Forever to the End

Easter season extends next for the next six weeks. Stories are told about disciples gathered behind locked doors in fear after the crucifixion. Would the authorities come after them next? The story tells how in the midst of their fears and doubts, they knew Jesus was with them in both.

The plan was to eliminate the leader of this new movement. That’s how revolutions are thwarted. Assassinate the leader, and the followers fall away. That’s what the religious leaders thought would happen. Kill Jesus and the problem rebels would go back to fishing and end this nonsense.

Jesus followers did desert him, during the brutal part, but they reconvened. They found each other and came together again. His vision of hope was too promising to give up on and just walk away. His charisma beckoned so powerfully, their passion so ignited that even their fears did not keep them from gathering together. The Jesus movement didn’t die on that dark Friday.

That became the beginning of the ecclesia, what we call the church today. Barbara Brown Taylor calls it “God’s Daring Plan.” Entrust the movement to a small group of leaders who it seemed never really understood Jesus in his lifetime. God appears to have faith that they would come through in the end and pass along the stories to their friends, their children, their grandchildren. Built on the stories of his teachings, eventually written down some 40-50-60 years later, the Jesus movement continues long past his death.

Eventually the stories and letters about Jesus were gathered together, and after several hundred more years, a library of books was bound together. It contains the history telling us who we’ve been and where we came from. It contains the stories with lessons and morals for daily living. It holds prayers and liturgies to inspire worship. It gives the commandments and laws for ordering a just community

The psalmist sang about these truths hundreds of years before the Jesus movement became the church, or the Jesus scriptures were gathered as one. The psalmist wrote,
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
to observe your righteous ordinances.

The scriptures provide instruction and inspiration, offer individual guidance and community building, give an avenue to listen for God’s Spirit still speaking, and ask commitment and covenant.

When I was in high school, I hung onto Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose. “ When things seemed bad, and not going together for the good, I would think of that verse.

Once when I was in a time of crisis and self-shaming, a preacher told me to read Jeremiah 31:34 “says the Lord, I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more.” That God could/would forgive and forget was grace beyond comprehension.

Later, when I was wresting with my call into ordained ministry, I found the notation “1 Chronicles 28:20” scribbled on the side of a page of notes. I looked up the verse and found that it had nothing to do with the notes on the page, but everything to do with my life at the time, “Be strong and of good courage, and act. Do not be afraid or dismayed, for the Lord God, my God is with you.“

I call these scriptures that speak to me at certain times in my life – mostly at difficult times in my life – my grounding scriptures. They are the words of scripture that I turn to when I am hurting, when I am questioning. They are the words that hold me up when I’m sinking, words that offer a light to my path and a lamp to my feet.

What words of faith hold you up when your ground gets shaky?

What scriptures ground your faith when the earth threatens to crumble beneath your feet?

Psalmist swears an oath and confirms it to observe God’s righteous ordinances. God’s torah, God’s teachings, are held as the grounding of life. God’s teachings as passed down thorough faith community tradition, God’s teachings as evidenced in natural laws and God’s teachings as ongoing revelations are exalted as the foundation of abundant life.

At our baptism or at our confirmation vows are made and confirmed.

We claim our faith in God, Source of life and word of love. We accept the freedom and power God gives us to live out God’s righteous precepts: to resist evil and injustice in this world. We commit ourselves to follow in the way of Jesus and to share in the life of the ecclesia, the church. We commit to be the church.

I was talking to the confirmation class about these vows they will take today. We were discussing what it looks like to live the way Jesus taught, the way of love and justice for all- the way of kindness and what all that meant. We talked about the day to day actions – our words – how we treat everyone – the kids at the cool table and the kids sitting alone – our thoughts – our attitudes towards cooperation not competition – the teachings of Jesus that exalted caring for others not accumulating material goods in disregard for those in need. We talked about it in very real examples of how they treat others just walking down the hallway at school – not tripping other kids – not lashing out when someone takes our paper. Noting that when we take the vow to live according to the ordinance of Jesus (Love every one) then everything we do and say shows others, “this is what a Christian is like.”

After many more examples and practical applications, I knew my lesson about following the way Jesus lived and taught, the way of love and justice had hit its mark when one of the students exclaimed, “this is hard!” Precisely!
We have taken hard vows swearing and oath and confirming to live by God’s righteous mandates to Love. It is challenging every day. We do that as this community of faith carrying on the tradition of those early disciples who gathered on Easter evening in fear and doubt.

We are the church in the world today, so we pledge our prayers, to pray for each other in this desire to live by God’s law of Love. We pledge to pray for our faith community to be strong and have courage and act as God leads us.

We pledge our presence: to show up for each other in this gathering, to encourage each other and support each other in difficult times. We pledge our presence to show the world the presence of Christ alive.

We pledge our gifts and our service. We pledge to invest our time AND our money in this community of faith. We pledge to help make ministry happen. We pledge to teach the children Sunday School, to lead the Youth in continuing their spiritual growth, to work and served together at all ages and continue our spiritual growth as well. We pledge to give financially, to keep the lights on and the doors open and the building safe and the staff leading ministries.

We pledge our witness: to speak well of this community. To share the joy and growth we find together here. To invite others to join us.

We hear the psalmist speak to God:
Your decrees are my heritage for ever;
they are the joy of my heart.
I incline my heart to perform your statutes
for ever, to the end.

May we incline our heart to live out God’s love forever to the end.

Amen.