Sunday, April 15, 2018

"Faith that Makes Us Strong" - Sermon, April 15, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy

“In the Name of Jesus Christ: Faith…that Makes Us Strong”
Pastor Andrew Davis
April 15, 2018
Acts 3: 12-19
Luke 24: 36b-48

How many of you remember the children’s story “The Little Engine that Could?” If the story is new to you, it was written in 1930 by Watty Piper and is about a train carrying toys and other fun stuff “for good little girls and boys,” when their engine up and breaks down.  The clowns, dolls, and animals on the train try in earnest to find an engine that could haul the train over the mountain to its destination before the children awake, but with little success.[i]  After being passed over by several other locomotives who felt they were too good, too busy, or too tired, a little blue engine stops, shows empathy to everyone on the stranded train, and is willing to help take the toys, dolls, and good things to eat for good little girls and boys over the mountain, even though she had never been over the mountain before.[ii] She does so anyway, with her mantra being “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” all the way over the mountain to the delight of all the dolls and clowns on the train and to her own delight.[iii]
            Faith that makes us strong oftentimes feels like “The Little Engine that Could,” as there are many times that all we can really do is say in our minds, “I Think I can, I think I can, I think I can…”  As we continue along our Easter series, “In the Name of Jesus Christ,” we began last week by talking about how the early community of believers shared their wealth and all that they owned equally among the community, as we do have some little tidbits we can glean in our today’s context in how we help people, much like the little engine did for the stalled train.  So much can be said about faith in general, yet it takes faith to make us strong while we have opportunities for refreshment and redemption when we have faith. 
In today’s text that we heard Scott read for us, we go backwards a little bit in the Book of Acts into chapter 3, as Peter and John have just healed a crippled beggar who had been crippled all his life and sat outside the Beautiful Gate of the temple asking people for loose change as they entered the temple.  When Peter and John encountered this man, they restored him to wholeness in the name of Jesus Christ, then saw him leap for joy and praise God, which made the crowd that gathered around curious to know more.[iv]  As Peter addresses the crowd, he claims that “through faith in the name of Jesus, this man was healed—and you know how crippled he was before. Faith in Jesus’ name has healed him before your very eyes” (Acts 3: 16, NLT).  At the same time, Peter and John were acting in faith too, as Peter and John didn’t pass the crippled beggar by like the other engines did with the stalled train in “The Little Engine that Could.”
Instead of passing this man by at the gate of the temple, “Peter stopped and spoke to the man, [proclaiming] the power of the name of Jesus [when he] ordered the man to stand up and walk.”[v]  Following this man’s healing, Peter begins talking to the crowd
and began to proclaim the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the power of his name to make believers strong, and the power of God to heal not just [the crippled man begging at the gate], but everyone who repents and turns to God.”[vi]

            When we read the text the first time, it may feel like Peter is putting blame on the people for crucifying Jesus by rejecting him, which could also be seen as blaming us for taking part in Jesus’s death because of our own sins too, as his message can sound a little bit on the harsh side and even put us on the defensive a little bit.  Yet in the same breath, Peter is offering the people and us a chance to repent or turn around and experience refreshment, or a new beginning by putting our faith in Jesus Christ, which can make us strong.  Even in Luke’s gospel this morning, the disciples are redeemed for running away in fear and doubting when Jesus appears following his resurrection and eats with them, while instructing them to go out and proclaim the Good News of the resurrection and offering people forgiveness everywhere. 
When we repent by confessing, acknowledging, and turning away from our sins by turning to faith in God through Jesus Christ,
God’s redemptive intention is to liberate people from whatever debilitates them and prevents them from enjoying the good things created for them.  The interpreter of Acts sometimes makes the distinction between spiritual sickness (=sin), from which one is healed by the salve of divine forgiveness, and physical sickness (=lameness), from which one is healed by God’s miracle-working power.  The one is more public and spectacular but no more exceptional than the other.  They are two sides of a common coin, minted by grace and received in faith.[vii]

            This opportunity at redemption and receiving God’s grace in faith sounds a lot like what Methodism’s founder, John Wesley refers to as ‘justifying grace.’ I’ve mentioned prevenient grace before, which is grace that is there before we first believed.  When we do come to believe and move towards ‘justified grace,’ we take the next step by responding in faith by accepting God’s grace that is available for EVERYONE and freely given to us, repenting of our sins, and actively engaging with our faith through prayer, study of scripture, regular worship, works of love and mercy, and the sacraments which include baptism and Holy Communion.  Like Wesley’s notion of grace being available to EVERYONE, “Peter’s message is that salvation, healing, and refreshment can come to anyone who has ears to hear the Good News, just as it did to the [crippled] man [begging at the temple]” and is available to each of us as well.[viii] But, that’s where faith comes into play.  Peter’s message to repent and have faith in Jesus “is not an ancient world version of self-help” and
does not point us to some magic words that we can say to feel better about our guilt.  It is recognizing that at the very heart of our humanity, we are all in the same boat…it is like a sinking ship that we built and we can’t get out of it.  We keep building it.  We won’t stop building it unless we are forced to.  And yet, refreshment is still available to us.

            Even amidst where humanity goes wrong, where disagreements and differences abound, and even when hope might seem dim, or mistakes pile up, we can experience this grace and refreshment when we respond in faith.   Despite mistakes we may make, times where we have failed to love our neighbor or ourselves, said the wrong thing to someone we love, or let a disagreement get in the way, showing grace with ourselves is just as important too, because we all make mistakes and we will all mess up at one time or another. 
I know in ministry, I’ve failed in some places, have said the wrong things in pastoral care situations from failing to pause and reflect, have made people upset by unintentionally putting words in their mouths and being called on it, yet I’ve also been forgiven and redeemed by most of the people I have upset, although am still working on showing grace with myself whenever make mistakes in ministry or life. 
Yet mistakes are learning opportunities and along with showing grace with ourselves, keeping the faith even in the midst of our mistakes is highly important, especially when we are going through times where we just want to say the heck with it all and give up.  I know in this journey of working on my physical health which is constant, I do have my days where I’ve not done my best, but have the opportunity to start again the next day and have to keep saying ‘I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…’ The same goes for all us on the journey of faith. 
There will even be times when our faith will be tested and we will be tempted along the journey of faith, even acting impulsively on faith which is where things can get a little tricky.  Taking ‘a leap of faith’ is one of those instances that might work out, or may not.  During our Lenten study, Gifts of the Dark Wood by Rev. Dr. Eric Elnes, Eric talks about how he equates ‘a leap of faith’ to junk food.  Like pizza, ice cream, or the gum and candy that’s strategically placed next to the checkout counters in grocery stores, these foods might satisfy us in the short-term, but not necessarily in the long-term.[ix] Eric shares that throughout his ministry, he has counseled people
Who have hit dead ends and even stumbled into significant danger by taking what they call ‘a leap of faith…’in response to a fleeting sensation of well-being that they associate with God or the universe commanding them to leap off some figurative cliff and fly.  When the sensation goes away and (appropriate) doubt creeps in, they associate this doubt with backsliding or failing to “trust the revelation.” Having leapt and discovered that the air beneath their feet was too thin to support their weight, they come into my office feeling hurt and betrayed by God or the universe, vowing never to listen to the divine again.[x]

            On the other hand, taking a leap of faith has worked for some, so I don’t want anyone to feel discouraged or discredited by such a statement when a leap of faith has indeed worked out, although there are people who have done so and it hasn’t worked out, such as what I talked about last week in trying to help people and not having it work out in the long-run.  If anything, don’t give up faith and know that we too can be refreshed and redeemed, even though things may not happen overnight or when we’d like them to.  Although I had returned to the church after eight months away eleven years ago, my faith would once again be tested and I would be tempted to make an unwise decision when the recession hit ten years ago. 
A little after returning to the church and experiencing a refreshed and renewed faith after time away from the church, I began feeling frustrated with my job and feeling like I was at a dead-end and felt caught up in a tension between wanting to serve God and the fact that the bills don’t stop and that I still needed to eat.  Before going to seminary, the constant reminders that I was still working while many others weren’t were a little annoying at times, except had I taken a leap of faith and just walked away from my job because I was unhappy and not having it work out, I probably would have felt betrayed by God and hurt and certainly would not be doing what I am today.  Faith can make us strong, but that sometimes means staying put where we are for the time being and looking back, I’m glad I stayed put even if it didn’t feel like it was worth it in the short-run of things.   
Even amidst mistakes we will make, or times where our faith may be tested, or when we feel like we’ve royally messed up and feel unworthy of God’s grace, mercy, and redemption, the good news is that the same message of faith, healing, refreshment, and redemption that “Peter proclaims to those gathered outside the Beautiful Gate all those millennia ago is for us too!  The same refreshing, the same salvation that is offered to them is also offered to us” on the other side of the resurrection.[xi]
It is “in Christ [that] God offers us mercy and grace, no matter the magnitude of our sin,” it takes faith, as our faith can make us strong by accepting God’s grace and mercy. 
While the crippled beggar at the gate of the temple had been there for many years, it wasn’t until Peter and John saw him, and spoke to him by offering him healing and refreshment in the name of Jesus Christ, then followed by offering the crowd a chance at redemption for their part in Jesus’s crucifixion, which is ironic that Peter is saying this since he denied knowing Jesus, and the disciples ran away in fear.  Yet, when they encountered the risen Christ, they received redemption and in turn, are now offering that same redemption for anyone who puts their faith in God through Jesus Christ.  As we go into this new week, think of moments along your journey of faith where your faith has made you strong.  Where have you been challenged?  Or if you’re just beginning the journey, where do you feel a need for redemption and refreshment in your life, or what barriers might be getting in the way of your faith?  And, where have you had to be like The Little Engine that Could and keep saying “I think I can…I think I can…I think I can?”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say AMEN! 

[i] Sedelmaier, J. 2012. "Watty Piper's 1930 “The Little Engine That Could” - Print Magazine". Print Magazine. Accessed April 14 2018.

[ii] Ibid. 
[iii] Ibid. 

[iv]Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Third Sunday Of Easter 2018 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed April 14 2018.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid. 
[vii] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 85.
[viii] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018
[ix] Eric Elnes, Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 71. 
[x] Ibid., 71-72.
[xi] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"Testimony to the Resurrection" - Sermon, April 8, 2018

Community UMC Quincy
“In the Name of Jesus Christ...Testimony to the Resurrection”
Pastor Andrew Davis
April 8, 2018
Acts 4: 32-35

            Last week after Easter dinner with my parents, I was perusing Facebook and came across a little comic that says it all for clergy on Easter Sunday and the following week…”Christ is Risen…the clergy is dead.” Holy Week and Easter are among the highest points of the Christian year next to Advent and Christmas, and there is definitely a lot of extra work that goes into the season…extra studies, extra services, extra bulletins, not as much sleep or rest as we’d always like.  You get the idea.  As our Plumas-Lassen UM Circuit met on Wednesday morning, all four of us pastors concurred that it felt like a post-Easter coma this last week, hence why many of my colleagues take vacation the week after Christmas and Easter, or why my colleagues who are pastors of larger congregations with an associate pastor or seminary interns have the associate pastor or intern preach the Sunday after Easter. 
            While all the candy and Easter merchandise at Safeway, Rite-Aid, SavMor, and Dollar Tree have been marked down to quickly sell, it’s STILL Easter here in the church and will be well into next month.  While we might not have the attendance, people decked out in their Sunday best, nor have quite the pomp and circumstance that we did last Sunday, Easter Sunday is just the beginning of the Easter season, which lasts 50 days and will conclude on May 20, Pentecost Sunday.  At the same time, this second Sunday of Easter is a good time to begin a new series, or in this case first of two mini-series, “In the Name of Jesus Christ” and “By the Power of the Holy Spirit.” During this time, we will be talking about the formation of the early church by the community of believers as we engage with the Book of Acts, in conjunction with Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances to the disciples.
In the first series, “In the Name of Jesus,” we will be focusing on what it means to claim the power of the name of Jesus as his followers. We will journey with the first disciples through the early chapters in the book of Acts, following them as they plant the very first Christian church and identifying how claiming the name of Jesus was the source of their strength, healing power and salvation.

Then, in our second series, “And the Power of the Holy Spirit,” we will explore what it means to be a church powered by the very Spirit of Christ. All of this will culminate on the final day of the season as we celebrate the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit that gave birth to the church on the day of Pentecost.[i]

            The only caveat to note is that we’ll be bouncing around chapters a little bit, as it isn’t going to be a neat, tidy chronological reading of the Book of Acts, so some of the sequences of events might seem a little off. 
            Just to set some further context, particularly for this morning, the Book of Acts is an extension of the Gospel of Luke, as it focuses on the work of the disciples following Jesus’s resurrection and the Holy Spirit as it works through the community of believers in the name of Jesus Christ.[ii]  
In addition, “the picture of the developing church painted by the author is of a growing community of believers powered by the Holy Spirit, and witnessed in the visible signs and wonders offered through the teachings and healings of the apostles.”[iii]
Leading up to where we are in the story that Charlotte read to us this morning, Peter, with John standing by, has healed a man who was crippled and spent all of his days begging at the gate of temple.  Following healing the crippled man, Peter and John then addressed the crowd and called them to repent of their sins, much to the annoyance of the chief priests and religious authorities of the temple.  Almost like being called to the principal’s office, Peter and John are called to go before the council, although the council couldn’t find a reason to punish Peter and John. 
As the team at Discipleship Ministries Worship resources explains,
It was the healing of the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate that began to draw more and more people to recognize the power of the name of Jesus.  The first group of believers are the ones the author of Acts writes about in today’s scripture lesson from the end of chapter four, where the whole group has become, in essence, one in body in Christ.  And it is the same healing power that has enabled them to be of one heart and soul, and for no one to have more possessions than others, but rather, to hold all their assets in common, sharing what they had so that no one in the community would be without.  Especially folks like the lame beggar.  They pooled their resources to care for each other and gave whatever they had leftover to those around them who were in need. 

            Which in essence, perfectly summarizes our lesson from Acts, as the apostles testify, or witness to the resurrection in the formation of the community of faith.  On the other hand, this morning’s lesson from Acts could almost sound like a stewardship sermon on how we give away what we have, how we pool our resources, and such.  In The New Interpreter’s Commentary, the author here “is paying special attention to the church’s distinctive practice of sharing goods” and that “the resurrection practice of holding everything in common, which enjoys favorable public reputation, is now used as evidence of the apostles’ increasing grip on the inner life and destiny of all believers.”[iv]
Now, all of this could cause us to wrestle a little bit, especially when we heard the gathering meditation at the beginning of the service and in conversations among friends and colleagues on this week’s passage, there were some concerns brought up about the implications the mediation and passage both hold.   However, we also need to remember that the Book of Acts and all of scripture were written in different times in history and have different contexts than today, as the early church was a lot more communal in nature, in which everyone distributed what they had equally. 
 As I’ve been wrestling some with today’s context, we have a lot more in the way of boundaries and such which also ask the questions, do we just let anyone into our homes to sleep, give whatever we have to eat out of our pantries and refrigerators, give just anyone clothes in our closet?... Amidst these questions and some boundaries that are necessary for our safety and the safety of those we are called to help. we still witness and testify to the resurrection of Jesus today when we do our best to answer such a call and share our resources.  Then again, we live in a much more complicated, although not any less messy world that the apostles and early community of believers lived in.  Yet this is where like I said last week and in many other sermons before, the way isn’t necessarily easy.  The reality is that with a high cost of living, low wages, a disproportion of wealth, and other challenges that are relevant to the world we live in today, there are more people in need that we may not always see and we may not always be fully aware that they are in need. 
Like it was in the first group of believers, there are definitely ways we in the church today can share what we have and pool our resources to help those in need, as “we can still make choices in our everyday lives to live on less so that we may give more to support those in need around us.”[v] At the same time,
We all have opportunities to see [the people in need in our midst, similar to the beggar at the gate of the Temple who Peter and John healed.]  They may not be standing on a street corner with a “Homeless, please help me” sign in their hands.  You may not pass them at the same spot every morning when you get your coffee at Starbucks [Peet’s, or wherever you get your coffee].  But there are people who are struggling to make ends meet, people who are in need of God’s healing touch, all around us.  All we have to do is look around and see them.[vi]

            I think I may have felt a little conviction last Sunday in my sermon, particularly when it comes to erring on the side of grace instead of judgment, as I admit that some of this stuff about sharing resources is where I wrestle and find myself operating more under a presumption of judgment, and some of it based on some past experiences… 
In thinking about the words of the opening meditation, I think in a perfect, we should be able to get food out of our pantries, take someone in our car, get people off the streets, although I also know that sometimes such does not always end very well, as there are people out there who know the church can be benevolent and will often do what they can to exploit and take advantage of that benevolence then turn around and call us bad Christians when we won’t help them.  That’s my biggest struggle in all of this, yet God is working on me to be more grace-filled in this area, which is why things are more complicated in today’s world.  Late this last week when I got a call from out of the area from someone seeking shelter before the two days of rain.  Initially, I tried to find an excuse not to help, but then I believe God was moving me more towards a presumption of grace, as when I was getting ready to call this person back, they called again and went ahead and got them a room at Gold Pan Lodge.  It turns out the person and a friend were on the way to a job site in Oregon and was able to have a good, albeit brief conversation with them and they were grateful.  On the other hand, just after I arrived here a couple years ago, I put someone in a room at another motel and was stuck with a repair bill after the person trashed and heavily damaged the room.  When I talked about it with a couple of my “holy friends” from seminary, the kind of friends you can go to and talk about anything with and receive feedback from, one of them said it’s ‘the cost of ministry.’ Sometimes ministry does come with a cost.  We’ve encountered both people who are both legitimately in need and those who are out to work the system, yet I keep wrestling with whether or not just to do what we are called by giving everyone what they need or perceive to need and simply let God do the rest as my testimony to the resurrection.  And I’m not the only pastor who struggles with this, as this very topic has invited some very lively conversations among colleagues. 
            As we testify, or witness to the resurrection in our church today, I see us doing our part in pooling our resources and testifying to the resurrection through our ministries of feeding the community with our hot pot lunch and community supper, support of and volunteer work at C.A.N., plus we have people in our church who will provide meals to those after surgery through Meal Train, or after Fall dinner, making soup for those who are sick with the leftover turkey.  We see our resources being shared through different people offering rides to those who don’t want to travel a long distance or to medical appointments in Reno or Chico.  In another conversation with the lay leadership development team last year, some feel we can do a lot more for the community and there are perhaps more places the church can step up and testify to the resurrection and pool resources in the community, especially in how we can find ways to work together with the county’s resources, especially in filling some gaps which is what happened this last week between the sheriff’s office and PCIRC who referred these two people to us. 
Another resource where we have pooled together that I’ve shared before with the congregation and will share again is that we do have a discretionary fund that many of you generously contribute to that we can use to put people in a motel for a couple nights, pay utility or phone bills or partial bills, partial rental deposits or partial rent.  Use of the discretionary fund is not just limited to people in our community, as it is also for people in the church who may find themselves in a bind.  All you need to do is talk with me and have a copy of your bill or your rental agreement.  It will remain confidential should you have such need. 
Likewise, some of the other churches in our town have similar resources and several of us have conversed about how we can pool our resources between the churches and network with each other when we have people in need come to us.  By networking with each other, we can fill the areas one or the other may not have.  In my time here, I have been exploring some ways we can contribute and help people other than with cash, given that cash is not kept here on the premises.  Once in a great while, I have had people come by the office during the week needing money for gas, which I don’t have the resources, but the other churches might in order to fill that need.  How we use our discretionary funds is one of the ways our resources are pooled among the churches, but if anyone would like to make donations to the discretionary fund, those are definitely welcome, yet I will also welcome gift cards from the gas stations to purchase enough for a tank of gas, or gift cards from Safeway for some basic groceries, or from any of the local eateries for a meal.  It’s all in how we use our possessions and how we use our wealth in today’s context, as the early community of believers was more like a commune, way different from what we have today.  Yet, we can still testify to the resurrection and share the Good News of Christ conquering death and sin when we can pool our resources and use our resources for those in need around our community and even around the world through our connectional giving.  When we pool our resources together and testify to the resurrection, maybe we can give people a glimmer of hope, and a new chance at life after they’ve believed it couldn’t happen. 
As we go into this new week and continue offering words of hope and encouragement in the name of Jesus Christ to everyone we encounter,

how are we witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus Christ in places where people have little hope that anything is ever going change for them?  What are we doing as [a community of faith] to share the promises, signs, and wonders that the early church knew and witnessed?  What are we doing to change the situation for the working poor around the globe?  How can we as United Methodists, be of one heart and soul regarding the need to serve the poor, not only in our own communities, but around the world?[vii]

            The world may be complicated more and still messy as ever, yet as the community of faith, we have this essential calling before us as we testify to the resurrection and serve the community in the name of Jesus Christ. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, Amen!!   

[i] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Second Sunday Of Easter 2018 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed April 5 2018.

[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 96. 

[v] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Second Sunday Of Easter 2018 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed April 5 2018.

[vi] Ibid. 
[vii] Ibid.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

"Love Leads the Way" - Easter Sermon, April 1, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy
“Love Leads the Way”
Easter Sunday: April 1, 2018
Pastor Andrew Davis
John 20: 1-18

            In conversations with many of my clergy colleagues leading up to today, many of us are convinced that God really has a sense of humor this year.  Back in February, we began the 40-day journey of Lent on Ash Wednesday, although Ash Wednesday happened to fall on Valentine’s Day.  So, if anyone was giving up chocolate or candy since Lent is often associated with giving stuff up, God may have had the last laugh there.  Likewise, today happens to fall on April Fool’s Day as we celebrate this beautiful Easter morning.  Typically, on April Fool’s Day, we may want to pull some fun pranks, or maybe engage in a little holy mischief here and there.   
On the other hand, one of my favorite comics I like to read regularly is “Coffee with Jesus,” from Radio Free Babylon, which puts Jesus in a contemporary setting, business suit and all, having coffee and conversation with people who are searching for life’s greatest answers and are at different stages on the journey of faith.  Sometimes, we see Jesus being a little sassy, or even doling out some tough love in many of his responses, although the people in the comic are modern-day disciples who get it and don’t get it, even clergy.  Every year on the day before Easter, Jesus is having coffee with the Easter Bunny and both ask each other if they’re ready for the big day.  Of course, the Easter Bunny is a little smart and responds to Jesus, saying “I bring the basket and you jump out of the casket,” in which Jesus responds, “Tomb, Bunny.”[i]
            However, I don’t think the resurrection was any kind of an April fool’s joke either.  While the song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian” pokes fun at life and death, death is not really a laughing matter.  I say this in light of the unexpected death of one of my cousins on Sunday night, which has brought a whole new meaning to Holy Week and Easter this year.  After a moving and meaningful time of worship last Sunday, I was still on a spiritual high from that and being recommended to move forward in the UMC’s ordination process a week ago this past Wednesday, only to learn of my cousin’s passing on Monday morning during our Lenten study.  For the rest of this past week, I have found myself reflecting a lot about Jesus’s own life and how things quickly changed for him when he triumphantly entered Jerusalem, as the crowds shouted ‘Hosanna to our King’ only to have those shouts of Hosanna change over the course of the week to ‘crucify him,’ in which Jesus was arrested, tried, sentenced to death, and executed on the cross, then laid in the tomb with Mary Magdalene, his mother, and the unnamed, beloved disciple in John’s gospel staying at his side.  The other disciples on the other hand, ran away in fear.
It went from triumph to tragedy that week, kind of how this last week has felt for my family.  So often, we are quick to gloss over the ugly parts of Jesus’s story and even our own lives, although as one of my friends who is now a UM bishop says, ‘we need to go through Good Friday in order to get to Easter.’ We have to die to ourselves and die to the things that prevent us from fully living, so that we can rise with Christ to the new life and hope that we are celebrating this morning, even if it means enduring the ugliness and messiness that life will bring us at one time or another, or knowing that the ugliness and messiness won’t go away either.  We need to let love lead the way, especially as we do our best to live into the Easter story of how Jesus overcame death and humanity’s sin out of his deep love for us. 
            In John’s gospel that Anna just read for us, we encounter Mary Magdalene, being the first person Jesus sends out to tell the disciples that He is risen.  Now if we have read Mark or Luke’s accounts of the Easter story, Mary Magdalene is one whom Jesus has restored to wholeness, casting out her demons and giving her this new opportunity at life, in which she too becomes one of his followers.  In her final commentary for Discipleship Ministries, Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser writes that
Mary’s encounter with the risen Lord is not an idea, or an allegory, or a metaphor. It is a physical experience. And it is life changing, not just for Mary, but for the other disciples, and for all who would come to follow Jesus, including you and me.[ii] 

            The fact that Jesus calls her by name and that Mary is able to touch the risen Christ, turning her mourning into joy says a lot about Jesus and how it opens up the channels for transformation and for love to lead the way, especially when Jesus says he will ascend “to my God and your God” (John 20: 17, NRSV). 
Even though Peter and the un-named beloved disciple we see in John’s Gospel go back to doing what they were doing after seeing that Jesus’s body was not in the tomb, Mary Magdalene stays behind and because she was willing to stay, gets to have this first encounter with the risen Christ!! 
A few weeks ago on another social media platform, Instagram before his passing, my cousin mentioned how Jesus is his Lord and Savior, which is one of the first steps we take in our journey of faith, and my hope is that even in death, my cousin can have a profound experience with the risen Christ and experience God’s grace.  I know that we weren’t all that close, as he was eleven years older, but still had that familial love and were able to stay in touch, even though I didn’t always agree with him on everything.  Nevertheless, he was still a beloved child of God. 
When we think about who are beloved children of God, things can get a little tricky and can open up a can of worms.  It’s tricky and challenging because so often, it’s easier to operate under what one of my seminary professors, Rev. Dr. Lovett Weems Jr. refers to as “a presumption of judgment” instead of “a presumption of grace.”  In the midst of the stories of violence, protests, and unrest that we hear about on a daily basis these days, I try to operate under a presumption of grace and err on the side of grace, which I know might make a few folks upset too. Nevertheless, there definitely are some challenges, maybe even some barriers in letting love lead the way for us.  As Dawn Chesser explains,
All sorts of things get in the way of our ability to love one another as God loves us. We get caught up in our own needs and fears, our vision limited…our wounds from our life experiences that have never fully healed. It clouds our ability to see some people as fully human, fully beloved children of God.[iii]

Sounds a little bit like some of the things we talked about during our series on Rehab during Lent, as we need to come to terms with some of our own baggage and assumptions, which I am constantly doing on a daily basis.  I’ll admit that extending grace and letting love lead the way is a challenge when people have royally screwed up, as judgement is so easier to do.  One of my answers to the dCOM about the human condition is that our choices have consequences.  Despite the choices people make in life, we still need to see people as fully human, hurts, baggage, and all and allow OUR love to lead the way in how we respond, regardless of how we might feel or what they did.  As followers of Christ, we are called to take the higher road and to let love lead the way for us.  It doesn’t mean we have to condone the actions of those who have done us wrong, yet Jesus does call to love our enemies just as he calls us to love our neighbors, which he showed as he died on the cross with the two bandits at his side on Good Friday and to the people who executed him.  Love leading the way is challenging, yet Jesus never said the way would be easy. 
            This past week, I’ve been re-reading Lutheran pastor and author, Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber’s first book, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint and if you have ever seen a picture of Nadia, except for her sleeveless clergy collar shirt, you might not think that she’s a pastor based on her appearance, as she always seems to have a scowl on her face and has tattoos covering her arms.  And having met her while I was still in seminary in Washington, DC, she’s not exactly a warm and fuzzy person and swears like a sailor.  But, that’s who she is, and her story is one of redemption, kind of like Mary Magdalene, and she let’s love lead the way, even it’s not warm and fuzzy.  One of her arm tattoos is an image of Mary Magdalene, who Nadia likens to be the least likely one called to share the Good News of Jesus’s resurrection, just as Nadia thinks that she was the least likely person called by God to be a pastor.[iv]  Nadia overcame drug and alcohol abuse and now ministers to people who have varied pasts and have experienced rejection, even in the church.  The name of her church in Denver, CO is fitting, as it’s called A House for All Sinners and Saints and love leads the way there. 
In the final chapter of Pastrix, Nadia shares about the response to a deadly theater shooting in Aurora Colorado in 2011 during her church’s night at “Beer & Hymns” the day after. Nadia says that oftentimes when tragedy strikes, people are so often to jump to conclusions and resort to platitudes and “vapid words of comfort;” superficial, yet well-meaning sayings intended to bring comfort, but end up causing more hurt and pain.[v]  Just as Mary Magdalene was “a deeply faithful and deeply flawed woman, whom Jesus chose to be the first witness of his resurrection and to whom he commanded to go and tell everyone else about it,”  Nadia shares that in light of tragedy,
If Saint Mary Magdalene had been the “Pastrix” of my congregation, she would not have shied away from the news of innocent people slaughtered while it was still dark.   She would have showed up and named the event from two days prior exactly for what it was: horrific, evil, senseless violence without a shred of anything redemptive about it… 

She would reject nihilism, or the idea that there is no real meaning in life or death – ideas present in so much of post-modernity. 

What Mary would do is show up and remind us that despite the violence and fear, it’s still always worth it to love God and to love people.  And always, always, it is worth it to sing Alleluia in defiance of the devil, who surely hates the sound of it.[vi]

            In light of everything we face, triumph, tragedy, and everything in between, we need to let love lead the way as a followers of Christ and people of faith…singing Alleluia in the face of tragedy, evil, and destruction.  Whether it’s in the nation, world, or our own backyard here in Quincy, we need to let love lead the way in how we respond to anything, even when we may not agree with what others may have to say or how they act.  We need a constant reminder that it is worth it to love God and neighbor, something Jesus instills in us and how he still loved those who sent him to the cross.  Just as Jesus sent Mary Magdalene to go and tell the disciples the Good News, we need to be the ones that keep telling the Good News all around us today, and let love lead the way because amidst evil, amidst darkness, amidst violence, and hatred that rear their heads at us way too often, we can still have hope and sing ‘Alleluia’ in the face of evil, sin, and death, as we are a resurrection people and death and sin will NOT have the final say.  When we put our faith, trust, and hope in Jesus, and when love leads the way, we too can conquer our sin, and join him in the resurrection when it’s our turn to go onto Glory.   
As we prepare to come to the Communion table in a few minutes, love leads the way for us to become one with Christ when we eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine, nourishing us on this journey of faith and offering us grace through this joyful feast.
Know that you are welcome to this table, because it’s God who offers us this free gift of grace, even if you might feel like you’re not worthy enough to come to the feast.  No matter how much we’ve screwed up or mis-stepped along the way, we have this opportunity to accept God’s grace that has been given to us through Christ, and an opportunity for a new beginning when we come to this table and live into the new life and hope of this day as love leads the way. 
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church Say, AMEN!!

[i] "Coffee With Jesus". 2016. Imgur. Accessed March 22 2018.

[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Easter Sunday 2018 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed March 28 2018.

[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint (New York: Jericho Books, 2013), 198. 
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid., 198-199.

"See All the People: The Pressing Crowd" - Sermon, February 10, 2019

Community UMC, Quincy “See All the People: The Pressing Crowd” Rev. Andrew Davis February 10, 2019 Luke 5: 1-11           After...