Sunday: The Prelude….

This week is a different week of work for me. Rather than being with the good people of Zion Lutheran Church, I’m off on continuing education. Some people think of this time as a vacation, but it’s a different kind of work.

Every leader, regardless of vocation, needs time to reflect and learn. This week I’ll be at Duke Divinity School, one of the best places in the country to think about church leadership. Throughout the week I’ll have a chance to meet with faculty, sit in on classes, read things I’ve wanted to get to but haven’t yet, talk with other colleagues, and reflect upon the next several months at Zion.

So with that, I’m going to journal a little bit…

Sunday I had a chance to preach at my home congregation, Redeemer Lutheran Church, in Columbia, SC. For the last several weeks they’ve been meeting in their Family Life Center (affectionately called the Building Out Back or BOB) for worship because they had to do some renovations to their sanctuary. This year is the 50th anniversary of the congregation, so throughout the year they’re having some special events, including inviting people who were members of the congregation but now serve as pastors in the church.

Being able to go back to the congregation I grew up at was a wonderful treat. They were the people that I worshipped with, learned the Bible from in things like Sunday school and confirmation, adult guides and participants in youth groups, etc…   Even though we weren’t in the space I spent most Sundays as a kid, I kept thinking about a song I learned in Sunday school –

“I am the church,
You are the church,
We are the church together.
All who follow Jesus,
All around the world,
Yes we’re the church together.

The church is not a building,
The church is not a steeple,
The church is not a resting place,
The church is a people!”

The people of God, called by God’s grace, empowered by the Spirit to do go works… That was what I saw when I was at Redeemer on Sunday and what I see when I’m at Zion.

After worship, they graciously had a reception for me. Then it was time to visit with family and to catch up with a dear friend that I should talk to more often, but I don’t!

That was Sunday! Onto Monday!


Contemporvant Worship and Not Taking Ourselves So Seriously

One of my friends posted a video that has made the rounds a few times on the Internet. 

Here’s the video

It’s quite funny, especially for church dorks like myself.  But here’s the thing I don’t think most people realize – it’s made by Andy Stanley’s North Point Church in suburban Atlanta.  They are a congregation that has guitars, drums, and modern technology in worship.  In other words, they are making fun of themselves!


A few things to think about related to this video –

1.  It’s good to make fun of ourselves. 

The moment we take ourselves too seriously can be a problem.  I need to be reminded of that on a regular basis because I take myself far too seriously.  I don’t like it when I make mistakes, especially when it comes to worship planning.  But I’m convinced that God uses those mistakes I make to remind me not to take myself all that seriously and to remind me that I’m not in charge – God is.   


2.  Every church has a pattern or liturgy for worship.

My own tradition speaks of four basic parts or movements of the liturgy – Gathering, Word, Meal, and Sending.  The idea is this – that wherever one goes for worship, there should be enough familiarity with the overall structure of the liturgy that one could follow along.  It may be in a different language or done in a different style, but the pattern holds.


Other traditions, even if they wouldn’t describe themselves as liturgical, have patterns to their worship that are deeply engrained in their community.    


And most importantly – 3.  I’m so tired of the worship wars

For the last generation or so, the church has been caught up in these unhelpful worship wars.  Most worship wars rally around the words “contemporary” and “traditional.”  I serve a congregation that offers “contemporary” and “traditional” worship on Sunday morning. 


But these words are really not helpful.  They do not faithfully describe what is happening.  Any worship that happens in the present is contemporary.   That means pipe organ or guitars.  And any worship – guitars, drums, pipe organ, or kazoos – that happens today is also traditional.  We didn’t just make this up on our own; we follow a pattern – a tradition. 


Here’s a for instance at how unhelpful these labels and the whole worship wars are.  This past Sunday our 11:00 “contemporary” service sang Be Thou My Vision as the song of the day.  It was done very well by our praise team and it felt like this was the right choice for that Sunday.  Other Sundays we sing great hymns of the faith that would have been at home in previous centuries. 


The Sunday before that at our “traditional” worship services, we sang a late 20th century Spanish song called When the Poor Ones.  We sang it out with gusto.  Other Sundays we will sing an African song with a djembe or a modern praise and worship chorus. 


I’ll stop there for now.  Thanks for taking time to read!

July 21 Sermon

Pastor Russell Peek
Zion Lutheran Church
21 July 2013
Genesis 18 and Luke 10
Fiddler on the Roof Emphasis

A few summers ago Caroline and I went on vacation to Chicago and had a chance to visit the Art Institute of Chicago. It’s a wonderful place to go and see a variety of art. As we walked through a section of the museum dedicated to Western art, what was striking was to see the number of paintings that were religiously based until around the 18th century, there was less and less artwork related to the Christian faith. My hunch is that during that time the church began commissioning less pieces. Interestingly though, churches are beginning to recover the tradition of being strong supporters of the arts.

In the church’s on-again, off-again relationship with the arts, I’m beginning to see a little bit of a renaissance. Churches like Zion are putting their time, energy, and resources in developing robust arts and music ministries. I know of several seminaries and divinity schools across denominational and theological spectrum in the US that have special emphases in music and the arts. One major seminary, in talking about its emphasis on theology and the arts is seeking to ask these two questions –
What can theology contribute to the arts?
What can the arts contribute to theology? (cf. Duke Divinity’s Theology and the Arts Initiative).

These are good questions for us because I believe that the arts can give a language to parts of our faith that cannot be fully explained or rationalized. For instance, I can see the expressions on people’s faces when a hymn or a song connects with someone. The way an artist represents a scene from the Bible like our artist did on the front cover of our bulletin can be quite powerful. A play, drama, or movie can help us see something that we never saw before. The arts can be a way to show and tell about God’s glory in the world.

Which is why I’m so excited about the people that have been working so hard this summer on our next drama ministry production – Fiddler on the Roof. There are a great number of theological themes that the play brings – exile, prayer, faith in a changing world, what to do about our enemies, Jewish-Christian relationships…. lots of things that I hope we can see over the next weekends… But one I want to focus on today is hospitality.

So here’s the scene – early in the play, the main character Tevye and his family are getting ready for the Sabbath. As Tevye comes back into the house with his wife and five daughters, they have two guests that will be staying the Sabbath with them… Perchik, a teacher, and Motel, a tailor…

And as the sun goes down and the Sabbath is about to begin, there’s no asking if there’s enough food or if there’s room for them at the table, the family just simply welcomes them to this holy time within Judaism. “Another blessing,” Tevye’s wife, Golde, says about the two strangers…

They share prayers and songs, light candles, share food and fellowship… Welcoming them as if they were sent by God to be very presence of God… They are guests in the house, but they are made to belong.

Judaism has central practices that mark faithful Sabbath keeping. And while certainly not working on the Sabbath is one of them and so is going to synagogue to worship, just as important is hospitality. In Jewish thought, both host and guest benefit from this and to welcome someone into your home during the Sabbath is seen as a tremendous good work… A way to live out one’s faith.

And because our roots come out of Judaism, Christians also have a call to be hospitable – to welcome guests that come into our midst.

In our first reading today, Abraham and Sarah model what hospitality looks like as they welcome three guests into their homes that turn out to be angels. They don’t know that they are angels, but they simply are doing what people would have done in those days… If a stranger appeared, you welcomed them by sharing whatever you had – food, drink, and shelter.

This wasn’t just a matter of being nice; it was also a matter of survival. The desert is a harsh place to live with extreme temperatures that are not hospitable to human beings, so out of concern for one’s fellow human beings, they are welcomed.

Hospitality to both strangers and friend is one of the themes that is throughout the Bible. Abraham and Sarah welcome strangers in our first reading. And after the Israelites wander in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt and arrive in the Promised Land, God commands them to provide that hospitality, especially to the stranger, because the Israelites were once strangers in a strange land.

This continues to be the case throughout the New Testament. In the gospels, Jesus speaks of both being welcomed and welcoming others. The New Testament book of Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.”

The theme of hospitality picks up in our gospel reading for today. Mary, Martha, and Jesus.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen this gospel reduced to this question – should we be like Mary or like Martha? I think that’s the wrong question to be asking. There are times when we are called to be like both Mary and Martha. There are times when we are called to go and do, like Martha… to be busy, working to show the love and hospitality of God knowing that we could be entertaining God himself.

And yet, we’re not called to be Martha’s all the time. Part of our call is to be like Mary and sit at the feet of Jesus. We are called to sit at the feet of Jesus as we do things like hearing the Word of God in worship, and praying. To be…

In other words, if all we do in this life is to go and do… Then we miss out on something that is profound and important. We are called to worship together, to hear God’s Word together, to gather around the Table, and pray.

But it doesn’t just stop there. If all we do is sit and pray, then we miss out on living out our faith.

So the point is this – we are not called to make a choice between being like Mary or Martha. We are called to be mindful of the thing that is needed.

Hospitality at its best, is a delicate balance between doing and being. When we love our neighbors and show them hospitality, we love God. When we love God, we will also love our neighbor. They are intertwined together.

Which is to say that part of my prayer on this Sabbath is that we would be a community that would learn that a faithful spirituality and hospitality is lived out both around the dinner table in our homes and the Lord’s Table as we gather for Communion…. That we would be just as hospitable at the soup kitchen and in our own kitchens… Knowing that those who are sent to us are important and remind us what truly matters – who and what is truly of ultimate significance – Jesus.

July 14 Sermon

Pastor Russell Peek
Zion Lutheran Church
14 July 2013
Proper 10C
Luke 10:25-37

In January 1998, I was sitting in a classroom at Winthrop University waiting for the first day of my introduction to accounting class. As the 40 of us sat in the class waiting for our professor to arrive, we all sat there and talked… Asking each other how our Christmas breaks were, how things were at home, and what we were going to be doing this weekend now that we were back in school.

And right as class was starting, our professor came walking in the door. There he was –
Dressed in a nice three piece navy suit with a freshly pressed white dress shirt. He looked pretty sharp except for one thing – his clean white shirt tail was sticking out of his navy blue pants because his zipper was down.

There was no missing the moment… As he came from behind the podium to pass out the syllabus and began pacing back and forth in front of the class talking about the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles that we would be learning for the next 14 or so weeks, everyone in the class, especially me because I was sitting in the front row, saw that he needed to “xyz.”

But the sad thing was that no one said anything to him about it at all.

No one really bothered to ask why none of us said anything about it and I guess in the end it really doesn’t matter why we didn’t; the point is that none of us bothered to say anything to him… Even after class was over.

It seems to me that we missed the meaning of the Good Samaritan. Sure, he wasn’t beaten badly, left for dead, but we certainly failed to be a neighbor to him.

And yet… The meaning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is something much more than just saying that God calls us to help those in need. It is part of what Jesus is getting at, but there’s something much more going on here.

In Jesus’ day, Jews and Samaritans were very bitter enemies. Think of people like the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. Jews saw Samaritans as religious half breeds who only got the religious faith half right. They didn’t worship God in the right way and at the right place, so for Jesus to use a Samaritan as a good example would have been a shock to the Jews hearing Jesus’ words. So much so, that this parable would certainly be unsettling to them.

Sometimes Jesus does that to us. The gospel comes to us and sometimes speaks a word that makes us reexamine who we are and what God is calling us to be.

I mean, after hearing Jesus’ parable, who is it that we are called to be like? Is it the priest? Or how about the Levite? Both of them are respected figures within First Century Jerusalem. Ok, so they aren’t really all that great of an example… But the Samaritan? Is God really calling me to be like a Samaritan? The Samaritan didn’t ask about his ethnic identity or status within society…. He didn’t ask who his neighbor was or who he was responsible for taking care of; he simply moved to the man’s side and helped him. But he was a Samaritan! An enemy!

This week’s news of at least two major polarizing stories – one in the Texas legislature on the divisive issue of abortion and a highly charged court case in Florida have reminded me more than anything of the lawyer’s question – who is my neighbor?

Who will be a neighbor to George Zimmerman and his family now that their lives have been changed by this trial? Who was a neighbor to Trayvon Martin? What about his family? Will we be neighbors with those whom we strongly disagree with on House Bill 2 here in Texas? Suddenly, the lawyers question might just become our own.

Because truth be told, it’s not easy to be a neighbor to everyone. But the Samaritan reminds us that God calls us to be neighbor to all we come in contact with, not just those we are comfortable with.

In other words, in this it’s all about me world where I can have it my way – the gospel reminds us that it’s not. Faithfulness to Christ means being concerned with the neighbor.

Which means that it’s not enough to say, I’ve got mine and so what if my neighbor doesn’t. Being neighbor means that we enter into those places of deep pain and we do what we can to bring about healing and wholeness.

Because the truth be told, all of us have found ourselves not just as the Good Samaritan…. more often than not, I think we are most like the man in the ditch… Which is deeply uncomfortable for us.

Don’t believe me, ask yourself this question – What do 99.9% of the people say when someone asks how are you doing?

I’ll give you a hint – it’s usually, I’m fine!

Part of this is that most Americans like to project an image of strength. I’m fine. Nothing’s wrong here… Go and help someone who is really in need… I can pull myself up by my own bootstraps…

But Jesus won’t let us get away with that. Because before we can call ourselves Samaritans, we have to say that our sin keeps us in the ditch. It might be the sin of pride, inflating our self-worth and saying that we can do it all on our own, without any help… It might be lots of other things… The point is this – all of us, without exception, are sinners in need of God’s mercy. We all need each other and we need neighbors.

So it’s not just that God calls us to be neighbors, it is also that God sends neighbors to us – to bind up our wounds and to help us when we are in our own ditches, in need of a healing balm that God sends to us through Samaritans.

So the question is this – who is our neighbor? Who are those around us that are showing mercy? Who are Samaritans to us? And are we willing to accept their compassion and help, knowing that they just might be sent from God?

Seeing such a Samaritan might not be so easy for us. After all, we live in a world where there are enemies. The very road Jesus talks about in our gospel reading this morning, the road the man travels on, from Jerusalem to Jericho, is not in service today because of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians and is divided by a concrete wall. If this story were told today, would an Israeli accept help from a Palestinian if they were in dire need or vice-versa? Or if we had experienced the horrors of September 11, 2001 first hand, how would we react if someone proved to be a neighbor to us were a part of Al-Qaeda?

Who was the neighbor in the parable? And today we ask – who is our neighbor? And like the lawyer we say, the one who shows us mercy. The lawyer can’t even bring himself to say, the Samaritan. He can only say it’s the one who showed him mercy. Sometimes that mercy comes to us in surprising ways and in surprising people.

Mercy is what God is about. A vision of God’s kingdom is one of mercy. We see that in the waters of baptism, where God incorporates us into the kingdom. We taste that as we eat bread and drink wine during communion, when God promises us mercy through the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of our faith. We need that healing balm of communion, that medicine for our souls. We see it in this community of faith we call Zion – in our brothers and sisters who would dare to be a neighbor to us in the hour of our own need. Mercy coming to and through us. Mercy all around us. Amen.

June 9 Sermon

Pastor Russell Peek
Zion Lutheran Church
9 June 2013
Proper 5C

Text: Luke 7:11-17

The first hearers of Luke’s gospel would have known that the widow in our gospel reading this morning was facing tremendous crises. Not only was she facing an emotional crisis about the death of her son, she was also dealing with the very real crisis that she would be living a life of tremendous poverty.

In Jewish culture, widows had a very tough existence. In Jesus’ day, the vast majority of women depended upon their husbands to live. Most of the time that system worked out fine, but what if her husband died?

If that happened, then it was customary for a woman to marry one of her husband’s brothers or another male relative. But what if there were no males in husband’s family to marry? What would happen then?

Hopefully, she would have a son who could provide some economic support for her.

But now that her only son has died, she is facing some very significant issues that would be with her long after the funeral is over.

As I was reading and praying about our gospel reading for this week, I kept reading scholars who were describing the scene…

So – with that, imagine the scene. Imagine Jesus walking on the outskirts of Nain with his disciples and they see the funeral procession. We all know what death looks like – the tears and the pain, the unspeakable grief someone feels when their loved one dies… Maybe you’ve been to a funeral of a child who was supposed to outlive a parent. Maybe you’re the parent and know the grief and anguish of having a child die. The loss of a child is the worst thing a parent can go through.

In Jesus’ day, there were professional mourners who made lots of noise so that the family could mourn without making a scene. We also know that in Jesus’ day there were also people ready to anoint the body with spices so that they wouldn’t have the smell of a body decomposing. Imagine the mourners and the people with the spices, the smell of spices and flesh…

Now imagine the crowd walking with the widow as it makes its way out of the city to go to the family burial plot. They were probably heading towards a cave where her husband had been buried before. Now it’s her son’s turn to be buried.

In comes a man traveling with a small group of people. He looks at the widow and he has deep sympathy for her. Interestingly, Luke says nothing about the compassion he has for the dead man, instead it’s for his mother.

His compassion is so great for her that he goes up to her and says something to her.

But then he does something so shocking – he touches the bier, the plank that carries the dead body. Anyone who dared to touch the bier or a dead body would touch something unclean… But Jesus risks it to do God’s work…

Because after he touches the bier, imagine the shock when Jesus tells the dead man to get up. And he does.

Imagine the fear and terror of the crowd as they notice the son being brought back to life… To know that they were present at the exact time when God chose to act in this powerful way…

I wonder how many of us would miss that Jesus does this because he has compassion on the widow.

This woman, this widow who was facing a terrible future filled with poverty had her life changed by the Lord. He turned her mourning into joy, her desolation to hope.

This is what Jesus does. Rather than just saying, there, there – your son is in heaven now or I’ll pray for you… Jesus responds in a very real way to this woman who is at the edge of society.

And as followers of Jesus, that’s part of our call as well.

It is not enough to preach the Kingdom of Heaven without bringing a glimpse of it on earth in concrete ways… Which is to say that God makes it so that part of the church’s mission, the body of Christ here on earth, is to be a church that cares for the poor and the marginalized. God calls us to do things that will help bring about life and wholeness for all of God’s people, especially those who struggle the most to find it.

There are stories all throughout Christian history where that’s been the case…

For instance, in 1869 a group of nuns called the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word established the first public hospital in a small Texas frontier town of 12,000 called San Antonio. Long before our city was the seventh largest in the US, there was no place to care for the sick. Our brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church realized that there was a need to care for the sick and orphaned and group of women answered God’s call to do it…. Their work took root and out of that came the Christus Santa Rosa Hospital system that we have today.

For all the warts we have within the Christian church, one of the positive things we can point to is our contribution in health care…

It’s why today in San Antonio, we have hospitals that come out of the Christian tradition – St. Luke’s, which was once Lutheran, but now is a part of the Baptist Health Care System; Methodist, and Christus Santa Rosa… All of these come out of the Christian tradition…. People who follow in the way of Jesus; bringing about healing and mercy here on earth.

We spent a lot of time imagining the scene in the first part of today’s sermon… Thinking about what Luke tells us about a widow, her dead son, and Jesus… But now, imagine we’re back here in the 21st century, in San Antonio.

Imagine we’re sitting in the Emergency Room or Intensive Care Unit at the hospital with someone who has a loved one there. Or imagine sitting with the single mother who struggles mightily just to make ends meet.

It doesn’t really matter what the situation is, just imagine a situation where there is lots of pain.
Imagine someone who has her head bowed down in anger and cries out, “Jesus, I just don’t know how I’m going to make it.” And as she cries out – imagine you saying a prayer for her. It could be out loud, or it could be a quiet prayer for her. And as you pray for her and she prays for herself, imagine Jesus coming into room. Jesus sees the pain and has compassion on it.

What we know is this… No matter what, no matter where we are – Jesus will be with us.

He may surprise us, and may not do what we want, but he will be with us as we go through it. Amen.

(As I said, several commentaries suggested the idea of imagining the scene. This idea was not my own. I am thankful for all the commentaries that had this suggestion, especially NT Wright’s work in his Luke for Everyone book, which provided many of the ideas for this sermon.)

Boasting in Our Suffering – Holy Trinity C

Pastor Russell Peek
Zion Lutheran Church
26 May 2013
Trinity C
Romans 5:1-5

In our second reading this morning, there’s this peculiar line that has always vexed me. St. Paul writes to the church at Rome that “we boast in our sufferings.” Really, Paul? We boast in our sufferings?

I’ve struggled with that because when I see massive tornados that strike parts of Oklahoma or someone that is in their last days dying, I wonder why in the world Paul would say something like that.

I didn’t get much of a chance to watch the coverage of the tornado in Oklahoma this week, but I don’t remember hearing someone boasting about the fact that a tornado came through their town again and flattened it like a pancake.

I think for Paul there’s something important for the church to hear in those words. Not that we would be someone who would be a glutton for punishment, but that the God that is revealed to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can take our sufferings and transform them. They aren’t the final word for us.

As odd as it sounds, when I think about pain and suffering, one of the people I think about is Jane Fonda. I know she’s not the most popular person among veterans, but it’s who I think of….

Some of you may remember that back in the early 1980’s, Jane Fonda had these aerobic workout videos that swept the nation. Of course, some of you weren’t even born then, but that’s another conversation…

As people watched her videos because of this new technology called a VCR, they saw her in fashionable leg warmers saying things like, “feel the burn,” and “no pain, no gain!”

No pain, no gain! My hunch is that we’ve probably heard that before and maybe even said or thought it before. On the surface this seems to make sense, but in reality this a lot of people in the exercise world don’t agree with this statement.

For instance, several years ago back when I was regularly practicing yoga, the instructor would say quite the opposite. If it hurts, don’t do it. If your body isn’t there, then it’s ok. Take what you’ve been given and work within those parameters. That meant that we worked up to our edge, pushing as hard as we could, but knowing that pain wasn’t going to be helpful in the long run.

I’ve heard many athletic trainers who will caution people against a “no pain, no gain” sort of attitude because muscle pain might just be a sign of overuse or physical damage.

No pain, no gain doesn’t quite get it right… I think a better phrase is “don’t waste the pain!” I know, I know… it doesn’t rhyme. But a man who cares very deeply about the church named Peter Steinke makes this point one of his books, “we ‘waste’ suffering if we gloss over, deny, avoid, or neglect its message…. If, however, we can learn from pain it is not wasted but a source of life and health.” (Healthy Congregations, 52)

We don’t celebrate our sufferings… We learn from them…. Paul is not saying that the people of Moore, Oklahoma should be celebrating the fact that most of their town was destroyed this week by the second major tornado in less than a generation. The point is that we celebrate and boast in the midst of our sufferings. Not that we have them, but even in the midst of our sufferings, we can celebrate.

Because God can use our suffering and pain to transform us and this world… So much so that he reminds us that
Suffering produces endurance.
Endurance produces character.
And character produces hope.

We have this myth in our society that good people get good things and bad people get bad things. If my retirement account is going gangbusters or I’m the popular one at school, or my children made the honor roll, then God must be blessing me and I must be doing something right. And the flip side of that is also true – if bad things are happening to me, then I must be doing something wrong in my life. God must be mad with me about something.

But that’s not how I read Scripture at all. Life isn’t always happy, easy, or all that enjoyable. And believing in the Triune God has never meant that suffering or bad things will magically go away. If that we’re the case, we wouldn’t have to ask people at Zion to prayerfully consider becoming a Stephen Minister.

In fact, being a follower of Jesus means that we will probably find suffering all the more. St. Paul knew that first hand. Most likely, Paul wrote Romans wrote this towards the end of his life and had lived through suffering by pastoring a hard congregation like the church at Corinth, by being imprisoned, and most likely martyred for believing in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In another one of his letters he talks about all the things he had going for him before Jesus got a hold of him and how now he regards all of them as rubbish.

Suffering produces endurance
That endurance produces character
And character produces hope.
Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the power of the Spirit.

This wasn’t just some pipe dream or theory for Paul, he lived that out in his own life…. It wasn’t that Paul was seeking pain or was some sort of glutton for punishment, but it instead it is that Paul is suggesting, I believe, that we can learn from pain and see it as a source of life and health. Don’t waste the pain!

Life, health, and even hope can come in the midst of suffering. Suffering gives us the ability to witness…. To say that even though we go through hard times, we can hold our heads high and say that we are justified, at peace with God and that the Holy Spirit has been poured out into our hearts.

And as we suffer, we can look to the very life of Jesus and see what God did to him – he raised him from the dead. And then he seated him on his right hand. And because I follow in the same way of that first century Jew named Jesus, I get the honor of suffering…. But I also get the honor of sharing in the glory of God. God chose not to waste the pain of suffering, but instead transformed it.

This weekend in our society where we find our pondering those who have lost their lives serving in the military. While we find ourselves looking up to those who have served in the military as heroes and examples of good and honorable citizens of our country, we also know all too well that soldiers who have seen combat have witnessed some terrible things – including suffering and death.

And those things take a toll on us. The horrors of war are well documented because of warriors who served our country that now have PTSD. Boasting in our suffering doesn’t mean that our sufferings will go away or will be magically healed. Pain will still be a part of life.

But what it does mean is that God ensures that our sufferings will never be wasted. We are loved and claimed, put in the right… justified.

We remember that when we gather for the Eucharist, for Holy Communion.

In just a few minutes, Pastor Dave will say words that the faithful have proclaimed for years – “in the night in which he was betrayed…” At the very moment when evil made its best plans to show that suffering doesn’t lead to hope, God takes bread and wine and uses it as a transforming moment to remind us that by the power of the Spirit, God’s love has been poured out into our hearts. Death still happens for Jesus…. Suffering and our own deaths will still happen for us…

But – God will never let that be the last word. Thanks be to God. Amen.