Sermon for Sunday, April 4, 2021 – “From Stunned Observers to Hope Bearers”

Easter Sunday
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Mark 16:1-8

Beloved of God, grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus.

One of my daily rituals is to read The Morning, an e-newsletter from the New York Times. This past year I’ve wondered if it’s a good idea to start my day like that. Do I really need to read so much bad news? So, The Morning for March 24 caught my attention when it asked, “Is bad news the only kind?” There are many days when it feels like the answer to that question is yes.

But this morning, we say no. There is good news for our world, for you, for me.[1] Yet somehow, bad news is easier for us to hold on to.

The women at the tomb on that first Easter morning were accustomed to bad news. They lived under Roman occupation, daily life was filled with reports of violence and inhumane treatment. They had hoped Jesus would set them free. Instead, they looked on from a distance as Jesus breathed his last. They saw where his body was laid. They prepared to anoint him and worried about the stone at the tomb’s en- trance. They had grown accustomed to bad news.

When they reach the tomb, they are stunned by good news. The body they’ve come to bury with dignity is no longer there. They find a young man who tells them that Jesus has been raised.

Their job is no longer to anoint a body in the wake of bad news, but to announce good news! “Go,” the young man commands them, “and tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” What do you do when the bad news you’ve learned to carry is taken from your hands and replaced with good news? What do you do when you’re prepared for death and find life instead? What do you do when the stone has already been rolled away and the tomb no long- er holds your loved one? No longer holds you?

You flee from the tomb, seized with terror and amazement, and you say nothing to anyone, for you are afraid. That’s where Mark’s gospel ends. Silence. Fear. Trembling. Bewilderment.

Preacher Richard Lischer says that we move through the events of Holy Week as stunned observers. “On Palm Sunday we watch the spectacle unfold as Jesus enters the capital to die. On Good Friday, we stand at the place of the skull and watch the execution take place.” [2]

And this morning we stand at the empty tomb alongside the first witnesses of the resurrection, and we are still stunned observers. We are stunned observers, as we have been throughout so much of this pandemic time, this Holy Year. We’ve been stunned by the death, the sorrow, the relentless bad news … Yet I wonder if we haven’t also been stunned by good news. I wonder if we haven’t also been startled by life rising up in the most unexpected places and at the most unexpected times – new life emerging in the midst of deep grief.

Normally, I’m not a big fan of Mark’s account of the resurrection. I much prefer John, where Jesus meets Mary Magdalene at the tomb, calls her by name and sends her to share the good news with the disciples. She becomes the apostle to the apostles and proclaims boldly, “I have seen the Lord!”

I appreciate Matthew’s account where the women run from the tomb with fear and great joy in order to tell the disciples that Jesus is risen. On the way, Jesus meets them and sends them to proclaim the good news.

I even like Luke’s account, although in his telling the disciples think the women are giving them an idle tale. People struggle to take in the good news, so Jesus appears to them to open their eyes. The end of the Gospel of Mark leaves so much to be desired. Where is the witness of the women? Where is the risen Jesus? Where is the resolution, the ending for which we’ve been hoping? It’s not here. And maybe that’s why Mark is resonating so much with me this year.

We are so far into this pandemic time, long overdue for resolution, for a happy ending. And while there are surely signs of hope and progress, it’s not over. It’s not done. And it may never be—at least not in the way we had envisioned. One year later there is still so much fear, trembling, bewilderment. We’re right there with the women. We long to be more than stunned observers of all that has transpired in this year.

We long to respond in hopeful, life giving ways in the world, but we remain silent and afraid.

The stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty. Bad news is not the only news. There is good news here. There is life in our midst—new life, surprising life, life emerging from deepest grief, life irrepressible, irresistible, life abundant, life astounding. And it’s terrifying. Terrifying because this abundant life is beyond our control, beyond our understanding, beyond our ability to explain or prove. It’s messy. It’s complicated. It’s not resolved. And it’s not over. It’s new every day. And while it makes a claim on us, it does not depend on us.

The women, for who knows how long, lived in fear. They said nothing to anyone. They experienced what had to be an overwhelming encounter with God’s persistent, relentless, death-defeating grace, and they could not speak of this good news. Who would believe them in a world that asks is bad news the only kind?

Could they even believe their own eyes? Could they trust that their experience had been real? They had watched him die. They knew how to grieve. They knew how to cope with bad news. They did not know how to respond to unexpected life.

And still, the good news has reached us this Easter morning. God’s Word accomplishes what it intends. The Good News does not return empty. It transformed those first witnesses of the resurrection from stunned observers to hope bearers. It transforms us. It empowers us to imagine new possibilities and new beginnings even now.

In the midst of our own unresolved story, good news is here. Good news for today and every day to come.

Jesus has been raised.

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Amen.

 

[1] This sermon was written in collaboration with Pr. Stacey Nalean-Carlson, Glenwood and Canoe Ridge Lutheran Churches.

[2] “Stunned Observers: A Conversation between Richard Lischer and William H. Willimon.”  Christian Century, March 15, 2021.

Sermon for Sunday, March 28, 2021 – “Spirit Calls Us to Look”

Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday
Amalia J. Vagts. Wartburg Seminarian
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa

Gospel – Mark 15:1-41

Earlier this week, I asked my partner David what Palm Sunday was like in the congregation where he grew up. What he remembered most was being given a palm branch to wave in the procession. However, he said, “It always felt a little strange.” Strange? I asked. “Well, he said, we’re happy and waving palm branches for Jesus – but he’s on the way to his death!”[1]

This can feel like a strange day in the year of the life of the Church. We wave for the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, calling out “Hosanna” with the hope that Jesus will save us only to face the reality that Jesus won’t even save himself.

How do we find hope in a story like this?

I preached about this story on this day, Palm Sunday, a year ago while I was on internship. We were right at the beginning of this year of pandemic and racial reckoning and hope-seeking. It was our third or so recorded service. By then we knew that this wasn’t all going to be over by Easter. But it had just started to sink in.

On that day, Palm and Passion Sunday, when we began facing the death of Jesus we were only just starting to face the death of the pandemic. There were just over 9,000 recorded deaths from COVID in the United States. One year later, that number is 546, 591.

It’s an almost unimaginable number. It’s a level of suffering we want to look away from. It’s strange isn’t it – how we look at the cross, but away from death? But like our theme this Lent, Again & Again, the Spirit calls us to look. To look and face the sorrow and pain and fear and shame and guilt and anger and defensiveness and confusion of death. Again and again, the Spirit calls us to look.

A year ago by Palm Sunday, Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, had already been killed after being followed by three white men while he was jogging through his neighborhood in Georgia. Most of us didn’t know about it until a video of the murder was posted in early May.

Breonna Taylor, a black woman, had already been killed in her own home in Louisville, Kentucky, when police officers broke through the front door of the wrong home looking for a suspect. Her death also didn’t become national news until May, when the attention from Ahmaud’s Arbery’s death brought wider awareness to Breonna Taylor’s.

And a year ago on Palm Sunday, George Floyd was alive. I learned about George Floyd’s death via a Facebook post from a friend in Minneapolis the day after it happened. He posted a photo of officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck with other officers standing by, writing, “I’m not going to post the video, but look long and hard at this picture.”

I looked at the picture. And then I looked away.

Later that day, I saw another Facebook post from a friend with the words, “A man was lynched today.” These words were the words on a flag that used to be displayed outside the New York NAACP office building in the 1920s and ‘30s anytime a black person was lynched.

I looked at the words. And then I looked away.

How do we remain hopeful when things feel hopeless? How is the cross a symbol of death and life? Of hope in hopelessness?

Black theologian James Cone writes that the cross is a paradox because it “inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first, and the first last.”[2] He goes on to say that even in the terrible history of our racist past, black Americans found hope in the fact that “Christ crucified manifested God’s loving and liberating presence in the contradiction of black life.” [3]

Hope is in God’s promise that death is not the final word. Hope is in the terrible and beautiful strangeness of this week as we focus on the defeat of our Savior at the hands of the ones who could save him. Jesus calls us to follow him to the cross.

What would it mean for our congregation to follow the path of Jesus described by the apostle Paul – to become completely empty of ego and fear and to enter into the places of deepest suffering? What would we find if we explored in depth the rhetorical question a classmate of mine asked this weekend, “Who killed Jesus – a person or a system?”[4] What would it look like for our congregation to take seriously the idea that we are all the Body of Christ and to enter into lament for the suffering of the Body?

Later on in his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Jame Cone powerfully challenges those of us who are white and Christian to face our part in our history and present reality with this question: “Can one really understand the theological meaning of Jesus on a Roman cross without seeing him first through the lens of blacks on the lynching tree?”[5]

Who killed Jesus – a person or a system?

God breaks in to end systems that kill. Early on in Mark, when John baptized Jesus in the Jordan, the heavens were torn open and the life-breath of God descended. And when Jesus drew his last breath, in the temple, in the holiest of holy places, the curtain was torn in two. In the presence of systems that kill, God is present in Christ through the Spirit to heal and restore you. Even when you feel abandoned, you are never alone.

In telling this story, we often focus on how everyone turns away from Jesus at the end. The religious leaders have become jealous and have handed him over. His closest students and followers have fallen asleep, denied and betrayed him, abandoned him. Where are you God? Jesus cried out. Why did you leave me?

And yet, towards the end of Mark’s account of the death of Jesus we have this detail. “There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem” (Mark 15:40-41NRSV).

Already in the very moment of his death we do not see Jesus abandoned and alone. God, who will raise Jesus up, is alive through the love and presence of the community of women who had come up with Jesus to Jerusalem. I’ve seen the love and presence of God alive in Good Shepherd members who are working to get more people in our community vaccinated. I’ve seen the love and presence of God alive in meals delivered to Good Shepherd family members in grief or illness. I’ve seen the love and presence of God alive in commitments from our congregation to work to be anti-racist and seek racial justice. I’ve seen the love and presence of God alive in you.

God who loves, heals, and restores you, promises you are not on your own. Jesus Christ, God with us, in death draws you and all people together. Yes, we’re waving palm branches for the One on the way to death. Again and again, the Spirit calls us to look. We’re waving them for the One who makes you alive to receive and be the love and presence of God for all the world.

[1] Conversation shared with permission.

[2] James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Orbis Books, 2011), 2.

[3] Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, 2.

[4] Conversation shared with permission.

[5] Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, 63.

Sermon for Sunday, March 21, 2021 – “The Way of the Seed”

Fifth Sunday in Lent
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

“We’re stuck, can you please come help?” I perhaps should have been a bit more clear with my husband Matt when I made that request of him a number of years ago.

I’d taken our young kids on a dog walk by the Upper Iowa River. We were having a wonderful time when all of a sudden, the ground beneath us gave way. We found ourselves trapped in thick, heavy mud. We tried to free ourselves but the harder we pulled, the faster we sank. We were all quickly waist deep in mud and sinking. I needed reinforcements, and quickly, so I called Matt.

“Stuck – what do you mean?” Matt asked. I replied with some urgency, “We’re stuck in the mud by Chattahoochee Park, please come help.” I forgot to mention that we’d gotten stuck while walking. Matt heard stuck and mud and he pictured a car needing a tow. Past history of other incidents with me and vehicles may have played a role in what he pictured. He got off the phone and got going, preparing our other car to tow us out. This meant he showed up to help about 25 minutes after I called.

Meanwhile the kids and I sank deeper and deeper in the mud. Meanwhile the dog circled around and around trying his best with the helping strategy of barking as loud as he possibly could. I felt increasingly panicked wanting to help my kids, wanting to fix this. Finally, I realized that we just had to stop moving, stop trying to pull ourselves out, stop trying to save ourselves. The more we struggled, the more stuck we got. It was totally counter-intuitive, but we had to surrender to the mud and wait for Matt to come lift us out. I was reminded of that incident this week when I was walking through spring mud and pondering the Gospel reading for today.

In many ways, we are all so stuck. Stuck in racism, consumerism, violence. Stuck in sin. Our sin weighs us down and traps us. It separates us from one another. It holds us back from the abundant, everlasting life that God wants us to experience, that God wants all people to know.

Often when we are confronted with our sinfulness, we feel a sense of panic. When we see our racism and violence and all the ways we harm the earth and others, we want to defend ourselves, protect ourselves, do something quickly to fix things. We bark loudly, hoping that will help. Yet the way to God’s freedom and abundance for all is not found in trying to secure and save and preserve our own lives. It is not found in racing around and making a lot of noise. The way to God’s freedom and abundance is surrender.

Jesus says, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The word hate that Jesus uses here doesn’t refer to emotions. It doesn’t mean Jesus wants us to despise ourselves. Rather, the word refers to detachment and separation from the ways of this broken world. Except we can’t detach and separate from this world’s ways on our own. The more we try to free ourselves, the more stuck we get. We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.

Thankfully, Jesus shows us another way – the way of the seed. Jesus describes how a seed falls into the earth, is buried and dies. If it doesn’t fall into the earth and die it remains just a small seed; but if it dies it bears much fruit. Jesus calls into this way of the seed. Jesus calls us to fall into the rich, dark soil of God, the source of all life. Jesus calls us to surrender, to die to our small selves, to let go of striving and struggling and entrust ourselves to God.

This can feel counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t we be working and striving against the sin that is within us and within the world? Shouldn’t we be doing something? We are indeed called to act and engage in the world. Yet for that action to bear fruit and bring life, we need to be grounded in God. We need to be deeply rooted in God’s love for the whole world. If we operate out of our own small, ego driven selves, we will not bear good fruit. We need to surrender into God so that our small, ego driven selves can die again and again.

Usually, the willingness to surrender only happens when we realize we are stuck, when we come up against the limits of our ability to fix things on our own. Many of us have come to that place during this difficult year. We’ve felt so overwhelmed by the magnitude of human sinfulness, violence, racism. We’ve felt so powerless in the face of it all. This year has been so painful and hard. Yet it is also fertile ground for drawing us into the way of the seed, the way of surrender, the way of dying to our small selves, the way of Jesus.

This way of the seed is not a way that we can choose and follow on our own. It is the work of Jesus to draw us into it. Jesus came among us and took this path of surrender. Now Jesus is present with us to accompany us on the way of the seed. Jesus is present to assure us that we can trust God, surrender to God.

Beloved of God,

Jesus is at work in all that is so painful and hard to draw you into God, into the source of all life.

Jesus is at work to help you fall into the rich, dark soil of God where you can wait and trust that God is bringing life for you and through you.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer and reflection.

Sermon for Sunday, March 14, 2021 – “Strange Remedies”

Fourth Sunday in Lent
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

When I was a kid, my mom had some strange home remedies. Anytime I’d come in itching with mosquito bites, she’d bring out the toothpaste and smear it all over my arms. I got a big ugly wart once and she applied duct tape. Before long car trips, she’d have me drink lemon juice to prevent motion sickness.

I was quite suspicious of these remedies. I wanted to go to the store and buy the stuff that said “results guaranteed” right there on the box. “Can’t I just take Dramamine like Stephanie does?” I’d whine. “Why can’t you keep calamine lotion around like every other mom?” I’d complain.  “I am your mom. Trust me,” was her only response. I now use all of her strange remedies myself.

Our Old Testament reading today has two very strange remedies in the midst of a very disturbing story. What’s most strange, and very troubling, is that God sends a plague of poisonous serpents upon the people.

Up to this point in their story, God has been incredibly generous to the people: claiming them as God’s own, bringing them out of slavery, committing to them with a covenant, leading them in the wilderness towards the promised land, providing food in the desert. God tells them again and again, “Do not be afraid. I am your God, trust me, listen to me.” But the people just can’t get past their fear and anxiety.

Instead of trusting, they hoard the food God provides and it rots. They worship idols. They get impatient and irritable, demanding a quick fix with “results guaranteed”. They grumble and whine with complaints like we heard today, “There is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” (Which one is it: no food or gross food? Can’t be both.)

So instead of moving forward into the promised land, God’s people get stuck – stuck in a seething pit of anxiety, fear, bitterness, whining. All of this stuff poisons them, draining their life away.

Ever felt like that?

God doesn’t just watch from afar as they dig deeper and deeper into a toxic hole. God sends poisonous serpents that bite them and many die. Actually, the Hebrew here doesn’t mean poisonous. It means fiery.

It is the word seraph, as in seraphim and cherubim – God’s messengers in the Bible. God sends fiery messenger serpents to bite the people. Fiery seraphs also appear to Isaiah when God calls him to be a prophet. Seraphs get his attention. They do the same thing for the people here. You thought your life was bad. No, this is bad. Nothing like the possibility of your death to awaken you to the beauty of your life.

Perhaps the fiery messenger serpents that God sends aren’t so much a punishment as they are a wake-up call to the people – a strange remedy to startle them out of their anxiety and bitterness. Except, did God really send the serpents, or is that what the people thought in hindsight? Maybe serpents got their attention and they interpreted that as a message from God? I don’t know. And even if serpents were God’s do- ing back then, does God still send things that hurt us? I really don’t think so; I just don’t think God is the cause of suffering.

What I do know is that in my own life, there have been some painful wake-up calls that have broken through my grumbling and self-pity, that have helped me to notice God’s presence and God’s care. Did God orchestrate those moments to open my eyes? I don’t think so. Yet I do believe God used those difficult times for good, that God didn’t cause them but was at work in them.

This past year, our country has experienced painful wake-up calls around issues of race, public health, climate change, political polarization. I do not believe God is the cause of these challenges – not at all. Yet I do believe God can use them for good, to get our attention and turn us around. We do need to listen to fiery messengers who make us confront the consequences of our destructive ways of being. Their messages may cause pain and discomfort, but we need to pay attention. Painful things can be strange remedies.

The serpents in the wilderness definitely get the peoples’ attention. They recognize how toxic their lives have become, how much they need God. They confess their sin and ask God to remove the serpents. But God doesn’t remove them. Instead, God makes a way through the situation, healing in the midst of it. God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole. Then the people who are bitten can look upon the serpent and live. This sounds like hocus-pocus stuff; it sounds like worshipping an idol. Yet the people aren’t told to worship the bronze serpent, just to look upon it. And God promises to work through that physical object to bring healing.

Still the healing is not a painless, quick fix. The people are asked to take a hard look at the very thing that is poisoning them, to face the consequences of their noxious way of being. They’re also asked to change their perspective – to not fixate on the serpent bites, but rather to gaze upon what God is doing to bring healing. As they do this, they find that the serpent bites no longer kill them. The terrifying serpents no longer have power to destroy them. Another strange remedy that works.

We have been given a similar strange remedy. As our Gospel reading today says, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Jesus is lifted up on the cross. This calls us to face all the sin, fear, pain and suffering of this world, and to take a hard look at everything that poisons us. Just as the people had to look upon a serpent, we have to face the consequences of our sinful ways of being.

Yet as we gaze upon the cross, we also see that these things no longer have the power to destroy us. For Jesus is not only lifted up on the cross, Jesus is also raised to new life in the resurrection and lifted up into a restored relationship within the Triune God. By the power of Jesus’ resurrection, we, too, are raised to new life and a new relationship with God. This gives us a new perspective on all the sin, suffering and death we face. It helps us to not fixate upon it but to see what God is doing in the midst of it. God is work- ing healing and life. God is drawing us into deeper communion with the triune God.

The strange remedy of Jesus lifted up means that, personally and collectively:

We can face all our fears, prejudice, violence.
We can examine the white supremacy that infects us all.
We can face the ways we are poisoning God’s creation.
We can address our failures as a nation and as the church.

We can do this trusting that God is present in the midst of all of this, working healing. We can do this trusting that all these toxic things do not have ultimate power over us, that God brings new life from it all. It is not a quick fix; it will not be easy and pain free. Yet God is present for you working healing and new life. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Let’s take a moment for prayer and reflection.

Sermon for Sunday, March 7, 2021 – “Zeal for Justice and Holiness”

Third Sunday in Lent
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

“Pastor Amy, I need to talk to you.” I turned to see one of Good Shepherd’s youngest members. She was waiting with a sense of some urgency after one of the outdoor communion services last summer. I knelt down to look this four-year old in the eye and I saw some tears there. “Pastor Amy,” she said with passion, “I miss inside church.” “Oh, I know,” I said, “I do, too.” This smart and feisty girl was quick to respond. “Yes, but you get to be inside every week. Why can’t we? I see you there when we watch church. I want to be there with you.”

I learned later that this young member had gone inside to use the restroom after worship. She then ran out of the restroom and down the hall towards the sanctuary. When she got to the entrance, the sight brought her to a screeching halt. She just stood there staring at the empty space that should have been full of people and music and prayers. She ran from there to share her pain and frustration with me.

This encounter reminds me of another one of our young ones, a two-year old boy. He was on a walk down Iowa Avenue with his parents last spring. As they approached Good Shepherd’s building, this little boy ran to the doors and pulled on them crying, “Open, open, let’s go in.”

These two children, with their strong emotions and their zeal for this house of worship, have so much to teach us about following Jesus and being church.

White mainline Christians don’t often display strong emotions at church. We often get the message that church involves being nice and polite and controlled, sitting quietly, not making a fuss. There’s especially a lot of discomfort around the emotion of anger. It does sometimes erupt in meetings and life together, but it’s often judged as sinful and wrong.

White mainline American Christians also are not usually known for zeal about gathering for worship.

African Lutherans often walk for miles to get to worship services that last for hours, but we tend to worship when it is convenient, when it works for us, if we get something out of it. Worship here has a transactional, marketplace feel. Life in the US means we can shop around for a congregation that meets our needs, that feels comfortable, that won’t challenge us too much. Yet we follow Jesus! Jesus who is full of passion and zeal! Our Gospel story today is one of the most extreme examples of Jesus’ passion, but he is rarely the “gentle Jesus meek and mild” that is often pictured in stained glass windows.

Jesus challenges his disciples – remember last week when he called Peter Satan? He provokes the religious leaders. He disrupts the status quo. He loses patience with the way God’s house has become a market-place and with the whole system of transactional worship through the offering of sacrifices.

As author Debie Thomas puts it, “Jesus is a disruptor. A leveller. An upender. As his disciples immediately realize when he throws out the moneychangers and occupies the temple, zeal is what animates the Messiah. Fervor, not casualness. Depths, not surfaces. He will not tolerate the desecration of his Father’s house. He is not impressed by ‘marketplace’ faith … Jesus interrupts ‘business as usual’ … he interrupts worship as usual for the sake of justice and holiness. His love for God, the temple, and its people compels him to righteous anger.”[1] (end quote)

Sometimes it can be good for God’s people to be disrupted. Over the past 12 months, church business as usual, worship as usual, have been mightily disrupted, and that is not all bad. Comparing our disruptions to Jesus in the temple is not to say that God caused all the challenges to the church this year. Rather it is to say that God can work through these disruptions to interrupt our casualness and complacency, to create more passion and zeal within us, to deepen justice and holiness.

This year, this congregation has grown in our zeal for this house of worship as we’ve longed to gather together in this sanctuary. Yet we’ve also chosen to not be complacent or comfortable in the face of the virus. We’ve done what is hard in order to honor the body of Christ and all bodies as we’ve refrained from gathering to prevent the spread of the virus. We’ve learned how to worship in new ways that have served more people. I give thanks for how we’ve responded to these disruptions.

I also hope that once it’s safe to reopen, we won’t be complacent about gathering for worship. I pray we’ll prioritize coming together in this holy place. Or, if you live far from here that you go to another holy place. We will need to continue to use technology to reach out and to bring worship to the homes of those whose health prevents them from gathering. Yet we also need to keep inviting and encouraging one another to gather for worship.

Certainly, God cannot be contained in buildings. In this Gospel passage today, Jesus makes it clear that the presence of God dwells most fully now in his body rather than in the temple. Yet in gathering for worship, we are putting our own bodies in a place where it’s harder to tune out God’s disruptive, transformative word, where we can most fully receive Christ’s body in holy communion, where it’s harder to ignore the needs of other bodies. All this means that when we gather for worship, we are putting our bodies in a place where we can be more fully formed into the body of Christ. Once it is safe to do so, we need to move out of our comfort zones and back into holy sanctuaries.

This disruptive year has also evoked and revealed many emotions within us – grief, fear, anger. I pray that we will make room for all these emotions when we gather again for worship, that we will not simply be nice and polite and quiet. Our emotions are a gift from God and God can work through them to shape us into more passionate followers of Jesus, more zealous advocates of God’s justice. One of the gifts of gathering for worship is being with children and people with special needs who are often much more free with their emotions. We need to hear their cries, listen to their shouts, and watch them move to help us work with our emotions.

Emotions can be scary, anger can feel really scary right now, especially given our polarized political climate. How do we discern if our anger is righteous or self-serving, a force for justice, or harmful to the body of Christ and the body politic? We bring it to God in worship, we pray with it using the psalms of lament that are full of anger, we acknowledge it within the body of Christ. In her influential essay, “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love,” Beverly Harrison writes: “The important point is that where feeling is evaded, where anger is hidden or goes unattended, masking itself, there the power of love, the power to act, to deepen relation, atrophies and dies.”[2]

Anger can be a powerful tool, a force for good and for evil. Bringing our anger to worship opens us to God who can work with and through it.

Beloved of God, we have been disrupted this year.
God is working through these disruptions. God will continue to work.
God meets you today in your body, with all your emotions, to draw you into worship and into the body of Christ.
God meets you to transform you into a passionate, zealous advocate of God’s justice.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

_____________________________________________

2 Harrison, Beverly. “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love.”  Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics. Beacon Press, 1986, pp. 3-21.

[1] Thomas, Debie. “Not in God’s House.” Journey With Jesus, 28 February 2021. journeywithjesus.net

[2] Beverly Harrison “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love.” From Making the Connection: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics. Beacon Press. September 1, 1986.