In my message this coming Sunday, April 26, we will read and ponder the story found in John 20:24-31 of Jesus appearing to Thomas after he had missed out on Jesus’ appearance to the other disciples the week before. When they told him that they had seen the Lord, Thomas was skeptical until he experienced the presence of the Risen Christ himself. From this he has been given the label, “Doubting Thomas.” Is this fair? What do we know about Thomas? And most importantly, what does he show us about the role of doubt in the life of faith? In this time when we cannot meet together face to face because of COVID-19, I am glad that I can still share my message with you through video.
On the evening of the first Easter, the disciples of Jesus are hiding in fear behind locked doors. Their fear is understandable given all they have been through during the tumultuous week which ended in Jesus’ arrest, trial, execution, and burial. If this happened to their teacher Jesus, they could be next. This morning the tomb of Jesus was found empty, and then Mary Magdalene reported that she had seen the Lord alive, but still they are huddled behind locked doors in fear. But Jesus comes to them in their fear and offers them his peace. And then he breathes into them his Spirit and tells them that he is sending them out to continue to share his good news of God’s love and forgiveness. Jesus’ presence is the beginning of the end of their fears, for as Jack Coe truly states: “Fear cannot stay in the same house as Jesus Christ.” To listen to my message for this second Sunday of Easter, click on Jesus Comes to Us in our Fear(John 20:19-23). To watch the video on YouTube, see below. Hallelujah!
Even though we are not able to gather together physically in our beautiful sanctuary this Easter Sunday due to the COVID-19 virus, we will still celebrate Easter! Alone, sheltering in place, and yet together in the Spirit, this Easter Sunday we will read the account of Jesus’ resurrection as found in John 20:1-18. First the angels at the empty tomb, and then Jesus, ask the brokenhearted Mary Magdalene, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (vv. 13 & 15). Surely, she has many reasons to weep. Jesus has been brutally executed. And now his body is missing. But God is doing something surprising. The tomb is empty, not because Jesus’ body has been stolen, but because he has risen! So also in our present situation, we need to proclaim the good news that God’s love is stronger than hatred and fear. God’s life is stronger than death. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”
In the gospel of John, Jesus speaks the above profound words to a woman named Martha whose brother Lazarus has just died. My message for this Sunday is titled Life Now and Forever (read John 11:1-45). As our nation and world face rapidly escalating numbers of people dying from complications from COVID-19 in the coming weeks and months we need to remember and trust this truth more than ever: Even though we die, yet we will live, in and through Christ. For he is “the resurrection and the life.” Secure in that faith, we are set free to live our life with conviction, courage, and love.
My message for this Sunday is titled, Peace in Anxious Times. We have many reasons to feel anxious during these challenging times of health and economic uncertainty. Such anxieties are normal, but can easily get out of hand and interfere with our ability to think clearly and act wisely. I find myself going back and forth between voraciously reading all the news, public health and scientific studies I can, and just shutting it all off for a while to take my dog Jesse for a walk, make dinner, listen to music, or meditate and pray. Constant anxiety is debilitating. There is truth in the saying, “Worry is like your rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” We need some rest from our anxieties. We need some peace. In our scripture passage for this week, Philippians 4:6-9, the apostle invites us to turn our anxieties over to God so that we may experience a peace that transcends all understanding. ”Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” In these anxious times I invite you to read, ponder and heed his advice.
I don’t need to tell you that we are going through a time of rapid, disruptive change, and that this produces a lot of anxiety. Sometimes though it helps to name what is obvious. Only a week ago we still hoped we would be able to gather for worship if we took some basic precautions. A day later as more information from health experts came in, the session decided it was wisest to cancel worship. A few days later we were all ordered to “shelter in place”, with the exception of those who provide “essential” functions, to try to prevent a tsunami of COVID-19 cases that could overwhelm the capacity of our health care system. To mitigate that potential health disaster we are all working together to “flatten the curve” through social distancing and diligent hand washing.
But we wonder, at least I do, how long will this last? How bad will it get? And what can we do to keep our lives going and minimize the damage to our families, our neighbors, our church, our community and our world? The problem is that there are few certain answers to these questions which only adds to the stress we feel. All we can do is take it one day at a time.
As God’s people have throughout the ages, especially during difficult times, we turn to words from scripture for comfort, hope, guidance, and strength. This Sunday I will record and post a message on our church website titled Nothing Can Separate Us. My text will be one of the greatest passages of the Bible, Romans 8:18-39. I invite you to read and ponder this passage. May you hear God’s Word of grace spoken to you!
Following the recommendation of the Contra Costa Health Services that group meetings of 50 or more people should be cancelled to slow the spread of COVID-19 through our community, the Session has decided not to hold worship services at St Andrew’s for the next few Sundays at least.
This was a difficult decision to make because gathering for worship is so important, but we want to protect the health of those in our congregation, families, and community who are especially vulnerable to deadly complications from this virus due to age or underlying health conditions. I believe that in such a situation, temporary social distancing, is a way of loving our neighbors as ourselves, as Jesus commanded us to do.
We will be reassessing the situation regularly as well as looking for ways to support our members during these challenging times. We value your feedback and input. With faith, hope, and love, we will get through this together.
Our second Encounter with Jesus this Lenten season takes place in the dark of night between Nicodemus, a leading member of the religious council and Jesus. (John 3:1-17) “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born anothen,” Jesus tells him. (v. 3) That Greek word anothen can be variously translated, as “from above”, “anew”, or “again.” Assuming the later meaning, Nicodemus is confused, and so he asks Jesus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” (v. 4) Jesus replies, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (v.5) What does Jesus mean by this? What does it mean to be Spirit Born? Think about that.
During this Lenten season I will be preaching on Encounters With Jesus based on the texts suggested by the lectionary. On this first Sunday in Lent, we begin where Jesus began his ministry, in the wilderness of Judea (see Matthew 4:1-11). Led there by the Spirit immediately after his baptism, Jesus faced his Wilderness Test, and passed. What can we learn from his example? What is the wilderness? What are we to do with the times we find ourselves there? Think about that.
In our scripture for this week the apostle Paul thanks the Philippians for their generous care and support of his ministry. And then he shares: “Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
The practice that undergirds and supports all the other practices we have been exploring is Extravagant Generosity. Bishop Schnase says “generosity supports the other four practices, helping the church fulfill its ministry to make disciples of Jesus Christ in robust and fruitful ways, opening the message of God’s love in Christ to more people now and for generations to come.” (p. 150) Being able to give freely and generously is a joyful experience. And this ability comes from the secret Paul shares above, the contentedness that God provides us with all we need. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!