WORSHIP THIS WEEK: We often want to look back instead of looking forward.  This Sunday, June 26, Jesus calls us to a life of discipleship that asks us to move forward with the courage that only God can give.  We’ll also ask God to bless our graduates, we’ll enjoy a time of fellowship outside after worship, and we’ll gather again in the evening for Open Mic Night.   Join us this Sunday at 10:00, in person or via livestream here: https://youtu.be/WBEHQgFA2Ag

Sermons

May 8, 2022

This week I have been especially mindful of several beautiful artifacts that I have to remind me of special women in my life.  There’s the quilt that the women in my internship congregation made for me, filled with the colors of the Arizona desert.  The needlepoint image of the Lamb of God that hangs in my office was made by my mom; it was an ordination gift.  She has done all kinds of sewing projects throughout my life, from our Christmas stockings to my prom dress.  I wish I had her talent.  My sister Claire has taken after our mom lately because she made several cross-stitched items for Christmas.  On my wall at home hangs a gorgeous scene from Arches National Park that she cross-stitched and had framed. 

And then there’s this one.  My other sister Carrie several years ago made for each of us a collection of my grandmother’s recipes.  Carrie typed up many of them, but several are copies of the originals in Grandmama’s handwriting – her precise script, always slanted at the same angle.  There are recipes for her Swedish cookies, her cornbread, her angel food cake, her squash fritters.  As you can imagine, these recipes are all the more special because she’s not here anymore to make them.

I bet you have items like this too.  Things that you can hold in your hand to evoke the love and the memory of someone in your life who has passed on.  A mother or sibling or grandparent.  A friend or cousin or neighbor.

That’s why it’s easy to imagine that scene from our first reading.  The women, gathered around to mourn their friend and fellow disciple, Tabitha.  Yes, women were disciples too. The book of Acts, remember, is a sequel to Luke’s gospel.  Acts gives us stories of the early church, after Jesus has risen and ascended, and as the earliest followers of Jesus start teaching and leading in his name.  The author of Luke and Acts makes it clear that women were among the leaders of the early church, supporting its growth both practically and financially. 

Tabitha has died, and we can easily picture that upstairs room.  Her friends have washed her body and laid it out until it could be carried away.  The women are gathered there, showing each other the tunics and pieces of clothing Tabitha had made.  They weep together as they share memories of their friend.  Notice that many of them are widows, which means that this community was especially important to them.  In the ancient world widows were among the most vulnerable people, especially economically.  We sense that this community of women looks out for each other.

Someone hears that Peter is nearby, and they send for him.  Apparently at this point Peter already has a reputation as someone who gets things done in the name of Jesus.  Peter.  Our impetuous, often confused Peter.  Just last week we heard how the risen Jesus asked Peter three times – “Do you love me?”  Three times to parallel the three times that Peter had denied knowing him before.  And look at Peter now.  Bringing people back from the dead. 

Peter says: “Tabitha, get up.”  And she does.  It’s possible no one was more surprised in that moment than Peter.  But he doesn’t just raise her from the dead.  He calls together her community.  He returns her to her people.  Turns out Peter was paying attention when Jesus healed folks because that’s what Jesus so often does when he heals someone.  He makes sure they have life-giving relationships.

What I see in each of our readings today is a different kind of community.

In Acts we have the women gathering together in the midst of death to mourn for Tabitha – and then to celebrate her return to life.

In the gospel the religious leadership wants to know if Jesus will claim the role of the messiah – the anointed one – the powerful leader they have been expecting.  Jesus acts as though he finds their question tiresome, and he leans instead into his identity as shepherd.  He says: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me…No one will snatch them out of my hand.”  Jesus wants to hold the whole flock together, even though there are always predators threatening to take them.

I love Psalm 23, and while we often read it at funerals, it speaks to more than death.  My favorite image is that table that God has prepared in the presence of enemies.  When there is danger all around, when it would be easy to give in to fear, God says, “Pull up a chair and eat.  I’ll keep watch.”  The psalm doesn’t make it clear, but I like to think that God invites others to join us at that table so we don’t have to eat alone with those enemies nearby.  And perhaps God brings the enemies to the table too so that in the sharing of the meal, hospitality can overcome hostility.

And then there’s this gorgeous passage from Revelation – a vision of a time when God’s kingdom is fully realized and all tribes and peoples and languages are joined together.  It’s a kind of cosmic community, united by a God who says that there will be no more hunger, no more thirst, no more tears – only life, the springs of the water of life.

Taken together, here’s what our readings this morning say to us:

Whatever ordeal you have been through or are going through now,

wherever death and danger draw near,

whatever worry, fear, or grief is breaking your heart, you are not alone.

The Good Shepherd stands watch, ready to put his body in front of what threatens you.

The Good Shepherd calls out to you, invites you to follow his voice and join the flock as we walk together through the valley of the shadow.

The Good Shepherd invites you to the table, where you receive the bread and wine, something you can hold in your hands and taste on your tongue and know that his love, the love of Jesus, crucified and risen, is always with you.  He fills our hunger and quenches our thirst and leads us to the water of life.

May we know the fierce love of the Shepherd, and may we share that fierce love with each other.  Amen.

S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ

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April 24, 2022

It happens every year like clockwork.  In the time around Easter, Christian leaders and theologians start asking whether it matters if Jesus actually came back from the dead in his physical body.  Was it a bodily resurrection or some kind of spiritual or supernatural experience?  I mostly find these debates tiresome and grumpily think to myself that these people must have far more time and far fewer e-mails to answer than I do.

To be fair, it’s a debate that’s been going on for centuries.  The Apostles’ Creed even gets in on the action.  That creed came together in its earliest form in the year 340 but kept being reshaped until somewhere around the year 700.  But you’ll notice that we say at the end of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  Resurrection of the body, as if our Christian ancestors wanted to be clear that both the body of Jesus and our own bodies would find new life as bodies, not just as ethereal spirits.

Even the poets weigh in.  John Updike was a churchgoer who spent several of his churchgoing years in a Lutheran church.  Updike wrote a poem called “Seven Stanzas at Easter” that begins with the lines “Make no mistake: if He rose at all it was as His body.” [i]  The poem goes on to say:

…it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Updike uses visceral, bodily language to assert his belief that Jesus came back in a body.  Hinged thumbs and toes…valved heart…flesh.  Updike very clearly comes down in the camp of bodily resurrection.

The author of the Gospel of John would agree.  You heard all the bodily details in today’s gospel, didn’t you?  We find the disciples’ bodies huddled together in fear behind locked doors.  And then Jesus is right there with them, wishing them peace and showing him his hands and his feet.  The writer knows we get what that’s about.  Jesus is showing them his wounds – the places where his hands and feet have been pierced by the nails.  And then Jesus breathes on his disciples, filling them with the Holy Spirit.  He calms their terror with his breath.

When Thomas misses out on that first visit from Jesus, he understandably wants to experience it for himself – to see Jesus, to touch those wounds.  That doesn’t make him a doubter.  That makes him a faithful witness. 

It’s no surprise that Thomas and the others long to encounter the risen Jesus themselves.  Hearing about an amazing thing from other people is never as satisfying as experiencing it yourself.  And Jesus had taught them about treating bodies with reverence.  The last time they were in this room together, they had shared a meal together.  I imagine them laughing together, slapping each other on the shoulders, talking with their mouths full.  And of course Jesus had washed their feet, caring for what might have been the most repulsive part of their bodies at the end of a long day of walking the dirty streets.

Bodies matter to Jesus.  And the body of Jesus, crucified and risen, matters to Thomas.  It matters to us.

You may notice that the word “believe” shows up a lot in today’s gospel.  Who will believe and under what conditions?  We think of believing as something that we do with our minds, but that’s not primarily what John’s gospel understands belief to be.  The verb “believe” – pisteuō in the Greek – appears 99 times in the Gospel of John.  By contrast, that word shows up no more than ten times in each of the other three gospels.  The Greek verb and its noun form usually get translated into English as the words “believe” and “faith.”

One scholar, Jouette Bassler, notes that neither “belief” nor “faith” conveys the nuances of the Greek words.[ii]  The primary nuance of the Greek, she says, is “trust or confidence.”  It means firmly relying on someone.  It’s about trusting in, not believing that.

That’s an important distinction in John’s Gospel, which shows us again and again that belief is not primarily a cognitive activity.  Instead belief is about a relationship with Jesus – a trust in Jesus, who longs for us to experience a life of community and love and hope.  As the gospel says: Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  Jesus wants belief – trust in who he is and what he embodies – to lead the way to life.  Abundant life.

It is, of course, a wonderful thing to bring our minds to our faith.  Jesus is all about welcoming people’s questions and wonderings.  But faith is not about signing off on a list of doctrines.  It’s not about agreeing to a set of intellectual propositions.  Faith is about trust.  It’s about relationship.  It’s about love.  And it’s about how we live out that trust and love in community.

Remember that in John’s gospel Jesus has a long conversation with a woman at the well, both of them, we imagine, sweating in the mid-day sun.  The woman trusts Jesus with her story – all of it – even the unflattering, scandalous parts – and then she goes and tells her neighbors about Jesus. That one-on-one conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well, speaking and listening to each other, leads her to new kinds of relationships in her community.

Following Jesus, may we keep talking to each other and learning from each other.

In John’s gospel a man born blind is healed by Jesus, who touches his eyes.  But that’s not where the story ends.  Jesus makes sure the man is reconnected to the community that for too long had tried to blame the man for his own disability.  The physical healing leads to a restoration of relationships.

Following Jesus, may we keep seeing each other fully and working toward inclusion for all people.

Each of the disciples whose feet he washed, though confused about what Jesus was doing, could sense that he was forming them into a new kind of community.  Those relationships – with him and with each other – would carry them through the chaotic, uncertain days of the early church.

Following Jesus, may we embody a sacrificial love as we serve and as we lead.

Today in our Prayers of the People, we will pray for several members of our community who have died in recent weeks while experiencing homelessness.  Kevin, Jonathan, “K,” and Bruce all had their challenges in this life.  But they also had people who loved them – a community of friends on the streets and those who helped them in all kinds of ways.  And they had a resilience far greater than most of us.  Let’s think of them as we collect clothing and socks and underwear throughout the month of May.  Because one of the first things that people need is dignity – to have their bodies warm and clothed. 

Following Jesus, may we care for the bodies that are too easily judged or rejected.

By trusting in Jesus, crucified and risen, we learn how to trust each other.  We practice how to care for one another.  We look and we listen, we breathe in and breathe out, we laugh, we cry.  We offer our strength when we have it and receive help when we struggle.

We believe, and we have life in his name.  Amen.

S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ


[i] https://inallthings.org/seven-stanzas-at-easter/

[ii] https://www.spiritualityofconflict.com/readings/364/second-sunday-of-easter

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Join the fun this summer as we experience the ride of a lifetime with God!

Rafters will explore how to serve God and God’s mission for their lives. Rolling River Rampage VBS is for children who will be 4 years old by October 1, 2018 with the oldest completing Grade 5 in June.

Monday through Thursday, July 16-19, 9:30 am – 12:15 pm

Click here for registration form:

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