In pm's words
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July 24, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one where Jesus teaches us to pray...


Sermon from July 24, 2016

Sermon Text: Luke 11: 1-13

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? 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!

So, today seems like a time as good as any to talk about prayer. The disciples, after witnessing Jesus finishing up his time of prayer ask him the question that seems to be one of the oldest not only in our faith tradition – but, in all faiths. “Lord, how do we pray? Teach us…”

As someone who is called to lead a wonderful group of folks in the life of faith it is a question that I receive quite often as well. From our youngest members to some that have been here much longer. Everyone seems to want to know how ‘best’ to pray.

Living in our world today, you can get a little miffed and put out of place because of prayer – or at least in witnessing and hearing someone else pray. We live in a time and place where people put a lot of emphasis on the words we say – a lot of that kind of emphasis has been shown this past week at the Republican National Convention and will again be shown this coming week at the Democratic National Convention.

We put a lot of emphasis in the words we say or that we hope we are conveying to others. But, I think there is something else that goes on as we listen to others, especially as we listen to others pray. We hear at times some absolutely beautiful words of prayer. Where someone is able to close their eyes and speak from their heart in ways that you feel couldn’t be possible. Sometimes we hear prayers that make us scratch our heads, that use words and phrases that jar us and send us into places in our minds that the one praying never intended.

I remember when I was in seminary and was completing my chaplaincy at Palmetto Baptist in Columbia. I teamed with my friend as we shadowed one another as we visited patients that day. One of our first stops was in ICU where I prayed with a woman who had kidney failure. I don’t remember exactly what I said in that prayer, but I do remember one specific part – because my friend continues to bring it up. During the course of the prayer I prayed that this woman would be happy and full of life once more (something she hoped for in our conversation earlier), but in that petition I also prayed that her kidney might be happy and full of life as well.

As I said that I heard my friend stifle a chuckle. We said our goodbyes and we left. As we got down the hall, my friend burst into hysterical laughter. Feeling kind of hurt, I asked, “Dude, why are you laughing?” His response? “Man, when you prayed for her kidney to be ‘happy’ I couldn’t help, but picture her kidney with a tiny top hat and cane. Dancing all over the place. It was funny!”

And he’s right – it kind of was. But, for a while I was really, really self-conscious about how I prayed. I stuck more to an internal prayer roadmap than venture off again into the wilds of the unknown.

But, that got me thinking about prayer. We put so much emphasis on what it should look like and how we should go about it. We put so much emphasis on how others pray and how others hear us pray that it at times can keep us from actually praying.

I can’t pray like her – so why even bother? His prayers are so eloquent and specific; I feel that all I can offer is – thanks God. Help us God. – no one will ‘appreciate’ or ‘enjoy’ my prayer.

Have y’all felt that way before?

I imagine that is a bit how the disciples felt this day as they were witnessing Jesus pray. At that point – when you’re in the presence of God’s son and witnessing him doing something like you – you want to know how they go about it in hopes that you’ll learn something. I imagine that when they asked Jesus how they should pray, they were preparing themselves for a deep and long list of things that you should do.

Yet, the response that Jesus gives is rather different isn’t it? His instructions for prayer are quite simple. Jesus’ instructions on prayer are pretty straightforward. Praying in a way that keeps God’s name holy and to live in the kingdom of heaven on earth. The prayer he gives us covers what we need to live, how we should live in relationship with others, and that God will be with us in safety during rough times. All in all – this is a pretty simple prayer.

Dear God – watch over me and all of the world. Give us all what we need to live. Help us – help me – to be better towards others because you are so good to all of us. Amen.

When we take a step back and look at what Jesus is teaching his disciples and us during this moment we can see that it isn’t that difficult. There’s no lofty language, no incredible embellishment, it is not filled with words and phrases.

It is a simple, honest, and faithful prayer. Something, that we can all do.

Martin Luther once said something about prayer that I have held on to and have used to emphasize that prayer should be simple, faithful, and honest. Luther once said, ‘The fewer the words, the better the prayer.’

I think Jesus could agree with that. I know that I do agree with that quite a bit.

The ‘fewer’ the words doesn’t just mean saying, “Rub a dub Lord, thanks for the grub.” Or some other short and sweet prayer. But, I think it means recognizing what we are really praying for. We pray for what we need to live (and usually what we need to live isn’t the same as what we think we need to live). We pray for our relationships with others (perhaps noting that we are praying for how we treat and view others more so than how we see others treating and viewing others). We pray that God would be present in our life. We also pray in thanks for God’s blessed and holy name, as well as God’s presence in the world (which usually gets skipped over quite a bit right?).

So, one of the things that keeps us from praying is not being able to ‘live up’ to the prayers that we hear and see from others. We have a hard time praying simply because we think others ‘pray so well.’ We have a hard time seeing each of us as worthy and sufficient of prayer when we have a world telling us that if you’re not the ‘greatest’ or the ‘best’ than what’s the point and you’re just a ‘loser.’

But, there’s another thing that makes us hesitant at times to live into a life of prayer because it’s based on trust. We pray – simple, faithful, honest prayers – and they seem to go unanswered.

I prayed for a woman’s kidney to be happy – but, it still failed and she died.

I pray for world peace and reconciliation – yet, it seems more and more are at one another’s throats, spewing hate and malice, and participating in unbelievable acts of violence.

I pray for God’s presence – but, it seems like God is so very far from me. Look what’s happening to my life?

When our prayers go unanswered, or at least unanswered in the ways that we hope; what are we to do? Why should we even do it if it’s not going to even help us?

I read something this week from one of my favorite theologians – David Lose. He mentioned something in a way that I think I’ve always felt, but really never had the right words to convey it.

When thinking about prayer we kind of view it as if were sending a lone message in a bottle out to sea. Hoping and praying it gets to God somehow, but acknowledging that the sea is large and full of danger and storm that it just might not get there. Didn’t send enough, didn’t send it the right way, didn’t send it at the right time, all that sort of stuff. As Lose writes it, ‘we pray and stand around waiting for God to answer.’

But, what if prayer isn’t sending up a petition, but rather a more active and full life of relationship with God? What if praying for us wasn’t just sitting around and waiting for God to answer, but living into the reality of the life that we’ve prayed for. Getting up, moving, acting in that life?

That we pray for those who are hungry that they might have food – so living into those beautiful words – we go and volunteer and help provide food out of our own abundance.

When we pray that others might reconcile with one another – we go and form relationships with those whom we don’t know well and learn and grow with them.

When we pray for those who are lonely – we go and visit.

When we pray for the end of violence in our world and country – we advocate and participate in ways that make life safe and full for everyone.

What if we prayed – and lived into that life of prayer? I wonder…

I’d like to end with a little bit more of what Pastor Lose says about prayer. He writes it beautifully and succinctly. Faithfully and simply.

At times prayer is words we say alone in moments of thanksgiving or desperation. At times prayer is words we share with others, gathered in the sanctuary or around a hospital bed. And at other times prayer is action and work as we try to live into and even bring about those things we’ve prayed for. All of this can be praying shameless, praying, that is, confident that the God who came in Jesus understands our hurts and disappointments because that God took them on. Because God in Jesus not only endured the life we lived, but died the death that awaits us, and was raised again to show that even death does not have the last word and that all things are possible for God. And so we pray with confidence, trusting that if we know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will God give us as we embrace God’s Holy Spirit and live, as well as speak, our prayers.

There are so many people who need our prayers, prayers understood as words, actions, and our very life. People who are dying and don’t need to. People who are lonely and welcome friendship. People who are excluded and waiting to be invited in. All kinds of people. So let’s get started praying… and let’s do it shamelessly.

Yes, let’s get started praying – faithfully, simply, and honestly. We may pray for a happy kidney every now and then, but we live into that fullness and wholeness that prayer invites us into. Amen.

 

 

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July 18, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about martha and mary...


Sermon from July 17, 2016

Text: Luke 10: 38-42

Grace and peace to you from God our creator 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!

So, this is always a really interesting text to preach on, and I’d hazard a guess that most women who have read it and subsequently have heard sermons regarding it haven’t enjoyed it all that much. I have a feeling, that if Martha heard how this particular Gospel story - that deals entirely with her and her sister Mary – has been preached, she’d be much like Jan from The Brady Bunch. But, instead of exclaiming, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” She’d be crying out “Mary, Mary, Mary!”

For, you see, Mary has been given a lot of ‘props’ throughout history in the preaching this particular text. I’m sure there are quite a few women here who have heard this text interpreted in such a way that you are either a “Mary” – one sitting at the feet of God – or you are a “Martha” – one too busy, bossy, and ‘distracted’ by many things. In my study of this text and in conversations with women – there has been an attempt to lump all Christian women into one of these two camps – Mary or Martha.  Of course, even in that ‘sorting’ the ideal is to be more like a Mary and to not fall into the distracted traps of a Martha.

What gets me about this text, and which makes this a little difficult to preach on is that Jesus seems to chide and double tsk Martha for doing what she feels is appropriate as a host. As we are introduced to Martha, Jesus and his friends are welcomed into her home. I thought that was quite significant. This is Martha’s home. I presume that she owns this house. No male name – no father’s or husband’s or brother’s or son’s name is attached to Martha. That, in my opinion, is pretty uncommon during this time. This is her home and like any good host – she was busy caring for her guests, especially the VIP guest who is Jesus that has come to visit.

We aren’t told what her ‘many tasks’ were, but I’d be more than certain that Martha was preparing a meal and making sure her guests were comfortable. Perhaps she was in the kitchen, in the dining area cooking up a wonderful meal to serve these guests who are sitting, talking, and sharing in her home. If she was anything like the women I know in my family there were probably many questions of, “Can I get you something to drink?  You sure you’re alright?” It’s what any good host would do. 

Now, I don’t really begrudge Martha for getting a little shall we say – resentful – of her sister Mary at this point. One of the societal ‘roles’ of women during this time was to prepare meals and serve. It was not to sit around and just listen. But, that is what Mary is doing. She has shifted her role at this time and stepped out of the box that society has placed on her and others like her. She is in the presence of God, sitting at the feet of Jesus. Enjoying his presence and listening to his words. To Martha it looks like she isn’t living into the role that society has for her – which she isn’t. So, to Martha it looks like Mary is slacking and leaving her to do all the work.

Now, when Jesus says, “Martha, Martha…” I think many have taken that as a – “You don’t need to be there in the kitchen. Just come in here and sit at my feet. What Mary is doing is right, what you’re doing is wrong.” 

How many women here have heard that before? Don’t worry about the ‘tasks’ you have to do, just listen to me.

I don’t think that Jesus is necessarily saying that what Martha is doing – the tasks themselves – are bad. She is doing a good thing. Martha is being a good host. She is caring for those she has welcomed into her home. She is being a GOOD neighbor. Jesus just talked about what being a good neighbor looks like – we literally heard that moments before as he told the parable of the Samaritan. It means caring for the ones in need – even the ones who are welcomed into your home. Martha herself is living into all the things that Jesus lifts up in Luke’s gospel. She has welcomed strangers into her home. She has laid down the welcome mat, and she is in service to those who have come into her life. She is being a good neighbor and host. That is something she should be proud of and I believe Jesus is thankful for that.

However, in her ‘living into’ her service and in the serving of those in her home as host she is, as Luke writes – distracted. The Greek word here from verse 40 is - perispaomai - which means in the process of being pulled or dragged in different directions.

Here she is – doing these tasks of the humble host of God (literally). She is feeding the Lord. She is giving Jesus’ friends a place of rest. She has welcomed strangers into her midst and is treating them like family. Yet, even in that work and presence of God before her, she fails to see what she is doing. In her own way as a humble servant and host, she is in the presence of God and living into the call that God has given her. She is distracted by what others are doing. She is distracted by the ‘tasks’ that she ‘has’ to do.

In my time here as your pastor – you’ve heard me talk a lot about what we ‘get’ to do and what we ‘have’ to do. Here, I think Martha has lost sight of what she is doing. Yes, she is living into the call to be a welcoming host to all those who come to her door. But, instead of living into that call as a gift, she appears to view them as chores, rules that she has to abide by. She is fulfilling a societal obligation.  It is no longer a gift that she GETS to do, but it is a role she HAS to do. One of the funny stories that pops into my head whenever I think of this – Is from one of my favorite TV shows, The Big Bang Theory. There is an episode where Dr. Sheldon Cooper states that ‘social protocol dictates that you offer a friend a warm beverage.’ It is a thoughtful gesture, but he is fulfilling a social protocol (he literally says that). He isn’t ‘offering’ it out of compassion and love – he’s doing it because society says you have to. He’s fulfilling a role, an obligation, completing a chore.

Think about your own lives for a moment. Each of us has been called by God to do what we have been gifted to do. Some work with numbers and logistics, some teach, some sweat in their labor more than others. Some get to do things that they enjoy immensely and wouldn’t trade it for the world while others look upon those jobs and tasks and say, “Really? I’m glad God chose you to do that…because I sure don’t think I could.”

Of course, that is just what we do outside this community of faith, but even when we serve inside the confines of this community there are people who feel called to certain areas of ministry. Some proclaim and share, some sing, some stand up for others, some call us to look and see those before us. We all are called by God and gifted with ways to do what God has called us. 

In the beginning of those ministries we see the great gift that God has given us. We see the wonderful opportunity that Christ has afforded us. We relish in the presence of the Spirit as we go out and do ministry – whatever it may be. 

But, like Martha there comes a time when the ‘get to’ turns into the ‘have to.’ I have to go to church today. I have to read. I have to sing. I have to do this. I have to do that. When we turn our eyes towards the tasks themselves we can begin to see them as burdens, restrictions, obstacles. We lose sight of the fact that God is present with us in each of those moments. 

God has called us to live into our vocations – our own divine calls that God has set apart for each of us. But, in each of those tasks we are always in the presence of God. Christ is there with us. The Holy Spirit is present guiding us.

I don’t think, as I read this text, that Jesus is saying to Martha, “You’re too busy in the kitchen. You should be with Mary at my feet.” No, because that isn’t validating the good work and service that Martha is doing. No, what I think Jesus is ‘chiding’ Martha for is that she has lost sight of the presence of God in her work and service.

What Mary is doing is basking in the presence of God in her own way. You too Martha are able to bask in the presence of God as you work and welcome those into your home as a gracious and humble host. You are literally host to God. 

Be aware of that. Be thankful for that.

This is a reminder to each of us as well – both women and men. In all the work that we do. The work and tasks that we do within the church, the work and tasks we do outside this community of faith. All of it – all of it – is done in the presence of God. It isn’t a have to life, it is a get to life.

I get to come to church. I get to eat of the bread and drink of the wine, the body and blood of Christ. I get to read. I get to care for children. I get to mow lawns. I get to care for many different people. I get to do all of this because God is present in the work that I do. Christ is present in each day.

Sometimes we have to take deep breaths and remember that. Sometimes it takes setting things aside and sitting at the feet of the Word of God like Mary. But, in all things, we remember that God is in our midst. God is present in all that we do. And when we live a life of ‘get tos’ instead of ‘have tos’ we are able to more readily see the gift that God has given us.

Amen.

 

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July 11, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one we don't expect...


Sermon from July 10, 2016

Text: Luke 10: 25-37

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? 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!

So, the parable we hear today is one that we know pretty well isn’t it? It’s one of those parables that once we hear the beginning of it, we can immediately finish the story and move on. Yeah, yeah pastor. We’ve heard this one before. But, I think especially for today – during this time in our life as a country and world – this is a parable that we need to hear again with fresh hears and hearts.

How many – if someone asked you to tell them the Good Samaritan story – would’ve said it like this…

A guy walks down a road and gets robbed and beat up. Two people walk past him, and the third is one of those Good Samaritans that helps him out. So Jesus says be a good Samaritan.

I’d imagine that a lot of us have paraphrased this parable in that way. But, there’s a thing with paraphrases – they leave a bunch of stuff out to tell a ‘streamlined’ and easier story.

And, we end up doing that a lot with Jesus’ parables. And when we think we just ‘know’ them and cease to read them we lose out on the effect that Jesus was seeking when he told these parables.

I’ve said it before, and I know I’ll probably say it again. But, Jesus’ parables are intentionally scandalous and inflammatory. For those that first heard them, their first reaction was probably not, “Oh yeah! That makes so much sense!” They wouldn’t have thought that – not because they weren’t smart and refined like ‘us’ – but, they’d more than likely respond in a way that evoked shock and anger. Jesus’ parables intentionally put us on edge. Where in those frayed moments upon hearing the striking words of Jesus, we can begin to see where God is present and at work in ways that we wouldn’t expect and probably wouldn’t even want.

So, before we begin in diving into this wonderfully deep and scandalous story, we have to first understand who the people involved in this story and parable are.

First, we have the lawyer. Lawyers in this time were those whose vocation it was to know, interpret, and uphold the laws of God. And, there were a lot of laws to know. They were the ones who people sought in order to settle disputes between one another and in their lives. He asks a question to Jesus that he believes he already knows the full answer to.

In the parable we are introduced to a priest and a Levite. Two people that listeners would immediately know a couple things. First – the priest has devoted his life to serving God – that’s why he’s a priest. And second – the Levite is someone who identifies as one who knows and fulfills the law and scripture of God zealously. They are ones that know, really know God’s word and law.

We are introduced to a Samaritan. Now, we know this one as the ‘Good Samaritan.’ For that is what we call anyone who does something out of compassion for a stranger in need. But, that is not how the Israelites of Jesus’ day viewed them. They were seen as dangerous, impure, untrustworthy. Samaritans were individuals that – if you had to approach them – you did so with extreme caution.

And finally, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a known ‘trouble area.’ You avoided it as best as you could. And if you had to walk it, you again did so with extreme caution and never alone – never know when those dastardly Samaritans would show up.

So, that’s a quick summary of what people knew as Jesus told this parable. Yet, within his words people are shocked and offended because God appears in such a way that they wouldn’t expect or even want.

The lawyer attempts to stump Jesus. Not even acknowledging that Jesus ‘knows his stuff.’ Maybe he’ll catch this ‘man of God’ off guard with a simple question so all can quickly be done with this traveling preacher. Yet, Jesus’ response is much deeper and more varied than the lawyer could expect.

He builds upon what the lawyer knows so that all might know the full extent in which God calls us to serve and to see where God is active in the world. I imagine this might be what the internal response to Jesus’ words were from the lawyer and those listening in around them.

That guy is going to get in trouble walking that road alone, he knows better than that. Yep. See that’s what I told you – he was going to get robbed. But, good – here comes a priest. Wait… that’s not right. He was supposed to help him. Ok, at least a Levite is coming – they know scripture and to help those in need… but, what? That guy passed him by too? What has this world come to – where is this man going with this story.

Oh great, now a Samaritan has come by? Isn’t it bad enough that he’s been beaten, robbed, left for dead, and has been passed over by two people who should’ve helped him. Now, he gets to be finished off by those dirty Samaritans. My friend’s brother’s nephew’s roommate had a bad experience with a Samaritan once, you can’t trust those people. We probably need to keep them out of our land as best as we can.

Wait, what did he say? The Samaritan walked over to him? Is he really going to tell how he kills him? Hold on a minute… the Samaritan helps him? Cleans him up and takes him to an inn? And then he gives money and promises to pay even more! What is this man talking about? Doesn’t he know what those people are and how they act! This isn’t right! I’m supposed to be like that guy!

We hear this story and because we are so far removed from the context in which it was first told, we lose a sense of that scandal. We lose a bit of the ‘impact’ that this parable evokes. But, if we change the identities of the three individuals involved in this parable – I think we begin to see how radical Jesus really was.

The priest – or pastor – can stay the same. As pastors we are the ones looked to in identifying people in need. We proclaim the gospel of God. We are ones who are supposed to help. Yet, in the story – the pastor takes a wide berth and walks by on the other side.

The Levite – this is anyone you know who zealously upholds the law of scripture. The one who posts countless memes on facebook and other social media platforms about their faith and love of God. The one who is always eager to pray at functions. The one who is always quoting scripture to you and others. This is another one who we expect to stoop down and help. Yet, this one takes a wide berth of the one in need and walks by on the other side.

Finally – the Samaritan. The Samaritan was someone was not only different in their culture, their place of origin, and in their faith from the Israelites. But, Samaritans were also the ones who were described as shifty, dangerous. Good and wholesome people steered clear of them. For us today, this one could be identified as quite a number of people. Globally the Samaritan might be identified today as the one who practices Islam – a Muslim. Nationally and currently in our country that person might be identified as just someone with a darker complexion than pretty much all of us gathered here this morning.

Others in power, others with the medium, others with the purpose have vilified those of the Muslim faith and those whose skin is darker than our own. Are there cases and instances of danger and terror? Yes – definitely. We’ve unfortunately seen that throughout the world and in our own country. Yet, the world paints with broad brushes, where the act of a few have been painted upon an entire people and generation.

Many have been raised to fear and be suspect of those who are different and those biases and prejudices play out in much of the same way that I’m sure the Israelites treated the Samaritans.

Mocking, ridicule, shame, viewing them as less than.

Yet, we see in this parable – the shock of the Gospel – is that God works through those and in those ways that we wouldn’t expect. Sometimes God’s work can offend us in its radicalness.

The young African-American woman who protects the white supremacist from being beaten by others.

The predominately African-American church who welcomes in a young white-man who enters their building alone – even after the events last year in Charleston.

The church that displays a sign of Blessed Ramadan to their Muslim neighbors.

The person of color who embraces the white police officer with tears in their eyes as they both say and know – “It’s tough to be one another right now…”

The Muslim family who welcomes in the refugee Christian who is persecuted in the nation they both call home…

The follower of Jesus who speaks to and cares for all – but, especially and deliberately to those on the margins and declares boldly to them – your life matters to me. It matters so much that I will stand and walk with you. I will give you my attention and care.

Many will read this parable and only see the ‘good news’ in the work of the Samaritan. And the work and service that the Samaritan has is indeed good. He sees the one in need, he draws near to that one in compassion, and in love of neighbor cares for him fully, completely, and abundantly.

But, for me and I hope for you today, the ‘scandal’ of this parable is not just that a Samaritan can do good. It isn’t that a Muslim can be kind. It isn’t that a person of color can live in compassion for those that work so hard against them.

It’s all that, but it is mostly the knowledge that God works in unexpected ways. God works in ways that make us feel uncomfortable. God shines the light of the gospel in our lives that puts us on edge. God’s breadth of compassion and love is so great that God works through those that we don’t expect. That God works even through us.

God calls us to care for our neighbor. To be the ones who show mercy.

Be that one. Please. Be the ones to show mercy. Be bold to proclaim that God is at work. Be the one – the Samaritan. The Refugee. The Muslim. The African-American. The person of color.

Be the one who remembers and knows and has faith that God works in the ways that we least expect. God comes where we least expect, because God comes for everyone. No one is outside of God’s love.

Not even the Samaritan.

Not the lawyer.

Not the refugees or those wanting to keep them out.

Not the one who lives life differently because of the color of their skin or the life they identify with or the ones who fear them and steer clear simply because of their pigmentation or lifestyle.

No one - not one - is beyond God’s love and mercy.

Jesus makes this incredibly and radically clear by choosing the most unlikely of characters to serve as the instrument of God’s mercy and grace. God works through this one to exemplify Christ-like behavior.

That’s what God does: God chooses people no one expects and does amazing things through them. Even a Samaritan. Even our people. Even me. Even you.

Amen.

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July 4, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about freedom...


Sermon from July 3, 2016

Text: Galatians 6: 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? 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!

Leading up to this weekend – specifically tomorrow – we hear a lot in our nation about ‘freedom.’ Those who fight for our freedom – thank you for those that do and have and will. Those who have stood up for their freedom – blessings to you in your struggles and I hope that I and we as a community of faith can see and walk with you in that burden. Those who have been freed from imprisonment – grace to you in your journey. And more.

We also hear a lot about wanting to protect ourselves so that we can retain our freedom. Where we uplift the notion that we are a country of freedom that gives us privilege and permission to do and say what we want.

Whenever I think of freedom I at times cannot help, but think of one of the last scenes of my favorite Disney movie, Aladdin. The Genie has been set free and he asks his friend to wish for something – something outrageous – wish for the Nile! Aladdin obliges and says rather reluctantly, “I wish for the Nile…” and the Genie’s response? “NO WAY!” And he’s giddy, happy, and ecstatic because he is free to not listen to anyone, but himself.

And, as lighthearted and heartfelt as that scene is – I think we have envisioned freedom like that. We are free to listen to no one, but ourselves. We have the right and the permission to say, “NO WAY!” And then laugh on our merry way.

And, in many ways that is what the world tells us as well. You don’t have to listen to other people. You don’t have to make others feel comfortable. You don’t have to respect those around you who are different. Why? Because we’re free and by golly we can do that!

I saw this play out in our country in two separate, yet linked tragedies that happened recently. Both involved young children who were caught up in two terrible situations. The first was a young boy who walked away from his mother and fell into a gorilla enclosure in Cincinnati. The other was a young boy who was pulled under the water by an alligator while swimming with his father at Disney World in Florida.

In both situations, the response was deafening and near unified – what were those parents thinking? How could you let your toddler do that? Why was she not watching her son more attentively? Why? I know! It must be because they are terrible and inattentive parents. Shame on them! Let me tell you how great of a parent I AM and how I would and could never let that happen!

Each of those situations was terribly tragic, one the trauma of seeing your child fall and then drug around by an immense animal not knowing what is going to happen next and being helpless to do anything. The other; the absolute crushing knowledge that when your child was pulled under by another immense animal that hope might be lost for his survival.

In each of those situations, people fully lived into their privilege and right that freedom has afforded them and us to proclaim to the world how parents like these shouldn’t be allowed to have children. How they never make mistakes. How they cannot believe where our country is headed with adults like these caring for our future.

I lamented in those words and responses. I lamented because I remember a time when that wasn’t the response that we were free to live into. I remember two other tragedies where the first thought from the world and those around the country wasn’t of shame and hostility, but of compassion and support.

One of those situations I actually remember – because I was alive – and the other I remember from my parents talking about it years later. How many remember Baby Jessica? The young 18-month old girl who was playing in the backyard and fell down into a drainage pipe. I remember that because it was one of the first major stories picked up by the first 24-hour news network, CNN. I remember the seemingly tidal wave of emotion for that family as rescue workers labored for almost 59 hours to free Baby Jessica from 20 feet under the ground.

I remember the responses from my parents and other adults being that of compassion for Baby Jessica’s parents, the heartache that they must be going through because of this accident.

The other incident was one that I was not around for, but have heard of because I have been playing video games for a long time; the story of Adam Walsh. Adam’s mother left him at an Atari kiosk with other kids while she went into Sears to shop. Adam disappeared. He was found later after he was brutally murdered.

In each of those incidents and tragedies, the entire country of moms and dads came together in support of those grieving parents and family. No shame and no blame raised upon them.

And all of that got me thinking a bit more about what freedom means for us, not as Americans, but as those who follow Christ.

Because we have heard a lot about freedom within our scriptures. Freedom from sin and death. Freedom to live. Freedom to serve God.

Yet, I think the freedom we receive in this country gets mixed up in what we know and believe that God has freed us for.

In our second reading today, Paul writes to the church of Galatia and begins in a way that hit me square in the stomach. In the second verse from our text from Galatians Paul writes that we are to bear one another’s burdens. That in that action of compassion, hospitality, and relationship we will fulfill the law of Christ.

Wow. Think about that for a moment.

In Christ we have been freed. We have been freed from sin and death. We have been freed from a worldview that pulls and lures us into that sin – the sin of not seeing, not caring, not loving others – only ourselves. We have been freed from the bonds that chain us to that life.

Yet, what are we freed for? Yes, we are freed from sin, death, and evil (thanks be to God), but we are freed for community. We are freed to serve. To serve God and to serve one another. We – as Paul might state it – we are free to carry one another’s burdens.

Carrying one another’s burdens is deeply personal and full of care, love and compassion. When there are those who are struggling – whether it be physical or emotional hardship – we are called to be with them. Not to shame and blame. We are freed from that pull and that call to join in with the world living into our ‘freedom’ to shun and chastise.

Christ has freed us to love and serve our neighbors. We have been set free for the sake of the world – to carry the liberating Good News of Jesus to a world in desperate need to hear. We have been set free for joy – to discover – again and again – what God has intended for all of the world. We have been set free to serve; to carry; to be with; to live as sacrifice for others.

We have been set free from thoughts and words placed upon us where we are made to feel that we cannot be seen as ‘broken’ or ‘in need’ or ‘lost’ in anyway. We are freed from the bonds that keep us from asking for help in our lives – our lives as parents, family, friends, spouses, people of God.

We are freed in Christ to know that struggle is a part of life and that we come together to lift our burdens. We are freed to talk and share, to pray and carry, to mourn and grieve, to love and cherish.

In Christ our Lord – we are freed from the bonds, and words, and thoughts of our world that tell us that we have to be perfect, without blame, a life that is always ‘on,’ that we don’t need ‘help,’ that we cannot appear weak in any way.

We are freed from the constant deluge that we are not good enough and this is how you have to be better.

We are freed in Christ.

We are freed so that we might know we are good enough. That God is present with us – always. That the Spirit moves and work through each of us in all that we do. We are freed to serve those around us, because we are freed for others. Freed to see each person before us and who we hear about as a fellow sister and brother of Christ; a fellow forgiven and loved child of God.

That is what we are freed for. Let us remember what God has freed us for and let us pray for the gift of God’s Spirit so that we might be able to live into that Gospel freedom. Amen.

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July 1, 2016, 9:00 AM

July 2016 Newsletter


Grace and peace to each and every one of y’all!

Can you believe that it has been just over a year since we began this journey as pastor and people here at The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer? Man – time flies when you’re having fun!

There have been some changes – like new hymnals and bibles. There have been some things that have remained constant. As we continue on this journey as a community of faith – continually seeking where God is present in our life and ministry – we will be amazed at how and where and when God shows up, where Christ walks with us, and where the Spirit guides us.

It is fun and exciting. We approach it with butterflies in our stomach. We remember that this life of faith is something that we get to do!

This month at Redeemer God is definitely present in what we are able to do for this community. The Salkehatchie Camp will again be using our facilities for their camp towards the middle of this month, so when you see young men and women around our facility – be sure to welcome them in love and thank them for the ministry they get to do.

Redeemer will be hosting the Interfaith Community Services quarterly meeting at the end of this month as well. As hosts of our responsibilities at that meeting will be to provide refreshments for about 30 people. If you would like to help with that, please contact me as soon as you can! Also – if you would like to come and see with ICS is able to do and where you too can be a part of this wonderful ministry, come and join us on the 28th!

There are of course more opportunities for ministry at The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer as well. All in this newsletter you can see where God is at work and where you too can be a part of God’s ministry!

Blessings to you this month!




June 27, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one where we realize it's not all that easy...


Sermon from June 26, 2016

Text: Luke 9: 51-62

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? Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

I remember a while ago I was in a discussion with a few people and I or someone asked the question, “So – what’s it really like to follow Jesus?” There were quite a few answers from the group of 5 or 6 that were gathered around that table, but one really stuck with me – and not for the best reasons. It was an older person who chimed in with, “Well, I don’t think it’s all that hard. Just be good, come to church. I think it’s rather easy…”

And since then I’ve always wondered why living this life of faith is considered by some to be ‘rather easy.’ And it strikes me because I’m not too sure this life of faith is very easy, in fact it can be downright difficult and something at times I naturally don’t want to do – because this life of faith at times is counter to what we think and expect. Nowhere in our scriptures does it state that the ones who live the life of faith will have an easy, carefree life. A life filled with treasures, wealth, and good fortune.

No, our scriptures don’t say that at all and I always question those who proclaim that living in faith or ‘true deep faith’ will grant each of us that.

I question that line of thought and thinking because of things that our Lord says – especially in our gospel reading this morning.

This morning we take a shift in Luke’s gospel, his ministry in Galilee is ending and he’s heading out. Jesus’ face is set on Jerusalem, but the path he takes will be windy and long. Along the way he will teach further and deeper into the life of faith that he proclaims, he will meet many who will come to the faith, who will seek to be healed, who are curious about who this Jesus fellow really is.

This morning, we see the beginning of this journey and those who Jesus will meet and the faith that he proclaims.

Everything that Jesus says this morning isn’t the easiest of things to do. In fact, what Jesus tells us this morning is counter to what the world proclaims and what we would expect. In this short snippet of Jesus’ ministry, we begin to see how radical this life of faith is that Jesus is proclaiming.

And we begin with the guys who usually take the longest to ‘get’ Jesus – his closest friends and disciples. Jesus and his band come to a Samaritan town and he is turned away. The disciples’ immediate response is to call down fire and death upon those ‘dirty and shifty’ Samaritans (remember the people of Israel and Samaritans did not get along at all). For the disciples, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to further distance the Samaritans from the life that they are living and proclaiming with Jesus.

That’s how we normally react when someone hurts us or offends us right? If we feel we’ve been wronged in some way, our first thought is to get even in some fashion, to hit them where it hurts too, so that they can understand what I or we are going through. If we are honest with ourselves and others – that is indeed our first thought – no matter how brief – it is still our first thought.

Yet, Jesus rebukes the disciples. We don’t know what he says as he nips their thoughts in the bud, but we do know that in just a few more chapters he’ll tell a parable where a Samaritan is the stalwart of the life of faith.

As Jesus continues to journey on, three individuals come to him wanting to go with him, to journey with him, to live the life that he is proclaiming. Each one essentially says, “Yes Jesus! But, first…”

Now, as we view these words we are immediately put off by the responses that Jesus gives. Let the dead bury their own, whoever looks back isn’t fit, the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head like the animals do.

Each of those responses makes us pause and think – what is Jesus actually saying.

We pause and question because what Jesus says in response to those who follow him are counter to what we would consider to be good and thoughtful things to do.

To the first, Jesus is saying that if you follow me – you won’t have a home. Even the animals and the birds will have better accommodations than I will or you will. The mere fact that we side with Jesus means we are against much of what the world proclaims. The life of faith that is lived in service to others, the life of faith that stands up against the powerful voices and forces of the world, the life of faith that puts us at odds with many things and people and ideas. Jesus is telling this follower that life isn’t going to be easy. Be prepared.

The second individual asks to bury his father and Jesus’ response borders on uncaring and rude. How could the one who calls for the care of those in need not ‘allow’ someone to mourn? Yet, this week I heard an interesting interpretation to this. Typically, during this time when someone dies they are buried within 24 hours. The mourning process and the rituals surrounding death didn’t really allow people to just ‘go off’ at will. So, there are some who think that this man is essentially saying, “Jesus – I want to follow you, but first I’m going to wait until my father dies and I have to bury him.” Yes, he could die in 10+ years, but he could die tomorrow – so let me bury my father first.

In that light, what Jesus says still seems cold, but not nearly as frigid as before. Following Jesus and the life he proclaims isn’t about when ‘you’re ready’ to do it – it isn’t done on our terms. It is Jesus who calls us into this life and when you are called – you’re called. The life that Jesus calls each of us into is not one that is lived on our terms.

Finally, the third individual wants to bid his farewells – seems pretty reasonable. Wouldn’t want your family to worry that you dropped off the face of the earth and disappeared. Yet, Jesus’ response again seems cold and harsh. But, even in his response we can see some truth. For those who have ever farmed – especially in the way that the farmers of this time would – those who didn’t have the luxury of plotting a course in a machine and sitting in an air conditioned cab, but relied on an animal to move them – you couldn’t look back. You had to stay on task, looking forward to make sure that the animal in front of you pulling the plow stayed straight and true. If you looked back constantly, your field wouldn’t be able to yield the fruit of the harvest to its fullest.

In every response that Jesus gives, he gives us a small parable to interpret. And I don’t believe parables are to be taken literally, they are intentionally stated to put us on edge, to make us uncomfortable, so that we can truly see where Jesus is coming from. Where in those frayed moments we are able to see and hear what Jesus calls for us.

That the life of the world is full of those ‘easy’ things that we love so much – like the works of the flesh that Paul talks about in our second reading. His list begins with those pretty huge things that I hope are infrequent, but then moves on to those things that are far more frequent jealousy, quarrels, anger, carousing. All of those things that we are inclined to do. They are the easy things in our life that we fall into.

Yet, the life of faith that we are called to helps us live into the fruits of the Spirit – those things that don’t necessarily come natural to us, that God calls us to live into.

And as we read the beginning of that list, we see that it doesn’t start out too difficult – love and joy. Those don’t seem to be that difficult, but the list continues: peace, patience – well, that one might be a little difficult especially when that person is at the ATM depositing their whole life’s worth – and now they dropped their card…, generosity – but, it’s mine..., faithfulness – but, I’ve got this going on today – I’ll get to it tomorrow…, gentleness – I did it, why can’t they?, self- control – I’ll only do it one more time, I’ll only have one more, I’ll only make one more remark…

When we look at the fruit of the Spirit we can realize that those aren’t really all that easy to live into. There are so many times that we fall short, where we don’t come close, and we continue to fall back into the works of the flesh.

Yet, yet – though the life of faith isn’t the easiest of endeavors – though it is counter to the world and what is innate in us, we are still able to live into that life – enjoying the fruits of the Spirit because we have been baptized and claimed in this life. We have God present with us – the one who has come down to be with us so that we might be free to serve and live.

That Christ is here dwelling within us because of his death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus is there to guide us in this life, calling to us continually to turn from the works of flesh and live into the fruits of the Spirit. Jesus comes to us in the words and actions of those around us, those who shine the light, stand for the oppressed, who care for those in need, and who call us into that life of faith as well.

This life of faith – it isn’t easy, but thank God we don’t have to do it alone. Amen.

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June 20, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one where Jesus goes to the other side...


Sermon from June 19, 2016

Sermon Text: Luke 8: 26-39

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? 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!

So, this is a pretty powerful gospel reading that we heard today. It is powerful not only because of the healing that Jesus performs for a man ravaged by a multitude of demons. It is powerful not only because the demons know who Jesus is – which in my mind is pretty peculiar that those on the outskirts and the demons know who Jesus is, but it takes his friends so long to figure out the same thing.

All of that contributes to making this text so powerful to hear – especially today in light of the worse mass shooting performed by a single individual in this country that happened a week ago. In light of the one-year anniversary of the shooting in Charleston, SC. In light of a world that seems so focused on ‘fear’ of the unknown, the fear of the different, the fear of the stranger, the ‘fear’ of those on the other side; we get to read this incredibly important and powerful story of what Jesus did.

During this particular time in which we are looking in on during our gospel reading, the faith that Jesus was brought up in and the faith from which Christianity grew from could be very exclusionary. If you were not a part of the family to begin with, it was difficult to ‘get in.’ If you wanted ‘in’ then you had to go through quite a few steps in order to become a part of the family and nation of Israel; the people of God.

If you were not a part of the faith life in which Israel proclaimed, you were considered outside; depending which group of people you were from you might be considered unclean in the sense that you were not of the people of God. You didn’t associate with those who were not ‘of the people.’ If you did, you went through rituals to cleanse yourself to be ‘pure’ in the eyes of the people again. That is the worldview in which Jesus is living in during this time and in which he is proclaiming a vastly different message.

But, before we pat ourselves on the back about how much more civilized we are, we have to remember that we can be and sometimes are just as ‘exclusive’ into who we feel is a part of ‘us.’ A part of us as a people, a community of faith, a family, and a community.

You get the small little jabs that people often overlook – he can’t be doing this; he’s too young. Or she can’t lead that because she hasn’t been ‘here’ long enough. We can’t go there because they live ‘over there’ and we wouldn’t fit in. They can’t come be with us since they aren’t ‘like us.’ They are kin to you know who; it’s only inviting trouble.

Those are the more ‘innocent’ things we hear.

But, then – then are those things that we hear, we read of, we see, and sometimes what we say that are far more divisive, dismissive, and more. Well – look who he’s with – that just isn’t right. We can’t have that. Well, I’m not going to talk to her since she’s one of ‘those’ types. Do you know where ‘they’ are from – where they come from? I can’t believe they let those people do that – it’s wrong. I think those types of people shouldn’t be here at all. I wish they’d go away.

Those are things we hear. Those are things we have seen. Those are the underlying thoughts that have driven some to immense acts of violence and evil – acts of evil that we remember that happened a year ago and a week ago. Those thoughts and feelings – those fears of the unknown and different – drive people to commit heinous crimes of terror in places where people should feel safe, loved, and welcomed.

So, in the knowledge of all that; we get to read this gospel and this important healing that takes place in Jesus’ life and ministry.

Jesus goes to the other side.

Jesus hops in a boat and ventures across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus goes to be with those who others would have rather he not associate with. They wouldn’t want to be linked to the guy who goes to the other side. To be with the Gerasenes – the gentiles – the ones who are not like us.

Jesus crosses the body of water that separates two groups of people, and in the process crosses cultural boundaries that divide them even further.

And when he gets to the other side, he is confronted with an individual that no one - gentile or Jew -would want to associate with. He is confronted by crazy naked man. And not just any strange and naked individual, but someone who was so tormented by demons that he felt more at home among the dead and the tombs, than he did among the living in town.

But, yet we read that the town – perhaps in an attempt to ‘keep him safe’ – bound him in chains and shackles away from everyone else. And he still broke free from those bonds and ran into the wilds and the tombs.

Jesus is confronted by that guy. The guy who probably wasn’t all ‘right’ to begin with, but one who had been further set outside his community in more ways than one.

And Jesus speaks to him. Jesus heals him. Jesus sends him to proclaim God’s work.

This is a story that emphasizes the radical nature and ministry in which Jesus lives out and proclaims.

Jesus associates not only with those who his faith and culture at the time has told him not to be with, but he even associates and cares for their outcast as well.

When I read this snippet of Jesus’ life, I cannot help but think of the new commandment that Jesus gave to his disciples and in turn gave to us. John 13: 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. But, even in that something is missing. Jesus isn’t talking to a ‘single’ person. Jesus is talking to all those gathered around him that day. In fact, it would be more accurate to translate that verse as ‘I give y’all a new commandment, that y’all love one another. Just as I have loved y’all, y’all also should love one another.’

I think that is the thing that we miss so much in our life of faith. We have a world that focuses so much on the individual. That as long as I am good, then I don’t care how others are feeling. Going so far as to make sure others are put out so that I can feel better, safe, and secure.

Yet, our life of faith isn’t built on the individual. It isn’t about making sure just little ‘ol me is taken care of. The life of faith that we live and are called to is one that is lived for others. This life of faith and the love that Jesus calls us all into is one that is given, shed, and served for all those around us. All y’all.

Jesus in our gospel reading this morning, lives out the life of faith and the type of love that he calls each of us to. A life of crossing those physical and proverbial boundaries that separate us from one another. Drawing us all in together out of love, respect, and grace.

It doesn’t matter who you are. How you live. What others think. Where you come from. What you look like.

Jesus loves you. Jesus comes to you. Jesus is with you.

Jesus also calls us to step over those lines, boundaries, walls, thoughts, affiliations, identities, and more that separate us to bring healing, wholeness, relationship, and love to one another. Being able to look into the eyes of those around us and say fully and completely – You are a loved and forgiven child of God. I am a loved and forgiven child of God. We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.

We are able to do that – all of that – because of Christ. Jesus walks with us, shows us the way. God calls us into community with one another – all of us. Where we love and care for one another, showing respect, honor, and grace to each person we meet. Because we all – all of us – are wonderfully made creations of God.

It isn’t always easy – getting through the sin that lurks in our lives and world never is – but, God is there – God is here – with us. Guiding us, loving us, pushing us, calling us.

Jesus goes to the other side – to all sides. To the outskirts. To the outcast. Sharing God’s love and presence with them and us, and drawing us all into that relationship of love. Let’s join in. Amen.

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June 14, 2016, 12:00 AM

A response and letter to my elected officials regarding the shooting in Orlando, FL


I post this letter knowing that there are those within my congregation who think differently. The following letter is my own and it's content doesn't necessarily reflect that of The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer...

This letter was addressed to the following elected officials...

Senior Senator Lindsay Graham
Junior Senator Tim Scott

US Representative Mick Mulvaney

State Senator Ronnie Cromer
State Representative Walt McLeod
 

My name is Rev. Matthew Benjamin Titus. I am the pastor at The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Newberry, SC. You have been elected in my area to represent me and all my fellow neighbors. I hope and plead that you take the time to read this letter in its entirety.

On Sunday morning, before I headed to begin the work that I feel I have been called – proclaiming God’s word and love – to the people that I serve in Newberry, I briefly saw a report of yet another shooting in our country. This time it was in Orlando, FL. At that moment, not much was known since the news was so fresh.

I went to worship.

Within our readings, (hopefully) in my words, in our liturgy, and in the meal we heard about God’s love and forgiveness. How God has come to be with us and has forgiven us so that we can live the life that we have been created for. A life to serve others, love fully, and proclaim thankfulness for what God has already done.

Throughout that morning, word began to spread about the violence that had taken place in Orlando. The violence that transpired within a place of refuge, sanctuary, fellowship, and fun for so many who are shunned and turned away. The more I heard, the more my heart began to break. To break for those who had been directly affected by one individual’s rage and hate. To break for the faith in which I believe and proclaim that speaks of God’s love and presence with us all – no matter who you are.

My heart began to break even further because even with this, I don’t feel that those in your position will rise to the occasion to do what is right, just, and decent for those who elect you and others to represent the people. Again, we hear that an individual was able to easily obtain a tool used to cause so much damage and hate. This individual had already piqued the interest of law enforcement agencies in the past; yet that did not slow down or stop his ability to purchase weapons of utter destruction. 

As a pastor I get to tell people about God’s love for them – all of them. I get to share with everyone about God’s grace that is freely given to the world so that we might live into the life that God has created and intended us for. In our Gospel reading from this Sunday (June 12, 2016) we heard the story of Jesus being welcomed into the house of a Pharisee named Simon. During that meal, a woman enters and begins to lavish Jesus with her tears, hair and ointment as she bathes his feet. The Pharisee is incredibly put-off by Jesus’ reaction to this woman.

Yet, Jesus asks Simon to look at her. To look past her sins (whatever they might have been for they aren’t stated in any way), past her station, past the mere fact that she is a woman and to see her. To see her just as he does; just as God does. To see her and know that she too is a loved and forgiven child of God.

Your honor – I ask you to please see them. See those who have been hurt so deeply and permanently by this act of hate and terror in Orlando. Not only to see them, but to also see the victims and families of those in San Bernardino, Charleston, Washington, D.C., Newtown, Aurora, Binghamton, Fort Hood, Blacksburg, and more. To see them and to act.

To lift prayers yes, but to act through those prayers and begin the steps to enact common sense regulations in this country in regards to guns and weapons, mental health, and national security. To stand firmly with those who hurt and cry out and declare boldly on their behalf – “We hear you and see you.”

I recently heard a wonderful sermon by Rev. Norvel Goff, the Presiding Elder at Mother Emmanuel AME, Charleston, SC, at the ELCA South Carolina Synod Assembly in Columbia, SC. In that sermon he said something that will always stick with me forever, and it is something that I hope you can hear and live into as well.

If the church can’t stand up for what is right, have mercy on us.

Please stand up. Please hear. Please see them. Amen.




June 13, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about tears...


Sermon from June 12, 2016

Text: Luke 7: 36 - 8:3

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator 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 y'all have ever had a huge load taken off your shoulders? Maybe you were like one of the guys in Jesus' little parable. You owed a lot of money - to a friend, a parent, a bookie, who knows.  Maybe you were inundated with work at school or your job. So much work that it seemed that no matter what you did you couldn't make a dent into it because it kept piling up. Who has had the experience in those moments - or any moments - where someone says, "You know what, don't worry about. You don't owe me anything." 

Have y'all experienced that before? How'd that make you feel? Relieved? Excited? Happy? Thankful?  The money you borrowed from a friend to help you out of a tight spot - Don't worry about it.  All that homework that was due so you could graduate - you're done, you'll graduate. That deadline that is rearing its ugly head and the work that keeps piling up - not a problem. Don't stress. I've experienced each of those situations in some form or another, and I can imagine that many - if not all - of you have has well.

Today, we peek into another part of Jesus' life here as he is invited into the home of a Pharisee named Simon. Now, as a refresher - Pharisees are the guys that don't really like this man named Jesus. He's a wrench thrown in their well-oiled machine. Yes, Simon is curious and invites Jesus into his home. He'd heard about this self-taught country preacher and faith healer and was intrigued and curious, but also skeptical and dismissive.

Of course, in small towns - and most of the places Jesus ministered in were small towns - nothing ever stays quiet. And we all know that don’t we? News travels fast in places like ours doesn’t it? So, others gathered to hear and see this Jesus guy. What might he say? What might he do? Would he perform a miracle or not?

And, within this crowd there was a woman who is identified as a sinner - one who has strayed from God's law, a transgressor of the Torah. Now, you can interpret what 'sinner' might mean (and there are countless commentaries that will give you a thousand and one explanations on what the gospel writer means when he says ‘sinner’), but just know that Luke identifies this woman the same way as he identifies the twelve and those who Jesus associates with. They are sinners. This woman, in Jesus' eyes and views is in the same 'ballpark' as all those others he ministered with, to, and for. She’s a sinner. Just like the others. Just like you and I are sinners.

And this woman barges in and begins to weep at Jesus' feet. She bathes them in her tears; wiping them with her hair, and anointed them with the ointment she came with.

As I read this text, I couldn't help but think of what those tears meant.

Were they tears of hurt as she emerged from the crowd - the crowd who much like Simon - spoke about her in hushed (and not so hushed) dismissive terms with sideways glances pointing out all those places where she had done 'wrong' in their eyes?

Were they tears of sorrow and shame as she knew that she was a sinner and maybe even one so distant from the Law she and her community had been taught that she had been told that God would never extend a hand of grace and love towards her?

Maybe they were tears of hope. Hope that this man who she had heard so much about would be able to do for her what she had seen and heard that he had done for others. Maybe this one - this prophet of God - would see HER and not see the sins she had committed.

Perhaps they were tears of joy and thankfulness that she knew in her heart that this man could help her and WOULD help her. Despite what others might have told her that she was 'unredeemable' or 'too far removed from God' to be loved; she came to Jesus knowing - with tears in her eyes - that she would be, could be, and was loved.

No matter what was behind those tears as they streamed down her cheeks and splashed onto the feet of Jesus; he didn't pull away, he didn't shame her, he didn't get 'uneasy' in her presence like so many others would. He didn’t second guess what was going on even as Simon attempted to point out that what was happening was highly irregular and exceedingly improper.

Instead he let those tears fall as a sign of thankfulness and faith. Those tears fell and Jesus spoke to her in a way that I would guess she'd never been spoken to before. He spoke about her to the Pharisee and placed her on equal and even higher standing than him. I can almost guarantee no one else had done that before!

And that is something that is incredibly significant not only during this time and place within the context of our scripture this morning, but also today. Even today women in our society are looked down upon, spoken about in hushed tones. Sideways glances are given and shade is thrown upon them when they try (and succeed) in breaking those gender stereotypes and glass ceilings that life has placed upon them and other women around the world. Where we become so caught up in other things that we can’t – for once – join in celebration of the accomplishments of what women have achieved that no – no one – would ever imagine happening in our country just a few years ago.

Where, when terrible things happen to women, we still look to make sure that the culprit – the accused – are better cared for. That something else must’ve been going on to make that happen. Something she did. It was her fault. Couldn’t be the nice looking guy over there. Never.

Jesus elevates this women – and all women – into a place that breaks down those walls and road blocks that we as a society have continually setup. Where we continually try to dismiss 50% of the world’s population simply because they aren’t men.

And as Jesus elevates this woman – and all women – to a place of worthy honor – equal to that of the Pharisee, have you ever noticed how Jesus speaks about this woman’s sins? They’re always referred in the past tense. Before she even came into this room and laid down at his feet her sins were no more in his eyes. He saw her - a child of God - a beautiful and wonderful creation of the maker. He speaks to her, ‘your sins are forgiven’.  Your faith is great, don't worry about all this because God does love you.

Maybe you've known - for a long time - that you've done something 'wrong' in the eyes of others. Much like the woman in our story today you've seen the quick glances, the hard looks, you've heard the hushed voices, the rumors, the half-truths, maybe even the full truths of how others perceive you or what they know about you. The way folks have talked behind your back or in that passive aggressive way in front of your face. It doesn't seem like you're likely to receive any good wishes or praise because no matter what you do - people will always know what you've done. 

Yet, fear not. As we've seen in this story this morning Jesus has not come to the 'righteous' but to the sinner. Jesus has come to forgive the sins of the world. Why? Because that's how far Jesus' love goes. That's how deep God cherishes and loves the world. Those sins - no matter how small or great they may appear in the eyes of those around you - are forgiven. They are. Jesus has forgiven your sins. God continues to love and care - always has, always will. We proclaim that each and every time we come to worship. When we begin our worship our sins are forgiven. We worship in thankfulness for what God has already done. We are forgiven so that we can love and worship and serve.

Now, what about poor ol' Simon here? Simon looked upon this woman and saw what he believed he was not. He's one of those guys. I’m sure you’ve met the type in your life before the ones who say, “I may have done this, but I surely haven't been as bad as THAT ONE over there.” Simon needed that woman to be a sinner so he would think that he was not. If you can point to someone 'worse' then you, you can make yourself believe you don't 'need' whatever it is that they want as well. As long as others are sinning, and sinning worse than me, I know I'm good. Why do I need to be forgiven when I think someone else is ‘worse’ than me?

We've all met folks like that right? I'd guess we all have been that person before too. I remember when my parents got a divorce my dad went through a really, really tough time. During that time, he liked to joke that as bad as he felt his life was going he'd catch a glance of the Jerry Springer Show or some other daytime ‘bear all’ show and know that his life wasn't as bad as others. Which was probably true, but it always got me thinking – but, that doesn't really solve anything. You're still in need of love and help - no matter if you think what you've done or are doing is 'smaller' compared to others. Even those who are on those shows are still in need of love, care, and forgiveness. We all are in need of that.

You're still in need of love. You're still in need of forgiveness. You're still in need of grace.

The wonderful thing is, that God has given us that - no matter how great or small we may think our 'sins' are in comparison to those around us - God has extended that loving promise of grace and forgiveness to each and every one of us through Jesus Christ.

God has. Each of us is forgiven. We receive that grace just as freely as the woman in our gospel from this morning has.

We didn’t do anything for it – just as the woman didn’t do anything either. We are given that grace; we are shown that we are loved. Not by what we’ve done, but forgiven and loved so that we live into the life that God has created us and intended us for.

The question now remains - how do we show that thankfulness for what God has done? Do we fall at the foot of the cross and wet it with our tears out of thankfulness and joy? Do we spread and proclaim and shout from the depths of our hearts about God’s love for us and for all of our neighbors? Or do we go down the path of the self-righteous? Doing ‘good’ to be better than our neighbors?

What would it look like if we lived our life knowing in our hearts, full of faith that what God has done for us - in the forgiveness of our sins - that God has done that for all as well? How would that change in how we view and perceive those around us? What would that conversation look like in our gospel this morning if Simon saw the woman for what she was? A fellow sinner who is loved and forgiven by God?

What would the world look like where instead of all the different types of walls and borders we build to close us off and keep others out, we lived into the life of freedom that we have been gifted by Christ who has redeemed each of us?

That's the world I want to live in, that's the Gospel I want to spread. That's the Word of God I'd like to see us put into action every single day.

Remember, Jesus ministered, healed, ate with, fellowshipped with all sorts of people. And most, if not all of them have been clearly identified as a sinner. We're all sinners. Jesus has come to us. Jesus has forgiven us. We didn’t do anything to receive it. Let's live a life in thanks to that kind of grace.

Tears and all. Amen.

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June 6, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one where Jesus steps in...


Sermon from June 5, 2016

Text: Luke 7: 11-17

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator 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!

You know, a few months ago we experienced a lot of death within our community of Newberry and right here at Redeemer. No matter how death strikes – it is always painful, it is always sad. Whether it is expected or unexpected, it always leaves a void within our lives. Our worlds change, we adjust to a new normal that doesn’t include that loved one in our life.

In our text today, Jesus and his disciples (along with a sizeable crowd that was following them) came upon a funeral procession. Much like today, when we are witness to those in mourning we pay respects by moving to the side. It doesn’t matter who the funeral is for – whether you know them or not – the hospitable thing to do is to move to the side as the procession moves forward. It is a small way to let those in mourning know that they are cared for.

I imagine that that is what the funeral procession in our gospel text was expecting to have happen when they came upon the group with Jesus. But, instead – something else took place. Something far more personal, outrageous, and dare I say scandalous.

Before we get into that, there is something we should know about death in Jesus’ culture at that time. Death and those associated with it, as well as those who are touched by it was considered ‘unclean’ in many ways. Humans did not touch dead bodies – or anything that those dead bodies touched – unless they had to or were very close to the family. They were willing to be in the presence of death knowing that they would have to go through a ritualistic separation and cleansing.

If you could avoid it – you showed and expressed your condolences from a short distance, lest you too would be subject to the purification laws that had to be followed through. Naturally, those that did were the ones who were the closest to the deceased and their family – or they were a part of the group that helped facilitate the burial traditions – ancient cultural funeral directors.

There is of course, something else that is pretty profound within this short text. As much as our lives are rocked and sent in spirals when our loved one passes – it was even more so for this widow. Remember, during this time women were not given the ability to provide for themselves in traditional means. Women were dependent upon their husbands and their sons to provide for them. When a woman became a widow, she moved in with her son. If the son happened to die before her, there were not many options available to her. She either had to reduce herself to begging or prostitution in order to survive.

The woman who leads this procession of her recently dead son (ancient customs stated that those who had died needed to be buried with 24 hours) more than likely had all this running through her mind. Enrapt in her own grief and mourning at losing her son, she also had no idea what her future would hold. Who would care for her? Where would she go? What could she do?

This is the situation that Jesus comes to her and to those in mourning around her.

And Jesus does something that I don’t think many of us would be very happy about – at least not at first.

Jesus barges right into the funeral procession and stops it. I don’t know about y’all, but if some stranger came walking by and barged into the procession and stopped it – I wouldn’t imagine there would be too many kind words and thoughts forming in my head or even uttered from my mouth. You’re supposed to move to the side and let us pass through – why are you stopping us?

Yet, Jesus – the one who bucks traditions and rituals – steps into this procession and does something out of complete compassion for this woman and her mourning.

He touches the frame that holds her dead son.

Jesus bursts through all the etiquettes and social norms to be with this woman in her mourning. Out of his compassion, he enters into her life and offers life – new life.

Not only resuscitating her son, but renewing her life as well. A life removed from the dangers that she could face with no husband and no sons to care for her.

In compassion, Jesus comes to be with this woman and brings her the healing and new life that she needs. Jesus steps into her story.

Compassion.

We hear a lot about compassion coming from our Lord. He has compassion for the widow and those mourning with her. Jesus had compassion for those who were hungry. Jesus had compassion for the crowds who surrounded and followed him. Jesus had, does, and will have compassion for those around him.

The compassion that Jesus shows isn’t just a ‘feeling’ or a ‘thought.’ The compassion that Jesus lives into is that of action. But, not only that – but, the willingness to step into an intimate part of someone’s life that others would try to steer him away from because it would place him on the ‘outside.’ Outside the law, outside the norm, outside the social rules and etiquette of his day. Through compassion; Jesus steps and enters into the stories of those in need.

Out of compassion Jesus walks into the life of this widow – into our lives – and brings healing and wholeness in ways that we wouldn’t expect.

Jesus steps into our lives out of compassion, coming to be with us in those moments where we feel so closed off and distant from God and from life.

Death, broken relationships, terrible illness, a change of vocation, a potential move, being the new kid on the block, feeling and knowing you might be ‘different’ from those around you, the stigma of mental illness, the disease of addiction, and more. Jesus comes to us – out of compassion – and gives us new life, healing, and wholeness.

For the widow – that meant the resuscitation of her recently deceased son. Jesus, out of compassion, stepped into her life to bring her renewed life in a way that one would never expect.

Today, it looks a little different, but the act of ‘stepping in’ out of compassion continues to bring renewed life, healing and wholeness.

God’s work is done through our hands, as we continue to bring our Lord’s compassion to those in need. Caring for those on the fringes of life and status, caring for those who experience loss in any way.

Being present – fully present – out of compassion for those in need. Not just offering up words and platitudes to make us feel good, but offering ourselves to make those around us feel loved and cared for. Through which healing and wholeness begins to take place.

Providing food for those who are hurting or who are hungry. Stepping into their lives out of compassion to say – you don’t have to worry about this. We’ve got it. Providing clothing and more to those who have experienced loss in so many ways. Stepping into those lives out of compassion to say – you are not forgotten, you are wrapped in the bands of cloth that Christ provides for all. Standing up for those who are oppressed and on the fringes of society. Stepping into lives different from our own – out of compassion – to say and show that when we proclaim that God loves you, we mean it and live into it – no exceptions.

Compassion. Compassion drives us to action. Action that provides care, healing, and wholeness. Not simply letting those who mourn in any way to pass on by, but following Christ as we walk into those tender and intimate moments to show and live into the care that God provides for all. Through compassion, we enter one another’s story of life. We learn, share, and grow in this community of God that Jesus proclaims and calls us to be.

Compassion is easily stated, but not always easily lived out. Jesus placed himself – in compassion – into situations that others would later mock him for, deride him, and use against him. Yet, Jesus continued to walk in compassion to where healing and wholeness could take place.

Jesus walks with us – as we too follow him into those moments of compassion, but also see others enter our lives in compassion as well.

When we see compassion lived into and lived out, we too are amazed. We too glorify. We too ponder who it is that has come to visit… Amen.

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