In pm's words
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December 10, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one about that message that is famous...

Sermon from December 9, 2018

Text: Luke 3:1-6

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, a few years ago I was doing things that I normally do when life slows down, and I’ve got a bit of free time – stalking on and perusing social media. Mostly Facebook. There is a particular comic strip that I enjoy quite often called Coffee with Jesus. I’ve shared a number of those strips myself and even have one posted on my office door.

This particular time, the panel was between Jesus (as always) and one of the regulars; ‘Carl.’ He asks Jesus who his favorite Christian artist is. Jesus replies that it’s a woman in a small village in Thailand who sings her heart out while farming. Carl’s annoyed response is, “Oh, so no one anyone’s ever heard of.’ The final panel has Jesus saying, “She won’t be touring the church circuit anytime soon, Carl, but she’s famous where I come from.”

I thought of that little comic strip as I read our gospel lesson for this morning.

We live in a world that finds power in the big, the bright, and the popular. We find ‘comfort’ at times in the individuals who are well known, and we expect others to fall in line with that train of thought. We, at times, even expect God to follow that sort of way of thinking as well; for if they are famous, well liked, wealthy, powerful, and more – obviously God likes them because without God’s blessings how could they be where they are?

As this third chapter of Luke begins, Luke places us within the history of all that is going down. He sets the stage of when this moment will occur – this new thing that God is preparing to do. He runs down a veritable ‘who’s – who’ of leaders at the time. Tiberius, Pilate, Herod, Annas, Caiaphas, and more. Powerful and well-known figures of the area and time. People who were looked up to and in some ways feared because of the might they held. Those individuals that most would consider to be extremely well love or liked by God, because of the power and positions they held.

And yet as powerful and well-known as they were, none of them is who the word of God came upon.

The Word of God came to John, son of Zechariah. Not only did the word of God come upon a person no one had ever heard of, but in a place far removed from the hubbub of the world.

This indeed is something different that God is doing.

Well. Not really.

God has always been in the habit of being made known in and through means and ways that are different from what the world traditionally lifts up. The work that God is up to always comes from those on the outskirts, those of non-traditional upbringings and lives, those who are unknown.

And, I think we really and truly forget that. We like to think that God’s grace, blessings, and very self come to those who are great, and wonderful, and powerful, and well-known. That God at times only speaks through those who have charisma, charm, good looks, bold ties, and powerful reach.

It doesn’t help that we constantly hoist individuals like that up to ‘speak’ for God and on God’s behalf so often.

Yet, as we begin this second week of the season of Advent, we again are introduced to one of the most odd characters in the bible. A man who comes from humble beginnings, who we later learn lives quite differently from the rest of the world. John was strange even for the times. Today, a person like John the Baptist wouldn’t speak to us in a three-piece suit with a well-manicured beard on national television. No, he’d probably be emerging from a cardboard box under an overpass somewhere on the corner of who cares, and I don’t know where.

This is how God comes and speaks to us. This is how God is made known to us. Through unconventional and interesting ways. And as odd as the messenger is – the message he proclaims is one that today we know so well, but still easily forget, and still need to remember and hold on to even more.

He preached and proclaimed a message of repentance and forgiveness. The messaged he proclaimed was one of promise and hope. He preached that no matter what – God’s love was not and is not removed from people – any people.

God’s love is there present with you. Always. God loves you and forgives you. In that love repent of those ways that draw you from God.

Those cross thoughts about someone who thinks differently than you? Repent, for God loves you.

The thing you keep doing that you know is wrong and could bring hurt to the relationships in your life? Repent, for God loves you.

Not being able to see the person before you as a beloved child of God – assuming they are evil, dirty, or a criminal – solely based on where they’ve come? Repent, for God loves you.

And all those people you’ve been ‘against’? Repent, for God loves them too.

And in that message that John proclaims, we can hear the prophet Isaiah as well. That one who spoke so boldly generations before about this God of love and forgiveness who brings things and life to fullness. Who will make the world see God’s loving presence in the world.

God will do, and has done, and continues to do all that. God continues to show up in our lives, through ways and means that we wouldn’t expect. Smoothing out those areas so that we might be able to see that love and presence more clearly and more vividly.

This word – this presence of being made known to the world – did not come to those who are powerful. It did not come to those with vast amounts of wealth, prestige, and popularity. It did not come to those with fancy clothes. It did not come to those who might be distractions.

Instead, the word of God came upon John. Son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He doesn’t look like someone we should listen to. He doesn’t live life in a way that many would jump in and join.

But, just as that comic I mentioned ended – John probably won’t be touring the church circuit anytime soon, but the message that he proclaims is pretty famous where Jesus comes from. Amen.

December 3, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one where we wait...

Sermon from December 2, 2018

Text - Luke 21:25-36

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, welcome to Advent, right? What a gospel text to march us into the season where we sit on pins and needles with bated breath as we wait in expectant hope for what is to come. The part that I think most of us wait for is the opportunity and joy that Christmas mostly represents. There have been so many things to prepare for and so many more things left to get finished. It seems that we always come to this time in the rising excitement that more and more appears to begin just after Halloween.

If anyone has seen a child lately, you can just feel the buzz of their own excitement – presents and more are coming. There’s cookies and awesome food everywhere. Lights. Trees. Crisp air. There is so much going on you cannot help, but be excited because they are excited.

So, we are all just bursting with anticipation for what is to come.

And then what? We get this text from Luke. We get to hear Jesus talk about signs, distress, and confusion. Our text this morning is turning into a real buzzkill as we enter into the season of Advent looking forward to Christmas.

Then as we hear Jesus’ words, we can begin to look a little more intently at the world around us. And, you know what. It’s not all lights, glitter, and amazing smells. There is destruction, and apathy, and fear, and lots and lots of confusion. There is palpable anger from so many people who hold on to so many beliefs and ideologies and leanings.

If we’re not careful we will think that Jesus is just talking about us right now. That these indeed are the signs. There is fear and foreboding, Jesus must be on his way soon. Though, whenever this text has been read – there has always been fear and foreboding. Jesus spoke these words as he was entering into Jerusalem before his death. He spoke these words knowing full well what may come. These words were originally written at a time when these new believers were being looked at sideways and persecuted for venturing on a path of belief outside the norm. These are not just words to heed by as readers and believers in the modern era.

We hear and read these words of Jesus and we might be able to approach this time in a new way. Yes, there is confusion and foreboding around us. We cannot deny that, nor should we deny that present reality. It isn’t so much about the future that may come or even just about past that has already transpired. But, the reality is that right now there is a lot of junk going on and people are fearful. We continue to walk through unknown times and confusion abounds.

And yet, Jesus still speaks to us this day, and I see his words in verse 28 to be especially helpful. Stand up. Raise your heads. Know that your redemption draws near.

Stand up. Take notice. Be on guard. Hope is here.

Hope. That is what we enter into during this season of Advent. It is in this season that we wait with expectation for that hope. We trust and have faith with what will come, but we still have to wait. We still have to endure. We cannot remove ourselves from our present situations. We can’t magically – as much at times as we’d like to – wave a wand and make it all go away.

So, we wait. We wait and hold fast to the knowledge that God is at work. That this new thing that God is doing, has done, and will do is to come and be with us – all of us – through it all. We believe and worship a God whose love for us is so strong, that God breaks into creation to live life with us. To be that much closer. To point all of us towards the goodness and new life that God ushers into the world.

We are not in this alone. Jesus – the Son of God – whose birth we anticipate in hope – is with us. Emmanuel. That our Lord speaks adamantly to us this morning through these words of scripture to remind us that everything else may pass away, but these words – this promise – this hope – God’s very self – will never pass away. Ever.

God – our hope – chooses to be with us. Even in the midst of some pretty terrible times. Stand firm with faith in the ever-lasting, redemptive love of our Savior who chose to be with us in the worst of times, as a vulnerable, naked, poor baby. Jesus doesn’t promise an escape from the pain, fear, and awfulness of the world. Jesus promises to live through it, with us.

As we begin this season of Advent, we are reminded – in joy and expectant hope – that all is not lost. And that’s hard to remember at times. There is hope and joy to come. God has broken into the world. God has torn the heavens asunder. God has re-ordered creation itself. God has done this out of love and grace. God invites us into this life. God is out there actively working so that we might know this love for us.

Because you know what? As I’ve read all these texts in preparation for this Sunday and this season, I noticed something. People aren’t doing a whole lot of ‘active stuff’ in these passages. There’s nothing in here about ‘get right or else.’ There is not a sense of, if you don’t believe exactly like this, you’re going to be toast. So, you better watch out and, well you better cry and plead that God does indeed notice and love you. That’s not what is going on.

Foolishly, I think we believe our hope rests in what we do. We’ve got to prepare our hearts, so that God will come. We need to pray so that Jesus will love us. We need to serve so that we can stand before the Son of Man.

But, if you read over these texts again, there is only one individual who is ‘doing’ all the things. There is only one person that is actively participating and making sure things are ‘going on.’ It’s God. God is the one who is redeeming and bringing righteousness to bear. The Lord is the one directing us into love and grace. Jesus is the one giving us strength so that we can endure during the difficult times knowing that hope waits for us – all of us.

God. Is. At. Work.

Jesus isn’t calling us to not be ‘flat-footed’ else we miss out on God’s love. No, Jesus is calling us to take notice of what is going on as God’s love and redeeming grace continues to build and shine through us and others. To take notice that hope is indeed present, and we do wait in expectant joy for that hope to be made known fully to the world.

Now, this doesn’t mean we get to or should we just sit back and relax and let God get everything done. But, God does indeed call us and work through us to enact that righteousness and vision of peace for the world. We do pray, and love, and serve all around us. Not so that we are noticed and in turn rewarded by God, but we do all that because God works through us and already has gifted us life eternal so that we can pray, love, and serve.

Yet, in the midst of troubling times. It is hard to remember that joy, that hope, that presence of God with us. Over the summer at camp while I gathered with youth from Redeemer, our Confirmation cohort here in Newberry, and our cluster across the southeast, I was introduced to a song and poem that spoke powerfully to this hope to come.

It was a poem that was scrawled into the walls of a cellar by Jews who were hiding from Nazis in Cologne, Germany during World War II; it is called “Inscription of Hope.” I want to end my sermon this morning and begin our expectant walk through Advent with these words…

I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
And I believe in love
even when there’s no one there
And I believe in God
even when he is silent
I believe through any trial there is always a way.
But sometimes in this suffering and hopeless despair
My heart cries for shelter
and to know someone’s there
But a voice rises within me saying “hold on my child”
I’ll give you strength
I’ll give you hope
Just stay a little while
May there someday be sunshine
May there someday be happiness
May there someday be love
May there someday be peace.

That someday, I believe is in God’s in-breaking of creation, this new thing that God has done, is doing, and continues to do for the entire world. This new thing we wait for and have already seen, this Advent of God. This Advent of the Spirit. This Advent of the Son. Amen.

December 1, 2018, 8:00 AM

December 2018 Newsletter

Wow. November was an incredibly pivotal and powerful month in the history of Redeemer. On November 11, we held our annual meeting and voted in new members of council and nominating team. We approved our 2019 Ministry Spending Plan. We overwhelmingly voted to enact the continuing resolution of our new Endowment Fund. After all that, we as a congregation unanimously voted to pay off our Growing in Grace mortgage (which has been done officially now). That is an incredible thing to be a part of. Plus, it’ll occurred all within 25 minutes? That might be the most amazing thing!

Our Endowment Team is hard at work in finalizing who will manage this fund. Then they will begin the process of receiving letters and proposals from the community on how that money could be used to fund numerous ministry projects around our area, state, country, and world. Those funds will begin to be distributed in 2020. Continue to be in prayer for them as they continue their work.

This month, your council at Redeemer will decide which organizations we will be able to help through the tithe portion of the gift from Carl Legrand Amick, Jr. We talked briefly about where that tithe could go during November’s meeting, and there are some worthwhile and amazing organizations that we can help with immediate (and substantial) funds. As a council – and as your pastor – we are looking at ways that we can make a great impact to help those organizations in the best and most needed ways possible. It’s really fun!

Finance Team and Council will begin in 2019 going through the Financial Needs and Wants list that we as a congregation put together a number of months ago with Deacon Mitzie Schafer’s help. We’ll begin to prioritize what items on that list fit into our scope and vision as a congregation, but also items that are needed and desired by the congregation. This will be another exciting task and endeavor for our leadership to pursue this coming year.

Finally, work has begun to celebrate this gift that Legrand has given to Redeemer. More information will be given as to what that will look like, but council has tentatively set the date of that celebration to be February 10, 2019; the one-year anniversary of Legrand’s death.

We of course will be given even more opportunities to give back from our abundance through ministries like Angel Tree and the ELCA Good Gifts. We can give back by serving those at White Oak Manor this month as we worship and sing carols with them. Who knows what other opportunities we will be given.

I am honored and humbled to be your pastor. Where we truly get to serve God, we get to serve one another, and we get to serve with one another. What better month to be so intentional about our giving of this gift, than the month we celebrate God’s great gift to the world – God’s in-breaking into the creation through the birth of a savior in Bethlehem.

Throughout it all, we will remember God’s goodness, love, and grace given to all of creation. We get to do this y’all, isn’t it great? Amen.

November 26, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one where the king isn't typical...

Sermon from November 25, 2018

Christ the King Sunday

Text: John 18:33-37

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, whenever we get to a text like this, I feel like I should make one quick sidebar about something. In the text as it is written in many English translations (in particular the one that is in your pews and the one that this pulpit bible uses), it can get a little confusing because we are limited in our language in a multitude of ways, but we are also limited if we do not understand the historical context in which this text is written.

At first glance, it would seem that Jesus is not happy with those who are Jewish. Verse 36 seems to point to that fact quite clearly as Jesus is stating his followers – if they understood who he was and what he was doing – wouldn’t allow him to be handed over to the Jews. Here’s the thing. Jesus is Jewish. His followers are Jewish. The more correct word to place in that space would be religious aristocracy. The leaders of the temple. The religious figures that speak with big voices. Jesus is not – nor has he ever been – against the faith of Judaism; against those who are Jewish.

Jesus does however, speak quite plainly that he is calling those who do not live into their call or use their call to prop themselves up and not serve God and others to repent. Unfortunately, this text gets translated into a multitude of languages without clarifying that aspect of the history in which Jesus lived and in which this gospel and others were written. And, as we have seen throughout history and tragically in the last few months, that many take texts like this and twist them so that they can be used to prop up pretty awful and terrible actions towards those who are Jewish today. Don’t do that. Seriously. That’s not what Jesus is about and hasn’t been.

Ok, so with that out of the way, how do we approach this text on this day – the last day of the church year – Christ the King Sunday. This day that we remember Jesus’ reign over the kingdom of heaven in which he ushers into the world, but a kingdom that is different from what anything the world has ever known.

Many, many individuals are confused by this kingdom that Jesus speaks of and that his followers proclaim as well. Jesus himself is the sort of ‘king’ that is unlike any other king we’ve known. How many of us have ever heard of a ‘king’ – any type of king – that reigns over an area and people that doesn’t speak about that privilege or honor? Almost every depiction of a king that we have known will speak boldly of their power, their reach, their might, and more. They’ll talk about how loyal their subjects are, the lengths that they are able to go to secure their rule for years, the power of their armies, and more. If there is one thing that I have seen depicted throughout history of kings and other equally powerful people – they are not shy to speak about what they control or the power that they can wield.

Yet, as we see here in John’s gospel as Jesus speaks to Pilate (just a short time before Jesus’ crucifixion) he isn’t boastful at all about the kingdom he rules. Pilate is confused by this, but still wants answers. If he can get Jesus to admit that he is a king – a king within the Roman Empire no less – then he’ll have grounds to end his supposed ‘reign’ as he would be declaring himself against Caesar (the one true king and god within the empire that Pilate upholds and serves).

He wants answers, but the answers that Jesus gives are not spoken in a way that makes this sort of conversation very easy to sit through. He isn’t direct, he isn’t boastful, he doesn’t act like any other king that we’ve seen. On this day of celebration of Jesus as King and his Reign in the kingdom, we don’t get to see him in a typical role of a king.

There is no power to be had here. He isn’t performing a miracle, there are no voices from on high declaring who he is, there is no incredible sign pointing to Jesus. No, instead we get a story from just before Jesus is put to death.

We get to listen in on a conversation that he has been dragged into forcefully and with hate and malice from those in power around him. This is not the typical image we’d expect from a king. There is no pomp, no circumstance, no coronation.

Yet, Jesus isn’t seeking that kind of coronation. The crown he will wear, is a crown of service, suffering, and death. For all those looking upon him that day – and still for many in this modern time – will see him as a failure. He died. His ‘kingdom’ however loosely cobbled together it appeared to be, was thought to be snuffed out in the most visible and embarrassing way possible.

Yet, we celebrate Christ our King this day.

It’s all kind of confusing isn’t it? It seems kind of contradictory that we would support this day with such a festival.

I mean, imagine that you’re living during this time of Jesus’ life and death – how you’d be laughed at because you followed Jesus the ‘king’ of the Jews. That king who was cut down in his life and publicly executed? That’s the guy who is your king? What’s wrong with you?

I imagine that that’s what many of Jesus’ followers heard during this time and what many of those early worshippers of God in Christ Jesus our Lord heard from in the years that followed the birth of this movement of God.

And, we’re gathered again today to celebrate our king. A king that many would say is a failure because he didn’t succeed. At least, not in the way that most would expect.

There’s still death. There’s still hate. There’s still fear. We don’t have to search too hard to find those things in our world today. And with the advent of technology it seems that that terrible-ness is always right outside our door (even when it is nowhere close to where we are).

Where we remember that yes, Christ is nailed to a cross and that he does die and is laid in the tomb. But, we know and have faith that this isn’t the final word. We know that this isn’t where Jesus will end up. We know he will rise. That we seek to follow the voice of the truth in our life. The voice that calls to us, leads us, and pushes us to see the kingdom at work in the midst of our world.

Where in the story we hear and read today – our ‘failed’ king of Christ is put on the same level as the ‘successful’ ruler that is Pilate. They talk, and Jesus leads that conversation to the truth – the truth that is his word and his life. The truth that Jesus is the word and is the life.

For we know that Jesus is not a ‘failure.’ At least not in the eyes of God. For the victory that Jesus receives and gifts to each of us in our baptisms, is the gift of new life; the gift of a renewed and resurrected life in those holy waters.

We hear this story on the last day of our church year. We hear this day, Pilate ask the question, “What is truth?” knowing full well that next Sunday we enter into the season where we get to say, “Just wait and we’ll show you.”

We end this church year on a question – of what is truth?

This is a question that many of us seek to find an answer to. It is the question that continues to be on the forefront of our minds in the midst of a turbulent time in the life of our country. Everyone has their ‘own’ truth. And even when we can show verifiable truth, others will still call it fake because it doesn’t fit into their worldview, it clashes with what they want to believe.

There are many who think the truth is in military power, or in political words, perhaps in the latest technological marvel, or in intellect and experience. And none of those things are truly bad. Depending how they are used.

It’s good to have a means to protect yourself, it is good to be able to talk and converse in political realms, having technological marvels does make life a bit easier at times, and possessing a sound intellect and learning from those with vast experience can be worthwhile – but, none of those are the truth. In fact, most of those aren’t even led by the voice that proclaims the truth. In more ways than one, those things can distract us and pull us away from the truth that is spoken and by the one who speaks truth.

For we know who calls us towards the truth. We know that voice that calls us by name. That voice full of care, and grace, and love, and power. That voice that leads us to see the kingdom around us. That voice that directs us to see God at work in our lives and the life of the world. That voice that is always at work – proclaiming, serving, being with all of creation.

As we approach the coming season of Advent – that time where we are in expectant hope of the in-breaking of God into our world and lives in the birth of God’s son – we still listen to that voice that proclaims the truth. And as we listen, we see our lives being led by our king – our Christ.

We won’t always know what that looks or sounds like. It’ll more than likely come from places that we wouldn’t expect. Though in those moments of confusion and unknown, we do know that our King – the one who speaks truth – looks and sounds a lot like the ones who serve those in need, who proclaim love and grace, who are present among those cast to the side by our world.

The truth that is spoken to us – the voice that we follow – speaks that language of love for the world. When we’re being led by that kind of voice, than our lives begin to look a lot like the one our Christ the King calls us into.

How that is made known in our lives is different for everyone, but the voice still calls out to us, still leads us, still pushes us, to see the truth and love that is in the world. The truth that isn’t of military power, of political rhetoric, of technological or of intellectual feats.

This truth that boldly walks to the cross for the sake of the world and is victorious over sin and death. Who in his victory frees us from the chains of fear and trepidation that the rest of those ‘voices’ would rather us listen to.

On this Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate the one that the world wouldn’t expect. And as we end this year in the church, we look forward for the ability to wait and to make space for the truth – for the voice of Christ – who calls to us and leads us out of grace and peace and love. Amen.

November 19, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one where we gather in...

Sermon from November 18, 2018

Text: Mark 13:1-8

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, whenever we get to these apocalyptic texts, they are usually the moments where I as a pastor, really wish I wasn’t a pastor. Why? Because more often than I care to admit, people want to know what this means, what does this text point to, is this the end of the world as we know? And should we feel fine?

The truth is – I don’t know. In seminary I wasn’t given a great big instruction book filled with all the answers. And, just so you know no one else has been given a book like that either. I’m always pretty skeptical of anyone, anyone, who proclaims that they have all the answers or they themselves are the answer to all the questions and problems facing our world today. Jesus even warns against those individuals in our reading today as well, we should probably keep that in mind.

As I read this text, I know many want to focus on the terribleness that Jesus describes. Many want to know how Jesus’ words are being lived out in our world today. With his talk of nation rising against nation (where the more accurate translation is probably people rising against people). Earthquakes, famines, and more. He goes on to talk to his disciples that they will be rounded up and brought before tribunals and councils, they’ll be treated harshly in places of worship all because of their proclamation and testimony to who Jesus is for the world. Where fathers will turn over sons, families will rise against one another, where there will be such awfulness in the world all because of Jesus and what calls his followers to proclaim and live into.

I think one of the dominant and prevailing thoughts in regard to this ‘potential’ atrocity is that the faithful Christian is called to sit back, relax (as much as you can), and watch it all unfold. To be safe in the knowledge that as a faithful person of God, you are going to be OK. Let the rest lose it and sort themselves out accordingly. Where there are those who would proclaim that as faithful people following the ways of Christ, we are to remove ourselves from this terrible world and just wait.

But, the more I think about it; the more I look at what Jesus proclaims to us throughout all the gospels; the more I read into the words of Paul and the prophets; the more I cannot help but think that Jesus has no intention of us removing ourselves from the world. Putting blinders on while the world screams in chaos around us. Jesus throughout his ministry and the ministry he calls us into today, wasn’t and hasn’t been about not noticing, ignoring, or turning away from ‘terribleness’ around us. Turning away from people in need.

In fact, as I read of these awful things, I look to what is sandwiched right in the middle, Jesus briefly states that these awful things are but, the beginnings of the birth pangs.

And that got me thinking. Birth, for the most part, has wonderful news at the end. New life awaits. New opportunities. Changed life. Changed views. Welcoming one into the world that needs to be cared for in order to survive.

But, even before we get to the outcome, labor still needs to be endured. There really isn’t any way around it.

There is preparation. There is a call to be calm. There is help to be had.

My colleagues and I talked about what would happen if we were out and about and someone yelled out, “I’M GOING INTO LABOR!” What would we do? Jokingly, some mentioned that they’d high-tail it and run. It’s stereotypically the thought that most men probably have. We’re confused, we don’t know what’s going on, it is so absolutely foreign to us, and it can be a bit messy (he said in the understatement of the year).

But, when pressed a bit, what would you really do?

The answer is simple – we’d probably help. Perhaps not getting down there and catching the baby, but providing space, calling for help, being present. Someone is giving labor. We’re going to help that one in need. We’re going to be there.

I like to believe that most people would be there for someone going through labor. I’d like to think that even if what comes may not be pleasant, happy, expected, or it doesn’t end up in the celebration of new life (which unfortunately many pregnancies do), that people will still gather to help. To care, to provide for the need that is around them.

Why? Because it is a vital, intimate, and incredible event. Yet, we are drawn to help and care for the one in need. It is one of the things that no matter who you are, where you come from, how you speak, we all share in common. We all come into the world the same way, and all our mothers endure that labor.

We gather around to care for the one in need.

We as faithful people of God are called to gather around when tragedy strikes. When turmoil and pain are experienced.

We see it as we hear of news of more mass shootings in our country. We see it in the devastation of natural disasters of wind, water, and fire upon our tv screens, phones, and monitors. When tragedy strikes, when there is a need to help, we don’t shirk and slink away. We dive in and help in the ways that we can. And I believe that God is calling us to continue to help, to invest in the lives of others, to be with those in their time of need.

This morning we hear Jesus speak in ways that can terrify us – it sure terrified the disciples as they heard this news and then pulled him aside to explain what he means a little more. What they heard probably didn’t comfort them all that much.

We have been in the midst of birth pangs since Jesus boldly marched to the cross and those around him continued to spread the Word and Truth of who he is – the Son of God, the messiah come down, the flesh incarnate, the love poured freely into all creation. What Jesus speaks to has already begun and has been a part of our very lives and the history of creation for over 2000 years.

Yet, when I hear these words proclaimed by our Lord, I don’t view it as a sign and a call to pull back, to turn away, to let ‘God be God’ as it were. Instead, I feel drawn to care, to proclaim, to continue to live into the love that God has brought into the world and that the Holy Spirit continues to guide me and all of creation through.

I call upon each of you – those gathered with us today, and those listening in on the radio now – to come and join into this radical movement of love, grace, and forgiveness that challenges so many cultural norms. The love that causes people to rise up, that can and at times does drive families and friends a part because it is so radical in its welcome and hospitality to those on the fringe, to those whom the world casts out and puts aside.

When you see someone going through the labor of birth pangs, we don’t run away scared, but we gather in and offer help. The church, the body of Christ, the world, all of creation has been experiencing birth pangs since God tore the heavens apart and became flesh into the world.

Let us all gather in, provide care, encouragement, guidance, love, and grace to a world in desperate need to hear of the good news that waits at the end, the good news of new life. The good news of forgiveness and welcome and love.

Gather in. Live out this love. Amen.

November 12, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about giving...

Sermon from November 11, 2018

Text: Mark 12:38-44

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 is always an interesting text to read. And believe me, the subtlety (or lack of it) is not lost on me as this gospel reading is slated for the day that we have our annual meeting where we vote on our ministry spending plan for 2019 and vote for endowment fund by-laws. Let it be known that this is a happy coincidence and spirit led time.

But, the context in which this text is read, and how we get to hear it this day is not really the reason why I find this text interesting. It has more to do with the fact that as I read of this poor widow giving all that she has to the temple, I cannot help, but want to rush to her and get her to stop. Don’t do this. Save your money to care for yourself. If only you heard what Jesus was saying about those who participate in the authority of this place – how they aren’t really concerned with you and actively do things to devour your home and life. Don’t give all that you have!

That’s what I want to do. And frankly, I hope many would see the goodness and faithfulness of doing that as well. Jesus has just talked about the failings of those who are ‘well-off’ and in ‘control’ within this system. The temple system that is designed to care for those who don’t have the means to care fully for themselves. Part of the reason for that failing is that those who are in charge of caring for the poor and widows care more about how they look, how they speak, where they get to sit, and more. They care about themselves. In fact, the greatest sin they have is their apparent indifference to the care of the poor and widows. Their indifference is so strong that they don’t notice that their actions literally work against those who are in the most need.

So, all of that is rolling through my mind as I read of this woman giving all that she has to the temple. There are so many reasons for her not to give in order to care for herself.

But, then I stop. I pause. And I take a break from that to collect my thoughts and be in prayer. While I was doing that, I saw an absolute wonderful story shared by one of my friends and colleagues. His church as well as many, many congregations are going through budget voting and approval at this time. Calling many to pray over what they have given to their congregations and seeing if there are ways to up their giving or see their giving from a source of abundance.

So, the story that my friend shared was of an elderly man who wrote a note to his congregation’s finance team that was attached to his pledge card for the upcoming budget year. It is shared with permission and read as follows…

WARNING! To Finance Committee,

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ! Warning!! My health isn’t getting any better – might have to go to “Assisted living” my predicament is high. If that happens – I might have to cut even more; sorry, I managed $5.00 more dollars in my giving. Yours in Christ.

My colleagues, friends, and I that this was an amazing letter. And so incredibly faithful. Here is a man who explains his situation, apologizes for an unforeseen future, and then ups his pledge for the year. In so many ways, I want to approach this man the same way I want to approach the poor widow. Care for yourself, the church will be OK, and we will still be able to care for you.

But, it got me thinking, perhaps how I’ve been approaching this woman’s story has been misguided. Maybe, just perhaps she isn’t approaching her giving as the widow in Zarephath did – with apprehension and reluctance. Maybe she isn’t walking up to the offering box with thoughts of, “I know I should give, but how will I pay for food, my home, my clothes? If I give this, surely I’ll die.”

Maybe, much like the man at my friend’s church, she knows she doesn’t have a lot, but relishes in the lot she has to give. Perhaps she can look at the meager coins she has and think, “I have so much, I can give. And I am thankful to be able to give.”

I wonder if that is the perspective that Jesus wants us to see as she praises this woman’s faith. She gives all that she has. To the place she trusts and has faith in that will provide for not only her, but for others.

Then, I began to think about all those others who are cared for. For surely, she is not the only widow in this community. She is not the only person in need cared for by this community of faith. Now, not only could she be coming to give her offering in joy, but also thinking and caring for those around her. Knowing that even her gift – as meager as it is compared to the large sums thrown in – will be used to care for those in need.

We live in a world today that wants us to see and view our lives through a lens of scarcity. Where we don’t have enough. Where we won’t have enough. Where you need more in order to be a ‘good’ person, or ‘noticed,’ or ‘have value’ in the world today.

We live in a world that lifts up those like the scribes that Jesus talks about today. Where we are swayed and distracted by those who wear fancy clothes, drive nice cars, talk in ways that appeal to our base senses and tendencies and fears. We feel drawn to those who are powerful and those who flaunt that power. If we’re honest we can look and notice how much we ‘pine’ for the life of those who seem so ‘powerful’ and well off.

Yet, those moments distract and blind us to the needs of others. Where we are distracted by displays of power that don’t do anything to care for those in need around us or whose actions actively hurt the lives of those who are the ‘least of these’ in our community and society.

Jesus calls us to see our lives as full of abundance and worth. And in that abundance and worth to give what we have, to share it with those in need, to give all of our life so that others too might be able to live more fully and securely. Sure, it could be financial offerings, but that abundance we have could be in being with and sharing our other numerous gifts so that others might live life more fully.

Jesus doesn’t ever chastise those who give out of their abundance in our gospel reading this morning. All he acknowledges is the deep faith that this woman gives through. Perhaps calling us to see that she gives out of joy and hope, and asking us to do so like her.

I wonder too if Jesus is calling to us, speaking to us, and perhaps saying – live your life faithfully and in the knowledge that you indeed have so much – life, love, mercy, acceptance, forgiveness, opportunity – and in what you have so much of – give so that others might be cared for. Amen.

November 5, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one about all the saints...

Sermon from November 4, 2018 - All Saints Sunday

Text: John 11:32-44

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, I saw written this past week that this Sunday – this All Saints Sunday – is the one that is filled with the most tears. This is a day that is bathed in our tears. Our tears as we remember those who have died. Our tears that are shed in those wonderful memories that we hold so dear. Our tears that are shed as we feel that absence of those closest to us once more. Our tears that never leave us as we mourn parents, siblings, friends, and children.

Our tears couple with Jesus’ tears this morning as we read of our Lord who weeps. That is a powerful image to hold to our hearts. The one in whom we worship; the one who is the beginning and the end; the one who brings life from death – that one weeps with us.

For me, this has been a year with deaths I would never expect as I had two friends die this past summer. I attended both of their funerals and was witness and a participant in those shed and shared tears.

I’ve also been with you, I’ve humbly walked into those holy spaces and shed tears with you as you mourned the death of parents, spouses, and children.

I’ve seen the tears you’ve shed as you talked so lovingly of those who have entered the church triumphant. I’ve seen the tears that streak down as the thought of future moments will not come to pass.

I’ve seen the tears as you welcomed and received those who gathered with you. Who sent cards, who brought food, who sat with you in silence.

Those tears that come as a shock and a surprise, those tears with the question and statement in the back of our mind where we say, “Wow, they came to be with me today… thank you.”

For me, those are the tears we gather together with our Lord’s. Those are the tears that remind us of the Body of Christ and the community of faith in which we surround ourselves and live into.

In our gospel this morning, Jesus enters into one of those holy and somber moments. His friend Lazarus – the brother of Mary and Martha – has died. We don’t know how or why he died. We don’t know whether it was an accident out in the field or if he became untimely ill. The how doesn’t matter, what does matter is that community gathers to mourn with Mary and Martha and the rest of Lazarus’ family.

It seems as if the whole village comes to wail, weep, and beat their chests in despair and sadness at the death of this man. The cries ring out and the tears flow freely down glistening cheeks.

It is here that Jesus enters humbly into this holy space. This is the moment – surrounded by so much grief, sadness, and even a bit of anger – that Jesus shares in those tears and begins to weep as well.

Our Lord weeps with us. Our Lord weeps with us as we remember Ed, and Fred, and Legrand, and Madeline, and Margaret, and Craig, and Willene. Our God has come down to be with us, to have life with us, to show this overflowing and limitless love for us and all of creation.

Our God comes to weep with us. To mourn. To gather with us. To stand by us. To sit with us. Wail with us.

Our God comes to show the limitless love by sharing with us life and death.

Our Lord in his weeping, has come to wipe away those tears, not so that we forget the loss, forget the person, or just plain forget. Our Lord wipes away our tears because as Jesus enters into this holy space, he brings hope and new life.

Our tears are wiped away not to forget what has happened, but to point us to the joy that is to come and that which awaits us.

That time that in our remembrance we will shed new tears, not of sadness or loneliness or frustration. But, we will shed tears of joy, excitement, and shock.

When I am honored to lead a funeral service I see so many tears, but the tears that I cherish are the tears of joy and recognition when someone sees another and they share in that unspoken and never-ending love.

Where there sadness together mixes up with the thankfulness that they are there together. I see those tears at visitations and I see those tears after the funeral. When were all just standing around and sharing in stories and sharing in a meal.

In our first lesson we read of the prophecy of Isaiah, the future that is to come when God will gather all people upon that holy mountain. Where tears will be wiped away because death has been vanquished forever. And in that moment, we will sit down, and we will feast. We will feast with one another. Sharing stories of life and grace. Sharing stories of love and loss. Sharing stories of joy and celebration.

I don’t know about y’all that day, but I’m probably still going to cry. Not in sadness or mourning – for those tears will be wiped away because death will be no more – but, I believe I will shed tears of thankfulness and gratitude. Tears that express my love and joy for the kingdom of God and the Body of Christ in which we all get to be a part of. To see that community lived out fully and completely.

Tears will be shed that day. And I feel our Lord will share in those tears as well. Tears of gratitude, of hope, of grace, of mercy.

This day a lot of tears are shed – and that is OK. It is good for us to shed tears. This day we remember that our Lord sheds tears with us. Joining in our mourning. And with tears in our eyes, we look to the cross and the one who calls out – Lazarus – come out!

For in Christ, death has been swallowed up, death has lost its sting. Life is victorious and new life reigns this day and all days.

It is going to be a great feast, and I cannot wait to share it with you all my friends – my fellow saints past and present.

Tears will be shed that day, and I can’t wait to share them with you and our God. Amen.

November 1, 2018, 8:00 AM

November Newsletter Article

Grace and peace to each of you this wonderful day and month!

October was a month full of faith and goodness as we celebrated our 165th Homecoming Anniversary, Reformation Sunday, and so much more. As we enter into the month of November, I am constantly reminded by what I’m thankful for in this life.

We live in a world today that is constantly obsessed with social media and the # (hashtag #itisntjustforpoundsanymore). People put witty remarks following the # so that others can find similar posts. One of the most popular searches and posts is #blessed. People are posting their blessings all over the place. Good family? #blessed! Sports team won? #blessed! Inadvertently received a free meal at the restaurant? #blessed #nomnom.

Not that any of those are things are bad. But, the things that get ‘blessings’ attached to them are actually moments of thankfulness. I’m thankful for good health, a wonderful family, a faithful community, a good time with friends, a filling meal, and so much more. I’d be incredibly #thankful for another fantasy football win come to think of it.

It always gets me thinking… blessings are something pretty important. For me, blessings are reserved for those things that God has gifted to us out of sheer grace and mercy, not because the barista charged you for a Tall when you ordered a Venti.

I’ve been forgiven of my sins! #blessed! God works through me and others and is active in the world! #blessed! Received communion this morning and reminded of God’s presence in my life! #blessed!

When we attach ‘blessings’ to everything it might make us feel that we are only loved because of those good things. As Christians living life out through a Lutheran lens, we don’t see God’s goodness bestowed that way. God doesn’t show blessings through material things, but has gifted us new life through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is out of God’s sheer gift of grace – freely given to us – that is our ultimate blessing. And we always have that!

As we move into the month of November, I am so thankful to be a part of this community of faith here at Redeemer. It is truly a wonder and a joy to be a part of this life of faith with you. I’m thankful that we get to live out God’s #blessing of new and renewed life together. Amen.


October 29, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one on the reformation...

Sermon from October 28, 2018

Text: John 8:31-36 and Psalm 46

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’ve arrived at what I have jokingly referred to as the 1st Anniversary of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Last year we gathered with over 350 of our sisters and brothers in faith from churches and communities all across our area to celebrate and worship. We convened at Wiles Chapel on that chilly morning and had a wonderful time of worship and an incredibly full day of faith, fun, and fellowship.

As we came to this year’s Reformation, I had begun to think and even had been approached by others – not only from here at Redeemer, but out in the community as well – what can we do to make this year special too? How can we make this year ‘equal’ to last year’s great celebration?

First, I’ll be honest – in the grand scheme of things, we’re probably not going to equal last year’s celebration even if this is the 1st Anniversary of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. We won’t have as many people. Our day won’t be as full as last year (though I am anticipating our Conference Reformation Service at St. Paul later this afternoon will be well attended). Yet, we still have a great choir and wonderful friends to share this day with as the Newberry College Singers are with us to share their gifts as we all give praise and thanks to God’s good work and ministry continued to live out in the world. And no matter what, no matter how large or ‘smaller’ our worship is this day – God is present with us, Christ is calling to us, the Spirit is guiding us – always moving to reform our hearts and lives to God’s intent for the world.

As humanity, we always want to make things bigger and better. But, I wonder if that is the wrong approach to take. Does it really matter if things are bigger, more robust, or that we have the ability to kick it up to 11 every year? I’m not convinced that God cares about all that. From what I’ve read in scripture, God isn’t in the business of making extravagant flashes to get a point across.

Oh sure, the ministry and work that God is able to do through us, through the church active in the world, through the Body of Christ does make waves and can radically change our world and culture, but I don’t think that’s ever really been done because of a huge day of worship and celebration.

God is in the business of making small changes and nudges that drive the most impact into the world. God is in the business of declaring presence and love through intentional, but mostly small ways to make that presence and love known.

This past week, I was able to go to our SC Synods Rostered Leaders Convocation at Lutheridge. I gathered with colleagues and friends; pastors and deacons of this great synod and church. We laughed, we had fun, we learned, we worshipped, we studied the Bible. In fact, it was one of the most enlightening Bible studies I’ve ever been a part of in my life. It was taught and led by the Rev. Dr. Theresa Thames from Princeton University. She is a dynamic, grace-filled, and faithful individual who is full of wisdom and wit.

She led our bible study on 1 Peter and even though that text is 1) not the scheduled or assigned reading for this Sunday, 2) an incredibly difficult text to read, and 3) a text that has been wildly misused to support some of the most heinous institutions in this country and world. Yet, it is a text (and Bible Study) that I could not help, but think about Reformation Sunday throughout.

For in her Bible Study she helped us see God’s radical change and intentional resistance and subversiveness to established powers and institutions. Where the writer has intentionally written to those who are the most oppressed and undercut in the Roman society. Written to them to bring them life and hope. Written to them so that they might know that God is the center and power and sole authority of life.

The letter of 1 Peter is written to give hope to those who have no hope. To give life to those who have had life wrenched from them. To give space and honor to those who live in a society and structure where all of it is kept from them at every turn.

It is a letter that for me is reminiscent of our scheduled Psalm for this morning (which we did not read, but don’t worry… I’ll read it for you now [READ PSALM 46]).

This is a psalm that Luther himself would sing and recite when life would become difficult, unruly, and feeling like it was going in all the wrong ways. It is a psalm for us that we might use to hear and recite as we feel similar moments of ‘losing it’ like Luther did. A psalm that reminds us of God’s great power and authority. That even in the midst of chaos and upheaval – God is at work and is steadfast. That in the midst of uncertainty and doubt – God is the one that we can and still should seek for solace and comfort.

God is at work and present with us even as the country is gripped by fear because an individual has sent bombs to those who dissent and disagree with our current presidential administration. God is here even as a gunman walks into a Kroger and specifically fires at African-Americans. God is holding creation close and working to change hearts as another gunman walks into a Synagogue in Pittsburgh and opens fire, killing 11 individuals and injuring others.

Of course, living into that sort of faith does not mean that we just sit around and let ‘God be God.’ No, we still take active partnership in the life in which God has called us. We still work and strive for a life that Jeremiah visions. We still live with the Word of God centered in our lives and moving us through our actions to care, love, and be with those around us (even the ones we may have disagreements with) – so that all might be able to live into that same freedom and love as well that God bestows upon all of creation.

Reformation Sunday at its core reminds us that in the midst of change, in the midst of revolution, in the midst of the chaos of challenging the establishments before us – God is present with you. God is present with you as you strive to live into the life that God calls for. God is present with you and at work as you seek to love in the way that Christ calls us to love – to love and live freely and fully into the Word that has been written on our hearts. God is with you even when following that call to love and serve others disagree and act out violently.

Living into that Reformation and radical change because of God’s love will cause nations to roar and kingdoms to totter. Yet, this is the God that is present with us, our refuge and strength because God breaks the bow and shatters the spear.

The Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge. Today might not be as robust and full of pageantry that last year was, but we continue to know that God is with us. God is here. Amen and Amen.

October 22, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one about being able...

Sermon from October 21, 2018

Text: Mark 10:35-45

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, in the summer of 2020 the South Carolina Synod will elect a new bishop at that year’s Synod Assembly. Bishops elections are always a little exciting. I’ve been a part of one bishop’s election while I served in Michigan, and it was definitely an interesting experience. The election process itself is very different from how we normally would assume an election is conducted.

There is no campaigning (at least not deliberate). No ads. No speeches leading up to the appointed time. Instead, names are essentially thrown into a hat and the people who get the most ‘votes’ proceed on to the next round.

As I went through that first bishop’s election, I noticed something. For me, anyone who said, “I want to be bishop.” Was someone that I was highly skeptical about. No one wants to be bishop unless they have an agenda of sorts. But, anyone who might’ve said, “I think I have skills and gifts to be in that position and I wouldn’t remove my name from consideration.” Was someone that piqued my interest. And, I definitely zoned in through conversations about people who said, “So-and-so is a wonderful pastor, a great listener, and who I think would help lead and serve this synod.”

I thought about this future bishop’s election and the one I was previously apart of as I read this passage from Mark’s gospel. I happen to think of a lot of leadership roles and elections in our world and culture as I read this small part of the gospel because I think that it not only provides a wonderful model for us to live out our lives as faithful followers of Jesus, but it also gives us a faithful model of how all leadership can be lived into through all facets of our culture.

As Jesus speaks to the brothers James and John, he points out that what they are doing is no different from what the Gentiles do. Seeking power. Striving for greatness over others. The world does this and we know it because they lord it over those whom they rule. The ones who do that Jesus is implying that they are not faithful rulers – not in the way that God has called us to be leaders.

Those are the ones who brag about their power and reach. The ones who exert that power with force. The ones who demand loyalty to them over everything and everyone else. Those are rulers and leaders to be very wary of because they view their leadership only from their perspective and not from how others receive it.

Jesus speaks to his disciples and to us that leadership in the kingdom of God – faithfully lived out in the world – is something very different from what we would expect. Where leadership is something that is served for others. Where leadership is concerned with the care and love for those around them.

As I’ve talked about these last few weeks, the disciples are still not able to ‘get’ what Jesus is laying out. They’ve continually heard Jesus say things like glory, anointed, and power and they continue to view that from the world’s perspective. We do that too through many aspects of our lives and world. But, they (and we) fail to realize – again and again – that living into the glory that Jesus proclaims – drinking from the same cup – being baptized into the same baptism – brings us opportunities to suffer and serve.

Not necessarily suffering that we are intentionally hurting ourselves. Whipping our backsides as some monks used to do as they walked the streets of their hometowns. But, being lifted in glory requires us to serve those around us. Being in glory in the world has people look up to you, but in the kingdom of God, people will look down because you’re intentionally placing yourself lower so that others’ needs might be served. We come to serve – we live to serve – we have faith to serve.

This life of faith calls us to look out for others before we lookout for ourselves. That’s what Jesus asks of us when we optimistically cry out, “We are able!” Just as James and John cried out – yet they still ran when the time came to think of others before themselves.

That’s the tricky part. That’s the part that keeps us from fully living into what God calls of us. And that happens to everyone – even your pastor. We get scared, we get anxious. We get leery of serving others, putting ourselves ‘out there’ that goes against what the world calls for. Mostly because we don’t think anyone is out there serving us as well.

We can become obstinate when we take leadership roles and we see that stubbornness run through those who are in power. I’ve got the authority to do this, why should I care to listen to those around me? As Mel Brooks said in, History of the World, Part I, ‘It’s good to be the king!’

So, we cry out – we are able, yet become shy and timid when the opportunity arises for us to live into our cry that we are able in our faith; in our proclamation of God’s love and kingdom.

The wonder that we receive in this reading this morning – is that Jesus knows this. I’m fully confident that as Jesus hears James and John say, “We are able!” He knows that they’ll fall. Yet, he still has faith in them. Eventually they’ll ‘get it.’ As the rest of the disciples will as well.

Not because they’ll do it on their own, but because the Spirit will be present with them. They won’t be alone. They’ll be fed, they’ll be led.

God is with us as well. We will cry out today and many days in the future, “We are able!” when we are called upon by God. Yet we will fall short. We’ll run, we’ll stay quiet, we will remain seated. It’ll happen. It happens to all of us.

Yet, God doesn’t stop working on us. Jesus doesn’t leave us out to dry. The Spirit doesn’t abandon us. We work together. We work with one another. We are not alone. We are fed. We are led.

We serve, and we are raised. We drink from the cup that Jesus drinks. We are baptized into his baptism. We are called and claimed by God. As leaders – as servant leaders in the kingdom of God at work today - we continue to proclaim that we are able – and with Christ – we are. Amen.

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