Welcome to worship for this 3rd Sunday of Easter, April 18, 2021! It is great that we can still gather, even if only online, while we are still in this pandemic! Your presence is essential for our community!
The worship bulletin can be found here. The bulletin will have the order of worship, all the words of the liturgy, the hymn numbers (#) out of the ELW and page numbers (p.) out of the Now the Feast and Celebration booklet, and the sermon in full. The sermon can also be found under the embedded video, and all the words of the liturgy that you need to know will be on your screen.
As we do most weeks, this service is meant to be as interactive as it can be while online. To help with that, you can have a few elements in your space. The first is a bowl of water for the Thanksgiving for Baptism near the beginning of the service. You can also have something small to eat and drink for communion later on in the service. And as always you can have a candle lit before the service starts and extinguished with the altar candles near the end of the service during the Sending Hymn. These are all optional but are meant to help you and your worship experience.
May God’s blessing be on you throughout this service, this day, and always, as we are reminded of God’s welcome and inclusion!
Holy God, may your radical and surprising love come to us through your holy Word by the power of your Spirit, that we might hear and understand the greatness of your grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Later this week, I’ll be attending our annual Pastor’s Study Conference of the BC Synod, and for the second year in a row, it will be of course online. Normally, I love going to the Study Conference because it is designed to give you what you need for rest. For me, I usually like to sleep until like noon and eat as much of the delicious food as they’ll let me.
But the rest of the Study Conference? If I’m honest with you… meh. Don’t get me wrong, I love my colleagues and being able to see them and catch up in this capacity is great, but when we all get together like this it’s hard not to see just how much I don’t fit in. Sure, you ask any one of my colleagues about this, and they’ll be all like “aw no, that guy totally fits in and is one of us” but then be completely oblivious to who I even am.
I don’t mean that they need to know my favourite colour or my affinity for long walks on the beach or anything like that, but the number of times I get asked “where are you from” or “how did you find your way to the Lutheran church” or even “did you start a Chinese ministry in your context” is just absolutely tiresome, like I’m some novel anomaly that needs to be figured out (which I guess I technically am). I know they mean well and being asked the first time or two is fine, but pretty much every single time I see some of them, it just reminds me again of how I am and always will be an outsider. And the kicker here is that this year’s theme for the Conference is around systemic racism and inclusion.
So when they asked me to help out with the planning of different aspects of the Study Conference, mostly around worship, I flatly said no. First of all, I’m not really good at planning worship, but also I didn’t want to be their poster minority boy like they could check off some kind of “inclusion box” or something. After several requests for different things, I was asked to preach at the opening worship service. Like the other requests I wanted to just give an “insta-hard-no” but then I thought maybe preaching at a Study Conference would be good for my own healing process and will force me to look closely at these feelings that I’m having inside. Also it probably won’t hurt my career at all, I mean this could be part of my road to Bishop.
So I reluctantly agreed. I mean it isn’t a huge thing, I preach every week, after all. But somehow preaching at a conference with the themes around systemic racism hits just a bit different. Knowing that I’ll be setting the stage so to speak for the people who will be attending and/or even listening for the rest of the conference is a little bit nerve wracking. And if I’m honest, digging up these old wounds and bringing them to light isn’t exactly what I’d call fun. In fact, it is sometimes scary.
And so I wonder if this is the same kind of fear that the disciples felt when they heard that Jesus was back and then actually saw him in the place where they were hiding. Were they feeling this same kind of intimidation by that which caused them to hide in that upper room? Did Jesus’ return dig up the wounds of their guilt in abandoning him, not understanding his words, and allowing him to die?
“Peace be with you” are the first words that Jesus says to them in this particular encounter, but the text tells us that they were still startled and terrified. “Peace be with you” says the risen Jesus standing right there in their midst, yet they think they’re looking at a ghost. “Peace be with you” Jesus reassures them with the peace that surpasses all understanding, but they continue to have their doubts and fears.
I guess I don’t blame them. If I saw someone I watched die show up after like three days behind my locked doors, them wishing me all the peace in the world isn’t going to suddenly make all of that cool. But I think Jesus knows what they’re going through, Jesus is aware of their fears and doubts, Jesus understands that they are feeling wounded and defeated, so in an act of ultimate grace Jesus shows them his hands and feet and says “yeah, me too”.
And then he asks for some fish. Because fish is delicious.
But the point of Jesus’ actions here is to show them what the power of resurrection is. I understand Jesus here to be reconciling them to him and reminding them that they are loved and forgiven. I am convinced that Jesus’ hands still bear the marks of crucifixion and those marks remind them and us that healing isn’t about washing away or erasing the hurts and scars, but healing brings into wholeness and restores us to peace.
So as I was contemplating whether I should preach for the Study Conference or not, I struggled with my past of very clearly not fitting in. I felt ashamed that in all my years of ordination I feel as though I haven’t been “Lutheran” or even experienced enough to be trusted with such responsibility or recognition. I actually felt a bit angry in that I was thinking that of course they’d ask the minority looking guy to do all this stuff for like the first time ever because hey, it’d be a bad look to not ask when we’re talking about systemic racism.
But before anyone bombards me with a load of excuses and “whataboutisms” around how I’m more than just a minority, I understand that this world is broken. I get that we aren’t perfect and many of us are but products of the systems and cultures that have been in place for generations and not the instigators of them. I know that while we all work together to be reminded of how we are actually included and welcomed and need to be seen as fellow children of God, that I am actually guilty of denying that as well, both in myself and in others. This in no way excuses the wrongs and hurts of the world or alleviates or belittles the effects of all the systemic racism that I and others like me have faced throughout our lives, but it also doesn’t somehow give me a magical “bye” from all the hurts and pains that I might have inflicted on others.
So I know, many of us have been hurt by many different things, be it racism, sexism, ableism, or any other of the number of “isms” that plague our society today. And in that hurt, it is hard for us to feel God’s healing and wholeness, or the peace that has been breathed on us by the Spirit, or even that the request to preach isn’t because of tokenism but because people just really want to understand the words coming out of your mouth. But in that hurt, we can see and feel Jesus present among us, bearing the scars and brokenness of the world, and revealing to us just how welcoming and inclusive God’s grace for all people is.
This means those people who don’t look like us. This means people who don’t share the same exact beliefs as us. This means the wide variety of people that we, for whatever justifiable reasons in our mind, just don’t like. And, as I have to remind myself of constantly, this even means us.
See, Jesus wishing peace upon the disciples here isn’t just wishing them peace among each other, but it is also peace within themselves. Jesus’ healing isn’t just to restore the relationships we have with each other, but to restore the relationship and view we have on ourselves. Jesus’ act and display of God’s love isn’t to just remind us that God loves all people, but also to remind us that we, too, are dearly and wholly loved.
Some of you might react to this with, “well yeah, right, of course.” To which I respond with, then show this love to others as it has been shown to you. Some might react with, “oh yeah, right of course,” to which I respond with encouragement to continue seeing this love active and present in your lives, that you might be empowered to share it with others. Yet others might respond with, “uh yeah right, of course,” to which I respond with it is true, for the promises of God throughout scripture are promises of grace, peace, and love granted to all people, including you, and we are indeed witnesses of this in and throughout our lives, allowing us to believe it, trust it, and live it for all that we’re worth. And according to God, that is a whole lot.
As we continue in this season of Easter and resurrection, may we lean on the healing of God that brings us into wholeness in our reconciliation with God, with each other, and especially with ourselves. Thanks be to God. Amen.