In pm's words
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November 9, 2015, 8:56 AM

the one where we ask, 'who do you trust?'


Sermon from November 8, 2015

Sermon Text: 1 Kings 17: 8-16 and Mark 12: 38-44

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

It’s pretty good to be gathered altogether here on a Sunday isn’t? Now, I know we’re gathered altogether this morning because of our annual meeting after this service, but it is still wonderful to have the full voice and body of our community on any day. Whenever we can get everyone together – that’s always a good thing.

So, we come to this day and we hear two stories about widows from our scriptures. One from the Old Testament that we read from in 1 Kings while the other we read from the gospel of Mark.

As I read these two stories one question kept jumping out at me – who are you going to trust? We have two pretty similar situations dealing with widows. They each approach their situations differently, but they seem to end up in a very similar decision

Now, there are a few things we should know and understand first about widows during this time. First, women were not treated very fairly. Women were viewed more or less as property that transferred between their father and their eventual husband. Women didn’t hold jobs, they weren’t allowed to provide for their families in the same way as men were, and more. Now, if women had it rough, being a widow was even worse. For your support disappeared when your husband died. Of course, there weren’t that many men who were seeking to marry someone who had already ‘been married’ before. So widows were stuck. This is why God has placed an emphasis on the fact that those who follow God are called to care for the widow and orphans – because based on the society that they lived in – they weren’t able to provide for themselves.

In 1 Kings, Elijah is told by God that he will meet a widow when he goes to Zarephath. Lo and behold as soon as he arrives at the town gates he sees a widow. They have a short – but deep – discussion where Elijah asks that she gets him a drink. We have to remember here that this is during a different time and within a different culture than our own. I don’t think any of us would approach someone we don’t know and the first words out of our mouths would be, “Bring some water so that I can drink would you? And while you’re at it, I’m hungry too!”

This widow – in the midst of following through with Elijah’s request – makes it known that she really can’t. She’s been collecting sticks to make a fire, and with the last bit of oil and meal she has left she will make some bread for her and her son – and it’ll be their last. They’ll eat and eventually die of starvation.

This isn’t a happy story that she tells. She has no one to turn towards. For all she knows, the god or gods she and her people has been praying to has left them because of the drought that was going on. So, she couldn’t even turn to the ones who were supposed to listen. Who is she to place her trust in?

Yet, in the words that Elijah gives to her he says, “Do not be afraid.” Elijah is asking this woman to trust not only him, but to put her trust into the one whom he proclaims – the God of Israel. This of course is not the God she knows or follows. She is a part of a group that is outside the nation of Israel – Elijah is a foreigner in her land.

He asks her to do all that she has said she was going to do – to make her last meal so that she and her son could then die from no food. But, first he asks to still make him a small loaf of bread. With that small act of trust and faith – the jars of meal and oil that she has will not run out.

She places her trust in the one she doesn’t know – but, who knows her.

Now, we fast forward over to our Gospel lesson and we again meet a widow who is in a similar situation. However, there is a marked difference between her and the widow before Elijah. The woman that Jesus points out is one who is very poor – she is a widow afterall. In fact, the amount of money that she gives – all that she has – is worth no more than two pennies.

Yet, she takes all that she has and she drops it in to the offering box at the temple.

Jesus lifts up her faith in that small act, saying that she has given far more than what anyone else has given and apparently there have been quite a few who have offered up hefty sums of money. Yet, this widow is lifted up as being ‘greater’ than those.

Now, there is a tendency here to lump these wealthy individuals with the scribes that Jesus has just condemned, but I want to caution us here on that. Yes, Jesus does condemn the scribes – the ones who use all that the widows – this widow – gives to line their own pockets and not help them in their need (which the money is supposed to be used for).

Jesus doesn’t chastise those who have given large sums to the temple at all here. He just makes a point about how they offer and what the widow offers. The wealthy have given out of their abundance – and that’s good. It is good to give out abundance – out of our abundance – and no one should ever be made to feel guilty of that. It is good to give – especially when we are called to give to help those in need, like the widows and the orphans. Which I’m sure many who gave to the temple that day in front of Jesus fully believed that their money would go towards.

This widow however has done something different than those around her who have abundance. Instead of giving out of her abundance – which she doesn’t have – she instead has given her entire livelihood – she has given her complete trust in the one she worships and follows.

That is what Jesus lifts up. It isn’t so much that her two pennies are ‘worth’ more than the bags of money that the others have given. It’s that she has placed her trust completely into and with God.

Because if we are being truly honest with ourselves, we can’t blame the first widow for being a little hesitant in following through with what Elijah is asking of her. She’s doing the right thing by caring for herself and her son. I don’t think I’d want to give my absolutely last meal to a stranger either – and if I did it wouldn’t be an easy endeavor. That takes a lot of trust and faith.

Also, I think many of us – especially those of you who are keen financial stewards – are probably just itching to tell the second widow that she’s being foolish. She is given all that she has into a system – though designed to help her – that we know probably won’t because of the scribes that will use it for their own selfish gains and desires than for her and others’ needs.

I’m not great with money – just ask Erin – but, I know when not to give it all away.

Yet, both place their trust into something – into someone – beyond themselves. One more readily than the other, but they both place their trust into God. The one who has promised to care for the poor, downtrodden, and oppressed. The one who has called us to do likewise.

So, we hear that story this morning on the day that we gather to vote on a budget and vote for leaders within our community to help guide, direct, and shape the ministry here in service to God and neighbor.

So, the question before us this day – and every day – is this: Who are you going to trust?

We as a people of God are called to place our trust in the one who cares for us in ways that we cannot imagine. We are called to place our faith and trust into the one who has come down to be with us. The one who was, is, and always will be the Word made flesh. We are called to place our trust into the one who has gone to the cross for us and who was raised from the dead for us in the victory over sin and death.

We are called to have trust and faith that the budget we vote on is used as a tool and ministry for God’s service. We are called to have trust and faith that the six individuals before us and the three we elect today to sit on council are guided by God through their words and actions on behalf of this community.

Like the first widow we met this morning, there could be some hesitancy about what we have to offer might not be enough or it might be used in a way that we normally wouldn’t agree with. But, in that act of trust – we are placing our faith in a God who works through us and our actions so that all might be served and brought to life.

Likewise, we might give out of our abundance because we know and remember that God is active in our life and in the life of ministry here at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. That even if what we have to offer is so ‘little’ compared to what appears others can – that God still can use that too.

That as we all are contributing, offering our lives to God – all can be cared for. Ministry can thrive. The Word of God can spread. The Gospel can be proclaimed.

Some might call it foolish. Some might be hesitant. But, we remember that even the foolish, even the hesitant are provided for by God. Both of the widows in our lessons today are loved, accepted, and cared for by God.

Christ is at work through each of us as we continue to offer up our entire selves in service to God and in service to one another and in service to those who are strangers among us. When we place our trust it may be foolishly simple or even difficult – but, we place our trust in God.

Our trust that God is active in us, in the life of this community, in the life of the world.

We place our trust in the one who sees, who cares, and who sends. Amen.

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November 2, 2015, 9:00 AM

the one where we remember and hope...


All Saints' Day

Sermon Text: John 11: 32-44

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!

It has been one year since we last gathered to remember those who have died in our lives. This year – especially for me – is a little different than in years past. Our state has suffered greatly this past summer, our area has seen devastating events take place. All of those events have involved death.

Death in how those called to serve kill those who they are to protect. Those who are called to serve be killed by the ones who they are called to protect. Single individuals who inflict so much pain and death because of the color of someone’s skin. A one-in-a-lifetime storm that has caused so much damage and death. Then news last week of a Mid Carolina High school student who was killed in a hunting accident.

Accidents. Intentional acts of violence. Natural disasters. Death in so many varied and senseless ways.

Death is always visceral. Death is always painful.

Whether it happens to you, happens near you, or happens far away.

The news of death makes us weep, it beckons us at times to cry out with Mary – “Where were you?! If you were there – if you were here – then they wouldn’t have died!”

This morning we remember nine from our community who have died since the last time our community gathered on All Saints Day. We remember Ruth, Tom, Mildred, Connie, Kathleen, Carolyn, Harriett, Helen, and Warren. Some deaths might have been ‘expected’ because of age or illness. Some were too soon; some were after years or months of terrible illness. No matter how death has affected this community – affected you – it always hurts. It is always painful. We always weep.

All Saints day is a great celebration, but it is also a weird celebration as well. This is a day that it is a mix of joy and sorry. Of loss and anticipation.

We remember those we know who have died, we weep and mourn. Yet, we still celebrate the eternal life to come – the promise of the resurrection. This is a day as I read earlier this week – that we smile through our tears, trusting in God’s promise that all our yesterdays are just a prelude to a glorious and never ending tomorrow.

As we read the gospel this morning, one thing jumps out at me so clearly. It is one of the shortest verses in all of scripture. It simply states that Jesus weeps.

In our second reading, we see the titles and labels of the divine and cosmic as Jesus announces that he is the alpha and the omega. The beginning and the end. In other places are the titles and labels of messiah, Christ, Lord, Word, incarnate.

In more ways than one, we cannot understand those things. We have no way to identify with them. Yet, we trust and hope that all those labels – all those titles – all of that is for us. We have trust and faith that in all those identities that others have given Jesus and that Jesus has claimed to be – that it is God at work in God’s son.

Yet, in this text. On this day. We know how Jesus feels. We can identify with him. Jesus weeps because his friend has died.

All of us have lost someone to death. Some more recently than others. All painfully. All weeping.

Have you ever thought about this verse before? Jesus wept.

Jesus – the son of God – the Word incarnate. The alpha and omega. The beginning and the end. Weeps. Jesus weeps.

Gods aren’t supposed to weep. Some might even say men aren’t supposed to weep.

Gods are supposed to be strong in the times of sadness and death.

Yet Jesus weeps. Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot cry when the son of God has no problems showing his emotion.

Showing emotion out of his hurt in what Mary says to him. Out of his frustration that death is seen as more prevalent than the life that Jesus proclaims. In the sadness that his friend has died.

Jesus weeps.

What I remember most on this day above all other days, is that not only is this a day that we remember those who have died, but we remember a God who is so present with us that he weeps. Jesus weeps at each death we experience.

When a loved one dies at the end of a full and long life? Jesus weeps.

When a loved one suffers through a terrible and tragic accident or illness? Jesus weeps.

When one in God’s creation unleashes senseless harm and violence upon others? Jesus weeps.

When nature lets loose upon the land and many die? Jesus weeps.

Jesus weeps out of love and care for each of us – just as Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus

Yet, Jesus doesn’t stop there. Jesus doesn’t just cry and move on. Jesus acts.

Full of emotion – sadness, mourning, even anger – Jesus goes to the tomb where his friend’s body lies. He instructs the people to roll away the stone. He insists even when the people around him – Martha included – try to explain that it is of no use. He’s gone. He has begun to smell.

Roll the stone away.

Lazarus! Come out!

And Lazarus does. He shambles out still wrapped in the clothes of death, the smell still lingering in the tomb.

This is a pivotal moment of John’s gospel. It is after this sign of God that those in power around Jesus will put into place the plan to dispose of him any way that they can. As the bands of cloth are unwrapped from Lazarus’ body, we remember that Jesus too will be wrapped up. As Lazarus walks out of the tomb, we remember that Jesus will be going in. As Jesus calls out of the tombs of our lives, Jesus is then going to enter into those places for us as well.

Jesus willfully enters into death so that the sting of death will be no more. Jesus defiantly faces death – and will win. He goes in to take our place in that victory over sin and death.

The message today is one of remembrance and hope.  We are called upon today to remember all the saints who have gone before us – both those who were great and shining examples of Christian character and virtue and those who were known only to a few and whose greatest virtue may have been only that they clung tenaciously to the promise of God in Christ to love them no matter what.

We look back with fondness of those who died, but are no longer with us. Their memories still fresh in our minds whether they died two months ago or 40 years ago. Yet, as we remember we look forward with desire and anticipation. We wait in expectant hope that what God has brought in Jesus is for us as well. That it is truth. That in Jesus we have life. We have faith and trust that God in Christ will do for us what Jesus did for his friend Lazarus. That we will be called out of our own tombs on that final – on that first – day in the life of God.

Where on that day we can and will live into the promises that Isaiah proclaimed that death will be swallowed up forever and that God will indeed wipe away every tear, where death will be no more, where weeping and mourning and pain will be no more.

On this All Saints day, we are invited to trust in this weeping and compassionate God. The one who cares so much that he sheds tears at our sorrows and hurt – at his own sorrows and hurt. Where we have hope that this God whom we call Lord, will make all things new, for us and for all of creation. Amen.

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November 1, 2015, 12:00 AM

November 2015 Newsletter


Grace and peace y’all!

So, we’re in November and the weather is starting to get a little cooler. The good thing is, cooler here is much different than cooler in Michigan. It’s a nice experience here. In Michigan, it is the beginning of the realization that it is about to get a lot colder. Plus, cooler here occurs in November, cooler in Michigan descends upon you in August/September. Needless to say, I’m happy I’m here! And my excitement isn’t just because of the weather!

Lots of exciting things are taking place at Redeemer as we continue to head into a new church year with the beginning of Advent at the end of this month (November 29th)! Ignite (our new joint confirmation program with Summer Memorial, St. Paul, and Grace Lutheran) is in full swing and it is amazing to journey in this formation with 25 youth and other adult leaders! Such a fun experience!

We also have some exciting changes that are occurring with our worship life as well. We are introducing a new setting into our worship service. This is a setting that I am particular excited for. It is fun, uplifting, and inspirational. I hope each of you enjoy it as well. Of course, there will be an adjustment period. Much of the same language we’ve always used in worship are present in this setting, it’s just conveyed in a slightly different way. It isn’t bad, it’s just different. What I love most about this new setting, is that it opens up participation for all of us into the worship service.

That’s what I love most about worship; worship is something that we do together. It isn’t a solitary or independent experience at all. We’ve already added a little more congregational participation into worship since I arrived here at Redeemer, we’re just going to add a little bit more.

I know that this setting for worship will be different than what you are used to, all I ask is that you be willing to give it a chance. Anything new that I get to experience, I like to give it a chance for at least four times. Those first few times will be our adjustment period, and the last few will be those times where we will become a little more comfortable.

As we approach Advent, we approach the amazing in-breaking of God into the world. Advent is that time that we are in expectant hope for the change that God will birth into the world in the incarnate Word made flesh and blood.

When God mixes in – change happens. It isn’t always easy, it isn’t always fun, but God always leads us into a place where we can experience the Spirit in new and wonderful ways. After the change settles, the fun emerges as we realize how God is at work in this new way.

Be open, have fun, and worship God!

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October 26, 2015, 12:00 AM

the one where we are being re-formed


Sermon Text: John 8: 31-36

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!

This is a big day and a big week for us. So much excitement surrounding this time of year that people have looked forward to for a long time. I know I looked forward to it! I’m of course talking about Back to the Future Day! October 21st was the day that Marty McFly and Doc Brown arrived in the future – a future full of hover boards, flying cars, Jaws 19 and the Cubs winning the World Series. Granted that movie was fiction and not all it’s ‘predictions’ and ‘visions’ have come true – Sorry Cubbies, I guess you’ll have to wait till next year… again… what, was there another day I was supposed to be excited for?

But, reminiscing about what Back to the Future anticipated and imagined what the future might be like, reminded me a bit of what Dr. Martin Luther envisioned and imagined the church to look like 30 years after he kicked the Reformation into high gear. Let alone, 498 years since that day he banged some paper to the door of the city church in Wittenberg.

As we think about Back to the Future, there are those who will cry out – where is my flying car and the skyways to drive them all? Where is my re-hydrator to cook my tiny pizzas and turn them into full size pizzas? Where’s the jacket that dries itself? And finally – where’s my hoverboard?! We can look back and see that things haven’t necessarily turned out the way we would’ve wanted them to. Our vision for the future back then was pretty ambitious – maybe even a bit farfetched – but, it was so tantalizing. It felt so close, where’d we stray from the path that led us here instead of over there?

Reformation Sunday is kind of like that too for me. Sure, it’s an opportunity that we as Lutherans like to ‘pat’ ourselves on the back, sing “A Mighty Fortress,” and reminisce a bit about all the good ‘we did’ for the church. There’s tendency to do that, but I really don’t like to do that at all. I feel it is things like that that continue to divide us and pull us away from what Luther felt God was leading us towards. I also think that if Luther walked into the world today he’d probably have some pretty harsh words for us (he was prone speak his mind after all, not a lot of it being very nice).

The thing that I believe he’d say first would be, “What happened?”

As we read our first lesson today – which is one of my favorite lessons in the Old Testament – we read of a future that God envisions for the world through Jeremiah. A future where everyone knows the Lord, and it is written on the hearts of God’s people. I imagine that text was playing on Luther’s heart as he sought to ‘reform’ the church that he loved and cared for and served in.

Where he posted those issues that he had with how the church operated and veered from scripture about people’s salvation and the love of God. Where he sought to empower all people – the entirety creation – in stating that they were important and that they mattered in the life and community of God.

And, as I remember those things, as I remember the Reformation and commemorate this day, I too ask – where’d did we veer from that path? Sure much good has come from the work that Luther and the other reformers began – we are more ecumenical now than ever before, for us as Lutherans we continually preach a theology about grace and love being open to all – that there isn’t anything that you have to do to receive that grace. God gives it freely, and with that gift our response is to love and to serve and do ‘good works’ throughout our lives.

But, because of the Reformation there is more desire to ‘split’ the body and community of Christ if our views differ in any way. We’ve been ‘given permission’ to break. So we do.

With the Reformation, we have a tendency to just look back and be proud of what happened and being content with that, not looking to the world around us and seeing where God is still leading us today.

Where we as a people feel more and more spiritually depleted because in some way we may not feel ‘good enough’ for God to love us, or use us, or be present with us.

Where we feel that ‘those over there’ are the ones that God doesn’t love, or use, or is present with because they are different from us.

Where the Words of God are used more as a weapon than as the cradle that holds Christ and tells us all of God’s love and presence with creation – all of creation.

I think about all those things on this day – this important day in the life of the Church. On this day that we commemorate what one man began that led us here. Where so much, so much, good has come to pass because of that day where Luther nailed his 95 issues with the church of his day, but where I see and many others feel that there is still more work to be done with us, through us, and on us.

The images that I love for this Reformation Day is one that is very present on my stole – that image of fire. Fire can be pretty dangerous, incredibly dangerous, but fire and heat are also used to create some absolutely wonderful creations. Metal and glass can be molded and shaped if you get them to the right temperature. It is beautiful and mesmerizing to see those artisans at work as they shape and form the blobs of metal and glass before them.

Reformation Day for me, is a constant reminder that we are still being reformed, we are always in a constant state of reforming. It isn’t that God worked through Luther and the reformers of almost 500 years ago and said, “Well look at that, it is done. They’re good to go! They are set and will never need to be changed!”

No. Not at all. We are always being made new. Always. We are always in the process of being formed and shaped. Envisioning the kingdom of God and how we can be a part of that process and make that a reality and the reality for the world – the entire world.

When asked at the end of the Back to the Future trilogy – Jennifer asks Doc Brown that her future that she saw had been ‘erased.’ Doc says it hasn’t been written yet. Your future is whatever you make it to be!

As we think and commemorate and celebrate this day of Reformation in the church, I hold on to that quote from Doc Brown – your future is whatever you make it to be. Of course, the future we have has been written – it is written on our hearts – that law, that love, that presence of God has been poured into us through our baptisms. The love of God is present with us always. Guiding us, shaping us, and leading us towards that future.

So, on this Reformation Day, how do we envision the future to come? Where do we see the future coming to be in 30 years – 15 years – 5 years – tomorrow? Is that a future where we just look back and continue to remember what others did or is it a future where we are looking forward to see where God is continuing to lead us?

As we participate in that future with God as our guide, we remember our baptisms and the gift that has been given to us. We participate in the communion that has been given for us. That nourishment of body and blood that sends us out into the world filled with God’s presence.

Where we continue to be in worship – not because we have to, but because it is within worship that we are continually reminded of God’s love for us. Where we know that we hear those words through scripture, song, liturgy, and message that we are loved, forgiven, accepted, and sent. No matter what.

That future where we are being re-formed through prayer, through our giving, through our continued learning from scripture and one another. Our fellow sisters and brothers in this place, the ones not yet here, and those outside these walls that help to continually shape our community and vision of the kingdom of God.

We do all this. And then we do it again. And again. And again.

Why? Because we are a work in progress, we are constantly being re-formed into the image and community of God. God is continually there leading us, guiding us, and shaping us into that new creation. Where we do know God, the law and love are written on our hearts. Knowing that our sin is remembered no more.

One of my favorite theologians – who happens to be a martyred Catholic Archbishop is Oscar Romero from El Salvador. If you go into my office you can see a quote from him on my wall, and I wanted to share a little bit from that quote as I end this sermon…

Archbishop Romero writes…

This is what we are about: We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities

I love that. We are a part of something great and grand. The gift that we have been given by God, the seeds that Luther sowed, the foundations that the reformers and all those after laid, are still at work. We are still a part of that work, that process of re-formation.

God’s work isn’t done. God is still at work. Helping us make the future that has already been written. The future that has been written on our hearts, that future that has been poured into us through our baptism. The future that Jesus brought into the world through his death on the cross and his resurrection in the victory over sin and death.

That future that we play a role in – through our prayer, and our service, and our learning, and our giving. Where all that is strengthened and enriched through our baptisms, our worship, and our communion.

That’s Reformation Day. A day where we remember not a finished work, but a work in progress. A wonderful work where we head back to the future that God set before us and wrote upon our hearts. Amen!

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October 19, 2015, 12:00 AM

the one where we can be jerks...


Sermon Text: Mark 10: 35-45

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!

Anyone that has children, has had children, or works with children knows that they are some of the most optimistic beings on the face of the planet. Sometimes it is refreshing to hear their shouts of joy and glee in the face of adversity, other times it is downright frustrating. Especially if your child is saying, “Daddy – I think the Rangers are going to win. I know it!” Even though the score is 6-3 with 2 outs in the top of the 9th and the Blue Jays only need one more strike… Which of course, was the case for me this past week.

So, yes – children are incredibly optimistic. My daughters and I’m sure many of the children you see and interact with every day espouse about what they are able to do – which is pretty much anything and everything. Right? Can you run faster than a car! I can do it! Catch every ball thrown to you? Of course, I’m able to do that! Finish this sermon for me? Of course I’m able to do that! In fact, I’m told that this optimistic view on life really doesn’t stop for quite a few years. Kids always seem to know more than their parents and those in authority.

But, I think we as a people can be this way too. There are many times that we can and we are enthusiastic about the things that we are able to do. Even when the odds are long stacked against us, when the outcome is even potentially harmful to us or others, doesn’t matter we’re gonna get it done because we are able!

Sometimes we’re overly optimistic about what we can do because we don’t listen as intently as we should. We see the glory of what could happen or what we want to happen without realizing all the other ‘stuff’ that is needed to achieve that goal or outcome.

Sure, I know I have the ability to run a mile in under four minutes. I got relatively close when I was in high school. The only thing that got in the way was training, and food, and life. If not for those things – you bet I could’ve run under four minutes! Of course, I didn’t listen to my coaches when they said if you want to do this – then you’ll have to experience this and it’s not always going to be fun or easy or triumphant.

I think about all this when we come to this story in our gospel this morning with James and John – the sons of Zebedee. This conversation that they have with Jesus comes right – immediately – after Jesus has foretold of his own death and resurrection. Again, for the third time. Each time Jesus has told his disciples about what is to come, it is usually followed by the disciples not really getting it and jumping to conclusions. In fact, the last time Jesus foretold his death and resurrection, which was only a few chapters ago in Mark’s gospel, the disciples started arguing about who would be the greatest among them.

It’s like they haven’t been listening. It is almost like they are the Lloyd Christmases of the world (from Dumb and Dumber fame) who when heard that there was a 1 out of 100 chance he could end up with the girl, he exclaimed, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!” Overly optimistic. Not listening.

The disciples hear ‘glory,’ ‘rise again,’ ‘messiah.’ They don’t know what it all means, but they want to make sure that they are getting a piece of that action. So, James and John come to Jesus and ask probably the most presumptuous question in all of scripture – We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.

Wow. That takes guts. I don’t think I’ve ever asked that sort of question. To anyone in my life.

You’d think, as the reader, that Jesus’ response would be. “No. I’m not walking into that trap.” But, Jesus doesn’t do that here. His response throws us – it threw me – for a loop. He answers, “What do you want to ask of me?”

Their response is – we want to sit at your right and left hand when you come into your glory. When you reign over the earth as Lord and messiah – we want to be right there – at the front – in full view. We want people to know us and see us sitting next to you and with you at the table in those places and seats of honor. That’s what we want. Nothing more than that.

Jesus’ response – you keep using those words, but I don’t think it means what you think it means.                                 

Of course, when the others hear about this they are pretty upset too. Sure, we’d like to think they are upset because their friends had the gall to ask Jesus such a question – they should know better! But, in actuality, they are upset because James and John asked it first. They want the same thing. They too want that seat of glory. They’re just upset and jealous that they didn’t ask first.

Of course, Jesus lays it down that what they ask for isn’t necessarily what they might want. Reigning and being in glory in the Kingdom of God is not the same as it is in the ‘world.’ That attaining glory in this way doesn’t mean lording it over others. It doesn’t even mean that you’re looked up to by those around you.

Being in God’s glory doesn’t mean that spotlight is placed upon you. You’re not going to be going on The Tonight Show or touring the country receiving so much fame and fortune.

There will be those that want you to think that’s what living a life of glory is like and should be like. But, we know that’s not the case. That isn’t how God operates.

Jesus is even laying it on pretty heavy for the disciples. Acknowledging to them that what they are asking of – and what they eventually will get – is suffering comparable to Jesus. James will be one of the first martyred for his faith. John – scholars believe – dealt with suffering of his own even if it is believed that he lived into old age.

What Jesus is trying to get across to his disciples and get across to us – is that though we might ask of similar questions of Jesus, and when Jesus in turn asks us – “Is this what you want, are you able?” it might involve more than what we’d expect when we answer, “We are able.”

Drinking from the cup that Jesus drinks and being baptized in the same baptism that he is brings us into opportunities to suffer. Maybe not in death or in physical harm as it did for Jesus and his disciples, but it does bring us at odds with those around us. It brings us into to ‘conflict’ with the general consensus of the world. It might mean that it fractures relationships that we have with others because we view issues differently.

So, what might that look like? We begin confirmation this afternoon. Yet, the lives and schedules of our children are more filled than ever before. Sunday is no longer the day of ‘rest’ or worship that it was even when I was in middle school and high school 15-20 years ago. I know of stories where coaches or others in leadership roles in our children’s lives have said – if you’re not here, you won’t play. No excuse is going to be heard. It doesn’t matter where you are – if you’re not here, you won’t be out on the field. I know that happens, I’ve seen it happen.

I remember when I was in high school and I worked at Blockbuster and my boss was floored when I told him I couldn’t work on Sundays. Why? Because I had worship and youth. For me that was more important than telling people where to find such-and-such movie. I took a financial hit at a young age. I was eventually let go because I wasn’t ‘all-in’ to the business of Blockbuster. That is a small form of suffering.

In the midst of the tragedies that our world and country live through – the numerous shootings and acts of violence place people in precarious situations. There is the human reaction of wanting to exact revenge in some way. To ‘get ours’ in some fashion. To draft laws and rulings that give everyone a means to protect themselves.

Then there is the other thought – that goes against the majority – that says more isn’t necessarily better.  This is suffering too – especially since it goes against what many in our families – my family – would say.

We still haven’t even touched on what Jesus actually says in this gospel reading. That being lifted in glory requires us to serve those around us. Being in glory in the world has people look up to you, but in the kingdom of God, people will look down because you’re intentionally placing yourself lower so that others needs might be served. We come to serve – we live to serve – we have faith to serve.

This life of faith calls us to look out for others before we lookout for ourselves. That’s what Jesus asks of us when we optimistically cry out, “We are able!” Just as James and John cried out – yet they still ran when the time came to think of others before themselves.

That’s the tricky part. That’s the part that keeps us from fully living into what God calls of us. And that happens to everyone – even your pastor. We get scared, we get anxious. We get leery of serving others, putting ourselves ‘out there’ that goes against what the world calls for. Mostly because we don’t think anyone is out there serving us as well.

So, we cry out – we are able, yet become shy when the opportunity arises to be able in our faith; in our proclamation of God’s love and kingdom.

The wonder that we receive in this reading this morning – is that Jesus knows this. I’m fully confident that as Jesus hears James and John say, “We are able!” He knows that they’ll fall. Yet, he still has faith in them. Eventually they’ll ‘get it.’ As the rest of the disciples will as well.

Not because they’ll do it on their own, but because the Spirit will be present with them. They won’t be alone. They’ll be fed, they’ll be led. They won’t be alone.

God is with us as well. We will cry out today and many days in the future, “We are able!” When we are called upon by God. Yet we will fall short. We’ll run, we’ll stay quiet, we will remain seated. It’ll happen. It happens to all of us.

Yet, God doesn’t stop working on us. Jesus doesn’t leave us out to dry. The Spirit doesn’t abandon us. We work together. We work with one another.

We serve, and we are raised. We drink from the cup that Jesus drinks. We are baptized into his baptism. We are called and claimed by God. We continue to proclaim that we are able – and with Christ – we are. Amen.

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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.



Comments

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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