22 minutes | Jun 5, 2023
Sermon - 6-4-23
Listen to today's Sermon by Rev. John Burow.
2 minutes | Jun 5, 2023
Special Music - Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus
This is a special musical presentation of Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus and sung by Bob Nelson at Faith Lutheran Church in Okemos, Michigan.
22 minutes | May 29, 2023
Sermon - 5-28-23
Mid-February, I was inspired to consider pet therapy as part of the Spiritual Care I provide to patients, families and colleagues as a hospital chaplain With the support of hospital management I moved forward to get our Labrador retriever, Daisy, tested and certified as a therapy dog, and began bringing her to work in April / / / Providing spiritual care to patients and families for about a year caused me to think that I had a handle on the idea of the Holy Spirit, Spirit is “pneuma” in Greek Which literally translates to “wind-breath” So when I hear “Holy Spirit” I think about God’s holy and sacred wind-breath Moving and flowing… blowing through our lives / / / As a hospital chaplain I regularly encounter unpredictable and unique situations with illness, tragedy and death I believe that God’s holy and sacred wind-breath nudges, guides and inspires me to provide compassionate care to individuals and families I’ve become accustomed to the support and guidance I believe I receive from the Holy Spirit I rely upon it I count on it Maybe I had even come to think I can predict, manage, or control it Pentecost is a day when scripture cracks open what we think we can predict, manage and control And leaves us with more questions than answers / / / Working with Daisy has opened up a fresh perspective to me Equipped with my masters degree, 12 months of specialized chaplain training and immersed in an anthropocentric society… I expected Daisy to be a side-car to the work I’m trained to do I expected to be in charge I expected to lead Daisy I expected the Holy Spirit to remain in the box that I had put her in / / I was completely unprepared to witness Daisy engage her own work / / In spite of my absolute belief in the power of the Holy Spirit, I expected the Holy Spirit to stay in her lane – the lane I had assigned her to I share this with humility, as I wonder if many of us have settled into living that compartmentalizes God and the Holy Spirit to special places and times it feels more “appropriate” to bring God in… Maybe at church on Sunday Or when we’re really hoping the test result will go a particular way Or when we finally acknowledge reaching the limits of our control After exhausting every possible action we can take and throw our hands up, releasing our concern to “God’s hands” But otherwise we operate like the popular phrase… “We got this!” / / / So, on Daisy’s first day of work, One of the first rooms we were called to held a young woman in her 20’s, surrounded by several family members as they waited for biopsy results to tell her if she has cancer The anxiety and tension were palpable as Daisy sliced through it all, bringing joy and comfort where no human words could The young woman wished for Daisy to stay and wait with her, but needing to move on, we promised to return later Upon our return the room had cleared out, with the young woman in bed on her phone and her mom, in tears, hanging up her phone in the doorway Her mom shook her head no at me and said “we just received really bad news” When I asked her if she wanted to talk about it she said no. But then she moved out into the hallway to Daisy, who stood still with her own sense of awareness and purpose The mom, with tears rolling down her cheeks, bent over and hug-petted Daisy, saying “this is why you’re here… you make it better…” I stood there, with my masters degree and specialized training, after this mom said no to me, just holding the end of the leash, witnessing a sacred moment between her and Daisy / / After some time, the mom looked up and said to me, “thank you for bringing her back” and went to notify other family members of this really bad news / / I was awe-struck and dumbfounded Not that I was turned down – it happens But that Daisy was able to provide the spiritual care in that moment that I could not That I became the side-car to her work That the Holy Spirit swooped in as a sacred wind-breath… so free and powerful inspiring and using a dog to do God’s work in a moment of crisis Spreading love, comfort and peace Assuring this mom that she is not alone in her despair / / / As Daisy and I have continued to work together I’m learning to see and trust the Holy Spirit working through her Occasionally we will be walking down a hallway and she will stop in front of a room and look at me, unmoving Somehow she knows her work is in there – so I knock – and welcome awe and wonder as I witness the power of the Holy Spirit at work / / / Pentecost can be an awkward Sunday for us We are like “the others” in Acts who sneer and think that those inspired by the Holy Spirit must be drunk We’ve become accustomed to neat and orderly, predictable ways of living and interacting With one another And even with God We assure ourselves and one another “We got this!” / / / When Peter reminds the crowd – and us – about the words from Joel that “God declares that I will pour out my (wind-breath) Spirit upon all flesh” It’s hard enough to consider that the Holy Spirit is for all people people who think, act and believe differently from me But what about all animals, birds, fish, bees, butterflies… even dogs? Imagine the Holy Spirit’s power living and moving through, inspiring all of creation?! The prophet Joel’s use of opposites Sons and daughters Young men and old men Slaves and free Above and below Sun and moon Is intended to demonstrate ALL / / / Can you believe this wild, untamed God uses ALL living things for God’s glory? Can you believe this holy, sacred wind-breath blows everywhere Touching even places we deem profane? How might this unruly infusion of God impact your beliefs About where God is and isn’t about how God is present within your life? / / / Pentecost challenges us to move beyond our comfortable spaces Those spaces we close and lock Making them more reliable for ourselves Our family Our friends This congregation of Faith Lutheran Church The ELCA Even our own hearts and minds / / / Pentecost challenges us to consider that in spite of Artificial Intelligence technology, world-class medicine, specialized training, and our big brains… There’s a mystery in God, that we cannot understand We cannot know it We cannot figure it out We cannot predict it We cannot control, confine, direct, or manage it We cannot contain the mystery of God! / / / But we can feel it We can experience it We can witness it We can be awe-struck and dumbfounded by it We can participate in it / / / So today, we may find ourselves, like the disciples in the gospel of John Closed and Locked Closed and Locked in fear Closed and Locked in assumptions Closed and Locked in the ways we’ve always believed or acted or thought / / / And in spite of our locks Jesus the Christ, The Holy Spirit, God almighty Enters / / / God breaks through our closed and locked places With holy and sacred wind-breath And says to us: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Christ breathes on us and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” / / / We gather here today In the midst of our own locks And are reminded on Pentecost That God’s Holy Spirit is for us For us and for ALL We are assured that God will go to great lengths to remind us of this power and promise Speaking to us in a language only we can understand Giving us a variety of gifts to recognize and share Even showing us a dog who has her own work to do All for the glory of God Amen
22 minutes | May 25, 2023
Sermon - May 24, 2023
This past Thursday was Ascension Day. The Ascension refers to the claim of the church that the risen Jesus has “gone up” to share power and honor and glory and majesty with God. It is a claim made in our creed that “he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” Now, if you want to, you can vex about this prescientific formulation. But you can also, as I do, take the claim as a majestic poetic affirmation that makes a claim for Jesus, that Jesus now is “high and lifted up” in majesty, that the one crucified and risen is now the one who shares God’s power and rules over all the earth. The disciples witnessed this departure of Jesus. They have been summoned ss witnesses. They have been promised power. They have been instructed to wait. And they have been assured of God’s rule. In the second part of the reading from Acts today, they then go to Jerusalem and gather in the upstairs room where they were staying. They are there with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as Jesus’ brothers; They are gathered to pray and wait. I find it significant that there are women disciples here with the men. This is more than a footnote. Women are an integral part of the early church. Although, as Gale O’Day writes in the Women’s Bible Commentary, the women do not yet have equal standing with the men: only Mary is named and the other women are anonymous; and when they have an election a few verses later, only a male can be elected to replace Judas as the twelfth apostle. But something else caught my attention this week. I counted the number of male disciples in verse 13 and came up with 11. Do you sense something strange about this? We instinctively want to read “the twelve disciples.” In his story of the Great Commission, Matthew says, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.” Matthew, and Luke, have used the term “the twelve” so frequently that it has become a catch phrase. We are reminded here at the beginning of the Book of Acts that this is a broken community. Judas is no longer with them. He will commit suicide a few verses after today’s reading. Of course, that isn’t the only brokenness this community has experienced. Peter has denied Jesus. The others, all the followers except some faithful women, had fled. Luke reminds us: this is a broken community. I think it is a lot like us because we know brokenness too. What are some of the broken communities we experience? (1) We all know the pain and separation that comes when people graduate, or change jobs, when children leave home, when old people die. We feel the sadness and grief. But we anticipate this type of broken community, we expect it, and in some sense, we plan for the separation. (2) There is another kind of broken community which is more difficult for us—the one we did not anticipate or choose. We have all experienced the unexpected death of people we love who die before they have fully lived. We grieve over our loss for a long time. This community broken by tragic death is difficult for us to understand. We have all been touched directly or indirectly by such tragedies. (3) Many of us also know the pain and anguish and despair which comes when the community of the family is broken—by unfaithfulness, betrayal, separation, or divorce. (4) In our own congregation we know that struggles, conflicts, hurt feelings and disagreements sometimes arise. (5) We face a time in the life of our church where many congregations, especially smaller ones, are closing or struggling to keep their ministry going. For the evangelist Luke, the author of Acts, it is a broken, imperfect community that receives the Commission “You will be my witnesses.”. I find this to be good news. I am often deeply aware of my own faults and weaknesses. As we are in touch with our own brokenness and the brokenness of the communities of which we are a part, then we’re ready to hear the words of the risen Christ. Without this awareness of the disciples’ broken community, we could easily mistake Jesus’ word as a triumphalistic church growth slogan. Form the mission task forces! Unfurl the banners! “You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” “Like a mighty army, moves the church of God!” But the reader now knows better. We are painfully aware that the church, embodied in these disciples, possesses no resources to mobilize and has no troop strength to send into the fray. By itself, the church has nothing of what it takes to perform Christ’s mission. It is to a broken community of disciples, to the group that has shrunk from twelve to eleven, that Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses.” Where will they get the strength for this? They have nothing! Jesus has already told them. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” In this promise, the church, having nothing, is given everything. The call to be Jesus’ witnesses isn’t given to great people, but to ordinary people, broken people, sometimes doubting people—people who are recipients of Gods’ grace in Jesus Christ, people who are loved by God, people who are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Don’t be afraid. Jesus is alive. Go. Those of are the words of the first Easter sermon from the angels at the empty tomb. Go into all the world with the Good News of the resurrection. You shall be my witnesses. I am with you always.
1 minutes | May 25, 2023
Special Music - Parting Blessing
This is a special musical presentation of the Parting Blessing by Chris Lewis, Deb Borton, Ryan Thompson and Addie Thompson at Faith Lutheran Church in Okemos, Michigan.
4 minutes | May 25, 2023
Special Music – Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
This is a special musical presentation of Leaning on the Everlasting Arms by the Faith Lutheran Chancel Choir at Faith Lutheran Church in Okemos, Michigan.
16 minutes | May 14, 2023
Sermon - 5-14-23
“Honesty and love”…foundational words that came to me during my junior year in college in 1963 and ’64. Years marked by JFK’s assassination… by George Wallace declaring “segregation forever”… by the reawakening of the women’s movement (Betty Friedan)…by MLK’s arrest in Birmingham –“Parading without a permit”… by the cruel tactics of Bull Connor… by the Supreme Court ruled that state mandated Bible reading in schools was unconstitutional….by an attack on American journalists in South Vietnam…by our entrance into the war in Viet Nam after North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked a US destroyer ship in the Gulf of Tonkin… by MLK’s “I have a dream” speech and his letter from the Birmingham Jail, by the bombing at 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham killing four young children, by a mock election to protest systematic disenfranchisement of blacks in Mississippi, by the killing Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby, …by Nelson Mandela sentenced to life in prison….by President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act. A tumultuous both deeply troubling and hope-filled time in so many ways, affecting so many lives… “Honesty and love”… One day in my sophomore year while working in the chemistry lab (pursuing a major in chemistry), it came to me that this was not to be my profession. My grades were fine, though calculus was a struggle. But my really difficult, deeper struggle was about discerning what God was calling me to be and do with my life. My father, grandfather, and great grandfather were all pastors. I was determined not just to follow in their footsteps. This past week my brother, Jim, and I drove to Dubuque, Iowa to visit folks at Wartburg Seminary where my dad, grandpa, and great grandpa had all studied to become pastors. Jim and I, together with Phylis and Jim’s wife, Livvy, were supporting a new program intended to equip men and women especially in Latinx faith communities to become pastors through study and practice in their home place, honoring each person’s learning pace and style (rather than having to move themselves and their families to the seminary, to try to conform to a more traditional educational model). We’ve been giving gifts for this new initiative to honor the memory of our forebears who set high bars for commitment and diligence and often, creativity in their ministries. We wanted to see how this new way of forming leaders for the mission of the church was progressing. At 20+ years old in those early ‘60’s, I couldn’t see myself measuring up to the gifts and contributions of my forebears. But now realizing that being a chemist was probably not the best path for my future, I started to pray: Okay, God, I haven’t experienced a clear call from you to follow in my family’s footsteps, but [in the words of the anthem the choir sang last Sunday] I’ll take “one step” toward becoming a pastor. I’ll continue to pursue a degree in chemistry (just in case) but also take classes like Greek and world religions to prepare for seminary. At least bless me, God, by clearly closing the door to this path if this is not what you want for me to be and do. And now some 60 years later, while more than once I have struggled with doubts and feelings of inadequacy for this calling, I realize that God never shut the door. To paraphrase the words of the psalmist, God heard me. God did not reject my prayer. God did not withhold unfailing love for me. God did not leave me alone. And in the language of the Gospel, Jesus did not leave me orphaned. I was never not God’s child, never not a member of God’s family, never not with Jesus and the Holy Spirit at my side Surely the times we live in now are no less tumultuous than in 1963. All I knew then and more fully know now was that, is that, honesty and love are all that matters. Now I can say more confidently from whence that honesty and love comes. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth [honesty]…I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you…because I live, you also will live.” This is the gospel, the good news I proclaim to you this morning. In what ever ways you struggle, in what ever ways you worry about what’s happening in our world, however befuddled and discouraged you may be by the plethora of lies and hate, Jesus, risen from the dead, asks only that we love him and that we love one another. Jesus, risen from the dead, promises to plant in our hearts the Spirit of truth. Through this Holy Spirit Jesus will never not walk with us, never not stand up with us and for us. Then, living lives of God-given honesty and love, whether as a chemist or a pastor, a teacher or a line worker, whether single or married, whether working full time or semi-retired, whether a mother or father, daughter or son, we can live boldly and humbly and reverently and gently and graciously in this world too often filled with broken promises, with fear, harshness and ill will. For to us, through Jesus’ suffering and death and resurrection, is given the Spirit of truth and of love. One day we will all be judged by this One who died for us, who daily forgives all our sins, forgives all our deceptions, forgives all our failures to love as we ought. We will be judged by the One who raises us up every day to try again to be honest and loving. On that day that One who judges us will also stand with us and for us. This judge is the One who heard our cries, listened to our prayers, and never, never stopped loving us. Amen.
3 minutes | May 14, 2023
Special Music - There Is a Redeemer
This is a special musical presentation of There Is a Redeemer by the Faith Lutheran Chancel Choir at Faith Lutheran Church in Okemos, Michigan.
3 minutes | May 7, 2023
Special Music - One Step, He Leads
This is a special musical presentation of One Step, He Leads by the Faith Lutheran Chancel Choir at Faith Lutheran Church in Okemos, Michigan.
20 minutes | May 7, 2023
Sermon - 5-7-23
If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. This bold, seemingly audacious promise of Jesus is given to his disciples and to the infant church in the first century and even now to us who would follow him in this 21st century. “If in my name…” If we are troubled in mind or heart, we need only ask Jesus for comfort and he will give it. If we are overcome by shame or self-loathing, we need only ask Jesus for the assurance that we are beautiful in his sight and he will give it. If we have nightmares of being lost and alone as I often do, we need only to ask Jesus to walk with us and he will do it… It is in his name, in his nature to save us from falsehoods, from dead ends, from paths that lead nowhere. Our risen Lord is with us on this fifth Sunday of Easter, this first Sunday after we said “goodbye” to Pastor Ellen. If only we ask in his name, he is right here, right now, holding our hands, gently but firmly, assuring us that all will be well. I talked yesterday morning with the son of a good friend who shared with me that his father was near death. In the course of the conversation I asked him if he had a sense, even palpably, that Christ was with him and his family in this difficult moment. His response was to me profound: “Jesus has been there most clearly in the way my brother and my mother and I have been there to lift each other up when any one of us was exhausted or very down.” I thought about how it is here at Faith, about the way we are with each other when we grieve or are anxious. I think about Jesus’ words: I am the way, and the truth, and the life… The risen Lord Jesus is palpably with us when his great love for us and in us is expressed in our doing our best to listen carefully to each other and maybe, at some level of consciousness, asking the Holy Spirit to guide and prompt us to be as fully present as possible in those moments when another troubled soul shares something of their heart with us, whether in spoken words or in body language. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Probably too often those words of Jesus are used to pronounce condemnation on those who do not believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior…Like our Muslim sisters and brothers who dined and visited with us Friday evening. Those words can be used to coerce people to make that confession of faith in the triune God out of fear of damnation, of going to hell. But that is to miss the whole point of what Jesus said and to whom he said it. It was spoken to his disciples who would soon lose their wonderful leader to an ugly, shameful death on the cross. Jesus spoke these words to people whose dreams of a wonderful, messianic kingdom led by Jesus were already shattering when he shared with them that he would soon be condemned, suffer and die. It is spoken to us whenever our hopes and dreams have been or, we fear, are about to be shattered. But knowing their fears and their grief at the impending loss of their friend, Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house….I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” As Pastor Ellen taught us in a recent sermon, Thomas, the one we tend to denigrate because of his doubts, is the brave one, brave enough to be totally honest: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” And to him, and to us who would be his disciples: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” These words are not meant to be a weapon to frighten or convince people to become Christians. They are meant to assure us that when we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, when day after day the Holy Spirit kindles within us even a flicker of faith in God, Jesus thereby claims us as his own. Whenever life goes horribly wrong, when we get the s___ kicked out of us, whenever we feel lost or confused or desolate, exactly in those hard, scary moments, Jesus takes us by the hand and gently leads us to his Father’s house. Of course this is picture language. It is Jesus’ frequent way of helping us to see that there will always be room for us, always a place for us, a safe place where he will always patiently hear our cries, always understand us, always comfort us, and, I think importantly, always challenge us, always invite us to do wonderful work for him. After the Friday evening dinner and presentations by the iman and myself, and the thoughtful questions we were asked, a young man came up to me with one more question. Coming from India, he told me there were many religions and many gods. It was not uncommon, he said, for various people to pronounce themselves to be god. So, he asked me, “How do you know what is true? How do you define or describe God? Really good questions. I shared with him what Martin Luther once said: Your god is whatever or whomever you ultimately trust. After I said this, I was thinking, one’s God could be one’s investments, one’s hard work, one’s intelligence, one’s friendships, one’s influence on or over others. But it was clear to me, especially as I was thinking about this sermon, that for me it was Jesus. For me he is the way, the truth, and the life. He alone together with the Father and the Holy Spirit is worthy of my ultimate trust. I didn’t try to convince my new Muslim friend of this. But I do think Jesus was in our conversation, in the way we talked to each other, in the honesty we shared, in our understandings of what matters, what life is all about. Often this Gospel text is read and preached at funerals. I have done so many times. We think of the Father’s house in heaven where there are many dwelling places [“many mansions”] Jesus has prepared for us after we die. But I think this text is just as much about life here on earth. Because Jesus went away for awhile, temporarily leaving his disciples; because Jesus left us all for awhile, dying on the cross, he thereby took away and into his body all of our sins, all of our broken relationships, all of our failures to be merciful and compassionate. Then on the third day Jesus rose from death to take us to a safe place, to sit with us and listen to our sorrows, to take our hands and lead us on his way through the pain and darkness of this life to a place with enough light and insight and truth and courage to live each day by faith, to live each day by grace, to live each day in a growing love for and with God and for and with each other. I don’t know this morning if my good friend has already died and is now face to face with Jesus. I do know that, in the words of his son, Jesus was, for him and his family, the very present way and truth and life with a loving God, with a loving Father. “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” Jesus, sit by us today, walk with us today, listen to us today, then lead us this very day to do whatever will make this world a little less anxious, a little more honest, and most of all, a lot more in love with you. Amen.
6 minutes | Apr 30, 2023
Special Music - Lo, How a Rose - The Rose
This is a special musical presentation of Lo, How a Rose/The Rose by the Faith Lutheran Chancel Choir with a solo by John Borton at Faith Lutheran Church in Okemos, Michigan.
24 minutes | Apr 30, 2023
Sermon - 4/30/23
Whenever there is transition or change in our lives, we tend to experience an element of uncertainty and even fear. I know that as I leave you, I feel the uncertainty of a future that is not yet known. I have been experiencing this uncertainty for you as I deeply want you to be protected and cared for. So, as I am honest and acknowledge that sense of uncertainty and fear, it is comforting to me that our readings today focus on God as our shepherd, the Good Shepherd. It is reassuring because I know I can place my trust in the Good Shepherd, regardless of what happens and what the future brings. We just heard the words of Psalm 23, a psalm that we sang between the first and second reading. It is a psalm we will also sing as the Hymn of the Day. This is probably one of the best known, best loved poems in scripture. It is known by people around the world. In fact, I am sure many of you know Psalm 23 by heart. This psalm tells each one of you that God is like a shepherd, caring for you, protecting you and guiding you. God is the shepherd who walks with you through all of life and provides you with what you need, even in dark valleys when we experience the shadow of death, even in trying times, even in uncertain times. In today’s gospel reading from John, we hear more about the one we call the Good Shepherd. For the community to which John was writing, living with fear and uncertainty was a familiar aspect of daily existence. John’s community lived with the reality of persecution and the threat of extinction. Their first-century Mediterranean world was a scary place. Persecutions were heating up, and the followers of Jesus were, in the eyes of Rome, just more lambs for the lions. The Jesus movement was still new, struggling to define itself against the threat of Rome as well as the threat of competing philosophies and counter claims to truth. So, within that social context, these early Christians told stories. Often meeting under the cover of darkness, hidden from the authorities, huddled in some secret spot, while listening for the sound of Roman boots, they told stories to counter their fear. They told stories that helped to remind them of their identity, to remind them to whom they belonged, and remind them where they could place their trust. When they heard the story of the shepherd and the sheep, it helped them remember who they were and whose they were. It reminded them of their identity as Christians. While the metaphor of sheep and shepherd is rather foreign to us, this metaphor made enormous sense to John’s community. In ancient Palestine, multiple shepherds brought their sheep into a common sheepfold for the night. In the morning, in order to take their sheep out to the fields for grazing, each shepherd had to separate his sheep from the common flock. Each sheep had a name, and each shepherd had a unique manner or way of calling his or her sheep, so each sheep would respond only to its own shepherd. Even if another shepherd called the sheep by its own name, it would not respond. It was the knowing that counted. Yes, John’s community knew about good shepherds. And they also knew about bad shepherds, the thieves of the story who taxed the poor into poverty, the ones who starved the people and fed only themselves, the ones who traded the shalom of their tradition for the Pax Romana of empire. No doubt they longed for a good shepherd. In John’s telling of the Jesus story, they hear that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the way of comfort and sustenance, abundance and strength, even in the face of death and grief. I can also imagine that, in their social context, there were times when the people’s fear got the best of them, and they became more concerned about the identity of the stranger than their own identity. But the story of the shepherd helped them to remember a better way. They knew about the way of the Good Shepherd, and that was the way of love, not fear. They became the people of the Good Shepherd. In fact, this image was so meaningful to them they began to scratch on catacomb walls the image of the Good Shepherd with a lamb slung over his shoulders. They painted this image on baptismal fonts to mark the beginning of life and they carved the Good Shepherd into tombs, to mark the end of life. They belonged to the Good Shepherd, from the beginning of their lives to the end of their lives. The term Good Shepherd was much more than words, much more than an idea. This understanding of Jesus as their Good Shepherd deeply shaped their very identity and way of life. They understood they were to live the Good Shepherd way. The early Christians in John’s community knew they belonged. And it did not stop there. The way of the Good Shepherd was the way of wide-reaching embrace. Just as each one of them had found a safe place belonging on the inside of their faith community, so were they to include those at the far edge, those in the margins, the least of these and the most vulnerable. Just as they had been given hope in dark and violent times, so were they to encourage one another. Just as they were held close in the comfort of the loving shepherd, so were they to reach out, hold others close, comfort others and care for others. And, those early followers of Jesus became known for their generosity, for the way they cared for the very least and the lost, the way they loved others, and the way they truly cared for the common good. They became known for their love as they became the Beloved Community. In that context, while still facing uncertainty, they experienced the abundant life of which Jesus speaks, the abundant life that is only found in the community of Jesus’ followers. My dear, treasured people of Faith Lutheran Church, that is how you are known. You are known as people who deeply care for the common good of all people and not just your own interests. Life in the community of Faith Lutheran truly is about the common good and not just each one of you as an individual. You are a beloved community, caring for each other and for the most vulnerable around us, and I know you will continue to do this after I leave. You will continue to do this because you know who you are and whose you are. You belong to the Good Shepherd who is all about love. The opposite of fear, after all, is love. And, that kind of love is not some sweet sentimental kind of love. No. It is the heavy lifting love of the Good Shepherd. As I have said before, loving is hard work and loving our neighbors can be very hard work. But, when we remember our identity and to whom we belong, we are then able to truly live love. So, as I leave you, I entrust you to the care of the Good Shepherd who will never leave you. As I leave you, I entrust you to the Good Shepherd, the one who calls you by name and has made you his very own, even as you walk through the darkest valleys of life, even as we presently grieve together. I entrust you to the care of the Good Shepherd as you walk into a future where God is already present and calling you into new forms of ministry and new ventures yet unknown. I entrust you to the guidance and care of the Good Shepherd who holds all of us in God’s arms of love for all eternity.
4 minutes | Apr 23, 2023
Sermon - Lord, Listen to Your Children
This is a special musical presentation of Lord, Listen to Your Children, sung by Chancel Choir at Faith Lutheran Church in Okemos, Michigan.
4 minutes | Apr 23, 2023
Special Music - People Need The Lord
This is a special musical presentation of People Need The Lord sung by Zach Hereza at Faith Lutheran Church in Okemos, Michigan.
24 minutes | Apr 23, 2023
Sermon - 4-23-23
PASTOR ELLEN: I did my Clinical Pastoral Education at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine. And, I vividly remember one of my patients, a dear, elderly Episcopalian man who was dying. This man deeply touched my heart. I will never forget the day I read him today’s story from Luke’s gospel. After I finished reading, he said to me, “There’s always an Emmaus.” The next day, my friend died, but I shall always remember what he said in response to that story. There is always an Emmaus. Biblical archeologists tell us that the exact location of the village of Emmaus is unknown. There are at least nine possible locations that are candidates for the small biblical town, but historians tell us there is no record of any village called Emmaus in any other ancient source. We simply do not know where Emmaus might have been. Tradition tells us that it might have been a place just a few hours walk from Jerusalem. However, New Testament scholars, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, suggest that Emmaus is nowhere. Emmaus is nowhere precisely because Emmaus is everywhere. Every one of us has at one time, or indeed for some of us, many times, traveled along the road to Emmaus. Many of us travel that road as Cleopas and his friend did, trying to understand what has happened or is happening, trying to understand as our hearts burn within us. We travel the road while experiencing confusion, bewilderment, brokenness, pain, grief, and great challenge. And we often think we are alone, only to find out later that the risen Christ has been walking along with us the whole time. As the community of Christ gathers around those who are hurting and asking questions, the hurting are comforted by the presence of the risen Lord Jesus and they find hope. Yes, there is always an Emmaus. READER # 2: Yes, there is always an Emmaus. Today, the entire global community is traveling the road to Emmaus as we face the brokenness and pain that is taking place because of climate change. The entire creation is groaning in pain, and we carry a hunger that burns within us as we want to better understand and face this growing reality. Yesterday we celebrated Earth Day. Today we continue to celebrate this planet on which we live, and we celebrate the risen universal Christ’s presence to us in all of creation. For the past 53 years the world has set aside April 22nd to think about the gift we have been given in this home we call mother earth. Earth Day almost always falls during our liturgical season of Easter. So, it is fitting that, as we celebrate the resurrected Jesus, we celebrate Earth Day. Throughout the Easter season we are reminded that we celebrate the one who was born so that we can know God’s presence in our world and in our flesh. We celebrate the one who was born so that we can know this God who suffered and continues to suffer the burdens and sorrows and pains of our world, even the pains of this suffering creation. Easter is about new life and the risen Christ bringing forth new life. And that is not simply some kind of disembodied life that only awaits us in some future consummation. It is the first fruits, the seed that rises as a green blade to bear fruit. In the northern hemisphere where we live, Easter arrives with the signs and symbols of spring, the flowers, and the songs of returning birds. As we pay attention to these signs and symbols, this focus can become one of the ways in which we discover the risen Christ among us. We discover we are deeply and inextricably connected to creation and re-creation, to our Creator and this Earth. READER # 3: Yes, there is always an Emmaus. Learning the truth about this earth means facing reality and facing facts and truth so that we can then work for change. The ELCA has had a focus on caring for creation since our denomination was formed. And, as we mark 53 years of this Earth Day celebration, we also look ahead. We look to the seven short remaining years before it will be too late to stop a 2° Celsius temperature rise for our planet. Just think about a few of these facts: 19 of the 20 hottest years ever have occurred since 2001. Extreme weather is becoming more frequent and severe. Food and water supplies are at risk. Oceans are at risk. Human health is at risk. In a time of climate crisis, disasters of Biblical scale are impacting our communities and the places we love. Today, just like in the Bible, floods and famines show us a deep truth about human life: that our lives are intimately dependent on the land. In our sacred scriptures, we read the stories of creatures made from the soil, whose lives are sustained—physically and spiritually—by the fruits of the land. In these stories, we see how, in the midst of disaster, the land can be fertile ground to sustain ourselves. We also learn that we must take prophetic action and work for justice. We know that a commitment to address climate change needs to happen now. We know that it takes all people across the globe, people of all religions and backgrounds, to work together to adapt, to mitigate what is coming, and provide the necessary change that is urgent. Over 97% of climate scientists in this world have been warning us and telling us what we need to do now. And, in fact, some of them are members of this Faith community. They are prophets in our time. If we truly care for our neighbor, we need to listen to the deep truth of their message and respond appropriately. For people of faith, this response is something that is rooted in our faith, and it is all about living out our love for our neighbors. READER # 4: Yes, there is always an Emmaus. As we journey through these critical years, we need to face the reality of climate change and what lies before us. We need to understand that the disruptions we now face, the extreme weather events that are becoming part of our experience, are only a foretaste of the disruption we will likely face if the world does not address the issue of climate change. Most scientists agree that addressing climate change is THE most important task for humanity. But there is hope! As Christians, we name “love” as an act of ultimate importance. The love we proclaim and live is a love that includes addressing climate change and caring for this planet! The impending impacts are so catastrophic, and our window of time is getting short. As people created by God and placed in relationship with all of creation, all the threatened creatures, from the most vulnerable human populations to species endangered by extinction and ecosystems moving toward collapse, there is so much at stake. Rooted in scripture, and our understanding of the risen Christ, we can draw on all that Jesus did and taught in the context of our beautiful, life-giving, and threatened world. Resurrection takes place in bodies and is encountered in and through bodies. And the encounters are not limited to human bodies but to other forms of life and matter around us. Our Emmaus journey can help us see more clearly that we are enmeshed in the communion of the planet and cosmos. We can allow our hearts to burn within us as we, too, walk with the Risen One and have our eyes opened to our deep connectedness to this earth. We can have our eyes opened to recognize and discern, through words and conversations with scientists, by actions of gratitude, and even in the simple but sacred ritual of breaking and sharing bread. READER # 5: Yes, there is always an Emmaus. At the heart of the Emmaus story is an urging towards a deeper faith: to recognize and discern, not just to see. Like Cleopas and his companion, we need to open our eyes to what is before us. As ecological readers of today’s gospel, this means being attentive to the material, to matter itself as we look at this world. It means to be eyewitnesses to everything we see around us, and to grow and mature in our understanding so that we recognize the relationships that form our Earth community. As we learn and grow and work for change, we are on the road to Emmaus. And as Pastor John Schleicher says, “May we, like Cleopas and the other disciple, recognize our risen Lord even now when we invite one another, friend or stranger, to stay with us awhile, have supper with us, and find in our time together unexpected hope and promise of a whole world rising from death.” Yes, there is always an Emmaus.
2 minutes | Apr 17, 2023
Special Music - A Festival Introit for Easter
This is a special musical performance of A Festival Introit for Easter by the Faith Lutheran Chancel Choir with Eli Rachlin on trumpet at Faith Lutheran Church in Okemos, Michigan.
24 minutes | Apr 16, 2023
Sermon - 4/16/23
I love the questions our young people often feel free to ask. In fact, I wish more adults would feel free to ask similar questions. Anyway, on multiple occasions, I have received from our youth questions about faith, the life of Jesus, questions about the existence of God, and questions that show they have an element of doubt regarding many aspects of faith. I truly encourage these questions because that is how we learn, that is how we grow, and that is how we are taken to new places. Austrian poet and novelist, Rainer Maria Rilke, once said, “Live the questions!” I truly believe that is the best way we learn. I also believe that as Christians, when we ask questions, we need to be honest about our doubt. Far too often the church has discouraged doubt. However, doubt is really a healthy aspect of faith. In fact, theologian, Paul Tillich, said doubt is a very necessary element of faith. And, theologian, Frederick Buechner, writes these words about doubt, “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” (Wishful Thinking.) In other words, doubt is not only an element of faith, but doubt also becomes the process through which faith grows and faith is deepened. Vibrant, living faith is nurtured and born in the mix of a rich environment where we have the freedom to ask questions, voice our doubts, articulate our wonderings about this person we call Jesus, and let go of old elementary images of God. For all of us, there is a real need for our old understandings of Jesus and our old understanding of faith to die. Our old understandings need to be eaten away by doubts so that a new and deeper faith may be born. In today’s gospel reading, questions and doubt come to the forefront in the story of Thomas. However, the truth is that all the disciples were questioning and experiencing doubt. It is still the day of Jesus’ resurrection and here we find the disciples sitting in a room behind locked doors because of their fear, their doubt, and quite likely more than a little shame. They have blown it completely, they are hiding in fear, and they are doubting everything their master had said. And what is so fascinating is that, in the gospel of John, when Jesus appears to his disciples after the resurrection, nobody, not one person, initially recognizes him. Notice in the beginning of today’s reading, the disciples do not recognize him until Jesus shows them his hands and side. They all doubted him! They doubted it was Jesus! It is only after Jesus shows them his hands and side that the disciples rejoice because they have seen the Lord. And while the other disciples also doubt, for some strange reason, only Thomas gets labeled “doubter.” Far too often we judge Thomas because of his doubt. We need to cut him some slack and give him a break. In Thomas we find the yearning of one who desperately wants to see with his eyes and touch with his hands that of which he has been told. He has real questions, real concerns, and a desire for a real encounter with the risen Lord. I think the story of Thomas captures our hearts and minds because we, too, were absent from the Resurrection experience two thousand years ago. When faced with the mystery of the Resurrection, the story of Thomas names that part in each of us that wants to scream out, “Show me!” Thomas has just had a very harsh encounter with reality. Reality had hit hard in the form of a cross when his dear friend had been crucified. And, when he fled that horrible scene, not only had Jesus died, Thomas’ hopes and dreams had also died. Jesus’ crucifixion had destroyed his hopes for the future and very poignantly reminded him that there is an end. And it is the same for us. When the harsh realities of life hit us – whether it be the death of a family member, the loss of a job, an unexpected illness, a broken relationship, or whatever – reality deeply cuts into our hopes, our dreams, the very fabric of our relationships, and we are reminded that there is an end. There is an end over which we have no control as we feel we have been taken captive by an extremely cruel conqueror. The reality that sliced into Thomas’s hopes and dreams left him emotionally bleeding and broken. As he again joins the community of disciples, within the context of those who proclaim Jesus is alive, Thomas lays bare his doubt. He is very honest as he says, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” In the depth of despair Thomas articulates his doubt, and it is in that place where he is now confronted with the risen Christ. It is in that place of despair that Thomas is greeted by the risen Lord whose presence exudes forgiveness and grace as he hears the words, “Peace be with you.” In that moment, Thomas knows he is in the presence of God, and he believes. Thomas lays bare his doubt which takes him to this encounter with the grace of God, a grace embodied and enfleshed in the risen Lord Jesus, and his entire reality is changed. Wow!! Did you get that? Reality itself has changed. The despairing Thomas does not escape from the real world and there is not a break from the tangible reality of the world. No. But there is something very different, something very, very new. God’s grace and God’s kingdom have invaded the real world, transformed it, and nothing will ever be the same again. I think Thomas experiences Easter in the way many of us begin to experience it. Thomas finally gets Easter when he brings forth his questions. He wants to see and touch. He wants tangible proof and needs his own encounter before he can trust the story. It is doubt that compels Thomas to ask the questions and it is doubt that takes him to the place where he is looking for what is truly real and what truly matters. You see, without doubt, our faith is shallow and rootless. Without doubt, we fail to go down deep. Doubt is a sign of a healthy, deeply rooted faith, though most of us are taught to believe the opposite. And, when doubt takes us to deeper places in faith, our reality changes. We are transformed and our perspective on all of life changes as we live into a new reality. This is what Easter is all about and what Easter means for each one of us. This new reality is a way of life, expressed as we come together to worship and be fed by the very life of the Risen Christ. We participate in the work of our risen Lord and live into this new reality as we see the hungry in this world and work for change, whether it is by distributing bags of food to Meridian Township families so they can have an Easter dinner, by routinely filling our micro pantries, or working with the refugees who are living in the Parish House as we help to provide for them a life of hope. We live this new reality when we intentionally work to end extreme poverty, racism, sexism, and all the isms that seem so prevalent in this culture. We live this new reality when we work to address climate change, working to bring healing and wholeness to the environment and the profound brokenness in this world God so deeply loves. As the community of faith gathers and we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, voice our doubts and ask our questions, Jesus does appear. The community of faith is not the place where we have and know all the answers. It is a place where a searching faith can develop and become authentic and alive. Such an environment creates the space for an authentic encounter with God as the risen Christ appears. So, Samantha, as you are confirmed on this day, I challenge you to continue to ask the questions. Continue to let your doubt take you deeper in understanding the story, because the questions that arise within you are the very heartbeat of your faith. The story of Thomas, his questions and his doubt, is one of the most compelling, believable, realistic stories in the Bible because it is your story, and it is our story. And the risen Christ is always breaking into our doubt and our questions and working to make us new. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
23 minutes | Apr 9, 2023
Sermon - Easter Sunday 2023
As I studied our gospel reading for today, I started thinking about fear. I have been thinking about the way fear moves us to focus on security issues, and the way fear and security play such an important role in our lives, controlling so much of our behavior. It is fear that drives us to intently focus on and invest in various forms of security. If we listen to the daily news we will inevitably hear about issues and concerns regarding global security, national security, security within our community, security in our homes and our own personal security. Security issues have become so important to us they have evolved into big business in our culture. Security is used as a marketing tool for cars, tires, homes, internet resources, investment banking, politics, travel – the list goes on and on. Everyone is interested in keeping us safe. Cell phones, security systems, airport security lines, getting the right medical tests before or after the age of 50 – just about everything can be sold as a way to keep us free from threats, a way to keep us safe. And, while I do not want to minimize the need for security, I do want to suggest this incessant focus adds to the fear and anxiety that already permeates our culture and our very lives. Well, in the last chapters of Matthew’s gospel, we find people who were fearful and intently focused on security concerns. Security seems to be on everyone’s mind. When Jesus was betrayed, it was temple security personnel armed with swords and clubs who came to arrest him. As this happened, the disciples sought their security in the cover of darkness, deserting Jesus and fleeing the garden. Peter sought security and safety in a courtyard by trying to keep a safe distance from Jesus while following what happened to Jesus during his trial. And, after Jesus was safely dead, the chief priests still felt this immense need for security and asked Pilate to place guards at the sealed tomb where Jesus’ body was laid to rest. So, Pilate told his security detail – the soldiers – to “make that tomb as secure as you can,” and he placed twenty-four-hour guards to keep watch. And guess what! It did not work, and it does not work! It did not work for Peter who ended up denying Jesus three times. And it did not work for the chief priests who tried to secure and seal Jesus in a tomb. It did not work because Jesus, the Word made flesh, cannot and will not be contained. All attempts at achieving security were shattered when the very foundations of the earth shook. And, by a power greater than all attempts to achieve security, Jesus was raised! When the very foundations of the earth shook as tectonic plates shifted, even Pilate’s security detail fell to the ground in fear. As the soldiers become like dead men, paralyzed by fear, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are greeted by the angel who says, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” The women then go, and what is so interesting is that they leave the tomb with both fear and joy! While they are joyful, an element of fear has not left them, and they apparently do not exactly feel secure and safe. You see, they are living an experience in which the very foundation of the earth under their feet has shaken them to the core. Their dear friend who was dead has not stayed dead!! Talk about not feeling secure and safe! And, as they run to tell the disciples, who should run into them but Jesus. Jesus, their risen Lord stands before them and says to them, “Do not be afraid.” They encounter the risen Christ and hear him say, “Do not be afraid,” and it is the very last time in Matthew’s gospel that we hear anything about fear. As the women encounter the risen Christ, it becomes very clear to them that reality itself had changed. The Rev. Dr. Mary Hinkle Shore describes this change in the women and all of Jesus’ disciples by saying: As the first Christians came to recognize the risen Christ, they experienced boldness and freedom of speech that surprises those of us who read their stories. It is as if their security came from the inside out. They were not afraid of people who scoffed at their claims. They were not afraid of authorities who ordered them to stop speaking of Jesus. They were free from what the neighbors thought about them and free from what the established power structure could do to them. Now, we know that the disciples did face threats and persecution following Christ’s resurrection. The history of the early church indicates many of them were killed for professing Christ as Savior and proclaiming their faith. However, after experiencing Christ’s resurrection, even the threats made against their lives by those who were in power did not own them or define them. Fear no longer defined the way they lived or their proclamation of the good news. And what is so amazing is that even all the mistakes they had made, all of their fear induced foolishness and prior cowardly behavior, was met by the risen Christ who did meet them in Galilee. Their encounter with the risen Christ freed them from all that had been, and their reality was forever changed. And, even more, the risen Christ promised to be with them to the end of the age. So, on this Easter morning, what might that kind of freedom mean for you? How does this good news free you from the fear that binds and imprisons you? How does this good news change the way you hear the daily news reports? How does this good news change the way you welcome strangers and those who are different, those you might consider other? How does this good news transform all that defines you? How does this good news transform this faith community and the way we live in the greater Okemos community and the world? How does this good news transform the way this faith community looks to the future? The risen Christ stands before us saying, “Do not be afraid!” Because of Easter, we know the foundation of all that once was has been shaken and God is creating a new heaven and a new earth. And, because of Easter our lives are secure and held with Christ in the very God of all creation. Do not be afraid, because we know a Savior who died on the cross to break the power of everything that threatens to enslave or oppress or distort or destroy our humanity. Do not be afraid, because of Easter we know a God who takes all our pain and sorrow and suffering and sadness and loss and even death and turns it all into new life. Do not be afraid, because of Easter we believe the new life that came into being on that early morning two thousand years ago will one day transform everything and everyone. Do not be afraid, because of Easter we believe in a God who brings hope out of hopelessness and new life out of death. Do not be afraid, because of Easter we believe in a God who is working to bring grace and peace and mercy and love and justice and freedom and joy and life into every life. Do not be afraid, because of Easter and because we believe in a God who raised Jesus from the dead, we know that even death does not have the last word. God alone has the last word. You are secure!! We are secure!! Do not be afraid! Because of Easter we are secure, and our future is secure! For the powers of death have been defeated already and no matter how violently they rage and no matter what power or authority they try to claim, Christ has already won the victory! Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
2 minutes | Apr 9, 2023
Special Music - Christ is Risen, Alleluia!
This is a special musical performance of Christ is Risen, Alleluia! by the Faith Lutheran Chancel Choir with Emmet Lewis and Jaylen Hall on trumpet and David O’Donnell and Gracy Tomek on trombone at Faith Lutheran Church in Okemos, Michigan.
51 minutes | Apr 8, 2023
Good Friday - 4/7/23
Many of us gathered here tonight have spent time sitting at the bedside of a relative or friend who is dying. Ken and I intimately shared this experience with Dorothy this past October as she faced the end of her life. Such an experience is sacred, and it is a deathwatch. Quite frankly, this experience will inevitably be part of every human being’s life because none of us can escape death, whether it is the death of a dearly loved relative, a friend, or even our own death. Being present in a deathwatch is a necessary work and ritual, as we walk with loved ones to the endpoint of life. Tonight, on this day we call Good Friday, we gather and stand at the foot of the cross to experience a deathwatch. We stand together in community as we watch our friend, Jesus, draw his last breath, and we experience a form of liturgy. The word liturgy literally means “the work of the people.” So, as we come together tonight, we come to experience a necessary form of the work of the people, a liturgical deathwatch. And we wonder, “Where is God in the midst of such horror?” Throughout this week we have been remembering the unspeakable suffering and violence Jesus faced during his last week of life. And I have no doubt that the people who stood at the foot of the cross some 2,000 years ago wondered, “Where is God in the midst of such suffering?” Tonight, we stand at the foot of the cross, and we wait, and we wonder. Friends and family have gathered for this deathwatch, looking on as Jesus is executed. Gathered here under the cross we find a menagerie of humanity and I wonder what role I play. I see the executioners, the guards and the gamblers, the mourners, the friends, the followers, the mother, the criminals, the devout religious elite, the politicians, the passersby, the innocent bystanders. And all I can do is wonder how Jesus can continue to love this lot of human beings even as he breathes his last breath. Yes, this is a liturgical deathwatch. Frederick Buechner, in his book Waiting in the Dark, writes, “At no time more than at a painful time do we live out of the depths of who we are instead of out of the shallows.” As we gather and watch Jesus breathe his last, I wonder, and I think about this. I think about the fact that we need to go to a deeper place to make sense of this horror. I am reminded of the necessary, disturbing, yet cathartic aspect of this experience. I am reminded of the way in which we replay the details of this story year after year. I am reminded of the way in which we find ourselves in the story and consider our own culpability. Yes, this is a necessary work of the people, even if repulsive. Theologian, William Cavanaugh, has written, this is “a kind of perverse liturgy in which the body of the victim is the ritual site where the state’s power is manifested in its most awesome form.” It is a perverted, violent, diseased form of liturgy. It is a diseased form of the work of the people. Yet, as we experience this work of the people, waiting and watching as Jesus faces the brutal, violent end of life, we come face to face with love! A perverted, diseased liturgy comes face to face with true liturgy as we begin to see the very heart of God, a God who embraces even the deepest brokenness of this world in love and continues to love. In this execution of our friend Jesus, we see a God who is present in the deepest, darkest, most violent places in life. What juxtaposition we find as we again experience this true liturgy. Every time we replay this deathwatch, we experience a true liturgy which is the Eucharist. We enter the place where the body of the victim, our friend, Jesus, makes possible the creation of a new body. For, it is in the death of Jesus’ body that a new body is formed – the community of believers – a new body which lives by resurrection hope. Yes, this is a necessary liturgical deathwatch. We need to replay this work of the people every year. As Jesus hangs on a cross before us, he holds up a mirror to all our diseased, distorted liturgies. We need to experience this liturgy because we need to be reminded of the diseased, counter liturgies that are taking place in the world and in our culture, the other liturgies we live by in which bodies are scripted into other dramas – like the dramas of fear, hatred. and exclusion. Such are the liturgies that unite people in today’s violent world, liturgies we continually see enacted in the epidemic gun violence that plagues our culture. In the routine child sacrifices we make to the god of guns. This is truly a diseased, sick ritual or liturgy we allow to happen over and over again. Such are the liturgies embodied in reactive behaviors that lead to exclusion and fear, liturgies we see as policies created to ban books and marginalize the LGBTQIA community, liturgies that criminalize compassion and care for transgender youth. Such are the liturgies that lead to forms of division and hatred, liturgies that attempt to whitewash the history of slavery in this country and walk back the civil rights movement, liturgies that create a mentality of us vs them. These are the deeply distorted, diseased forms of liturgy, the truly perverted works of the people we experience on a daily basis. And, in the cross of Jesus we find that God still lovingly embraces us, takes our sordid, perverted, deadly liturgies into God’s very self, enters the tombs we create, breaks the chains of death that hold us, and then transforms our very lives through grace and love. Tonight, as we face the cross, we move toward the end. As we stand at the foot of the cross, we hear Jesus’ last words as he proclaims, “It is finished.” Tonight, we move toward the conclusion and purpose of this Lenten journey. And, as we watch Jesus die, we astonishingly watch him embrace this deeply broken world with love, and then we are called to remember that the liturgy we enact as people of faith is one of hope, not fear. The work of the people we are called to enact and live is one of embrace, not exclusion. As we live this liturgical deathwatch, we know that in Jesus, we find hope, a vibrant living hope, we find grace, and we find love. We also know he has promised that, after three days, he will rise again! And, in Jesus, our dear friend who hangs there dead and lifeless, we see a world that is truly over-turning, and there, in that place, we find the reorientation of our entire existence. Our liturgical deathwatch is coming to an end as we watch humanity kill its Creator. But, we remember that “in God accepting this end in Jesus, there is now nowhere that we go that God has not been before, not even death. And this descent into death in itself is not the last word because Sunday, yes Sunday, is just around the corner.” (Frederick Buechner)