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Sunday Sermon – Pr. David



Year B, Lectionary 30

October 25, 2015

Jeremiah 31:7-9

Mark 10:46-52

Pastor David Tryggestad

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church

Duluth, Minnesota

“Believing is seeing.”

Common wisdom says the opposite: “Seeing is believing.” But biblical faith invites us to consider the opposite: “Believing is seeing.”

Bartimaeus is blind. But he knows who Jesus is: “Jesus, Son of David.” That is: “Messiah.” The disciples, though they see, do not understand. They fail to see.

“Believing is seeing.”

The Gospel writer Mark gives us only two accounts of Jesus healing a blind man: at the beginning and at the end of the section of narrative about discipleship, chapters 8, 9, and 10, the section that includes Jesus’ three passion predictions, the three explicit statements to his disciples that he will be arrested, that he will suffer, and that he will die.

In the first account in chapter 8, Jesus and his disciples encounter a blind man in Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26). The people of the area beg Jesus to heal him. Jesus takes him aside, puts saliva on the man’s eyes and lays hands on him. Then Jesus asks, “Can you see anything.” He replies, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking” (Mark 8:24). Evidently the healing was only partial. So Jesus lays hands on his eyes again, then then the man can see clearly. What’s going on? I’ll come back to this story.

What does it mean that this section of narrative about discipleship is bracketed by the healing of two blind men?

The second blind man is Bartimaeus, the story in our Gospel today. Bartimaeus in his blindness stands in stark contrast to the unbelief of the disciples. Bartimaeus, though blind, perceives who Jesus is—Son of David—and he knows that Jesus can help him. The disciples, in contrast, fail to understand who Jesus is and argue about which of them is the greatest. Why is it that we are sometimes—or often—surprised by the faith of someone we might consider an outsider?!

Jesus declares to Bartimaeus, “Your faith has made you well”—literally—“your faith has saved you.” In Confirmation we are learning about the Reformation. One of the foundational verses for Martin Luther and the Lutheran Church is one that the girls in Confirmation have committed to memory: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God . . .” (Ephesians 2:8). (The boys in Confirmation have memorized different verses, all significant to the Reformation.) Jesus declares to Bartimaeus, “Your faith has made you well”—literally—“your faith has saved you.”

The genuineness of the faith of Bartimaeus is that, having received his sight, he follows Jesus. The genuineness of faith is not how well we know our Bibles, or how many verses of Scripture we can quote, or how well we pray, though all these things are beneficial. The genuineness of faith is in following Jesus. How many people, after encountering Jesus, walk away, even those who walk away sorrowful, like the rich man in our Gospel two weeks ago?

The last three words in our Gospel for today are “on the way.” Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way. On the way is the way of discipleship. It is a journey, not a destination. And all are invited, regardless of status. Our Confirmation young people are on the way, and the way does not end when Confirmation ends, rather, it’s a milestone on the way.

Perhaps more than being a healing story, our Gospel story today is a call narrative—a call story: three times in verse 49, Mark writes the word call: “Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you’” (emphases added). Jesus calls Bartimaeus and his call is mediated through the disciples. Have you ever considered that you—as a congregation as well as individuals—are mediators of God’s call on others?

As a congregation, you are in the process of discerning extending a call to a pastor. The call comes through you, but the call originates in God. The call is authenticated by God. The call is empowered by God.

As individual Christians, we all have the high calling to be mediators of God’s call to others. Consider in your own heart when you have been a mediator of God’s call to another.

Many people stand outside our circle of fellowship. Some of those are seeking Jesus, even if they don’t articulate their seeking in those words. But they are seeking. Perhaps they, like blind Bartimaeus, are making a disturbance, causing a problem, making a nuisance of themselves. Perhaps we, like the disciples, would try to silence them, as the disciples sternly warned Bartimaeus to be silent. Perhaps we try to shut them out, or to put roadblocks in front of them. But Bartimaeus cries out all the more. Those on the outside seeking Jesus cry out all the more.

Have you considered that Jesus may be calling us to be a mediator of God’s call to those on the outside? Who are those “making noise,” trying to get our attention, when we would rather silence them?

A few weeks ago, our Confirmation young people wrote some of their deep questions about faith and life and God on post-it notes; they are displayed on a bulletin board toward the west wing of the building. Youth Director Meagan compared the posting of these questions to Martin Luther posting his 95 Thesis to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, an event we celebrate today and every Reformation Sunday. We join thousands of congregations across the globe celebrating Confirmation/Affirmation of Baptism, on Reformation Sunday.

Have we as a congregation and as individuals taken the questions and cries of our young people seriously? Have we been mediators of God’s call on their lives? If we don’t take the questions and cries of our young people seriously, how are they to take the church seriously?

Back to the story of the blind man of Bethsaida who was healed twice. It’s the only instance in the Gospels where Jesus had to heal a second time. Did Jesus not get it right the first time? Did Jesus mess up? Was his power inadequate the first time? What’s going on?

The two healings of blind men bracket the narrative about discipleship. Despite Jesus’ three-time explicit teaching about his impending suffering and death, his disciples fail to understand. They fail to see. They lack the faith to see—to understand. They are like the blind man from Bethsaida, who sees at first, but only in part. He sees men, “but they look like trees, walking.”

Perhaps we are like the disciples. Perhaps we see only partially, or not at all, or fail to understand, or get it wrong more than we get it right, are always jockeying for position, arguing about who is greatest (but perhaps arguing in a more Scandinavian passive-aggressive manner!).

We are all blind, like the man in Bethsaida who was healed twice, or like blind Bartimaeus. In our First Lesson from the Jeremiah, God sings through the prophet of a time when God promises to gather the lost remnant, including the blind and the lame (Jeremiah 31:8). The Good News is that Jesus calls us, in whatever state of blindness we may be, whether we don’t have a clue who Jesus is, or whether we see partially, like the blind man of Bethsaida, who sees men who look like trees walking. The Good News is that Jesus calls all of us who cry out to him: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Like Bartimaeus, we are all blind beggars. It is said that, at the death of Martin Luther, a note was found in his coat pocket written in his hand: “We are all beggars, it is true.” Martin Luther, declared by TIME magazine to be the most influential person of the entire second Millennium, summed up his life: “We are all beggars, it is true.” Like blind Bartimaeus, we cry, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Thanks be to God!

Sunday Sermon – Pr. David

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)THE SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Year B, Lectionary 25

September 20, 2015

Jeremiah 11:18-20

Psalm 54

Mark 9:30-37

Pastor David Tryggestad

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church

Virginia, Minnesota

Youth Director Meagan Esterby gave me an assignment this past Wednesday. She asked if I might teach the opening session of Confirmation this coming week. If you were in worship last Sunday, you recall that many of our young people received age-appropriate Bibles, depending on their age or grade: three-year olds, third graders, and sixth graders. Sixth graders are starting their Confirmation journey and their new study Bible will be their guide, not only through their years of Confirmation, but also through their life’s journey.

The assignment Meagan gave me was this: In 20 minutes or less, give our young people an introduction to the Bible—and that 20 minute limit includes a four-minute video. That leaves me with 16 minutes. Now when I was a freshman at Luther College, I took an intro to the Bible course that lasted the entire year. And Meagan wants me to offer an introduction to the Bible in 16 minutes! Yikes!

If you were to give the Bible as a gift to a young person, where would you suggest that person begin? In the beginning? That would make sense if the Bible were a novel, but it’s not. In fact, the Bible is not any one kind of literature. It’s a collection of many kinds of writings. It’s a collection of 66 books in all. It’s a library. And in this library we find history, liturgy, songs (even colorful and suggestive love songs), theology, teaching, ethics, wisdom, and biography—and more! Where do we begin?

A careful reading of the entire Bible reveals a variety of points of view, a variety of images of God, even areas of discrepancy and disagreement. Some have attempted to distinguish and contrast the images of God between the Old and New Testaments, for example, by suggesting that the “God of the Old Testament” is a God of vengeance, while the “God of the New Testament” is a God of Love. We’ve all heard it; some of us may have said it.

Two verses from our appointed Scripture readings for today are evidence of this notion. The beleaguered Old Testament prophet Jeremiah laments to God about his detractors and cries out, “. . . let me see your retribution upon them . . .” (vs. 19b). Our psalmist sings, “. . . strangers have risen up against me, and the ruthless have sought my life . . .” (vs. 3) and challenges God: “Render evil to those who spy on me; in your faithfulness, destroy them” (vs. 5). Despite these and other similar passages, to conclude that the God of the Old Testament is a God of vengeance is a false and grotesque caricature of God.

One of the preeminent Old Testament scholars in the world in the last century published a book in 1979 entitled: What Does the Old Testament Say About God? The Old Testament says many things about God, some of them seemingly contradictory, but, according to Claus Westermann, the author, the primary thing the Old Testament says about God is that “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” A far cry from the Old Testament portraying a God of vengeance!

Last Sunday we considered Jesus’ question to his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” We learned that the New Testament offers many and various viewpoints on that issue. The history of the Church for 2000 years has witnessed that various Christian groups, denominations, or sects tend to foster one particular image of Jesus over others. These various different understandings of Jesus have resulted in innumerable struggles and even violence through the centuries.

So when we read the Bible, where do we begin? And when we have answered that question and we launch into this marvelous book, we are confronted with things that are difficult to understand, things that don’t make sense to us, things that seem to contradict each other. How do we make sense of all of it? So we must eventually come to another critical question: Is all Scripture created equal?

Now this may sound like a scandalous question. But let’s consider some specifics. For example, the Bible says that there are certain foods that we’re forbidden to eat. Pork is one (Deuteronomy 14:8). A week ago Wednesday we enjoyed grilled pork chops during the Quilter’s lunch. The Bible says that we’re not to wear clothing made from a combination of different fabrics (Deuteronomy 22:11). The slacks I’m wearing are made of polyester and wool. The Bible says that women, after giving birth, must wait a prescribed period of time before going to the temple to worship (Leviticus 12:2-5). The Bible says that women are to remain silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:33-35). The Bible says something shocking about rebellious young people—do we know any rebellious young people? Or have we ourselves been a rebellious young person? The Bible commands us to take rebellious young people and stone them to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)! No doubt you have your own list of confusing and problematic texts from the Bible.

Is all Scripture created equal? The answer is clearly and emphatically No.

We know that Scripture is inspired by God. But what does that mean? (The video we will show during Confirmation as part of my 20 minutes will get at this issue of inspiration.) This book we claim to be the norm and guide for our life of faith is a collection of writings from many different authors over more than a thousand years. Have they all experienced God in the same way? Have we all experienced God in the same way? Do we all have the same understandings of God?

Martin Luther can help us. Luther tells us that the Bible is the “cradle” for Jesus. The Bible gives us Jesus. The Bible shows us Jesus. The first verse of the Gospel of John, the author writes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In the 14th verse of that same first chapter, the author asserts: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” That Word is Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God “incarnate”—“made flesh.” This morning we sang the hymn, “O Word of God Incarnate.” The hymn is not about the Bible; the hymn is about Jesus. In the sixth chapter of John, all the crowds have left Jesus, no longer interested in what he has to say—they don’t understand and they find his teaching scandalous. Jesus says to his disciples, “Don’t you also want to go away?” Peter replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

So where do we begin in reading our Bible? Let us begin with Jesus. According to Jesus himself, all the law and prophets of the Old Testament before him point to him. Jesus is the culmination and fulfilment of what God has been doing in the world. Jesus becomes the interpreter of Scripture.

Jesus says over and over in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you.” Jesus not only interprets Scripture, and reinterprets Scripture, but he also repudiates Scripture. “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye . . .’ but I say to you, do not resist evil and turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38). Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies,’ but I say to you, Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you” (Matthew 5:43).

The Bible gives us Jesus. And Jesus then gives us the Bible. But it’s the Bible according to Jesus. It’s the Bible read through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Any other reading or interpretation of the Bible is not the truth about Jesus or the truth about God.

But even the Bible according to Jesus has proven to be confusing. And that confusion goes all the way back to the disciples. Last week, we found Peter rebuking Jesus and then Jesus in turn rebuking Peter. Peter didn’t like what Jesus was telling them about what it would mean for Jesus to be the Messiah. Now again today we find Jesus scolding the disciples for misunderstanding him and his ministry.

A little context is helpful. Between last Sunday’s Gospel reading and today’s, Jesus has taken Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain where he was transfigured before them. His face and clothing shown bright as lightning. Not only that, Moses and Elijah, both dead for centuries, appeared with him, and the three of them were talking together. The disciples were astonished. The disciples saw Jesus in his heavenly glory and splendor. Maybe, they thought, Jesus didn’t really mean it when he said he must suffer and die. Maybe he—and all of us—will be exalted and given honor and glory.

So it’s not surprising that the disciples are arguing amongst themselves on the road, with the three who witnessed the transfiguration telling what they had seen (we wonder if they kept the secret). No doubt the three of them put themselves at the front of the line for glory. They refused to believe, again, Jesus telling them that he must suffer and die.

I wonder if Peter, James, and John told the others what God had spoken on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses represented all the law of the Old Testament, and Elijah all the prophets. Then there was Jesus. God speaks from the cloud that overshadowed them: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:7).

Listen to him. Listen to Jesus. All the law and all the prophets are to be interpreted through Jesus. All Scripture is interpreted through Jesus.

And this is what Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

To illustrate his point, Jesus takes a little child and puts it in their midst. It’s helpful to know that children were not doted on in first century Palestine the way they are now. Children were mostly a burden and a nuisance. But not to Jesus. He takes a little child and puts it in their midst.

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Pastor Mike Carlson from St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi was here this past Wednesday to speak to the Confirmation youth from all the area churches. Pastor Mike is a child of Our Savior’s, having been confirmed here. The sanctuary was packed last Wednesday. He told a story about once taking a baby from its mother’s arms during worship and handing the child to the crabbiest person in the room.

We could try that now, but there aren’t any crabby people here. We can’t claim Jesus as Lord and be crabby! And children are welcome here! Because Jesus says so.

The entire world was shocked, horrified, and unspeakably grieved at the photo of a dead three-year-old Syrian child lying face-down on the beach on the coast of Turkey, having drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, along with his mother and five-year-old brother. The photo has moved the world to compassion and action. The image confronts all of us: globally, nationally, communally, and individually. How do we receive such little ones as these?

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Thanks be to God!

Sunday Sermon – Pr. David

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY OF PENTECOST

Year B, Lectionary 24

September 13, 2015

Mark 8:27-38

Pastor David Tryggestad

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church

Virginia, Minnesota

“Who Do You Say That I Am?”

Our youngest son got engaged this past Monday. He called from Minneapolis later that evening and said, “Dad, I proposed to Emily tonight and she said Yes!” My wife, Lynn, and I have hoping and praying for this day for a long time. More than once we’ve told our son, “Soren, if you don’t marry Emily, we’re going to disown you and adopt Emily!” The question, “Will you marry me?” is one of the most important questions we can ever answer.

I wonder if the question Jesus asks his disciples—and us—is even more important: “Who do you say that I am?”

But before we take a look at that question—the second question Jesus asks the disciples—let’s look at the first: “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples respond: “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” As Jesus’ ministry progressed, more and more people began to ask, “Who is this, who heals the sick? Who is this, who forgives sins? Who is this, who raises the dead?”

“Who do people say that I am?”

Thirty years ago, Jaroslav Pelikan, one of America’s leading theologians, a teacher at Yale, published a book entitled Jesus Through the Centuries, in which the author lifts up major images or understandings of Jesus through twenty centuries of scholarship and art. Pelikan identifies 18 different notions of Jesus and devotes a chapter to each. Some of them include: “The Rabbi,” “The Turning Point of History,” “The Light of the Gentiles,” “The King of Kings,” “The Cosmic Christ,” “The Son of Man,” “Christ Crucified,” “The Bridegroom of the Soul,” “The Prince of Peace,” “The Liberator,” and so forth. No doubt we could all add to that list. From my own pietistic background and from my own personal experience, I would add, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.”

Now to Jesus’ second question, the one he asks of each of us: “Who do you say that I am?”

I believe that this question is one of the most important questions each of us answers in our lives, perhaps the most important question, even more important than “Will you marry me?” I believe that the way we answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?,” influences every aspect of our lives, each and every day.

Jesus’ disciple Peter got the answer right: “You are the Messiah.”

But while he got the answer right, he got the meaning all wrong. As we see, Jesus went on to tell Peter and the disciples what it would mean for him to be Messiah:

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed . . .”

Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Jesus. We can hear him protest, “No, Lord, this can never happen to you! No, Lord, this is not what it means to be Messiah! No, Lord, this is not what it means to be the Son of God! No, Lord, this is not what it means to be my Lord!”

This is the same Peter who protested that Jesus should never wash his feet at the Last Supper: “You will never wash my feet” (John 13:8).

“Who do you say that I am?” Peter got the answer right: “You are the Messiah.” But he got the meaning wrong.

Here at Our Savior’s we kicked off the Confirmation program this past Wednesday. Youth Director Meagan led young people grades five through ten through an engaging evening of fun getting-to-know-you activities as well as some introductory teaching about what Confirmation is all about. Poke your nose around any Confirmation program in any Lutheran church anywhere across the world and you’re bound to learn something about Martin Luther, particularly his Small Catechism. Even if you don’t remember much at all about the Small Catechism, even though you may have memorized it cover to cover when you were in Confirmation, no doubt you remember the question he asks over and over: “What does this mean?”

Peter got the answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” right; but he failed Martin Luther’s question: “What does this mean?”

It seems Peter had other ideas about what it might mean for Jesus to be the Messiah, ideas that had nothing to do with suffering and death. We wonder if Peter’s notions of Messiah were in part grounded in self-interest. If Jesus as Lord were going to deny himself and suffer, then perhaps those who follow him might be in for some of the same.

Jesus knows what’s on Peter’s mind, so he makes himself quite clear: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

During our Wednesday evening worship service this past week, Leighton, one of our young Confirmation members was present. I made the comment that when I was his age, I thought I had wanted to become a medical doctor when I grew up. But then, as I grew older and started to have biology in high school and began to dissect animals and reptiles, some still alive, I decided that I didn’t like the sight of blood. I wanted to be a doctor, but I misunderstood what being a doctor meant. I had not asked the question, “What does this mean?”

Perhaps Peter didn’t like the sight of blood.

During the time I served as pastor in Duluth, our congregation hosted a monthly evening worship based on the practices of a Christian community in Taizé, France, including prayer, reading of scripture, singing simple and repetitious songs, and incorporating silence. In addition to lighting scores of candles throughout the sanctuary, we placed an icon of Jesus front and center, in order to help us focus our hearts and minds on our Lord. One evening I had placed a large hand painted reproduction of an ancient icon depicting Jesus on the cross, with blood flowing from his head, his hands, and his feet. His face shown of despair and agony. It was a graphic depiction of suffering. Afterward, one of the leaders of the planning group protested that she didn’t like looking at the painting, that it was too depressing, that it was too graphic.

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed . . .”

“Who do you say that I am?” How do you answer that question? And we can follow with Martin Luther’s question, “What does this mean?”

I was in conversation with someone near and dear to me just a few weeks ago and we were talking religion and faith. She said something we’ve been hearing a lot recently: “I’m spiritual but not religious.”

Martin Luther would ask, “What does this mean?”

I wonder if being spiritual but not religious means that I can make up whatever I want and believe whatever I want. I wonder if being spiritual but not religious means making Jesus into our own image—or making God into our own image.

The problem with Jesus, as far as Peter was concerned, is that we cannot make Jesus into our own image. Rather, it’s the other way around. One of the hymns we sing during Lent is “On My Heart Imprint Your Image.” The Apostle Paul admonishes us, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus . . .” (Philippians 2:5).

So what does it mean for us as individuals and as a congregation that Jesus says to us: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

One thing it means is that Jesus sets the example; we don’t. Jesus sets the agenda; we don’t.

A number of years ago a story circulated among all the pastors and all the congregations of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod. It was a story about a congregation that took Jesus’ example of self-denial and servanthood seriously. It seems that this particular congregation had been the victim of some significant vandalism. The perpetrators were later apprehended, but rather than pressing charges, this congregation offered to embrace them, to bring them into their midst, to engage them in meaningful ministry, to include them in genuine community. This congregation chose to risk being vulnerable.

This congregation is you.

This past Wednesday, I was welcomed by the quilters. They fed me without my having to do anything! I didn’t even have to wash the dishes. Our quilters make 200 quilts a year to give away. Hospitality and generosity.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

This past year has been one of transition for all of you. No doubt there are many and various notions of what it means to be the church and what your future might look like. We might all answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” the same way Peter did: “You are the Messiah.” At the same time, we might have among us various answers to the question, “What does this mean?”

Going back to the laundry list of titles of the chapters that Jaroslav Pelikan assigned in his book, Jesus Through the Centuries, one jumps out at me: “The Crucified Christ”—or “Crucified Messiah.” To the disciple Peter, “Crucified” and “Messiah” were an oxymoron. To be Messiah could not possibly involve being crucified. For one thing, it might have implications for those who follow Jesus. It might have implications for us.

We worship a Crucified Messiah. He asks each and every one of us: “Who do you say that I am?” It is perhaps the most important question we will ever answer. And Jesus asks it of us every day of our lives.

A word about our song, “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High.” I learned it 20 years ago on a mission trip to Monterrey, Mexico. We were among the poorest of the poor. We visited a worshiping community at the outskirts of the city dump. We saw a newly-wed couple rummaging through scraps of refuse to pull out discarded wooden pallets and corrugated metal to assemble their new home. The streets were dirt; the floors were dirt; and the only running water was a spigot of cold water from a public faucet at the end of each street. Yet these very people came together to lift their voices in worship and praise: “Lord, I lift your name on high . . . you came from heaven to earth . . . from the earth to the cross . . .”

“Who do you say that I am?”

Thanks be to God!

Lent Reflections Part 4 – Touch

Pastor Erik’s Lent Reflections 2018 –“ Touch”

  We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.      (1 John 1:1)

During Jesus’ earthly ministry there were many people who encountered him physically. The saw him, heard him, touched him and were touched by him. Today, we can also encounter Jesus physically. I want to encourage you to think more deeply about how you encounter Jesus in a physical way.  There are 5 senses: touch, hearing, sight, taste and smell. This week focuses on the sense of “touch.”

Luke 7:11-15

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

This is quite a dramatic story.  Take a few moments and imagine the scene- Jesus and a LARGE crowd of people approach the gate of a small town. Coincidently, a LARGE crowd from the town had gathered near the gate. The moods of the two crowds are very different.  I imagine Jesus’ crowd to be in a positive and joyful mood. They have just listened to Jesus preach wonderful sermons, and they have seen Jesus heal several people. I imagine them to be smiling, loudly laughing and hopeful; playfully recounting the messages and extraordinary events they’ve witnessed with others from the group.  Now imagine the crowd from the town. They are sad. They are crying.  They are probably silent except for the sound of weeping. A man has just died (probably not of old age) and the crowd is walking solemnly with the corpse and the man’s mother. The mother is now a widow. Not only has she just lost her son, but she is also facing many troubles on how she will live and support herself. Now, these two crowds, lead by Jesus and the man’s mother, meet face-to-face. Serious drama.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t step off the road in order to let the funeral procession pass. He doesn’t politely say, “excuse me.”  He does what everyone is least expecting. Jesus stands directly and boldly in the way of the grieving crowd. Have you ever been to a funeral? What would happen if a stranger entered into the service and disrupted it? How would you feel? What would you do? I would probably be too shocked to do anything.

Jesus is doing more than disrupting the funeral and obstructing their path. He is obstructing death itself. Remember, Jesus is a stranger to the woman. Yet, Jesus invites himself into her extremely private and emotional event. Not only does he invite himself into the scene, he takes over the scene. Next, he does something almost unthinkable- he touches the bier that is carrying the dead body. Jesus is unmoved by the purity laws about dead bodies or social etiquette. Jesus is only interested in life. Restoring life. Renewing life.

A couple years ago, I went to Kolkata India for a few weeks. I volunteered at the Mother Theresa “House of the Destitute.” I saw extreme human suffering and I even saw several people die. The other volunteers and I were encouraged to follow Mother Theresa’s example and not be afraid to touch others. Disregarding open wounds, painful and ugly infections, and intense diseases, Mother Theresa showed that the simple act of holding someone’s hand, gently massaging their frail and broken bodies, or even simply brushing the hair out of their eyes is an act of love. Using “touch,” Mother Theresa reaffirmed the dignity and humanity of her fellow human being and she showed the world what love looks like.

Revelation 21:1-4

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

                 Because I have little children at home, literally every day I wipe tears from their eyes. Sometimes the tears are because they has tripped and fallen or perhaps it is time to go to bed, brush teeth, eat a vegetable, go to church or leave church and return home. One thing I’ve learned about wiping away tears is that it must be done very gently and delicately. It requires my full attention so that I don’t poke an eye or frighten them. Wiping away tears doesn’t take away pain or remove insecurity, but it shows the crying person that they are cared for and embraced. It shows the crying person that they are receiving the full attention and love of the other. I have a deeper understanding of Revelation 21 now. Envisioning God wiping away my tears, your tears, and everyone’s tears shows me that God is personally invested in each and everyone of us. Every individual matters to God and everyone is deserving of – and receives God’s full attention and care.

My father is an amateur geologist and we often spent many afternoons searching for rocks, studying rocks, and admiring rocks. Near my parent’s house in Colorado there are some amazing rock formations in the mountains. Millions of years of water and rain have cut deep grooves and scarred the once smooth rock surfaces. It is amazing how powerful and forceful even a single drop of water can be when it is allowed to continuously drip. One of my favorite seminary professors often said, “God wipes the tears from our eye’s so their continuous flow won’t make permanent grooves on our cheeks.”

Blessings to you during your Lent journey

God’s Peace~Pastor Erik