In pm's words
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February 25, 2016, 9:00 AM

Open My Hands, Lord


Sermon from February 24, 2016

Mid-Week Lenten Series: "Open My Life, Lord"

Grace and peace to y’all this evening as we gather together for our second Lenten Wednesday worship service. Throughout the season of Lent this year, we are calling out to God that our Live’s might be opened.

Last week, our service focused on the Lord opening our eyes. Opening our eyes to the needs of those around us. Actually seeing those in need. Recognizing and acknowledging that there is great need around us. Not only around us – but, that there is need within us as well.

This evening, our theme continues as we call on to God with the words of, “Open my hands, Lord!”

Open my hands.

One of my favorite things about tradition of the church that we belong to – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – and as Lutherans as a whole – is that we focus a lot of our ministry in physically helping others. In fact, the ELCA’s motto is “God’s work, Our hands.”

I’ve always loved that motto and tagline for the church because I think it is something that we usually try not to play up in ourselves that often. For whatever reason, we don’t like to think that God works through us in order to enact change, participate in ministry, and spread the Gospel. It could be that many of us don’t feel ‘worthy’ in specific ways (or any way) in order to be used by God. It could be that we don’t feel like we actually ‘do’ anything in order for God’s work to be done – or not enough, or not in the right areas.

And yet, still – that motto stands. God’s work. Our hands.

And then we read our first text this evening and we hear a line that might be incredibly familiar to us. Of course, when I’ve heard it; it is almost always taken out of context and trumped up as a means to not open our hands. “There will never cease to be some in need on the earth.”

That’s usually the line we hear isn’t it? It’s usually the verse people lift up to say, “Well – there will always be poor, so how can we help – what good will it do? Even God said the poor will always be here.”

When taken out of context, this verse – words spoken by Moses mind you – it seems like it is an ‘exasperation’ of sorts. A large sigh, talking about how the poor will always be here, and then moving on to something else. That’s the sort of idea we hear – or at least the one I’ve heard when I see this verse propped and trumped up on the internet.

And yet, when you read this text in context we see that there is indeed more to the story. That we are called to open our hands to help those in need. To help our neighbors around us – all of them. And within that opening of our hands to help those in need, we are called to do so with glad and generous hearts, and with no hostility among us.

Of course, those aren’t easy things to do. Sometimes it is difficult to be so freely giving of ourselves to help those in need. We don’t know what to offer, how to offer, or if we should offer help. We hear stories of why we shouldn’t offer and help those in need. What I hope and pray that we are able to do in those times is not to be paralyzed into inaction when we feel at a loss, when we are confused, or when we let the loud voices around us attempt to impede us into living into the faith and life that we profess as followers and disciples of Christ.

We are called to help those in need, because there will never cease to be some in need on the earth. In that knowledge, we are called to open our hands to help in the ways that we can and know. That we recognize that through each of us – through each of our hands – God is at work. God is at work, through our hands to bring healing and wholeness to those in need. To proclaim the gospel to a world in desperate need to hear it. To enact justice, to stand with the oppressed, to be with all of our neighbors. It is God’s work – through our hands – our open hands – that ministry is done.

As I end this time, I want to do something new. For those who are willing. I’d like you to come forward to receive a blessing upon your hands as I anoint them with oil. Know that you are blessed and that God does work through you and God is at work in you. Amen.

 

Bless and open these hands so God’s work will be done.

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February 22, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one where we care...


Sermon from February 21, 2016

Text: Luke 13: 31-35

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? 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!

I thought something was pretty interesting as I read our gospel text for this morning. Normally when we hear about the Pharisees, they are usually the ones putting Jesus to the test. Trying to stump him in any number of ways. Attempting to get him to ‘incriminate’ himself in blasphemy. Debating with him at every chance they could. For the most part, it always seems like the Pharisees were the constant thorn in Jesus’ side.

So, it is a bit surprising to read this morning that the group that came to protect Jesus are this very same group who has been hassling him throughout his ministry. “Jesus – you gotta go, Herod’s on the warpath and he’s coming for you!” I think most people when asked if the Pharisees ever saw Jesus with compassion they’d probably say, “No – I don’t think so.” Well, now we have the answer to that little nugget of Bible Trivia tucked away in our brains.

It got me thinking – especially since today we are in a very heated political climate that there are many who do not agree with one another. Friends. Co-workers. Family members. Church communities. Everyone has their opinion and everyone thinks they are right and the others are wrong.

I’ve noticed that in the last few years – especially this year – that the rhetoric between those who identify as – well pretty much any political party – speak in such negative ways. Not only about one another, but towards one another. Don’t even get me started on how people within the same group can speak about one another. It’s ugly out there.

Yet, this morning we are confronted with a story between two sides that generally didn’t get along. Jesus and the Pharisees didn’t see eye-to-eye on very many things. In fact, Jesus was involved in a lot of debates with them where he referred to them as hypocrites and the Pharisees thought that he proclaimed blasphemy.

And, yet – even in their dissent of opinions with one another, a group of Pharisees still come to protect Jesus from Herod’s desire to kill him. Not only that – but, Jesus includes all of Jerusalem – the seat of Pharisaic power – as those who he has desired to gather under his wings just as a mother hen gathers her baby chicks.

The two groups didn’t agree on much, but they did have respect for one another. A respect that was deep enough that they cared and had compassion for one another; to the extent that the Pharisees in our gospel this morning urged Jesus to leave to keep him safe and alive. I find that fascinating. And something that we all can learn as we mix and work and play with those in our lives who have opinions different from our own.

It again reminds me – with the recent news of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death – how much of a deep friendship that he had with his fellow Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Where Justice Bader Ginsburg reflected that their dissent with each other’s views helped firm and strengthen their own. Where they developed a friendship over their love of travel and opera.

One of the things that I hear a lot of folks tell me that they try – honestly and with great difficulty – is to be open and welcoming to those who have views different from their own. You know what – it is hard. It’s hard to live into the words that Jesus and the Pharisees model for us this morning and what Jesus calls us towards when he says that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

When you’re a fan of Carolina, sometimes it’s really difficult to ‘love’ those Clemson football fans. I think sometimes it’s even hard for Clemson fans to love Carolina baseball fans. Microsoft fans loving Apple fans. Republicans and Democrats praying for one another. Lutherans and Baptists sharing worship together. Dogs and cats living together! What Jesus proclaims is just sheer madness to the world!

Yet… yet… that is what Jesus models for us. That is what Jesus has shown to us in his ministry – his life, death, and resurrection. That Jesus cries out his desire to gather all of Jerusalem under his wings just as a mother hen does her chicks.

And don’t let that image fool you – hens are tough. Just go watch videos on the internet of people and animals that try to mess with a hen’s eggs. Jesus using this image would be similar during this modern day as if we heard him say – Jerusalem, O Jerusalem how I have desired to wrap you in my arms as a mother bear does her cubs. Because no one messes with momma bear!

Jesus desires to gather us all – those who have turned to him – and those who still resist that love and grace. Jesus desires to gather us all under the wings of the mother hen that is Christ.

That is powerful. That is grace. That is what Jesus desires for us as we live into the kingdom of God.

Imagine what the world would look like if – even in our dissent and disagreement with one another – we showed care and love for and with each other? Where our opposition in conversation and debate helps strengthen our own views – something unheard of during this day and age it seems.

Where even as we may bicker and lament and groan in our disagreement with one another. That we can still look to the one across the aisle and say, and think, and live out – “You are my sister and brother. We are a part of the community of God together. I may not agree with you – but, I love and pray for and with you.”

And in that mutual respect and love lived out for one another – together we can be in ministry with each other to help those in need. To care for those who desperately need help. To listen to the voices of those crying out in the wilderness – to fight against injustice and seek righteousness.

During the season of Lent, we continually strive for ways to dive into deeper faith and relationship with God. Where we strive to live out the faith that God has called us to. Where we re-turn to the one who gathers us all as a mother hen – fiercely protecting us from the sin that exists and calls to us in the world.

That is the world that I want to see lived out. Where we all follow what Christ commands of us in our love and prayer for one another. Where we live, worship, play, forgive, love, and extend grace within the messiness of our lives. The ‘realness’ of our relationships with one another. Where we grow and thrive in our diversity.

Knowing and living into the faith that Jesus gathers us all – just as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings. Amen.

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February 18, 2016, 9:00 AM

Open my Eyes, Lord


Sermon from February 17, 2016

Mid-week Lenten Series - "Open My Life, Lord"

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior who is Jesus the Christ.

When I was on internship in Alabama I was able to go to the Southeastern Synod’s Assembly in Chattanooga that year. It was about 2.5 hours from where we were living at the time and it began on a Sunday afternoon. After worship that day, I said my goodbyes to Erin and drove through the mountains to get to Tennessee. I didn’t stop and made really good time. Needless to say – I was starving when I got there. I stopped at a Jimmy John’s restaurant and began devouring my sandwich as I looked out at the park just beyond the restaurant’s windows.

That park was full of people – full. But, I noticed that there was something ‘off’ with those gathered there. They weren’t lounging or relaxing. Instead, they were a bit ‘dirty’ if you want to call it that and there were a lot of shopping carts filled with items in them. It dawned on me that they were homeless. They gathered and lived there. And here I was eating my sandwich and staring right at them. I remember saying a brief prayer for them, but thinking to myself ‘I’m really busy, I wish there was something I could do, but there really are too many of them and it would be unfair for me to only help one or so…’ So, I prayed, finished my sandwich, and headed to the assembly hall.

I never saw them again. I never noticed them again.

It wasn’t because I was in the assembly hall the whole time. In fact, I was probably more active around that city than anyone else since I was the ‘bishop’s minion’ during that time. Running errands, fetching coffee, having conversations with him as he walked to the restroom so others wouldn’t disturb and stop him as he was on a strict time schedule, running in the morning and during break times around the city, going out with friends and colleagues at night during free time. Yet, I never noticed those in the park again.

It wasn’t because they weren’t there anymore. They still were. It wasn’t because they had ‘cleaned up’ and didn’t stand out as before. They still did.

No – for me – they faded into the background of the city because I was too busy to notice or care enough. I was having fun at the assembly and I was blinded by my own selfishness to notice those in need around me. Again, I’m not sure there was anything that I could do – but we did have over 400 people gathered there that week – faithful and faith-filled – individuals. I’m sure there was something we could do – anything to help them in their time of need.

But, no. I was blinded. We were without sight.

I thought about that experience as I read these scripture readings and thought about our theme for this even – Lord, Open My Eyes.

I thought and I wondered what we have difficulty seeing within our community. Difficulty seeing because we don’t care to look? Are we too proud to notice? Are we too naïve to think about? Are we, too busy to take the time? We come up with so many excuses as to why we can’t open our eyes to see the needs of those around us. We find ways to keep ourselves from noticing and taking action.

And then – when there are those opportunities where our eyes cannot help, but notice the need, the hurt, the crying around us – it hurts us. It hurts us because we become angry that someone is shifting our worldview in a way that challenges how we normally see the world. It hurts us to know that there are those in the world – in our country – in our community – who are in such need and we’ve fallen from God’s call to help them in their time of need…

And then, we hear this story from Acts about Paul and we are challenged further. For Paul saw plenty of people. He saw those who were ‘bad,’ who were ‘wrong,’ who were ‘better off dead’ than living. Paul was zealous in his persecution of those who were different from him. I hear this story and cannot help but, notice that there are many within our world who hold the same ‘fanatical’ views that Paul once did as he persecuted those who followed Christ. How our own country and history are full of those zealous to ‘deal’ with those who were different than the majority.

We have all fallen into that same way of life that Paul once did. Thankfully – from what I know – no one has gone to the lengths that Saul did before his conversion. I don’t know of anyone standing by as people in the community were stoned to death recently here in Newberry.

So, we come this evening and we ask the Lord to open our lives. In this beginning we ask the Lord to help open our eyes. To open our eyes to see the world as Christ sees. To see the hurt and the need. To see the opportunity to be in service to those around us. To see that those before us are fellow sisters and brothers. To see that all of creation is a blessing and a beautiful creature of God; plants, animals, our neighbors.

Our perspective changes. Our worldview shifts when we begin to see the world through the eyes of Christ. And that shift of perspective is scary. It opens us up to new ways of approaching life and neighbor. It opens us up to be in deeper relationship with those around us – real relationship. A relationship of hospitality and love. A relationship of true and full community.

A worldview that says no to the loud voices around us that asks/demands/expects us to view others as dangerous, as unworthy, as wrong, as not whole. We re-turn to the one who sees us for who we are; beautiful creations. We re-turn to the one who calls for us to see as the Lord sees; to care for all those we see because God ‘sees’ them too; just as God sees each and every one of us.

We come this evening, acknowledging that we all have not been able to see – to see the hurt and need; to see the beauty of the Lord in the faces and lives of those around us. We come this evening asking, “Open my eyes, O Lord… open my eyes…” Amen…

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February 15, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about the wilderness...


Sermon from February 14, 2015

Text: Luke 4: 1-13

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? 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!

In the years that I have been lifted up into a pastoral leadership role (which is just a bit longer than my time of actually being an ordained pastor) I have always been intrigued by the notion of what the ‘wilderness’ means within our faith. There are some different interpretations of ‘wilderness’ or ‘desert’ that many faithful Christians have used throughout the years. Most of those interpretations revolve around the fact that the wilderness in our lives is that place where we either A) don’t want to be, B) a place we get lost in as we seek to find God in our life, or C) that place where we will be tested – and that usually isn’t very fun.

The more I thought about that, the more I wondered if that was really what the wilderness was to God for us. Now of course, there is truth to those interpretations. The wilderness of our lives are places that we find uncomfortable. Those places that stretch us, pinch us, and potentially unnerve us in so many ways. So, I can understand how there are times (well probably a lot of the time) that the wilderness is a place that we don’t necessarily want to ‘hang out’ in. There is also truth to the interpretation that when we feel lost, alone, and scared that we are in the midst of the wilderness as we seek to find God in our life. And because the wilderness thrusts into a place in our lives that challenges us, we naturally will experience some sort of test through it.

Those interpretations are not wrong, but I do know that they aren’t the only ways to interpret the wilderness.

For you see, the wilderness is also the place where we do meet God and are led by God. The nation of Israel was led in the wilderness by God in a pillar of cloud and fire. Jesus was guided by the Holy Spirit throughout his 40 days in the wilderness.

There is the temptation to think that the wilderness of our lives is the place where God is absent from us. That my friends – my sisters and brothers – couldn’t be further from the truth.

God is present in the wilderness – guiding us in ways that we both can see (when we look) and in ways that are sometimes so subtle that we don’t even notice. Nevertheless – God is there.

We of course have entered in the season of the ‘wilderness’ in our Christian faith as we join in worship this first Sunday in Lent and through the rest of this 40-day journey to the cross. In many ways journeying through Lent is a wilderness for each of us. That time when we seek to bring ourselves closer to God within our lives.

Many have ‘given’ and will ‘give something’ up during this Lenten season. We deprive ourselves of things in our lives so that we can focus more on where God is present in our life. It isn’t so much that some might give up sweets for Lent, but we remove the sweets from our diet during this season so that we can remember more fully that the goodness of God is what sustains and provides for us fully. We remove from our lives those things and activities that we know are not the best for us that we may ‘over-indulge’ in so that we can more completely place God in the epicenter of our lives. So that God might continue to be the center – the core – of who we are. Where we seek to remind ourselves that God is the one who defines us.

There are of course those who add in devotion and God-centered practices into their lives too. Making note to be in active prayer for those in their life and in deeper conversation with God. Seeking to give of themselves and their possessions in more substantial ways knowing that we have been blessed with an abundance of what we truly need from God which overflows more and more.

And yet, throughout the season of Lent the pull and lure to fall back into our old routines is great. It is difficult to be in active prayer for others when we are upset with others in our lives. It is hard to be fully giving of ourselves and our possessions because of a mantra of scarcity that is proposed by so many in our world and media. It is sometimes difficult to maintain those devotional practices because we feel so stretched thin between all the people, places, and activities that seem immediately more urgent. That doesn’t even touch on the enticing draw of that piece of chocolate, that cigarette, that scotch, that thought, that action, and more that we have vowed to relinquish from our lives during this season of Lent.

Then, during this first Sunday of Lent we hear this story of Jesus’ temptations by the devil within the wilderness. And even we are tempted to say, “if Jesus could do it – so could I!”

Of course, when we fall into that temptation – especially during this wilderness season – we can become even more disillusioned because we know that we are not Jesus. I don’t know about y’all, but I probably would’ve succumbed to the temptations the devil proposed. It doesn’t take me very long to be ‘so hungry’ that the mere idea of snapping my fingers and turning something into food would be incredibly enticing. In fact, I don’t even have to be all that hungry to want to do that! The temptation to be the ‘ruler’ over a vast area can be tantalizing as well. We’ll finally get to do the things that I think would be just and right. Even if I did have to lay allegiance to the evil one – I wouldn’t rule this land in that way. I promise!

And, then we get to that final temptation and test that Jesus is thrust with and I can honestly say that all of us have done this. We’ve all been the devil tempting Jesus in this regard. Lord – if you allow me to do this – win the lottery – win the big game – win my crush’s heart – pass this test – get this promotion – achieve this small goal – make it to church – then I’ll promise to live for you to the fullest. I’ll promise to live the life that you’ve wanted for me. I’ll promise to clean up my act and be the servant of Christ that you’ve called me to be. We’ve all put Jesus to that test.

So, we walk in the wilderness of Lent and we think to ourselves – how in the world are we going to do this – how are we going to learn from this season so that these temptations aren’t so alluring the rest of the year. How can I do this?!

Well, there is good news and bad news folks. The bad news is – that alone – we can’t. For us, sin in our life is so great and appealing that we are going to succumb to it. The little pulls of what looks like innocent sins build up and before we know it, we haven’t thought about God in a long time. We continually speak bad about our neighbors. We close ourselves off from others because we can’t ‘trust’ those people.

That’s the bad news.

The good news – the glorious news – the gospel – is that we don’t do this alone. We have been filled by the Spirit. The Spirit was poured into us in our baptism – the spirit is/was poured into Allyssa Claire Bruce this morning. The Spirit is present in and around us. The Spirit helps guide us and leads us to the way of Christ. Calling us to say in the still quiet voice of God – that there is another way – a better way – a just way – a way of love. A way where we all are honored, cared for, grace-filled, forgiven and sent.

The season of Lent is at one a time where we seek to be closer to God through the discipline of Lent—self-examination and repentance, prayer and fasting, sacrificial giving and works of love—strengthened by the gifts of word and sacrament. But, the season and journey of Lent is also that time where we are reminded that God is ever close to us in the wilderness of our lives.

That the Holy Spirit is present in this wilderness. That the Holy Spirit is guiding us to see God in the center of our lives. The Holy Spirit is there, it is here. We are not alone as we struggle with the sin that separates us from God. The Holy Spirit is here to assure us that we are loved, forgiven, and sent to proclaim. That in the Spirit – the spirit that was poured into us – we are able to follow Christ. For it is Christ who sent us that Spirit to be with us.

We do this together. Not only this journey of Lent, but this life of faith. As we wander through the wildernesses of our lives – when it seems that God is so distant from us – we have the Spirit who guides us into the lives of one another to see God at work in us and in them. Where others come into our lives and where we come into the lives of others to help us all better see, know, and experience God’s presence.

In our baptisms we are joined together in this great community – this wonderfully diverse body of Christ.

We begin this season of Lent with a story of test and temptation. A story that at its center and core is the Holy Spirit – the spirit that fills Jesus and leads him is the same one that fills and leads us. Leads us to see where God is at work, and how God is the true center and being of who we are. Amen.

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February 11, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one on Ash Wednesday


Sermon from February 10, 2016 - Ash Wednesday

Grace and peace to you this evening in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – 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!

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Those are important words that we will hear this evening as each of you are welcome to come forward to receive the imposition of ashes upon your foreheads. The sign of the cross will be marked upon us as we hear those words – remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Those are ominous words we hear this evening. On this Ash Wednesday we come face-to-face with our own mortality. We come face-to-face with the knowledge that we are finite. As much as we wanted to believe when we were teenagers (and which the teenagers of every time and place believe) we are not invincible; we are not immortal. One day – we will return to the dust in which we were formed.

And that is how we begin the season of Lent. Where we remember that we are a small and fragile part in the history of life; in the workings of the kingdom of God. As we begin this 40-day season of penitence, repentance, and re-turning towards God; we remember that one day we’re going to be dust. We are confronted with our own mortality.

We hear from Joel this evening about the trumpets that are sounding – sounding the coming of the Day of the Lord. The trumpets that call out to all to turn. To re-turn to God.

So we come this evening to remind ourselves to re-turn to re-orient ourselves back towards God and the words that we hear to spring us into action is that we are dust, and to dust we will return. I don’t know about y’all, but reminding me that one day I’m going to die is not usually the best way to ‘spur’ me into action. In fact, I think most people when they hear that they just want to turn right back around and say, “Nope – sorry I’ll just go over here and listen to this guy talk about how great I am – we are – or will be again…”

Yet, tonight – in some ways more than any night – is a night where the church gets real and honest. Honest about how fragile we are, honest about how in the grand scheme of things we are ‘temporary.’ And that can scare us. It doesn’t matter how young or old you are being reminded about that eventual day can make our heart race and cold sweat to trickle down our backs.

We don’t like to be reminded of those things. I’ll be honest, I don’t like being reminded of those things. It is that sort of stuff that sometimes keeps me awake at night without countless questions and an onslaught of thoughts.

But – but – that is not all we hear this evening. That is not all we know. For though we remember that we are dust, and to dust we will return – we know that dust isn’t something that is absent from our God. In fact, dust – dirt – is incredibly important and special to God.

We remember in the book of Genesis that God collected and formed the dust. That God blew breath into that dust and created man. The Adam. Or in Hebrew – adamah; the one from the ground. That we remember in the Gospel of John that Christ – the Word – was present before creation because it was there in the beginning.

We remember that not one thing separates us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Not even death. Not even when we remember the fragileness of our lives.

Where others might speak those words in order to scare, provoke, or startle. We hear those words – spoken to us by our God of love – our God of creation – our God with us and we are reminded that it is God who breathes life into the dust. That out of dust God has made beautiful things, that out of each of us God has made beautiful things.

And that is the part of this night that I love. That tonight we get to be little trouble makers. As sin, the devil, and death might use those words to scare us, to turn us away from our God and into the arms of those who speak false promises and only cater to the good things in life. The ones that disappear when things become rocky and tough.

Yet, we get to be trouble makers this evening where we stand in defiance of sin and death. Where we proclaim as walk around with ashen crosses upon our foreheads that death does not have the final word. That sin is not going to guide our life. Where we remember that yes we are finite, we are not immortal, but that our God who has fashioned us from the dust, breathed life into the dust, continues to walk with us and guide us. The one who gathers us and forms us into beautiful creations from the dust.

That even in death we known that we are not forgotten. We are not alone. We are not abandoned.

We walk with crosses on our foreheads to remind us of the promise that God has made to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. That we are resurrection people. We journey these coming 40 days in Lent to find ways to remind ourselves of that promise and life – that dusty life of knowing who and whose we are.

Where it could be in pictures taken and posted to social media about where you see God present in the everyday – in the simple – in the beauty of creation. Where it could be in the giving up of those things that we take pleasure in as we remember that God is the goodness that sustains us through it all. Where we might dive more deeply into scripture so that we might see and know how we too are a part of this great and grand story. Where we may come into deeper conversation with God through prayer and devotion to help strengthen our faith during difficult and thankful times. No matter what it is that you practice during this 40-day journey – it is done so that you – that we all – might know that God is present with us. As we re-turn our lives back to the one who created us, formed us, who loves us, who forgives us, who redeems us, and who sends us.

Lent begins this night as we hear that we are dust, and to dust we will return. We remember that God is present in the dust and breathes life into the dust of our lives. Where we walk this dusty life knowing that God is here. Here in our life. Here in this meal. Here in the word. Here in our prayer, our giving, our devotion, God is here in everything.

Remember that you are dust – the dust that God has gathered, formed, breathed into – and that to dust you will return – that dust that God continues to gather, form, and breathes life into. Amen.

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February 8, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one where we come down from the mountain...


Sermon from February 7, 2016

Text: Luke 9: 28-43a

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!

At first glance, the two stories that we hear in our Gospel reading from Luke this morning don’t seem like they go together. The first story we hear – that of the Transfiguration – the changing – of Jesus – is one that we are all, mostly, familiar with.

Jesus goes up on a mountain with three of his disciples and something pretty crazy happens. Moses and Elijah were there. Jesus’ face or clothes shine brightly. A cloud enveloped them all and a voice cried out from it, “This is my son! Listen to him!”

The next story is one that isn’t so familiar. It is another healing miracle. Where a young boy, convulsing and foaming at the mouth, is healed by Jesus through his words. They are sent on their way to rejoice with those around them.

All through both of these stories the disciples – especially Peter, James, and John – are at a loss of what to do and how to react. They know they are experiencing something bigger than themselves, but they don’t know how to respond. In the second part of our story this morning, the disciples left at the bottom of the mountain aren’t able to heal this young boy.

In both halves of this story, Jesus is needed.

Peter, James and John have what we like to call a mountain-top experience. They don’t know how or why – it is difficult for them to fully comprehend what is happening to them and to Jesus – but, they know that something great with God is taking place. The Spirit is moving in, through, and around them.

Their response is one that I think many of us like to hold on to as well.

Let’s stay here. This is good. Let’s ride this wonderful feeling for as long as we can.

We’ve all had that experience haven’t we? Whether it is an incredibly spiritual moment or any other really wonderful moment in our lives.

For me – that moment – that mountain top experience – was literally on the top of a mountain in Western North Carolina when I was a camp counselor at Lutheridge in Arden, NC. That first summer in 2002 was amazing. It is where I truly felt God first calling me to ordained ministry. I met Erin. I developed lasting and strong relationships with numerous friends (many who are pastors now as well). I also had a ton of fun. It was an amazing experience.

When the summer came to a close there was a very real sense of not wanting to walk down that mountain. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want it to end. It felt like I was Peter or James or John speaking to Jesus and saying, “Look – I can put my sleeping bag right over there. I can stay here with you forever in this place. You just say yes, and I’m there.”

Of course, that didn’t happen. I and the rest of my fellow counselors had to come down from that mountain. Just as the disciples were rebuked about staying up on the summit with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.

There is a very real sense that many think that God – that Jesus – is the prototypical wise-old man at the top of the mountain. The one you traverse up to get your little nugget of wisdom and grace. That only in that place – in that environment – far removed from the distractions of the world can you experience the Holy. That you have to attain this certain ‘thing’ in order to experience God in your life. And that once you ‘get it’ you latch on to it and never let it go. Stringing out those feelings – those emotions – that spiritual high for as long as you can.

But, I don’ think that is how God works at all. In fact, it’s a disservice to us in the ‘every day’ if we think that God only appears and Jesus is only at work in those mountain-top experiences.

The disciples didn’t know it then, but they had to come down from the mountain, just as we have to come down from our mountains and spiritual ‘highs.’ Why?

Why on earth would we want or need to come down from the mountain? Well, Jesus has work to do and for us to do in and through him. When Jesus comes down the mountain the next day, he is greeted by a large crowd and a man in desperate need of healing for his son.

Jesus comes down from the mountain and heals. Jesus works. Jesus’ ministry continues. Jesus’ ministry doesn’t happen on the mountain. The ministry – the work and life – of Jesus happens in the valley.

When I worked at Lutheridge I wanted to stay there forever. I love the mountains. I loved that experience. I didn’t want to leave. But, as the Bebo Norman song of that summer told us – We walk down that mountain with our heart held high. That we follow in the footsteps of our maker – the one who goes to where the masses are.

On this Transfiguration Sunday we again are encountered with an experience of Christ that we cannot fully explain. This story is so ‘out of this world’ that we just have to sit back and say, “Wow. God is present there.” It’s the same that we experience when we have those mountain-top spiritual moments in our lives. And they don’t always have to be on mountains.

I remember one Christmas in Michigan where I went with the youth to sing carols at a local retirement community. While there we came into the room of a woman who was in the last hours of her life. She was surrounded by her family and we stepped into that holy moment and we sang Silent Night – the woman’s favorite hymn. We sang Silent Night and could feel the presence of God around us. We had tears streaming down our faces as we finished that song. God was indeed present in that moment and we enjoyed the presence of the Spirit with us in that space in which we gathered.

I talked with the youth after that about how they felt. They too couldn’t explain what happened, but they knew something happened. Something important. Something bigger than themselves took place. They had a ‘mountain-top’ experience that day. Yet, they couldn’t stay in that moment – as much as we even wanted to – ministry was to be done. More individuals to sing to. More people to spread the word of God and the Gospel to and with. There was work to be done.

Transfiguration Sunday reminds us that in the presence of God – things change. We are changed. We may not literally shine bright nor our clothes become dazzling light as Jesus’ did. But, that brightly shining light of Jesus does indeed shine in and through us for others to see.

But, we don’t stay on that mountain – we don’t stay in those moments – as much as we’d like as sort of a lighthouse that calls people into that same moment with us. We are not the ‘moths’ of creation that are drawn to the light of Christ. That light that stays in a single spot for people to ‘find.’

No. The light comes down from the mountain. The light that shines in each one of us is taken down the mountain and into the valleys of life – the valleys of our life. We are reminded again and again that the light of Christ – the presence of Christ – the ministry of our Lord is done in the valley of our life and the life of the world.

Jesus comes down to be with us. To work, to proclaim, to serve, to heal. Jesus comes down from the mountain and we follow in the footsteps of our maker. The very face of God who walks down into the distance – walks down to where the masses are.

Yes, we can experience the presence of God, the holiness of Christ, the movement of the Spirit in those mountaintop experiences of our lives. But, we don’t stay there. We are called to follow Christ who walks down that mountain to be in, with, and for ministry for those around him. You can’t do ministry for others alone up on that mountain. Come down – heart held high – and let the light of Christ shine in and through you as you are in service and ministry with all our neighbors. Amen!

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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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