SERMONS

My dad’s grandparents met at the Finnish Lutheran Seaman’s Mission in New York City in 1896, where my great grandmother was one of the relief workers welcoming people like my great grandfather, fresh off the boat. The arms of God stretched wide through the Finnish Lutheran Seaman’s Mission, like the branches of the mustard shrub, to provide welcome and shelter and support to my immigrant great grandfather and so many, many more. The Finnish Lutheran Seaman’s Mission eventually became Seafarer’s International House, which continues this work of providing shelter and support to immigrants and refugees and even amidst the pandemic, asylum seekers, some of whose only visitors are the Seafarer’s folk.

This is the kind of work made possible by God’s persistent planting, the scattering of seed talked about by Jesus in today’s gospel lesson.

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I want to talk with us today about the repairing of relationships with people and the world around us and the repairing work – the restoration and resurrection work made possible by Christ and a relational, trinitarian God. But, to get to the resurrection part, we need to acknowledge how things get broken in the first place.

When we are captured by sin we are separated from seeing and perceiving God, and therefore our relationship to God, ourselves, our fellow human beings, and the world around us breaks down. The degradation and destruction of God’s good green earth is an example of what happens when we stop seeing and perceiving God around us – how could we keep pouring pollutants into the air and water and earth if we saw God present in these precious natural resources? Racism and other “isms” are also an egregious example of this break down of relationship and sinfulness. Instead of looking around us and seeing the beauty of and fullness of God reflected in all of the variety of skin colors and other unique characteristics created by God in other people, we as a human race and as individuals have all too often “otherized” and demeaned people in order to gain a false sense of superiority.

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A woman in her forties, let’s call her Sarah, is living in a homeless shelter with her three kids. She used to be an assistant manager at a retail store, but after getting pregnant and having her first child the position she once held was filled, and she couldn’t find another. Debt spiraled out of control and she lost her place to live. She is actually grateful to be living in the shelter because she remembers what it was like to live on the streets, and she’s managed to get another job in retail, but can’t seem to make enough money to get herself and her family back into housing. Enter a kind social worker who advocated for Sarah and helped her to get linked into a local program to help people find affordable housing.

What does it mean to be an advocate and what does it mean to have an Advocate (capital “A”) laboring on our behalf in our lives?

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When Ascension Day is not separately observed and celebrated in the Church, we observe it here, on the seventh and last Sunday of Easter.

Luke’s version of the Ascension story comes at the very end of chapter 24, an action-packed chapter that begins with Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women discovering the empty tomb and meeting the angels in dazzling white clothes who ask why they seek the living among the dead – in other words Jesus has risen and is alive. The women head back to the other disciples tell them the good news, and then later that same day, two of the disciples are walking on the road to Emmaus, struggling with all that has happened, and Jesus appears to them, though they don’t recognize him at first. Jesus lovingly chastises their struggling hearts and then interprets the scriptures beginning with Moses in light of his crucifixion and resurrection. And then, when prayers are said and bread and broken, the disciples realize this is Jesus who has been walking with them, and then he disappears. Now these two head back to the rest of the disciples at Jerusalem to tell them the good news about Jesus.

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Little is known about the Prophet Joel, who probably wrote these words that we heard in our first lesson tonight around 586BC. Yet with bold - even challenging - language for our modern ears to hear, Joel calls the people of Judah and Jerusalem to repent and return to the Lord during a time of national disaster (from the Introduction to the Book of Joel, ESV).

Mmmm...a time of national disaster...we don’t know anything about that, do we?

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