Friday, April 17, 2020

Turning Unbelievers Into Good-News-Speakers

Second Sunday of Easter/John 20:19-31
April 19, 2020

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

One of the things that lends authenticity to the Bible is that it has dirty laundry hanging out--all over it.  

God’s written Word proclaims good news in the same breath that it poses imponderable questions.   When we read or hear the Scriptures we catch glimpses that give us hope—while at the same time leaving us wondering what comes next.

The human writers who pieced God’s Word together could have been tidier—they could have smoothed over the rough spots and rounded off the jagged edges--but they didn’t.

The Bible tells the story of God and God’s people “warts and all”—with no apologies.  Nothing gets sanitized or swept under the rug--even episodes that don’t exactly put Jesus’ followers in the kindest light.

Episodes like our familiar gospel lesson for the Second Sunday of Easter.

Taken at face value, this starts out as a story about unbelievers....unbelievers who, because they’d been Jesus’ closest companions for years, should have known better.

This story begins with a bunch of bewildered disciples huddled together in a “safe house” on that first Easter evening.

Even though these guys had put on some mileage with Jesus…they still didn’t get it.

They thought that his crucifixion the preceding Friday had “done in” Jesus for good. 

So, fearful that Jesus’ fate might become their own, these  disciples pulled the shades, locked the doors, and hid.

But one of them was missing.    

For whatever reason Thomas was absent that first Easter evening.   Thomas missed all the hoopla when Jesus showed up three days after he’d been buried.   Thomas didn’t get to see the risen Christ with his own two eyes.

So when the others later told Thomas they had seen Jesus alive again…Thomas flat out declared he wasn’t going to believe it without receiving at least as much proof as they had gotten.

You’ve got to love Thomas. 

He was nobody’s chump. 

Every church council needs at least one Thomas on it:  someone who doesn’t immediately buy every hair-brained idea that comes along.

We’ve hung a nickname around his neck, calling him Doubting Thomas, as if for Thomas faith was elusive, hard to muster up.

But is that really fair?  

What if Thomas was actually like his fellow disciples—only more so?  What if Thomas’s motto was “seeing is believing?”  What if for Thomas faith and doubt lived, side by side?

At any rate, we see Thomas here in John chapter 20, Thomas in all his skeptical glory--demanding visual, “touchable” evidence that Jesus was really alive again.

And don’t you just love it—that Thomas’s story didn’t get edited out of the Scriptures? 

Is that not good news for the skeptics and doubters inside each of us?

Because there’s room in our Bible for Thomas, there’s room in God’s story for you and me, too! 

For, truth be told, we all carry around our own bulging bags of questions, fears and even doubts.  

Isn’t that particularly true right now, in these endless days of the global coronavirus pandemic?

Every day we’re bombarded by facts and figures and sobering projections about how many people are catching the virus, with a mounting death toll in its wake.

Do we not wonder at times whether God’s really going to pull us through this global mess?   

As people plagued by our own questions, wonderings and doubts we find that Thomas fits us like a glove. 

Thomas is you and me.  And the Bible--miracle of miracles!--does not shrink from telling his story.

The Bible, though, doesn’t simply make us feel at home with all our questions and doubts.  God’s Word doesn’t aim simply to make us into more healthy, well-adjusted unbelievers.         No….but rather the Bible also tells us what God does with unbelievers, how God deals with doubters, how God turns unbelievers into good news-speakers.

It is God’s specialty to transform doubters into shouters.

That, too, is the story--the real story--of this gospel text.

First Jesus wondrously shows up in that locked room with his followers on that first Easter evening. 

The Risen Christ appears to them—not to deliver a stern lecture about the dangers of unbelief—but to proclaim a word of gentle peace.

“Shalom!” is the first word out of Jesus’ mouth.

Shalom!  —which means “Peace to the nth degree.”

That’s what Jesus says to his unbelieving followers…and then, so they’ll know him as it dawns on them that Jesus now has death behind him, he shows them the scars of his crucifixion.

How curious—that rather than scientifically proving to them that he’s ALIVE—the Risen and living Lord Jesus proves that he was really dead.

Then, and only then, do the disciples rejoice, in giddy recognition of their risen Lord.

Next, without wasting a second, Jesus gives these unbelievers work to do, along with the power to do it--all in one breath (literally--all in one breath!) when Jesus breathes new life into them and says:  “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”(v. 22-23)

What does Jesus do with this tiny band of shivering, knee-knocking unbelievers?  He drafts them for his service, makes them his ambassadors, catches them up in his own work of piecing back together the whole creation--one shattered relationship, one jaded unbeliever, one repentant sinner at a time.

And Thomas?  What does Jesus do for Thomas?

A week after the first Easter Jesus does for Thomas exactly what Thomas needed him to do.  Jesus graciously, lavishly gives Thomas the grounds he needs to become a believer.  “Put your finger here, Thomas...Reach out your hand and put it in my side.   Do whatever you need to with me in order to have faith.  Do not doubt but believe.” (v. 27)

What does Jesus do for Thomas?  He transforms Thomas the doubter into Thomas the shouter, as he exclaims:  My Lord and my God!”(v. 28)

And so may we also declare that Jesus who was crucified, has been raised to new life—nevermore to die again!

May Thomas’s good confession find its way to our lips, too.

The proof in the pudding, you see, isn’t just that Thomas and the other disciples believed in Jesus….but that you and I believe, through their powerful witness.

It is for us that the Bible lets the dirty laundry hang out all over.  Or as John the gospel writer puts it: “These are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (v. 31)

There’s the pay off!  It is for you and me that the Bible allows the stories of skeptics like Thomas to be told....for only in so telling do we also come to behold what God does with the “show me” guys, the doubters who dot the pages of the Bible.

And what God does with them is to turn unbelievers—like you and me!--into gospel-speakers and gospel-enactors!

God transforms us doubters into shouters who never tire of proclaiming Thomas’s greatest line: “My Lord and My God!”

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Aftershocks of Easter

Easter Sunday/April 12, 2020
Matthew 28:1-10

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

In St Matthew’s version of the Resurrection of our Lord…the first Easter morning began with an earthquake.

Now I’ve never been in one of those—thank heavens!—and we don’t exactly live in an earthquake zone.  But I bet at least some of you HAVE experienced an earthquake, somewhere!

There’s a famous firsthand account of an earthquake written by the great American author Mark Twain when he was visiting San Francisco in October of 1865.

Twain writes:  It was just after noon, on a bright October day…[and] all  was solitude and a Sabbath stillness.

As I turned the corner, around a frame house, there was a great rattle and jar…[and then]there came a terrific shock; the ground seemed to roll under me in waves, interrupted by a violent joggling up and down, and there was a heavy grinding noise as of brick houses rubbing together….and as I reeled about on the pavement trying to keep my footing, I saw…the entire front of a tall four-story brick building on Third Street sprung outward like a door and fell sprawling across the street, raising a great dust-like volume of smoke!

And [then]…every door, of every house, as far as the eye could reach, was vomiting a stream of human beings; and…there was a massed multitude of people stretching in endless procession down every street my position commanded. Never was a solemn solitude turned into teeming life quicker. [1]

I especially like that last line of Mark Twain’s account:  Never was a solemn solitude turned into teeming life quicker.

Well Mr. Twain, maybe there was another time when that happened—when a “solemn solitude turned into teeming life!”

It happened at a garden tomb, just outside Jerusalem, on the first Easter morning.  Soldiers were snoozing by a carefully-sealed grave.   Those guards had been posted there by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate in order to thwart anyone outside Jesus’ grave from trying to break into Jesus’ grave.

But what those Roman soldiers failed to realize was that the biggest danger they faced wasn’t any grave robber on the outside trying to get in.

No, the biggest danger was the Grave-Robber who was already inside that sealed-up tomb!

This Grave-Robber had for three days been dead-as-a-doornail. 

But he didn’t stay dead!  God saw to that!   Jesus—having experienced the “extreme makeover” of death—came back to “rob the grave,” to deprive death from ever again having the power it once enjoyed!

And that event, that world-turning, ground-pounding event could only be accompanied by an earthquake--measuring over 10 on the Richter Scale (a scientific scale, mind you, that only goes up to 9!)

When Jesus arose, the earth shook because death was losing its grip on us, once and for all.

But that’s not all:   because that Easter morning earthquake was itself an aftershock of an earlier earthquake—described only in Matthew’s gospel.

The Easter morning earthquake was a reverberation of the Good Friday earthquake—a cataclysm that struck the moment God’s Son breathed his last.   Then, too, the ground rumbled—powerfully enough, Matthew tells us, to “wake the dead!” (Mt. 27:51-53)

When Jesus died, the earth shook because sin and the devil were being displaced—set aside—defeated for good.

Two earthquakes within three days—and here’s the kicker:  Unlike every other earthquake this old world has ever known, the after-shocks from these two quakes have yet to end.

The after-shocks of Jesus death and resurrection are still rolling across the landscape of human history.   The tremors are still being experienced by ordinary persons like you and me.  

Even in this week when another world-turning event has been unfolding….when a global coronavirus pandemic has stricken over 1.5 million human beings, killing over 100,000 of them, while terrifying everyone else.

Even during this awful time we’re experiencing here on planet earth….the reverberations of the first Good Friday and Easter Sunday earthquakes have not faded away.

  • For whenever Jesus’ saving death sets one more sinner free—the earth continues to roll beneath our feet.  
  • And whenever someone finally “gets it” that the Devil’s reign of terror is over—a seismograph needle bounces wildly! 
  • And whenever Jesus’ grave-robbing resurrection frees up some sufferer to laugh in the face of death—the earth keeps rumbling beneath us.   
  • And whenever we make our own way to a cemetery to bury a loved one—whenever we stare down into that black hole in the ground and shout the Apostles Creed into that fierce darkness—another aftershock of Easter rearranges our whole landscape!

It’s happening right here.  Jesus the Risen One is among us even now.   Can you detect the aftershocks of his death-defying love?   

And can you feel your own knees knocking—as the same God who raised up his Crucified Son, is resurrecting you into new life, boundless hope, and undefeatable love?

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

[1] Excerpted from Mark Twain's book, Roughing It (Hartford:  American Publishing Company, 1872).   Accessed on 4/8/2020 at

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Saved to Be Sent

Devotional Reflection for the Sunday of the Passion (4/5/2020)

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Let us pray:  “Sovereign God, you have established your rule in the human heart through the servanthood of Jesus Christ.  By your Spirit, keep us in the joyful procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord and with their lives praise him as Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

A reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, chapter 2: 
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.

Have you ever found yourself driving in the wrong direction on a one-way highway?

I have--and it was one of the most frightening, disorienting experiences of my life!!

Early on we all learn to “go with the flow”—to follow the crowd and head in the same direction everyone else is going.

In Genesis chapter 3 we learn how our first parents were tempted to believe that their path should involve leaving the earth and climbing up, up, up to God.   “You will not die,” their Tempter told them…”if you eat the fruit God told you not to eat, you will not die but you will become like God!”

That’s what all pick up on, early in life….that we’re traveling a one-way road that takes us upward, ever upward, up to God, up to grab a hold of the godlike powers we long for.

Here in our reading from Philippians 2, though, we witness a different road-- a stark reversal of what the Tempter told our first parents in Genesis 3.

What’s revealed to us here in Philippians 2 is another path, a path that reverses all the arrows, a path that shuns grabbing and hanging on to whatever we lay our hands on….

This alternative route is a path of letting go, emptying ourselves, and traveling downward….down to creaturely life, down to service, down to giving ourselves away in caring for others and for this good earth.

On Passion Sunday we behold how this alternative route, this path of“downward mobility” is precisely the way our Suffering Savior traveled, going against the grain for us, setting aside all his divine prerogatives for us, pouring himself out for us and for all creation.

This One saves us and redeems the whole creation….this Jesus saves us in order to send us back into the world, walking along his amazing road of “downward mobility” which we come to realize is the life we were always meant to live.

My friends, as we live into this global pandemic—we desperately need to hear of this alternative road, this Jesus road, which is our only hope.

Jesus saves us, you see, in order to send us--to send us in service to our neighbors and in tender care for this good earth.   Jesus saves us in order to send us (in the words of Martin Luther) to send us as “little Christs” in our troubled, threatened world.

Now, I realize that that might seem to go against the grain of what we’re hearing these days.   We’re asked to live apart from one another in order to defeat the coronavirus—so how can we go down, down, down to serve our neighbors?

Well, it’s happening, my friends, despite our need to practice physical distancing from one another…we still see people like us serving one another.  

Pay attention to the news and to social media, and you’ll catch glimpses of Christ still moving down to those in deepest need….

You’ll see little Christs sewing face masks in the homes of people “sheltering in place”

You’ll see little Christs writing out checks or making online donations to the local homeless shelter or soup kitchen or nursing home.

You’ll hear little Christs on the telephone, calling up friends, checking in with neighbors, especially those who live alone….

And you’ll witness little Christs kneeling six feet apart from one another in a hospital parking lot—medical personnel, praying for the strength and protection they need to keep fighting the coronavirus.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is still saving and sending us all, even now when we feel stuck and useless at home….Our Lord Jesus transcends the rules of quarantine under which we must live for a season….now, even now, Christ is still at work through all his “little Christs” like you and like me.

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.    

Please pray with me:   “Gracious God, shake us up in this time when we need to live apart from one another.  Show us how even behind the doors of our homes you are still calling us to be your little Christs in this hurting world.   Heal those who are ill and comfort those who are grieving.  Guide, protect and defend all the front-line soldiers in our war against the coronavirus….and use us to be your hands, feet and voice in this aching world.    All these things—and whatever else you see that we need—we ask for, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord who saves us to send us.  Amen."

Friday, March 27, 2020

Beyond--Way Beyond!--Wishful Thinking

Let us pray:   Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death.  Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.   Amen.

Devotional Reflection for Lent 5
Ezekiel 37:1-14 and John 11:1-45

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Earlier this week I was part of a prayer group in which we were asked to share a word that describes how we’re doing.

When my turn came, I said that I was feeling “sobered”—sobered by how heavy this whole pandemic is feeling.

One of the things I’ve found especially sobering is that little “death ticker” in the upper right hand corner of our TV screens during the news networks non-stop coverage of the pandemic.   That “death ticker” reminds me of another “death ticker” that I saw decades ago while watching Walter Cronkite on the CBS nightly news, during the war in Viet Nam.

That old death ticker is back, because another “war” is being fought—this time a war we’re waging with a viral disease—a war that’s taking its inexorable toll, day by day.

With our eyes glued to all our electronic screens, we grimly watch the fatal numbers go up--reminding us of both the magnitude and the tragedy of each victim’s death.

So as we approach the Fifth Sunday in Lent, we “sobered ones” really could use a respite, a break from death….

…and yet as weary as we are of dealing with death, our scripture lessons seem (at first) to grab us and force us to stare right into the jaws of death again.

So, in our reading from Ezekiel we witness the aftermath of the mass destruction that Israel as a nation experienced in exile.   And that aftermath is deeply haunting…because Ezekiel shows us a valley of human bones, very dry bones, “dead as a doornail” bones—bones far past any reasonable hope of living again.   

Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones impresses upon us the enormous magnitude of death…

….and our gospel reading from John 11 exposes the wrenching tragedy of each and every death.

For this is the story of just one dead man, Lazarus, beloved by those closest to him including Jesus—who is so overcome by grief that he joins the other mourners bewailing their loss.

As if you and I weren’t already sobered by the relentlessly rising death toll of this global pandemic….today’s scripture lessons force us to look again at realities we’re weary of seeing.

If we had our druthers, we’d opt for some wishful thinking….about the possibility that this whole thing could be over soon, with life returned back to normal—maybe even by Easter….

….but wishful thinking will not take us where we need to go…and God—out of love for us—will not let us take any shortcuts to the happy ending we long for.

These two scripture lessons show us no easy escapes from death.   Rather, these lessons draw us to look deeply into all that’s happening to us….just as the prophet Ezekiel looked deeply into the death valley right before him…just as Jesus insisted on grieving with all the other mourners near Lazarus’s tomb.

And here—precisely here—is where biblical wisdom diverges from our temptation to embrace wishful thinking….for in addition to making us take the full measure of death’s awful presence in our lives….these stories also point us beyond this present moment, by opening up for us a vision of God’s promised future.

In the valley of the dry bones…and centuries later in Bethany’s cemetery where dead Lazarus was buried….as we stare into the starkness of death…we also behold God taking on death, beating back death, depriving death of ever having the last word with us.

And just how does God do that?   Not with a magical wand or a mysterious incantation or some secret potion…but with God’s own living Word..a Word that always does what it says.

“Prophesy” God commands Ezekiel---“prophesy to the bones, prophesy to the breath,” shout my death-defeating, future-opening Word right into this catastrophe!

In the same way, God does this again, when Jesus, standing downwind from the tomb where Lazarus’s body is already decomposing—Jesus roars God’s life-restoring command:   “Lazarus come out!”

What’s happening in these two wild Bible stores?   

What’s happening is that just when all seems utterly lost—Ezekiel and Jesus, God’s messengers pay complete attention to the disaster that’s right there….even as they also peer beyond that disaster to behold God’s final future…in which God restores life, for us and in us and in all of God’s creation.

My dear friends, strengthened by God’s Word, let us take full stock of what’s happening all around us and let us resist sugar-coating this public health crisis.    As we do so may we also look beyond these harsh realities…to behold what God has in store for us and God’s whole groaning creation…may we keep our eyes fixed on God the LifeGiver, the LifeRestorer making all things new, in God’s good time.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Harbinger of God's New Creation

Greetings to all of you.   I’m Pastor Larry Wohlrabe, currently serving as interim bishop of the Eastern North Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

I’m so glad we can share this online devotion as we approach the Fourth Sunday in Lent.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Let us pray:   Bend your ear to our prayers, Lord Christ, and come among us.   By your gracious life and death for us, bring light into the darkness of our hearts, and anoint us with your Spirit, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”   Amen.   (Prayer of the day for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A, ELW p. 28)

Like a surprising but most welcome guest, we hear the appointed psalm for today, Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
   He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
   he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
   for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
   I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff—
   they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
   all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
   my whole life long.
Here ends our psalm.

Dear friends in Christ:  grace, mercy and peace be multiplied unto you through Jesus our Savior.

In the summer of 1977, eight weeks before my fianceĆ© and I got married, I dived into an intensive language course at Luther Seminary in St Paul that immersed and marinated me in the Hebrew language—the mother tongue of our Old Testament.

Learning a new language is always an enlightening, eye-opening experience….and during those eight weeks I received some new tools that enabled me to take a fresh look at Bible passages I had lived with all my life.

Take, for example, verse 4 of this beloved psalm.    When I started to translate this  from the original Hebrew, I didn’t find what I expected to find:  “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death….”   

Instead I discovered words that are best translated as we just heard them:   “Even though I walk through the darkest valley…”

Walter Brueggemann, a veteran teacher of the Old Testament says that this beloved psalm “is not idyllic and romantic…[but] rather the psalmist speaks out of a context of deep danger….Entry into ‘death valley’ is indeed ominous….a high-risk exposure that makes the traveler exceedingly vulnerable.”[1]   (p. 125)

My friends, doesn’t that sound like what we’re experiencing right now with the  the corona-virus pandemic sweeping across the globe?

Indeed these are dark days….not necessarily a literal darkness, but an emotional, mental, and spiritual darkness of anxious uncertainty.   Never before in my 65 years have I felt so engulfed by a situation like this, a pause in “business as usual” that could last for a long, long time.

As so many of us are “sheltering in place,” hunkered down in our homes, waiting for this crisis to pass, we have no clue how long that will take—no idea about when we’ll be able to step out into the light again.

Earlier this month, I heard our church body’s presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, preach an amazing sermon on the promise and the blessing of darkness.

What? (you might be wondering)… Isn’t darkness a thing to be feared—filled only with doom, gloom and terror?

How could anyone speak of darkness as a time of promise, blessing, or fresh possibilities?

Bishop Eaton in her sermon, simply walked us through the Bible, drawing our attention to things many of us had missed about the redemptive possibilities of darkness.

So, she reminded us, the creation of the world according to Genesis began in darkness….darkness that covered an as-yet unformed void…that primeval darkness that blanketed the water, over which the Spirit of God hovered…the Spirit who was preparing to create light and every thing else--a very good creation that began in darkness.

Later, when God called Abraham and Sarah to set out for the Promised Land in order to be fruitful and multiply into God’s chosen people….it began with the darkness of the night sky, so they could see the stars and realize how vast God’s promises to them would become.

Centuries later, when Abraham’s and Sarah’s descendants were enslaved in Egypt, God set them free in the darkness of the night of Passover….when the slaves burst their bonds and escaped from cruel Pharaoh….

And then in the fullness of time, when God took on human flesh in Bethlehem’s manger, the birth of Jesus happened in the darkness, on a night when shepherds were awakened by angels piercing the night sky with their own Hallelujah Chorus…

And when that child became a man who went to the Cross for us….he entered that eerie mid-afternoon darkness on Good Friday in order to win God’s decisive victory over sin, death and the devil…

And when the crucified Jesus was buried--it was in a borrowed tomb…wherein the utter darkness of Holy Saturday slowly gave way to the first streaks of sunlight on Easter morning….as the Resurrection began in darkness….

And we could go on and on and on through the scriptures—and if we did, we’d come across other tales of how darkness is always about more than doom and gloom…because this same darkness is also the first inkling, the harbinger of God’s next new creation!

What if the darkness in which God is working right here and now—what if the shadows of this pandemic—what if this strange, uncomfortably dark time turns out to be a cosmic “reset”--an unanticipated “reboot” of life as we have known it.

Author Ann Lamott in a popular TED talk entitled “Twelve Truths I Learned from Life and Writing”…Ann Lamott says that “almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes—including you!”[2]

What if THAT’s what’s going on right now?   This darkness of anxious uncertainty we’re experiencing--what if it’s also a time for us and the world and the church to be reset by our Creator?

And what if this isn’t the darkness of death valley—but rather the darkness that hung over the formless void before God began the good work of creation?   Or what if this weird situation we’re in…turns out to be like the pre-dawn darkness through which those daring women scurried only to find Jesus’ borrowed tomb empty?

What if you and I and everyone else are experiencing in this dark time an amazing “this changes everything” hint of God’s next new thing?

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

[1] Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger, Jr., Psalms (New Cambridge Bible Commentary, 2014), p. 125.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

God's Got This....God's Got Us!

Messiah Lutheran Church, Fargo, ND
Lent 2/March 15, 2020
Psalm 91:1-2, 5-6

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
   who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress;
   my God, in whom I trust.’…
You will not fear the terror of the night,
   or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
   or the destruction that wastes at noonday. 

Dear friends in Christ:   grace, mercy and peace be multiplied unto you through Jesus Christ our Savior, Lord and Healer.

Less than 2 ½ weeks ago I was among thirty community leaders in the Fargo-Moorhead area who attended an information session sponsored by the Cass Clay Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster--and the disaster that was “front and center” that afternoon was an anticipated flood.

Together we assessed the likelihood of a “Top 10” or even a “Top 5” major spring flood here in the Red River Valley.

As we stared at charts, graphs, maps and statistics…the information we received was very sobering.  The high water saturation we had in the ground last autumn, combined with record snowfall this winter, pointed toward a flood that would at least match if not exceed the flood of 2009.

As the meeting was winding down, one of our local emergency management directors declared:  “Before we adjourn, we should probably ALSO factor into our planning the possibility that we may be dealing with both a major flood AND a viral pandemic at the same time.”

Today, smack dab in the middle of March, fears of a spring flood have taken a back seat to the fact that we’re under both state and federal states of emergency due to the global COVID-19  pandemic.

Wherever we turn these days, we’re constantly bombarded by news, information and dire predictions of how this pandemic might run its course.

As frightening as the physical health issues might be…we also have a nagging sense that overwhelming mental and emotional pressures are also bearing down upon us.   We’re facing not just a biological pandemic, but a spiritual pandemic marked by paralyzing fear, panic and anxiety. 

Because the critical challenges we’re facing are both physical and spiritual in nature, we realize that as Christians we need to be re-grounded in the bedrock reality that whatever happens, God is still in charge.

As dismal as things appear to be God will not allow anything to stand between us and God’s unfailing love.   God accompanies us and will keep on accompanying us through whatever may come our way.

Or as our younger generation might put it:  Don’t be afraid--God’s got this!

“God’s got this” is a 21st century way of expressing the sentiments of  the psalmist in our text:

You will not fear the terror of the night,
   or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
   or the destruction that wastes at noonday.  

In other words:  Have no fear!   God’s got this!

But let’s also be clear that when we say:  “God’s got this!” we aren’t just assuming God is going to whip out a magic wand and make it all better just like that!

To declare that “God’s got this” is so much more than “magical thinking.”   

If God’s got this—this pandemic—let us also lean into the promise that God’s also got us.    

God’s got this….because God’s got us--you and me--living human instruments through whom God’s intends to guide us through this unsettling time.  

But what does that look like?  

First and foremost, it looks like the church of Jesus Christ continuing to be the church—faithfully, fervently and winsomely serving God’s mission of making us and all things new through the life, death and resurrection of  Jesus Christ.   

So even though TV, newspapers and social media constantly bombard us with the latest bad news, we also keep listening for and proclaiming God’s Good News in Jesus Christ.    Which means we’re going to continue worshiping and praying even if we maybe won’t be able always to gather together as we are here, this morning.   We will not stop praising God and seeking God’s blessings---whether that happens in our homes, or around our family circles, perhaps using words and songs we share together using social media platforms like Facebook.

Second, God’s got this…because God’s got us…means that we expect our faithful prayers to lead us toward righteous, healing actions.  We’ll follow the trajectory of our prayers and follow our Lord’s leading…. toward supporting our governmental leaders, our first responders, our medical personnel, our military men and women, our pastors and deacons and lay ministers, and all our neighbors.

Third, God’s got this because God’s got us means that rather than getting completely lost in our understandable concern for ourselves and our families….we’ll also keep turning our eyes and our hearts toward the lost, the last and the least…whether they’re sick, grieving, poor, frail elderly—all our neighbors in deepest need.   To undergird our care for those who need it the most, we’ll also make sure that we continue to give our offerings to our congregations along with generous gifts to a whole array of frontline charities and helping agencies that also are doing God’s work in this critical time.

Fourth, God’s got this because God’s got us….means that in this time of disruption God is opening us to new practices and pathways to do what matters most.  To be faithful and fruitful in the midst of this global pandemic, we ask God to make us flexible in how we do God’s work and also to give us the foresight to realize that what works today might need to be replaced by other ways of serving God and our neighbors in the days to come as this crisis unfolds. 

Fifth and finally, God’s got this because God’s got us---persons who are being given a cornucopia of creative resources for doing what matters…like…
·       Staying in touch by phone or email or the U.S. mail with nursing home residents and hospitalized persons when we can’t visit them in person;
·       Providing meals and care for youngsters who’ll need nutrition and loving guidance if it becomes necessary to close our schools; and
·       Opening up and offering our church buildings to fill gaps and provide services that our community might need as the pandemic grows and spreads.

So here we are, facing a public health emergency none of us anticipated just a few months ago.    How will we live through these disturbing days without losing our minds or our bearings?

We can face this challenge because--in the long, winding history of God’s people--challenges like this one often become critical moments where God’s saving, intervening arm becomes most visible….calling forth from us a bravery, an imaginativeness, and a resolve we didn’t even know was in us!

Take a good look at the whole biblical story, at the center of which we see the crisis of Christ’s cross becoming the paradoxical means whereby God rescues us and gives us new life….

Take a good look at the whole biblical story, and notice that this is actually what God does best:   rescuing, preserving and leading us through whatever crisis comes our way.

So, my dear friends:   have no fear!   God’s got this…because God’s got us!

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.