In pm's words
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February 1, 2016, 9:00 AM

February 2016 Newsletter Article


Grace and peace to y’all during this – the shortest month of the year!

Our new year is in full swing and we are gearing up for a lot of wonderful things at Redeemer. It is so much fun to see God at work in and amongst the community. From our youngest disciples to those who are so well seasoned with age.

Of course, being a new year also brings the dreaded ‘word’ among any group – new years bring change.

And Redeemer has been in the midst of some change and will more than likely experience change in other ways. It happens and there really isn’t any way to ‘stop it.’ The only constant in our lives is change.

One change in particular that we have been experiencing and in which we will experience more of in the coming months is in an area that I know many of y’all (including me!) take a lot of pride in – music and liturgy.

The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer is full of sisters and brothers in Christ who are incredibly gifted in voice, song, and instrument. It is apparent as we listen to the music played through our organ, through the numerous guest musicians, our wonderful choirs, and in the voice of the congregation. It truly is a wonder to see the Spirit move through each and every one of you as you lift your voice and your instrument in praise and glory to God!

We’ve made a few changes in the liturgy of our worship – mostly of moving to a new setting for the time being, and throughout Lent we will be raising money to purchase the new (almost ten year-old) Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) Hymnal; along with Pew Bibles as well. The new hymnal that we will bring into our worship life will open us up to new hymns, new potential liturgies, and ultimately give us even more ways to give praise and honor to our Lord and God.

Of course, things will be different. Words will be similar, but tunes, melodies, and rhythms might be unfamiliar. Now, whenever we face those kinds of change there is the immediate reaction to say, “I don’t like this and because I don’t like it I won’t participate.” Raise your hand if you’ve ever had that reaction before? [your pastor raised his hand]. We do that sort of thing in many ways – not just in worship.

What I propose is that we acknowledge that things are different and then move forward to see and experience how the Holy Spirit is opening us to the wonder of God in a new way. Where in new hymns that we are unfamiliar with – if we can’t quite get the tune down – to listen to and read the words of that particular hymn and see how it connects with the lessons of the day, and connects to God’s presence in our life at that very moment. That we can listen to the beauty of those around us as we are surrounded with such wonderful praise to our God. And then – we join in because we realize again and again that we lift up praise in song to our God in thanks!

If you come to my office, one of the first things you’ll notice is a big sign that says, “Sing like nobody’s listening!” If I had the skills and the ability, I’d change one thing about that sign – “Sing like God’s listening!”

God listens and all the music, the singing, the prayer, the praise, the words that are directed to God are always a joyful noise – yes even your uncle who can’t carry a tune to save his life. It is always a joyful noise.

Sure, it may be different. A hymn may be unfamiliar. But, that’s how everything started out in the beginning. Who knows, you may just experience a new favorite in the coming months and years as we sing and use the ELW hymnal more readily in our worship to God.




February 1, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one where God is there even when we feel inadequate...


Sermon from January 31, 2016

Text: Jeremiah 1: 4-10

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ!  Will y’all pray with me?  Let 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!

How many of you have ever made an excuse to not do something that someone asked of you? I remember being asked by my parents, probably at least one or two times – tops –  to ‘take out the garbage’ or ‘clean my room’ or any other assortment of chores. I could come up with any number of ‘excuses’ valid or not as to why I could not do what they asked.  The same thing would happen in school as well – hey Matt – do you think you could come to the board and finish this math equation or maybe complete this chemistry formula?  “Uhh… I don’t think I should!  There are others here far more qualified to do that than me.  Look, she over there has received 90’s+ on all of her tests, she would be better at it than me!”

I’m sure there were times in your own lives where these defenses popped up in an attempt to keep you from doing something that you might have been a little nervous about, maybe a bit unprepared for, perhaps a feeling of being unqualified to accomplish. Singing in front of others, speaking about an issue you have had great passion for, doing something ‘on your own’ for the first time, taking care of a child or a parent or a friend or a stranger in need, praying out loud, who knows what else. I think all of us have been thrust into those situations before.  Am I right?

In our first reading today we see another individual who had been ‘thrust’ into the service of God before he thought he was ready. I truly love the book of Jeremiah and especially the story of his call from God.  I think I enjoy it so much because I believe that most of us can place ourselves into the shoes of Jeremiah. We may not all have had the same call of God to be an instrument of God’s doing and Word in the same way as Jeremiah – you know being a prophet for the nations – but, throughout our lives there have been those opportunities – small or grand – where God kicks us into gear, yet we are at times unwilling to move.

What I find most interesting about this passage – and how much it resembles our own lives is that when the word of the Lord came upon Jeremiah the Lord details how much God knows about him. I’ve known you from the very beginning my child. Even before you were born I knew you, in fact I was the one that formed you. I consecrated you – I set you a part, now I appoint you to be a prophet to the nations.

Here, God is living into the promise that not only is given to Jeremiah, but in fact is given to all of us.  This is the promise of ‘presence.’ God sticks to what God creates and loves. Only out of love can God do this. To form, create, know, and be present with someone from the very beginning. It is God who is behind us every step of the way. It is God who has been with Jeremiah from the very beginning. God has known Jeremiah since before he was, as they say– knee-high to a grasshopper.

So, here is God telling Jeremiah that not only has he been ‘known’ to God from the very beginning, but it is implied that Jeremiah has never been without God – or more accurately, God has never been without Jeremiah. God has been present within his life from the very beginning and continues to be present in his life.

Yet, Jeremiah’s response is not the one that he ‘should’ give, but it is the answer that we expect since I think we do the same thing all the time. After being eloquently told that he has never been alone and that surely he would not continue to be ‘alone’ Jeremiah is hesitant to God’s call and desire. 

Lord, I can’t do that, I’m too young!

I remember having a teacher in school who hated that sentence and she would not take it as an answer to anything. She always reminded us that “I can’t…” wasn’t in her vocabulary and shouldn’t be in ours. It seems God is taking that same approach with Jeremiah, and truly does with us as well!

I am uplifted by God’s response to Jeremiah. It is out of love and compassion that God responds with, “Don’t say that you are too young, I’ll be with you. I’ll be guiding you. You will be my instrument.” God will not and does not throw Jeremiah or us out into the proverbial wilderness alone, cold, and without any sense of what to do. Instead, God promises that where we go, God will be present.

Of course, as we read in our Gospel lesson, those places where God may send us might not be the most popular. It might be to those places others would object to you going. Did you ever wonder why the people around Jesus so quickly moved from ‘saying wonderful things about him’ to wanting to throw him over the cliff?

Jesus states, rather bluntly, that the word he has come to proclaim is a message far greater than the walls of the temple around him can contain. This message isn’t ‘just’ for those around him, it isn’t even ‘just’ for those who are of Jewish descent, instead this is a message to also be given to those on the far reaches of society, those on the ‘other side’, those who are outcast, those who are ‘not with us’ now because of their culture, origin, or family ties. Jesus stretches the limits of love of those around him and it makes them uncomfortable. Uncomfortable enough that instead of ‘talking’ in love about what Jesus means and calls for us to do with him they’d rather just throw Jesus and his gospel of radical inclusiveness off a cliff.

This is something that I think we can be a little familiar with. As we approach a new political season as primaries are fast approaching – that thought is ever present on our mind and upon the lips of those who would be elected. When we are confronted by the spirit of God we are always forever changed. Where we experience something new, we experience the Word of God as ‘different’ than what we would expect. You mean I’m called to go and help that person over there? I’m commanded by God through Christ to pray for those that I don’t like? You mean what you’re calling me to do may take me to places I might be unaccustomed with – far away from family, friends, and familiar settings? Well, if that’s what you’re talking about – I’m just going to drop it now – toss it aside and move on my own. Sound familiar? I know it’s pretty close to what I was thinking before going to Lutheridge as a counselor, or when I felt God calling me to be a pastor.

Jesus has come to give all of us, the entire world, a message that when those who first heard it (and really those who continue to hear his words today) would not expect. Jesus lifted up God’s word being brought to people outside of the Jewish faith in his talk with those at the synagogue. God isn’t here to ‘coddle’ us, but in love for us and through us call us all to reach out to those in need – no matter where they are. In Jesus’ words to those in the temple that day; he made it known that his ministry as the messiah was not just for those within Israel, but instead was for all of God’s creation. That his word and message of love and hope would be given and spread to all people, for all are created by God and all are children of God.

Many times, this is a message that we instinctively try to push away and over the cliffs of our lives. It is different; God calls us to places with words and actions that are unfamiliar. Yet, the words of God – those words of love, inclusion, prayer and service – stretch, pinch, and unnerve us just a bit too much. For the message we hear from those with loud voices around us is – ‘if you’re not one of us, then we don’t want you to be a part with us.’

But, God has a way of using those moments to fill in those stretched out spaces in our lives with love.  God knows that what we are called to do (and to actually do) are different than what we are accustomed to. God knows that where we are sent by the Word are to places ‘outside’ our familiar circles. Whenever we are sent to the unfamiliar or even to bring a new message to places and people we are familiar with can be downright scary. Yet, the promise that God makes with us is the same that God made with Jeremiah so long ago.  Because of Jesus Christ, God has promised to be with all of us. To be present in the message that is proclaimed through us. In the message that is proclaimed to all around us.

As God calls us to places unknown, ventures yet untrodden, God has promised to be with us. God has been with us from the very beginning, knowing each of us from the womb because we have been formed by this God of love. As God has set each of us a part because we have been washed in the waters of our baptism and marked with the Cross of Christ – we are called and sent to spread this message of God’s love to all of those around us. We are not called just to talk about God’s love and message for all – to those only gathered in this space – we are sent out with God as our guide and our rock to bring this message to all who we see. To stand up against the voices that stir and push us away from God’s love for all.

We are able to do all of this because of God’s love – that love that is patient, kind, and never ending. Without the love of God we really are just a noisy gong or a banging cymbal. But with the love of God – living in us and pouring through our words and actions – we are like musical instruments of amazing quality.  Where we are played with love, where we are ‘in tune’ with God’s call and will in spreading the message of the Gospel to all.

So, yes – God hears our numerous excuses and well-argued reasons as to why we would not be a good fit for what we have been called. God hears it, but doesn’t let us say, “I can’t…” Instead, God reminds us that we are not alone. God has set us apart, God has anointed us, consecrated us, and through our baptisms and the ministry, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is present with us.

The love of God – that love which makes us beautiful instruments of the one who created us – works through us so that all might hear and see and taste the Word of God who is Christ Jesus our Lord. We may be sent to places which are unfamiliar but, God does not send us off alone. God is present with us.  Through love God uses our gifts to spread this wonderful, prophetic message that is in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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January 18, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about God's abundance and our time...


Sermon from January 17, 2016

Sermon Text: John 2: 1-11

Grace and peace to y’all from God our Father 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 this text comes up I usually have two reactions. First; if I talked to my mom the way that Jesus does in this text – I wouldn’t be your pastor. I’d probably be six feet underground somewhere. Second, how on earth can anyone think that wine is bad or that Jesus was ‘against’ the drinking of alcohol; when Jesus himself made some of the best wine ever out of mere water. Again, those are my usual reactions.

But, as I’ve mentioned previously what amazes me most about scripture and about the continued diving into scripture through prayer and discussion with others is how each reading can speak to us in different ways. That there are times (more frequently than most of us would care to admit) where different things become clearer to us or we feel a different interpretation about something within the text because of where we are in our life. It is probably the biggest reason I can give for the continued reading and continual study of our beloved scriptures.

As I read this very familiar passage and story from John’s gospel and was also in discussion about it with some colleagues this past week, I was captured by the notion of ‘time’ and grace.

Whenever we talk about God’s will or God’s plan the timeframe that our Lord operates on is much different than the one we do. Classically pastors and theologians will call this the difference between Kairos and Chronos – God’s time vs. our time.

There’s a joke that I really like that does a great way of explaining those differences…

A man gets the opportunity to speak to God and asks, “Lord what is a million years to you?” God replies, “For me a million years is as if only a second passes…” The man then asks, “And what is a million dollars to you?” God responds, “Only a penny my son.” Finally, the man is bold to ask, “Can I borrow a penny?” And God says, “Sure, just give me a second…”

As we notice in our readings this morning – God’s ‘kairos’ is playing the long game. The vision and plan that God has in store for creation is not one for the faint of heart or the one who expects something to happen immediately. God doesn’t work like that. Which many of us will exhale a sigh of frustration.

That’s not the world in which we operate. We expect the immediate gratification of our wants and desires. We’ve become so accustomed to the ‘fast paced’ lifestyle that the modern world offers that we become frustrated when the websites we go to don’t load quite as fast, or the traffic in the other lane appears to be moving slightly quicker, where we get to the ATM in order to get our ‘fast cash’ withdrawal and the person in the car in front of us seems to be depositing every check known to man – and now they dropped their ATM card! Bah! We live in a world that doesn’t like to wait. So God playing the long game seems so counter to what we’d want and need.

So, as I was reading the story of Jesus’ first sign at the wedding of Cana I focused a lot on those servants that Jesus’ mom and Jesus himself speaks to. And, my first thought was – what did they think. Seriously, how would you respond if you were put into that same position as these servants?

Let me set it up for you. You’re at a wedding (obviously). The not-so-great wine runs out and the people are starting to get antsy. This older woman approaches you and says, “Do whatever my son tells you to fix this.” Alright, he shouldn’t ask for anything too crazy right?

Wrong.

His command to you – you see those six huge stone jars? Yeah – the ones that hold literally gallons of water in them. Yeah, those ones – fill them up.

What? Are you kidding me? Do you know how long that will take? Hoses and pressurized water placement devices haven’t been invented yet. That’s up to 180 GALLONS of water. That’s what you want us to do? Really? Really? Not to mention the time to walk and the struggle to CARRY that water from over there to here – we do live in a desert wilderness, sir. It isn’t like water is so easily attainable here.

I’m guessing that many of us - if faced with a similar situation - would probably feel the same way.

It’s too much. It’s too long. Is it even worth it?

Remember – God plays the long game.

Yes, the work that we are called to do may be long, it may be more than what others would expect. But, it is worth it.

I see that in the ministry we get to live out here at Redeemer and in our lives. That when we see the ‘goal’ we feel God calling us towards we get side-tracked by what seems to be the immense obstacles in our way. The length of time that we must wait and work through to get to where God is calling us. The burden of carrying and lifting during grueling times as Jesus calls us to do ‘this’ for the church, or the community, the youth, the kids, the seasoned in age, and more.

Yet, when we’ve finished those times and strive through those adventures we get to see what God envisioned the entire time. We get to experience the abundance of grace…

Another story that I heard this week. In seminary (before my time there) students were asked in a class to make stained glass pieces that depicted their notion of some theological ideas. One particular student was given the task of conveying ‘grace.’

He approached the local fire department and asked if they could open a hydrant for him. They allowed it and the picture he took was of a child, holding a Dixie cup, trying to fill it with the water gushing from a fire hydrant. God’s grace. Abundance. Overflowing love.

That is an image that will sit with you for a while. God’s grace overflowing – forcefully – into the Dixie cup of our lives. So strong and abundant is that grace that it fills us up, knocks us down, and overflows around and in us.

Epiphany calls for us to see where in our lives God has showered us with abundance of grace in our lives just as the guests at this wedding are showered with 120-180 gallons of GREAT WINE.  Where has God filled your life with overflowing love and grace?  Is it in the love of another (whether you know them or not) who from their heart and service gives a hug, some food, maybe a bit of money to you in a time of need.  Is it looking upon your life and seeing that God has given you a particular gift to share with this community of faith and the community at large?  Is that ‘grace upon grace’ as you teach a child to solve a problem and their response is to go and help someone else experiencing the same difficulty?  Look to see where God is showering you with grace upon grace – revealing to you the Glory of the Lord Jesus.

The beauty and wonder of God’s grace is that God continues at it even when we’ve become discouraged or apathetic in our work in it.

Look at all the stories of the ones who complain to God as they are in the midst of their ‘suffering’

How long O Lord? We were better off as slaves in Egypt than to wander around out here forever? You want me to pour water in those things?!

Yet, the free grace that God gives us is that the response is – “Not too much longer. Have faith. Yes. The grace is that I am here – through it all. With you. Let’s get to work.”

Epiphany is that time of year where we see where God is made known to us and how we can make God known to those around us. In the life we live, the work we do, the words we say, the thoughts we bare. That the Spirit of God directs us to continue to point and to be present to the Word made flesh in our lives.

That even through the long game that God plays – even in the stress of the ministry that we are called to live into – God’s overflowing grace surrounds us and washes over us. The over-abundance of love that God blesses each of us with is among us. All of it – all of it – points towards and is a sign to God. Amen.

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January 11, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about baptism...


Sermon from January 10, 2016

Text: Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22

Grace and peace to you from God our Father 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!

I read something this week that kind of floored me. It floored me not because it was anything truly different than what I already felt, but it floored me because it put into words so beautifully and matter-of-factly. It floored me because I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard it stated that way before.

But, before we get to that we get to learn a little about baptism.

We celebrate this day – this Baptism of our Lord – by remembering our own baptisms and remembering that Jesus himself was baptized.

The coolest thing about baptism is that it involves something that we as Lutherans probably don’t talk enough about – mostly because we don’t understand it too well and it isn’t as ‘tangible’ to us as other parts of our faith. So, not only do we hear so much about baptism and water throughout all our readings this morning, but we hear of that other aspect of faith – the wilier part of our faith – the Spirit.

We don’t talk a whole lot about the Holy Spirit as Lutherans. We don’t understand it. It isn’t as readily ‘identifiable’ as God the father or Jesus the son. We don’t really know how to wrap our arms around it. So, naturally those things that we don’t fully understand we normally tend to shy away from speaking about them.

The wonder and beauty of the Holy Spirit is that it cannot be understood. It is one of those great and beloved mysteries of our faith. However, even though we are not capable of understanding or corralling the Spirit, that does not mean we cannot experience it or see it at work in our lives.

Even in baptism we truly believe that the Spirit descends upon us because we are baptized in the name of the Trinity – father, son, and holy spirit. But, it isn’t that we say magic words ala reciting the name of Beetlejuice three times to ‘force’ the Spirit to show up. It is not we who control God’s breath – God’s holy Spirit. Instead it is something that we cannot control at all.

As we gather together in celebration of baptism and as we are witness to baptism taking place, it is the Spirit that gather’s with us – because the Spirit is present in those waters. We have faith that Spirit is present with us as we are witness to God’s baptism upon another sister or brother in our life and family of faith.

We believe that where many are gathered, Christ is present – the Trinity is there. We don’t ‘call’ upon the Spirit to show up, but the Spirit shows up because we are gathered in Christ’s name.

Now, baptism itself – especially in this part of the country – can be seen in a multitude of different ways. Even in an area where there are lots of Lutherans running around, there is still the thought that we are baptized so that God might love and be with us.

That because our lives are ‘messed up’ that we need baptism to wash clean ourselves and our lives so that God might look upon us favorably. Where the act of baptism becomes more about us than it is about God. I’m sure y’all have heard that thought before – perhaps deep down you’ve believed baptism to be that. The golden ticket – saving grace – get out of jail free card that we need for God to be present with us.

But, I’m not sure baptism is quite that.

Yes, we are washed of our sins. Yes, our old self dies and then a new creation rises out of those blessed waters.

But, I don’t think – I really don’t think – baptism is what causes God to love us. Far from it.

In fact – I truly feel that it is because of baptism that we know that we are loved. It is God’s sign of love for us that we are gifted baptism. God already loves us and then washes us. Not so much that God will love us, but so that we can see and understand that God does already love us.

Where in that act of baptism God calls down to each of us – with you I’m well pleased – now you know that. It isn’t God saying, “Now that you are washed, I’m happy with you – finally.” In that realization – in those waters we are changed.

We rise to a new life that seeks to honor the gift that we have been given – to live into and honor that gift of love, grace, freedom, and forgiveness from God. That gift of new and renewed life in Christ’s name.

And now we come to that part where I mentioned I was floored by something this week. It comes from a really inspirational individual name Shane Claiborne – he’s really a great person in the faith that seeks to live out his faith, but also recognize the struggles that goes a long with it because being perfectly honest – living out faith following Christ in our life isn’t easy. It isn’t our first thought or inclination. Shane writes it this way…

I know there are people out there who say, “My life was such a mess. I was drinking, partying, sleeping around; and then I met Jesus, and my whole life came together.” God bless those people. But for me, I had it together. I used to be cool (I was prom king, for heaven’s sake). Then I met Jesus, and He wrecked my life.

 

The more I read the gospel, the more it messed me up, turning everything I believed in, valued and hoped for upside down. I am still recovering from my conversion.

Those aren’t usually the words and thoughts we hear from people who live into the faith of following the one who calls us, washes us, and sends us. Except for many – if not most – of us that is exactly how we feel right?

We read our bibles, we participate in studies and devotions, we come to worship, we listen to the pastor flapping his gums, we receive the bread and wine, we talk with one another, we hear this message of love, and faith, and forgiveness, and we go out into the world after our time in worship and we are confronted by thoughts and voices that don’t line up with what we here in this place and read in this book.

We hear – love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you from our Lord, but that’s not what we hear outside these walls all the time.

We hear – you are loved because God created you, but out there we might hear, “God loves you only if you’re like this…”

We hear – You. Are. Forgiven. Always. Yet, when we leave this place we are confronted with and sometimes live into the thought of – “You’ve screwed up too much. Get out.”

And in hearing that we are conflicted. As Shane wrote – all the things that I value, believed in, and hoped for are turned upside down. It’s all that wily Spirit’s fault.

For you see – as much as baptism is one of those concrete signs from God that we are loved and cherished. Baptism is also a beginning – it is not an ending.

Baptism isn’t the washing away of our messy and dirty life, but instead baptism is the sign for us that God is present in the midst of the mess and dirt. That in baptism – as faith is poured into us in those waters – God is there saying, “yeah – it is messy. But, I love you and we’re going to do this together.”

Not only is God present there in our baptismal life helping to guide and direct us as we struggle with living into the life of our baptismal promises, but God has surrounded us with others who struggle as well – each and every one of us.

That in this community – Christ is present. Christ too is baptized within the community of God. Jesus walks with us in this life – this messy and dirty life. This life full of struggle as we are pulled between what we know we should do in living into the baptismal life and the ‘easy’ life of falling victim to the sin that exists in this world and in us.

We struggle. We hurt. We are confused.

Baptism doesn’t wash that away.

But, in baptism we know, we have faith in, we remember that those struggles, those hurts, and that confusion is not what defines us. That in these waters we are reminded that we are loved, called, forgiven, accepted, and sent into a world that yearns to hear the same. That we are surrounded by a community of saints that struggle too. That we come together by the wiliness of the Spirit in our lives that points to God at work in us, around us, and for us.

We remember that baptism is the beginning of our life of faith; not the finish line.

Yet, throughout this life – this life lived in the shadow of our baptisms – we walk as Luther would say, “Wet.” We walk wet in remembrance of God’s gift to us. Of God’s presence in our life. Of God’s love for us. A love that was and is and will be so strong that we are washed to remind us that we are loved.

Yes, being baptized changes us. It may even ‘wreck’ our lives. But, we live in this life of baptism together – together with God, together with Jesus, together with the Spirit, and together with one another.

In baptism we live to God. Amen.

 

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January 5, 2016, 1:01 PM

the one about 'in the beginning....'


Sermon from January 3, 2016

Text: John 1: 1-18

Grace and peace to you from God our Father 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!

It’s always weird when we get to a new year isn’t it? We reminisce on the past on what we have accomplished, what we weren’t able to do, the new relationships we’ve formed, the relationships that have gone away, the new things we love and those things we cannot believe we even paid attention to!

A new year brings to us the promise of what is fresh, the possibility that anything can be achieved, the thought that ‘this year will be different or better’ in any of the ways that we wish and hope.

A new year is all of those things and I love the positivity that the prospect of a new year generally brings.

Of course, there are those that might say that this new year will be ‘worse’ than the one before. That it’ll be the warmest or the coldest year ever. It’ll be another year where we move deeper and deeper into the moral abyss.

We are at a new beginning.

I love that on this first Sunday of the new year we get to read from one of my favorite Gospel passages – this beautiful prologue and poem that opens John’s gospel. This gospel that starts with… In the beginning… the phrase that immediately conjures up in our minds another ‘beginning’ within our scripture – that start to Genesis the story of Creation.

In the beginning…

This new year – a year with so many different ways that it can play out a new year that we remember will be different from the last one and the one to come next, but as the year unfolds for each of us there are those things that will remain constant.

That’s what I love about the beginning of John’s gospel. Here the writer is bringing to his audience – to each of us – the beginning of something new. That God is about to do something that has never been done. That God is coming to be with us as Immanuel.

The past few weeks we’ve celebrated that in-breaking into the world in Jesus’ birth. We’ve gathered here and we’ve sung hymns, we’ve heard of those promises of old, we’ve come together to give praise to this new birth – this new thing that God is doing.

We’ve seen the new burst into the world and yet through it all we’ve been reminded of the ‘old’ that is still there. Not the old as in the sense that we are ‘replacing’ something. The old that is stale and decrepit that you just can’t wait to ‘get rid of’ in some way. No, that is not the ‘old’ that we see spoken about here, but instead we see and hear of the ‘old’ in the sense that the one who is putting this together has always been here – has always been present.

The one that was and is the beginning is still at work. That the Word that God has spoken is still active and alive. That the first light that shines through the darkness – and is never and will never be overcome by that darkness – is still shining brightly.

The stories of old are still true. The stories we’ve grown up with are all real. The God that we’ve prayed to is still here and is still at work in, among, and around us.

Yet, things are a little different; as any new beginning is. Yet, God is still here as God as always been, but how God is here is what is different.

It isn’t that we’ve changed or been changed. It isn’t that we’ve made resolutions so that we would be more acceptable for God to be with us – resolutions that we know we’ll break or steer from. Resolutions that end up being more about ‘us’ than they are about others.

No, this ‘different’ isn’t because we’ve changed in some way that makes God want to be with us.

The ‘different’ is how God comes to be with us. That God continues to live into the love that God has for all of creation – for each and every one of us – but, has decided to make a change in how that love is shown. It isn’t just words on a page, or the voice of one conveying God’s call to us. It isn’t just rainbows in the sky. It isn’t just rules written on stone. It isn’t just a temple where God can be found in the Holy City.

No – this difference – this new way of God showing that ‘old’ and familiar love that is the Word – the word that has always been there – the Word that has come and be among us. This Word that is made flesh and blood in the person of Jesus – God’s own son – to live among and is us. To laugh and cry with us. To be in joy and pain with us. This Word that has become flesh to live life with and for us. That is what the ‘new’ is as we celebrate it today.

This new beginning that we begin is filled with the familiar. The familiar that we are loved and cared for, that we are fed and forgiven, that we are lifted up and sent into the world to proclaim God’s love.

In John’s prologue – in the beginning – we are comforted by the familiarity of the ‘old’ of God’s love for us, but we are seeing that love lived out in a new way for the world.

It is in this new way that God has come to be with us that we are changed. We are changed because of the gift that God has given us. The response that we give – the response to God’s love – bursts from us so that we too are caught up in that light that has been there – that has been here – from the beginning.

The light that shines in the darkness. The light that reminds us that we are loved. The light that shines in its reminder that we are not alone.

We come to worship this morning, we begin this new year and the words we are comforted by – the words that we read in the Gospel of John – are words that are very familiar.

The familiar words that point us to the new and how God is at work in us, in this community, in this world. The word that has always been there.

We begin this new year as we remember…. “In the beginning…” Amen.

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January 1, 2016, 9:00 AM

January Newsletter 2016


Grace and pecae y’all! I hope that your Christmas and New Year’s celebrations have been joyous, restful, and full of peace. I know that mine were!

Well, it has come to that time of year again; that time of year where we all collectively make promises to ourselves of the things that we want to do in the new year of 2016. Eat less. Exercise more. Be more loving. Show more peace. Be more giving. Tell people thank-you. And more.

Though, there will come a time – as it happens for all of us – that we will slip and we will slide back into our old ways and habits. I’m victim to it as well – where the new fitness tracker I have has a reasonable chance of being a very fancy device that tells me the time – instead of being that device that encourages me stay fit and gives me an overall picture of my health.

But, I wonder if this year could be a little different – as I hope and pray that each of you are able to buck the trend of failed resolutions this year with me. My hope and prayer for this year is that I approach what I want to do in this new year a little differently.

Though what I hope to do will ultimately be of benefit to me, I don’t want to do it for me. I think that is where we fall into the trap of not completing and following through with what we’d like to accomplish in our lives. When we only have ourselves to hold us accountable it makes it very easy to ‘lapse’ in our goals. My hope this year is that I can continually look at what I hope to accomplish and be able to frame it as what I can do for and with God and God’s people.

Most years I’ll say, “I’m going to exercise and eat less so I can stop getting bigger.” – Which is a statement that really only ‘benefits’ me. My hope this year is that I can instead say, “God has given me this body – this incredible body that can do so much – I hope and pray that I can care for my body as much as God cares for me. That I can return the love that God has for me in this gift by taking care of what God has given me. Taking care of myself for my service to God, my wife, my daughters, the people who call me pastor, and more”

In year’s past I might have said, “I want to be more charitable (because I know it makes me feel good).” This year, I pray and hope that I can say, “God has blessed me with so much – possessions, skills, and money – that I feel called to give to those in need. Truthfully, I don’t need a lot of this stuff for God has given me more than enough. I want to give – not because it makes me feel good – but, because in the abundance that I have been blessed with by God – I want to give and share with those around me.”

There have been those times that I might have stated that, “I should probably be more forgiving and gracious to people around me – it’ll make my life less stressful.” Again, that’s something that only benefits me. So, perhaps this year I pray and hope that I can say, “God calls me to love those around me because they too are beautiful creations of God. In each person I see and interact with – even the ones that frustrate me to no end – are my sisters and brothers – fellow children of God. God directs my words and actions – to be loving, kind, gracious, and full of forgiveness – to those around me because I have already been (and continually am) loved, forgiven, and blessed.”

As I approach this new year and see what can transpire throughout this year, I continue to pray, hope, and hold fast to God. Knowing that in each of the things that I’d like to accomplish I know that I don’t approach them alone nor do I undertake them as a sort of Lone Ranger. But, I seek to live out my faith and service to God and my neighbors by caring for myself, offering myself to others, and caring for all around me.

I do this all because of Jesus who has claimed me and freed me in his death and resurrection.

So, my question for each one of you – my fellow and beloved sisters and brothers – are you willing to join me in letting God be the center of our year? Will you join me in letting God be the focus of what we can accomplish in our lives in 2016?

Will you join me?




December 25, 2015, 9:00 AM

the one about space on that first Holy Night...


Christmas Eve Sermon

Text: Luke 2: 1-20

Grace and peace to each of y’all this evening – those here with us physically and those who are listening to us on the radio – wherever you are right now – welcome to this most holy of nights – the night in which we celebrate our God being born into the world – where the Word of God is made flesh and has come to dwell with us. Where Immanuel – God with us – is fulfilled in the most beautiful, surprising, and fragile of ways. We get to be in worship this night to give thanks for what God has done, is doing, and will do. Will y’all pray with me? Let 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!

As we have been on this journey towards this night, as we have been traveling and experiencing the season of Advent – that season in the church leading up to Christ’s birth – one word has been at the forefront in my mind. For those of you who have been able to read my newsletter article from this past month, this will all seem a little familiar.

It amazes me that the more and more I read a piece of familiar scripture – like the story of Jesus’ birth as it is told to us through the Gospel of Luke – the different ways it ‘speaks’ to me – to us – depending on where we are in life or in the people we meet or in response to the events of the world around us.

The story of this birth as it is told to us this evening is one that is incredibly familiar to us. We’ve heard it in worship for years. We’ve heard it told in Christmas programs by our children and friends. We’ve heard it from the mouth of Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas TV show. We know this story. And because we know this story we become familiar in how we interpret it.

Whenever I’ve seen this story acted out in programs and nativity scenes there is always one part that I remember vividly. That part where Joseph and Mary – pregnant and about to burst – are told continually that they can’t ‘stay here’ or ‘here’ or ‘here.’

That there is no room. The ‘No’ light on the vacancy sign has been lit. There is nowhere for them to go. So, they must – they are forced to – go sleep in a barn among the animals. The story of the ‘great rejection’ of our Lord on the night of his birth is continually shaped and formed in our brains.

Yet, when we read this story – we see that we might’ve added a few things that don’t appear there. There’s no mention of animals. There’s no story of being continually turned away. We are given a few details and we kind of ‘fill in the rest’ as best as we can.

It wasn’t until this year that as I read this story – with the guidance of one of my favorite colleagues at a retreat for pastors – amid the numerous stories we have seen played out in our country and world – that one word spoke to me for this season.

Space.

Space – not in the sense that I’m a nerd and I’ve already seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens multiple times – and I’m willing to go see it a few more times.

Space – as in the place we give to people in our lives.

You see – this birth story that we read has a lot to do about space, but I don’t think in the way that you and I are accustomed to hearing and interpreting it.

We have heard time and time again that there just wasn’t space for the Holy Family. That Bethlehem – the city that Joseph was from – the city where his ancestor David – the king – was born was filled up and there was no space for Joseph and his family.

That as people looked upon this poor couple and saw Mary and her burgeoning belly they realized there was soon to be no more space left in her for the child she carried. Nevertheless – no heart – no grace – no care – no space for them here. Move along. Go check the next place. Maybe they’ll be able to help.

That’s the story that we’ve been told. So we imagine in our minds since we were children that the people during this time are pretty mean, heartless, and uncaring. Never mind that none of that is actually depicted at all in the words of scripture we read from this evening.

So, perhaps – maybe – possibly – that’s not how the story played out. Maybe that is our way of looking at the world and seeing less than and assuming that that is how it’s supposed to be. That has we hear stories throughout our history and in our current environment of story upon story of not having enough – of people being turned away – of the ‘not welcome’ sign displayed prominently in proverbial homes and borders that we assume that must be going on here.

Where instead of thinking about the terrible ordeal that our Lord’s parents experienced that night of being continually rejected by homes and people – only to find comfort among the ‘animals’ and the second-class – that perhaps this story is more about how space was made for them.

That perhaps in this story of God coming to dwell with us – as God makes space within divine life to be among that of humanity and God’s creation – that space was made for our Lord on this first and holy night.

That perhaps this story isn’t so much about the lack of space, but instead about the making of space for the holy – making space for others – making space for God within our lives. Perhaps this night and celebration is about the abundance of space.

That perhaps the reason we read of a manger is because well – it makes a pretty good stand-in for a crib and would’ve been pretty easy to obtain at the last minute. That perhaps as we read the original language of Greek that this story was written in we see that ‘inn’ can be better translated as ‘guestroom.’ And that perhaps the ‘guestroom’ was filled (lots of people were in Bethlehem), but space was made for Joseph and Mary into the lives and home of the people they approached.

So maybe, just maybe this story isn’t about the rejection of the holy in our lives, but about the radical hospitality of making space for those who enter our lives.

Now, how does that direct and guide us? How does the thought that perhaps this season is about making space, direct us in how we interact with the world and with others in our lives? Where we see that God has made space for us by entering into the world to be Immanuel. Making space to be in this new and intimate relationship with creation – making space to be with and for us through this birth. Where we see that God has made space for us and that space has been made for the Holy Family and we in turn make space for those in our lives.

Where we make space for family and friends. Which is probably the easiest space to make even though he can be incredibly stressful. But, we make it work. We deal with the differing views on a whole host of subjects to be together with family.

But, maybe making space also means making space for those that we see around us. We hear stories and see prominent individuals making claims that space can’t or shouldn’t be made for others, but perhaps that’s not what God has been calling for and leading us towards. Of course that doesn’t mean it won’t be easy – nothing God calls us to is easy, far from it. But, what would the world look like – what would our lives look like – if when we met others different from us we made space in our lives for them?

Making space to learn, to be in conversation, to be in relationship with. Not to mention the literal making of space in providing shelter, and clothes, and food for those in need. It isn’t always easy, there is a lot of trepidation and anxiety that can accompany that sort of radical hospitality. But what if…

What if we did a better job of making space for the divine and the mysterious in our lives? Where we deliberately set a part space to be in conversation with God? To be in song and thanksgiving with the Spirit? To be in worship – not because we have to, but because we get to in thanksgiving for what God has done for us. Where we remember that God has made space for us.

This season, I cannot help but think about space. How space was made for Jesus and his parents. How space was made for those shepherds to be a part of the celebration of what has happened. How for those same shepherds space was made so that they too could look upon what God had done as they visited this family. How Mary made space to ponder and think about all that God had done for her.

How as we all come to worship this evening, those who’ve come out of habit – those who’ve come out of desire – those who’ve come because they were curious this night – those who’ve come because the dial is stuck on 1240 – that space has been made for you. That God has come down to be with us. To be able to say that you – that I – that we are not alone.

That God is here. That God is present. Space has been made for us. No matter who you are or where you’ve come from. God has made space for you. That this story that we celebrate this evening is our story. That we are a part of this. That as we read of space being made for Jesus – we remember that space has been made for us and the world.

It’s pretty special when those you don’t know or don’t know well or those you don’t expect make space for you. God has made space for us. Space was made for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. God is guiding us to make space for those around us – those we know well and those we don’t know very well. It won’t always be easy; it is very likely that it’ll be stressful – but we remember that God is present with us through it.

We remember this night that Christ was born into the world. What a joy to remember this night. This night that we remember that space was made. That space is made. That space will be made.

Space for us. Space for others. Space for Christ. God has come to be with us because there is an abundance of space. Amen.



Comments

12-30-2015 at 9:05 PM
Ed Stephenson
This is a blessing to all who read or have heard the message. I'm blessed to be one,and shall always remember to make space.As God has done for me.Thank you
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December 23, 2015, 9:00 AM

Advent Wednesday Sermons


Here's a special treat - here are the sermons that I preached during our Advent Wednesday Services this year.

Sermon from December 2

Text: Malachi 3: 1-4

Good evening and welcome to Redeemer as we begin our Wednesday Evening Advent Worship services. I know that most of us are very busy this time of year. There are a lot of commitments that we adhere to during this festive season – at home, at work, at school, with friends and family – that at times even the thought of ‘taking a step back’ seems daunting.

I know that we have some folks from the College here this evening as well, and I still remember my times at Newberry and at Southern Seminary vividly – especially during times of stress that the end of a semester typically brings. I had a professor in seminary who asked me and my fellow classmates once as the semester was winding down why the chapel became emptier the closer and closer those tests were administered and those papers were due. We answered, “Because we’re stressed – we feel like we can’t devote any more time to anything, but the work we have to do.”

He sort of chuckled when he heard that and stated, ‘where is the one place that you know that you can hear words of comfort, grace, love, forgiveness, and acceptance. Where is the one place that you can continually be reminded that you’re not alone and that you are loved?’ Of course, the answer was in worship, among those gathered as scripture was read, hymns were sung, and a meal is shared.

Whenever we become over-stressed and seemingly stretched to our limits, worship and space with God usually is one of the first things that we cut out to make room for other things – except it doesn’t normally make the stress and anxiousness seem to lessen in anyway. Now – compound that feeling during this Advent season as we gear up towards Christmas? Those feelings are multiplied greatly!

So, I’m thankful that you’ve come this night as we continue to make space for God in our life. Just as space was made for our Lord on the night that he was born – in which we look in expectant hope to celebrate in just a few short weeks.

I know things are stressful, you’re all busy – whether you’re a student, a parent, a worker in your respective field. But, being able to take a pause. A breath during this hectic time to point our eyes, hearts, and minds towards the one whom we celebrate and worship truly helps put everything in perspective.

 This evening we heard from Malachi. A book from the Old Testament that we don’t hear too often from. It’s a pretty short book, and in fact is the last book in the Old Testament before it fast forwards a few years and flips over to the Gospel of Matthew. This is a book that we as Christians interpret as one that foreshadows Jesus’ reign and the coming messenger of God that he is – and more.

In our short reading this morning we hear Malachi speak about a promise and what that promise will look like. That promise is the sending of a messenger. The one to bring good news to a world in desperate need to hear it. This messenger will be like a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap.

Each of those items helped their respective users to make something more ‘pure’ or ‘clean.’ A refiner’s fire would blaze to extreme temperatures to help the refiner take out the impurities within silver or gold so that it was even more beautiful and precious than it already was. The same with the soap a fuller used – the soap that helped make cloth and garments shine clean and get back to the original intent of its maker.

We hear these terms used as we continue the journey into the season of Advent. This season where we wait in expectant hope of the one to come. As we wait for God’s in-breaking into the world. Where the refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap is made known to the world.

Now, most people will read this and think about all the terrible ‘stuff’ that happens in our lives that we endure and change through. Where we go through it all and come out the other side a better person. Now, I can see that – but, I don’t necessarily think that God is up there with a big mighty ‘smite’ button and saying, “Yep, Matt’s at the time to deal with some serious you know what! He better hold on tight!” I don’t think God necessarily works that way…

Instead, as I read this text as we journey in the beginning of Advent, I think of what a refiner has to do in order to make that silver and gold as pure and clean as it was created to be. These precious minerals aren’t just thrown into the fire to be forgotten. Instead, the refiner stands watch. Yes, the fire is hot. Yes, the minerals will look great after they endure it. But, they are never left unattended.

Instead, the refiner must watch and take notice. Caring for the gold or silver within the fire. The refiner attends to the fire making sure that it doesn’t get too hot or lose the heat needed for the silver and gold to be made pure. Finally – as an old story says, the refiner’s work isn’t finished until the refiner can see his or her face within the silver or gold.

We hear this story of a promise. The promise of the one to come who will be a messenger from God to us. That this messenger will be like a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap. And at first glance, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a lot of fun. Things are going to be done to us intentionally so that we’ll get better. Instead, I wonder if it is in how we live our baptismal lives – as we journey through this life of faith – a life that brings those moments of fire – as the promises we’ve made and the callings we live out to God are in contrast to what the world might desire. Caring for those that others would rather cast aside, striving for peace and justice within a system that doesn’t seem to care, proclaiming the words and gospel of love, grace, hope, acceptance, and forgiveness to a world that seems at times incapable of living and practicing those sorts of things.

In all of that – Jesus – the refiner – is watching over us. We are not alone. He has been sent. We await his coming. The promise from God that we are not alone, we are not abandoned, we are not left unattended. But, that the life we live out – the life we live in the refiner’s fire – is done with care and love so that Christ might be seen in and through us.

It isn’t always easy; it isn’t always fun. But, we are not alone. The promise isn’t so much that the fire of life will hurt – but that the refiner is tending to us in the midst of this life of faith. The one that we wait in expectant hope is coming.

We journey in Advent. We continue to make space for the promise to come. The promise of a refiner’s fire. The promise of a messenger who continues to point us and point with us towards the one who redeems the world. Amen!

 

Sermon from December 9

Text: Zephaniah 3: 14-20

Welcome to y’all on this the second week of our Advent Services here at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. I’m so thankful and overjoyed that y’all are here to take time and to make space for our Lord within your busy schedules this week and during this season.

So, we hear from another Old Testament prophet this morning – probably the one with one of the coolest names – Zephaniah. In his words we here again about a promise to come. About a prophecy to be fulfilled by and in our Lord God.

Last week we heard Malachi speak about the promise of a Refiner and his fire. How the refiner will watch and tend over his work as the impurities of the silver and gold are removed and the beautiful shine and reflection of the refiner can be seen within his work.

This week, the promise we hear is of the one who rejoices in and restores us. Zephaniah’s words this evening are incredibly uplifting. Especially after we heard from Malachi about the struggles we are to face within the ‘fire’ of our baptismal lives.

We – as children of God – are called to rejoice and sing. Which we do during the season of Advent quite well. Whether it be a hymn sung in worship or even a song of the season we hear on the radio. This season of Advent opens us up to the beauty and joy of the music within and around us.

We sing as we rejoice in what God has done, is doing, and will do. We as followers of Christ rejoice in the glory of knowing that in Christ – in those waters of our baptism – our sin is washed away and God chooses to not remember them.

I don’t know about y’all – but that is definitely something to rejoice in! We’ve been washed – we’ve been welcomed into this community of faith. Where the things we’ve done that have not been so good, where the actions we’ve taken that have drawn us away from God, where the words we’ve used have not been used to give praise and thanks to our God – have all been washed away and remembered no more.

Not only that, but Zephaniah gives praise and song to the fact that the Lord is in our midst. God has come to be with us! Zephaniah is celebrating and praising Emmanuel – God with us!

In Advent, we await the coming of Emmanuel – we await the in-breaking of God into the world. The world that God formed in creation. The world that God has taken great joy and pleasure in. The world that God has not abandoned, but cares and loves so much that God has entered into creation as the Son – God’s son – to point the world to God’s love and victory.

These are wonderful words to hear as we quickly approach the celebration of the coming of Christ into the world. It is a time to rejoice. Rejoicing that God – our Lord – has taken away judgments, rejoices over us, renews us in love, and exults over us with loud singing.

Isn’t it weird that as we thank God for being God – that God looks upon us and thanks us for being us? That’s love isn’t it?

Best of all – we rejoice in the one who shows so much love and care that God comes to be with us. That God tears open the heavens to dwell among us. God comes among us as a child – as a human being – as one of us. To live life among us, to know our hurts and struggles, to share in our joys and our praise. To literally walk with us in this life of faith.

Not only that, but as God comes into the world – God gathers those who the world casts aside. Not to further push them away, but to turn their ‘shame’ into praise.

As we journey through this season of Advent we see God at work in the words of Zephaniah, and we again look to how we might be called to act. That perhaps – perhaps – the work and actions of grace and love that God revels in within the words of Zephaniah just might be modeled in us.

Caring for the ‘lame’ and gathering the outcast. Being in relationship with all those in our midst. That we learn and grow in and with all those around us so that all might know that God truly, truly is in the midst of this world and all our lives. Not relegated to a select few, but God’s presence and love transcends all boundaries that the world – that we – establish to separate ourselves.

And then, in that presence. In the midst of that rejoicing that the Lord – our Christ – heaps over on top of us – we are restored. We are restored as we are with God. Not because we have done something to get to God, but because God has come to be with us – Emmanuel. God is here. God always will be. We remember that during Advent and we wait in expectant hope for the celebration of that day as Christ is born into the world. Amen!

 

Sermon from December 16

Text: Micah 5: 2-5a

Grace and peace to y’all this final Wednesday service in Advent. We’ve eaten, and shared, laughed, sung, worshiped, and thought each week that we’ve gathered in this space. This time and this opportunity that we’ve come together to make space during this busy season.

We’ve been able to make space – even if only for a short time – to gather ourselves and look with expectant hope of the one who is to come. In those times these past few weeks, we’ve talked about promises. Specifically, we’ve taken a look at the promises that God makes for us and for the world through some Old Testament Prophets – Malachi, Zephaniah, and now Micah – during this holy time.

The promise that God’s coming is that of a refiner’s fire – the fire that rages as we live out our baptismal lives of faith. The fire that burns so that Christ might reflect in us; the beautiful creations of God that we are. The promise of a restorer – the one who comes to give praise in and through creation – through us – so that we might be made to realize that we are restored. That God rejoices in us. That God gathers all and makes what the world sees as a ‘shame’ into glory. The promise that God rejoices in us.

This evening we are again given a promise. But, this promise is a little different in how it is lived out in the ways we would expect. This evening we hear from the prophet Micah and through his words God’s promise is that of a ruler.

The one to come that would rule over Israel – the one that would stand ‘victorious’ over her enemies. Or at least that is how those who first heard these words interpreted them. You see, the prophet Micah was writing and living during a very tumultuous time. Just take a gander at the previous chapters of Micah and you can see the corruption, greed, and apathy that existed during his time.

The nation of Israel itself was divided as well – mostly because it was being ‘ruled’ by foreign powers. So, naturally as those who first heard Micah would think – as he began to speak about the ruler to come – they envisioned a mighty warrior who would push back and destroy the forces and foreign armies that stood between the people and their God.

But, if we’ve learned anything as we’ve celebrated Christmas throughout our lives – it is a consistent theme throughout the Bible that God delights in upsetting human expectations.

Upsetting human expectations when a baby is born to parents well past the child-bearing years. The anointing of a king who was the smallest and youngest of his brothers. So it is in this way that Micah’s words again point to the way that God does work as opposed to the way in which the world expects.

The world wants and expects to get a superhero of a ruler. A story of legend and epic-ness. The one who can fight, defeat enemies of the kingdom, help the poor, and gets the girl. The one who can do that over and over and over again. The one whose legend continues to grow and grow in such a way that no one dares to standup to that kingdom for fear of what ‘the ruler’ can and will do to them. The world wants a King Arthur. A William Wallace. A Captain America.

Yet, that isn’t who Micah prophecies about. The ruler that the people would expect would come from the ‘big city’ of Jerusalem. But, the ruler that Micah foretells is one who comes from the smallest tribe and city. The ‘back-water’ town of Bethlehem.

The promise that God lifts up through the words of Micah is one of old and deep. A promise that has been there from them beginning – of ancient days. The promise that God makes may be old, but it is still active.

That’s the kind of thing that I like to hear during this time of year. That the promises that God has for us stand true. The promises that God makes for us are upheld. The promises that God seeks to live out in us, through us, and for us might be made known in ways that we wouldn’t expect, but they end up being the full realization of what God has in store for us.

The promise we know is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. A child. A baby. Small. Tiny. Dependent upon others.

That is the one who comes to be with us – to rule this kingdom that we are a part of – that we are. We are led by a little child – the one who continually points to the one who sent him. The one who points and proclaims the one who has come to be with us.

As we are given the promise of the ruler – and we know that God fulfills all promises – even the ones of ancient days – we remember that those promises are fulfilled in unexpected ways. God delights in the fulfillment of promises in ways that we would not anticipate.

Abraham and Sarah give birth to Isaac in their advanced years. David is anointed king even though he’s the youngest and smallest of his family. That unexpected way of fulfillment is seen throughout the New Testament as well – Mary’s willingness to accept the responsibility to bear God to the world and in Jesus himself as he comes as a vulnerable child and not as a mighty warrior or ruler.

God fulfills promises. God holds true and fast to the people of God, the nation of Israel, the kingdom of heaven!

We are almost at the cusp of that largest promise – the promise of Immanuel – God with us. A ruler to live among us, to walk with us, to know us. A ruler who might not be what we expected, but is the ruler who redeems us and points us towards God. Amen!

 

 

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December 21, 2015, 9:00 AM

there's something about Mary...


Sermon from December 20, 2015

Text: Luke 1: 39-55

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and savior 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!

As many of y’all know – I was a camp counselor at Lutheridge in Arden, NC. I love that place. It is my personal – happiest place on earth. The ability to be in the midst of God’s creation while surrounded by the community of God there is amazing. I was blessed, humbled, and honored to have served for two summers there. Though, I usually joke that the only reason that I was hired was because I’m A) a guy and B) I have a pulse.

While working there, I was also blessed to be a counselor to a particular type of individual that loves camp. I was a mentally challenged counselor! Or, as I soon learned – I guess I should tell people that I was a Counselor for the Mentally Challenged. I loved the weeks that I was able to be at camp with those who were differently abled in their minds and bodies. It was an absolute blast and I am filled with stories that I love to share with those around me. Some of those stories are better suited – and probably more appropriate – in a space that isn’t the pulpit. But, they are good stories.

What I love most about those I was blessed to be a counselor for was the immense faith that they possessed. It always amazed me how much they proclaimed and shared in their faith with others. There is more faith in their pinky than I seem to possess in my entire body. The immense amount of trust and strength these wonderful friends of mine have is awe-inspiring.

Of course, some of them are not able to verbalize their thoughts either completely or at all, but the ones that can amaze me at their ability to proclaim the gospel and God’s presence with them. Whether they were born with Down’s Syndrome, they are on the more severe end of the Autism Spectrum, or they were in a car accident that left them mentally impaired each of them are able to convey – in their own way – who and whose they are. They are able to proclaim their trust and faith in a God that loves them fully and completely – even as the world around them might try to tell them that that can’t be possible because they aren’t like everyone else.

Whenever I think of those wonderful people that I got to spend two of my summers with, I begin to think of Mary and particularly the whole story surrounding our Gospel reading this morning.

Mary – unfortunately – doesn’t hold the same place of honor and grace within our tradition of the church as she does in others; namely how our sisters and brothers in the Catholic Church celebrate her. And, I find that a little sad. Even Luther wanted her placed in higher esteem than she eventually was placed within the Lutheran tradition. What we lose when we don’t talk and remember Mary – a part from this time of year – is the absolute amazing faith that she possesses. Then we remember that she was more than likely between the ages of 12 and 16 that we are blown away even more.

Where we pick-up with Mary’s story this morning is right after the angel Gabriel tells her that she is pregnant.

A young teenager – not married – still living at home – is told that she is pregnant. I’ve asked some of our confirmation students how’d they respond if they were given that news and they all responded in the way you’d think – the same way I think we’d all respond. A lot of shock. A lot of grief. Scared out of their minds. Wondering why God did this to me.

I don’t think we’d fault Mary at all if those were some of the words and thoughts she expressed within our scriptures. It’d be totally understandable if she showed some trepidation towards living into the call and mantle that is placed upon her shoulders. I imagine it is pretty anxiety inducing to be told, “Hey – just so you know you’re going to bear God to the world!”

Even where we see her this morning as she is traveling to be with her cousin Elizabeth – who herself has received some startling news that she is pregnant even after years and years of not being able to conceive a child – you’d think that she’d go and cry with her cousin about what has happened to them.

Mary and Elizabeth respond to God’s call in such surprising and refreshing ways than what we’ve seen from those called by God throughout our scriptures. Any other time that God has reached down to tell someone that they have been set apart in some fashion, the people that God speaks with usually aren’t dancing and singing. No – usually they are scared and frightened men who try to find every conceivable way to not follow God’s call for them. Making excuse upon excuse why they aren’t the one that God is looking for. Hoping upon hope that they can wave their hands in front of God’s face like a Jedi to perform a mind trick while saying, “I’m not the guy you’re looking for…”

Neither Mary nor Elizabeth respond in that manner. In fact, their response is the exact opposite and a model of faith for each of us. They both have been given startling and unexpected news. They both are pregnant – one for sure in the most ‘non-traditional’ way possible. Both have been told that their children are special. Not just special to them – but, special to the world. They receive this news and instead of crying shoulder to shoulder together – commiserating in their ‘lot’ in life – they join in celebration with one another. In fact – even Mary breaks out in song, reminding us of another woman in scripture who praised God through song – Miriam when the nation of Israel was let go by pharaoh.

Mary’s words are a beautiful poem and song proclaiming God’s presence in her life and her faith and trust in where God is calling her and guiding her.

I’m sure in the back of her mind she knows she’ll be looked at differently. There will those who scoff at her story and try to call her any number of unsavory names and labels – all the labels even we know that have been horribly placed upon those who are unwed teenage moms. There is probably even the thought that because of this – she will be abandoned – by her fiancé, her family, her friends, her community.

Yet, she is able – as Marty Haugen writes it in Holden Evening Prayer – to sing, “My soul proclaims your greatness O God, and my spirit rejoices in you. You have looked with on your servant here and blessed me all my life through.” That is faith and trust.

Even Elizabeth is able to rejoice for the one who she carries within her womb is the one who will point to Jesus through his words and actions to the people of Israel.

As we approach this time of year and continually look towards the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord later this week, we know that this time of year doesn’t bring always bring up the most pleasant and happy memories. There are many who will be and who are very sad during this time of year. Someone they loved is no longer here. The community and relationships they have are strained to breaking points. The stress of this hectic season continues to build up as there are more meetings, get togethers, commitments, and obligations than ever before. There are the expectations to ‘do better’ than last year, and to somehow be present in seemingly a million places at once.

This time of year can be hard. It can be extremely difficult. Add to the fact that where we live the days grow short and the nights are longer. The length of the night – the darkness – has been continually getting longer and longer and will reach its peak in just a few short days.

Yet, in those moments of stress and times of exasperation we can and we do look towards Mary and Elizabeth. Two women who at a time when women were not treated fairly, with love, grace, and honor walked in faith in spite of what others might say and do. They trusted in hope that they were set a part and that they were not alone.

For me – that is the huge takeaway from this text and this story of Mary.

In our day an age – and I know I can talk to a few of you about this who have inside knowledge of these sorts of things – when someone is young, really young and is given the news that they are pregnant – there is a lot of fear of what will happen to those around them. That they’ll be alone, abandoned, having to resort to potentially drastic perhaps even deadly decisions to ‘fix’ themselves of a ‘problem.’ 

What we learn from Mary’s story is that it isn’t that her family pulls away during this time, but that they cling closer together. Elizabeth greets her warmly and so does the child in her womb. We read in the Gospel of Matthew that Joseph pulls her closer.

Space is made for her and for the one she carries for the world.

What would life look like for us – for the entire world – that when the unexpected happen – when life throws your curveballs and surprises that we banded together? During this time of year when so manh people feel alone and outside because of something that has happened in their life or how others treat them because of who they are – what would it look like if instead of pushing folks away, we held them tighter in embrace.

Reminding them – and us – again and again that God is here. That God is made known through the love and words that we share together with one another. That we are not abandoned and forgotten. Where space is made for the ones the world puts on the outside – on the outskirts?

I remember very often my time at Lutheridge with those very special campers. The one who seem to have more faith than I could ever possibly imagine to possess. And I see the light of Christ shining within them and then I see the community that surrounds them. Their families, friends, those who oversee their care. And I see that I am and was a part of that too.

That their faith is strong – as was Mary’s – as is ours – because they are surrounded by a community who bands together, who together looks to the one who has set us apart. The one who comes to dwell among us. The one who is to be born to the world and for the world.

We can be strong because we have the models of faith around us who are strong. Those models of faith who have lived before our time and who live with us now. The ones who continually point to God’s presence in their life and can see the presence of God at work among the people around them.

As Holden Evening Prayer calls to us again – the light shines in the darkness – and the darkness has not and will not overcome it. Amen!

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December 14, 2015, 9:00 AM

the one where we rejoice...


Sermon from December 13, 2015

Text: Luke 3: 7-18

Grace and peace to you from God our Father 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, here we are in the third week of Advent. The celebration of the Nativity of our Lord is fast approaching. We have been in the midst of preparation. We have been preparing this space for Christ’s coming as we have Chrismon trees that are adorned with symbols of our faith and the story of Jesus’ birth. We have our Advent wreath and candles that are lit each week as we sing to remind us again and again that Jesus’ birth is coming – that God’s in-breaking into the world is almost at hand – that Immanuel, God with us, is almost here. Nativity scenes have been arranged. Programs about Jesus’ birth are right on the horizon – like ours at 3pm today.

And, we’ve got the secular side of our preparations in full swing as well. Homes have been decorated with an array of lights, greenery – both the real and the real-looking have been put up, and an immense assortment of ornaments have been placed upon the many Christmas trees of our lives both the traditional like angels, Santas, and baubles. Even moving into the not-so-traditional like spaceships, time machines, and Disney characters. Stockings have been hung. Gifts have been searched out and obtained. Presents have been wrapped and tucked under the tree.

The scene has been set and for the most part we sit. We wait. We look to Christ’s birth in expectant hope of what God is going to be bringing into the world.

Our first few readings have geared us right up for that haven’t they? These are joyous words to hear as we prepare for Christmas. It really gets you in the mood doesn’t it? Rejoice! God restores us! Those are the words that the prophet Zephaniah proclaims to the people of Israel and to us this morning. In Philippians, Paul advocates our joy and our ability to rejoice because our Lord is near – in all the ways that we can imagine.

We are to rejoice!

Truthfully – that is what we probably need to hear this year. We as a people, as a nation, are dealing with so much at this time now. Sometimes it is hard to remember that we are called to rejoice. When there are those trumpeting and ratcheting up fears of the unknown and the different. Whereas we embark on another political season – and realizing that we still have a little less than a year left – we again see the name calling, the anger, the accusations, the fudging of facts to placate constituents. We hear all of this again and again – from all people, sides, and parties – that it can be very easy to lose sight of the fact that we are to rejoice because the Lord is near.

What I find interesting about the texts that we hear this week, is how much they sort of line up with what we are living through right now. We hear words of joy, rejoice, peace, being non-anxious, and more from our first few readings this morning. When we hear all that we begin to feel really, really good. Things aren’t as bad as people are saying (and truthfully they aren’t).

Then, well then we get to hear from John the Baptist. When we hear from John the Baptist his words usually snap us back to where God might want us to be – into the reality of our life of faith.

The words that John the Baptist begins with aren’t really that fun. You brood of vipers! Who told you to run? The Lord is coming and the axe is at the foot of the tree! Ready and in wait to chop down those that don’t bear good fruit.

Always leave it to John the Baptist to scare the bejeebus out of people. His words are scary. They are frightening.

The people around John ask the same question that many of us would ask – and are asking. What are we to do? What can we do?

You see, this is the part of John that I really like. You’d think that because of how John’s speech plays out – these words that began last week as we heard about how we need to prepare the way of the Lord in our lives – and then this morning where John calls us out, you’d think that what John will ask of us would be pretty substantial. Those listening to him that day thought that it might be the following of the full list of Levitical laws and ordinances – more than 600 ‘rules’ that must be followed to be ‘right’ with God.

Well, as followers of Christ – as those who identify as Lutherans – we know that we can’t do anything to be ‘right’ with God. For we are already made right and whole because of what God has already done for us – in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. But, sometimes that is hard to grasp and understand and we still ask – what can we do – and we expect a laundry list of rules to follow.

So, as John begins his reply, I can imagine the many around him who are already preparing in how to ‘bend’ the many rules that he is about to lay upon them. How do those rules need to be interpreted, which ones truly apply? Which are the ones that are more important than others?

But, John doesn’t go that route. John has built them up and prepared them – prepared us – for a laundry list of guidelines to follow so that God would be – might be – content and happy with us.

Yet, the ‘rules’ that John gives to the people – gives to all of us – are the same rules that we have heard since kindergarten.

Be nice. Share. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t hurt people.

Seriously! What more were we expecting?

If you have excess in the possessions, you have – give to those who don’t. If you have a lot of ‘things’ – clothes and food – help those in need.

Then he directs his attention to tax collectors and soldiers – both groups that weren’t positively looked at because they tend to take in excess from the people around them. As John responds to their questions of ‘What are we to do then?’ his response can be summed up as – Don’t be jerks. Don’t hurt people.

Tax collectors are asked to do their job, but don’t squeeze more money out of the people you collect from. Soldiers are told to not be bullies.

The words that John shares with us this morning aren’t – on the outside – difficult things to follow. These are really the same things we have been hearing from our parents and teachers since we were born.

Be nice. Share. Don’t be a bully. Don’t hurt others.

But, as we see around us – those aren’t the easiest rules to follow. Sometimes we might want to follow some of those 600 or so rules from Leviticus – at least then there wouldn’t be so much ambiguity in how to live out that life of faith.

We hear these words from John this morning and we look at what’s going on in our world today. And we struggle – we struggle with how to live out these rules.

It’s hard to be nice to people that are mean or that you don’t agree with. I struggle with that as well – even as a pastor.

It is hard to share what we have with others – possessions, food, even money – because we don’t know if or when we’ll be in need and we’ll need that stuff then.

It’s sometimes pretty easy to ‘take advantage’ of someone – getting them to do the things we don’t want. Taking from someone because they accidentally scanned two cheap items twice and didn’t scan the more expensive item.

As we move into the holiday season and the time of being with friends and family it is easy to guilt them to spend more time with ‘us’ knowing that there are others they want to share their time with as well.

It’s hard to live out these words when we have those who speak so poorly about others that it feeds on our fear of the unknown and the different.

Yet, in those times we still turn to the words of Philippians and Zephaniah. Rejoice! Don’t worry! The Lord restores your life! Rejoice!

We are called to live out the words that John speaks this morning to us from the River Jordan. And we are truly able to live into that life and into that kind of faith – that faith that honors and loves and shows mercy to those around us. That life of faith that sees God at work in those around us. That life of faith that calls for trust in the one who is to come. The one that we prepare for. The one that we wait in expectant hope for.

Yes, the words that John speaks to us with this morning are some of the same things that we have heard from others for a long, long time – the same thing we tell our children and students all the time. It isn’t always easy, it isn’t always natural. We worry, we fear the unknown and the future.

Yet, we are called to give to those in need. We are called to be kind to those around us. We are called to not hurt those before us.

We are called to do this – not so that God will be present in our life, but because of what God has already done.

Christ is coming. Christ has come. Christ is here. Live out this life of faith because God is with you. Amen!

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