Good morning, church!
Today we observe the Fifth Sunday of Lent, also known as the Third Sunday of the Quarantine. I hope these worship resources are helpful to you. It is only two weeks until Easter.Please also join us for the Facebook Live service at 10:00 a.m. You don’t need to be a Facebook user. In order to get access. Just go on our website, click the icon for Facebook (F) and join us. It is as simple as that.
The traditional gospel text for this Sunday is written in John 11, the raising of Lazarus, which prefigures Jesus’ own resurrection. At a time when we are dealing with death a lot, when we hear of people suffering and dying, When the world is trying to contain a dangerous pandemic, let us just keep in mind that Christian hope is anchored not in any particular news that comes to us down here, but in the resurrection of Christ.
Today we also remember a person who left us just about a year ago. Katie Smith grew up at St. Peter’s and for many years lived across the street on Church Street. She died last year, only 41 years of age. It was an incredibly sad time for her family. Her sister Gwen recently re-connected with the church and has been sending me emails. She asked whether we would remember Katie today, and so we gladly do.
I am starting to include birthdays in my daily emails. I promptly forgot Terry R., whose birthday was yesterday. Today, Bernie H., Erik N. and Garrett R. celebrate their birthdays.
Blessings to you all!!!
Pastor Andreas Wagner
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Sunday, March 29, 2020
Dear heavenly father, As you scattered the early Christians throughout the world Only to build a sense of community across borders and cultural differences, so you are scattering us today only to bring us together as your people. Many of us are at home, working, waiting, wondering, our routines disrupted. Some of us have to travel to do important work while trying to stay safe. Some of us are very isolated, living alone, but blessed by the connections that we have these days. Lord, as we live our faith in our different corners, bring us together more united, with a stronger sense of purpose and strengthened by the challenges that YOU will help us overcome. This we pray in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
Remembrance of Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771 – 1824)
Today we remember Hans Nielsen Hauge, a Lutheran layperson who experienced a calling to share the Word of God. Born in Norway to a peasant family and having received little formal education, his conversion experience led him to start prayer and Bible groups throughout his native land. He died on March 29, 1824. His ministry coincided with the emigration of many Scandinavians to the United States and had considerable influence among the Lutherans of the Midwest. His biography is a reminder that the expression of our faith does not always need to be polished. God looks for hearts willing to be transformed and willing to serve. And with the remembrance of Hans Hauge we bless all of our lay ministers at St. Peter’s for the important work they do.
1The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act, says the LORD.”
The Gospel Reading for the Day: John 11: 1-45 (1-11 featured here)
1Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2(This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” 4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” 8“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.” 11After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” 12His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Then Thomas (also known as Didymus ) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’
When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, ‘What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.’ But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.’ He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.
Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples.
Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, ‘What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?’ Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
Hymn: “I am the Bread of Life” ELW 485
1 “I am the Bread of life. You who come to me shall not hunger, and who believe in me shall not thirst. No one can come to me unless the Father beckons.”
Refrain “And I will raise you up, and I will raise you up, and I will raise you up on the last day.”
2 “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world, and if you eat of this bread, you shall live forever, you shall live forever.” Refrain
3 “Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood, and drink of his blood, you shall not have life within you.” Refrain
4 “I am the resurrection, I am the life. If you believe in me, even though you die, you shall live forever.” Refrain
5 Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who have come into the world. Refrain
Dear Lord, in this time of crisis and quarantine, we pray especially for those in our community who are suffering: owners of small restaurants and businesses that are now closed; people who work in the hospitality industry and especially all the low-paid staff without securities. Help them to get through this time!
Dear Lord, in this time that is unlike other times we have experienced, help us to adapt and be resilient. Bless especially those whose plans and goals for this year have been shattered. Help us to reflect on our lives, whether that leads us to make changes or appreciate anew what we have. Send your Holy Spirit and help us to get through these times!
Dear Lord, we pray for our neighbors who live across the street from us, next to us and whom we sometimes don’t see for long times. We don’t always know what their lives are like, whether they experience hardship or unexpected joys, calm or turmoil. Be with them and help them to get through these times!
Dear Lord, we pray for our Bishop and our pastors all across the synod as they lead their flocks and make changes to their ministry. Bless especially congregations in transition and also bless our neighboring churches no matter their creeds. Bless also other houses of worship and help us all to help our people to get through these times!
Dear Lord, one year ago, Katie Smith passed away at a young age. Today we remember her in the hope of the resurrection and we pray for her mother Cecily, her sister Gwen and all who were close to her. Comfort them and help them to get through these times!
Person One: God says: Be still and know that I am God.
Person Two: Be still and know that I am.
Person Three: Be still and know.
Person Four: Be still.
Person One: Be.
The Lord’s Prayer
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand. Amen.
“Grieving in the Times of Corona”
Sermon on Sunday, March 29, 2020
Based on John 11
Some of the most difficult experiences people have had to deal with in these past weeks are funerals and planned weddings. To emphasize the point let me ask this simple question: how do you grieve without the comfort of human touch and the support of a caring community? Sure, there are substitutes. We call each other. We send each other cards. We post messages on the obituary page. We send caring emojis via Social Media, etc. But can anything really replace the comfort of arms wrapped around you? It is difficult. My brother’s father-in-law died just as the crisis began to take hold in Germany and the family went through several planning adjustments to make even a small funeral happen, just before such gatherings were banned for good. I could hear the pain in the voice of my sister-in-law. Her father, Richard Wagner, was a baker in a small town, and over many years and decades he had provided cakes and baked goods to numerous people and supplied them for thousands of funerals. The after-funeral coffee is a huge tradition in rural Germany. Now his family could see no justice in this man being buried without much ceremony and the customary community gathering with coffee and cake and the comfort of human company and touch. It was touchy (no pun intended), to say the least.
Today’s gospel reading sends us straight to a funeral gathering. This is another one of John’s long stories, which frankly require an attention span that we can’t take for granted these days. I will focus my reflection on the first part of this reading, which is really no more than the introduction. I encourage you, especially if you are not particularly versed in the Bible, to read the entire story, verses 1-41. The first thing that you will notice, no doubt, is that Jesus takes his merry time once he is told about his friend Lazarus’ dire health and the news of his impending death. Usually, when we receive news like that, we are on the phone. We are in the car. Family members and friends rush to the hospital or home to help in any way, to see our friend or family member one more time, or at least pay our respects. Not here. Not in this case. Jesus remains remarkably stoic and unmoved, even though, as John tells us, he loved Lazarus and he loved his entire family. They were close. Jesus, in other words, practiced social distancing when no such rule was in place and the family didn’t appreciate it. Families never do, because deaths and funerals are among the touchiest times anyone can ever experience, and emotions run rampant. “Where are you, Jesus? Get your butt over here!”
Honestly, it reminds me of a recent incident when a parishioner called me about a death in the extended family, someone I didn’t know. I was away at the time and didn’t respond to the text right away. There was disappointment, and afterwards I was also disappointed with myself. Why had I not paid closer attention to this? Not that I could have jumped and helped right then and there, but I could have at least responded! – That’s about what Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, were expecting. A response at a time when they truly needed it. But Jesus though takes his merry time. Aggravating!
We could draw a few comparisons to the current social distancing rules. At this time, as we enter the third week of the quarantine rules, relatives and friends of the deceased are unfortunately forced to show their compassion from afar, to make those phone calls, send those cards and do all the things they can, short of hugging that person who could use a hug right now. There was no Corona Virus at Jesus’ time and no quarantine laws. (They had other problems. Leprosy required strict social distancing!) But if you read this text carefully, you will see that Jesus had his own reasons for social distancing. People were after him. His life was in danger, especially in the regions around Jerusalem where his face was now known and where he and his company were wanted people. When he asks his disciples two days after receiving the sad news to go to Judea, to see Lazarus’ family, they remind him of the danger: “People there tried to stone you and now you are going back?” (I am not using the word “Jews” here but “people” because historically the gospel of John has been abused to blame “Jews” for Jesus’ death. In fact, most everybody involved in this story was a Jew anyway, including Jesus, so we may just say “people.”) Also, at the very end of the reading, Thomas says, “Let us also go that we may die with him.” The danger, in other words, was real!
So Jesus is going back with his entourage. It was not a long journey. Nothing is a long journey in Israel, a small country with outsized importance. In this opening part of the story, John gives us an explanation for Jesus’ hesitation. Twice in this introduction he hints at the purpose and plan behind the death and resurrection of Lazarus. It is to glorify God and to help the disciples and spectators to believe.
I have to admit that I am always a little skeptical of John’s neat explanations. Please don’t take this as disrespect for scripture, but I feel that John was the kind of person who always had a neat explanation for everything. That can be very, very annoying, especially in times of grief and hardship when everything seems to be confusing and when things usually don’t make a lot of sense. Maybe you have met people who have an explanation for everything handy, including religious sayings. It is rarely helpful in that moment, because it disrespects the real experience of disorientation and grief people are going through and the possibility that God is with them in the midst of all of the confusion. John, ever the explainer, lets us know that Jesus planned this all along, that he was waiting for Lazarus to take his least breath so he could show the disciples and everyone the power of God to raise him from the dead. But keep one thing in mind, please: John wrote his gospel at least 60 years after these things took place. So just imagine someone today writing something that occurred in 1960. There is a lot of hindsight and spin involved whenever we go back that far. And explanations naturally come easier decades later. Those are also the times when explanations CAN BE helpful, when you look back and reflect and you see the bigger picture…
At the time though, I wonder whether Jesus was in fact so sure where God was leading him. I wonder whether the danger at hand was perhaps a real deterrent for him, at least initially. Was he not human? In any case, he finally decides to go to see Lazarus and his family, walks into the danger and raises him from the dead in one of the most spectacular stories of the New Testament. If you read the entire story you will notice that he shows great emotion once he gets to Bethany and sees the pain in the eyes of Mary and Martha. There, the humanity of Jesus is on full display, including tears and sadness.
What does that mean for us? For one, I would like us to be extra sensitive to people who are grieving during this social distancing time. Please reach out to them. Give them a call. Write them a card. Do everything you can to ease their pain at a time when they miss not only a loved one but also the touch and comfort of friends and family. Secondly, as we try to figure out what this crisis is teaching us (and I encourage you all to look for lessons), please also keep in mind that we will figure out the true lessons over time, not right away. There is a reason why the gospels were written later and with the benefit of distance. Sometimes you see clearer from a distance. May God be with you all during these trying and unsettling times and may we learn our lessons and be better for it! Amen.