In pm's words
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November 1, 2017, 8:00 AM

Novmber 2017 Newsletter


Grace and peace to each of you this day!

October was busy, and it doesn’t look like November will bring any sort of relief.

It is always at this time that I look at my schedule and want to crawl right back into bed. This time of year can be overwhelming with expectations, activities, meetings, and surprises. At times it can seem to be too much.

It got me thinking that we – as a people – are overworked, stretched thin, and pulled in so many different directions. Our world works in such a way that everything seems to be important and must be attended to at this very moment.

Notifications pop up on our phones about a myriad of news, tweets, and game updates. Everything seems so important. We have to react, we have to have a response. I don’t know about y’all, but it is exhausting always being in a ‘heightened’ state of awareness.

So, I’ve done a few things to help lessen that pull.

Turn off notifications on your phone. Do it, it’s OK. Set a time later in the day to catch up on the news. It’s OK.

Once you do that, you’ll notice that you have a bit more free time (and perhaps a lot more energy) to devote to other things.

I would like you to take that new-found time and to sit in silence. We are pulled in so many directions and are lives are so hectic that we never get to sit. To be calm. To perhaps even talk to God in prayer and thoughts.

As you sit in that new stillness, I invite you into prayer, to think about the good things in your life and give thanks for them. Pray for those who are hurting. Ask God to open your heart and your life to those who are different from you. Dive into the Holy Spirit’s guidance for the day to see God at work.

I know it might be scary to turn off those notifications. Especially the news and social media updates. But, I promise you – those things can wait.

Take those freed moments to be in prayer. Read a little scripture. Give thanks to God.

Know deep down that God has claimed you, you are fearfully and wonderfully made, you are good already in God’s eyes. Amen.




October 29, 2017, 8:00 AM

the about the Reformation...


Service from October 29, 2017

On October 29th we gathered with over 300 other individuals at Wiles Chapel on the campus of Newberry College to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. 500 years since Martin Luther stood firm in his beliefs against the corruption in the church during his day. Unbeknownst to him, it would cause a ripple within the church that extends to today.

I didn't preach that day. Instead my friend and colleague - Rev. Earl Schafer - preached for this service. You can watch the entirety of the service below. Enjoy!

https://www.facebook.com/newberrycollege/videos/10155871020993588/

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October 22, 2017, 8:00 AM

the one about the trap...


Sermon from October 22, 2017

Text: Matthew 22:15-22

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, it is at this point in Jesus’ continued conversation with the religious elite (the same conversation we’ve been reading in for over a month now) that I think of one of my favorite scenes in one of my very favorite movies – Star Wars’ Return of the Jedi. Right at the moment that the climactic battle is to take place, the admiral of the Rebel Alliance comes to the great realization, “IT’S A TRAP!”

If there is one thing I learned from the Pharisees, religious elders, Herodians, and all those who were set to lay a trap against Jesus – it’s this: the quickest way to end a conversation you don’t want to be in is to talk about money.

Of course, the ‘trap’ they hope to spring is ingenious and simple. Should we pay taxes? If he says yes, he’ll lose the support of the crowds that love him so much – and they’ll possibly respond violently to that – they are an oppressed people after all. If he says no, then the Roman powers-that-be will have reason to silence him by any means necessary. He can’t get out.

Jesus, it’s a trap! Abort, abort, abort!

But, as usual, our Lord takes it another direction and cuts to the heart of the issue – the one that those asking didn’t even know that was there.

Let me back up for a minute. All the way back to Genesis, the stories of our creation and our beginnings as the people of faith. We read that God has vowed to create humanity in the likeness of God. Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make humankind in our image – in our likeness.”

Each of us – you and I – have been created in God’s likeness. Every person we come across – every single one – has been created in God’s likeness. From the person you cannot stand to be apart from to the person who drives you mad with all his blunders. Each one, each person, has been created in God’s likeness.

And there’s some things that come with that.

First and foremost, we have been created. We are God’s very own. We have been fashioned from the earth and have had the breath of life fill our very selves. The same one who fashioned the intricacies of the galaxies is the very same one who knows the hairs upon our head. And I don’t believe God knows this stuff to ‘hold it over’ us (don’t cross me, I know who you are!), but instead knows us to remind us every day – through all the ways – about who and whose we are – God’s.

Fear not, I know who you are.

We are created, and we are created in God’s image. That calls us to be stewards of what God has created and to be good towards those who have been created in the image of God.

A theologian I respect greatly put it this way, ‘We were made in the image and likeness of God, and because we bear God’s likeness we are to act like God.”

Now, this doesn’t mean we behave as if we are gods. We don’t go around demanding that people bow to us, serve us, and shower us with adulation, devotion, and loyalty. As followers, created beings, and bearers of God’s image we are not called to that in life and perhaps we should be wary of those who do seek and need that sort of attention.

But, as that same theologian writes, we are to act like God – the one who creates, sustains, redeems, and saves. We are called to stand with God as partners in this life caring for all of creation – all of it – as if it were our own.

In many ways, the ones who come to Jesus with their trap – especially the Pharisees in the group – have forgotten whose and who they are. Instead of being covered in God’s image – and remembering that they are indeed created in God’s likeness – they have cozied up to the powers that be. They’ve covered themselves in masks that hide their true created nature. They’ve been pulled away from the very good news of their life. They’ve been lured away from the promise and hope of what it means to be made in the image of God.

I think this is something that we still suffer from today. We have forgotten in whose image we have been created. We have forgotten the goodness that we have already been declared to be. The goodness that is shown to us in our baptism where we remember again what God already thinks – we’re good. The goodness we are reminded each time we come to this table to receive this meal. We receive it because we are God’s and God has invited us to the table.

We are sent out into the world to proclaim this truth. This truth that we don’t need to cover ourselves up with all these other icons and images. We don’t have to dress ourselves up so that we might look ‘good’ to others. We don’t have to seek the approval of others in order to define our self-worth.

We already have that worth because we have been created in God’s own image.

We remember that. We live that life. We live out that life as we are called to act like the God we see in Christ our Lord. The one who gathers, cares for, speaks with, and dives into the messiness and craziness of relationship with all he meets.

And that’s where the difficulty lies. For if we are created in God’s image – because God has created us, we must remember that God has created the other before us as well. They too have been created in God’s own image. We are called to care for them – just as they are called to care for me, for us – because we are called to care for God’s creation as good stewards.

That can be hard, really hard.

But, we stay in these conversations and relationships. Guiding, showing, and encouraging others to see not only their worth in God’s eyes and mind, but sharing the equal worth of others in God’s eyes as well.

We get to live into this life and act like God. To act like the God we see in Jesus Christ our Lord. To act like the ones who create, nurture, care for, walk with, hold on to, bring to health, listen to sorrows, rejoice in joy, sit in silence with, speak boldly towards, and probably most importantly to love – no matter what – the person before us in our lives.

You are created in the image of God. We are created in God’s likeness.

We – as creations of God – we these beings created in God’s likeness – we probably should start acting like it. It would so benefit ourselves. It would be so good for those around us. Amen.

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October 16, 2017, 7:22 AM

the one about the wedding robe and that guy...


Sermon from October 15, 2017

Text: Matthew 22: 1-14

 

 

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, there’s a wedding. Invitations are sent out. Those crème-de-la-crème that are invited decide that they’re too good and they don’t even attempt to come. The feast is spread. The party is here. Come on over! Let’s celebrate good times!

The answer from those invited is a resounding and disheartening no.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in a lot of weddings. It is a ‘perk’ of being a pastor to be involved in such gatherings and celebrations. I know how much stress goes into planning a wedding. I cannot imagine the amount of stress, anger, and sadness that would transpire if no one that was invited showed up.

And remember – this isn’t people who ‘forgot’ about the wedding. These aren’t even people who are too busy to attend. These are people who simply don’t want to come. They refused the invitation.

Can you imagine that hurt, that sadness? Can we understand that anger at being made so small and dismissed? You’ve invited people to celebrate in this joy. You want to share this joy with those you love and know. Yet, no one – not one person – feels it’s important enough to attend.

We hear that part of the parable, we recognize that sadness and anger, and then we see the king in this parable do a surprising thing.

He sends out his servants to gather anyone and everyone to come to the party. He invites – specifically – the good AND the bad. Invites them to the party. Fill this place up with people.

Throughout this parable – I love that image.

I keep thinking of the supposed upcoming wedding for Prince Harry in England. Instead of seeing diamonds, designer labels, and the finest attire one can only dream about…

We see fanny packs and sandals. We see tattoos and track marks. We see sashes and trash bags. We see tube tops and trucker hats. We see it all. Mostly filled with the people we wouldn’t expect at that wedding.

I don’t know about y’all, but that’s kind of a cool sight. Seeing those whom you never expected to be feasting on the best food, drinking the best wine, and having the grandest of times. Those who never thought they’d be invited, and not only are they sought out to attend, they are lavished as honored guests; they’re the ones on the dance floor. That’s a cool image.

The kingdom of God is full of those whom you wouldn’t expect, couldn’t expect. God has sought them out, brought them in, provided them with the best feast of food, drink, and fun.

Everything so far is OK in our understanding of this parable. We are right there walking along with Jesus as we are enjoying this little parable. We have lots of good and warm fuzzy feelings.

Yet, then we are introduced to that guy. That guy who is not dressed the part, that guy who doesn’t have the right attire. That guy – is thrown out.

Where did that come from? It doesn’t make sense. How can someone be thrown out when everyone is invited?

I remember once after college when I was in one of my first weddings. Everyone looked so nice and dressed so well. It was definitely one of the fanciest weddings I’d been a part of. I was honored to be in the wedding party. And yet, I remember that there was this other guy – he was part of the wedding party too – I distinctly remember him because he was dressed in jeans.

Now, I don’t have a problem with jeans – I really don’t. But, in that situation it just didn’t seem right. Especially for the couple. They were mad. Really mad about it. Because it was apparently done with intention; to draw focus; to be a topic of conversation.

I even vaguely remember hearing one of them say, “I even offered him some pants – and he refused.” They were livid.

He wasn’t thrown out where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth, but from the looks of my friends’ eyes – they really wanted to put him out there.

The biggest source of anger wasn’t so much that he didn’t wear the ‘right’ clothes, but made the couple feel that he didn’t consider their occasion ‘worthy enough’ to be set a part. To be different enough to fully celebrate with everyone. Where he even refused their gift.

I struggle – deeply – with this part of the parable in our Gospel today. It hurts. Anyone and everyone is invited – the good and the bad. People are invited from the (potentially) wildest of places to be here. And yet, this guy doesn’t belong?

Again, I struggle with this text.

Yet, as I thought, as I read, as I talked with friends, colleagues, and others I began to see – maybe – where Jesus is coming from. Perhaps where Jesus is pointing towards.

Yes, anyone and everyone is invited. Both those who just didn’t make that initial cut and those who weren’t even a thought on the list. All are invited at seemingly the last minute. Did they really have the right attire – the wedding robe – on hand?

I presume that they didn’t. When this parable begins the feast is ready and on the table. I think it is reasonable to assume that all these new guests didn’t have a wedding robe in waiting. But, the king’s got that stuff. I like to think that the robes were provided to all who attended. I think that’s reasonable, too. When you invite someone to partake in something at the last minute, don’t you usually help them out with what to wear, how to dress, what they need?

Hey, my plans with some others fell through to go camping this weekend – you wanna come? I know this is last minute, but don’t worry, I have everything you’ll need. Everything. I promise.

Hey, I know this is last minute, but do you want to come to this shindig I’m hosting? It’s kind of fancy and to help you out I’ve got some stuff for you to where. You’re doing me a favor by being here – and I want you here – so I’m going to help you out. Don’t worry. You’ll fit right in.

We do that sort of stuff, don’t we?

I like to think that the king was aware of that as well. He invited people at the last minute – literally the feast is prepared, and he doesn’t want it to go to waste. So, he invites all the people to come and to show them even further honor in attending; to help them see that they definitely belong there, to make it further known to them how he sees them as honored guests, he decks them out with a wedding robe.

I think that fits in our lives of faith as well.

In this kingdom of God that is here and now – we are invited. We weren’t the first on the list, if there was a list that some were on, it might’ve been the ‘do not invite’ list. Yet, in this celebration we are called, invited, and gathered here. We are welcomed to this great table, and what do we put on?

We put on God’s grace. We cover ourselves in Christ. We have been given robes of faith in our baptism.

Where God has invited us in and washed us clean – not so that we look presentable – I don’t think of it that way at all. Instead, I see baptism as God letting us see ourselves as God has always seen us; clean, pure, perfect. God’s own.

We have been washed so that we might know how God already views us.

We’ve put on that robe, we have been clothed in our faith in Christ. This gift that was given to us freely, we put it on and gather at the table.

Imagine the pain and hurt of the host when an invited person comes in (remember, they were all invited good and bad) and then refuses the gift at the door?

We have been given and lavished with wonderful gifts of life. We are invited into the kingdom through grace. We are washed so that we might know how worthy and good God views us. We are welcomed to the table to feast on the bread of life, the cup of salvation – the body and blood of our Lord. Filled to bursting because of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

We are sent out to invite others to be a part of this immense and glorious feast.

As Paul writes in Philippians – rejoice because you are here. Rejoice now and forever because you have been – we all have been – all of the world has been – invited to be here. Wash and know how God sees you as good and worthy. Come to this feast because you have been welcomed here. Be filled and go out in that thankfulness to the world. Serve. Love. Be generous.

Rejoice. You’re here in God’s grace. Your covered in God’s love. Your faith has made you well. God’s given that to you – always. Forever. Free. Rejoice. Share it with everyone else, because you know what? God’s invited them too. Amen.

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October 9, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about the wicked tenants...


Sermon from October 8, 2017

Text: Matthew 21:33-46

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, how do you define crazy? Something that seems utterly impossible?  Something so extravagant that it can't be real? How about the age-old definition – Crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

There are so many 'crazy' things that go on in our world today and in our lives. For those of you who are sports fans how maddening is it when the coach of your favorite football team continually runs the same play on 3rd and long in hopes that maybe this time it'll work and go for a big gain.  A number of years ago, I remember an old coach at Newberry who would always run the same play in the same situations every game. Everyone knew that on 3rd and long, Newberry would run a delayed hand off to the running back in hopes that this time the running back will go for a long run and convert the 3rd down play. It never did. Crazy.

Or how about the crazy family who continually support and attempt to help one individual despite that one's glaring addiction to alcohol and/or drugs? Or the crazy teacher who reaches out to the student who refuses to learn and continually berates the teacher, yet she never loses her cool and never gives up? Or even the group who continually speak up and out against those who oppress others, who destroy lives for the sake of gain, who discriminate others who are not 'like them'? They rise up despite the fact that they can be silenced by any sort of means. Or that their actions are continually ridiculed, misinterpreted, and threatened against.

Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

Today, in our Gospel text we learn a lot about crazy. Crazy in how this landowner continually sends servants to the tenants of his vineyard and expects them to give them what he seeks – the fruit that is due him. The tenants beat, stone, and kill the servants of the landowner. And when the landowner learns that not one, but BOTH of his servant delegations have been treated so harshly he does an absolutely crazy thing. He sends his son because surely, they will respect him.

Of course, they do not respect him, and they instead throw him out of the vineyard and kill him in hopes that they will receive the inheritance of the landowner.

As I read this parable, I was continually reminded of a quote from Martin Luther, “that one should squeeze a scripture text so that it leaks the gospel.”  Sisters and brothers, this text takes some squeezing.

This is crazy folks. This is ridiculous. How can the vineyard owner be so naïve, so ignorant, so off base in his actions? Why not send an army to thwart these rebellious and wicked tenants and be done with them once and for all? There must be something the vineyard owner wants in addition to this fruit... it’s just grapes. Why is he so relentless?

How crazy is it that the tenants continually beat, stone, and murder those that the landlord sends, including his son, and expect to 'get away' with it? This landlord is obviously not as 'absentee' as they'd hoped for. He has continued to send servants and his son. What is to keep him from sending even more servants or even an army after them to shut down their operation and forcefully take what is rightfully his? Even more so, they kill the son of the landlord with hopes that the owner will hand over the son’s inheritance to them. What?!

Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

Jesus then asks the chief priests and elders, “What will he do to those tenants?” They rightfully answer that the landowner will do away with those 'wretches' as he should. That is no way for them to act.

Of course, the chief priests and elders quickly realize that they have just condemned themselves. For Jesus calls them out for being those wicked tenants whom the vineyard owner, God, continually sought to obtain the fruits from. 

These are some very harsh words from our Lord. This is a harsh parable. It has been used in an assortment of terrible ways throughout the history of the church. One of those ways has been to support anti-Semitic views. Though, we must remember to whom this parable is directed, not at the nation of Israel nor at the Jewish people as a whole, but it is directed at the religious leaders of Israel. Those who Jesus compared to the wicked tenants. The religious ‘right’ who withheld from God what was rightfully God's – the fruits of the vineyard – the people and works of those who follow and love the Lord. Jesus was a Jew and it would be the wrong 'crazy' had he been condemning the entire Jewish people which he is a part of. 

Of course, as we have learned in the last few weeks. Just as we can see ourselves, the church, as those new tenants who the vineyard is handed over to; we then must also be aware that we too can be those wicked tenants.

Today, we too thwart God from taking from us what is rightfully God's. Ourselves, our time, our possessions. We too are stewards of the vineyard.  We do not own creation, only the creator, God our Lord, owns creation. God has graciously given land, possessions, talents, and gifts over to us so that we can take care of it, cultivate them, and give them back when we are called to do so. 

What is amazingly crazy is that God, despite our best efforts to thwart God’s callings, hasn't come back and dealt with us, the 'wretches' as the wicked tenants are called, in the way that fits our actions. No, what God has done is sent us God’s son and given him up to die on a cross for us.

It's absolutely crazy.

Who would do such a thing? No one... except maybe a crazy landlord so intent to be in relationship with these tenants that he will do anything, risk anything, to reach out to them.

This landowner acts more like a desperate parent, willing to do or say or try anything to reach out to a wayward child than he does a businessman. It's crazy, the kind of crazy that comes from being in love.

Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

We learn of two crazies today. One good and one, not so good. The not-so-good is the crazy of the tenants who attempt to get something for nothing.  Their attempt to hold onto what is not theirs in hopes that it'll just 'end up theirs' anyway.

We do this with our time and talents. We attempt to have our cake and eat it too. We do this with the works of God, through our hands we are called to those who are in need around us, desperate to hear the Word and see the love of God at work. But, we shirk our baptismal promises in hopes that 'someone else' will cover it. Or that it really isn't my business to meddle. Or I'm just not good enough, or I don't have the right words to express my faith to those around me. In one way or another we fall from our promises.

We continually lift up how much the Lord means to us, and how thankful we are, yet never express it by living out our lives with Jesus as our center, with Jesus as our cornerstone.

We see the one who is standoffish, the gruff individual and instead of reaching out we quietly ridicule, judge, and dismiss them.

We literally see people speaking out, asking and calling our attention to their lives because they are hurting in such a deep way that, so many cannot comprehend. Do we listen? No, we demonize them because of the means in which they use to get that attention.

We continue to do all of that, and expect everything to magically change for the better.

Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

Of course, there is good crazy in this story too. The crazy love of God, who continually reaches out to us. Who continually seeks us and calls us to work in the vineyard. Trying any way that God can to unharden our own hearts so that our love of God and thankfulness can only burst forth from our hearts because it cannot be contained. This God who desperately wants to be in relationship with us despite our fallings, failings, and sins. This God who has washed are lives clean through our baptisms. This God who is crazy enough to love us that our God boldly walked to the cross and suffered death for the entire world.

Our God is crazy. Our God is crazy good and is crazy in love with us. 

Our God isn't crazy like the coach who continually runs the same plays over and over again, God isn’t crazy like those who continually steal and horde and pollute in hopes that they'll 'get away with it.' Our God is crazy in how God reaches out to the lowly, lifting us up, holding us in arms of Love despite how unworthy we truly are.

As we read this parable, let us notice not what will the landowner do. But let us notice what did that landowner do. And to that question we have Jesus' own answer: the landowner sent his son, Jesus, to treat with all of us who have hoarded God's blessings for ourselves and not given back what was due. And when we killed him, God raised him from the dead, and sent him back to us yet one more time, still bearing the message of God's desperate, crazy love.

Our God is crazy. And thank God that crazy is love.

 




October 3, 2017, 7:20 AM

the one about God's inclusivity...


Sermon from October 1, 2017

Text: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 and Matthew 21: 23-32

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 our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, as I read these passages for this 17th Sunday of Pentecost, I really focused in on the Old Testament and the Gospel, because though all the texts interweave with one another our first reading and gospel text really connect well. And, the way I see it, they connect because they speak about freedom and hope.

Seems kind of weird right, since they appear to have a lot more to do with authority. Who has it and from whom one is able to do the things that they are able to do. The Pharisees – the thorn in Jesus’ side as he is the thorn in theirs – want to know by whose authority he is capable of doing and saying the things that he’s doing.

Keep in mind, this text comes immediately after Jesus cleanses the temple and curses a fig tree. Let’s just say that the Pharisees are probably not all that happy with Jesus at the moment. They want to know why and from whom he can say and do this sort of stuff.

Of course, Jesus parries their question with his own and then turns the tables on them. He tells a short parable about two sons who are asked to work in the field. The first says ‘no’ and then changes his mind, the second says ‘yes’ and doesn’t follow through.

Through this, Jesus seems to be less concerned about their initial question of authority and more concerned about what his authority frees people to be.

Now, today we aren’t that removed in our outlook on people’s lives than from how people thought back then.

Even today, we still look at what a parent has done (or perhaps an older sibling) and think – big things are in store for you! Or even (and probably more common) ‘I’m going to have to keep my eye on you because I know who you’re kin to.’

We do that a lot, don’t we? Especially when it comes to sports or business. This woman’s dad was so astute in the business world – we’re going to have to watch her and listen, I’m sure the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. This guy’s brother was an excellent athlete, I’m sure he’ll be pretty good too.

But, more often than not we hear things like, ‘Your dad was a drunk, and fooled around. I don’t expect much from you either.’ ‘Your sister was a cutup in class, I’m going to keep you on a short leash. Don’t test me.’

We view someone’s family and assume – one way or another – what that person will be like.

They did that a lot in the time that we are reading into as well. Though, they went even deeper. Your grandfather’s father sinned in such a big way that you’re still paying for it now. Your family name is one not to be trifled with or interacted with.

Your dad was a tax collector, so you are. Your mom was a prostitute, you will be too. Even if you try to get out from under that burden, too bad. We know – and God knows – who you are.

That’s pressure, isn’t it? To live in such a way that you can’t escape what your parents did. Conversely, your children wouldn’t be able to distance themselves from what you will do.

That’s bondage. Those are chains shackled to our hands and feet to prevent us from being equal, loved, forgiven, accepted.

Yet, God speaks through Ezekiel as the Word of God happens to him – it’s an experience – and he states God’s intention. Sin doesn’t transfer through blood. Your very being and life is freed from what your parents have done, and your children are freed from what you will do. God loves all. God loves you.

Freedom. True freedom in God’s kingdom.

Jesus builds this up even more in our gospel reading. Here Jesus talks about tax collectors and prostitutes. Those who are ‘beyond the pale’ in society. Those who use others and use themselves in ways that are hurtful, deceptive, and sinful.

Those people who society has cast out, God has called to the table.

These past few weeks we have been seeing God’s radical love being shown against the common culture.

First it was forgiveness. God has forgiven us, we are called to live into forgiveness with those around. Where because of what God has done, our lives are fundamentally changed. We live our life as ones who notice what God has done.

Next, it was generosity. Are we envious because God is generous? If you didn’t figure it out last week, the answer to that question is yes, yes, we are. God shows merciful to all the people of God. Constantly calling all and welcoming them into the kingdom. God is inviting us into that life of mercy so that we don’t take the easy road in being slow to love and abounding in steadfast anger.

This Sunday, we see Jesus pointing out God’s radical inclusivity. All that forgiveness and generosity. All that mercy and love. All of it is not just directed at you, those who have been here from the beginning or those who feel destined to be loved by God because of who they were born to or where they’ve always lived.

No, God’s love and inclusivity is given to even those cast out. Those on the fringes. Those who have experienced God and have changed their mind. What they did, have done, or perhaps will do does not prevent them from God’s love. It never has.

I can only imagine what the Pharisees thought when they heard Jesus speak those words. Perhaps they thought they were being ‘persecuted’ because another and lower voice in their society was being listened to. When in actuality they were just being treated with the same love that they expected for themselves.

God gives people hope and freedom. Jesus shows us how far that freedom and hope extends. It extends far beyond our own perceptions and beliefs. Extending to those we wouldn’t expect. Even extending to us. That can be scary, it can seem unfair, it can even make us ask the question ‘why even me?’

These past few weeks have been building up that word of hope and that act of freedom through God’s forgiveness, generosity, and inclusion. No longer are just the ‘usual types,’ the ‘expected ones’ loved by God. Even the downtrodden and outcast are loved, welcomed. In fact, they’re going to be first.

Here is what I believe to be true, as it is shown in God’s theme throughout scripture. If God is to err (if that’s even possible) God errs on the side of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. God abounds in all of that.

That is hope. There is hope for all. No one is excluded from God’s love. No one.

We hear that we are loved and forgiven. We repent and turn towards God because of that generosity. We are included – all of us – in the kingdom of God. Amen.

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October 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

October 2017 Newsletter


This is a special October as it is the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. It amazes me that it has been 500 years since Martin Luther lifted up what he thought could and should be changed and re-formed in the church that he loved. Luther brought up a needed conversation. He saw where the church was straying from the gospel and took action to shine the light on it.

When he did that a lot of people didn’t like it. They even sought to kill him. He wasn’t being a good ‘church person.’ Sticking his nose where it didn’t belong, biting off more than he could chew. Putting himself, his vocation, his family in harm’s way. Using his public platform in a way that others thought to be disrespectful.

He still persisted. He stood his ground. He knew he was doing God’s work in shining the Gospel truth for the world to see.

As much as I love the history and story around Luther and the other Reformers, I still find this time rather difficult as a pastor. We give a lot of attention to Luther and his life. Patting ourselves on the back about what ‘good Christians’ we are, wearing red, and having fun. None of that is bad, but when it is coupled with not living into the sort of reforms that Luther advocated within the church it doesn’t help our cause.

The best way to show our love of the Reformation and the work that Luther famously began is to live our lives as followers of Christ knowing that we are constantly being re-formed in God’s love. Where that continual re-formation leads us to love and serve not only God, but every person we meet. Where we remember of this great free gift that we have been given by God; the knowledge that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love.

Our response to that gift? To live our lives for God and for others in love, thankfulness, and service.

So, yes – we’ve got a lot of stuff planned in our community to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. I’m excited about all of it. There will be so much opportunity for fellowship, fun, music, and worship.

In fact – here is all that is being done.

Thursday, October 26 @ 6pm – Half-Full Coffee and Wine Bar – Beer & Hymns

Friday and Saturday, October 27 and 28 @ 2pm and 7pm – Newberry Opera House – Showing of the new movie “Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World.”

Saturday, October 28 @ 4:30pm – Newberry Opera House – Lecture on Luther Woodcuts and the Art of the Reformation.

Sunday, October 29 @ 10:30am – Wiles Chapel at Newberry College – Community Reformation Service

Sunday, October 29 @ 2:00pm – Newberry College – Organ and Choir Recital, “Music of the Reformation and More.”

 

This is all GOOD stuff. However, as we celebrate this time, let us focus more on where we need to be continually re-formed to live into the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims. Where we need to be re-formed to invite others into this gifted life of faith. Where we need to be re-formed as a church to be the church for the world. Amen!




September 25, 2017, 7:40 AM

the one about mercy...


Sermon from September 24, 2017

Text: Jonah 3:10-4:11, Matthew 20:1-16

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, there’s this thing about looking back through history. It appears that the further we are removed from the subject we are reading about the more ‘enlightened’ and advanced we believe we are. In some cases, this is true. Our ability to share information, travel quickly, and the use of our modern technology would appear magical to anyone plucked out of time and placed here.

However, for as much as we have advanced technologically there are many areas in our life where we have not moved from very far or really at all. Take our gospel this morning. The story that Jesus tells in his parable is one that still very much applies to today.

How many of us can identify with those first laborers in the field? The ones who’ve been there ‘from the beginning?’ When news spreads of those ‘newcomers’ receiving the same stuff that we were promised – no matter if it is something involving the church or even in those areas outside the bounds of worship and faith – there is a bit of envy (even arrogance) that rises up from deep within us.

Maybe you’ve been in those conversations where you’re talking to someone about this new band you’ve just heard and how awesome you think their music is. Their first response? Oh, I’ve known about them for a long time, but their older stuff is so much better.

A few years back I remember reading a story about a large swath of student loan debt that was forgiven for those who used a specific loan agency. I remember reading that story and the very first thoughts to pop into my head were, “Why not me? I’ve still got a lot of student loan debt? Why isn’t someone helping me out?”

Or perhaps there was that time that I had one of the most contentious conversations I’ve had in the church, where a long-standing member (not here) asked me to ‘talk’ with someone else in the church in order to slow her down from participating and trying to lead in the church. The reason? She hadn’t been here long enough to do that – she’d only been there for 10 years.

In each of those situations, heavy sighs and deliberate eye rolls were queued up and ready to go.

In our readings today, we read again of the mindset our God has with the world that we’re not – for reasons that at times defy me – always comfortable with. Jonah recalls the words that are used the most often in scripture to describe God – for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. Those words describe God more than any other words in the Old Testament.

Yet, when we actually see and experience God living into those descriptions we can and have become like Jonah and the laborers in the field. Profoundly aghast at what God has done. Lamenting on high about how they didn’t get what they deserve.

Nineveh didn’t get punished for their wicked ways. The laborers who showed up later in the day received the same ‘reward’ as those who had been there from the beginning. Jonah was upset because the citizens of Nineveh – didn’t get it from God. Those first laborers were upset because they didn’t get it from God.

In each faithful story, the response of God is pretty much the same.

So, let me come right out and say it for each and every one of us to hear. These following words are some that even I have to hear (way more than I want to admit at times). Ready?

God. Isn’t. Fair.

Yep, that’s right. God isn’t fair. God’s never been fair. Why? Because God is merciful. Mercy isn’t fair. I think that most of us have experienced mercy as well (and we probably didn’t like it). At least anyone with a sibling. Remember that time when your brother or sister did something wrong and you just knew your parents were going to rake them over the coals? Remember when your sibling apologized and then your parents did nothing to them! Remember how upset you were? That’s mercy. It isn’t fair.

Just as Jonah reminded us again this morning, our Lord isn’t fair, yet God abounds in steadfast love. God is slow to anger. God is gracious and merciful. God is always ready to relent from punishing.

That is who God is.

What would it look like my sisters and brothers if we were able to see and live into that mercy for others? How would our lives and outlooks change if when confronted with those moments of mercy given to someone else we were able to immediately and innately share in their joy?

When I heard that story of debt forgiveness, I was definitely envious. I looked at my sum of debt and acted like a grump. Wanting what they had. It isn’t fair.

When my sister got a cell phone at 16, while I at 20 couldn’t? And the only reason given to me was, “Matt, you wouldn’t get cell signal traveling on 34 going from Newberry to Rock Hill.” It isn’t fair.

The person who grumbles because new people are leading in the church of God immediately as they are welcomed into the fold whereas they felt like they had to ‘serve their time’ first for years. It isn’t fair.

The one who lived their life recklessly and without caution. The one who troubled so many others throughout their life. Who took advantage of people at numerous opportunities. The one who was selfish – that one repents in their late age – maybe at their deathbed – and that person receives the same grace and mercy from God as me? It isn’t fair.

You’re right. It isn’t. It’s merciful. That is who God is.

There are many of us who feel as if we are those first laborers in the field, the ones that have worked from the beginning. Yet, we forget that our God is continually going out and bringing new folks – new laborers – new sisters and brothers – into the kingdom of God. Why? Because there is still work to be done.

That same God – our God – then blesses each of us with mercy and grace.

What would it look like if we remembered and lived into that sort of grace that our God bestows upon each of us? What would it look like if instead of abounding in envy and anger and being slow to love, we followed in our Lord’s path? If we joined our God in the invitation of celebration of God’s mercy’s bestowed upon others? If we remembered each day that God’s love is stronger than punishment and that God is not deaf to the cries of God’s people?

What would it look like if we remembered that that is what the kingdom of God is like?

During Hurricane Harvey there was a story about a bakery in Houston. The owner of that bakery was able to escape to safety. Yet, three employees were trapped and stuck inside that bakery. So, what did they do? They did what they knew and were skilled at; they baked bread. A lot of bread. So much bread that they used up all the flour, sugar, yeast, almost all the ingredients the bakery had. Why? They knew people would be hungry and would need food when the storm finally passed.

The kingdom of God is like that bakery owner who comes back after the storm and sees what his employees have done, noticing the loss of revenue in the store of ingredients that are gone, the lost profit as the bread is freely given to those in need and says, “Good job – give it to these people.”

The kingdom of God is less about ‘fair’ and more about mercy. Are we envious because God is generous?

Sisters and brothers, what would it look like if we lived into God’s mercy for others and God’s mercy for us? Amen.

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September 18, 2017, 7:46 AM

the one about noticing this new life...


Sermon from September 17, 2017

Text - Matthew 18: 21-35

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

So, forgiveness. It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. And, nothing is more frustrating than when someone else talks as if it is something incredibly easy. Jesus gets to be that individual today.

He’s asked by Peter about how much are we required to forgive someone. Peter even offers up a pretty reasonable number. Far greater than many would expect. More than enough times. Seven is a good number.

Yet, Jesus turns it around and gives him an answer that is so crazy that I can only imagine how much Peter stammered in amazement at hearing Jesus speak. Seventy-seven times. Or maybe seven times seven. Or perhaps seventy times seven times (not all translations are in agreement in the number Jesus gives). Truth be told, the exact amount is not important – it’s something else entirely that I think Jesus drives home in the parable, but we get lost in the details searching for it.

Let’s get the details out of the way.

Jesus’ parable tells the story of a king speaking to a person under his reign and command. This individual has a lot of debt. Specifically, a lot of debt to the king. In order to pay it off the king declares to sell not only everything this person owns, but everything that makes up this person’s life and being. His wife, his children, his possessions. It all must be sold.

The indebted person naturally and sincerely asks for forgiveness. And it is granted. This is a big deal. Ever consider how much debt this guy had? A talent in my research was the equivalent to 130 lbs. of silver that would take roughly 15 years to ‘work off.’ This guy owed the equivalent to 10,000 talents! 1.3 million pounds of silver. It would take 150,000 years to work off that debt.

It wouldn’t. It couldn’t be done.

The king forgives that debt. Wipes the slate clean. Sends this freed man off to a new life.

Then the newly freed man meets someone in the streets who owes debt to him – 100 denarii.

Now, many times we look at that number and think that it is such a piddly amount why couldn’t this guy forgive it. But, it’s not an insignificant amount. A denarius was roughly a day’s wage. Let’s compare that to today. $7.25 is the minimum wage in South Carolina. People roughly work about 8 hours/day (though, at this point in history they would probably work about 12-15 hours a day). Before taxes, that’s around $58, multiply that by 100; that’s $5,800.

I don’t know about y’all but, if someone owed me almost six grand I’d probably be a little upset with them. Maybe even unwilling to let that go. For me, as I assume for the man, $5,800 is a lot of money.

I think it is at this point that we get bogged down in the details. This man was forgiven an unfathomable amount of debt. Yet, when presented with a similar issue, he couldn’t be like the king.

Many times, we hear a sermon on this parable we receive a message about needing to be like the king in the story and not the unforgiving servant. But, I’m not so sure that that is even possible.

Peter and the newly freed from debt man do not do anything that any of us wouldn’t do. Peter gives a more than acceptable answer to how often one should forgive. When we know a little bit more about what is going on, we can begin to see why the servant is unwilling to forgive the debt someone has with him. Yet, still Jesus takes the story in a way that further emphasizes not only the goodness, but the new life that we have been given.

In this story, it isn’t so much that the unforgiving man is unwilling to release another from his debt. It’s that his life wasn’t changed by his own release from bondage.

This man received a once-in-a-life gift. His life is literally changed when his debt is forgiven. Not only does he no longer have to worry about that debt hanging over his head, he doesn’t have to live with the fear and worry of where his wife and children are. Not only has he been freed, but his family has been given this gift as well. Y’all, what the king did for this man and his family is huge. A literal new beginning.

So, it isn’t so much that this man is unwilling to forgive the debt from another. It isn’t so much that comparatively it is a much smaller (though not insignificant debt). It isn’t even that he can’t be like the king.

No, my sisters and brothers, the crux of this parable is that even after been given the greatest gift of his life that after he walks out those doors, his life hasn’t changed. It is as if he hasn’t even noticed.

We have been given – freely through the grace of God – that wonderful gift. We have been given that new life, that new clean slate. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been set free. In our baptisms, our old life has died, and we have risen to this new, free, and gifted life from God.

A gift like that? It’s supposed to change us.

I know I talk about it a lot, but I really mean it when I say this. We don’t live a life of have to, we live a life of get to. We get to live this life because of what has already been given to us. This new life freed from the debt of sin and death.

This new life where because we have been given so much we get to go out and serve others. We get to help. We get to forgive. We get to worship. We get to pray. We get to live. All because of what God has already done for us.

That changes you. I think it should change you.

We live this live because we have been forgiven. So, does that mean we should forgive others? I think so. However, as we know, and I’ve already mentioned forgiveness isn’t easy. We live a life striving to love others in that way.

We don’t always succeed. We probably fail more often than we care to admit. Yet, still because of what God – what the king – has already done, we get to live a life that is freed from that worry of ‘what if?’ or ‘is this enough?’ or ‘have I done it right?’ The slate has been wiped clean. That burden has been removed.

We walk through those waters of baptism new people. We remember that a life of forgiveness is indeed possible because we have already been forgiven. We are loved. We are cared for. God has done it already.

In that free gift, we get to live a life of love, mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance. It isn’t always easy, we will continue to struggle, and we will not always succeed. But, we remember in that struggle what God has already done. Reminding us again and again that that the very possibility of forgiveness – again, whether God’s or ours – creates possibility: things do not always have to be the way they are. And I find that not only comforting, but uplifting and empowering.

The man in Jesus’ parable has been given a great gift, and he doesn’t even seem to notice. Know, see, and live into the gift you – we – have been given.

So, yes. The parable we read and hear today is about forgiveness. However, it just might be about more than that. Perhaps it is about getting to live a life that is profoundly changed and shaped because of the new life that we have already received from our God through Jesus Christ. Live this life as one where you notice that gift. When we live this life noticing that gift? Then we get to live this life of forgiveness with and for others. Amen.

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September 11, 2017, 8:54 AM

the one about Jesus being there...


Sermon from September 10, 2017

Text: Matthew 18: 15-20

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, growing up there was a TV show that I enjoyed from time to time. It was a show that didn’t really make a whole lot of sense. It was a show that was advertised as being about nothing in particular. Just a group of friends who were normal and yet still, very different from others. This show of course is Seinfeld.

There is one part from that show that I continually laugh about and look back on – George Costanza’s dad’s ‘invented holiday’ of Festivus. Particularly the airing of grievances. Frank’s voice booming out around the table, “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people and now you’re going to hear about it!”

He then proceeds to unload all the little annoyances he has with his friends and family.

I thought of that moment when I read Jesus’ advice to his disciples on how to approach others who have sinned against them in some way.

Now, I don’t know if Jesus would agree with the process of Frank Costanza, but he might think he is at least near the right path.

For the past few years (and truthfully – far longer than that and far longer than we’d like to admit), we’ve been living in a world that is seemingly at ‘odds’ with one another. Or at least at odds with the idea of one another. We grumble; we complain about others and the things they’ve done. We fret about someone who espouses a view that is in line with more liberal or conservative viewpoints. To the point where those words have become derogatory labels.

But, there are other things that we grumble about too that are a little more personal. I can’t believe she didn’t tell me about that. He talked to you and not me! I thought we were friends. You’ll never guess what your mother said this time. Why does my brother keep doing this stuff – doesn’t he know how this affects me?

Don’t even get me started on the grievances aired within communities of faith. In my time in ministry they have ranged from valid criticisms in how a situation was handled to the complaints about how there weren’t enough Christmas hymns sung during Advent – even though what they asked the church to do was already being done. But don’t worry, that last one wasn’t here at Redeemer.

This morning, Jesus gives his disciples instructions on how to ‘air those grievances.’

As we begin to read the words of Jesus this morning, I believe we like to think he’d be more in line with Frank – just laying it all out there. Saying your words, venting your mind, getting it off your chest.

Though, the more I think about it, this has less to do with ‘airing grievances’ and more to do with repairing relationships and the body of Christ. Knitting back the torn fabric that is community.

When someone ‘sins against you’ or you’ve (whether you knew it or not) sinned against another in thought, word, or deed – it hurts. A lot. We’ve all been on the receiving end of those painful moments, and we’ve all been the one to dole out that sort of hurt to others.

There’s brokenness. There’s separation. There’s death.

It is hard to speak up during those times. I know – it is very difficult to do what Jesus is asking his disciples – asking us – to live into. I still have trouble and at times have neglected to heed Jesus’ words from our text this morning in some situations in my own life.

Our life of faith is about relationships. And they are hard. It takes work. Investment. Love. Sometimes lots of love. Yet, we still live into our relationships and live into our community.

Why? Because that is how we have been created. Not to be lone wolfs, walking solo in life. We are created to be with one another. To share in our joys, to grouse together in our laments. To be with each other. Being with one another is so important to our God, that God literally came down to be with us. To wade in the messiness of life.

Our Lord understands how important relationships are. Especially when you – as Jesus said in our reading last Sunday – take up your cross and follow him. When you live a life that is foolishly counter to the powers that be, you need others there with you. As much as the world wants to promote a life of ‘pulling us up by our own bootstraps’ it’s false.

We live, work, worship, and play with one another. We depend on each other. We need one another. We don’t do any of this – faith, work, life – alone.

As the storms ravaged over Houston and the surrounding areas, as we anxiously await what another massive storm might bring – we come together. Being present with each other during times of need. When a loved one dies; we come together to mourn. When a hurdle is finally eclipsed; we come together to celebrate. When the stress and business of life pulls us down; we depend on others to hold us up.

Jesus knows that we need one another – that we need him. And Jesus knows how quickly sin can separate us and cut us off from one another. Our Lord invites us – continually – into the difficult aspects of this life of faith. Boldly approaching one another, in our love for one another, to talk about difficult subjects. To share the hurt that others have caused us or that we -that you – have caused someone else.

We are commanded by Christ to have those conversations. And they aren’t fun.

Yet, even in those moments we are not left alone. For the one who came to be with us in the midst of this messy life of creation is indeed the one who is present in the middle of those messy conversations as well.

I find it interesting that we usually attribute ‘where two or three are gathered’ only to worship – and rightfully so. But, we hear Jesus speak those comforting and promise filled words not in the context of worship, but instead in the context of repairing relationships. In the context of having difficult conversations.

We gather together in love. To worship. To pray. To support. To serve. To be sent. We do all of that out of love. Knowing in those moments that even if only two or three are there – Jesus is right there too. Yet, we forget that we also gather in love to have difficult conversations as well. To confront one another in the sins we have committed and in those moments when we feel someone has sinned against us.

Jesus is there too. In fact, Jesus said he’d be right there. Right here.

So, maybe Jesus would agree with Frank Costanza. We’ve got problems with one another, and now we’re going to hear about it. But, we say it not to belittle, to undercut, or to show dominance over another. But, we ‘air our grievances’ with one another because of not only our love for each other, but our God’s love for each of us.

Community is important. We are the Body of Christ. Love. Talk. Serve. Jesus is there. Amen.

 

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