“Caught in the Story, Cut to the Heart”

Acts 2:36-41

This morning we will continue our sermon series on the book of Acts, “Acts: Stories, Scenes, and Spirit.” We are still in the opening scenes of this story. The stage was set with a church that was waiting, a church that was told to go witness, a church that wanted to speak, but needed to wait for the right Word.

Last week, the main character of our story, the Spirit, stormed on stage in dramatic fashion. With wind and fire, the Spirit came upon the waiting church, filled them, touched their tongues and gave them a Word. In fact the Spirit gave them several words, several words spoken in several different languages. The Spirit came with a word and translated the Script so that no one needed to watch this story in subtitles, everyone was able to hear the word in their own language.

With the wind, the fire, and the languages, the director has done a brilliant job in capturing the audience. The crowd is all eyes and ears, they want to see what will happen next; they are waiting to hear the next line.

And as they watch and listen, the Spirit moves a supporting actor, Peter, into the Spotlight to deliver the opening speech. Standing with the other apostles, Peter steps into this role and speaks up:

“My Fellow Jews and All who live in Jerusalem, let me tell you the back-story here, listen carefully to what I am about to say.”

Peter jumps into Israel’s prophetic tradition and starts his speech by quoting the book of Joel. He quotes Joel’s prophecies of the Last Day and new visions, of signs and smoke and blood, of Spirit poured out and salvation come. Peter’s quotes Joel because he wants the people, his fellow Jews, to know that this story is a part of their story. It is part of Israel’s story. It is the same story, but a new act is unfolding, a new chapter is being written.  

This new chapter begins with Jesus, the man who was crucified, the human being whom God raised from the Dead. Peter wants the people to know that God has cast this poor and rejected Jesus in the Royal Line of David. But God has set the suffering servant Jesus apart from all the other prophets and kings of the past, God has raised up this crucified Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and the Lord of the Nations.

Peter wants his fellow Jews to know that God is being faithful to their story, but this is a new chapter, a new direction, a new witness of faithfulness.

And so he ends his speech with this line:

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

The new chapter the Spirit is writing is part of Israel’s story and history, but it is also a part of another, larger story: the story of Empire. This story has always been in the backdrop of human history, it is a story where violence is real and death has the final word. Peter’s speech reminds the people that the new act of the Spirit is unfolding in the context of imperial occupation, and the new chapter begins with a crucifixion.

And Peter wants to remind the people that just as they are a part of Israel’s story of God’s salvation, they are also just as much a part of this story of empire and violence and death.

Harsh and unequivocal, Peter looks at the crowd and says:

“This Jesus, is the one whom you crucified.”

You played a part in this story and there is blood on your hands.

Now as a Christian audience and Christian interpreters we must tread in these waters of accusation very carefully. Bad interpretation of Bible verses such as these have given rise to the trope of Jews as Christ killers, they have infected our theology with anti-Semitism and produced the ugly fruit of ethnic discrimination and Holocaust. Such an anti-Jewish interpretation of Peter’s accusation must be flatly rejected.

We must remember that Peter is also a part of each of these stories, as a Jew he is part of and grateful for Israel’s story. Peter is also the character who, in the story of Empire, spoke up in order to deny knowing Jesus, a character who silently watched him die. There is blood on Peter’s hands as he delivers this speech.

It is a speech that reminds the people that there is collective guilt and collective responsibility when you are caught in the story of Empire. While only a few characters actually drive the engine of empire, all the other actors have collaborated with empire, have consigned themselves to empire, have tolerated empire, or have actively resisted empire…but their resistance has failed. There is blood on everyone’s hands.

And Peter wants the people to know that this new act, this new chapter, it will not be written with bloody hands.

This is a heavyweight speech and Peter has come on stage swinging. His words have caught the people in each story and they are cut to the heart. Luke tells us:

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers & Sisters, what shall we do?”

What shall we do?

How can we get this blood of our hands? How can we be a part of the new act, the new chapter, the new direction, the new way?

What shall we do?

The people ask the question and as it hangs in the air, the rest of the story seems to hang in the balance.

We wonder what will happen next? Will the storyteller’s next chapter follow the plot line of mass-incarceration or radical liberation? Will the people who share in the collective responsibility of crucifixion now all share in the death penalty?

The director’s next instruction will now determine if the next act will be a tragedy, a comedy, or a horror story. And as the Spirit moves, Peter gives the people the next stage direction:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Repent. Peter is speaking in the active, plural, imperative. It is a command: All of you people must repent.

All of you must change your life and your lifestyle, change your attitudes and actions; turn away from empire and turn towards the way of Jesus!

Repent. It is a command but it is also an invitation. For repentance serves as the people’s entry point into this new act. Repentance allows them to begin writing a new chapter. Repentance gives them the opportunity to step into the new direction.

In fact such a radical change of heart and mind may just leave one or two of them dunked into the new direction, sprinkled into the new scene, or immersed into the new act.

Peter is now speaking of baptism. And he is ecstatic to let the people know that as they are baptized into the life and the death of Jesus Christ, as they receive the waters of God’s grace, the blood on their hands will be washed away! The charges against them will be dropped, the guilty verdict reversed, the record expunged!

Neither story, the story of Israel, nor the story of Empire is able to make much sense of the new direction the director is taking the story. They want justice not grace. They want guilt to be punished and not forgiven. They want mandatory minimums not prison abolition!

The author is writing a new chapter with a word of scandalous grace, but the story of Israel and the story of Empire will remain very much a part of the larger narrative. And so Peter finishes his speech with a warning:

“With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Be Saved from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

Peter warns that even when the people have been invited into a new chapter, abuse, violence, and death will not go away. Even when they have been baptized into a new community, they will still live in a corrupt society. And while people may repent, recidivism is all too real; it is easy to revert back to old habits and familiar plot lines.

The story of Israel and the story of empire continue to be written today, they are two stories out of the many stories that are being written in the backdrop of a culturally diverse world and an ever-expanding cosmos.

These are stories that have extended into the present moment, stories that we are caught in, stories we cannot escape.

As Christians we have grafted into the story of Israel, we have been adopted by their patriarchs, matriarchs, and prophets. We have inherited their Scripture and added our new chapter onto it. We cannot write Israel out of their own story with the bad theology of supersessionism.

For us, the story of Israel is the story of our ethnic and cultural heritage, it is the story of our ancestors and family history, it is the story of where we came from, how we have tried to be faithful, and what we are comfortable with.

We each have our own versions of this back-story, and as Peter preaches to the crowds, we need to hear Peter preaching to us. We need to hear Peter tell us that a new act is about to unfold and a new chapter is about to be written in our old and familiar stories.

We have also inherited the story of Empire, and violence, and death. So when Peter speaks of the collective guilt and responsibility that accompanies the story of Empire, we find ourselves guilty and responsible.

When Peter speaks of Jesus, he speaks of  “Jesus, whom we have crucified;” Jesus whom we have forgotten when the homeless are forgotten; Jesus whom we have rejected, when the refugee, asylum seeker, and undocumented immigrant are rejected; Jesus whom we kill softly, when we ignore our neighbor, our classmates, or anyone else who we see in need.

There is blood on our land, there is blood on our money, there is blood on our hands.

Caught in the stories of heritage and empire, with blood on our hands, we step on stage and say our line: “What shall we do?”

It is a line that we need to keep on saying, a line that is repeated in our lives over and over again: “What shall we do? What shall we do? What shall we do?”

We want to be part of the story, we want to have a role in the new chapter, we want to step in the new direction, we want to move in step with the Spirit.

And as we wonder what shall we do, we gather as a community each week. We gather as Loop Church and we pray ‘come Holy Spirit come’ and cry out ‘Lord have mercy on us.’ We gather each week because we know that repentance is not a one-person play or a one-act production. We know that living with changed hearts and changed lives requires a village and takes place over a lifetime.

We gather each week and we remember our baptism, we remember that the blood has been washed from our hands and we have been called into new life. We gather and we remember that we have been called into new community, called into misisonal communities, called into different neighborhoods where we practice daily dying and rising with Christ.

As we struggle to make sense of the stories of heritage and empire, we gather each week to be reminded that within each of these stories a new act is still unfolding, a new chapter is still being written, and the spirit is still at work directing, helping us find our place on stage.  

Caught in the story of heritage and empire, we come to church each week cut to the heart, so we must keep our eyes on Jesus. And with our eyes fixed on Jesus we step out of our sanctuary each week and we step into the city, stepping into the new chapter, stepping in a new direction, stepping into a new witness of faithfulness. Amen.

A sermon delivered on Sunday, June 16, 2019 by Derek Elmi-Buursma


“The Spirit Translates the Script”

Acts 2:1-13

We have arrived at Act 2: Scene 1 of our story, and the curtains are drawn back to reveal a room full of Galilean peasants scattered throughout a house in the big city of Jerusalem. Luke tells us that they, the women and men who followed Jesus, they were all together in one place.

On the stage, you see Peter pacing the floor of the living room anxiously, his hands fidgeting as he wonders what the apostles should be doing.

Matthew, the former tax Collector, is at a desk going over the group’s finances, calculating how many more days of rent will their dwindling funds cover.

Then there was James, the brother of John, who was sprawled out on the sofa, holding up a copy of the Jerusalem Gazette, busy with the crossword.

The rest of the Apostles were taking their turn in the prayer room while Mary and the other women disciples were preparing a meal to celebrate Shavuot, the Jewish harvest holiday.

It was Pentecost, 50 days since Passover, and Jerusalem was bustling with Jewish pilgrims from all over the Diaspora. As pilgrims hurried to the Temple to worship and give their first fruits offering, the disciples of Jesus stay in the house waiting.

Waiting and wondering. Waiting and praying. Waiting and maybe even playing the crossword.

The disciples are waiting because Jesus told them to wait. Jesus their friend, Jesus the resurrected Lord, gave them this instruction before ascending into heaven.  Jesus told the disciple to return to Jerusalem, to wait for the Holy Spirit and when the Spirit came, they would receive power, and they would become Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth.

The instructions are clear, but the waiting is hard. The waiting gives rise to all sorts of questions, doubts, and wonderings. Even we, the audience, begin to wonder how God’s plan will be put into action.  We look at the stage and we see this rag-tag group of Galileans, former fisher folk and farmers, and we wonder how they are going to live out Jesus’ instructions?

How will the Spirit of God empower these seemingly powerless disciples? How will the Spirit of God make articulate these inarticulate disciples into persuasive witnesses? How will the Spirit of God move these unworldly disciples who have never left the confines of Judea, to the ends of the earth?

These questions, questions of power, questions of mission, questions of scope seem to face any fledgling community, group, institution, or agency. In fact we have heard these questions asked and watched this scene play out in the creation of our own church denomination and our own church community.

We have watched a group of rag-tag Dutch Reformed immigrants, former farmers, maids, and ministers, settle in cities across America and Canada wondering how God was going to act in their new communities. Wondering if their missions could go to the ends of the earth? We have seen them ask these questions and disagree on the answers.

Next week we will see a group of denominational delegates from the CRC descend on Grand Rapids Michigan for the General Synod, and we wonder who will receive power to make decisions? Whose voice, testimony, and witness will be heard?

These questions become even more personal and relevant as our own church packs up and moves down the road to 410 S. Michigan. As we pack up a piano and nursery toys we wonder how long we will wait until we find a permanent church home?

As we ponder these questions, we bring our eyes back to the stage, back to the disciples who are waiting, playing, cooking, and praying. It is now Act 2: Scene 2 and the Holy Spirit of God is about to enter the scene stage left.

We hear the Spirit before seeing it. The gentle Jerusalem breeze turns into a violent gale that whistles through the open windows and howls through the hallways. Luke tells us that the Spirit filled the whole house, there was no escaping it. The disciple could feel the Spirit moving all around them, pressing up on them, threatening to blow them over.

Like a crack of lighting, fire flashed before their eyes and filled the room. The heat was oppressive. The fire dispersed to form a flickering flame above each disciple’s head. And as the flame came to rest like a tongue above them, beads of perspiration dripped down their necks and the Spirit blew all around them.

The Spirit entered their bodies, moved around in their mouths, and caressed their tongues.  It was intimate and intrusive.[1] Mary, the mother of Jesus, remembered the feeling all too well. She remembered how the Spirit moved and came upon her, how it touched her womb and a child was conceived.  

On stage we see the same interrupting, uncontrollable Spirit at work in the world once again. It is conceiving a new community, birthing another unexpected child, breaking the insular community of disciples open, and pushing the church into existence, pushing the church into relationship with the world.[2]

We watch as the Holy Spirit touches the lips of each disciple and gives to each the gift of tongues. We hear the newborn church cry out in a cacophony of languages. We hear a Word of Life that is not monolingual, but multilingual, speech that not marked by uniformity, but spoken in plurality. We hear Martha speaking Farsi, Bartholomew proclaiming in Amharic, Philip giving utterances in Arabic.

The syllables are constructed awkwardly in the disciples’ mouths; the words were unfamiliar and sounded strange… This is not the gift the disciples expected, this is not the power they prayed for.

Act 2, Scene 3. A crowd of Jewish Pilgrims from every nation has gathered outside the house of where the disciples were staying. It is a colorful crowd of Persians, Asians, Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. They have come to investigate what all the racket was, how a single house could produce the sound of a hurricane.

As the crowd gathers a chorus of different languages and dialects drift through the windows down to the street. They stand still and listen, they recognize words and phrases, smiles spread across their faces as they hear their own native language being spoken in the Holy city…

As an audience, we are left to wonder what was said. The playwright does not tell us what words were spoken on the stage. But it does not matter, what matters is that the message met each person in the crowd where they were at, the message came to them in their own language, even though it was spoken with a rather funny Galilean accent.  

We watch this scene play out and we recognize the power language possesses to create, to evoke, and to connect.[3] We watch as the Holy Spirit moves in the world with a power that does not annihilate difference but uses multiple languages to bridges the gap of difference.

We begin to understand the kind of power the disciples receive in the gift of tongues, it is an evangelistic power that does not demand assimilation, but recognizes, respects and embraces difference.

Hearing their own languages, the crowds are amazed, perplexed, and awe-struck. Stunned, they asks: “How can this be? What does this mean?”

As an audience we too are amazed and a bit perplexed. As the curtains close, we are left scratching our heads, wondering what just happened. What does this mean for us? What does the story of Pentecost have to do the Christian Reformed Church, with Synod, with Loop?

At Pentecost we watch a church being born by a Spirit that breaks them open, and we wonder what this means for a denomination that was born by being closed? What does this story mean for a group of Dutch Reformed immigrants who settled in cities across the US, and stuck together. Who were tied together with the threads of a shared language, a common culture, and a particular theology.

What doe this story mean for a community conceived in self-reliance and insularity. A community that survived, grew, and flourished according to the law and logic of tribalism. A community that constructed invisible borders around their neighborhoods and institutions, who denied black children entry into their school, who fled to the suburbs for fear of integration.

How could this be? What does this mean?

At Pentecost we watch the Spirit move in the celebration of different languages, different cultures, different peoples, and we wonder that this means for a denomination tangled up in a history of settler colonialism, cultural genocide, forced assimilation?

A denomination that established the Board of Heathen Missions in 1888, that sent missionaries to Navajo and Zuni territory in 1896, and established Rehoboth Christian School in 1903.[4]

A denomination whose missionaries took indigenous children away from their families and forced them to live in Rehoboth. Who thought they were doing God’s will by cutting the long black beautiful hair of these children, by throwing out their native clothes, and by replacing their Navajo names with Christian, English, names that were easier to pronounce.

How could this be? What does this mean?

It is with horror that we begin to realize how our church has actively participated in the undoing of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit’s gift of tongues. We struggle to come to terms with the fact that we are inheritors of this tradition. We struggle to admit that we have inherited both the privilege and the trauma that comes with colonialism. We struggle to understand our inherited responsibility to respond.

How could this be? What does this mean?

At Pentecost we watch the Holy Spirit transform tongues, connect diverse people, and form new community, so we wonder what this means for our Synodical gathering. Will people of color, will women, will queer Christians gather and hear their languages spoken and their concerns voiced? Will they be given the platform to speak?

At Pentecost we watch the Holy Spirit gives birth to a church on the move, and so we wonder what this means for us as a church on the move. Next week we will move to a new location and we can’t help but wonder if the Spirit will blow and howl through Curtis Hall when we are all gathered there.

And although we are a pretty rag-tag bunch, although many of us have inherited Tongues that carried a distorted message, we are hopeful that the Spirit that present at Pentecost may come upon us still.

It is with hope of Pentecost that we will gather at Curtis Hall next week; gathering, waiting, and praying that the Spirit may touch our tongues and we will say sorry for historical traumas of the past and lament the injustices of the present.

With hope, we will continue to gather, wait, worship and pray that the Spirit may touch our hands and we will give back what was stolen and loosen our grip on the privileges we inherited.  

With hope, we will continue to gather, wait, worship and pray that the spirit might touch our feet and we will step into the world gently, we will step into new relationships humbly, seeking to do no harm as we witnesses to Jesus Christ in Chicago, in the US, and maybe even the ends of the earth.

As a church we will continue to gather, waiting, hoping, and praying. Praying, come Holy Spirit come, blow Holy Spirit blow, burn Holy Spirit burn! Move among us today. Amen.

[1] Willie James Jennings, Belief: A Theological Commentary, “Acts,” 28.

[2] Jennings, “Acts,” 28.

[3] Jennings, “Acts,” 28.

[4] CRCNA Doctrine of Discovery Task Force, “Creating a New Family: A Circle of Conversation on the Doctrine of Christian Discovery,” 30. https://www.crcna.org/sites/default/files/doctrine_of_discovery.pdf

A sermon preached on Sunday, June 9, 2019 by Derek Elmi-Buursma

“The Stage is Set”

Acts 1:1-12a

We are beginning a new sermon series this morning, on the book of Acts. The title of this new series is “Acts: Stories, Scenes, and Spirit.” This series follows right on the heels of our previous series that took us through the Gospel of Luke, which makes some sense because each book is thought to have been written by the same author.

Now, we do not know much about this author, church tradition names him as Luke the physician, but we have no real evidence that his name was Luke or that he was trained as a doctor. The basics scholars seem to agree on is that he was a Greek, not a Roman, not a Jew. Scholars debate if he was a Greek who had converted to Judaism before joining the Jesus movement, or if he was introduced to Judaism through the Jesus Community. Either way the author does seem familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and stresses the importance of Judaism to this emerging movement.

Although we do not know the name of this author, we do know who he was writing to. Both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are addressed to Theophilus. The name theo philos, Lover or Friend of God, could be a general pseudonym for anyone who loves God. But more likely, Theophilus was a real person, a wealthy Greek patron who sponsored Luke’s writing to confirm the veracity of the Christian faith.[1] 

We can suppose the author wasn’t just writing for Theophilus alone, but for the entire emerging community of Jesus followers called church. Perhaps the author thought these writings could unite these disparate faith communities and encourage the “fragile faith of new believers.”[2]

The book serves as a sort of historiography that traces the development of this newly forming church community; a community grappling with its Jewish identity, Roman Imperialism, and the inclusion of Pagans and Gentiles. Acts follows the geographic and chronological spread of Christianity from the Holy city of Jerusalem to the Imperial city of Rome, giving theological and ecclesial significance to the people, places, and events, described along the way.

So we read acts not so much as an objective reporting of what happened, not as a history book, but as a story that truly reveals who God is, how God is at work in the world, and what it means to be called into the church community.

And as we spend the summer reading through this Book of the Bible, we do so knowing that Acts is an unfinished story. It is a story that does not just begin in Jerusalem and end in Rome, but continues to unfold in cities across the world from Chicago to Chiang Mai. It is a story that we cannot simply read, but a story that we are invited to live out; a story that we may just find our place in.

Acts 1:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying[a] with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem

The story of Acts is a story that begins with a God who acts and a God who speaks.

It is a story about a God who acts and speaks in the world and in human history.  A God whose actions and words can be seen and heard clearly, distinctively, and intimately in the human being, Jesus of Nazareth.

Luke reminds Theophilus that if he ever has a question about who God is or how God works, just reference the first book, the Gospel, in which Luke wrote about all the thing Jesus did and taught about during his life on earth.

This is a story about a God who acts, who speaks, and who also suffers.

A God whose decision to come to earth in the flesh of an oppressed Jew named Jesus, led to a life of suffering, of poverty, hunger, and rejection. And Jesus’s radical obedience to God led to more suffering. As Jesus acted and spoke with a preferential option for the poor and for the sinner, as Jesus acted and spoke with prophetic critique of the rich and religious, the powers that be in this world, arrested him, beat him, and hung him on a tree. This was suffering that led to death…

This is a story about a God who acts, who speaks, and who suffers, but who could not be contained by the cross or the grave.

This is a story about a God who will not let death, nor sin, nor separation have the final word.

This story, the story of Acts, the Story of the church, is set in the new reality of resurrection.

Now, how does this speaking, acting, living, dying, rising God work in the world?

The story of Acts starts with the resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ, coming back to the earth. The Lord of Glory returning to the dust, dirt, and grime of the earth; coming back to the world that sentenced him to death. Coming back not as a ghost, or memory, or dream, but coming back in flesh and in blood, with flesh that still bore wounds, flesh that could be touched and embraced.[3]

Luke tells us that Jesus walked the earth like this for forty days. Spending forty days intimately close to disciples who were fearful, hopeful, guilty, and joyful.  Forty days willing to touch and be touched.[4] And it was through touch, touch that was compassionate and healing, touch that was not abusive or domineering that Jesus is teaching these disciples about God’s Kingdom.

There is something vital about this Kingdom, and the way God is working in the world to bring peace and salvation. The kingdom is something Jesus just can’t seem to stop talking about it. Jesus begins his ministry talking about this kingdom, he endures the passion talking about this kingdom, and he comes back from the dead still talking about this kingdom.

And with all this talk of the kingdom the disciples are eager to know if it is now coming?! Now that Jesus has been raised from the dead, now that we have entered into the new reality of resurrection, will the kingdom of Israel now be restored?

The disciples are eager to know if the time is now, because things haven’t seem to change…Jesus was raised from the dead, but the land was still occupied, people were still being oppressed, still going hungry, still being separated from their families. The disciples want to know if the kingdom is now coming because the fact of resurrection has not seemed to change the fact that they were still vulnerable…[5]

And these vulnerable disciples are eager for a regime change. They want to know if the resurrection of Jesus might lead to the resurrection of their Nation state.[6] They are eager to see the resurrected Lord make the Kingdom of Israel great again. Is this now the time?

At this point in the story, the point of the disciples question, we get our first glimpse of what the church looks like.

It is a scary moment for us as an audience; it makes us uncomfortable because we begin to see some dissonance and tension develop in the story. Jesus has ushered in a new reality of resurrection, a kingdom that brings peace through the care of the poor, but the disciples who will make up the church still seem stuck in the old reality of empire, eager to experience a pax Israel throughaccumulation, militarization, and assimilation.

This is scary for us, because we know that these disciples who will make up the church have heard all the teachings of Jesus. They have taken the courses, they have the degrees…and they still don’t get it.

They see the Gospel of Jesus through the malformed lens of Nationalism, Militarism, and Greed, and are eager to rule over a new Empire.

As an audience we wonder if it is this distorted worldview that gave rise to the malformed moral imagination of a church that translates God’s Kingdom into crusading, civilizing missions, slave trading, colonizing exterminating, segregating, and incarcerating? A church of domination.

As an audience we wonder if it is this distorted worldview that produced a diseased Christian imagination[7] infected by racism in which the church defines itself as white and western and normal. A church that objectifies and names everyone else as black, colored, undocumented, queer. A church of excommunication or assimilation.  

The disciples question about the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel is scary for us, because it unveils the desire in ourselves to reject God’s Kingdom and cling to and desperately hold on to the Kingdom of Rome, the Kingdom of Israel, the Kingdom of America.

It is as we see this church with the malformed identity and distorted worldview, that we hear Jesus offer the first instruction of the story: do nothing, don’t not act, wait. Jesus says, don’t go to the ends of the earth just yet, go back to Jerusalem. Don’t start witnessing yet, stays indoors, wait, pray.

And while an instruction to wait and pray is not-satisfactory in this activist age, while the instruction to wait and pray seems unfaithful while we live in the world that is broken and hurting, perhaps Jesus knows that until our diseased imaginations are healed, it will be better for the world if we wait before we act and listen before we speak. 

The story of Acts begins with a church that is waiting. It is a story about a church that does not lack knowledge, does not lack the stories of Jesus, but lacks the will to speak and act like Jesus. It is a story that begins with a church that lacks Spirit, a church that for all intents and purposes is dead.

And yet it is precisely this malformed, spiritless, dead church that God is about to bring center-stage. It is this broken church, with broken people that God wants to give a starring role in the world.

The story of Acts is about a God, who like Beyonce, is calling this church to formation, by calling people to re-formation through the Holy Spirit. It is a story that begins with a God who calls people as they are, but who will not leave them as they are. It is a story about a God who promises to transform, empower, equip and bring to life a church through the Holy Spirit.

So we wait. The stage has been set, and we wait. We wait knowing that if the Holy Spirit does not show up, the show will not go on.

A sermon delivered on Sunday, June 2, 2019 by Derek Elmi-Buursma

[1] Robert Walls, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, 8.

[2] Robert Walls, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, 9.

[3] Willie James Jennings, Acts a Theological Commentary, 15.

[4] Willie James Jennings, Acts a Theological Commentary, 15.

[5] Willie James Jennings, Acts a Theological Commentary, 17.

[6] Willie James Jennings, Acts a Theological Commentary, 17.

[7] Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination.

“To a Church Called by God”

I Cor. 1:26-31

Last week, we ended our sermon series on the Gospel of Luke and we jumped into a new book, I Corinthians. This book is a letter that the Apostle Paul writes to the newly formed Christian community in the city of Corinth.

Last week we learned how this community found themselves at a crossroads, trying to figure out what this new church should look like: who should be in charge, what were the goals, how could they live in community with one another.

And to this church at the crossroads, Paul gives his own testimony, how he met Jesus at the crossroads and was called into new life; a life receiving beatings and giving blessings, becoming homeless and remaining hopeful, exposed to suffering and experiencing salvation. 

Last week we pondered what this meant for our church, as we arrive at our own crossroads of moving from this space at 11 E Adams to a new space down the street at 410 S Michigan. And so today, staying in the book of I Corinthians, we will continue to reflect on this crossroads experience and how God is calling you and calling us, Loop Church, to participate in the new thing God is doing in the world.

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I Cor. 1:26-31

Our Scripture this morning opens with an instruction: “Consider your own call, sisters and brothers.” Consider your own call….

Now whenever I hear the language of calling, my mind’s eye always takes me back to the out-dated classrooms of Hiemenga Hall and the grassy knoll of Commons Lawn. When I consider my own call, I consider my time at Calvin College.

For five years I studied at Calvin College, and for five years I was made to think about, talk about, and write about my calling and vocation. For many of us, College serves as the crossroads between adolescence and adulthood; it is a place and time where we step out of what is familiar and step into a world of new ideas, new experiences, and new relationships. 

I began my time at Calvin as a rather bland Business major, but after taking a few classes and meeting some new people it became clear that God was calling me to think about Business in a new way. God was calling me to study international development and discover how business could be transformed from a mechanism of exploitation into a means of poverty alleviation. It was a call to discover not only the issues, but also the assets of economically impoverished communities, and to invest in the people who were often overlooked.

As I studied abroad in places like Indonesia and Honduras, it become clear that this is where God wanted me, where God could use me, where God was calling me. But as I spent more time in developing countries and communities, the size and severity of the issues also became clearer. Confronted with global economic systems dominated by Multi-National Corporations and long histories of racism and colonialism, it became clear how small, how powerless, and how ineffective I truly was…

Yes, I was called, but I was also overwhelmed…

What really was God calling me to do? How was I suppose to respond to this call? What was God up too? How could I be faithful?

I am guessing that these questions may have been on the minds of a few people in the newly formed church in Corinth. I am guessing that some of them also felt overwhelmed, as their small community came together, called by God to participate in the new thing God was doing in Corinth and in the world.

You see Corinth was a newly acquired colony of the Roman Empire. As a strategic port city it quickly developed into a provincial capital and economic hub. The city reflected much of the Greco-Roman world: Corinthian society was organized into a steep social pyramid with a few rich and powerful patrons at the top and whole lot of poor people down below. The society functioned according to the idea of honor and shame, honoring the head of the household and the wealthy patrons.

Corinth was a city on the rise, a success story of roman imperial policy and economic development. And as the newly formed church appeared ready to ride this wave of success with the city, Paul gives this instruction: Consider your own call sisters and brothers; consider your own call.

Now there are two things Paul wants the people to consider: How they were called, and too what they were called.

Paul reminds the Church how God called them while they were at the bottom of Corinth’s steep social pyramid. It didn’t matter that most of them were not wise, or powerful, or upper-class; God chose them anyway. Yes, there were a few wealthy patrons in the church, but they were not called before or called to be above the rest of the below-average people that made up the majority of the church.

In fact, Paul suggests that God had a preferential option for these Corinthians because of their poverty, lowliness, and ignorance. It was precisely because of their foolishness, weakness, and worthlessness that they were qualified and chosen for the task God was calling them too!

God had called this ragtag and shameful bunch at the bottom to shame and bring low those at the top. God chose the church in a state of humiliation, in order to humble the proud and powerful.

This idea of the how and what of God’s call was of so important to Paul that he repeats the point three times:

“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is considered junk the world, things that are nothing, to reduce to nothing the things that are.”

And while this strategy of picking the worst player, betting on the wrong horse, and buying up junk seems doomed to fail, God has been at work in the world like this since the beginning.

When God bet that he could produce more progeny than the stars in the sky, he chose an elderly, barren woman named Sarah. When God was faced with a sword-wielding Philistine giant, he chose the smallest, the youngest, and the skinniest Shepherd Boy named David to do battle. And when God wanted to bring a kingdom of peace to a violent world, he chose an oppressed Jewish Palestinian from Galilee named Jesus.

And while it seemed as if all the work God was doing was going to culminate and come to an end in the life and death of Jesus, the cross and the empty tomb signaled a new beginning in God’s salvation story. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus opened up a new chapter in which God was forming a people to become the body of Christ on earth; a people called to continue the work of proclaiming good news to the poor and release to the captives. God was reshaping history and bringing the Kingdom by choosing the last, the least, and the lost of every nation to come and join the covenantal caravan called church.  

Consider your own call…

Paul reminds the Corinthians that God chose them to join this community called church. In Corinth, God chose a few who were rich and wise and God chose the many who were poor and marginal to join the covenantal caravan that God was using to shame the political pundits, shame the military, and bring to nothing the border walls of separation and hate built by the empire’s of the world.

And while this call was overwhelming and the caravan appeared doomed to fail, Paul reminds the Corinthians who was up-front leading the caravan: that Jesus Christ was the source of it all. All we got to do is follow, because Jesus has already done all the heavy lifting. Jesus has already become for us and for the world wisdom, righteous, sanctification and redemption sent from God.

So don’t worry, if you are not so wise, if you don’t fully understand all the Christian doctrines, it is Christ who will bring you into right relationship with God. Don’t worry if you are not so powerful, if you don’t feel pious or holy, it is Christ who makes us holy an acceptable to serve God. Do not worry if you are not upper class or influential, Christ has set you free to be who you are, free to love God, love neighbor, and love yourself, where you are at. 

Consider your own call…

Paul’s letter reminds those of us gathered here today, that we have not just been called to a certain degree program, vocation, or career path. But God has called us to join this covenantal caravan and be in Jesus Christ.  It is a call that goes to those exceptional Calvin College grads and a call that goes out to the college drop out. It is a call that does not depend on your GPA, the strength of your resume, or the number of connections you have on LinkedIn.

In fact, often the call is clearest when we are at our lowest. It is when we are overcome by addiction, ostracized by incarceration, and overwhelmed by depression; it is when we realize we cannot do it on our own that we hear Jesus calling… come to me, my yolk is easy and my burden light.

Consider your own call…

Paul instructs us as a church to consider how God is calling us. Consider how our church, Loop Church, was called out of the legacy of the Helping Hand Mission, to be a community of respite for the poor and hard-pressed in the city. Consider how this church was called within the Christian Reformed Denomination, to be a faithful witness of inclusive community, a congregation where women could preach in the pulpit, and those unfamiliar with Christianity could still play in the Band.

Consider how, despite our small size, despite our limited resources, God keeps calling us again and again…moving 11 times in 32 years…

And as we move, consider again what God is calling us too! Consider the work of shaming the wise and powerful that God is calling the foolish and the weak to do. Consider how this happens in Chicago, how the shooting of Laquan McDonald and its cover-up led to the shaming of a mayor who did not run for re-election and police force that was called to reform. And while this work of shaming is overwhelming, while income inequality grows, while violence fester, and we feel inadequate and under-resourced, we must consider who has called us. That we have not been called to do this work on our own, but trust in the promise that God will work through us.

As we consider our call, we must recognize how it is God who is at work in our community and our city. And as God calls and chooses and uses the foolish and the weak to keep accountable the wise and the strong, we will boast in the Lord. As we see this happen in our city and our community we will be have good news to report out at Synod, good news to share with the Banner, good news to tell friends and strangers.

So consider your own call, sisters and brothers, and let us faithful follow where we are being called. Amen.

A sermon delivered on Sunday, May 26, 2019 by Derek Elmi-Buursma

“To a Church at tha Crossroads”

I Corinthians 4:8-13

A sermon delivered on Sunday, May 21, 2019 by Derek Elmi-Buursma

The hip-hop group Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony had its beginnings in 1991, when four aspiring artists in Cleveland formed the group the Band-Aid Boys. Two years later, the group recorded their first album in a family member’s studio and changed their name to Bone Enterprise. With one album under their belt, the group sought out a record deal, got an over-the-phone audition with Eazy-E, who liked what he heard and said he would call them back. Weeks went by but there was no word from their potential producer.

While they waited for their call, life in Cleveland remained difficult; life decisions were being dictated by poverty, close friends were dying, and a crewmember was facing charges. And although they knew the cards were stacked against them as young black men in America, they believed that they were one call away from a new life, that they were just one encounter away from escaping the hateful world they were living in. Caught between the realities of death and the possibility of success, the group found themselves at the crossroads.

Our Scripture today comes from a letter the Apostle Paul writes to the church at Corinth, a church at the crossroads. Planted in the cosmopolitan port city of Corinth, the church was caught between the power, prestige, and prosperity of the Roman Empire and the debasement, degradation, and destitution of oppressed peoples. The church was planted in city where there was a different shrine or temple at every corner. The church at Corinth was trying to discern who they were, whose they were, and where they were going. They were a church at the crossroads

We learn in Acts that Paul was one of the main “producers” of the Corinthian church. He spent more than a year in the city, preaching in the synagogue and the city square. He preached the good news that God’s kingdom had come in Jesus Christ. And while this preaching led to him being opposed, slandered and taken to court, a few Corinthians wanted to be a part of the new thing God was doing and they were baptized.

It was the beginning of a vibrant and charismatic group of gentiles and Jews, women and men, poor and rich, slave and free people. And as the community grew in number and in diversity, they became poised for potential success or a divisive death. Indeed, this was a church at the crossroads.

So when Paul got word that the church at Corinth was tearing at the seams, divided over the issues of ecclesial authority, spiritual gifting, cultural practices, and economic disparities, he knew he needed to give them a call. He hit up his boy Sosthenese and began to dictate a letter to the Corinthians:

“Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes. To the church of God that is in Corinth…”

Paul goes on to praise the Corinthians for their riches in Christ, for their eloquence in speech, and ever-increasing knowledge. He gives thanks that they lack no spiritual gift. But by the time we get to our text today, Paul’s praise reaches the pinnacle of hyperbole. With searing sarcasm he says to the young and developing church:

“Already you have everything you could ever want! Already you have reached your goal! What do you need me for? Already you got more power than the president and more swag than celebrities! You are well on your way to becoming a mega-church, ready to televise your services, ready to build a bigger building, and buy the pastor a private jet!”

Paul entertains the Corinthian idea of success, briefly imagining how a private jet would make his speaking tour across the Mediterranean world so much easier, how he could attract bigger crowds if he wore a sharp suit, how such success could increase his influence…maybe even earn him an invitation to one of the Emperor’s prayer breakfasts… 

But alas, this was not the life God had called Paul to. As an Apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul was not called to be successful in the eyes of the world, but to be faithful in the eyes of God. And this God had a surprising, scandalous, and altogether foolish way of working in the world!

This was a God who chose to be revealed to the world in the flesh of an unexpected and embarrassing pregnancy, who was building a kingdom with uneducated fisher folk and despised tax collectors, and who was bringing redemption to the world through a Crucified Messiah.

To Paul, who was circumcised on the 8th day, a Hebrew born of Hebrews, a Pharisee of the law, the gospel good news that God was at work in the world through a Crucified Messiah was beyond oxymoronic, it was simply moronic! It was foolishness that bordered on blasphemy!

Trying to restore a proper understanding of God, Paul began to persecute the church until…he came to the crossroads, where he met the crucified Christ. And at the crossroads Jesus turned Paul’s life upside down, made him into a laughingstock, and left him in last place. Isn’t becoming a Christian great?

It was is this strange, upside down, and backwards way in which God was at work in the world that sets up the contrast between the life of Paul in Christ and the life and expectation of the Corinthian church.

While they are throwing lavish communion feasts and getting drunk; Paul is going hungry and thirsty.

While they are meeting in the homes of the rich and debating dress codes, Paul is homeless, dressed in rags.

While they want to be recognized for their wisdom and prudence, Paul is dismissed as a fool and lunatic.

And while Paul knows that hunger, homelessness and beatings are very much unappealing prospects to the church, he also knows that Jesus Christ has been present and active in the midst of his sufferings and hardships.  

That God has been at work in Paul, as the fool, teaching the world that a new way of living and being is possible. That violence can be resisted with non-violence that persecution can be endured, and hate can be overcome with blessings.

That God is at work is in the spectacle, the spectacle of the hunger strike or the sit-in, in the foolish actions that help us re-imagine more just policies and a more just society.  

And that God will be at work in the church, the church that is willing to become like dirty dishwater, so that the dishes of the world might become clean.

And despite all his previous sarcasm and irony, Paul seriously believes that this is what Christ is calling the church at the crossroads to be. To be the church that runs the race in last place, with the ones who are incarcerated and on death row. To be the foolish church that struggles to meet its own budget but wants to raise money for the stranger and refugee. To be the church that picks up a cross and follows Jesus in bringing the kingdom to the world among the least, the last, and the lost.  

At the crossroads, the community in Corinth is being called to be that church.

And it was in 1994 that the hip-hop community in Cleveland got news that Eazy-E he was on his way to the city for a concert. And the music group, Bone Enterprise, snuck backstage, encountered the music producer and auditioned on the spot. It was backstage that Eazy-E signed them, changed their name, to Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony, and set them on a trajectory towards success.

The group was producing great music and preparing for stardom when Eric Wright, Eazy-E, died from Aids. He died two months before their album was released and although the album found itself on the top of the charts, the group found themselves back at the crossroads, asking themselves and asking the world: watcha gonna do?

And this morning, we at Loop Church finds ourselves asking the same question. For we are a church at the crossroads, a church always on the move. We are a congregation welcoming new members and saying good-bye to old friends at the crossroads of their educational and vocational journeys.

Pastor Mark’s recent call to the church in Minnesota brought Loop to a crossroads. And now six-months after a transition in pastoral leadership, we find ourselves at the crossroads again, ready to move to a new worship space. And it is at the crossroads that we meet Jesus and hear the question: whatcha gonna do? 

Will this move just require us to update the website with a new address, or will this move help us to rediscover a foolish faith that believes a kingdom of justice and peace is about to break into reality?

Will this move give us new eyes to re-imagine the ways in which we come together as a Christian community on Sunday mornings and throughout the rest of the week?

Will this move give us new ears to hear the call to love God and love our neighbors in the city of Chicago?

What new ministries of love and compassion will Jesus call us too, as we meet Christ at tha crossroads?

Christ Concealed, Christ Revealed: Faith in God’s Reign”

Luke 24:13-33

A sermon delivered on Sunday, May 12, 2019 by Derek Elmi-Buursma

“When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’

Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.’”

Jesus moves throughout the Gospel of Luke from table to table. He moves eating and drinking, he moves filling and forgiving, he moves healing and revealing… at the table.

Jesus loved the dinner table because he loved hungry people. It really didn’t matter if you were rich or poor, saint or sinner, Jew, Samaritan, or Gentile; if you were hungry, Jesus would eat with you.

Because it was at the table, in the eating and in the drinking, in the filling up of empty stomachs and empty hearts, that God’s Kingdom was coming to earth. Thy kingdom come…one meal at a time.

It is at the dinner table, not the temple, not the sanctuary, not pilgrimage sites, but at the table that Jesus wanted to be remembered. Its while the pots and pans are clattering in the kitchen, while dishes are being passed, and table fellowship is being shared that Jesus wants to be remembered.

Do this, and remember me.

Yet, as much as we love a good banquet, we must admit there are times in our lives when we would rather stay in our rooms, than come down to the dinner table. There are times in our lives when food has lost its flavor and we have lost all appetite. Sometimes it is at the table that we feel most alone, when there is no one to eat with and we must pretend to check our cell phones in between bites. When it is a holiday like today and the whole family gathers to celebrate, but this is the first Mother’s Day since Mom has passed, and she is no longer able to sit with us at the table.

For the disciples, the full bellies they enjoyed with Jesus at the last supper quickly turned sour after the crucifixion. The life of their dear friend came to a violent end on the empire’s cross. Jesus’ vibrant ministry of peace and justice was now colorless under death’s shadow. Proclamation of God’s coming kingdom, was now overwhelmed by death’s all consuming silence.

So what do you do when the dream is lost? When all hope is gone? When the loved one is no longer with us?

Where do you go? Where do you go when home no longer feels like home? Where do you go when you don’t know what is next?

Everyone grieves differently and so do the disciples of Jesus.

The women go to the tomb, the apostles huddled together in Jerusalem, and two undistinguished disciples head to Emmaus.

Emmaus, an undistinguished and mundane village near Jerusalem. Luke doesn’t tell us why these two disciples decide to go there that morning, but perhaps it’s for the same reasons that we go to the fridge, the movies, or the malls when we feel sad and alone.[1]

News of an empty tomb isn’t even enough to rouse the two listless and lifeless disciples’ from their depression. An empty tomb did not change the reality that Rome remained in power, the oppressed remained in prison, and Jesus remained dead.

Walking to Emmaus, the two disciples are trying to wrap their minds around all of this, trying to piece together the conflicting realities of cross and empty tomb. And as they walk and as they wonder the most remarkable thing happened: Jesus joins them on their journey.

Jesus, yes that Jesus, the one who was crucified, died, and was buried. Jesus, now living, breathing, walking, talking, meets them in their misery and greets them with an overly-cheerful, “whatcha guys talking about?” 

This scene is just too good! It may just be the highlight of the entire Gospel.

For after spending a few days in a dark and musty tomb, the resurrected Lord Jesus decides to make his first earthly appearance to two unremarkable disciples traveling down an unremarkable road to an unremarkable town. Can you believe it? No angels, no fanfare, no flaming sword; the glory of Christ’s resurrection cloaked in the flesh of a stranger traveling down a dusty road.

Its almost as good as how the whole story started, with the King of the world come to earth in a stable, the incarnation of God almighty cloaked in baby fat.

Jesus showing up on the road to Emmaus is good news to those of us who are feeling especially unremarkable and insignificant this morning. The knowledge that Jesus’ first act as resurrected Lord was to walk with and talk with an unnamed disciple, should give us enough grace to savor throughout the whole week.

The rest of the scene plays out in utter irony as the disciples of Jesus are prevented from recognizing this strange traveler as Jesus: One of them, Cleo, even appears annoyed and snaps back; “Were you born in a barn? Do you live under a rock? Are you the only person in all Jerusalem who doesn’t know what happened here?”

They try to catch the stranger up to speed on what happened over the weekend; how they hoped Jesus was the Messiah, but he was arrested. How they Hoped Jesus would redeem Israel, but he received the death penalty and was executed. How they are beginning to loose all hope since it’s been three days and no one has heard form or seen Jesus since…

They say all this staring at the stranger with eyes full of despair, eyes not recognizing Jesus standing right there in front of them.

Stuck in their ignorance we almost begin to feel sorry for the disciples… but Jesus doesn’t.

It is with surprisingly little sympathy or sensitivity that Jesus, the ignorant stranger, stares right back at the disciples and calls them foolish.  Jesus describes them as having dull hearts, slow to believe in the new realities and possibilities described by the prophets.

But for all their doubts, disbeliefs, and struggles in the life of faith, Jesus does not condemn or punish the disciples. Instead he tells them Bible stories.

How God heard the cry of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, and delivered them from Pharaoh.  How God did not abandon the people in exile or foreign occupation. How God’s kingdom was still coming and God’s promises still being fulfilled. How redemption was happening, and how it would not be for Israel alone, but for all people!

By the time the three travelers arrive at Emmaus, the sun is setting, and the disciples still don’t recognize Jesus as the stranger. They know the tomb is empty, they hear the scriptures interpreted, they walk with Jesus for 7 miles, and they still don’t recognize…

And this is good news for those of us this morning who walk the Emmaus road and still feel we have not encountered Jesus. This is good news for those of us who go throughout our week discussing the latest news, meeting strangers, hearing Bible stories, and who still feel distant from a living and breathing Jesus Christ.

This is good news because our failure to recognize Jesus does not prevent us from continuing to travel down the Emmaus Road. This is good news because if we keep walking, keep traveling, keep talking with the stranger there will come a point, an opportunity, where we can invite the stranger to dinner.

Now a dinner invitation is not an extravagant act. It will not solve structural injustices such as food deserts, or earn you an award for selfless service.

Giving an invite to dinner is not as emotional as saying the sinner’s prayer with tears in your eyes. But in the ordinary act of showing hospitality to the stranger, you will open yourself up to salvific possibility, where God’s kingdom may come to earth just a little bit more fully… one meal at a time.

And while sharing a meal with a stranger is not extravagant, and altogether ordinary, it is surprising difficult for us to actually do. We live in an age where the smart phone has become a personal appendage, and it seems darn near impossible to even make eye contact with the stranger on the bus or say hi to the stranger on the sidewalk.

We see strangers as a threat, and they fill us with fear. So, we build walls, we guard our resources, and we fence our tables. We reserve our hospitality for close friends and family.

And this is troubling because in the story as the disciples arrive at Emmaus with the stranger, Jesus pretends to walk on ahead; Jesus does not force himself upon them. And so we imagine what would have happened to these disciples if they had let the stranger pass them by; if they never offered the invitation. How would their lives and their hearts have be different if they did not speak up and say to the stranger: “stay with us, for the day is almost over. Lets get a bit to eat.”

It is at the disciple’s invitation, Jesus, the stranger, found himself at the dinner table once again. And at the table, Jesus, the guest, became the host of the meal and offered the hungry disciples a piece of bread.

And even though they still had little appetite, even though they still had many doubts, even though they still could not recognize Jesus in their midst…the disciples took the bread anyways, and they ate it. And at the table, the most remarkable thing happened: they were able to remember, they were able to believe, their eyes were opened, and they recognized the stranger as their dear friend Jesus.

And in that same instant, before the gasp of surprise left their lips, before they could lean across the table and wrap Jesus in a great big bear hug and hold him forever, he vanished from their sight. Gone.

It was only a moment of recognition, but it was enough to kindle the last ember of faith they had left. It was enough to set their hearts on fire. It was enough to set their feet sprinting; enough to have them get up from the table and run the 7 miles back to Jerusalem in the dark.

Luke tells us, that by the time the two disciples returned to the 11 apostles, Jesus living, breathing, walking, talking, shows up again. And upon seeing the resurrected Lord Jesus, everyone is filled with joy, and wonderment, and disbelief.

They are confronted with the reality of resurrection and they think that it is too good to be true.

Can it really be that Jesus is alive? Can it really be that the Kingdom is still coming? That God is not finished with us yet?

Jesus knows there is only one place to bring these questions, doubts, and fleeting moments of faith. And in a priceless moment, Luke tells us that Jesus turns to the apostles huddled in Jerusalem and asks: “Do you have anything to eat?”

The resurrected Lord Jesus moves through our broken world from table to table. Jesus walks through our broken communities and invites broken people to join him at the table. And at the table, Jesus offers us a piece of broken bread, so that we may remember Jesus’ broken body, and believe that one day God will make the world whole once again.

So as we prepare to come to the table this morning, as we prepare to take, eat, remember, and believe, may the Lord be with you….

[1] In his book “The Magnificent Defeat,” Fredrick Buechner compares Emmaus to the places where we go when life gets to much for us; he compares Emmaus to the bar, the movies, buying a new suit, smoking too many cigarettes, or reading a second-rate novel.

An Empty Tomb: Resurrection in God’s Reign

Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019


Luke 23:54 – 24:12

It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and they saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was laid in it. Then they returned home, and prepared fragrant spices and perfumed oils. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

But on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, and when they went in, they did not find the body.  They didn’t know what to make of this,  when all of the sudden two men in dazzling bright clothes stood beside them.

The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.

Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.


Friday evening: the sun is beginning to set and the limp, lifeless body of Jesus is taken down from the tree. Inside the city there is an audible hum as people and pilgrims hurry to make final preparations for the Sabbath. Outside the city walls, at the place of the Skull, it is eerily quiet… the lynch mobs have deserted the spectacle, but their screams: Crucify him, Crucify him… still ring in the women’s ears. 

The bloodied bodies of the two other criminals still sag on their crosses; their corpses hang accursed of God and a defilement to the Land.

Joseph, a Judean, a member of the council who opposed the guilty verdict handed down on Jesus, hurried to Pilate to get permission to take down Jesus’ body and bury it before the sun set.

He was in such a rush that the women who followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem could not properly prepare the body for burial. They couldn’t wash the rippled and ruptured skin on his back where the whip lacerated the flesh or where the nails bore through his hands. With no time to anoint the body with perfumed oil, they simply watch as the body is wrapped in linen, laid in the tomb, and left to decompose till only the bones remained…

The sun sinks without remorse on the horizon, and in the twilight the women prepare the fragrant spice and perfumed oil.  Sun sets, Sabbath begins, and the women rest. In the dark, the women sit and wait. 

The nauseous feeling of emptiness and the dull pain of heartache, consume them. They endure the Sabbath day of rest without eating and without talking. They rest in the emptiness, silence, and loss that surrounds them.

Saturday night: the sun is set and the Sabbath finished. The women rise while the sky is still dark and silently, solemnly, they journey to the tomb. The air is cool and crisp, the jars of myrrh rattle as they go to see the body of Jesus one last time.

Can you imagine it? Can you imagine the walk to the tomb?

What were these women thinking, what were they feeling, what hopes and fears were they carrying as they trudged through empty streets towards the grave of Jesus?

I wonder if their walk to the tomb was anything like the hurried walk down brightly lit hospital hallways to visit someone we love. I wonder if the walk to the tomb early that morning, was anything like the silent car-ride after the funeral back to a house you know is empty.  Was the walk to the tomb, like that incompressible walk to the shelter to spend your first night homeless? Was it like that long walk to the first chemotherapy appointment?

When warm blood coursed through Jesus’ veins, when he walked and talked with the women back in Galilee, he told them that God’s was about to do a new thing…and as the sick were healed, as the were hungry fed, and as the lost were found the women actually began to believe that in the life and love of Jesus, God’s Kingdom was truly coming!

But now that life was gone. They had seen his dead life-less body with their own eyes. Jesus had confronted the violence of the cross with love…and…and he lost. He died. How could a dead king usher in a new kingdom? How could a cursed Christ save the people from their sins?

The women walk to the tomb, believing that the blunt reality of death would serve as the final punctuation mark to the story of Jesus, an abrupt ending to their story with Jesus. All they could do now was enter the tomb one last time, cover their noses at the overwhelming stench of decay and pour a little perfume on the rotting corpse.

And we are right there with them, walking and wondering with the women on the way to the tomb.  We too have witnessed the brutal power of the cross; the unrelenting violence of empire, racism, and climate change. The evidence of death surrounds us on all sides. Overwhelmed, we feel that the best we can do is enter into the stench of the city holding our breaths, walk up to the sanctuary, and say a few prayers over a world stalked by hopelessness…

Sunday morning: it is still dark out when the women from Galilee arrive at the tomb. Squinting their eyes, they see that that the stone covering the entrance to the tomb has been rolled away. They toe the entrance to the tomb; the pitch-black opening threatens to devour them. Should they step inside?

Unafraid of the dark, the women hold hands and cross the threshold into the tomb. They crane their necks and peer around. They shuffle towards the bench carved into the rock and run their hands along the cold-damp stone. They feel around and find the starched linens strips, but they find no body. The tomb was empty.


No dead body. No resurrected, risen body. Nothing.

In the overwhelming emptiness of the tomb, confusion, questions, and doubts well up inside the women…In the emptiness of the tomb, at a loss for words, the women hold hands and look into each other’s sad, mournful eyes. When all of the sudden, two messengers who wore clothes that shone like lighting, appear before them proclaiming: “Why do you search for the living among the dead? Jesus is not here, Jesus has been risen!”

It was at the point when they had given up all hope, when they had admitted defeated, and thought all was lost, that the women hear the rumor of resurrection.

Jesus is not here, Jesus has been risen!”

It was at the point in which they were ready to sleep-walk through a meaningless life, just when they were getting comfortable in the cold, dark, empty tomb, that the wild report of resurrection hung in the damp air and tempted them to hope once again.

“Jesus is not here, Jesus has been risen! Don’t tell me you have already forgotten the words he told you while in Galilee?”

It is in the act of remembrance, as the women begin to remember the words of Jesus that the unreal, unbelievable idea of resurrection, turned from fantasy into a faint possibility.

Rumor of resurrection confronts the women with a choice: will they stay in the empty tomb, will they go back to their old lives in Galilee, will they surrender to the logic of violence? Or will they step out into the world with the wild and radical hope that Jesus Christ was no longer dead, but alive, that their story with Jesus was not yet finished.

Sunday afternoon: the sun shines as the women step out of the tomb. They run to the apostles to share the good news. They step inside the church heralding an Easter message.

The women, make their way through the sanctuary, walk past the old-wooden pews, tip-toe their way up to the pulpit, and begin to preach. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, who offered the world the first Easter sermon: “Christ is risen, the tomb is empty, and death has been defeated!”

To many in the congregation, their words seemed a primitive belief, a foolish wish, a tall-tale fit for a children’s book.

“Christ is risen, the tomb is empty, and death has been defeated!”

Their words fill the church sanctuary and escape out of the stained glass windows.

“Christ is risen, the tomb is empty, and death has been defeated!”

The words bounce off the walls of the empty tomb, they reverberate in the prison cell, they ring in the detention center, they are whispered in hospital rooms, they are shouted at protests and civil rights marches, they echo under the overpass, and they resonate in our ears this morning!

“Christ is risen, the tomb is empty, and death has been defeated!”

Can you hear the women’s voices? Can you hear them proclaim that great reversal of God’s Reign: Resurrection! Resurrection! Resurrection!

Theirs words catch us right where we are at, on the coach watching Netflix, at the office working late, around the table eating dinner. It is in the midst of our comfortable lives that we hear the rumor of resurrection and we are pushed, like Peter, to run and explore empty tombs. To look inside and be amazed at the reversals of God’s reign in which the poor, the hungry, and rejected will be blessed, and the dead raised to new life.

Confronted by Resurrection, we cannot go back to business as usual. We cannot go back to Galilee, and settle for the status quo. Resurrection calls into the risky hope that a new way is possible. Resurrection dares us to live in such a way, that will re-shape our communities, re-structure our institutions, and re-order our societies according to the great reversals of God’s reign.

Resurrection compels the comfortable to pick up a cross, confront death, and meet the risen Jesus Christ at the margins.

The women, they still have not seen the Lord Jesus Christ risen in glory, but they cannot remain silent! From the Pulpit the women preach louder: “Christ is risen, the tomb is empty, and death has been defeated!”

They shout it out so that ten-year-old Emmett can hear it while sitting in his hospital bed, so that Joyce Ruth can hear it at her chemo treatment, so that Adam and Becca can hear it during the long difficult days of waiting, so that Cleo can hear it while standing on the corner asking for change, so that Sharon can hear it while sitting on the bleachers at Sam and Josh’s baseball game wishing George was there with her….

“Christ is risen, the tomb is empty, and death has been defeated!”

The women shout the good news, and we shout too, so that the rumor of resurrection will reach every person who finds themselves in a cold and empty tomb. They preach resurrection and we preach too, so that the world might believe and participate in the radical reversals of God’s reign! They preach resurrection and we preach too, so that we may recognize the risen Lord in his glory and in the shabby appearance of the least of these! They preach resurrection and we preach too, so that the whole creation may be brought out of death and into new life.

“Christ is risen, the tomb is empty, and death has been defeated! Halleluiah! Thank you Jesus!”



A sermon written by Derek Elmi-Buursma at Loop Church in Chicago, IL, 4/21/19