In pm's words
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April 11, 2019, 10:00 AM

Of Marvel and Faith


Throughout my life I have been obsessed with science fiction, fantasy, and the fictional. I’ve poured countless hours into books, movies, tv shows, video games, and comic books since I was a young boy. I’ve loved the stories of heroes, anti-heroes, the unexpected, the call to protect, the introduction to something new and different. In many ways, I have been greatly influenced by what was once a ‘fringe’ activity while growing up, but has now been thrust into the limelight of popular culture. I was a nerd and a geek before it was cool.

During those times of formation by the stories of gamma rays, alien invasions, and radioactive spiders I also dove deep into my faith. Attending worship with family, and eventually on my own. Finding solace and peace in the words of the liturgy, the hymns of praise, the community of believers. Having engrossing conversations with friends and strangers about where God is at work in the world and where the Holy Spirit might be leading us. It has been an eventful journey to say the least. So eventful, that God saw it fit to call me as an ordained minister in the church. I’ve been a pastor in the ELCA for almost eight years now, and my love of faith and popular culture hasn’t diminished in the slightest.

So, it is no wonder that two of the things I care deeply about and am passionate to share just happen to intermix in wonderfully weird and amazing ways. I cannot help but see God at work in the movies and shows I watch. I think about the actions I take in video games (especially the ones that give the options of choice) and how my faith reflects and impacts those decisions. I love to talk about those intersections of faith and popular culture with others.

For over 10 years, the world has been introduced to the mighty heroes of the pages of comic books in exciting ways. Specifically, on the ‘big screen’ as Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has taken shape through 21 different films. The ‘culmination’ of these films will hit with Avengers: Endgame which comes to theaters on April 26, 2019.

In the lead up to seeing Endgame, I’ve decided to re-watch all of the Marvel movies. First, because it has been awhile since I’ve seen some of these movies. Second, I want to see the whole story arc before ending it with Endgame. Some of these movies are great, some of them are not the best. But, they are ALL enjoyable and fun in their owns ways.

As I watch them, I’ve been keeping notes of the Gospel Glimmers that I see present in them. And, I wanted to share those thoughts with y’all. So, the following is a quick, not thorough, and definitely not exhaustive list of how I see the Gospel at play in these movies. You may disagree with my interpretations in them, you may find others that I never saw. That’s great! Join the conversation. In fact, if you’re in the Newberry, SC area – you’re more than welcome to join our monthly(ish) Nerd Word faith study group. We get to have all these really great and nerdy conversations about movies, shows, and faith! It’s a lot of fun!

So, here… we… GO!

 

 

Captain America: The First Avenger

In this movie, we are introduced to the first ‘superhero’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a man named Steve Rogers. Steve is an atypical individual during the height of World War II. He’s scrawny, has a plethora of health issues, and yet possesses a determination to do something to combat injustice and evil in his world. The best way he knows how is to join the Army and fight the Nazis overseas. Of course, because of all his ‘limitations’ he’s never allowed to join. Eventually, he catches the eye of an Allied scientist who is implementing a ‘Super Soldier’ program and is looking for the best men to be the first test subject. He chooses Rogers, who gladly (if not humbly) accepts and he is transformed into Captain America. He’s gifted with strength, speed, and size. He goes on to fight the Nazis, save his friends, combat the beginnings of Hydra, take on Red Skull, and sacrifice himself to save the country from certain doom.

Cap is a savior figure in the Marvel world. He’s probably one of the few characters that can be paralleled with Jesus Christ. He’s kind, he speaks out against injustice, he is for the ‘little guy,’ he helps others believe in themselves, he sacrifices himself to save his friends. He is very much a Christ-like figure.

He’s also the guy no one expects. At least not at first. And Jesus wasn’t the one the world expected either. Jesus wasn’t wealthy, he wasn’t a military mastermind, he wasn’t cosmic figure that would lay waste to the oppressors and enemies of Israel in one fell swoop. He was a poor carpenter from a backwater part of Israel. He wasn’t what anyone expected.

Steve/Cap is that way too. When we’re first introduced to Steve, he’s a scrawny kid who can’t possibly hurt a fly. Not because he wouldn’t try (if the fly deserved it), but he probably literally couldn’t hurt the fly. Yet, what he lacked in strength and agility, he more than made up for in devotion, grit, and unabashed love for his friends, family, and strangers. He would literally die for the people around him. That wasn’t made more clear until his commanding officer in the Super Soldier Training Program tossed a ‘dummy’ grenade in the middle of the training group. Every macho, big, bruising hulk of a soldier that saw that grenade ran for cover. Yet, the scrawny kid everyone picked on immediately jumped on what he thought was a live grenade and yelled that everyone ‘get away’ so they’d be safe. He’s willing to lay down his life for his friends and others.

It was after this moment that he is told by the lead scientist, Dr. Abraham Erskine, tells Steve that whatever happens after the test is (successfully) completed that he will still strive to be a good man and not a perfect soldier. As we read scripture, it is chock full of people who want others to be perfect in their life. Perfect in their worship, perfect in their actions, perfect in their speech. Yet, more often than not – people – everyone – fails at that endeavor. In spite of creations desire to ‘be perfect,’ it seems that God is more interested in us being good. Good to others, good to ourselves, good to what we have been gifted. A life where everyone is caring for and serving with each other to the Glory of God.

As a Lutheran I know I’m not perfect. I know I will always fall short of that. Yet, in spite of that failing and fall, I know that God will continue to love me, guide me, and show me that love in the world and in my life. Where leading the life of a faithful individual will put me at odds with the world. I’ll go against ‘conventional wisdom’ or even break the authority of those around me for the greater good of serving and caring for strangers.

Cap does that as he goes off into the fray – alone mind you – to save his friend and his friend’s platoon from certain death. Captain America strives for what is right, even when others disagree.

There are a lot more parallels to the gospel in this movie, but we can have a deeper discussion at another time.

 

Captain Marvel

Being that this movie is so recent – I’ll give a spoiler free summary of the movie, and then you can go watch this movie and come back. I really enjoyed it!

This is the latest movie in the MCU that was released at the beginning of March 2019. It depicts a story of a supernaturally powerful woman who crash lands on Earth while fighting a sworn enemy race. Yet, while on Earth she realizes she has a much closer relationship to these people and this world. Her views are challenged, her limits tested, and she vows to fight for the truth. Alright, go watch the movie and come back, I’ll wait…

 

In many ways, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel is a Christ-like figure as well. Not in the same way as Captain America/Steve Rogers, but very similar. Like Cap, she vows to fight on the side of truth (once she discovers it fully) even when that truth turns her whole worldview upside down.

Initially, she believes that the group she fights for (the Kree) are the proverbial good guys who are out to bring justice, freedom, and order to the universe. Granted, that justice, ‘freedom,’ and order is in a very specific way where others must bow down to the Kree’s ultimate authority and rule. They are in a bloody and dangerous war with the Skrull, beings who can change their very selves into others. Skrulls are bad – and they sure fit the moniker. They are green with spikey ears and can speak in growls. Plus, they can literally be any being near you so they are very dangerous.

Throughout this film, Danvers struggles with the idea of who she is and what defines us as a person. Her memory is in bits and fragments. She is consistently told to ‘forget’ what she thinks she knows about herself, and fall into line with those around her. She must be the perfect soldier. Listens to commands, doesn’t show emotion, and fall in line. Always.

Yet, she can’t help who she is. She’s funny, she smirks, she’s inquisitive. She’s made this way and she can’t change it. In fact, she isn’t fully aware of herself until she meets up with her friend towards the end of the movie who says, “I know who you are, even if you don’t.”

That’s what God says to us. I know you. I love you. I accept you. That’s powerful stuff, and it is what Carol needs to hear in order to fight for the truth she now knows.

There are distinct moments in this film where even Carol Danvers’ body position is to evoke a sense of ‘savior.’ Arms spread wide, on her knees in a ‘praying’ gesture as she communes with the Kree Central Intelligence. The incredible power she is able to control that saves the day and thwarts the enemies.

 

Iron Man

This is a movie centered around a pompous, arrogant, extremely wealthy, and incredibly brilliant individual named Tony Stark. He owns and runs Stark Enterprise that creates weapons of war to ‘keep the bad guys away.’ As he says in a demonstration with US military personnel – make a weapon that you only have to use once.

Eventually, his work catches up with him and he is captured and forced to create his latest weapon for an evil man and organization. Of course, Tony has other plans. Instead he ends up creating a suit of armor (powered by the device he created to keep the shrapnel from entering his heart).

After he escapes, Tony has a moment of confession and repentance. He realizes how much harm his business has done. Intended solely for the ‘protection’ of allies, his weapons eventually (and frequently) find their way into the hands of truly evil people. He vows to dismantle the weapons program at Stark and re-imagine what his gifts can be used for. He confesses his sin of war profiteering and repents from those ways.

Granted, in the process he does make an amazing armored suit that is fitted with the latest technology that he uses to do his own ‘dismantling’ of enemy combatants.

Our life of faith though is centered in many ways around confession and repentance. We do things that are bad. Sin is a prevalent part of our life. Yet, we are called to confess our sins, and God who is faithful and just forgives our sin. In this new and continually forgiven life, we live in repentance – turning away from sin and turning towards a life of God and good.

There are a few more gospel glimmers, but confession/repentance is the big one in this film.



Comments

04-11-2019 at 2:00 PM
Will Rose
Nicely done. I would love to hear what "gospel glimmers" you see in Guardians of the Galaxy.
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April 8, 2019, 8:00 AM

the one about overflowing joy...


Sermon from April 7, 2019

Text: Isaiah 43:16-21 & John 12:1-8

 

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our 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, this morning we read a story that I heard a colleague state makes him about as uncomfortable as lifting one’s hands in praise during worship. He’s just not used to it – as a tradition in the church, we’re not used to it. It’s foreign to us in so many ways. I imagine that there was a deep sense of uncomfortableness that emanated from those gathered around Jesus that day in Lazarus’ home as Mary poured out this perfume upon his feet and dried it up with her hair.

That’s strange. What is she doing?

Throughout this season of Lent, we’ve been hearing about joy. The joy of observing Lent. What we learn, what we gain, how we move through that joy. The joy of God’s presence, the joy of God’s life, the joy of God’s love – for you and for all of creation. There is joy to be had here; in this season and in this life that all of creation has been gifted.

This morning we see Mary live out that joy and adoration. If you remember, this story occurs right after Mary’s brother is raised from the dead. Perhaps she has recently read from the scroll of Isaiah – the part we read this morning. Where God – speaking through the prophet – states that a new thing is about to take place. She is filled to overflowing in God’s presence and cannot think of a better way to show that joy, love, and adoration.

Perhaps here Mary realizes that this new thing is the one sitting before her. Perhaps this new thing is the one who raised her brother from the dead. Perhaps this new thing is the one who sits with those that the world pushes to the margins of life. Perhaps, this is the new thing that God is speaking about.

How do you live out this joy? How do you live out this adoration? Have you ever lived out that joy?

What has God done in your life that has made you, compelled you, perhaps pushed you, to do that joyous thing that might make others uncomfortable? Even if it is raising your hands in praise during worship and prayer? Where have you been filled to overflowing in God’s love, mercy, and acceptance that you feel compelled to show that joy and adoration?

But, what holds us back in living into that joy? I’m not always sure, because it is a bit different for everyone. But, in my conversations with others and even as I reflect on my own life – when I haven’t lived into that joy – I think more often than not it falls back onto those dreaded words that we see in all communities, especially in the church…

We’ve never done it that way before. Or, that’s not how it’s done here. That’s not really a ‘Lutheran’ thing to do in worship/practice. That’s not what we do here.

Mary breaks all sorts of social norms as she walks into the room and falls at the Lord’s feet. She doesn’t do the stereotypical thing that women were expected to do at that time. She does the unthinkable by pouring out this expensive perfume upon Jesus’ feet. She shows her adoration in a way that makes people uncomfortable.

Living out that sort of joy that we receive in Jesus can and does make others uncomfortable. Especially when it places us in positions that puts us at ‘odds’ with those around us. A couple weeks ago, I received one of the best compliments to my ministry – from someone outside the communities I’ve served – than I’ve ever received before. This person thanked me and specifically thanked this community of faith for being so intentional and adamant about inclusivity and affirmation. That it was something the community of Newberry needed to hear and needed to have lived out.

I remarked that it can be frustrating living into that call to faithful living because it can and does make people uncomfortable. And when people are uncomfortable, they act in strange ways. Not always good ways either. His response to that? Well, that might just mean you’re following Jesus’ life since he made people pretty uncomfortable too.

As we strive to live into and live out the joy that we have first received, we are at times held back by those thoughts from the past – those things we took for granted, the stuff we assumed, the parts we ‘ignored’ in our everyday life. Where we didn’t question the things that leaders told us was ‘wrong.’ Even though, we had that sinking feeling that… well, perhaps, maybe there is another way.

I cannot help, but see that at play in the powerful words of Isaiah that we heard this morning. Where as the prophet begins, he shares of God’s wonder and power. Where he shares of God’s presence and ultimate guidance in the life of Israel. And yet, the very next words he speaks and shares are not what we expect – Do not remember the things of old.

Strange isn’t it? Not do not fear because God is with you because look who God is and has done. No, Isaiah states God’s power, might and presence, and then calls for the people to not remember the former things.

How do we interpret that? How are we to live into that?

I wonder if God is speaking to us to not hold so fast to those things that we feel are so near and dear to us? The way we ‘do’ stuff in the life of faith and in our lives gifted from God? The way we worship and speak?

Perhaps, God is telling us through the prophet that those things that keep us from moving forward in God’s love and joy simply because they’ve ‘not been done here’ before or don’t ‘fit into’ the agreed upon standard are what needs to be left behind? Perhaps it isn’t about living up to some idolized version of the ‘status quo,’ but living into where God is calling us to be as we live out this radical life of faith, hospitality, and welcome?

Perhaps, God is reflecting that there are some things that are not worth remembering in our lives. Those times when we haven’t – as individuals and as people – failed to live into the love and grace that God has given us. Where we’ve judged, we’ve cast aside, we’ve ignored the hurtful words of others, we’ve caused havoc all because a person or a group or a situation was ‘different’ or ‘strange’ to what we considered to be the ‘norm?’

Maybe God is stating that you know all those things that you believe and others have said keep God from being with you? Those things that others have told you separate you from the love of God? Those moments where you believe you are so far removed from God’s acceptance and grace? Perhaps that needs to be remembered no more.

And why? Why should we not remember them? Because God is up to something Isaiah says. There is something new afoot. It is something that Mary knows, and she has no other way to express it than to fall at Jesus’ feet and give him praise. She has been a witness to God’s power, grace, and love. She has been a witness to that overflowing of new life, and she cannot help, but live out that joy and adoration in a distinct way.

A way that makes others uncomfortable, a way that makes others question. A way that makes those around her think about what is going on. And before you think it, Jesus’ response isn’t a call to ‘not care’ for those in need because they will ‘always be around,’ but perhaps in this new thing that God is up to, we might be able to see God present because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in the lives of each person around us – those who have and especially those who have not – so that all might actually be cared for fully.

The joy that we hear this fifth and final Sunday in Lent, is that God is indeed up to something new. God is continually up to something new. And that new thing is shown to us – again and again – in the person, the life, the ministry, the death, and the resurrection of the one whose feet Mary bathes and dries. God has indeed gifted us so much in new and overflowing life. How do we respond? How do we show it to the world?

What joy it is that God is indeed up to something new. Live out that joy that God has shown in your life. Live out that joy of radical love and welcome with everyone. Perhaps even enough to make others a bit uncomfortable –and perhaps (though a good first step) it is a little bit more than just raising your hands up in worship and prayer. Amen.




April 1, 2019, 9:00 AM

the one about prodigal...


Sermon from March 31, 2019

Text: Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our 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 of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen.

So, as we enter into this fourth week of Lent, we hear and read a parable in our gospel reading that is very familiar to us. In fact, it might be one of the most well-known parables in all of scripture. The story of a young man who demands his inheritance, goes off and lives the ‘good life’ in the world, spends it all, and comes back to his father who runs with opening arms for him. There of course is also the elder brother who is a bit resentful of the attention his younger brother has received upon his return and the father who comes to him in love and grace as well.

This is a story that we know well. But, I think because we know it so well, we tend to gloss over it, thinking that we already know all there is to know about this story. Yet, there is one thing that no matter how well versed in this parable that a person might be, there is usually one misunderstanding that we have about it – even something I’ve fallen victim to before as well.

This parable is typically titled ‘The Prodigal Son.’ So, that word prodigal. It isn’t a word that we typically hear of outside of this story. So, I want to ask you – what does that word mean? Anyone? Most think that it means ‘lost’ or ‘found’ or ‘returned.’ Something to that affect. Seems rational to think that. For this is a story of a son who lost his way and then is found when he returns to his home and father.

Perhaps the ‘lost’ definition can be applied to the elder brother as well. For he’s lost his ‘love’ for his brother and perhaps even his respect for his father. And still the father ‘finds’ him and calls for him to ‘return’ to the celebration of the re-emergence of his younger brother.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d definitely think that prodigal means ‘lost’ or ‘found’ because those words play such a pivotal role within this parable.

But, that isn’t what prodigal means. Not even close.

Prodigal means wasteful. Extravagantly wasteful.

And there is a lot of waste being thrown around in this parable. Sometimes in the most surprising ways.

Now, typically prodigal applies to those who spend lavishly in the finances and wealth that they have. This younger son insists and demands that his father give him his inheritance – now. Something that he cannot wait until his father dies to receive. In fact, I’ve preached it before that the younger son essentially tells his father, “I wish you were dead. So, I can live now.”

Surprisingly, the father gives his son what he asks. And boy does that son live into the prodigal life. For those who might be fans of the TV Show Parks and Rec, this son goes on a ‘Treat Yo’ Self’ lifestyle.

Food and drink? Treat yo’ self.

Clothes and accessories? Treat yo’ self.

Women and ‘fun’? Treat yo’ self.

He is living fully into the prodigal life. And then it’s all gone. Almost as quickly as it came to him. He then lives a life completely on the other side of the spectrum. He can’t be ‘prodigal’ in his living because he doesn’t have two coins to rub together.

So, he vows to return home and to the father he spurned.

And, here we get more ‘prodigal-ness’ dished out. But, this time it comes from the surprising father. For the father is extravagantly wasteful too. But, what he ‘wastes’ is his love and life. Or at least wastes it according to how the world then and even today would look at it.

He gave the son exactly what he asks for. He split his wealth and gave it to him so that he can go off and do what he wanted. Yet, as ridiculous as it is for the father to do that, what he does when that son returns might be even more ‘prodigal.’ He runs to meet his son as he crests the hill far from home. He throws caution and ‘respect’ to the wind in order to wrap his son in his arms once more. Brings him into the home and throws an incredible party for him. He places upon his body lavish clothes, feeds him wonderful food, surrounds him with friends and family. He celebrates.

The father is prodigal in his love. He shares it profusely with no regrets. He lives the ‘treat yo’ self’ lifestyle too. Yet, he gives and gives and gives. Instead of takes and takes. He lavishes upon this son all that he can.

And the third one in this ‘prodigal’ story notices and becomes quite upset. For the elder son has been ‘prodigal’ too. He’s been wasteful of what he already has from his father. He has the love, the life, the respect, the honor, the care. Yet, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t ‘care?’ He doesn’t live into what he has already been given. In ways, he’s ‘wasted’ his father’s love and life as well. He is ‘prodigal’ with his anger and frustration and resentment.

And yet, the father extends his prodigiously wasteful love upon this one too. Inviting him back into the home that has always been his. Inviting him back into the life that has been given to him. Inviting him back into the love that has always been there.

Inviting him back to mend the relationship with his brother, through him.

On this fourth week of Lent, we hear and read about the prodigal story. The prodigal life that these sons and their father live. The joy we hear this day is the father in this story is our parallel to God in our life. Our God and creator who is incredibly wasteful (in our eyes) with love. Sharing and spreading this love to any and all in the world.

Celebrating in full and beyond those who return from living a life vastly apart from the one who has given them life. Giving the unexpected – God’s very life – to the one who asks and demands it.

Our joy is God’s prodigal love for the world. Our joy is that in spite of our ‘prodigal’ lifestyle – God celebrates our return when we see that the ‘treat yo’ self’ life doesn’t fulfill, it doesn’t make us whole, it doesn’t satisfy us. We just crave more and more and this ‘stuff’ can never fill that insatiable maw.

But, God’s prodigal love can and does. This prodigal, wasteful, extravagant love tells us that we are already good. We don’t have to do anything, get anything, have anything to receive this love. It is given to us already. It was given to us in creation, it was renewed in us through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Whether we’ve lived a life of wastefulness or lived a life of frustration and resentment – our God runs to us, meets us where we are, wraps arms of love and grace around us, and invites us back into the home and love that has been first given to us. Our God helps us mend the relationships that have been broken. Through God, our lives are made whole.

Our joy in Lent, is that God is prodigal in love to us and all of creation. And thank God for that. Amen.




April 1, 2019, 8:00 AM

April 2019 Newsletter


Grace and peace y’all!

As we look around during this time of year – especially when the rains finally subside – we get to see the new life that emerges from the ground after the winter season. Plants, animals, and flowers come up from their time away. Their sounds fill the air; their smells waft through the air; and people walk around with a little more bounce in their step as we move from a cold season to a warmer one that is rich with life!

Of course, that new and renewed life is at work in our community as well! Our 100 Days of Prayer groups have begun, and they and others are in constant prayer for not only one another, but for God’s presence and direction within our community of faith here at Redeemer. We again get to see where God is leading us as a faithful community.

I’ve had some really neat conversations with folks as they think about where God might be leading them. One in particular summed it up perfectly as they remarked on how God is leading them to do something new in the community in a faithful and faith-filled way, they remarked, “I feel like I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m excited to be on this trip!”

I couldn’t think of a better way to describe the Holy Spirit’s action in our life. Sometimes we don’t know where we are going or where God might be leading us. We even might be a little skeptical about the direction God is taking as we are led and called to serve those around us. But, it is and can be exciting to be on that trip.

The wonderful thing is, we are never alone in that journey. Yes, God is indeed there with us, Jesus is there supporting us, and the Holy Spirit is guiding (pushing?) us along the way. But, we also know that we are surrounded by this community of faith in love, support, and more.

We all come together to see where God is leading us, joining with each other living into our passions for service and ministry. Praying, discerning, and living into what God might be doing through us next.

It’s a wild ride, but one I wouldn’t want to be on anywhere else.

God has great things in store for us here at Redeemer, and I cannot wait to see what it all ends up being! It’s going to be fun, that’s for sure!




March 25, 2019, 8:00 AM

the one about fertilizer


 

Sermon from March 24, 2019

Text: Luke 13:1-9

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our 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, amen!

So, whenever you set well and good intentions, obstacles are bound to crop up. Case in point, you may have said before Lent began that – you know… I’m going to focus on the joy of Lent to remember and recognize God’s goodness and grace during this penitential season. Then, you might be a little stumped when the third Sunday in Lent’s assigned gospel reading is titled – REPENT OR PERISH! No one said giving something up, or taking something on during Lent would be easy.

But, even in the midst of things that seem so dire and absolute, I believe there is still joy to be found.

This Sunday, we are confronted with Jesus’ words amidst a long sermon he is giving to the multitudes and crowds that are gathered around him. His words are directed at his close followers, curious on-lookers, indignant religious authorities, and those faithful who will follow him only because of his Word and the shared Gospel to them thousands of years later (you and I).

His message to those gathered around him this day – and to each of us – is don’t feel that you are so special that you’re better than those ‘others’ you like to malign, shame, and chastise. Jesus is matter of fact, change your ways, turn back to God, return to the life that God has created for you. There are consequences to living away from God’s truth and life.

Jesus calls to his followers – all of us – that living in his light induces a change in behavior and life. A life that is lived in and for God’s glory. A life where we continually repent – turn back from the things we’ve done – so that we can live fully into the life that God has freed us for.

A life that is in service to God and neighbor. A life that welcomes all in love and grace. A life that is focused on forgiveness and mercy. A life that is shared with and for all. It was a radical call to life then, it is a radical call to life now.

It’s a life that we still lose sight of, stray from, and times stubbornly oppose in so many myriad ways.

But, when we look at only what Jesus says in the first part of this reading, we might get a little wary of how our life is going. Jesus seems to imply that this is a one and done thing. Repent or perish. Do it now. Just turn back. Why haven’t you done it yet?

Anyone who has ‘given something up’ in their life. Whether it be during the season of Lent, for New Year’s, or just a realization that something in life needs to be done; there is one thing that is readily apparent when those changes in life are made.

It’s hard. It isn’t easy. There can be quite a few setbacks as you move to change a habit, end a vice, return to the one who has given you life and love.

So, where then is the ‘joy’ in Jesus’ words of ‘repent or perish?’

Well, the good thing here, is that Jesus continues to talk. Because if you’re taken aback by the words he first says in our reading this morning, just imagine what those first hearers of his words were feeling! Jesus is sounding a lot like some of those TV evangelists right about now.

Where the ‘returning’ towards God is made out to be easy. Just have faith and it’ll happen. If you fall back, you obviously need a little more faith and prayer.

Thankfully, the parable that Jesus shares kind of shoots that philosophy down.

This is where I find the joy this third week of Lent.

Jesus tells of a landowner who has planted a fig tree and it isn’t producing. That succulent sweet fruit just isn’t making itself known upon the tree, so naturally the landowner wants to remove it. It is wasting space and taking up a plot that an otherwise good tree could be in.

Yet, the gardener – the one who actually tends the plants and fields – cautions him and asks that the tree be given another year to produce. But, this time it’ll be fertilized, cared for, and tended to.

For many the fig tree can be the life of faith itself – perhaps your own life of faith. It isn’t producing anything, why have it here – it’s just wasting space?

But, the parable doesn’t say if or what the landowner has done to cultivate that fruit from the tree. Apparently, he approaches it much like I do with planting – I planted it, I gave it space, grow and produce already!

It reminds me of the conversations I’ve had in my ministry with folks who are ‘upset’ or resigned about something in the church that they wish was going on, or something that has fallen to the wayside.

As they come with their laments – truthful and honest laments – about youth ministry, or small groups, or a bible study, or a service project – they lament that things aren’t the way they used to be, participation has declined, that it’s just ‘fallen’ these last few years.

No one likes it when I say it, but I’ll usually follow up their lament and concern with, “I hear what you’re saying, and you’re right that part of the life of the church has taken a step back it seems, but as you’ve seen it happen, what sorts of steps and investment have you taken to revitalize it and bring that passion to share with others?”

Just because we want something to happen – even if it’s a good and great thing – doesn’t mean that it is going to happen out of nothing. It takes work, investment, time, involvement, love, and more. You can’t just dig a hole, plant it, and expect it to thrive.

In this interpretation, we acknowledge that there is work to do in our own life to cultivate the faith and love that we so desire.

Another way of looking at this parable, is to see that the fig tree that doesn’t produce is, in fact, you. It’s me. It’s that other person over there.

And that the gardener that comes to vouch for your life is Jesus. He’s the one that is taking the time, investment, love, and heaping a whole bunch of…. fertilizer on you to help you thrive and grow. Jesus is working on you to bear fruit in the life of faith.

You’re not a lost cause. You’re not irredeemable. You have hope.

There’s joy in that. This doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult. It doesn’t mean it won’t take time. It doesn’t mean that at times you won’t object to where Jesus is leading you. But, our Lord cares enough about you and about me and about that other one over there, to tend to you, walk with you, love you, and lead you in this life of faith.

We are continually a work in progress. We are not final.

So yes, Jesus says repent or perish this morning. And that seems incredibly harsh and scary.

But, the joy of Lent is – that you’re not going to be alone through it. Jesus is there. Jesus is here. Jesus will be with you to help you return towards God. And not only will Jesus be there, but so will your community of faith. Because Jesus is working on the rest of us too.

That’s a great joy. Amen.




March 18, 2019, 8:00 AM

the one about mother God...


Sermon from March 17, 2019

Text: Luke 13:31-35

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our 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, we continue our journey and venture through this season of Lent. This is the second week of this penitential season and I’m still living into this season in a place of joy. Last Sunday – the first week of Lent – we experienced that joy in the presence of God with us in and through our wilderness moments and times of temptation. The joy that God and God’s love is with us always – already – not after we ‘persevere’ through the tough times.

This Sunday, we hear and read of Jesus lamenting and praying for Jerusalem. The city of God that, more often than not, has persecuted the ones called to point the people of faith back towards God and God’s love.

This text begins with the usual ‘foils’ to Jesus’ ministry. The ones who consistently test him, mock him, and clutch their pearls about what he does. This morning we hear and read of the Pharisees who warn him in our text today.

They have concern for him. They inform him of King Herod’s desire to end his life if he continues his ways and even begins approaching the Holy City on a Hill. Yet, they come from the same stock that rejects not only Jesus’ teachings, but the teachings of many of the prophets of old. It’s quite a dichotomy isn’t it?

One would think that Jesus’ response to the Pharisees – even these Pharisees concerned with his well-being – would be apathy, perhaps even anger because of how they constantly try to trap him, sway the views of those around him, and thwart his ministry at every opportunity. Yet, that isn’t Jesus’ response.

He laments. He prays for. He continues to reach out to them. To reach out to the ones who are so obstinate and stubborn in their views towards him and God’s love and ministry.

Think about the ones who twist and distort God’s word to mean something different, something vile, something so full of hate and violence you wonder that you might not be reading the same book. We saw that on display this weekend as one who upholds the sinful and sin-filled views of white supremacy, Islamophobia, and bigotry slaughtered 49 individuals peacefully praying in their mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Think of all those people in life who try to stop you from getting where you desire to go. The ones who try to stop you from proclaiming Jesus’ love and God’s presence to all. Think of all those who focus on the small(ish) and possibly inconsequential things while you’re trying to proclaim radical acceptance and grace? How do you truly feel about them?

If you didn’t have those certain folks standing in your proverbial ‘way’ how much more could you accomplish? How much more fulfilling would that work be? How much less stressed would life be? It’d probably be pretty good.

So, our tendency is to dismiss those who disagree with us, push them to the side, and become angry at them. Giving them up to the ‘fox’ who is so eager to twist, mutate, and fill with anger. For how does a fox – or any predator – usually work? By picking off the weakest prey or the one wandering off away from the group.

Recently, I finished watching the Netflix documentary, “Behind the Curve,” which explores the lives and beliefs of those who incorrectly believe that the Earth is flat. No matter the mounting evidence of pictures, videos, experiments, and more that prove that we live on a globe and not a flat plane; there are still those who are obstinate in their views.

The first reaction is to just dismiss them as misguided, irrational, and more. To be mean and possibly hurtful to them because of their views. I think we all can fall into that tempting trap of the fox as well.

Yet, there was one part of the documentary that touched me. It was a moment when two physicists, Lamar Glover and Dr. Spiros Michalakis, when they talked about how we do a disservice in trying to ‘shame’ people into believing what is truth. Where we push those who we disagree with to the fringe of society and we ‘lose’ them. Lamar Glover, mentioned in a speech to colleagues that ‘when we leave people behind, we leave bright minds to mutate and stagnate; these folks could be potential scientists gone completely wrong. Their natural inquisitiveness and rejection of norms can be beneficial to science if they were more scientifically literate.’ Dr. Michalakis and Lamar ask their colleagues and each of those who know this truth of a round earth, to gently walk with those in love and care to show them the better way.

I remembered that part of the documentary when Jesus in our Gospel reading today laments over the children of Jerusalem and states about his wish to gather them as a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings.

That’s the opposite way in which we want to and usually react towards people who are ‘against’ us in some way. None of us – none of us – would fault Jesus for throwing the Pharisees and those who agreed with them to the side, pushing them to the fringe of society and life because what they believed was ‘true’ was so far from the truth.

Yet, in spite of the obstacles that many against Jesus placed in his path – the questions, the ‘traps, the rumors of harm, all of it – in spite of it all Jesus boldly faced towards Jerusalem. Jesus boldly faced and marched towards the city because of his love for them.

Oh, how Jesus desires and does gather creation under him as a mother hen gathers her chicks.

I saw a video of a mother hen protecting her chicks this week, and one thing really struck me in one of them. First off, hens aren’t really that big. Sure, there are some bigger than others, but for the most part, they aren’t big birds at all. So, I was surprised that as a farmer was trying to coax a hen to stand up to show him her chicks, I assumed there would be only three or so chicks under her. I was amazed that when she stood up there were nine to ten chicks gathered under her body and wings.

How’d they all fit in there! How could she possibly protect all of them with her body! It was fascinating. To know how out of love, boldness, and courage this hen would protect her brood against a sly predator of a fox.

That got me thinking a bit more about Jesus and his desire to gather God’s children – all of us – under those wings of love and care. Jesus is saying that he too is like a mother, wishing to care and nurture and protect those under his charge. In love he is willing and determined to sacrifice himself for the ones he loves. Just as that hen will for her chicks.

Jesus is the momma who will love you through and through and protect you even to her own death.

Again, there is joy in that knowledge. Especially, when included in the ones gathered under those mothering arms of Jesus are the ones that many would consider lost, wayward, and obstinate. It will be from the cross that Jesus will pray over those shouting, mocking, and deriding him as he dies for God to ‘forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.’

The joy of Lent that we get to know this week is that there is nothing that keeps Jesus’ love from you. There is nothing you can do to stop Jesus from protecting you, caring for you, nurturing you, gathering you under his arms of life, from laying down his life for you. Just as a mother hen protects her chicks.

Jesus doesn’t shame people into believing in him. Jesus doesn’t kick out those who don’t see God’s love in his work. He continues to perform cures today, tomorrow, and the next. He continues to reach out and love. He continues to boldly march towards the cross for all. He continues to confront hate and violence and rumors of harm with love, care, and God’s redeeming Word for the whole world.

We too can learn from that example. Where in our frustrations – even during this season of Lent – we pray for Jesus’ guidance and strength to love as he loves. To care as he cares. To share the gospel as he calls us to share it.

With everyone. In love. In care. Not in shame. Not in ridicule. And not casting out those who disagree with us. Stating the truth in love and grace towards those who – for whatever reason – are blind to its light. We continue to walk, to love, to guide, to call upon God’s love to rest in our hearts so that we can walk with others, and that others can walk with us – even when we are obstinate and stand in the way of God’s love for all.

That’s the joy of Lent. Amen.




March 11, 2019, 8:00 AM

the one about joy in lent...


Sermon from March 10, 2019

Text: Luke 4:1-13

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our 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, this past Wednesday at our Ash Wednesday service as we entered into the season of Lent, I preached and mentioned that I was a bit tired and run down with the drudgery that Lent is approached with at times. Mostly, I’m tired that I myself seem to ‘lament’ this time of the church year, especially when Lent is one of my favorite seasons.

This season of the church year helps us focus on God’s presence in our lives. The practice of ‘giving something up’ for these 40 days, directly corresponds with the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness as he fasted for that same period. Yet, as we give something up, we tend to do the opposite of what our Lord calls us to do from within our Ash Wednesday text. We DO at times scrunch our face and look dismal as we compare the things we are ‘suffering’ without with those around us.

I’m tired of lamenting my sacrifice. Instead, I wonder and ponder what it would look like to approach the season of Lent with a sense of joy. Seriously. And not in a masochistic way. But, a sense of joy knowing that what I’m doing – what I’m giving up or taking on – is something that will help me see and know God’s presence in my life more fully. Where I remember that it is God who makes me complete and whole, not the thing that I give up (or take on).

And, so the challenge with that is weaving joy into these texts each week. And this first week? Jesus being tempted by the devil. That’s a difficult one for sure.

This is a story about Jesus’ life that takes place right after his baptism. It comes right after Jesus is washed and God speaks over him and states who he is – God’s son – and that he is exceedingly pleased with him.

And this got me thinking. After his baptism, after being told that he is good in God’s eyes, that is when he enters into the wilderness. And after that time in the wilderness is when the devil confronts him.

So many times, in our lives we look at this backwards for ourselves. That after the wilderness and trial times, THEN God tells us we’re good. Because we survived. We persevered. All because we were able to withstand the temptations that are thrown our way. We feel that then, and only then, is God able to ‘love us’ and call us ‘good.’

Except. That’s wrong.

God reaches out to us in our baptism the way that he reaches out to Jesus. We are washed and welcomed; we are proclaimed to be good. God’s love and faith are poured into our lives in those waters. In those waters we discover who and whose we are. In those waters we are claimed as one of God’s very own. God’s love is bestowed upon us there.

Then after that, we wander. We get mired in the wilderness. We are famished.

Then the hurdles, the obstacles, the temptations litter our paths that God has us on. And it stinks. A lot.

Our minds race. We question our identity in God. We feel lost. We feel distant from God and from one another. We feel like we’re being punished. We feel like God’s love is absent from us.

We forget.

We forget what God has already done and made known. We forget that we are already loved by God. We forget that God is with us in the wilderness, through the temptations. God is holding on to us even when we stumble and fall. Not to chastise, not to demean, not to tsk tsk us into oblivion. But, to remind us that all is not lost. Hope remains. This love is strong and firm.

Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that we heard and read this morning that those who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. And I think that’s true, but as a good Lutheran, I try to keep God as the main force in those actions. As we cry out, “God – I believe in you. Lord, I have faith in you. Be with me. Know me through and through!”

I truly feel that God’s response is, “Well duh, you don’t have to shout. I’m literally right here. I’ve never left. How could you ever think that? I love you.”

During the season of Lent, we approach it with lament because we feel we have drifted so far from God and that we need to do something to get back in God’s good graces. That we need to do something to jolt us back on the path towards God’s intent for our lives. We come shuffling, as we fall to our knees asking for God’s mercy and forgiveness. To spare us from the trials and tribulations of sin in our lives. To be strong in the face of temptation and to apologize profusely about how far we’ve fallen. At times, it feels like Lent is our attempt to sway God’s opinion about us.

Except. It’s not.

Again, I truly feel that as we enter into the season of Lent like that – God is the one saying, “You don’t have to do that. I’ve not left you. I’ve not forgotten you. I still and will always love you. Forever. You don’t have to worry about that.”

Our sacrifices, our fasts don’t help at all in getting God to notice and love us. They aren’t signal flares to the Lord so that God will finally accept us. No, not at all. When we fast, when we sacrifice, we get to know what God already knows. That what makes us ‘us’ is God.

Those things that we give up are not the things that fulfill our lives, make us whole, and show us how loved we are. Yet, as we focus on God through the absence of those ‘filler’ things in our lives, we get to see and know more fully what our God already knows.

We are loved. We are made whole. We are complete in the eyes of God.

That is indeed the joy of Lent.

Yes, we do indeed sacrifice. We do indeed fast. We pray. We worship. We attempt to stand firm in the face of temptation.

Not so that God will notice us, love us finally, or even more completely.

We fast so that we might know what God already knows. That we indeed are loved and made whole in God’s life and acceptance and welcome of each of us.

There is joy in that truth. There is joy in the truth that when we wander through the wilderness, when we are famished, when we are tempted – God is there with us. Holding on to us. Guiding us. Letting us know that we are already loved fully.

And when we know what God already knows? We wander less, we stay close, we see God in the center of our lives and why would we want to turn away from that love and presence?

In that truth and word, we know we can withstand those trials because we know we are with God. We have been claimed in the waters of baptism. God has declared us ‘good.’

That is the joy of Lent. Journey in that joy. Amen.




March 4, 2019, 9:30 AM

what happened on the mountain doesn't stay on the mountain...


Sermon from Transfiguration Sunday - March 3, 2019

Luke 9:28-43a

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our 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, have you ever experienced something that you just don’t understand? Where you are witness to something incredible, and you still don’t get it? I remember two and a half years ago gathering in downtown Newberry for the total solar eclipse. It was an amazing event. It’s one of those things that you just cannot describe fully to someone who has never seen it. I know understand a little bit more when people say they ‘chase’ total eclipses around the world.

In that moment when totality was complete, I remember first the quiet ‘awe’ that everyone had and then the rush of noise as people cheered and screamed and more. It was an interesting experience, yet I couldn’t help but think – just be quiet and live this moment. Listen to what God is trying to say in this time and space to us.

I get those same feelings as I read our gospel reading for this Sunday of the Transfiguration. It’s a text that I don’t quite ‘get’ all the time. Jesus is out ministering and healing, he then takes three of his disciples and goes up on the mountain. And something incredible and indescribable happens.

Now, here’s the thing, throughout scripture, important things happen on mountains. People throughout history have wanted to scale mountains – those who are religious and those who are not – because they feel ‘closer’ to the heavens on those peaks. There is a sense of transcendence and peace that comes in those high altitudes.

For me, it is the peace and closeness to God that I feel when I get to go to Lutheridge every year. For others it is scaling some ridiculously tall mountain. For others it is just the adventure and the exertion of taking a hike up a steep cliffside. We as humans want to be closer to God, and mountains are great ways – we feel – to do that.

The same was true for those throughout the history of our faith. Moses went up the mountain to commune and speak with God and brought down the tablets and law that would help guide God’s people in faithfulness. Elijah sought refuge upon the mountain and ended up hearing God speak in the still calm quiet, he then came down from the mountain to speak God’s word to a people in need to hear it.

Even Abraham ascended the mountain hoping for God’s presence to be made known – and thankfully he received it. He was able to return down the mountain in joy with his son Isaac with him.

Mountains play a pivotal role in our faith and it is no surprise that Jesus scales the mountainside with his disciples, and something happens. He is transfigured before them, his face shines brightly and he is flanked by Moses and Elijah (like I said, two other heroes of the faith who had important mountain moments).

And in that pivotal, emotional, and confusing moment. Peter speaks.

I recently read a Babylon Bee article (an online religious satirical news outlet) that gave brief 1 or two sentence synopses of the books in the bible. Each summary of the gospels included, “Peter does dumb stuff.”

Peter, overcome with emotion and confusion (and probably a healthy dose of fear – I’d know I’d be freaked out if my friend started glowing and two people just showed up with him) recognizes the importance of what is happening. He acknowledges that something holy, spiritual, and incredibly good is happening here. And his first suggestion is to clutch it, hold on to it, and dwell in it there.

He appears ready to hold on to it like Golem from The Lord of the Rings holds on to his precious one ring. It is so good, that we want to stay here.

Let’s sit up here together. We’ll make three places for y’all and we’ll be good.

And in that moment, the other important aspect of our faith life occurs, for in that moment a cloud descends upon them.

If those lovingly created by God ascend mountains in an attempt to be closer to the heavens, God our creator at times descends to be with us in the form of clouds. There is the pillar of cloud that guided the Israelites by day and night as they wandered in the desert. Clouds have shown the people of faith of God’s immediate presence and closeness. There is even the story of God’s presence as fog rushing into the temple at its dedication.

And in that closeness God speaks, and he speaks of Jesus’ goodness and the call to Peter, the others, and to each of us – to listen to him.

And then just like that everything is ‘back to normal.’ The relationship has changed and evolved – into something better and more full. I imagine Peter is just sitting on the edge of his seat in anticipation of what Jesus is going to say.

And we are not told what he says. In fact, we don’t ‘hear’ him speak for a few days as he doesn’t utter a word (according to the scriptural account) until he goes to heal a young man overcome by an evil spirit.

But, what do you think Jesus might’ve said to Peter and James and John?

What I always think of – especially as we end this season of Epiphany – the season of God being made known – and enter into the season of Lent – is that we cannot stay on those mountains. We cannot clutch, hold, horde, and keep what we know of God to ourselves.

We cannot contain that goodness, that new life, that acceptance, that mercy, and love to ourselves. We literally cannot hold on to it. Why? Because Jesus is going down that mountain whether we like it or not. Jesus is leading us down that mountain to share this goodness and love to those in need to hear it.

And as we’ve seen throughout scripture, that goodness and mercy and love – may have started with a small few, but throughout scripture that circle continues to grow. Wider and wider. That extension of grace and love cannot be contained in small places and in small groups. That joy of God’s love rushes down the mountain moments of our lives and pulls us along for the ride.

Where we come down those mountains of our lives to share in this goodness and truth with everyone and all people no matter who they are or what they are like. God rushes down the mountain in love to say even to that person who feels pushed to the side by their culture, family, community, their church and says, “I’m here for you. Perhaps even you especially.”

Throughout this season of Epiphany our readings have centered on God being made known to those around them and being made known to each of us. Those ways that God is made known shatter our world views and expand us to live into the call of God’s love. That way of being made known is culminated in this reading as Jesus literally glows with God’s love and spirit.

There is the temptation to hold on to that knowledge to ourselves. But we cannot. We must share and speak and act. We are compelled to rush down the mountainside and share God’s love and radical welcome, healing, and hospitality to all we know and see.

We are rushed into Lent with this joy. We are pulled through this love by God so that all might know this closeness and presence.

I don’t quite get the transfiguration, there are moments when I too want to speak like Peter and just dwell in those holy moments. But, God calls us to quiet and listen to Jesus. And what does he do? He goes down the mountain; he heals, shares, and loves. Everyone. Always. Let’s follow him. Amen.




March 1, 2019, 8:00 AM

March 2019 Newsletter


Grace and peace to you all! A wet February is over, and we move into the month of March. Here’s hoping that dryer, warmer, and sunnier forecasts are in our future. I don’t know about y’all, but if I take one wrong step in my yard, there’s a good chance I’ll lose a shoe.

As we move into March, we also move into the season of Lent. For me, Lent is always a really special time. I really do love this season. I enjoy the contemplative nature of it, I look forward to seeing where God is leading me in my life, and I also seek to find those ways in which I’m resistant to God’s call and to adjust to God’s love, grace, and invitation – even if it makes me uncomfortable.

That uncomfortableness – that call to live life in this radical welcome, love, and grace – is a call to growth in our lives of faith. It is in those moments that we see God at work, beckoning us and walking alongside us, to join in the life that has been gifted and prepared for us by God. The season of Lent gives us an opportunity to be witness to that life, to be closer to that call, and to live into that invitation. So, I invite and challenge y’all this season of Lent to see where you can ‘join in’ that invitation to be uncomfortable in God’s love and grace.

Could it be reaching out to an individual that is ‘prickly’ and sharing God’s love with them? Could it be stepping up and speaking out for those in need within our community? Could it be listening to the stories and lives of those who are pushed to the side so often in our culture? Could it be entering into intentional pray for our community of faith and one another through our 100 Days of Prayer initiative? Could it be something else that God is calling, beckoning, and walking alongside you in?

This season of Lent be in prayer and discernment of where God is leading you to live into the radical love, grace, and welcome that all of creation is invited into. This five-week season gives us ample opportunity to ‘lean in’ to what God is calling us to do and to be in the life of the world. Where is God leading you to love and serve in the kingdom of God?




February 25, 2019, 8:00 AM

the one about abundance...


No sermon for Sunday morning on February 24th, but this is the sermon I preached for our Service of Thanksgiving and Blessing that evening. A service in which we gave thanks to God for the Lutheran Church of The Redeemer Endowment Fund for Mission.

Texts: Deuteronomy 26:1-11, 2 Corinthians 9:6-16, Matthew 13:3-9

Grace and peace to each of you this evening in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – 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’ll be perfectly honest, this is a weird sermon to write and to preach. You’d think it’d be easy, just write about God’s love and generosity! But, there’s a fine line between giving thanks for God’s abundance and also sounding pretty ‘braggy’ when that abundance is handed over to you. This isn’t an easy thing to do, and I think it mostly comes down to the fact that for the last year, I and many others in this community have asked the following question when we received word of this financial gift given in memory of Carl and Dot Amick to be used at the church however Redeemer saw best fit our collective ministry; the question of “why us?”

Seriously, why us? What makes this community of faith any different than the other churches here? There are countless other Lutheran congregations here. In fact, I like to joke that there are more Lutherans than people in Newberry. That’s not even mentioning the other numerous traditions of the church that reside in this community. So, what makes us stand out? There is so much good that occurs in Newberry that is facilitated by the faith community, that it at times is hard to see what exactly is it that has set us ‘a part’ to have received this generous gift.

As I pondered that, I thought about the history of this church, and specifically the history – that we know – pertaining to Legrand when he was coming here regularly. From what I know, Legrand had a particular way of approaching things, from a young age and throughout his life he was just a bit different. I’ve had numerous conversations with folks who grew up with him and they’ve attested to that. In conversations with his sister, Gail, she acknowledged that too.

And here’s the thing I know when people are just a bit different from others around them; they typically aren’t treated very well. If you don’t happen to fit the general ‘mold’ of what the culture thinks is right or complete, you usually get pushed to the side. Apparently, that happened with Legrand as he was growing up.

Yet, from what he told his friends, who have in turn told us – in spite of the pain he may have received as a result of people outside these walls – inside this space was a place of comfort, safety, and love. It was here that he saw God’s work at hand in the life of the people around him.

It is here that he saw his parents faithfully devoted to God and their community to bring wholeness, welcome, and love to people in need. This place was also a place of welcome for him and others – and it continues to be. Throughout our history, we’ve stumbled and bumbled at times (as all faithful communities have) in that welcome, but on the whole, this is a congregation that continues to strive into that radical welcome that Jesus invites us into.

I think it speaks volumes of God’s goodness and presence in this place that a man who hadn’t set foot in this place in a number of years, was still able to remember that welcome and that love – that love shown to him and shown to others through this community and especially through his parents. He remembered and wanted that legacy to continue for others. No matter what may have transpired in that life, that remembrance of love, welcome, and acceptance is something that was held on to and something that continues to be lived out in this place.

So, why us? I’m still not sure, but I don’t think it solely ‘us’ that makes this community one of welcome but, instead it is God’s love that is shown and lived out in this place. That love that is shown and lived out through the people who continue to be a part of this community of faith; the ones who continue to strive and struggle to live into this life that our Lord Jesus has called us into. People that are like Carl and Dot – two folks that I’ve heard countless stories about – stories that show and tell of God’s love through them to others.

And in that knowledge, I look to our readings that we have before us this evening, because it is in that knowledge – that God’s love is shown and lived out in this place – that God is up to something here – that can lead us from the questions of ‘why us?’ and ‘how can this be’ and into questions of ‘what’s next?’ or ‘how can we faithfully use what we’ve received?’

In any time that you transition from the ‘why us’ to the ‘what’s next’ there are moments of praise and thanksgiving. Praise and thanksgiving given to God who is behind all of this and all of us. The one who has come down to be with us, the one who walks with us and guides us, the one who pushes and pulls us to see faith at work in the world, the one who calls us to see life, hope, and light in a world that at times seems so dark.

We give thanks to God for this gift – and it is a significant gift at that. We give thanks for abundance that is shared so that others might be helped and cared for. We give thanks, because God is indeed active and present in this place. That God continues to dive into the murkiness of our lives, hold us tight, remind us that we are not alone, that we are indeed full of worth and love, and in that knowledge of comfort and love pushes and sends us out to proclaim this radical welcome to a world in desperate need to hear it.

We give thanks for what God continues to do and for what God calls us into.

That’s why we are here this evening to give thanks and praise because of what God has done, is doing, and will do through this place. We are here to give thanks for God’s active love shown through this community for not only Newberry, but for South Carolina, the country, and the world.

And a part of that love shown through each of us – God’s work through our hands – is the ability and the call (and the willingness) to be generous in our gifts. To use what God has blessed us with – our time and talents for sure – but even also that abundance of wealth that we have – to be used and shared with all.

Paul talks to the people of Corinth and tells them about the church ‘back home.’ He invites them to give generously what God has made available in their lives. That their gifts will be used to support those who have supported them in their formation. That those who are given to have been in constant prayer that God’s love and grace and presence might be made known in the lives of those who live in Corinth.

Paul is asking the Corinthians to give to those that they do not know, simply because they are a part of them, and all are striving and working together.

This gift will enable to do that us well. St. Paul is known for saying that following the faith of Jesus is foolish to those who do not understand. And when you’re given a huge financial gift most look at you oddly when you tell them that you’re going to give – essentially – 90% of it away. It doesn’t make sense. You don’t hear of mega lotto winners doing that. You don’t see millionaires and billionaires doing that.

Yet, the first thing that the leadership wanted to do with this fund – to be thankful for God’s abundance and then to make sure that it is used – as much of it as possible – to the betterment and richness of those outside this place. That is commendable and I am still incredibly humbled as the pastor in this place that we followed through with that. This fund is set up to be given away – to help those in need, to begin new ministries, to help facilitate the mission work of God and God’s people for years and decades to come. I have been amazed at the ideas I’ve already heard from folks in this place and outside in how this money could potentially be used. Y’all have amazing and gifted minds for ministry and service. I cannot wait to see what ministries are able to take shape because of this fund that we bless and set a part today. It truly is indescribable what God has done and continues to do.

Finally, as we ponder and answer that question of ‘why us’ we remember that this is God’s doing. God is at the helm of this endeavor and we are truly along for the ride. I think of the parable of the sower that we read from Matthew’s gospel this evening and the first thing that I’m told by those who know a thing or two about growing and farming (because I know less than nothing) is that what Jesus describes is ludicrous. It doesn’t make sense. It is irrational and even wasteful how the sower in this parable just throws out seeds wherever he is. Not caring a bit where that seed might land. It isn’t planned, it isn’t thought out; it’s just done.

My response to that is usually, “Yep, and isn’t it great that that is what Jesus is saying about God’s love?” That God lavishly, foolishly, and determinedly loves and shares and spreads this life and grace to all. Not one place is kept from hearing and receiving. Not one place is sidestepped or around. God as that sower is just out there loving and blessing everyone – no matter what.

Nothing is held back.

Our response to that foolish abundance of love and grace is to first be thankful and then to respond in kind. Where we too love in abundance, serve without abandon, and cultivate God’s grace wherever we can. We follow what our Lord has called us into.

So, it is mind-boggling that the Community of Faith here at The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer has received this abundance. We are incredibly thankful for what God has done, is doing, and continues to do in this place. We walk together with God and with one another, living into that foolish sharing of abundance so that God’s Word and love might be known in places, in people, and in ways we might never expect and cannot even think of at this time. But, God has called us to be there – living into this life of faith for all and with all.

Amen. It’s going to be fun. Amen.

 

 


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