In pm's words
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October 14, 2019, 9:00 AM

the one about going where Jesus goes...


Sermon from October 13, 2019

Text: Luke 17:11-19

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ; will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, I think y’all know by now that the Gospel of Luke is probably my favorite of the four gospels, and perhaps one of my favorite books in the entirety of our scriptures. There are so many good things in this gospel. So many wonderful stories that we hold so dear.

Yet, what I love most about this gospel is how Jesus is portrayed; how Jesus invites his friends – and each of us – into this life of faith and service. Here in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is the one who routinely and continually subverts people’s expectations. Here in Luke’s Gospel, we see Jesus concerned and caring towards those outside the ‘usual circles’ of life. Here in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus crosses boundaries and borders in the lives of those around him. He steps over and knocks down those literal and figurative walls in our lives.

He speaks with women, he tells stories about Samaritans (that aren’t the butt of jokes or end in their demise), he is insistent that the God of all – the one true Creator and redeemer of the world and all its inhabitants – is not exclusive to the Hebrew people. He is adamant that the Son of God has not just come to Israel, but has come to all of creation.

He literally goes out of his way to make that known to those around him. And when he does, it puts him in places that no one else would want to be.

Today’s gospel reading is a perfect example of all of those intersecting circles. This morning’s reading is a sort of ‘Venn diagram’ of all of who Jesus is in the Gospel of Luke.

As we enter this story, we find Jesus and his friends at an ‘in-between’ place. Coming upon a village that is outside of both Galilee and Samaria. The liminal space between those who know of God and those who worship God in a different way. The space between those who don’t see eye-to-eye or really care about one another because of ancient views on purity and faith.

Jesus comes to that place. And, as he enters the village, who calls to him from a distance? Those who are pushed out of both Galilee and Samaria.

For you see, I don’t believe this little village was intended to be a little suburb of either Galilee or Samaria. I don’t think we should look at this village as a sort of ‘Newberry, SC.’ You know, relatively in-between Spartanburg and Columbia. Close enough to enjoy the benefits of the big cities, but far enough away to not have to mess with the day-to-day hassle of living there.

No, I believe this village had a purpose. A sad purpose. This is the place where the outcasts of both Galilee and Samaria went to live. This is the place where those who were sick, or different, or sinful went to live because the majority in those in more populated and powerful areas didn’t want them around. This is a place where they could ‘be with their own kind.’ This is a place where the majority, the powerful of those respective big cities didn’t have to ‘see’ those who were less fortunate, hurting, or more.

In many ways, this city was the equivalent of Lazarus and his sores that we read of two weeks ago. A place to walk by, a place you only notice enough to step around it.

This is a place setup – whether intentionally or by necessity – where you didn’t go. This is the place where Jesus went. And I don’t think it was by accident. It wasn’t like that time Erin and I were in Baltimore looking for gas, and we got lost and turned around (we didn’t have a GPS at the time, and our phones didn’t have them either). Where we approached a Baltimore PD officer to ask for directions, and basically, he said, ‘Under no circumstances, do you turn LEFT on this particular road. Don’t go there. Stay out of there.’

Jesus goes to those places. Jesus goes where others say, ‘don’t bother.’ Or, its dangerous. Or, it would ‘stain’ your image, your person, your very being in the eyes of those in the world if you go.

Jesus goes to those places.

And, who does he find there? He finds 10 people suffering with leprosy. That disease that not only disfigured those who had it, but was considered a punishment by God upon those with it. For the culture at that time, to be near those with Leprosy could either a) get you sick or b) get God mad at you. I don’t think you have to think very long to discern what might be considered a leprosy of our day, time, and recent history. It’s been those with AIDS, those who think different politically, those from foreign countries, and more.

Jesus goes to those places.

And from the distance, those with leprosy call out for Jesus’ healing hand. They know who he is, they’ve heard the stories of what he’s done around the area, they’ve heard – they believe – they have hope and faith that he will be able to do for them, what he’s done for countless others.

And Jesus, in a surprising way, tells them to go show themselves to the priests. And apparently along the way there they are healed. They become clean. The leprosy has been cast off.

Now, here at this moment is where most preachers I believe focus on. The fact that only one of those with leprosy – who happens to be a Samaritan (there goes Jesus again, lifting up the faith of those the culture at the time would least expect) – who returns to give thanks to Jesus, the Son of God.

I’ve heard sermons and interpretations that state that only this one was cured. That the other nine, after first noticing that they have been ‘made clean’ are brought back into their previous state because they didn’t show thanks, and that people who do likewise run the risk of falling back into that which God has healed them from.

First. No. That’s wrong. That’s dangerous. That’s cruel. To think Jesus would heal then revoke that miracle because they didn’t ‘basically’ write a thank-you note.

Yes, only one of those with leprosy returned to give thanks to God. But, I don’t think Jesus did this healing in order to be thanked and praised. In many ways, he is living into what we read last week – that we shouldn’t looked to be praised because ‘we have only done what we ought to have done.’

No, Jesus healed these individuals because that’s what he does. Jesus heals. And he doesn’t do it in order to seek adoration or praise.

Now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give thanks for what God has done. I think we should model the life and faith of this Samaritan man who once was afflicted with leprosy. However, when we don’t give thanks – it doesn’t mean that God will ‘take away’ what has been gifted to us.

Because, if God was going to live that life – we’d all be in trouble. All of humanity would be in trouble. Because, we’ve always fallen short.

No, I think the gospel of this story lain before us this morning, is that no matter what – Jesus – is going to come to the places that no one else is willing to, and he’s going to bring the word of God, a healing hand, and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

He’s going to offer that healing – no matter what – no matter where someone is, no matter what someone is dealing with or afflicted with, no matter if they ‘show’ thanks or not. Jesus is going to heal them. Always.

I don’t know why the others didn’t turn around and fall at Jesus’ feet. We like to imagine that they were ungrateful, but perhaps they were smirking and shaking at that Samaritan man who didn’t ‘follow through’ with Jesus’ command to present themselves to the priests. Perhaps, overcome in their joy of being healed they ran to tell their family and friends what had happened, to share in their miracle from the one who is from above.

Maybe, just maybe, they were thankful – but didn’t show it in the same way as the Samaritan.

As Jesus crosses over into those liminal places – standing over the threshold and boundaries of those who are ‘in and those who are out’ – Jesus invites us into those spaces as well. Not to seek adoration and praise. Not to demand thanksgiving or acknowledgement. No, Jesus invites us into those places as well because 1) that’s where Jesus is and 2) to bring God’s good Word of life and truth to those who need to hear it, to live into and practice the love that God has for all, to be in deeper relationship with those whom God loves, to see love at work in the world.

Let’s meet Jesus in those places. Let’s live into what Jesus calls us towards. Let’s bring that wholeness and healing that comes only from God through Christ, our Lord – why? Because that what we do as followers of the Son of Man. No matter what. Amen.




October 7, 2019, 10:00 AM

Faith Reflection: Joker (2019)


Joker – Is there a glimmer of the Gospel in this?

During the season of Lent, I took it upon myself to write faith reflections on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It turned into something that was far more in-depth than I thought it would be. I really enjoyed writing reflections on those 22 movies. If you’d like to read those you can begin your journey here – from Captain America: The First Avenger all the way through Avengers Endgame.

But, why stop with ONLY the MCU? Even the DC Movies have something to say… sometimes.

First things first – I have not been a fan – in general – of the films based on DC Comics. Well, at least not fans of the more recent entries. I loved the Dark Knight trilogy, Wonder Woman is exceptional, and I was pleasantly surprised by Shazam! The other movies are… not as good.

With that being said, I did enjoy the recent Joker movie. It was beautifully shot, well-acted, and I think has something to say in the midst of its disturbed brutality and violence.

But, first – the synopsis of the movie – so, spoilers ahead y’all. You’ve been warned.

Joker follows the sad, pitiful life of Arthur Fleck – hauntingly and beautifully acted by Joaquin Phoenix. He is a man that you pass by in the streets. You don’t notice him. He doesn’t register to you. If he does register on your ‘radar’ you get a very odd vibe from him – and it isn’t good. There is something different about him and that different is something you typically don’t want to be around.

Arthur feels this too. He is ravaged by his own personal demons and is afflicted with a condition that makes him ‘laugh’ during uncomfortable times in his daily life. When he’s nervous, he’ll laugh. When he’s sad, he’ll laugh. When he’s angry, he’ll laugh. When he’s scared, he’ll laugh.

And, it doesn’t appear that his laugh is very comfortable, it isn’t a deep belly laugh, but a laugh that gets stuck in your throat and seems to cause pain. It appears just as painful to experience for him as it is for others to witness. It is a disturbing laugh.

Because Arthur wants to be noticed, but still be hidden, he is a street performing clown. Twirling signs outside of closing businesses and performing in hospital wings for children.

In all facets of his life, Arthur is ignored and taken advantage of. He’d be a sympathetic character IF we as the audience didn’t already know where this story will end.

Arthur is on medication and sees a therapist provided through public funds in the city of Gotham. Until those funds are cut and those helps for his mental well-being are cut-off. However, even going through the motions of talking to a therapist and receiving his meds, he begins to question whether or not it is actually helping him, because even the person who is supposed to listen to him, still doesn’t seem to care for him.

Eventually, Arthur is fired from his job after a gun he was carrying fell on to the floor while performing at a children’s hospital. On his sad trip back home to his mother’s apartment, he is confronted by three young, rich, financial sector guys. They begin beating on him, and in a brief pause as they laugh at the pain they are causing, Arthur shoots them. He murders all three. And runs home.

Yet, it appears that those murders don’t seem to bother him as much as he thought they would or should. In fact, he is developing a sort of confidence from it. Especially since there are others – who are not the super-rich of Gotham – who look to that act as sort of a ‘call-to-arms’ for the down in the dirt, unlucky, and trampled upon people of Gotham. They wear masks that are eerily reminiscent of the clown make-up that Arthur uses.

As the film progresses, the audience begins to see how Arthur’s psyche is devolving. He vividly imagines people present in points of his life that are not there or even whole scenarios that occur just in his mind. As many reviewers have mentioned, Arthur is an untrustworthy narrator upon his own life.

He clings to the prospect that he’s ‘more important’ than originally believed. At one point, he discovers that he might be the illegitimate son of Thomas Wayne and pursues that ‘reality’ in a disturbingly creepy way. Even after a bad stand-up routine that gets shared on a locally filmed and popular talk-show he imagines that this could be his big break. When in actuality, it is an opportunity for the ‘important’ and ‘well-respected’ people of Gotham’s society to once again, point and laugh at those beneath them.

The film culminates as Arthur is asked to appear on that talk-show and requests that the host introduce him as “Joker.” In that following interview, Arthur goes off on the host and the ‘elite’ of Gotham society. Giving a pointed monologue that the elite of Gotham have no idea how difficult life is for those who are not super rich, how they are tired of being the butt of jokes, being stepped over, and more.

Arthur ends the interview by shooting and murdering the host on live television.

This sends the ‘clowns’ on the street into a frenzy.

They loot. They destroy. They attack. They are fed by the brashness of Arthur – now Joker’s – ideology to cause havoc to those in the upper echelon of society.

The film ends with Arthur in a psychiatric hospital with his wrists shackled. The question on the audience’s collective mind is – did any of what we saw actually happen? Was it all in Arthur’s head? Is he ‘visioning’ what the future will hold? Is this something that happened further back in the past?

Those questions are not answered, and we are left to ponder them.

 

As, I look back on this film, I can honestly say that I enjoyed this movie. Even in its disturbed nature. This film has ‘sat with’ me more than any other. I believe, mostly due to the questions that arise based on that final scene in the hospital.

So, where do I find and glimpse the glimmer of the gospel in this film? Let me be first to tell you, that it is difficult. Extremely difficult to see any good that can come from this film.

But, throughout the movie, I could not help but think of Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. In that story, Jesus depicts a man at the gates of a wealthy individual who isn’t cared for by anyone. He is literally stepped over each day, and the only ones who even bring Lazarus any sort of mercy are the stray dogs who come to lick his sores.

Both the rich man and Lazarus die, and they end up on opposite sides of the ‘chasm’ that they (and the world) thought they would. Lazarus is free and healthy with Abraham, while the rich man is in turmoil on the other side.

The Rich man sees Lazarus and calls Abraham to send him over so that he might quench his thirst and end (if only briefly) the agony in which he is enduring.

Abraham tells the rich man – no, and that isn’t how this works.

Even in his current state – in agony on the other side of a chasm staring across at Abraham, the rich man doesn’t realize that he’s the one who is wrong. He still feels like he has ‘power and authority’ over Lazarus. Still wants him to serve him because he isn’t the important one in life.

The elite of Gotham are collectively the rich man. Those roles are personified by Thomas Wayne and the talk-show host, Murray Franklin. They don’t care about the ones who aren’t as ‘fortunate’ as they are. They talk down to those people. They use them as punch lines (in this movie both literally and figuratively).

That upsets the people. It upsets – as Thomas Wayne called them – the clowns of society.

Even when things are going terribly, they still can’t see how they’ve contributed to this falling of life or how they continue to push people over and to the side. It is still all about their own well-being, their own self-preservation, their own desires, their own thoughts and plans. It’s all about what works for them.

They are the Rich Man.

I’m not sure if Arthur/Joker is Lazarus. Though, he is one who is stepped over (and stepped on). He is one who is hurting. He is one who needs love, acceptance, and mercy.

However, he takes a bad turn. He is pushed to the limit and lashes out at the society and people who have treated him so harshly and inhumanely (and they have). He revels in the chaos he has caused. He is giddy about the destruction he has helped start.

His ‘laughing’ condition doesn’t seem to pain him as much as it used to. He welcomes it.

That’s not Lazarus. Or at least, not what were led to believe since Lazarus is hanging out with Abraham. I don’t think Arthur/Joker would be in that same spot.

Because, he too falls victim to the sin of the Rich Man. He too doesn’t listen to those around him. He too is only thinking about himself and his desires. He too feels that he is entitled to ‘what’s his.’

If this movie has anything to say, it is that we definitely should care for the people around us. We should listen. We should provide help. We should veer away from the sin that makes us believe we are more important than the one down the street.

But, it is also a film that shines the light on how dangerously frail we can be. That without love – genuine, merciful love – we can break bad. We can devolve into chaos and evil. That sin does reside in us.

As a Christian who views the world the lens of a Lutheran, I know and believe that we are – as Martin Luther called it – simul justus et peccator. At the same time justified and a sinner.

Arthur cares for his mother (again, to a point). He even wants to see children smile and happy – and wants to be the cause of that joy. He wants to bring laughter into others lives. But, that sin lurks and simmers at the top for him, and he is unable to withstand it’s sickening call and constant leaning on the doorbell of his life. He opens the door and lets that sin and terror consume him.

Thomas Wayne (the personification of the elite) wants to see others have a better life. He doesn’t want there to be chaos, evil, and hurt in the world. But, the sin of not listening or caring about those whom he talks about and down to keeps him/society from actually making substantial and beneficial changes to bring about the future and life that would be good for all.

Joker is an interesting film. It is one that sits with you.

 

If anything, care for those around you. Notice the people beside you. Live into the grace and mercy that God has given the world. Know that you are already valued and loved by God through Jesus who is the Christ. Show genuine love, because the world really needs it.




October 7, 2019, 8:04 AM

the one about faith...


Sermon from October  6, 2019

Text: Luke 17:5-10

Grace and peace to you my brothers and sisters from God our creator and our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, if you think the last few weeks of hearing Jesus have been tough to listen to, imagine if you were one of the disciples whom Jesus was speaking to and with! Throughout these last few chapters the disciples (and those gathered around them) have heard story after story and pronouncement after pronouncement of Jesus stating some hard truths and not-so-easy expectations.

Parables about how God differs in celebrating those things and people that the world considers ‘lost.’ Stories about somewhat modeling those whom many – even our Lord – would call dishonest. And last week the emphasis of the story about a Rich Man who is sent to the bad place in part because he failed to see, act, and care for those around him – especially the ones who were literally at his front gate.

In fact, the disciple’s frustration culminates not simply from hearing these parables of what life in the kingdom of God is like, but that if someone sins against you and repents, you forgive them. If they sin against you multiple times and then repent multiple times; forgive them multiple times.

In many ways, the disciples are frustrated. Not, I think, frustrated with Jesus’ call, but frustrated about how in the world are they supposed to live into what Jesus expects? How could they possibly have ‘that much’ faith?

And, you know what, I think the disciples ask the very same questions that we do today. We look over and around us and we may see different folks and organizations doing some really big things. Superb things that are just full of faith and life. Where they might be opening their homes for those in need, giving up their paychecks to help pay for young adults to go to college, dropping everything in their life to go and help places devasted by storms to repair and rebuild. Walking with those and amplifying voices of those who are oppressed and taken advantage of by those in power in our world. Standing boldly in the midst of a world that fails to see or is apathetic to care about the creation around us.

And, we’re sitting over here at times and think, “Yeesh, I’m not capable of doing any of that. I’ve got family, people to care for, a job that I need that paycheck to live. Or, what that person did really, really, really hurt. How, O Lord am I to forgive? How, how, how am I supposed to ‘compete’ with that kind of faith?’

And Jesus’ response – if you had the faith the size of a mustard seed… That seems harsh right? Mustard seeds are really tiny, they seem totally insignificant. Not even worth the time and hassle because of their size. It seems like Jesus is chastising or even mocking the disciples.

But, in my reading of the Greek, it isn’t that way at all. Remember, if there is a problem in understanding the text, there’s a good chance the issue lies with the English.

Jesus is basically saying, “If you had faith the size of a tiny mustard seed (and I’m pretty sure you do) then…” Jesus is lifting up the disciples’ faith. Assuring them that yes they do have the faith, the gumption, the hope to live into what Jesus commands. They do have what it takes to live into the kingdom of God, they do have the ability to forgive as their Lord calls.

It won’t be easy – far from it. I don’t think Jesus ever makes the assumption that what he asks for is easy. So, don’t let others tell you differently. This life of faith isn’t easy to live into every day – but, it sure is worth it. Worth it to see others filled with life and love. Worth it to see God’s work lived out through your hands and through the hands of those around you. It’s worth it to see love in action, especially when it is difficult.

Jesus tells his disciples that yes indeed they do have that kind of faith. But, the faith that uproots mulberry trees and plants them in the sea isn’t really the flashy stuff that others like to show-off. The faith that ‘moves the unmovable’ isn’t always some big spectacle of goodness shown to the world.

It just isn’t. I’m not entirely sure that someone has seen God’s life, love, and truth from some grand display of faith. Kind of like I don’t think anyone has ever been ‘changed’ to think differently on a subject because of an argument they had on Facebook. That’s just not how it happens.

So, Jesus goes on to tell the story of those under the command of a master doing their work. Doing what is expected of them. Doing what is relatively ‘simple’ in the eyes of those around them. Preparing and serving a meal.

Jesus lifts up those who do the ‘mundane’ work of life and faith. Jesus lifts up the faith of those who do the simple things to further the kingdom of God. Jesus praises those who live into the everyday love, faith, and care to those around them. Jesus lifts up doing the things we are supposed to do.

For those in the story that Jesus shares with his friends, it’s simply providing for the one who comes home. Making a meal; attending to needs; doing what you’re called to do.

In the same way, I believe we can live into those simple acts of faith that do far more for showing God’s love and grace than any flashy act.

Being kind and gentle in the grocery aisle. Being patient and calm while stuck in traffic. Providing a helping hand to those in need. Being respectful of those who are different from us. Showing genuine care and concern to those who are hurting among us. Living into the love of God for all people – no matter what.

Because here’s the thing about those mustard seeds. Yes, they may be tiny, they may seem incredibly insignificant and not worth the hassle. But, do you think any gardener or farmer wants that wild mustard in their flower bed or among their crops? No. They do not.

Why? Because mustard is invasive. It is difficult to get rid of. It spreads quickly. Once it’s rooted, it is almost impossible to get rid of. For us today – especially in our area – it would be akin to Jesus saying, “If you had the faith the size of a seed of kudzu.”

The wild mustard can quickly overtake an entire area. And yet, it may have only started with a tiny seed! That tiny, insignificant thing can quickly become out of control and wreck even the most well cared for gardens and fields.

So too is our faith. At times it may be small, it may seem insignificant. But it adds up. It multiplies. It is fed by and through God’s life and love. It is faith that changes us fundamentally. Changes us to do what is ‘expected’ of us as people of faith because we feel we might ‘get something’ in return, and causes us to do good, faithful deeds of love and grace because of what has already been done. Because of who we already are – God’s very own.

That kind of faith. That live in faith day in and day starts small. It looks insignificant. It takes root and spreads out of control.

You have faith that can move mountains. That can uproot trees. That can move the unmovable. You have faith that spreads out of control like mustard. You have faith that spreads and covers like kudzu.

You have faith. Live into that faith. It’s worth it because of what God has already done. Amen.




October 1, 2019, 7:50 AM

October 2019 Newsletter Article


Grace and peace to y’all!

September was full. Wasn’t it? At least, that’s the way it felt for me. But, here’s something I noticed.

It was a full month for me, but it was a month full of gratitude and thankfulness.

Thankfulness that I could spend time with friends and Erin while we ate dinner and saw Hootie and the Blowfish together.

Thankfulness to hear the words and stories once again from Bishop Munib Younan.

Thankfulness that I and so many others could participate at the “Fall” Festivus CrossFit Competition.

Thankfulness to officiate and celebrate another wedding with a beautiful couple.

Thankfulness to celebrate another year in Ashleigh’s life.

Thankfulness to gather at Lutheridge to teach and learn about the Apostle’s Creed.

Thankfulness to begin another year teaching confirmation with Redeemer and four other churches.

Thankfulness to begin coaching 10 excited and energetic kids in soccer for the Newberry Recreation Department.

Yes, it was a full month. And that doesn’t include the meetings, visits, phone calls, preparations, more meetings, brief chats, text messages, and more that typically fill up my days and weeks as pastor at Redeemer.

But, I’ll be honest with you. It’s fulfilling work. It’s life-giving stuff. I enjoy it.

Yes, it is a full month, and October doesn’t look like much of a reprieve. But, seriously. It’s good stuff.

There’s a lot going on at Redeemer. There’s a lot going on in our lives as people and people of faith. Have you ever just stopped, taken a step back and looked at what we get to do for God in our world?

Sure, there are so many ways that we can get distracted and disgruntled, perhaps even apathetic about the way the world operates. But, y’all – we get to do so much good in this world. We get to do so much wonderful ministry and service to God and neighbor.

I know I saw it a lot, but we really get to do so much. It is so wonderful to be thankful for what we get to do.

Remember to give thanks. Remember that we get to do so much with God and our neighbors out of love and thankfulness.

I love y’all, and I mean it. Amen.




September 30, 2019, 12:00 AM

the one about risky love...


Sermon by Rev. Jennifer Shimota from September 29, 2019

Text: Luke 16:19-31

 

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and form our Lord and Savior Jesus, who is the Christ. Amen.

Jesus has been telling lots of stories about riches guys these past few weeks! We had the story that we often call the Prodigal Son, where a fairly rich guy and his sons make some choices and struggle with relationships a bit.

We had a story of the dishonest manger last week, where a rich guy has a manger who doesn’t want to be poor, so he makes some choices. And today, we have a rich man and Lazarus.

Sometimes I think we lose track of how Jesus is teaching those around him because we just get a small snippet of scripture each week. We know quite well the story of the Prodigal Son, or Good Samaritan, or maybe the Rich Man and Lazarus, but we don’t always see the big picture of what Jesus is teaching – like we might if we read the whole gospel.

Which, by the way, would take you a couple of hours. It really is worth doing. Just sit down with a cup of coffee – or tea for me - and let Luke tell you the story of our Lord. If you do that, you will see which stories Jesus tells back to back. And sometimes you’ll see that those stories have a theme, and together they are bigger than they are individually.

There is a rich man in our story today.

He uses his wealth to serve himself. He has a home stockpiled with scrumptious food – on which he feasts whenever he wishes. And, there’s a poor man, Lazarus, whom the Rich Man walks by every time he goes in or out of his home.

Lazarus is covered in sores, and the rich man walks by. Well, yah… maybe Lazarus is contagious! Leprosy was no joke! And if his sores were leprosy, then I guess it makes sense that the Rich Man would stay away.

I guess the dogs didn’t know better. They licked Lazarus’ sores – which is gross, to be honest.

Lazarus is hungry, and the rich man walks by.

Well, yah… so do I!

I drive around Columbia, where I now live, and there are desperate people with sings along my travel routes. I don’t know what to do about that. I really don’t.

I cannot solve homelessness. And frankly, I don’t even think I can solve one person’s homelessness.

I mean, is a person experiencing homelessness because of addiction? If so, that is a multilayer problem. We need to address the addiction AND the poverty if they are related.

Well, I’m not an addiction counselor, and my salary is not sufficient to support myself and another person. I can’t afford the rent on two apartments. And I have a guest room in my house, but I’m not going to invite them to come live with me.

So, I guess I get the Rich Man. Maybe he walks by Lazarus because he has fatigue from all the problems in the world and just doesn’t know how to help.

But, the Rich Man’s selfishness lands him in Hades when he dies – where he is being tortured. And he sees Lazarus, who has also died, across the chasm between Hades and torture and the gentle place where Lazarus is hanging out with Abraham.

And, the Rich Man says, “Oh hey! Abraham! This place is awful! Can you help out? Send Lazarus over to help me. Just even to dip his finger in some water to get it wet and come over here and put his finger in my mouth, so my tongue will be cooled.

Could you just help a guy out for a hot minute? Send Lazarus over to me.”

And Abraham says the Rich Man is out of luck. The chasm is fixed, he says. The choices you made were the choices you made. You live there now, tortured forever – and Lazarus lives here, with me. Just hanging out and no longer covered in sores or starving.

That’s how it works.

And Rich Man says, “Okay, so if you won’t make Lazarus help me, at least have him go warn my brothers about this. I mean, tell them that God’s laws are for real. That taking care of the poor is actually a command.”

And Abraham says – “Rich man, you had the Holy Scriptures. You had Moses. Which means you had the Ten Commandments. You had the prophets – which means you had heard them time and again that you are to care for the poor, to welcome the stranger, to host the immigrant, to look out for the weak ones among you. You had all that, and you didn’t care.”

Your brothers have the fullness of Moses and the prophets, too. If they don’t listen, like you didn’t listen, it wouldn’t matter if Lazarus, a dead man, comes back to life to warn them. They still won’t listen.

And I think, Really?! If the beggar at their gate came back to life to tell them God is serous about the law of love, that wouldn’t affect them? Are you sure?

But, then I got to wondering if Lazarus as just one of the guys they stepped over at their gate each day, did they know he died? Did they notice? Would they know him enough to notice he was gone? Would it have occurred to them to ask after him in the village square? “Hey, anyone seen Lazarus lately?” Would they even know they were talking to a man raised form the dead – if his death never registered on their radars?

And, if they DID know he had died, and he DID appear to them as a resurrected man with a message… would they believe him? Would they listen?

I have to wonder.

Because you see, I profess to love Jesus and to be his follower. And Jesus is a resurrected man with a message… do I listen?

Do I listen when he says that I am to love my neighbor as myself?

Do I listen when he says following me is picking up a cross and going where I go?

Do I believe him when he talks about picking up a cross?

Do I lived a changed life because a dead man who had been raised to life has told me that if I have two coats, that only means I have one to share?

I actually tremble when I consider this question.

Because, I have been to seminary and I am a called ordained minister of the Church of Christ.

And I have a guestroom in my home that I refuse to share, so someone sleeps on the sidewalk again tonight.

And I drive right on past people who are asking for help.

And I tell myself it is fine to have a kind of fatigue about the world’s problems because there are too many, and I’m just one person, so what can I do about it?

And, whenever I have picked up a cross, it hasn’t been a rough hewn one. It’s been a sanded and varnished one that doesn’t scratch much when I carry it on my shoulder. And I have not followed my Jesus all the way to where they Use those crosses to hang people on them.

I do not believe I have ever served my neighbor in such a way that my life was at risk, that it was the same as carrying a cross. Being willing to die if that’s what happens while serving my neighbor.

And, I’m not saying that the only way to be faithful to Jesus is to put your life at risk. I’m not saying that at all.

But, Jesus said that following him would absolutely be risky, not comfortable.

Jesus asked us to have risky love for our neighbor.

Like Mother Theresa serving the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta, risking catching the various diseases they had. Tending their wounds, feeding their tummies and their souls.

You know who is the mother Theresa of our Rich Man and Lazarus story?

The dogs.

The dogs who come to like Lazarus’ wounds. And my guess is they would lie down next to him in the sun and keep him company too. Because dogs are good creatures we can never quite deserve.

You know. The Prodigal Son goes off and wastes his dad’s money. Then, he comes to his sense and crawls back to his dad, begging for mercy, confessing his sins… and the relationship is restored.

This Rich Man, who has not cared for Lazarus, does not come to his senses, does not crawl back, does not beg for mercy…

Actually, he does ask for mercy, but not for his sins. He says, have mercy on me, make Lazarus be my servant and cool my tongue. I’m in agony. Make Lazarus fix it.

The Rich Man still doesn’t get how love works. He still doesn’t know and believe in the law of love spoken by Moses and the prophets.

And, when we don’t know or believe the law of love spoken by Moses, the prophets, and Jesus Christ, the son of God, who was raised from the dead by the power of love, when we don’t pick up our crosses to serve our neighbor because we are scared, or fatigued, or we just don’t get it…

We come to the font. We come to confession. Shoulder to shoulder, on our knees, saying out loud together that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.

And we come with cupped hands, like Lazarus’ beggar’s hands, to the Table of Mercy. Where we receive a piece of God, a piece of the one who Is not frightened or fatigued, and we are nourished.

We receive what we are: the Body of Christ.

Strengthened to serve the world God Loves. And follow a resurrected man with a message. Amen.




September 23, 2019, 12:00 AM

the one about that manager...


Sermon from Sunday, September 22, 2019

Text: Luke 16: 1-13

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Risen Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

Alright, so there are a few texts within our Holy Scriptures that make me cock my head to the side like a confused dog. There are stories from the Old Testament like Elisha and the she-bears, the hero Ehud, and pretty much the entire reaction of Jonah. There are those stories in the New Testament that give me the same pause as well. Some of them are funny, like when Jesus pays the tax with coins from a fish’s mouth. Some are strange, but relatable, like when Jesus yelled at a fig tree because he was hangry.

Then there are those stories that make you scratch your head in trying to figure out what in the world Jesus is trying to tell his disciples and in turn what are we to learn from that teaching. I believe that today’s parable from Luke’s Gospel is one of those strange teaching moments. Perhaps it is the oddest story that Jesus tells because it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when compared to the rest of what Jesus teaches, shows, and lives.

It is a confusing and interesting text to say the least. It looks like Jesus is praising this dishonest manager of money and asking others to be like him. Make friends using dishonest wealth? Follow what the world does and copy them? That seems – very much – to be the antithesis of what Jesus has proclaimed thus far.

My friends, colleagues and I have been puzzled by this text throughout our ministry (not to mention the countless preachers, theologians, and readers of scripture have been perplexed throughout history as well). We talked about it at length this week. It’s a weird text. What in the world are we to do with it?

This story occurs right after the Parable of the Loving Father – the culmination of the ‘Parables of the Lost’ that Jesus uses to express God’s love, desire, and faithfulness in ways we wouldn’t expect.

The only thing ‘typical’ in what Jesus has done in this parable, is that it follows the line of being ‘not what you expect.’ So, thinking along those lines, we can assume that what Jesus is about to say to his disciples could be in-line with what he has been talking about recently. Telling stories in such a way that makes the hearer really think about what’s going on.

So, this parable involves a man who is dishonest. And not only dishonest, but dishonest with someone else’s money. We aren’t told what exactly this manger has done to draw his employer’s ire, but it is enough that he’s going to get kicked to the curb.

And, understandably he begins to freak out.

He doesn’t believe he is strong so he can’t do tough manual labor, and he has too much pride to sit on the side of the road with his hand out. He feels he’s in a pickle. So, he searches out those individuals who have the largest debts to his employer and begins slashing what they owe. His reasoning?

If I’m going to get thrown out, I’m at least going to get some folks to be on my good side so that I can be cared for in the very near future.

The strangest thing comes next, where the master praises him for his shrewdness and cleverness. And to top that, Jesus seems to be praising the dishonest man as well!

What in the world are we to do with this story!

Now, first, I don’t think what Jesus is saying is that you’ve got to cheat the people who you are working for. I don’t think Jesus is saying that we’ve got lie and finagle to win people over. Those don’t seem to jive at all with what Jesus continually proclaims.

I think Jesus is interacting with two separate audiences here. He’s speaking to his disciples, but he’s really talking to those ‘Pharisees, tax collectors, and sinners’ who have gathered around him. The one’s who might be able to identify themselves in some way with the dishonest manager.

Perhaps, what Jesus is getting at is not ‘hey you disciples, you’ve gotta be like the worldly folks over there and do whatever it takes to advance the gospel. Even if it means doing some morally questionable stuff.”

That doesn’t seem to be what Jesus says at all – throughout his entire ministry.

But, maybe he’s sharing a story knowing that there are some other people listening in on this conversation. Where the message is – you may be someone who’s messed up big. You might be someone who has taken advantage of others. You might be someone who’s gained a lot through dishonest means. You people? Might as well do some good with what you’ve got. Especially if it means you’ve got to take a loss on this one to get your life more in line with what God desires. And, turn away from that life of the world and follow me.

Listen, we live in a world that a small percentage of people make an immense amount of wealth. Typically, they gain that wealth by taking advantage of those underneath them.

Whenever I think of the dishonest manager, Bill Gates is always someone who comes to mind. Now mind you, I’m a Microsoft fanboy. I love their products – some would call me a glutton of punishment for sticking with them. But, I’ve always loved their collective vision for technology.

I also know that Bill Gates was a shrewd businessman. He built his technological empire on the backs of others. He undercut rivals, he implemented practices that disrupted the system in negative ways that benefited him and Microsoft the most. He amassed an immense amount of wealth by seeking to control the entire PC market.

In more ways than one, Bill Gates was not a well-liked, well respected, or particularly honest person to deal with. He had power and money and wielded it to bury his rivals and get him the most money and wealth.

But, in the last 15 years, Gates has changed in many ways. His vast wealth – which is still one of the largest sums of money in the world – is not being used to prop himself up, but instead to be used to combat and fight disease around the world, providing access to great education, empowering the poorest in our world, and inspiring others to take action against inequality and injustice in the world.

There are a lot of dishonest ways in which Bill Gates accumulated his vast wealth. Ways that took advantage of others, buried rivals unfairly, and morally were pretty questionable.

Yet, like the dishonest manager, there was a choice and change. Valuing people and life instead of money, things, and wealth. As a commentator wrote, the dishonest manager isn’t being praised because he becomes dishonest; he is praised because he finally figures out how to do some good for his boss.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we should do whatever we want – amass wealth, power, and more through unsavory means – because eventually we’ll get to do some good with it.

No, I don’t think that’s Jesus’ point.

But, I think Jesus is still telling those ‘outsiders’ around him, that there is still hope and chance for them. That even in spite of their failings and fallings, they still have the opportunity and choice to live into what God has called the entire world into. If you’ve been dishonest thus far, use what you’ve gained to do some good. And also, turn back from those ways that have separated you from others and from God. Repent of those dishonest ways, follow where God is leading through Jesus Christ.

We are still called to care for those in need, think outside ourselves and our own well-being. That is what God calls us all into, that is what the life of faith lays before us.

Jesus calls us to care for people, always. Even when he shines the light on systems and practices that take advantage of others, his call is still to care for others with what you’ve got.

Repent from the ways that subjugate others. Repent from your ways that have hurt people. Repent and turn towards God. Turn to your neighbor, do some good because God has called us all to see the beauty of those around us, and care for our neighbors in need.

Do some good, even it means you have to take a loss to finally get on the right track. Amen.




September 9, 2019, 7:42 AM

the one about the risk...


Sermon from September 8, 2019

Text: Luke 14: 25-33, Philemon 1:1-21

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, these past few weeks hearing from Jesus has been tough hasn’t it? Jesus talks about bringing division and not peace, always being ‘at the ready,’ humble yourselves, skirt the established rules, and more. Jesus hasn’t been as ‘warm and fuzzy’ in our gospel readings lately. He puts us on edge, he makes us think, he might (perhaps he should) make you feel a bit uncomfortable.

This morning, we hear Jesus say, “Hate.” Hate your parents, your spouse, your children, your life. If you don’t do that, then you cannot be one of my disciples. That’s hard to hear. That’s just about enough to make me pack my bags and just about leave this whole faith thing behind.

Why on earth – would the one who proclaims and exclaims of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness – why would the one who shatters the barriers and tumbles the walls we’ve put up between ‘us and them’ in the world – why would the one who crosses cultural and physical borders – why would that one talk about hating family to be a disciple?

Jesus talked a lot about hating the things that we love in order to follow him and bear our cross for the world. But, I want to assure you – I don’t think Jesus is saying that we should ‘hate’ out of anger or hostility. As a former professor of mine in seminary would say, if there is a problem in the translation, it is usually the English’s fault. I think this is the case here in the 14th chapter of Luke. However, though the English cannot quite convey the correct feeling of what Jesus is getting at – it doesn’t mean it is any softer or easier.

But, before we get into that, a question for y’all. Who here has ever committed to something without knowing the extent of what you’d be required to do?

Perhaps you volunteered your services as a coach, or a board member, or with an organization. You walked into those moments in your life thinking, “This is going to be easy-peasy.” But, you quickly realized how wrong you were. Where you concluded that this new venture would require more time and effort than you initially thought. It might have resulted in tough decisions, fretful nights, and awkward conversations.

Depending on the decisions you made, it very well could’ve jeopardized your relationships with family and friends.

At the end of it – you realized it was much more difficult than you could ever possibly have imagined.

If you knew all that going in – would you have still done it?

If it’s something you truly believed in, then probably yes. But, if it was something you were lukewarm about, you probably wouldn’t want to jump into all the fuss.

We live in a world today that wants to convey a message of faith that is more digestible, it is easier to live in, doesn’t contradict what the ‘powers’ of the world gives. Whether those powers be political, cultural, or religious. That the Christian faith saddles up rather nicely with all things.

But, when we get down to it, when we look at scripture, as we read the words of Jesus’ lips and life, we come to the realization (hopefully) that there is a lot in this world that doesn’t cozy up with Jesus at all.

We have things like the false proclamation that one people is ‘better’ than the other solely based on the color of their skin or where they were born. We have things like the false proclamation that wealth is the number one determination of standing in the life of faith. Meaning that if you have ‘more’ than you’re ‘better’ in the eyes of God.

But, there are the little things that fly in the face of what our Lord proclaims, too. The things that we’re more apt to casually follow without thinking about it. Our adherence to organizations and people that constantly hurt others with their words and actions. Our ability to sweep away sins because of ‘who that person is and where they come from.’ Our immediate reactions on a person’s life based solely on where they live. Our ability to sustain the status quo, when it is definitively hurting someone else because, ‘that’s just the way it is or the way it was.’

When Jesus tells us that we should ‘hate’ family, friends, and life itself in order to be his disciples, I think he means to tell us how serious he is about our commitment to God. That not one thing stands in the way of our commitment to God and God’s kingdom, love, grace, and beauty. Not one thing should be used as an ‘excuse’ to live into God’s call upon our lives.

I think we see that lived out particularly well in our second reading as Paul writes to Philemon about Onesimus.

Based on context clues, we can determine that Philemon (and the others mentioned with him) are powerful people. He has clout, wealth, and respect. It also appears that (because this is the time in which it occurred) that he had slaves as well. Namely Onesimus being one of them.

Now, Paul writes on Onesimus’ behalf that Philemon should welcome him back, but not in the way he knew him before. That because he is now a believer like him, he should be welcomed as a brother.

The relationship has changed. Onesimus’ status has changed. He isn’t a slave anymore, nor should he ever be again. That’s not what the Body of Christ does with and to one another.

But, here’s the rub. What is Philemon to do? If he follows Paul’s call to him, what will his colleagues think? How will he be viewed in the community? Will he be seen as soft, weak, a push-over? One of those youngins’ who doesn’t respect the past and tradition? Welcoming Onesimus back into his life and community as a brother and not as a slave can possibly have dire consequences for him. He might be shunned, ostracized, kept out of the inner circle of power that he’s enjoyed so far in his life.

Yet, if he welcomes Onesimus as a brother, what has he gained? A new relationship. A deeper love. Living life more in step with God. Being a model of how faith changes us completely and unequivocally.

Y’all, this life of faith is not easy. God’s call to us can be very hard because it stands so firmly against many of the things we take for granted. God desires our commitment to grace, mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance.

When it is written that God so loved the world not only did that include you, but it included the one you’d never expect. And if God is able to love them, then perhaps we too, should be able to love them.

And if we love them, then we wouldn’t treat them – whoever they are – in the ways that we always have, or the world says is ‘ok.’

There is a cost to our discipleship. It changes us. It changes how we interact not only with the world, but how we interact with those people around us, the ones closest to us. Jesus wants us to know that that this commitment to discipleship isn’t easy.

Following Jesus isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires something of us. Are we willing to take that risk? Taking the risk means putting God first. Taking the risk means following through with commitments even when a better offer comes through. Taking a risk means admonishing words of hate and actions of injustice. Taking a risk means standing up for the poor and vulnerable. Taking a risk means losing friends who disagree. Taking a risk means following the one who knowingly walked toward his death.

We won’t always get it right. We won’t always succeed. There may be times that we flat out refuse to follow in the ways of God.

And yet, even in those moments. God still calls us. Because Jesus bore the cross for us. Jesus was victorious upon the cross over sin and death for us.

It doesn’t mean we get to do whatever we want because Jesus still loves us, God still has redeemed us. But, because of the commitment that God has given to us, it compels us to be more fully committed to the one who loves us. With our whole selves. Our whole lives.

We do this – this life of faith – because of God’s love for us. We are able to do this – even badly – because of God’s love for and commitment to us. We live our lives to God because of what God has already done.

It isn’t easy. It comes with trials, it comes with risks, it comes with ridicule to follow Jesus.

But, it’s worth it. It’s worth it to see God’s love lived out for others. It is worth it to share God’s love with others. It is worth it to know that no matter what God is here with us.

We measure the cost of discipleship, because it is worth it. Always. Amen.




September 2, 2019, 12:00 AM

the one about coming to the table...


Sermon from September 1, 2019

Text: Luke 14: 1, 7-14

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our risen Lord Jesus who is the Christ. Will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Who here likes to eat? I know I do. I love to eat, and as much as I don’t want to, I continually counteract the progress I make from working out. I’ll have to continue to work on that. Our Lord Jesus loves to eat as well. Especially in Luke’s Gospel, we find Jesus at the table with good friends surrounded by good food and good drink.

Jesus’ ministry throughout Luke’s gospel centers a lot around food. He is usually sharing a story, imparting knowledge, or observing people from his seat at the table. In our reading this morning we find Jesus in this frequent position. We read that he is gathered at the house of a Pharisee. At first glance this might make us a little bit surprised. Jesus is eating with who? He is eating with one of them? The same ones who try to entrap and ensnare him into tricky situations so they might have evidence to ‘get rid’ of him?

Yeah, Jesus is eating with ‘one of them’ Pharisees. This is pretty big deal, because you see Jesus is all about inviting folks to the table. All sorts of different people are welcome at the table with Jesus. And as Jesus welcomes all to the table around him, he usually uses it as an opportunity to impart some knowledge or new way of experiencing life and living out the Gospel that he proclaims. Perhaps this is something we can learn today as we live in a country and world that always seems at one another’s throats.

You see, those invitations sent out for celebrations at that time were pretty similar to how we invite others today to our celebrations. Something that I am keenly aware of as we begin thinking about what to do for Ashleigh’s 9th birthday party.

Who do you invite? Do we know them that well? Do we really want all these people to come? 

Even as a young boy growing up, there was always that part of the invitation process where you sent out invitations in hopes that everyone would come to your celebration and that in turn, you would be invited to their celebrations too. It is one of the earliest ways and times where we find out if we’re part of the ‘in crowd’ in our social circles. On that note, let’s just say my daughters are way more popular than I ever was.

Or you go to a party – birthday, wedding, retirement, or some other celebration – and you place yourself next to or close to the ‘honoree’ and discover that you’re not really wanted there at all. You’re asked, politely or pointedly, if you could ‘trade places’ with another. Talk about shame and embarrassment!  So, Jesus here is giving good and shrewd advice in how to keep that sort of thing from happening to you. His advice would be in any big wig’s playbook in how to ‘work a room’ to your advantage as you make contacts to further yourself and your lot in life.

Stay low – put yourself in a situation where people will pull you out into the more honored areas of life. Humble yourself; let others lift you up instead of you lifting yourself up. All of this Jesus gets from our lesson from Proverbs this morning.

But, then Jesus goes on to add a little more into the mix. Now, normally in an invitation to a celebration – you invite ‘the usual’ crowd that everyone invites. We fall into the ‘game’ of whose who, who’s here, and who’s absent as we go to and host celebrations. But, Jesus turns this notion on its head and says don’t just invite those people – the well-known, your family, your rich neighbors – but, instead invite the lowly.

The poor. The crippled. The lame. The blind. Invite the ones who the world has said are un-invitable. Invite the people no one else invites. Of course, inviting ‘those sorts’ of people into our celebrations – as the world sees it – damages our street cred and respectability. When the lame, the nerds, the strange, the different are invited your status immediately takes a dive and you’re no longer a part of the ‘in crowd.’ You’re no longer an ‘A-lister’ (if you even ever were). It’s social suicide they’ll say! Talk to any teenager about who and who not to invite to their parties. They’ll tell you what’ll happen to their social standing at school.

But, Jesus isn’t paying attention to any of that. For Jesus – he points to a far greater reward. A reward of resurrection. A life lived to and for God. A life lived where all are welcome to the table.

As I read this story, I couldn’t help but notice what anniversary quietly went by. On an August 28th in Washington DC over 50 years ago, a man stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and asked the country to – essentially – invite one another to the table.

You see, when we’re gathered at the table lines are broken down. Sharing food with one another helps us overcome those differences and barriers that the world has helped us erect to block us off from one another. Sharing a meal with one another is an intimate experience. Whether it is in candlelight as you stare across at the one you love in front of you or mop up the blended goop back into the mouth of an infant with a spoon, or even sitting with the guy on the street and sharing your meal.

For you see, sharing a meal with another puts you on equal level. It says to the other – I honor and cherish you as an individual; as a fellow child of God. It is where true talks of peace can occur. It is where we can begin to see one another as parts of a whole instead of as pieces separate from one other. It is at the table – a table of brotherhood as Dr. Martin Luther King put it – where our dreams and hopes can be lived out. Where all are known and viewed as equals. Not because of who they are, but because of whose we are.

I am equally reminded of how we need to be more in table fellowship as a world with one another. As we continue to live in a world that is always at odds with one another. Where we push people away if they don’t agree with our views 100% completely. Where we hurl hurtful, shameful, and regrettable words at a person or a group of people simply because they aren’t ‘one of us.’ How many today would give another person with an ‘opposing view’ the time of day, let a lone share a meal with them?

For we all are children of God. We all have been created out of love by our God of mercy, acceptance, and grace.

The same God who today invites all of us to this table. This table where all are welcome – no matter who you are or where you come from. No matter what you’ve done or what you think. No matter if you’re skeptical or full on follower of the One. Christ invites you into table fellowship with him. In fact, Jesus goes so far to invite himself into your life. Coming to you to show you how worthy and ‘whole’ you truly are.

Coming to this table, Jesus reaches out and pulls you here to eat of this bread and drink of this wine. Reminding us all that this is for all of us. That we all are invited to this table where we remember what Christ as done for us and then are fed and sent to live out that in our lives. Where we then are called to invite others to our tables. Where we gather in fellowship not just with those who others invite, but also inviting those that don’t usually get even a simple hello from the world.

Where we are called to invite others into our lives, not just our dinner tables. Where we share our lives with one another. We serve in love, we gather in grace, where we see one another for who and whose we are.

We continue to live into and for that dream that Martin Luther King described which was first lifted up by our Lord Jesus Christ. We continue to pray that those in conflict around the world and in our country can look across the table at one another and pass bread and not trade verbal insults.

All are welcome to this table. All are welcome in this place. All are welcome in this life of faith. No exceptions. Seriously. Amen.

 




September 1, 2019, 8:00 AM

September 2019 Newsletter


Grace and peace y’all!

August has come to an end and it was an eventful one, wasn’t it!

A huge storm, cancelled church services, and lots of rain. It isn’t even quite hurricane season yet!

I was taken aback by how many folks around our community came together to provide care, relief, and help to those around them in need this month. Especially in response to the fierce storm we had on August 17.

Trees fell over, power lines came down, flooding occurred, and electricity was out for much of our area for an extended period of time. And yet, folks came together to help cut trees, move limbs, and check on one another. Water was provided for weary crews who helped restore power to our area and remove massive fallen trees from roads and yards.

In spite of the chaos, neighbors and strangers came together to provide relief and help to one another. And that was a beautiful sight to behold. Even if that meant seeing some people driving around with long chainsaws in their golf carts up and down the roads.

It got me thinking. In spite of living in a world that is incredibly divided. Divided politically, ideologically, and more we still find ways to bring down our barriers and walls to help those in need. What a beautiful world it could be if those barriers were down all the time!

What a wonder it would be to see the person before us as an individual in need and an individual worthy of love, care, and service.

For that is what I believe God calls us into all the time. Care and love for one another – all the time. Not when it’s convenient or at the ‘appropriate’ time, but always. Living into love and grace with those around us.

That is my continual prayer. Every day. That we all live into the love and service that God calls us to. All the time. Amen!

I love y’all, and I really mean it!

 

 




August 26, 2019, 9:12 AM

the one about erring on the side of grace like Jesus...


Sermon from August 25, 2019

Text: Isaiah 58: 9b-14 and Luke 13:10-17

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, how many of you have been told what you need to do in order for God to be close to you in your life? I’m sure there are a number of ways that people have told you – or that you’ve heard – about what one must do for God to be close to you. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the #1 way that you’ve been told is that you need to follow God’s law. And typically, that ‘law’ cozies up really nicely with that particular person’s set of beliefs.

And no matter the type of ‘church person’ it is, they always seem to think that God only shows up when a particular set of rules are followed, or boxes are checked. And if you deviate from that set plan slightly, it throws everything out of order and you risk putting yourself (and others) in jeopardy.

We hear that stuff a lot. It could be rules like, “you need to be baptized to be a part of us, or take communion a certain number of times for you to be ‘good’ in God’s eyes.” Perhaps, those rules involve who can participate in leading worship. Maybe you’ve heard of those who get really perturbed depending on what organizations you support or what views one should hold close. Perhaps each of those scenarios hits a little close to home for us as well.

A few years ago I unintentionally made a point about how we view rules and traditions. I remember talking about how it isn’t how well or perfectly we ascribe to certain ‘church rules’ that brings us closer to God. As an example, I talked about the candles on the altar and how they should be lit.

For some, there is a certain order. Which side, which candle? There have been a few wide-eyed new acolytes that have come to me before their first service and asked, “Pastor… which one do I light first.” I kneel down, draw them in close and whisper, “I don’t care. Just light them all. God isn’t going to mind how you do it.”

Now, that particular Sunday three years ago, the candles didn’t get lit. I didn’t notice it until communion. But, there were many folks who came up to me after service who asked, “were the altar candles not lit to emphasize your point?”

No. Someone forgot, but it apparently seemed to work out pretty well.

In our first reading and gospel reading, we see the work of God push back on what we normally consider the ‘status quo’ of the life of faith.

Isaiah talks about what a person or a people must do in order for God to be with them. Usually, we might think – and perhaps the Israelites as well – that what God desires for us is to uphold those rituals and laws first.

Follow the rules, and I’ll be with you.

Yet, that isn’t what God says to the people – to us – through the words of Isaiah. There wasn’t a mention about being ritually clean – washing your hands in a certain way before eating. There wasn’t a mention about what clothes to wear, or foods to eat, or things you have to do in order for God to notice or see you.

Instead, its stop being jerks to each other and care for one another. Give of what you have, share in your abundance, be with those around you.

To me, that’s comforting. Because, I’ll tell you what. I unintentionally ‘break’ rules more often than others think I should. Sometimes, I even do it intentionally.

If you stick your hand out at communion, I’m going to give you the body of Christ. I just am. I’m not going to ask – in that moment – if you should be receiving this gift of meal and life. I’m going to give it to you.

More often than not, if you come to me with a need, I’m going to try to find a way to help you – even if it means that I don’t (always) follow the exact setup procedure.

When you ask if you served in worship leadership well (especially if you’re an acolyte) I’ll ask you two questions – was God given praise and honor and glory today? And did you burn the church down?

If you can answer correctly to those questions, you’re good in my book. And, I believe God is overjoyed as well. So far, we’ve been good.

Jesus himself was akin to erring on the side of grace and skirting the ‘rules’ of his day. Especially a big one like – doing no work on the sabbath.

In our gospel reading, our Lord is confronted with a woman who has been afflicted with the inability to stand up straight. She’s bent over and has been that way for a long, long time.

I’ve never had serious back trouble, but a couple of weeks ago I had some neck and back trouble and it was terrible. I cannot imagine not having the ability to stand up straight and move freely for years. It was excruciating not being able to do that for just a few days.

And so, when approached by this woman, Jesus heals her. On the Sabbath no less. On the day that the ‘rules’ require the people of Israel to rest in observance of the day that God rested after the story of creation.

Jesus didn’t follow the rules. And those who uphold the ‘rules’ - the Pharisees – the clergy of the day – are a little upset.

Jesus errs on the side of grace and love.

Now, I can see why the Pharisees get a little upset, it is their job to uphold the rules and laws of faith, and when someone like Jesus comes along and points a light at the injustice of some of those laws, it makes us squirm. It puts us on edge. It makes others question whether or not other rules and laws might need to be looked at again through a different lens.

I imagine it was the same for those clergy during the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Where Luther and others began the task of translating the Bible into native languages. No longer was it just for those who were ‘educated’ in this field, but given to all.

It broke a ‘rule.’ And yet, out of grace and love, the people began to see and know of God’s life with and for them even more fully and intimately than ever before.

God has continually taken what we assume must be the ‘correct’ way and shifted it or turned it completely upside down. Jesus upends the conventional ways to make a point about God.

God is going to love – despite and in spite – of the rules that we make.

God wants us to love and serve those around us. First and completely. Instead of just following rules that can (at times) keep us from helping those in need. God invites us into this life of faith that challenges the status quo and reaches out to people in need.

And living in that life of faith, we may ruffle feathers. Why? Because we’re called to help those in need and we are called into that service in ways that people wouldn’t expect, desire, or that it contrasts with what the world and society proclaims. Like Jesus, we see the ones who stand up straight and we see the ones who are bent over. We see the ones who are in need and we go to them. We proclaim. We serve. We help. We praise in joy and thanksgiving in all kinds of healing.

Healing in our life. Healing in the life of others around us.

If Jesus is going to err on the side of grace and love, perhaps we should be open to that possibility too? Amen.


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