The Message behind the Sign
It was a whirlwind.
I experienced a range of emotions in such a short period of time.
It was just another, ordinary, Friday driving in New Jersey.
As a Midwest driver…I at least have come to see it as ‘ordinary’
People were honking.
Zig-zagging between one another.
Stand still traffic came out of nowhere.
And in response people began to create their own lanes.
As I said, it was Ordinary.
I was on my way to visit a dear friend of mine, Jaqui who is a pastor of a congregation in Northern Jersey.
Jacqui mentioned to me it had been a difficult few weeks. So, I thought it would be nice to spend time with one another, catch up and explore what was going on—Just like we did years ago when we first met in a colleague group.
So there I was getting ready to get off the parkway, feeling the anxiety that came with the past miles drift away, and the feelings of joy and excitement take over.
But, that’s when I saw them….a line of lawn signs creating a path, telling a story, to all who turned off on that exit…
“SAVE OUR CHURCH”
“LET US IN”
“DON’T DRINK THE KOOL-AID”
“MAKE US GREAT AGAIN”
“SAVE OUR FAITH”
“THIS IS NOT CHRISTIANITY”
With sadness and anger beginning to build up in my spirit…I also began to wonder what these signs were referring to: “What is going on?” “What are they addressing?” “Who are they speaking to?”
And as I got closer to Jacquis church, the presence of the signs grew even heavier, you could even begin to see where protestors once stood.
You could even begin to see a dividing line from where the signs ended, and the rainbow “pride flag” stood.
As I turned down the Church Driveway, Jacqui was standing outside of the Church waiting to greet me!
I got out of the car and immediately asked: “Jacqui, what is going on”.
She hugged me.
She took a deep breath.
And wished me a happy easter.
As we walked the property, she began to tell me that after a few months (weeks really) of being here, many people were angry about having a woman as a pastor, especially an openly gay woman.
“Everything that we do as a Church gets challenged, she said”. Yes, we have made some very hard decisions, and the pandemic hasn’t made life any easier, but, in the midst of it all, there’s this, I am seen as the problem.
My heart sank.
Since Christmas, she had been receiving threatening messages, and local papers and radio stations were airing all different sides of the story.
One of the articles headlining statement read: “Profoundly Disappointing Behavior allowed in the Church” another claimed: “Nobody can hate like Christians”
while another “Is this really following in the way of Jesus”.
Jacqui, I am so sorry I said!
I could feel that my sadness was now dancing with anger.
How are you holding up being surrounded by all of this? I asked.
I keep loving Jesus and I keep feeding the people she said. “there’s a lot of hunger?” Take a look around—the signs reflect it. I preach, I teach, we keep our ministries going, and I remember that God is here in the midst of all of this unrest. And that brings me rest.
SO, You’re tired, I asked?
It’s hard work she said. And we still have a long way to go.
Jacqui and I eventually got into her car so we could visit community members, and she could share with me some of the ministries that her faith community is taking on.
She shared about the hungering for food that is only minutes away from where she worships: so, we stopped, and offered the people a bite to eat.
She shared with me about the hungering for safety that rests only blocks away, and we offered resources on where one to go to rest their head in peace.
She shared with me about the yearning to be accepted that is sought right next door, and we offered prayer and a space to share in story.
With Each sight that we saw, each stop that we made we continued to dream and imagine what the Church, what the world could be…if we lived into who we are called to be…
We continued to talk about what it would mean if we truly practiced resurrection: If we truly showed that God’s presence is at work right here and right now!
And We grew in excitement recognizing what the world could look like, if the presence of God’s love, was clearly made known to all.
As we arrived back at the Church,
I could easily see how Jacqui manages to go on, when life around her, brings so much unrest.
She, and many who we visited that day, rely on one another. They rely on their faith. They rely on Love. They rely on GOD.
In the midst of what seemed so ordinary: a familiar neighborhood, a familiar drive.
In the midst of what seemed so ordinary: the unrest, the lack of unity, the uncertainty of what is in store for the Church….
In the midst of what seemed so ordinary: the extraordinary still occurred…our God was present.
It was a whirlwind.
The Disciples experienced a range of emotions in such a short period of time.
Over the past few weeks, we have heard in our Gospel lessons that the disciples have gathered with their teacher, gathered with Jesus, in breaking bread and drinking wine hearing that this would be his last meal with them, to denying him, watching him be arrested, and later die on the cross.
But, that wasn’t it, the emotional journey continues…
Mary, Mary and Joana arrive at the tomb to find it empty—they fear that their friend has been taken, and yet, they find that he is not gone, but he is back, that he is alive!
Locked in an upper room, in fear of what the day will hold, in fear of what tomorrow will bring, the disciples are greeted by Jesus. An energy rekindles in their souls, and yet, met many questions remain.
AND THAT wasn’t it
…Jesus appears again…as we heard last week, Thomas gets to feel the wounds of Jesus… he gets to see and feel what love is like after it has been challenged, beaten and worn, and realizes, that it still wins…it remains alive.
It has been a whirlwind…
If you have journeyed through the liturgies and stories over the past few weeks…you too have encountered an emotional whirlwind…grief, confusion, fear, exhaustion, and joy.
And yet…it’s not over.
Even though Easter Sunday feels like it was a while away, all of the easter egg candy has been eaten and we have returned back to our day to day lives…the story continues.
That is what we hear the disciples find out in today’s Gospel lesson…
After all of what the past few days had brought them…they go back to their day to day lives. They go back to what is familiar.
They go back to the ordinary after experiencing the extraordinary.
They go back to the boat to fish.
They go to gather food for breakfast!
And yet on this ordinary day (still filled with unrest, discomfort, fear, uncertainty, division and political and religious turmoil), the extraordinary appears. Jesus.
Even after all of what they had experienced, they still initially to struggle to see that God! God! Is in their midst. But, then they begin to speak to one another.
Jesus asks the disciples “Do you love me?”
And in response, they say, “yes, of course!”
And Jesus simply responds back. “Feed my sheep”.
But, it doesn’t end there.
Two more times, Jesus asks “Do you love me?” (stirring their souls—as I am sure they remember that not long ago…they were asked if they knew who Jesus was…and yet, he was denied three times”.
Tend to my lambs! Feed my sheep! Jesus repeated.
Jesus says to the disciples:
If you truly love me, and you want to follow me, love one another!
Jesus says to the people:
If you truly love me, and you want to follow me, take care of one another!
Jesus says to us, his disciples, If you truly love me, let there be no war no more…tend to my sheep in the Ukraine!
Jesus says to us, If you truly love me, let there be no more divisions….feed our society with unity feed our world with the power of reconciliation!
Oh, St. Paul’s our world is hungry!
And Jesus says, if you truly love me, let every child of God, know that they are loved…tend to your neighbors!
JESUS SAYS: If you truly love me, and you want to follow God… nourish one another with peace….nourish one another with hope, nourish one another with justice…nourish one another with God’s LOVING, LIBERATING & LIFE-GIVING SPIRIT.
Tend to the lambs! Feed the sheep! Love God! Love Your Neighbor! Follow Jesus!
We might not be in a boat, or gathering on the shore for breakfast…but, here we are on East Broad Street.
Here we are in our routine, here we are in our ordinary lives (as complicated and uncomfortable as ordinary might be)…but, the extraordinary is taking place…
St. Paul’s we are about to share a holy meal, we are going to have “breakfast on the shore” together
And witness that Love is here. Hope is alive. And Justice is at work.
We will continue to pray, and sing together…recognizing that the extraordinary, what seems impossible, is indeed possible, God is here in this world.
So, St. Paul’s—Do you love Jesus?
Offer your answer with confidence.
St. Paul’s Do you love GOD?
Then let’s go tend to and feed this world! Amen.