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I’ve been going mission trips with our Grace of God youth for 16 years!  And it never fails that for the first 30 minutes after we arrive at each site, right after that show us where we’ll be sleeping for the week and we blow up our air mattresses and get set up, I have this moment where I look around and think: “This is gross.  I can’t do this. There are too many of us crowded in here. And it’s going to be too hot or too cold and I’m not going to be able to sleep.  And I’m ready to go home.”  This year was no exception.  But this year there was another 30 minute period of time – at the end of the trip – that I wished would never end.

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I wasn’t great at kickball when I was a kid (I say that as if my skills somehow improved as an adult!) so it should have come as no surprise to me to be chosen near the bottom when it came to picking teams during recess. We’re all familiar with this playground ritual in which two captains take turns choosing, in descending order, the roster of each of their respective teams based on their abilities. It can get very awkward as the process plays out – captains sizing up each player – evaluating specific skills, remembering past performance.  You know how it goes! 

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Today we have a scandalous episode in the life of Christ a scandal that revolved around Jesus. It was something he said.  It was something he did.  It was who he was.

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Dawn and I just got back from spending a week and a half in the Pacific Northwest witnessing the epic power of two elemental forces the tamer versions of which we all encounter every day.  Wind and water.  We visited Puget Sound – that area around Seattle made up of islands formed by an ocean that invaded the land, the rocky Oregon coast with little mountains emerging from the waters, and the Columbia River Gorge where a mighty river cut through the mountains to carve out a riverbed deep and wide.  One common denominator in all these amazing, beautiful places is the incredible power of wind and water. 

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I did something the other night that I don’t believe I have done for in the last 15 months. It was something that before COVID we all did without even thinking. But over the past year we all avoided it because of the threats and potential danger it presented.  I shook someone’s hand.  I met a new acquaintance at a meeting this past week.  He introduced himself and extended his hand.  I took it.  And shook it.  First time in a long time!  During the pandemic a necessary barrier between us and our neighbors was mandated for our protection leaving many to feel starved for physical touch.  But now those barriers are finally starting to come down. 

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Certainties and Possibilities

For many people the empty tomb of Jesus provides a certainty to our faith.  The undeniable and unquestionable truth of Jesus’ resurrection for many believers gives their faith credibility and authority.  There are those who find great comfort in the proofs of the resurrection that are intended to erase all doubts so that we can rest assured that our faith is based on rock solid facts.  But are you certain?  Have you always been certain?  Be honest:  are there times when you are not so sure? Do you ever find that things you once felt very sure about feel less certain now?

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When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised.”

No. I’m not getting ahead of myself!  No, I did not accidently grab my Easter sermon this morning.  Yes, I realize it’s Palm Sunday and that we just read the entire Passion reading which stops before we get to the empty tomb.  And that the passage I just read for you IS from next Sunday’s Easter Gospel.  But the stories are related.  There is a connection between today’s Passion Reading and next Sunday’s Gospel. And the connection is not just about what happens to Jesus from Palm Sunday to Easter.  It’s about what happens to us.

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The time has come.

With these words, the Gospel-writer Mark gives us Jesus’ first recorded words in the Bible:

“The time has been fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the good news.”

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Lots of looking and finding and seeing in today’s Gospel reading.  In the weeks after Christmas during this season of Epiphany we see how Jesus’ love was revealed – a love ultimately displayed on the cross but revealed along the way in his ministry.  All the looking and finding and seeing is part of Jesus being made known to others as Rabbi or Teacher – the Messiah – the Son of God.  There is lots of this epiphany discovery going on in this reading from the Gospel of John.  “We have found him!” some said to each other after they met Jesus and heard his call.

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Our Gospel reading today tells the story of the Baptism of Jesus. It’s an important event in the life of Christ. There are not many stories about Jesus that are told by all four Gospel writers, but this one is.  So it must be important!  But the importance of this story, the message of this story, the good news of this story really has nothing to do with Jesus being baptized.

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