In pm's words
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October 12, 2015, 9:00 AM

the one where we breathe...

Sermon from October 11, 2015

Sermon Text: Mark 10: 17-31

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 want everyone to take a deep breath right now. Go ahead – I mean it. Take a deep breath.

We’ve been through a lot this past week. We have been witness to images and stories that seem all too surreal. We’ve seen pictures of places that we know, we’ve heard from people that many of us can probably trace our relationships to either directly or through a few friends. We have seen the destructive power of nature in our midst. The images and stories we have seen and heard are those that we’d normally see in places ‘far from here.’ Not – 30 minutes away.

For me, the destruction of this storm hits very close to home – very close. When my family moved to South Carolina in 1996 we moved to Forest Acres. I went to Dent Middle School, I went to Richland Northeast High School. I lived on Bridgewood Road, just a corner away from a portion of Rockbridge Road – that I drove over, ran over, and biked over for 5 years – that no longer exists.

My home church has been the command center for the Forest Acres Police Department and will be for the foreseeable future. They are also housing the National Guard as well.

I have friends and family who have lost possessions, who have lost homes, who have lost lives. My nephew and niece’s home was underwater. A friend of my sister died in the flood. Too many of the homes that I ran past as I trained for cross country in high school have been severely damaged.

As I was helping to deliver donated supplies to help those in need, I had a chance to drive – as best and as safely as I could – through my old neighborhood. Everything looks normal enough, just slightly blurred enough to know that something major happened here. The puddles in the ground that made me wonder how high the waters were here, the branches in the road that made me question if there was a bigger part of that tree that was somewhere else – or did it thankfully hold strong? Then there were the more overt signs of devastation, the numerous blocked roads, the numerous cars lying in ditches or abandoned on the side of the road, and the gaping holes where a road used to be.

Seeing those images on TV of places that I am so familiar with has been difficult for me to process. In seminary one of my favorite professors would always ask the question – Where is God in all this?

Where is God in all this?

A few might say that God was in the storm, wreaking havoc upon a people and a time that have turned back from a particular way of moral living (that just so happens to align with their own views – funny how that works out that way). That’s not where I see God in this…

Many see God in the fact that the storms ended and the sun emerged. In fact, one of our local weathermen – distraught and in stress over the past few days of storms – was overcome with emotion on air because he saw the sun. Yeah, I can see God there.

But, more often than not. I can see and we are witness to God at work in the midst of these crises and the days after through the lives of those around us.

One of my favorite quotes is from a beloved TV show of many of us in our youth watched – Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. In an episode where he talked to children about bad things that happen in the world – violence or natural disaster he said this,

“When I was a young boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.’”

And, boy have we seen God at work through those many helpers in our world, in our state, in our lives this past week.

A friend of Erin and mine was pleading through social media for help to rescue her husband who was stuck in what turned out to be one of the hardest hit areas during the storm. She asked for help on Facebook and Twitter. I and others sent messages out to those within our circles of friends to find someone – anyone – who was willing and capable of helping her husband. In fact, out of all the people that sent a message to WIS – my message was read. A person heard my name, contacted me on Facebook, and we coordinated as her husband drove out to help my friend – he just happened to be a former Navy rescue diver. My friend was rescued by an avalanche of volunteers and trained personnel.

There were stories of those who took their small boats and glided down their streets to help neighbors and evacuate those stuck in their homes. Stories of those who saw stranded motorists in danger and helped bring them to safety. Stories of those first responders who stayed out in the storm and rain to rescue those in need. A story of a retired pastor who waded out in to waist high water to retrieve caskets that had been unearthed in the flood waters.

Then there are the stories of those people who have helped since the waters receded and the sun emerged from behind the clouds. The stories of those who have driven countless miles to help in clearing and securing roads. The stories of those who have collected supplies and money to give to those in need. The stories of those who have opened their homes to the many who have been displaced.

There are still more stories to emerge. There are more opportunities for God to work in the midst of this tragedy. More opportunities for us to live out our calls as followers of Christ to be with those in need. Those in need who are no longer people we don’t know or in places we’ve never been. But, who are people that we’ve met, in places that we’ve frequented. It gives us an opportunity for God to work through others so that we too might be helped.

As I read the Gospel for this morning, I wondered what in the world I was going to preach on in light of the tragic events of this past week. How I could hear the conversation between this man and our Lord in a way to see God at work in my life – in our lives – right now.

Where this man says confidently – Jesus what do I need to do? What else do I need to do? I haven’t killed anyone, I’m faithful to my wife, I love my parents, I don’t steal – what more can I do?

Out of love – Jesus tells him that he can give up all that he owns and follow him.

But, the man can’t do it because he’s got a lot of stuff. He turns away.

Stuff, things. Items.

As I hear this conversation my mind is drawn to the things that people lift up that aren’t really that important – the things that I lift up that aren’t really important. The things that get in the way of us loving one another, being in service to one another, being in relationship with God and our neighbors.

It is hard to let go. To give away those things that we love and cherish and feel that ‘identifies’ us fully. When Jesus asks us to stop looking towards those other ‘things’ that draw us way from God, it’s difficult for us to do so. We like our things. We like our stuff that we collect – the physical and the non-tangible. Those things that we ‘cling’ to that we feel makes us ‘us.’

One of my favorite news stories that brought some brevity to the floods in Columbia was the woman who made sure she had her Totinos and her doggie. She knew all she needed was some food and a loving relationship.

It is here in this place that we realize that all we need – is some food and a relationship of love – as we follow the one who calls to us through our baptisms. That in the craziness of our lives, in the midst of destruction and tragedy, we know we can come to this place and be fed and welcomed into the loving relationship of our Lord.

That food that nourishes us and that relationship that is lived out in the community in this place. Where we are loved, cared for, forgiven, and accepted. Why? Because we are God’s. Not because of the house we live in, the clothes we wear, the ‘stuff’ we have. Simply because we are God’s creation; God’s children. Claimed in our baptism, fed at the table, and sent into the world to proclaim that love to people and places who yearn to hear the same.

So yes, we breathe today, we take deep breaths. We remember that in spite of all that has happened this week. In spite of all the news of devastation and destruction that has happened in our state, we see God at work. Reminding us again and again of God’s presence, of God’s love, of God’s relationship.

That God is here with us always, those possessions – don’t worry about that stuff. Let it go. Follow him. Amen!

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October 4, 2015, 8:24 PM

the one about divorce

Sermon that wasn't able to be preached because of the floods in South Carolina on October 4, 2015

Sermon Text: Mark 10: 2-16


Grace and peace to you my brothers and sisters, 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 our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

I’ll just come right out and say it, this text is hard. It is hard to hear these harsh words from Jesus, so you can imagine how difficult it is to preach on these harsh words concerning something that is so prevalent in our society today; both in our world and even in our church. 

We live within a society that seems to be so casual about marriage and ultimately about divorce.  It seems that many famous individuals try to outdo one another in seeing how quickly one can get married and then divorced. It was only last week that we heard of yet another famous individual that many ‘look up to’ and her impending divorce – Kaley Cuoco – who is getting a divorce from her husband, Ryan Sweeting, after a brief 21 months of marriage. A few years ago I even read an article that talked about ‘starter’ marriages where you sign a document that you’ll be married for about a year and after that year is up you’re free to walk and go off to seek your ‘real’ marriage; the one that will last after ‘learning’ from that first ‘marriage.’ 

It is especially difficult for me to preach on this because I come from a family in which my mother and father are divorced and re-married. I also know that there are those of you today who have been affected by divorce, whether it is yourselves whom are divorced, your parents, your friends, or even your children.  Divorce affects everyone and there are few today who know someone who has not experienced the pain of divorce. 

As an example, when my wife and I were married just over 9 years ago, it was a summer full of weddings.  Apart from our own wedding, my wife and I attended about six or seven others. I am sad to say that only our marriage and two others are still intact. 

So, it is difficult for me to say, especially as a child from a divorced family (and one who has seen the good along with the sadness, anger and confusion that do come with divorce), that divorce was not part of God’s design for marriage and relationship. I don’t believe that God instituted the union between two individuals with the intention that at some point that bond would be broken.

There is never a ‘good’ time to get a divorce – for anyone. Though a divorce is never good, many times it is necessary. My own experiences prove that. My mother and father are better people a part than they were together. Because of our brokenness and as Jesus states it, ‘our hardness of heart,’ divorce is an unfortunate reality in our world; just as it was an unfortunate reality during the days of Jesus’ ministry.

As I walk with and have conversations with couples, brimming and oozing with happiness, on their path to marriage we talk about their relationship. We talk about their strengths and their areas for growth. We talk about those difficult things because it’s good to know what areas you may need to work on as a couple now before 10 years have passed and you’re just chomping at the bit to get out.

Marriage is tough, it takes work. Sometimes it takes a lot of work. Many times we can and do fall very short.

I wish there wasn’t divorce, I wish those who commit themselves to one another would do so in a way that lives into the vows they make with one another, with the community, and with God. But, I also know that we are a broken and fallen creation. We fall short.

But, we know that in spite of this brokenness and the sin in our life, God continues to love, and call, and care for each of us.  For Jesus shows in the final verse of this passage that he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.  God is for us and continues to be ever full of grace and mercy.  Jesus wants to remind us that we have been created to be in relationship, we have been created for one another.  Ultimately – God is there to be in relationship with all of us – those of us who are married, divorced, single, and re-married. God seeks out relationship with all of us.

Of course, this isn’t an excuse either. I don’t think Jesus wants us to think, “Well, because God will love me that means I should not work at this relationship.” I don’t think that’s it at all. I think the fact that God does love us in spite of our sin and brokenness that we use that to help strengthen our relationships.

Our Gospel begins with the Pharisees seeking to put Jesus to the test. They wished to see which side of the legal argument he stood on concerning divorce. Did Jesus adhere to a loose or strict interpretation of the first few verses of Deuteronomy 24 which states:

If a man marries a woman and she does not please him because he has found something offensive in her, then he may draw up a divorce document, give it to her, and evict her from his house.

There were two schools of thought concerning this verse, the first the group following the rabbinic teachings of Hillel believed that a man could divorce his wife for any reason. Look at another man? Here are your papers. Burnt the breakfast toast?  Here are your papers. Raise your voice and ‘defy’ me? Here are your papers. You’re not as pretty as the woman down the street? Here are your papers. That was the ‘loose’ interpretation.

The other school of thought, those that followed the ‘strict’ interpretation of this verse, were from the teachings of Shammai who believed that a man could only divorce his wife on the grounds of adultery. 

But, if you notice, Jesus doesn’t fall into their trap. Instead he points out that Moses has already answered that question, and Jesus does not necessarily discount or discredit the law. There can be and there is divorce.  Instead, Jesus turns the question back onto the Pharisees and quotes from Genesis God’s intention for marriage. That marriage is a bonding of two people, the becoming of one flesh in covenant with each other and in covenant with God.  God created us to be in relationship with one another. 

God intends for us to be sewn together to our spouses like a quilt, two pieces becoming one; becoming whole. When, because of our limits of love and trust and understanding are reached and divorce is the eventual reality; that quilt, that bond, that covenant is torn and it is difficult, almost impossible to stitch it back together into the wholeness that it once was. You cannot hide that rupture. The re-stitched seam, though sometimes incredibly small and thin, is always there. Visible for others to see and for us to always know. Unfortunately, many are looked down upon because of that broken relationship.

What Jesus proclaims about marriage comes from the beginning, the beginning, Creation, that marriage is not something to be taken lightly or casually. It is not something that is casually formed for convenience which can be simply tossed aside. Jesus describes marriage with utmost seriousness, something that transcends contractual obligations and economic utility, which is how marriage was viewed during this time.

Divorce itself is intended to be taken seriously as well. God cares deeply about divorce and is against divorce in the degree that it tears apart something whole. It isn’t just the couple that is torn, but also the family, children, community, and the church. Everyone is affected by divorce, this fracture or rupture of human community and covenant to one another.

In not stepping into the trap which the Pharisees have laid, Jesus is demanding that we shouldn’t be looking for the loopholes out of marriage. Don’t concern yourself with how to break this covenant, but concern yourself with how to strengthen this covenant. This covenant and promise that you’ve made with one another and that you’ve made with God together.

When Jesus’ disciples press him further on this issue of divorce, Jesus utters words that have been interpreted in such a way to keep those in hurtful, harmful, faithless relationships from breaking free of the oppression that they have been ‘stuck’ in and which keeps those individuals from living out a relationship of marriage which God intends; a relationship in love, commitment, and covenant between spouses and God.

Here again, Jesus is speaking on the grounds which people pursue a divorce. A divorce is not something one seeks in order to be with another; that is adultery. You cannot just throw your spouse out to serve your own selfish needs and desires.  Any who seek a divorce for the sole reason to be with another; that is wrong. Jesus is against that. Yet, even during this rebuking, Jesus continues to lift up those who had no voice. In verses 10-12, Jesus lifts women to the same standard as men; this is something that was absolutely counter-cultural at that time. Women were deemed a ‘possession’ that transferred from father to husband to potential new-husband (if one would even have her with the ‘stigma’ of divorce assigned to her) and were not given nearly the same legal rights in divorce that their husbands were. This is further emphasized because many women needed to obtain their husband’s permission to even begin the process of divorce. Marriage at that time was a contract between two parties that didn’t normally include the woman.

As Jesus preaches a gospel of love and forgiveness, continually lifting up those who are forgotten, broken, ill, and tossed aside I find it difficult to believe that Jesus would be against divorce in the situations where there is physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, or any other type of abuse. I pray that those who find themselves in those situations can be comforted by the fact that the church’s doors and Jesus’ arms are open to them - always.  That one can find reconciliation, peace, care, growth, and love in this place, in this community of the Body of Christ. But, even in those situations, divorce still hurts and still wreaks havoc on an individual’s and a family’s and a community’s faith and wholeness. Yet, it is in this place, and within this community that we are reminded that our God is the one who heals brokenness, who brings separated parties back together, who reaches out, beyond the bounds of convention and tradition, toward those who are most vulnerable.

When our limits are reached, when we are stretched to the point of breaking, and we can no longer keep our promise and covenant with one another, God’s love and forgiveness endures where ours cannot. No one enters marriage intending it to end in a divorce; we don’t commit ourselves to one another, before our friends, family, and God and think ‘this will never last’ or ‘how can I get out of this.’ If you do, you’re not marrying for the right reasons anyways. But, we do have our limits, and our promises are broken for many ‘good’ reasons.

The wonderful thing to know this morning is that the Gospel reading doesn’t end with hard words on divorce.  Instead, Jesus – full of grace and merciful inclusiveness – ends this discussion on who belongs in the kingdom of God. As I’ve mentioned at other times, kids weren’t particularly thought of positively as they are today.  They didn’t become ‘real’ people in the eyes of those around them until a certain age. The disciples wanted to keep folks from bringing their children to Jesus, they weren’t ‘important’ enough to garner his time. But Jesus says no – let them come; they belong to the kingdom of God. God is for them too. ‘Them’ being the outcast, the ones with no or little voice in society.

Yes, Jesus does set the bar rather high for us, his disciples. We are to marry and not divorce. We are to have love, compassion, and mercy for the needs of the ‘little ones,’ all of those standing on the outskirts of our society; whether they are children, the recently divorced, the poor, the ill, the disabled, or the forgotten.  However, in many ways, we fail at this call to love all those around us. We are a broken people and we have limits. And, more often than not, especially when it comes to marriage our limits can be reached and are ruptured. The glorious good news is that spread out above, around, below, and in us is the love of God that continues to endure and love for each of us, even when because of our limits we cannot love others in return.

Christ walked the path of his ministry to the Cross. Jesus’ love for us went to the very end, to the cross.  Upon that cross Jesus sacrificed himself for our brokenness and sin. Come to him, knowing that despite our flaws and limits, Christ loves us fully and completely. Where we have been broken and torn at the result of divorce, Christ makes us whole. Where we feel ashamed for our lack of love for others and from others, God is there loving us fully and completely. Where others cast us aside as the result of a broken relationship, God clamors to be with us, holding on to us, and never stops loving us. 

God does indeed sew us back together into that wonderful tapestry of life, love, and mercy. Amen.


10-08-2015 at 10:50 PM
Ben Bowers
Great sermon. I hate we couldn't hear it in person.
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October 1, 2015, 12:00 AM

October Newsletter Article

Well, it’s October and there is that crispness in the air (which seems to be a lot less ‘crisp’ than what I’ve been used to the past few years…), the colors are beginning to think about changing, fall sports are in full swing, and the Christmas decorations at our local stores are out on the shelves.

You know, I always (and still do at times) used to get pretty unnerved when I saw those Christmas decorations months and months before the blessed arrival of our Lord Jesus – the in-breaking of God made flesh into the world.

I didn’t appreciate the fact that it was another constant reminder that I have stuff to do before Christmas arrives. Services to prepare for, meetings to attend, presents to buy, schedules to coordinate. It begins to weigh on you more and more when you realize how much ‘stuff’ that you have to do before that time of the year arrives.

The more it weighs on you, the less you look forward to that time of celebration. Before you know it, as you continue to look forward to Jesus’ birth less and less (because we are confronted with the commercialization of this festival day more and more), the more ‘grinch and scrooge-like’ we might become.

So, I wonder (it could be as I wander…) what it would like – how we would act – if when we saw the encroachment of this day in the stores we frequent we began to see it as another opportunity to be in expectant hope? Where we see those colors, we see those phrases of holiday cheer, we see those reminders of a new winter and think, “Yes, Jesus is coming.”

Because Jesus is coming, Emmanuel is coming to dwell with us. We are soon to celebrate – again and again – that the fabric of our lives is about to ripped open and God will dwell with us. That God’s love for us goes so far and deep that God comes to live among us, to experience life with us, to walk with us each day.

Of course, that is a lot easier said than done. There will still be times that I’ll still sigh heavily when I see Christmas decorations out even before Halloween or Thanksgiving even crest on the calendar. But, as I see those numerous and prolific decorations adorning store shelves, I’ll more than likely see two words that stand out over the rest – Joy and Hope.

We rest our joy in the expectant hope to come. Sometimes that joy can’t be contained and it spills over into times and months that we wouldn’t expect. Sometimes we experience God in places and times we don’t expect. Always there calling out to us to focus on what this day means – even if it’s a reminder 2+ months in advance!

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September 28, 2015, 8:48 AM

the one about disappointment...

Sermon from September 28, 2015

Sermon Text: Mark 9: 38-50

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.

You know, sometimes when you end a reading from the Gospel on a Sunday you don’t really want to shout out, “THE GOSPEL OF THE LORD! PRAISE TO YOU O CHRIST!” I think this is one of those times, because it really doesn’t lift us up very much. These aren’t words that gently pat us on the head and make us feel warm and fuzzy.

No, these are words that say it might be better for us to be a peg-legged, one armed, one-eyed individual than have all our limbs if they cause us to sin. Doesn’t that just give you the warm fuzzies? Now, I don’t think here that Jesus is speaking literally. After this talk there wasn’t a rise in the sale of axes and sharp objects to cut and maim one’s body at this time.

But, Jesus here is speaking to his disciples because they disagree with what someone else is doing. They disagree because this other person is doing things in a way that they wouldn’t do. They disagree because this person is doing things a part from them. Disappointed in how they feel about themselves, disappointed in how others respond to that individual and not them, disappointed because they thought they were the ones that were only going to have that authority and power. Yet, there’s that dude over there curing and casting out demons – in the name of Jesus – and he’s not part of the inner circle that they are a part of.

I see this gospel being lived out today – this week in fact – because of one person’s visit to the United States. What’s interesting about this individual, is that sometimes – especially those in a supervisory role – will continue to say something that is good for those people who work with them and work perhaps for them. But, the people – all people – won’t listen. Only because their boss or supervisor is supposed to say that. However, if someone from the outside, either as an observer or as an invited individual comes in and says pretty much the same thing – then people ‘get it.’

Well, I see that happening this week with Pope Francis ‘in town.’ People are clamoring and up in arms over this ‘new and fresh faith’ that the Pope speaks of, when in actuality this is the same stuff that the gospel has been saying for quite some time – kind of since the beginning. Of course, there are those who are a tad disgruntled as well. Those who think the Pope’s words and actions don’t go far enough – that he still holds strong to a lot of Roman Catholic doctrine, but then there are those who don’t like what he says because he is speaking of a faith that they hear, but don’t practice. Then there are those who can get frustrated because people listen to him, but not to them even though they have been saying some very similar messages.

Disappointment and disagreements. The disciples were pretty good at it. Just last week they were arguing with each other, the gospels are full of the disciples not understanding, or misunderstanding, or dropping the ball in some way.

This got me thinking, I’ve been here a little over three months now, and now is about the time that we’ve known each other – just long enough – to start getting upset in one way or another. Where expectations are starting to meet reality. And I’ll be honest with y’all, I cannot guarantee a lot of things – I can’t guarantee almost anything. But, the one thing I can absolutely guarantee with you is that at some point in this hopefully long relationship as pastor and people I will disappoint you.

I won’t preach a text in a way you like. I’ll lift up things in conversation that you don’t agree with. I’ll drop the ball. It’s going to happen. Maybe it already has. And that works both ways as well. As I’ve seen this past week of all the praise and laud that Pope Francis’ words are getting – and they are really, really good – I swear that guy is a Lutheran sometimes – and I can’t help, but be frustrated by it. Because whether it is here from people at Redeemer or those I see around the community and world who say, “Why hasn’t anyone spoken like this before!” And I’m over here saying, “Hello! Who have you been talking too?” Frustration and disappointment.

We read all these texts this morning and they all focus a bit on failing to meet expectations in some way. Moses is tired, the Israelites would rather be in slavery and eat meat than be free and eat more of this manna, the community to which James spoke dealt with the expectations of who a follower of Christ is, the Psalm lifts up the fact that we are fallen and ask God for guidance and love, in the gospel we see the disciples fighting over who has authority and power, and Jesus pushes back at them saying – our lives are in need of pruning – though he uses the metaphor of cutting and gouging of body parts.

Like I said, this isn’t one of those ‘warm fuzzy’ gospel readings. I surely don’t feel good when reading this text.

Because I know there are things that I do that cause me to sin. Where I can’t bridle my tongue, or I misinterpret a message.

I think those are all things that we are prone to do. We always fall short. We aren’t perfect. Even the disciples were far from perfect. In many ways people will disappoint. I’ll disappoint. I’ll be disappointed. You will be disappointed. In some way, at some time. It will happen. Frustration will abound.

So, what are we to do?

I think James leads us into that perfect space. We care for one another. We lift one another up. We pray for one another. We look to one another, and even with that disappointment fresh on our minds, we come to one another and say, “Peace be with you…” I pray for you – in all that you do. So that together we can continue to proclaim and lift up Christ to the community around us.

And when that time does come that we disappoint, where we feel that we’ve fallen short. We are reminded again and again from our text in Numbers that God hears those cries, those pleas that we cannot do this all alone, that the burden we carry is heavy. And God’s response is – you don’t have to do this alone. You are a community together – look at you, look at all of you. I am here. My Spirit rests upon you. See, I am with you. You are not alone.

Even Jesus in our gospel lesson lifts this up. Jesus talks about salt. He mentions that if salt loses its saltiness, you can’t season with it.

But, there is this funny thing about salt – it doesn’t lose its saltiness. In fact, studies have shown that people only think salt loses its ‘saltiness’ when they think it’s old. It is all in their head. Unless you have some pretty significant equipment, knowledge, and know how; the salt that you leave on your table or in your pantry that doesn’t get used for years will still be just as salty as the day you brought it home from the store.

So, Jesus talks about salt. Jesus states that all will be salted.

We have salt. We have that spice that seasons the world around us with love, grace, and the message of freedom in our Lord Jesus who is the Christ. We are salty. We don’t lose that.

When we were splashed with the waters of our baptism and marked with the sign of the cross, we were welcomed into this large family and community of faith. Our baptisms never go bad, they never are invalid. God’s word stands firm over each and every one of us. We have been declared good. Forever and always by God.

As we walk through life, as we experience life and interact with others. As we get to venture into opportunities of ministry – new and well-worn – we will be confronted with times that we will be disappointed with others and that others might be disappointed with us. It’s going to happen.

When that time comes, it is going to feel – and it does feel – like we don’t have that salt, that the spirit has left us. That we are left out to dry. But, we are reminded that Jesus – that God – that the Spirit – has salted us. Salt doesn’t lose its saltiness. That love of God that sends us out to be with others in this wonderful community – that compels us and sends us to do ministry never lessens. It never leaves us.

We are still salt. Salt for the earth. Salted by God. Sent by Christ. Guided by the Spirit.

Yet, we will still bear at times the heaviness of ministry and all that entails. And there will be opportunities that we are confronted by that from others. And that’s good, we confront, we confess, and we discuss out of love and in prayer with one another. James lifts up that we are in prayer with one another.

Why? Because God listens. God answers. In prayer we are made whole. We are made whole in our life and in our love. In prayer, our spirits are made whole and well.

We do this together y’all. We get to pray, we get to do ministry, and we get to be in relationship with one another. Its messy work this life of a Christian. We don’t have to go chopping off our hands and feet to make it even messier. But, we do acknowledge that there is sin. That we do sin. That others sin.

Remember, that you are salt. I am salt. We are salt. We get to season the world with God’s love and grace.

God has blessed us. We are in this together. As pastor and people. As the community of Redeemer. As a world who listens to the words of a person not a part of our tradition of the church. We remember, and we know. We cannot lose our saltiness, because God never leaves us. Amen.

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September 21, 2015, 9:00 AM

the one about staying silent...

Sermon from September 20, 2015

Sermon Text: Mark 9: 30-37

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 don’t know about y’all, but I was amazed this week by one news story in particular. The story out of the Dallas, TX area this week that sent ripples and shockwaves around the world. No, I’m not talking about the Cowboys’ improbable comeback against the Giants or the Rangers finally overtaking the Astros for first place (but, those were pretty fun stories in my world). I’m talking about the story this week about a teenager at an Irving, TX high school who was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school.

The skinny kid in thick-rimmed glasses wearing a NASA t-shirt - who wanted to show his engineering teacher what he made in hopes that a robotics club could be established in his high school – was marched out of his classes and his school in handcuffs because those around him wouldn’t talk. People wouldn’t talk to him about what it was that he brought and when they did have words, they didn’t listen.

I see this story and I cannot help, but remember the story that we read in Mark’s gospel this morning. Specifically the part where in the disciples confusion about what Jesus was saying they didn’t say anything for they were afraid to ask.

What is it that makes us – all of us – all of humanity – seem to not want to talk. To be in conversation with those around us? Whether it be talking to a teenager to understand why he brought a homemade clock – and not a bomb – to his school. Or perhaps being able to talk about the fact that sometimes there are things we just don’t understand – especially when it comes to our faith and our beloved scripture.

There is a sense in the world today that if you have to ask questions than you don’t need to be a part of the conversation. There is a sense that if we feel like we don’t understand something that we are the only ones who feel that way – we must be stupid, not smart enough, we must just not ‘get it.’ It doesn’t help that some of the loudest voices in our world and media today don’t have conversations with one another – especially when they are trying to clarify what they are saying or understand what another is saying. No, they just yell or they don’t say anything at all.

In our lives of faith, I have met too many people who have said that they don’t ask questions because well – they don’t want people to judge them, think they they’re dumb, or be treated poorly simply because they wanted clarification. Too many times, I hear from people, “I’m sorry I ask so many questions pastor – I know I should know this…”

Why do we behave this way? I know I am victim to this way of thought as well. When I was in seminary there were quite a few times that my professor would say something and I wouldn’t understand it fully. I’d think, “I probably should ask her to go over it again, but I’m not going to be that guy.” Even though after class we’d get together and all share in the same question, “Did y’all understand any of that?”

Like the disciples, we are afraid. We’re afraid that others might think of us in a different way. We’re afraid that when we start asking questions, we may get answers that we are not ready to hear. We’re afraid that when we enter into a conversation with someone that there is a chance that we might be wrong.

When we think about our faith, when we go over the verses of our scripture, there are so many things that can trip us up. Why are there two creation stories? Where did the other people after the flood come from? What does Jesus really mean by taking up a cross? Does Paul really mean nothing separates God’s love from us? Why are their four gospels and they all have different stuff in them? Why this way? How do you know how to pray? What do you say? Am I really ‘enough’ in God’s eyes?

When it comes to questions and our inability to ask them, we can be very stubborn because we are full of pride and we don’t want to seem ‘less than’ to those around us – especially those who we love and respect. When we act this way – when I act this way – I am reminded of a picture I saw on the internet a while ago that was of a medical billboard that stated, “This year thousands of men will die because of stubbornness.” Spray painted below that was a message simply stating, “No we won’t.”

We’ve become stubborn in our search of truth and openness. We don’t want to be vulnerable, we don’t want to appear weak. We don’t want to ask ‘stupid’ questions. When it comes to our faith, we might not ask enough questions. We think we’re the only ones that think that way – no one else is as ‘dumb’ as me, so I’m sure not going to prove it to the world.

But, we shouldn’t live out our faith this way. It isn’t healthy – it really isn’t. When we close ourselves off from one another and we don’t ask the questions that are burning in our hearts it makes it that much easier to fall away because we’re not engaged. It also doesn’t help as Karoline Lewis wrote in the latest Christian Century that ‘monologue seems to be the communication mode of choice these days when it comes to faith. Rather than an act of conversation, faith has become an act of coercion. It seems to demand immediate acceptance, with little room for ambiguity.’ She finishes with a brilliant line here, ‘The way people talk about faith is less about the mysteries of faith and more about the mastery of convictions and doctrines and beliefs.

It is easier to stay silent or to be in monologue. There’s less risk involved. It’s safer that way.

Even though all of us have those perplexing questions that there’s a good chance that at least one other person near you has asked as well. We still shy away from being in those conversations – especially when it concerns our faith, caring for one another, learning about another culture.

It’s easier that when we receive that chain letter or that post on the internet that disparages another person or group or culture to stay silent. It puts us in a vulnerable spot when we ask the questions that bring us into conversation with others.

There are many who will say that by having faith you shouldn’t have to ask questions. That faith keeps us from having to ask because we’ll already know the answer. Yet, life doesn’t really work like that. Because of our faith – more opportunities for questions arise. If I am to follow Christ, how am I supposed to deal with this? Why does God want us to do this – when the other way is so much easier? Am I capable of following and living the truth of Jesus’ passion?

Questions aren’t bad. They aren’t seeds of doubt. They aren’t a sign of a weak faith.

Instead, I believe that questions are the fruits of those living and struggling in discipleship. No one said living a life following Jesus would be easy. We don’t live this life of faith alone as lone rangers out in the wilds. No, we do this together. We support one another. We talk to one another. We have conversations with one another.

We have honest conversations where we support, love and guide one another in this life of mysterious faith.

Be open, don’t be afraid to speak up. It isn’t as fun to remain in silence. Remember – we are reminded in Paul’s letter to the Romans that not ONE THING will separate God’s love from us. Not even that question – or that one.

Jesus doesn’t throw us to the side when we speak up, Jesus enters into conversation with us and through us so that our faith is deepened and strengthened even more. Amen.

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September 14, 2015, 9:14 AM

the one where Jesus is known...

Sermon from September 13, 2015

Sermon text: Mark 8: 27-38

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!

We all want to be identified don’t we? Growing up, you want to be known as ‘you’ over anyone else. You want to make your mark; you want to set yourself a part from those around you. You want people to be able to say, “Yeah – that’s YOU man!”

As the college and pro football season ramps up and the baseball season reaches its exciting end, there are so many people who do ‘comparisons’ with current players. That guy runs like Rodgers back in the 80s. Oh man, that dude plays like a young Montana. Wow, are we seeing the second coming of Aaron now?

So many comparisons are made and lauded upon players, mostly they want to be known as themselves so they can tell their own story and make their own marks. I think this is something each of us wants for ourselves as well.

And we come to our gospel story this morning with that sort of identity seeking in the works. Jesus asks his disciples who the people are saying that he is. They give him a whole hosts of different answers – John the Baptist, Elijah, maybe one of the other prophets.

Either way, the people know that there is something special about Jesus, but they only use the references that they have available to them. I’m sure some are flirting with the same proclamation that Peter will soon make, but many are probably thinking, “Surely, he can’t be the one. Right?”

Yet, that identity is soon laid upon Jesus. The information we’ve known as the reader of this Gospel has finally caught up to the individuals in the story. We’re all working from the same page now. Jesus is the one, he is the messiah as Peter proclaims to all who are around him.

Yet, there is something about identity when others say it – the title and claim we lay on others is wrapped up in what we expect of that individual. Sure, you’re ‘you,’ but you’re ‘you’ in how I see you and experience you.

For just as Peter claims that Jesus is the messiah, Jesus then proceeds to tell the disciples – and us – what that will mean. And what being the messiah means is quite different than what we would expect – than what Peter would expect.

Up to this point, there had been many who theorized who and what the messiah would be like. Would he be a cosmic figure descending from the heavens for all to see and worship? Would he be a battle hardened warrior and keen strategy maker to lay waste to the oppressors of the children of Israel? Would he be a political savant who would rise through the ranks and be able to swindle and deal to put God’s people into a more prominent position?

Well, the messiah isn’t any of those things. In fact, the messiah that we get – from the outside – isn’t very impressive.

Poor, not well-known, no formal education, a person who will suffer.

As I was reading and preparing for this sermon, I latched on to that word and experience. What does Jesus mean that the messiah must suffer? Jesus as our messiah – the messiah of the world – doesn’t suffer because suffering is good. Jesus isn’t some masochist looking for ways to continue to suffer because it gives him pleasure in some way.

A commentator I read this week talked a little about one of my favorite movies and characters when discussing ‘suffering.’ He mentioned the woe-is-me robot of the Star Wars universe – C-3PO. Threepio is a bit of a whiner, but he has a point when he states in the original Star Wars, “We [droids] seem to be made to suffer; it’s our lot in life.” Threepio and other droids suffered and were treated harshly because they are machines which ultimately makes them ‘afterthoughts’ to the living beings around them. They are just things. The attitude that Threepio takes on and lives out is one in which he expects suffering because he knows – to those around him – he is not really worth all that much.

This is not the suffering that Jesus is talking about. Jesus doesn’t suffer because he is worthless to those around him. He doesn’t suffer and die because suffering is good.

Jesus suffers because of the way he lives his life. The way he lives his life that goes against the social and religious norms of the day. The necessity of Jesus’ suffering is reflected through the words and actions that he partakes and participates.

He reaches out to those who are ostracized. Like when he interacted and helped the man who was ravaged by demons and lived out in the tombs. He spoke and touched the unclean with no regrets and fear, like when he cared for Jairus’ daughter who had died and the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. Or as we saw last week, he reached out to those who even he would initially throw to the side because they were outside the nation of Israel.

The way in which Jesus lived his life – a life proclaiming and living into God’s kingdom is one that brings suffering because it doesn’t not compute with the way that the world works.

So, we come to this Sunday and we too ask the same questions that Jesus is seeking answers to. Who is he? Who do we say he is?

And when we ask those questions, we too are asking the question that Peter doesn’t say out loud – when we say who Jesus is, what are we expecting?

Because really, that’s what identity is about isn’t it? When we are able to set an identity – either for ourselves or for another – we are doing so with a set of expectations. There are probably days, probably way more than a few – that we want Peter to be right and we want Jesus to be wrong. We don’t want our Lord to suffer and die because we don’t want to live with the reality that we are called to follow.

But, it isn’t so much that we ‘suffer’ for suffering sakes with a woe-is-me attitude of a droid that complains incessantly, but our suffering is tied into how we follow the one who has suffered for the world. Where we too reach out to be with the hated, the tainted, and the disregarded. Where because of how we live into the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims with our actions and our words that we change the thought on what many expect us to be because we say we follow Christ.

What does that look like for Redeemer? What does that look like for you and for me?

Jesus was the first person to tell us that living the life following him wouldn’t be easy – but, that it would be difficult and could lead to ‘death’ in so many ways. We don’t live this life so that we suffer with Jesus because it makes us feel good somehow. But, we suffer as followers of Christ because what God proclaims to us and calls us into through our baptisms and nourished at the table is counter to how the world operates and expects.

We take up our cross – the cross of Christ – not so that others can see us suffering, but we take up the cross knowing that it will lead to suffering because it means putting others first, it means helping those in most need while others ignore them, it means proclaiming Christ above what the world shouts about.

It means that we lose the life the world says that we should want to have, but that we gain the life that we need that God has given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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September 7, 2015, 9:00 AM

the one where Jesus is a jerk...

Sermon from September 6, 2015

Sermon text: Mark 7: 24-37


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!

Sometimes, sometimes we read a text from the Gospel that we really don’t want to read. Where the images it conjures up bring to mind pretty unpleasant looks into our humanity. In the Gospel of Matthew it is the cleansing of the innocent. In Mark’s Gospel, I’d venture to say that the text we read this morning is usually the one we don’t want to read and pastors at times really don’t want to preach on.

This conversation with the Syrophoenician woman is one that I always have difficult with. Mostly because it portrays an image of Jesus that we don’t normally see and one that I don’t really like. For me, Jesus is kind of a jerk here. He degrades and insults this woman and her family by stating that she is a dog. She’s not worthy enough to be considered human.

She’s a gentile – she’s not Jewish. Jesus – as poor and humble as he is among the Jewish society that he is privileged to live in – is still superior to her in the culture of the day.

Jesus is living into that here and responds in a very unflattering way. Again, likening this woman to a dog – an animal. An animal that should wait in line and wait for the ‘children’ to eat first. The children which is meant to represent the nation of Israel. Let them eat; then I’ll talk to you.

We are at a time in our life in the United State that our response to those in need can be just as quick and curt as that of Jesus’ to this woman’s plea for help. There are those many times that we may not be as overtly rude to those around us, but we can subtly portray ourselves as ‘better’ simply by how we view the people around us.

When I was in Michigan, my congregation welcomed into its community a man who was a native of Tanzania. As he was preparing to enter into the community I met him at his house around the corner from the church and asked him the same question that I’d ask anyone and one that I have asked in our cottage meetings these past few weeks:

  • Why this church? Why come here?

His response made me both incredibly sad and thankfully proud. You see, he had been away from the church for some time, but in the months leading up to his arrival at my previous congregation he wanted to get back into the faith life of his youth – that of the Lutheran Church. He grew up in the life of the church in Tanzania which happens to be strongly Lutheran as well. So, he visited many Lutheran churches in the Lansing area and the outlying communities (of which my congregation was a part of). The response he receive was one that he didn’t expect.

Lutheran Churches in the United States tend to be almost entirely comprised of those who would identify themselves as white. Which is far different than what he was used to, but he loved the liturgy, the hymns, and the theology. So, he continually sought a Lutheran church to be a part of.

When he arrived at a few of those churches, the response to him being there wasn’t one of welcome, but one of – “What do you want? Why are you here? Can’t you see we’re about to worship?”

In fact, he stated that he almost gave up when one pastor came to him before service and said, “I can’t help you right now, I have to go to worship…”

His response to that pastor was, “That’s what I want too… I want to worship…”

My heart broke for him when I heard that story. That is something I’ve never had to deal with and I probably never will have to deal with.

He was viewed as ‘less than’ by those around him. They weren’t overtly cruel to him at all, but their initial assumption was that he wasn’t ‘good enough’ to be there. He wasn’t equal to be in worship. They assumed he just wanted ‘something’ from their pockets, when in actuality he wanted the same thing that they did – to be in worship with and towards the God who loves us all.

He was thankful that when he visited my congregation in the small community of Mason, MI that we welcomed into the worship life and upon seeing him there we said, “Come join us! We’re glad you’ve made our house of worship even more full this day!” He hadn’t received that kind of reception yet at the other churches he visited.

That filled my heart with hope. Hope for our church and hope for our community.

I remembered that story as I read this gospel text about Jesus and how he treats this woman who belonged to a group that was not his own. I remembered this story as I read the Isaiah text about not having an ‘anxious’ or ‘fearful’ heart because God is here. I remembered this story as James recounts the actions of those that he saw in worship of his day.

I remembered this story as our country is still continually embattled in deep discussions about race and respect. I remembered this story when I think of all those unintentional and subtle ways that we exert our own worth over that of others. Where we look past individuals and the reasons they might be coming to this space, place, and time simply because of how they are dressed or because of the pigment of their skin.

My heart breaks for this woman as Jesus’ words attempt to throw her to the side, yet my heart is uplifted when she is insistent. In spite of an anxious heart that I can only imagine that she is feeling and experiencing – she presses to Jesus that she too is worthy of his help. That the love and redemption that he has proclaimed can be extended to her and other Gentiles like her.

I think in that moment, Jesus sees himself reflected in her. Where he too sees the one who comes to push the boundaries of social convention and turn the norms upside down. Where she comes to him and calls for the wrenching open of God’s love to be ever fully expanded. Where he sees the words he has spoken to his friends and those who have gathered around him being lived out by this woman before him.

In that moment, this woman boldly proclaims to Jesus that all that stuff he’s been talking about leading up to this moment. That the grace and love of God is not something that is exclusively set aside for one particular group of people, but instead it is a love and grace that is extended to all who come to the feet of Christ.

The gospel that we get to proclaim, the faith that we get to live out brings us into situations and times that call for grace and love. Where we look to those around us and we look at them and where we are in relationship with one another. Where we strive to work through and against our world-shaped reactions to see others as less than, and instead strive to see our hearts and minds be changed as Jesus’ was. Where the pleas of those around us do not fall on deaf ears and non-action.

Where we rise-up – because of our faith – to do the wondrous works of love that we are free to participate in. Where all who come to us – and all we venture towards – can be welcomed in love, in openness, in faith, in equal worth because of what we all have received from God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This morning we get to see a side of Jesus that we don’t normally witness. It’s that very human side of Jesus. That side that can succumb to the exclusionary views of the world. That side that wants to put everyone in their little boxes and not mix in with others. We get to see the love of God break through even to God’s own son. Where Jesus models for us again and again that the love of God that he proclaims is that kind of love that is extended to every single person before us.

This isn’t I story a particularly like to read, but it reminds me that Jesus is human too – just like I am human. Created by God, redeemed in God’s love, and in that love sent out to proclaim and share that love with the world. Amen.

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September 1, 2015, 12:00 AM

September 2015 Newsletter Article

First and foremost I want to say that my family and I are extremely thankful for all that each of you have done in welcoming us into the community of Newberry. Helping us move all our stuff into our new home, continually dropping by with delicious gifts, and pounding us beyond belief! Which, of course is better than it actually sounds! Thank you again for all that you’ve done!
These past few weeks I have also been able to meet some of y’all a little more intimately at our Cottage Meetings that have been held in a few members’ homes. These have been wonderful! If you haven’t signed up yet, I highly encourage you to do so! We’ve shared some great stories, had a lot of laughs, and we have pondered the future of ministry at The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. We’ve also had some pretty good food too!
I know not everyone will be able to come to these meetings, so I wanted to give a short overview of what we have and will discuss in those meetings – especially as it pertains to my vision of ministry at The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.
As many of y’all know, I am a get-to kind of person. There are so many things that we feel we have to do that it jades us in how we respond to those aspects of our life. We have to go to work. We have to pay taxes. We have to watch gymnastics whenever it is on – wait, that just might be my house… Either way, when we view things as something we have to do we can approach that as a chore or a bother. However, if we slightly change how we experience things as something we get to do we can experience more joy in it!
I get to come to worship! I get to go to work! I get to watch gymnastics! I get to pay taxes (OK, that might be pushing it a little…). Regardless, when we view an experience as something that we get to do we are more apt to enjoy it and participate fully into it. So, we get to live out our faith through worship, service, and learning! We develop an even greater passion for our faith and our worship to God in all aspects of our life.
Which brings me to my second point. We love our faith and we love our Lord. We love the gift that we have been given in this new and renewed life blessed to us through our baptisms. It isn’t an easy life, but we are free from the trappings of what the world bellows to us. Free from feeling alone, unworthy, and unloved. Through our baptisms we know that we are not alone, that we are deemed fully worthy, and we are deeply loved! We get to live out that passion that springs forth from that love and freedom.
We share our passions with so many people – even strangers! We share our love of certain foods, our favorite schools, sports teams, TV shows, movies, books, and more. We can talk endlessly about those passions in our life. I know from first hand experience because I love to do that too. So, what keeps us from sharing our passion about our faith? What keeps us from the wonderful gift that we have received and that God has freely given to the world in Jesus Christ?
So, where do we discover those opportunities to share that passion? In our service towards God and especially with one another – the full Body of Christ. We get to serve those within this community of faith and those within the community we are privileged to live in. For, even in the years that I was living in Newberry while at the College, I knew that the community and demographic had changed quite a bit and is still changing. There are more children of God in Newberry whose first language isn’t English than ever before. What are those ways that we – as a welcoming community of Christ – can be hospitable to all in our midst? In the service opportunities that we do participate in how can we better share this wonderful gift that we have been given?
I want The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer to be known as the church in Newberry where people know God is at work. The only way for people to know is to share the gift that we have, by being passionate about the service we do because we get to live out this life of faith.
So, that’s my vision for ministry, if y’all want to find out more about what we’ve talked about… I guess you’re going to have to sign-up for one of the remaining days! See y’all there!
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August 31, 2015, 1:51 PM

the one about traditions

Sermon from August 30, 2015

Text: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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 thoughts of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!
So, we’re out of the Gospel of John (for now). So, no more growling stomachs while the pastor preaches about bread during the sermon anymore!
We dive back into Mark’s Gospel and we are witness to this story where those who hold on tight to the rituals of Jewish life are a little miffed with Jesus and his band of followers. They’ve been taught from an early age in their faith that one must be ritually clean – and all the items and utensils they use – before eating. Their thought is that one must follow this cleansing process or suffer the anger of God.
The Pharisees and scribes – who were the most adamant opponents to Jesus and continually tried to trip him up and embarrass him in front of the many crowds that were drawn to him – again question his disciples because they aren’t following ‘the traditions.’
Jesus’ response is that which questions their true intentions. Are they following these rituals because it is of human tradition or are they following the ritual because they view it as a gift from God and an extension of the grace that God has granted them?
Of course, we know the answer… Jesus calls them hypocrites.
The church today still adheres to its many traditions. No tradition is bad in and of itself. But, we as human creatures have laid upon them potentially more ‘rules’ than were originally required.
One of my favorite stories about how we as humans do this is when I talk about my little sister and where she works. You see, my sister has one of the best jobs in the world (a part from a pastor that is). She gets to work at Disney World. She loves her job, and my family is pretty happy about that because she really isn’t allowed to work anywhere else for the rest of her life. During her orientation, they had to learn some of the ‘rules’ of being a ‘cast-member’ at Disney World.
One of the most important rules that any cast-member learns is how to direct guests where to go. They are taught not to point with one finger, but with at least two fingers. Now, the story they are told is that in many countries and cultures it is considered rude and offensive to point with one finger. So, naturally not wanting to inadvertently offend someone, they oblige and point with at least two fingers towards an individual or group’s destination.
Now, that’s a good reason to not point with one finger. It’s called being respectful of another’s culture – which is always a good thing. But, do you want to know the real reason why they point with two fingers? Well, Mr. Walt Disney was a notorious chain smoker and whenever he took guests on tours guess how he pointed – with two fingers because that cigarette was always in his hand.
The story of the church that I always highlight is why we have candles. The story we’re given is that the candles represent the presence of Christ in our life. As that candle burns, we remember God’s presence here with us – that same light that throws back the darkness in our lives. Where we know that coming into this space there is always a candle lit. Reminding us again and again that God is here.
But, the real reason candles started appearing in worship? Thousands of years ago it was dark and priests needed to see in those cavernous cathedrals and worship spaces. It made sense.
But, since we’ve given a more theological reason as to why we use candles in the church, we’ve bestowed upon them even more reverence – especially in how they are lit. I’ve had a few folks here ask me – pastor how should we light them? Did I do it right? Can I do it better? My response – did you light them? Did you burn the church down? Good job! You did it right!
You see, the light of candles and the pointing with two fingers are good things. They are wonderful things that we do to help ourselves and others be directed in life. But, when those other rules are placed upon them that keep us from enjoying the sheer gift that we’ve been given it gets in the way and we lose sight of what God has called for us to do and be.
You see, ritual purity laws that the Pharisees questioned Jesus and his disciples about aren’t necessarily bad. It is good to eat with clean hands and utensils. Helps food taste better, keeps you safe, and more. However, I think there are two things at play here that Jesus pushes back on.
First – doing the ritual isn’t an excuse to not do what else God calls us to be. Making sure you do a tradition in worship or in your life absolutely correctly and perfect doesn’t give us a free pass to be jerks to those around us – both in this place and outside these walls. Too many times I see people who lift up the fact that they are always in church or that they say their prayers every night or more. Yet, I witness them speaking cruelly to their neighbors, where they horde the gifts that God has blessed them with, where they don’t live out the love and hospitality that Christ proclaims. When that ritual or tradition either keeps us from living out God’s gracious renewed life of baptism or even supplants that call – that isn’t good.
The other thing that this conversation brings up and that which Jesus specifically alludes to is that it isn’t what is outside ourselves that defile us. It isn’t the dirt, or the germs. It isn’t the clothes we wear or the actions of others around us. What defiles us are those things that come from inside us. Those thoughts and actions we do to hurt, injure, or twist the person and people around us.
Jesus gives us a whole list of how those things can manifest themselves in our lives.
So, what are we to do? How are we to go on through this life?
Well, we have to remember that the rules and traditions we do are not the things that make us whole, and pure, and accepted in God’s eyes. We have to continually remember that we already have that love. In our baptisms we have been claimed in that love and not one thing can take that away from us. We’re already loved, forgiven, and accepted.
It’s this crazy thing called grace that God has given to us. That grace that has set us free. Free from feeling that if we don’t do this right, or light this candle, or point in this way, or wash this hand then God won’t love us as much.
God already loves and accepts you. God does! I promise! God has looked upon us in our baptisms and has declared us worthy and clean.
Now that we know we are worthy, pure, accepted, and loved – now we get to live into those traditions. Not as the obstacles and rules that prevent us from experiencing the grace of God, but instead getting to experience them with joy because of the gift we’ve already been given.
Where we get to light those candles, not because we need to see – but, because God is here. We get to point and direct others to the joys around us not in a half hazard way, but in a way that brings us into relationship and respect with those around us.
And when we do slip up – and we will – we remember that it’s not that God will love us a little less and we’ve got to work our way back up, but that we remember that we are fallen and we continually pray that God continues to work on us and in us so that we can fully live into the gift of love and life that we have been given.
It isn’t the rules and rituals that make us ‘right’ before the sight of God – God has already done that in our baptisms. The rules and rituals are those reminders of what God has already done for us and for the world. Amen.


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August 24, 2015, 10:21 AM

The one where we look...

Sermon from August 23, 2015

Sermon Text: John 6: 56-69


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!

So, we’ve finally come to the end of this discussion on bread. As we read this Gospel lesson this morning, I’m willing to bet that many of us can identify ourselves with those gathered around Jesus who say, “You know what – this is a little much. I’m not sure this is something I want to do.” As they hear these difficult sayings and teachings from Jesus many who gathered with him turned and walked away.

But, there’s something I want to point out here that might be overlooked at times. If you notice, the ones who turn and leave Jesus aren’t just called ‘the crowds’ as the writer has previously identified them as. No, they are disciples of Jesus who turned back. It is easy for us to consider them ‘lazy’ or not ‘strong enough,’ yet we see that these aren’t just random individuals hearing Jesus for the first time, but they are the ones who ministered with him. I wonder how many of us could’ve been easily mixed in with that group that turned back.

There are those moments and times in our life where we questioned or doubted. In the dead of night, at the bedside of a child or grandchild who was sick in the hospital. While we wondered as we woke up in the morning and thought of the spouse who chooses no longer to be there. While cooking a meal and reflecting on all the ill-will that might exist in our families. We sit back and wonder why things haven’t turned out the way that we hoped, the way that we thought, the way that we wanted – even perhaps the way that we were promised. In all those moments haven’t we wondered if and why we have believed in vain?

In those moments, the thought creeps in as to why we even do ‘all of this.’ What is it good for? Where we wonder where God is, if there is a God, and why at times is it so hard to actually see God at work in our lives? When we get to those points in our lives and those doubts and questions linger it is easy to succumb to the thought that those promises were misplaced and the trust was empty.

And we may not openly speak out against God – we’re Lutheran after all we don’t like to talk about that stuff all the time – but, we might not have made that extra effort to get to worship. Our prayer life slowly dwindles, we reduce what we’ve been giving to the church, we don’t see the point to help others. We ever so slowly disassociate ourselves with the community of faith around us, we slowly back away into the darkness of the night.

In the end, we get to where those same disciples who turned back are in our gospel this morning.

So, as we read we wonder what makes Peter and the rest of the 12 so different. Why them? Is it because they are more faith filled? Stronger? Tougher? Smarter? Dumber? More resilient? Foolish? What sets them apart? Now, before we look at that, we have to remember something else too. Peter and the rest aren’t really any different than those disciples who turned back. They too in fact will turn away from Jesus – they’ll deny, they’ll run away, they’ll be full of pride and arrogance too. They aren’t flawless by any stretch of the imagination. They’ll have their doubts and fears too.

So, if they aren’t any different than those others or even you and I – what makes them standout?

Well, look at what Peter says in response to Jesus as he questions them, “Do you also wish to go away?”

Peter’s response is, “No, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Peter and those others knew where to look. They didn’t put their trust in their intellect, or their skills, or their status among one another, they didn’t even rest solely on their faith. They looked to Jesus. They knew where to look.

They knew to look to the one that points to eternal life. Again and again in this conversation the subject continues to point back to that bread – that Bread of Life. That meal that gives life eternal. That meal surrounded in those promises that Christ dwells within us and we dwell within him.

As we look out into the world and question where Jesus’ real presence is, we know and have faith that as we look to this bread and wine that we can definitely find Jesus here. We will find God in Christ Jesus there for us. This bread and this wine – this body and blood – that Jesus offers to us and for us.

Of course, Jesus is indeed present in those other aspects of our lives as well. We as followers of Christ have faith that the world beats with God’s activity and presence. We know that God is present not only in creation around us, but also in the life of our family, in the machinations of our government, within the community of faith here in this place. God is both present and active in our lives. Helping sustain and actively creating throughout all of creation.

It’s at this point that I usually like to tell and remind people that living the life as a Christian isn’t easy. And I think when we’re honest with ourselves we know that to be true. It can be downright difficult at times to see God in the places around us. With more news of shootings, incredible violence both in our country and around the world, the rupture in relationships between friends, family and faith communities, the corruption that seems to exist in so many levels of government, protection, and business. The world that continues to beat us down with messages that we are not enough, that we need more.

As each of those messages become louder and louder – pounding in our ears – blurring our vision of God at work in the world – it becomes very easy to lose sight of the sacraments of this meal and in the waters of our baptism. Where it becomes difficult to hear the promises in this bread and wine – those promises of forgiveness, acceptance, of love, of life.

Yet, in spite of that increasing ‘noise’ in our lives the sacraments are still here. That as we come to worship each and every Sunday we know that if nothing else – we will find the gospel in this meal. We may not be in a place to listen or hear the gospel in the sermon, the music, or the liturgy when we come into this space for worship. But, BUT – we know and remember that we can and will find Christ in this bread and in this wine.

That even in our most desperate times in life we know that we can look to this meal and be filled with the bread of life. Where even in those moments when all seems lost and we might feel abandoned in so many ways, we look to the bread of life that Jesus offers to us and for us and know that we are loved. We know that we are not abandoned. As Jesus has given his life for each of us. Diving into relationship with us. Residing in us. Filling us to be sent out to proclaim that if anything – Christ is here in this meal, in these waters.

Because let’s face it – no matter how zealous and ardent we are in our faith there will be times that we are beaten down. Where the question of why creeps into our thoughts and minds. Where the temptation to turn back will be very easy to make.

In those moments, we remember the meal that has been offered to us. This gift of life that has been given to us from God in Jesus Christ our Lord. That we can come here and are assured that this promise rests in this meal and that we get to eat and drink. Remembering in that meal that we are fed, we are forgiven, and that we are sent.

Where we are filled up so that we can continue to point others here to this place and to this meal and to these waters. Living this life as a follower of Christ isn’t easy, it really isn’t – but, we are promised that Christ is here with us – especially in this meal and in these waters of baptism. We cling to those promises and those Words so that we might withstand those terrible days and fully live into those days of joy – all of it bringing us into this new and renewed life that God offers to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.


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