Devotional: April 23

By Erin Barger

For me, the week of celebrating resurrection is the cornerstone of the year. Why this is, I share below. As I know it does for many of you, this week brings closer within my grasp the incredible promise that those who we lost in this life will be restored to us again. The following was written within hours of my sister’s death, to be read at her memorial. Nearly ten years later, I share it with you. Her name was Susie. In her last 3 years of life she cared for 18 foster children, as well as the 4 children she brought into the world. May God be glorified in her death as He was in her life.
John 1:4 — In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

As the book of John opens we are introduced to an entity named the Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us. He brought an omnipotent kind of light to the world, and this light is strong enough to offer us all an otherwise impossible inheritance: the right to be sons and daughters of God. He also came in grace and truth, and from the fullness of that grace we have received one blessing after another.

Knowing Susie Graves as my sister was also one blessing after another. My memories of her begin with knowing a mother like figure. Thirteen when I was born, Susie was more like a mother to me than a sister: as I began kindergarten she was finishing high school. She worked after school jobs and, like my brother, shared her earnings by buying me coloring books and generally spoiling me. I could have had no doubt that I was loved, partially because of her.

As I grew into womanhood, we shared a new bond as sisters. As I recovered from knee surgery in high school, she and my brother were by my side. As they witnessed my first steps as a baby, they were there again to hold me as I learned to walk again. It was a scary time but, yet again, there she was. On my wedding day, she was to my immediate left. On her dying day, I was face to face with her, racing to find just the right words to communicate all that she had meant. Perhaps I should have simply said: “Susie, you have given one blessing after another.”
Within hours of her death, I thought of the story of Lazarus and knew that I would not read this story in the same way ever again. Today I can picture Mary running out to meet Jesus, knowing that His presence could have saved her brother’s life. The book of John says that Mary fell at the feet of Christ. Mary seemed willing to do anything to see her brother alive again, and now I can finally understand how that must have felt. We know that Jesus was so moved by her grief that He also wept. Although Christ knew that He would restore Lazarus to life, his love for these sisters and their grief compelled his perfect compassion. He restored Lazarus to life, and I know He will also resurrect my sister to life. I praise God today, not only for the power that He will share to restore us to never-ending life, but also for the compassion that drove Jesus to cry with Mary that day. This realization is powerful, as I know that today Christ is weeping with me, and that His comfort is perfect and the epitome of love.
Christ also redefined love later in the same book: when He is preparing his closest friends to live without Him, he shows the full extent of His love by washing their feet. Those of you who knew Susie well, knew that she also showed the full extent of her love in a similar manner. By opening her home to a little boy named Cooper whose parents were lost to him; by sacrificing daily for Emily, Caitlin, Hannah, and Amanda; by serving her husband Shayne; by watching over her little sister Erin; by creating a home for children that are often forgotten about and thereby, practicing pure religion: it is in these ways that Susie showed the full extent of her love. I praise God today for His grace upon my sister, which allowed this love to come to life after the example of our Lord.
Death has already been swallowed up in victory the day that Jesus fought death and won. Through this, I know that these memories with my beloved sister are a blink of an eye compared to the life that awaits us in heaven. Perhaps what allowed Christ to stop weeping the day he comforted Martha was, not just his vision of Lazarus coming back to life temporarily, but even more the sight of Lazarus rejoicing by the side of Mary and Martha in heaven. Therefore, we too “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,” knowing that if we cling to Christ our own mortality will be swallowed up in life. I praise God for helping me to know Him more because of Susie and for his promise to protect her and keep her safe as a perfect Father until we are together again.

Prayer: God, your promise of resurrection defines our approach to death, and drives our fearlessness in life, as we remain rooted in Your love. Thank you. God, I don’t understand why death is essential, having lost so much as a result. But I look to you, and I trust You with what I do not understand. I believe that whatever I suffer, You suffered it first. Please send your Spirit and humility as a balm; deliver your resurrection promise in ways all who are hurting can see, even today. Thank you for the compassion of Jesus that led Him to restore life, no matter the cost to Him. May I follow in His steps.

Sermon: Hail Thee, Festival Day

When the resurrected Jesus meets the Marys after they found the tomb empty, he tells us them to “rejoice.” It isn’t just a command. It’s a type of greeting — a cheerful, “Hello!”

The King James Bible has a unique interpretation of Matthew 28:9, in which Jesus says, “All hail” to the Marys. The word “hail” has a unique meaning — it means that something is good, and in the greeting of someone else, you call out the goodness for all that is. When we say “Happy Easter,” we’re hoping that the other person will be able to fully enter into the festivities of the celebration.

Today is the feast of Easter — when death has been swallowed up in victory and love proves stronger than death. The Christian faith is a kind of party that connects to the whole of creation. All hail!

“Hail Thee, Festival Day”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby

Click to listen to the Easter Sunday choir anthems for the day.

“Hail Thee, Festival Day”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Matthew 28: 1-9
April 21, 2019 • Easter Sunday

Sermon: “In the Time of Trial”

Prayer is a practice with which many of us struggle.

It’s seems like such a waste of time to sit in nothingness. We begin to think, “Wouldn’t it be better to be more productive with that time?” Our anxieties begin to arise. Our deepest fears are unwrapped. Our saddest thoughts become present. These are the times in prayer when we just might be at the forefront of something good.

Our anxiety over the future, our frustration over our job, our concern over an ailing loved one — these are the places where we fail and fall, and these are the paths back to God. Rather than run from it, go down into the darkness a little further and see where it leads. God will be there.

Prayer is less something we do, and more something we find ourselves in doing. God must do it within us, or it will not get done: when our faith is dried up, God graces us with streams of living water in the most parched places of myself.

Sermon: “In the Time of Trial”


“In the Time of Trial”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Luke 22:39-46
April 14, 2019 • Palm Sunday

Sermon: Running to Win

“The needs of the world are so great, that the only way to serve and love in the pattern of Jesus is that we require ourselves the same discipline that Jesus had … Before we rush to ensure that we are saving our own time, maybe we should pause for a moment and let God waste it for the sake of the Gospel.”

Sermon: Running to Win

“Running to Win”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
1 Corinthians 9: 19-27
March 24, 2019 • Third Sunday of Lent

Sermon: Come and See

Children love to play the game “hide and seek.” Although they enjoy hiding, the true joy is being found by their loved one.

As adults, we become better at hiding from others — even hiding in places where we are supposedly sharing ourselves. On social media, we create an image of our lives that we want others to see. But we typically hide who we truly are.

It can be difficult for us to even understand who we are. We put out different images of us in various places — work, family, friends, church, social media, etc. — that we may ask, “Who is the real me?” The “real you” is the person you are in your encounter with Jesus. There’s no hiding from God, because God knows who you truly are.

To find out who we are — in all our depths and complexity — is something we find out most fully in our encounter with Jesus Christ.

“Come and See” by The Rev. Joe Gunby

“Come and See”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
John 1: 43-51
Jan. 13, 2019

Sermon: Witness to the Light

We know that standard Christian trope that through Christ we are saved. But what does that really mean? And does that mean that everyone else — even those who never encountered Christ in their life — are damned? Are we just the lucky ones, because we happened to grow up in a Christian family and/or live in a Christian society?

John tells us that Jesus is the true and final light who came into the world for EVERYONE. And salvation does not belong to us. It belongs to God. And the light of Christ shines to all people beyond our knowing, whether they are Christian, agnostic, atheist, etc.

In the Bible, Jesus is constantly healing and feeding people regardless of whether they believe in him. It’s not our job to coerce others to see the light, but rather following the light of salvation that guides our path. Others will see God’s light on our path, and if the light directs us, we can show others that light.

“Witness to the Light” by The Rev. Joe Gunby

“Witness to the Light”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
John 1: 6-14
Jan. 6, 2019 • Epiphany

Sermon: Annunciation

Terrible things happen, and sometimes they happen for no reason. But something else is just as true — sometimes goodness cannot be stopped.

Jesus was born into this world against all odds, but couldn’t be stopped. He lived his life and was even killed, but he still could not be stopped. And if we want to follow Jesus, nothing will stop us. This is the miracle of the human heart.

It can easy to believe that our failings are too enormous to be overcome. But God is doing something bigger that we can imagine within us. Every one of us is called, every day, to believe that we are expressions of God.

The good news of “love beyond measure” walks side-by-side with the violence of society.

“Annunciation” by The Rev. Beth Long

“Annunciation”
Sermon by The Rev. Beth Long
Luke 1: 26-38
Sunday, Dec. 9

Sermon: Let the King Come Down

IMG_0326From the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus gives a one-sentence sermon, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

For centuries people have been attempting to interpret these words from Jesus, speculating on the kingdom. And these misinterpretations have sometimes been disastrous, like the crusades of the 12th Century, the Salem witch trials of the 17th Century and the rapture movements of today.

While all these misinterpretations are rooted in the words of God, they all get it wrong. When thinking about the kingdom, it’s best to take a journalist’s approach and think about the who, what, when, why and where. The key is to look at the kingdom as Jesus did — a relationship between God and us, in heaven and earth.

Who is the kingdom? It’s God and us.
What is the kingdom? It’s God’s glory through our work.
When is the kingdom? It’s both now and in the future.
Why the kingdom? For both God’s glory and our benefit.
Where is the kingdom? It’s within us and in heaven.

Look for ways in your life in which you can draw on something and be vindicated by God. Try to discern the will of God and act out that will to the best of your ability. Discern what God is doing and bring the love, mercy and will of God into every situation.

“Let the King Come Down”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 15: 1-25
Nov. 25, 2018

Sermon: The Stone Left Standing

The temple in Jerusalem was an architectural masterpiece. It certainly had significant religious significance for those of the Jewish faith, but additionally was a massive structure that dominated the landscape. So when Jesus goes to the temple and says that it will be destroyed and he will rebuild it in three days, it was a bold proclamation.

We now know that Jesus didn’t mean he will literally rebuild the physical structure of the temple, but rather the structure of the church. And at the heart of the rebuilding is us — the people of God.

It’s important to recognize that although we have each been given the of God, Jesus still wants us to be the church.  The community of believers is integral to our faith — calling out our sinfulness, lifting our spirits and collaboratively impacting change in the world. We are the church. We need the church.

 

“The Stone Left Standing”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 13: 1-8
Nov. 18, 2018

Sermon: The Great Commandment(s)

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Jesus is very clear in Mark 12:28-34 what is the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” But he doesn’t stop there. Even though the questioner was asking for the “greatest commandment,” Jesus adds another law: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Love is a word that is used so often that it often loses its value. But it is the central word that Jesus uses — “Love your God. Love your neighbor.” If we’re loving genuinely, we will constrain ourselves beyond the stated law. If we’re living in the love of Jesus, not only will we not steal from our neighbor, but we will make sure our neighbor has adequate food.

One aspect of love is listening, even those with whom we disagree. In society today, it’s so hard to constrain our own opinions for even a moment. “Love constrains us to be quick to listen and slow to speak.” If we are to hear Jesus, we must hear others.

The love Jesus commands us to practice is not a love of convenience. But through God and with the love of God, we have the power to practice such immense love.

“The Great Commandment(s)”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 12: 28-34
Sept. 30, 2018