July 25, 2017


June 25, 2017 Sermon
Emmaus Road: Part 2 Recall and Retell
based on Luke 24: 32 - 35
Cleopas and his friend were just walking along and then … they were moved by the Holy Spirit spoken from God…to recognize, to return to Jerusalem and to tell everyone they met about Jesus, on the road with them. I guess, instead of doing that, they could have gone the rest of the way home and, after resting up…written a letter to Jerusalem, about what happened. But that wouldn’t have been a very interesting story…probably wouldn’t have made the cut for being in the Bible because it’s so much more dramatic to hear how they recognized Jesus! Their hearts were burning and they turned right around…they returned to tell the story in person…that same day.
Of course, if they lived now….they could have texted, or Face-booked. Even made a video and streamed it out on You-tube or some other app that I don’t yet know about. But they didn’t have that option, did they? So their instinct was like so many of us…of course re-turning and telling was totally the best thing to do. Face to face is always better when it comes to talking about the really important stuff.
But….at the same time….We have to be acknowledge that today’s communication can work super-fast. Did you read about the on-line business (ticket sales for concerts and sports events around the country)…who got a customer complaint from a woman in Marquette…a complaint about how the UP was left off the map of America on their web-site? She wrote a nice little e-mail explaining that their map was wrong. A few weeks went by…no action so she lodged a complaint on Monday of this last week, and the customer service rep basically responded: ‘So what? We got the important part of Michigan. Isn’t that good enough?’
And this Mqt. Woman and more than 1000 of her friends and fellow Yoopers came back at that company with a fire-storm of negative reviews on the company’s Facebook page. So many negative reviews that by the next morning, Tuesday The CEO of that company was watching his company Facebook rating drop from 4.3 stars to less than 2 stars---in less than 24 hours. Talk about the fast and the furious.
Now some of you might think…who cares about Facebook ratings but trust me…for online businesses. It’s big. I bet there was a hole burning the heart of that company’s CEO sitting in New York…an energy came over him because by 10:00 a.m. that same day…on Tuesday…he issued an online apology and by 11:00 he had booked a flight to Escanaba. Not just any flight…same day flight. On Tuesday night, this guy was in Marquette offering free beer and apologies to anyone who showed up and I hear the line stretched around the block to get in. All of this within less than 36 hours of the initial disastrous comment.
 You know, if a marketing disaster combined with an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire for profit can fan a flame and flurry of activity like that…imagine what God’s Holy Spirit can do? If we allow it…if we participate…if we want it!
I’m sure that this story of the ‘Yooper Blooper’ is going to be told over and over again up in Marquette anyway…by those who made it happen and especially by those who got a free beer out of the deal. I’m not judging here… Because that’s what we humans do…we tell our stories to each other. And the more funny, the more meaningful, the more profound the story…the more our hearts burn with a fire of amazement, of hope, of love, even of anger….and the more times that story is going to be told. Do you think?
How many times do you suppose Cleopas told and re-told the Emmaus story in his lifetime? How many times have some of you regular church attenders heard the Emmaus road story? It’s a great one…helping children understand that Jesus not only survived death by crucifixion but came back to hang around with us for a while. It’s a story that reminds us that Jesus loves us and can & will explain everything to us…someday when it’s our turn to walk with him and talk with him. And it’s a story that demonstrates the power of the Holy Spirit to warm hearts…so that people have a chance to remember, to recall, to return to re-tell the Good news of Jesus raised from the dead for the people of the world.
You know…That heart warming experience wasn’t unique to Cleopas and company. No…hearts being strangely warmed by the Spirit of God is a part of our story as Methodists too. You may remember this story…about John Wesley, the founding father of the Methodist movement in England. He was, for a long time, into his 30’s, something of a tortured soul. He was well-educated and well-respected and just a little bit weird and unusual in his obsession with all things Biblical and God-based…but he doubted his worthiness. He felt inadequate to the task of being a minister—even though he was ordained. He felt like a failure in sharing the Good news of Jesus Christ—although he was a Bible Scholar. Couldn’t believe that he was acceptable in the eyes of God—even though he had been trying since he was a youngster.
No one could convince him that God loved him. His mother tried. His teachers tried. His brother Charles—the great hymn writer tried. Even the Moravian minister, Peter Bohler, tried by telling him…Preach faith until you feel it. Fake it until you make it.
But John doubted his worthiness even after many years of studying and praying and helping people and even after going on a Mission trip to Georgia and returning in disgrace…(did you know that there was a warrant out for his arrest in Georgia? He had to hop a boat in the dead of night to get away. Yes…you are in a church that was founded by a flight risk…oh well.)
After all that…During the first week after the Celebration of Pentecost in 1738…John went ‘very unwillingly’ to a Bible Study Society in Aldersgate Street…and his heart was finally and ultimately 'strangely warmed.'  How many times do you suppose John told that story? I didn’t have time to research but I bet it was a ton of times because that heart-warming night was a turning point.  A pivotal moment built on a foundation that had been in preparation for years…since before he was born…
And from there, his strangely warmed heart moved John and in a similar way his brother Charles. John went on to preach close to 40,000 sermons, travel 250,000 miles in the days before cars and high speed trains and high flying planes. To publish more than 5000 books, pamphlets and papers in the days before computers and the internet…To write and taught 6500 hymns—before the time of Amazon prime and Spotify. At the same time, John was an organizational genius…that was his gift…and he found a way to arrange for classes and societies of people who met once a week to help each other…to witness to the power of the Holy Spirit in and through strangely warmed hearts.
Yes, John Wesley gave us a Method so that we Methodists could open our heart to the Holy Spirit of God and then…over the years, recall, return and re-tell of our own personal heart warming experiences—share them with others who don’t know that there is hope. That God gives love and grace and strength. Do you know what I’m saying? One heart, strangely warmed, One heart, burning within each of us…can recall, return, re-tell and make a huge difference in the world…a good kind of difference. For God.
I remember the first time my heart was ‘strangely warmed.’ Do you? I wasn’t even a Methodist at the time…but the Holy Spirit is an equal opportunity experience. Des Moines Iowa Civic Center, July 1, 1981. Judy Collins concert. Someone had to explain to me what was happening.  
So what about your heart warmed story? Do you have an experience that leads you to affirm, no if ands or buts about it that God loves you? Do you have the blessed assurance…that God’s grace is greater than your sin? And just as important…have you ever told that story to anyone?
Because Cleopas and his companion show us that returning, remembering, re-telling are the things to do when Jesus comes to call. When Jesus walks beside you, it’s not supposed to be a secret! Jesus didn’t come just to save you all by yourself in the privacy of your heart. Your salvation, your experience of Jesus is God’s gift to you AND the world…but only if you share it with the world. Only if you remember it and re-tell it…over and over again. You do that and then what God has done and is doing in your life is multiplied and divided exponentially and a harvest worthy of a King becomes possible.
Each of us. All of us have an experience of God…at least one and maybe for some of us many more than that…but they are all well worth re-calling. Retelling. I think about that and pray about that when I see All of you sitting in the pews and all of those whose names were printed on the flames and taped to our walls this month.
I was at Annual Conference on the Day of Pentecost this year…the first day that many of you saw all 548 flames on the walls. I didn’t get to see your reaction but when I walked in here and felt the power of those colors and the movement of those flames that kind of looked like waves but weren’t…I was moved. Yes…my heart was warmed by the flames. Warmed and scared….because who is going to take care of all these people? Who has the energy and the time and the know how to tend to that many folks? Like I said last week…there are towns in the UP that don’t even have 548 peole and here we are…with that many in our community of faith.
But God never lets me stay in fear for too long. My mind quickly moved to imagining…what it would be like if all 548 of the people named on those flames were to be here and now…in this space. What if they all came on the same day???? Wouldn’t that be cool? We would totally have to use the over-flow area that day wouldn’t we? And then in the Spirit of the Day of Pentecost….
What if each of those 548 people were to remember, recall, return and re-tell the story of walking with Jesus…of having their hearts strangely warmed by the Holy Spirit of God.
What if the Spirit like the rush of a violent wind filled this entire space and into the Overflow area and the Gathering Area and the Carpenter St. entrance.
And what if these flames, tongues of fire, were resting on each of the 548 who began to tell their heart-warmed story…all at the same time, in their own words.
And just like on that Day of Pentecost…in spite of the noise level and the hub-but…what if they could all be heard and understood. And loved and hugged and welcomed back and we would all be amazed and say…Look…We remember. We’ve returned home. We’re telling and re-telling the story the way God has happened for each and every single one of us and….There’s a Sweet sweet spirit in this place.
What a great and glorious day that would be…let’s pray for that…re-call…re-member— re-new, re-vive, re-tell. Let’s be the word of God for the people of God with our own stories….Thanks be to God. While I play…the ushers will collect the prayer cards and I’m going to pass these baskets down both sides…just turn around and hand them to the people in the row behind you…take a flame or 2 or 10 and pray for the Holy Spirit power in that person’s life. Pray that they will feel and use the power…recall, return, re tell…for God’s purposes in this church and in this world.  Amen
Worship Easter Sermon

Proclamation of Hope      Hope-Full       Pastor Geri

A few days before Easter, a little girl was coloring eggs with her mom and dad. They got to talking about her Easter basket and what she remembered from last year. Jelly beans. Chocolate bunnies. Yellow marshmallow peeps. And for this little girl, she got some walnuts in the shell. And pecans and almonds—in the shell. Maybe left over from Thanksgiving or Christmas but there they were. And it took a little bit of work. They couldn’t find the nut cracker and Dad had to pull out the needle nose pliers and a hammer and disinfect them and then wrap the nuts in a towel and pound on them, and pick out the nut parts…It was an unexpected Easter production in that house-hold, with the little girl clapping her hands and cheering her Dad on. Do some more, Daddy. Do some more!

Must have made an impression on the girl because she piped up this year saying…I want some more of those cracking nuts this year. They were really fun! Do it again Daddy, do it again!

You would think that talking about hope on Easter would be fun too.

Almost a no-brainer.

Emily Dickinson seemed to think so in her one little poem:
Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul,
and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.
EMILY DICKINSON, "Hope is the thing with feathers"[ii]

As though the blue bird of happiness is always singing a song of hope in our hearts, with or without words. And we do have words…

Christ is Risen! He’s Risen indeed!

That should settle it once and for all…no matter what awful thing happens, Jesus is the hope of the world and will be with us to the end and beyond. End of story? Well, maybe but, in truth, our hungry and rambling and itchy brains, and our jumbled and confused and contrary emotions can make it harder than that. Hope can be a tough nut to crack.

Speaking to the school aged kids…I remember hoping that I would get good grades and do well working really hard on school and then realizing that having teachers point you for getting the best grades and writing the most insightful papers was embarrassing and actually made it harder to make friends…especially boy friends. Sometimes, getting what you hope for makes matters worse.

Speaking to career people…how about hoping for a promotion…and then watching someone less qualified get it. That’s painful…Or…what about you getting it and then you’re all of a sudden working 60 and 80 hours a week. Travelling out of town and missing your family. Or the learning curve for the new job is steeper than you thought and you make more mistakes and feel worse about yourself than if you had just stayed where it was safe and easy. What’s that saying…Be careful of what you pray for because you just might get it.

Speaking to young married people and soon to be parents…when you’re trying to get pregnant and hoping to be a parent some day and sooner than later….or waiting for the new life…any people say…I just hope the baby is healthy. I just hope the birth is free of complications. But what happens when those hopes don’t come true…Not everyone can get pregnant. That’s painful. Yes, successful births are the norm, but not always and when something goes wrong…hope becomes a dry and empty well with nothing left to draw on.

And for those of you who are parents…even when a baby is born healthy and registers normal on all the scales but grows up with a prickly personality. Any of you have prickly kids? Or a child who has challenges in learning to read, do math, making friends, getting up in the morning, the list goes on and on. Once our initial hopes are met…somehow they seem to grow into greater and greater expectations that become harder and harder to meet. A seemingly reasonable bit of hope can turn into a nightmare of disappointment and pain.

Speaking to people who are in extremely difficult situations with very, very few options. And seemingly no good outcomes. Families where there’s violence, someone whose disabilities don’t allow them to work, addictions. Hoping that a person will go away or get better or change and be different…but nothing changes. There are times when in spite of hopes and prayers…It all just seems to get worse and worse.

Hope can be a tough nut to crack open or to even hang on to.

Here’s a quote for you: See if you recognize this one: Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. Red makes this statement to Andy in the movie:

Shawshank Redemption…Tim Collins and Morgan Freeman, 1994. Prison movie. Andy Dufresne, a banker who is sentenced to life in Shawshank State Penitentiary for the murder of his wife and her lover, despite his claims of innocence. During his time at the prison, he befriends afellow inmate, Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding, and finds himself protected by the guards after the warden begins using him in his money-laundering operation.[iii] that’s Tough to watch but it illustrates this battle in the hearts and minds of us all…to hope or not to hope. To trust or not trust. To have faith or to give up.

Isn’t that the struggle that the disciples and the women at the tomb experienced…swirling in and around their fear of also being arrested and crucified. In the midst of heart stopping grief at the death of their friend, teacher, prophet…Messiah…didn’t they too struggle with hoping that what Jesus said was true…that he would be raised from the dead? Struggle with their faith that God has a bigger plan that is so much better than what’s in front of us. The Crucifixion of Jesus is the ultimate test of our trust in God and our faith in these Holy Scriptures. A test of our capacity to hope against hope, to hope against fear, to hope against grief.

That’s what Easter offers us. In this miracle that we celebrate so joyfully, each year, God demonstrates convincingly, beyond all shadow of a doubt that death is NOT the end of the story. That even the worst that human beings come up with will never ever overwhelm or subvert God’s bigger intention for life and forgiveness and transformation.

Our hope is well-founded in the cross, in spite of how difficult and painful it was and still is for us to consider. That’s the Easter gift of hope.

Those who hold onto the promise of Jesus’s resurrected life, in spite of life’s terrible ups and downs, do come to find, that ‘Hope’ in God, is a powerful force that can save our lives in every way that a life can be saved. Hope in the human heart makes it possible for us to somehow find the strength to take one more step in spite of the darkness and pain of the present moment. Hope can be the front porch to forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. Hope is a portal for the recovery of faith, the restoration of financial stability, for comfort in the most profound grief. Hope saves us…over and over again. In a thousand different ways. Daddy, Daddy, do it again…

We are, now and always….God’s saved people.

Here’s what Andy DuFresne said to Red in the movie: ‘Hope is a good thing…maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.’

No good thing ever dies. God’s good love for us…never dies.

Jesus, God’s goodness in the form of a person on earth for us…never died.

We can trust that. We can carry that hope with us. We can remember, as Paul says in Romans 5:4: …suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces HOPE , and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given us.’

A tough nut to crack but…a heart full of hope is a good thing. Maybe the best thing. And even the tiniest nut…even as small as a mustard seed…by the word of Jesus, can grow into a tree of life with enough room for all the birds of heaven and in its shade…all the people of God, yes, even you.

Be like the bird
Who halting in her flight
On limb too slight
Still sings
Knowing she has wings. Victor Hugo

May the God of all Hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen and Happy Easter!