The First Reading Joshua 1:5-9.
As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 6Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. 7Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. 8This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. 9I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
The Word of the Lord.
The Psalm 139:1-18
1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O LORD, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them — they are more than the sand;
I come to the end — I am still with you. Amen.
The Second Reading Romans 8:35-39.
35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Word of the Lord.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew, the 28th chapter
16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The Gospel of our Lord
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I don’t know about the rest of you – but I absolutely – positively love coming home. Few things in this life seem sweeter to me than coming home to the place where I belong.
It feels like such a blessing to me to arrive home after a long day out there in the “real” world. Coming through the front door and getting settled in at home feels awesome. I feel just a little bit more relaxed. A little bit more like myself. A little bit more at ease. I can let down my guard at home. I can take off my armor at home. I can be myself at home.
When I am home I am with my people. When I am home I feel grounded and centered. When I am home I am reminded of who I am and of whose I am.
At home everything just seems to make a bit more sense. Because when I am home – I have arrived in the one place in this world where I know for certain that I am loved and where I really and truly belong.
I often find that the world just makes a bit more sense – after I have spent some time at home with my special people. Or at the very least I am better able to cope with all that the world throws at me.
I just love coming home.
I think that for so many of us our church is also a refuge and a port from the storms that this life sends our way. Our church family has been a safe place for us. A source of comfort. Our church family has blessed us with that same sense of purpose and belonging. Our church is also our home. Coming to church has been grounding and centering. Coming to church has reminded us of who we are and of whose we are in this world.
Coming to church for many of us is a homecoming. Coming to church is about our identities in this world.
When we come to church we feel like we are with our special people. Like we are with the people who speak our language. And don’t kid yourselves – we Lutherans really do have our own language. We do speak “Lutheran.”
And we have our own church family traditions and rituals that are dear to our hearts too. Those things that make us uniquely us – those things that make us uniquely Saint Stephen Lutheran Church in Fern Creek, Kentucky.
Believe it or not – it is not biblically mandated that the children’s sermon come with gummies or that the deacon wears a white robe or that there is an acolyte. Nor is it biblically mandated that the paraments’ colors change with the liturgical season or even that there be a liturgy at all. But these are all a part of who we are and how we gather for worship.
And so these past few months (and for some of us – maybe many more months to come) of not being able to gather together for worship have been incredibly difficult. We have felt disconnected. Perhaps we have felt a bit lost. Some of us have even struggled to remember what day of the week it is without Sunday worship to help us keep track of time!
And now – this morning – we returned to worship in the sanctuary with our hearts full of anticipation. Finally – at long last after so very long apart – we have come home!
Amen! Woohoo! Hoo! And Hallelujah!
And yet we find changes. So very many – many changes.
The liturgy is different. It is familiar – and yet it is still different.
The deacon is not vested.
We don’t even have an acolyte this morning!
Holy Communion is going to be from a baggie – that can’t be biblical. We all know that Jesus didn’t give Communion from a baggie!
No children’s sermon and no candy to help us survive another one of Pastor Kerri’s long – rambling sermons.
No hymns – no choir – no singing at all.
Masks! Hand sanitizer!
This bizarre spacing of the chairs.
And all of these new rules. Pastor Kerri and the church council sure have gotten bossy over the past few months!
Yuck – just yuck.
And most painful of all. People are very – very clearly missing. People we love are missing. Our beloved sisters and brothers in Christ are not here with us. And this just plain hurts. It hurts a lot! A family reunion with only half of the family here – well let’s be honest that is hard to accept. We have come home – kind of -sort of. Well – we are on the way at least. . .
It isn’t nearly as much fun as we were hoping for. But that is our reality. It is our new normal. This is where we find ourselves.
It is going to take time for ALL of us to be able to gather together in our sanctuary. We are going to have to wait for that Easter morning feeling.
So what are we supposed to do? Where can we turn when our beloved church looks and feels so very different? What are we supposed to do when our Christian community changes and we feel just a bit unmoored? What are we supposed to do when we long for one another? When our hearts are still heavy?
As Christians we can turn to our Lord. We can turn to God’s Word. In our scripture readings for today – we hear again and again and again that during times of great change and upheaval and transition in the lives of God’s people that God is still God. Even in the midst of wild – strange changes like the Chosen peoples’ wanderings in the desert God was with them. God was with them for each and every one of those 40 long – exhausting – hard – change-filled years. And then God was with them as they entered the unknown of the Promised Land. God was faithful. God’s love endured.
In his letter to the Romans Saint Paul reminds us so very – very powerfully that nothing and I mean absolutely – positively nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing – not even death or life or things present or things to come can separate us from the love of God. Nothing!
Hear our Lord Jesus’ powerful promise to us from the Gospel of Matthew – “Remember – I am with you ALWAYS – even to the end of the age.”
God is still God. God is always – always faithful to his beloved children.
We are not alone. You are not alone. God’s love endures. God’s love goes on for all eternity.
Truly this is Good News. AMEN.