free will to choose God; that after years and years and years of humanity still trusting in their own capacities and their own power and their own wealth, thinking that they were the ones who provided it for themselves; it seems at this point that God had a revelation of sorts.
God realized that because of the creation event and the gift of free-will, humanity will inevitably sin and not always choose the right and holy path. Thus, a new covenant had to be made, one based on pure grace where humanity would be saved not through destruction and re-creation, but through a gift from God of forgiveness and mercy; through the gift of an open gate and a forgiving God. As it states in Jeremiah 31:34, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” It was as if God was saying to humanity through the prophet Jeremiah, “Yes I know you are bound to sin from time-to-time, yes I know that there is goodness in my creation, and so in order for the goodness to shine I must be the one to forgive, the one to be Holy, the one to be almighty, and in return trust that through a gift of grace my creation will turn toward me.” This completely free gift of grace thus leads to the gate being opened and Jesus being our gate!
Theologically I cannot say whether that means we will return to Eden or if Revelations is correct and there will be a new heaven and a new earth. However, one thing I am sure of is that because God’s grace has shone through Jesus into our lives, because of God’s grace upon the Cross where our sins have been paid for by the ultimate price, the sacrificial lamb of Jesus, God Incarnate; that wherever that pasture of green and plenty is for us, the gate has been forever opened and can never be closed again.
See, this is the new covenant we talk about when we take Communion, when we take from the cup of the blood of the New Covenant; that we are forgiven by the sacrifice of Our Shepherd, and in that moment, the path is made clear for our eternal salvation.
Which is why the text from Acts for today is so powerful. When the people of ancient Jerusalem and the surrounding areas heard those words condemning them as the ones who had crucified the living Christ, they immediately were ashamed and heartbroken. So it should be for us when we hear these words, when we hear at what cost our lives have been paid, when we understand what it took for us to be given an open gate to an eternal pasture.
But, just like those Israelites of old that Peter was preaching to, so should we hear this lesson today not as a condemnation of our souls, but as a call for us to repent and to turn toward God; a call to re-commit our lives as sheep who have been given an open gate to the greenest of pastures. That through our baptism, we have received the Holy Spirit and through that baptism, we are baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That with, and by, the power of the Holy Spirit, we can proclaim the resurrected Christ to the world and call the world to be a place of love where all God’s children can be welcomed into God’s eternal fold.
But more so for our present day and age, we can offer a tender message of comfort amidst adversity; of God coming alongside a lost generation, of God coming alongside his Creation and being there to walk through the pains and ills and abuses of life. For this is truly one of the most powerful pieces of our Trinitarian belief, that Jesus was God Incarnate, our open gate, and so was completely human at the same time. Which means that Jesus felt the same pains we feel, caught the same illnesses we catch, and certainly felt the loneliness we all feel.
Furthermore, Jesus suffered the same way we suffer, perhaps he suffered even more than we can know what suffering is; because, while we suffer from the anguish of physical and emotional pain, which Jesus surely suffered from also; Jesus also suffered as God knowing that his was the price to pay as Our Great Shepherd to open the gate for us. That this sacrifice was His and His alone, and that we to this day would still be, as our Gospel states, misunderstanding what Jesus was teaching us.
And what is Jesus teaching us today? “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” Jesus is beckoning us, as the Good Shepherd He is, to come and be saved, to come and find pasture, to enter in and to go out. Jesus is calling us to never forget the cost it took to open that gate, to be that gate; but Jesus is also calling us to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to share this Good News of the open gate with the world.
And like children who rush through the doors of the school, who race to the swing set or to the jungle gym or to the basketball court; like children who run free with arms wide open feeling every part of their creation, Jesus is calling us to come in, to go out, and to find that blessed pasture where we can roam forgiven and freed, Amen!
A Living Hope – Rev. Tony Romaine – April 19th, 2020
As I did yard work this week and pruned things and organized things and readied the yard for the Spring, I thought of what preparation people who are more talented at gardening than myself do to ready things this time of year. How they till the soil, they turn the soil and the nutrients to increase the flow of oxygen and nitrogen, they fertilize to increase those nutrients that bring life, they clear away the death and decay from a long winter, and they being to imagine what life can be planted anew. And then eventually they plant seeds or bulbs in hope of glorious gardens to come; gardens that will take time, patience, determination, and love; gardens who need someone to tend to them and care for them and nurture them along in a living hope.
A Living Hope
The title for today’s sermon comes from the passage in 1 Peter where the author says that we are given a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that although we have not seen Jesus, we love Him. It is just amazing to me how the Scriptures truly match up with our current season. Now, as a pastor, I think that the Scripture matches just about every week, but recently we have been able to really parallel with the Gospels and the other readings. A lot of this has to do with our season of isolation and distancing as we effort to reduce the spread of Covid-19. But in this manner, we are much like the disciples who were feeling alone and isolated from their Rabbi; from Jesus. The disciples who were left to try and remember all Jesus’ teachings, who were left to deal with the geo-political state of affairs that were resultant after the crucifixion and death and burial of Jesus, and who were left to be the future for this small movement which we now know as Christianity.
Furthermore, they had to do all of this at the very same time they were grieving the loss of Jesus, their teacher, their guide, their brother, their son, their everything. So it is no wonder they locked themselves away out of fear of persecution. It is no wonder they were separating themselves from a society which just crucified Jesus, and it is no wonder they were huddled with one another trying to figure out what the next steps would be and to care for one another amidst their grief and turmoil.
Thus, we can empathize with those disciples of the locked doors, can’t we?! We are struggling in our homes and wondering why we are left to be in this state. We have to worship via computer or phone or tablet or whatever device we have instead of being able to sit in person in our church. We are isolated so as to not be infected and die of an invisible disease, an invisible pandemic, which strikes all ages, and as of yet, has no cure. We are left to represent to a world the hope and faith one must have in times such as these, while also representing that our hope and faith is not dependent upon a building or gathering in person. That we can be intelligent human beings gifted by God to think critically and trust in our scientists and doctors, while also representing a faith that is solely dependent upon God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And we are left to grieve without our Risen Savior here to physically comfort us, without our family here to comfort us, without our friends to comfort us; as we journey through this season of fear and despair.
See, we are right there behind those very same locked doors as the disciples of so long ago. But here is the Good News for today and for all time…Jesus came and stood among the disciples despite their locked doors, as not just an aberration or some non-physical being, but stood there so they could touch and feel it was truly Him. And in so doing, Jesus did two things right away for those huddled disciples, and subsequently for us.
First, he spoke a word of peace for them. Peace be with you, or in the Greek it could be translated as to you, or for you, or at you, but regardless, God’s peace be here with you. “Calm your hearts, take a moment, slow down, abandon the world to the world for a moment and just be present with me, Jesus Christ, as I come here to help you to understand.” Jesus came and stood among the disciples and offered them the peace to know that He was resurrected; “see here are my wounds,” as he shows the disciples. Jesus came and stood among the disciples to offer them the peace to see that all he had said would happen indeed came true; to visibly show them so they could believe and trust, and hope, and live in the peace that Christ offers and to know we are forever His.
And Jesus came and stood among the disciples and offered them peace to be their comfort in their time of need. To be the peace they needed to ease their grieving souls, to be the peace they needed to get through this terribly difficult time, and to be the peace that would carry them through the next very important moments in their young journey; a peace we are also offered now as we isolate and must be the living hope for our world.
The other thing Jesus did for the disciples right away, is to breathe the Holy Spirit upon them. We are used to talking about this at Pentecost, but we all too often paint over the importance of the Holy Spirit that Jesus breathed into the disciples at this moment. For in so doing, Jesus grants the disciples the power to forgive sins, while also enlivening them with the very breath of God to go and be the disciples Jesus longs for the world to see. Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, “Why breathe the Holy Spirit and then only share that the disciples can forgive sins? Why not also share all the other wonderful things we know about the Holy Spirit; like life-giving strength, the very breath of God, the ability to speak in tongues, and the list goes on?”
For one simple, yet very important reason: The disciples would never have been able to take the message of Jesus to the world if they could not first forgive the world which crucified Jesus. Those disciples would have remained huddled in that room, behind those locked doors, and would have just kept this wonderful message of a God who loves beyond death, a God who forgives all sins, a God who can breathe life into us whether we see it or not; the disciples could not take that message out without the Holy Spirit and all the great things that come from the breath of God, but they also would not have offered that to the world had they not been commanded to forgive. And in that moment, when Jesus appeared and offered peace and the Holy Spirit, our living hope began!
A Living Hope
As we now huddle in all the places where we are left to be the living hope to this world, it is important to hear this Scripture and how it still speaks to us today. See, we are too in need of Jesus to come and offer us the very same peace the disciples were given. We are in need of knowing that we can be upset, we can be scared, we can be afraid, we can not know what the next step is…and we can bring it all to Jesus, to God, in a moment of peace and surrender ourselves at the foot of the Cross. The living hope, the peace that comes through knowing that no matter what our world throws at us, we are alive in Christ through the resurrected and Risen Savior that is Christ. And that Jesus is real and is with us through the Holy Spirit. Moreover, when all is said and done, we need to be able to forgive our world and to trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us through our next moments. Perhaps though, we also need to be able to offer ourselves some grace too; to offer ourselves the grace to experience and feel, and dare I say doubt, as we feel all the emotions that are human and makes us who we are! Which is why the next part of our Gospel is included in this great message of a living hope; the doubting Thomas narrative, the seeing and believing or not seeing and believing narrative, the Jesus returning once more to ease the disciples narrative. Because, this is us also!
We are inspired by the living hope through the resurrection, we are alive every year anew when we celebrate Easter and sing those great hymns about Jesus Christ being Risen Alleluia! We are awakened to remember that our faith is a living hope in the one great day when Jesus will return and our world will be turned upside down and we will be part of the new earth and the new heaven. We are all of this and more, but we are also very much a “see it to believe it” kind of people. And perhaps more this year than other years, we are feeling the strain of being alone in our world, of being distant from God, of having to be a person of faith and hope in a time of unending news cycles about Covid-19, about death, about isolation and emptiness. We ask God to send us a sign, to give us something tangible, to be with us so we can see and know and hope for that new day.
And in this moment when we need God the most, we must fall back on that living hope which requires us to water it, to gently till the soil, to plant the seed, to nurture with kind words, to grant us grace when we sin and do harm, to live in the wonderful moments when life blooms anew, and to remember the resurrection and hope when all seems lost. And through our Scriptures, we receive our help, we hear something that goes unsaid in the Gospel, but speaks louder than words: Jesus had already appeared to the disciples once, but He came back again just for Thomas, just for you, and just for me! And just as Jesus again offers peace to those disciples who are still huddled, just as Jesus turns to Thomas and offers him the love of a Savior, so too are we offered yet again the living hope…
Wow, these Scriptures today, do you feel them speaking to you? What do they say? What peace do you feel? What does the Holy Spirit breathed into you feel like? How does it feel to know that Jesus came back just for you? How are you going to be the living hope today?!
I love the way our Gospel ends today, with John telling us that Jesus did so much more than this, but that he wrote these specific things down so that “through believing we may have life in Jesus’ name.” Like a gardener planting a wonderful seed in a freshly prepared soil. Having watered it and gently cared for it, given it light and nourishing life, now we may live. So live in the peace of Christ, receive the life of the Holy Spirit breathed into you, and live in that blessed hope of our resurrected Savior, Amen!