In pm's words
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November 20, 2017, 7:33 AM

the one about risk...

Sermon from November 19, 2017

Text: Matthew 25: 14-30

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ; will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

So, The Parable of Talents. At first glance, this text is a hard pill to swallow. No one likes to hear of weeping and gnashing of teeth. We hear a story that has to do with something regarding property or money, the talents the servants were given, and how each of them treats the lot that they were gifted.

To better understand this parable, we may need to know what a talent actually is. According to my research, a talent is equivalent to 6,000 denarii.  If we remember from some past lessons, we have learned that 1 denarii is equal to about a day’s wage for an average worker during this time in history. So, a talent equals 6,000 days’ wages. That is roughly TWENTY YEARS of days’ wages. One servant is given 5 talents, another 2, and the final servant is given 1. 

100, 40, and 20 year’s wages. All at once. Wow. That is a lot of money. 

An average worker today in the United States, according to the latest census data makes roughly $45,000 a year. So, in today’s dollars each servant is given roughly 4.5 million, 1.8 million, and 900,000 dollars. That is A LOT of money. It is even more impressive that after some time the first two servants DOUBLED the funds they were given. We of course know the ‘plight’ of the third servant. Out of fear this one buried the gift from the master and waited for the master’s return.

J. Ellsworth Kalas once told an old fable about a conversation between two farmers. The first farmer asks, “What are you going to plant this spring?  Corn?  The other replies, “Nope, scared of the corn borer.” So, the first farmer asks, “What about potatoes?” The other replies again, “Nope, too much danger of potato bugs.” “Well then,” the first farmer sighs, “what are you going to plant?”  The other answers, “Nothing, I’m going to play it safe.”

This is what the third servant suffered from. The third servant in our reading today suffered from fear, wanting to ‘play it safe.’ Fear of what he perceives to be a harsh and cruel master. So, instead of doing anything with the gift given to him; he buries it.

He hides it. He hordes it. 

What I find shocking in this logic of the servant is that he has described in his mind a master who is harsh, yet we see a master who is more than generous, he fears a master who is cruel, yet we read of a master who has given his servants incredible leniency on what to do with the substantial gift they are all given.

Something does not add up. The only thing I can conclude is that the servant was resistant to doing anything because he was paralyzed by the fear of not living up to the masters supposed standards; he was in fear of failure.

If we look through Christ colored glasses, this text can begin to take on a clearer shape. The man on the journey is Jesus, the servants are followers in the faith who are blessed over abundantly with gifts from Jesus.

All the gifts that we have received – the material gifts we possess, our own finances, our intellect, our physical abilities, our talents in areas of art and music, the ability to cultivate plants, and so much more. But, we also have been gifted an overabundance of life, love, service, grace, mercy, justice, forgiveness, and faith from God. We are also given the most incredible gift of all, we are gifted Christ.

We have been given so much from God that we are called to invest our love, service, grace, mercy, justice, and forgiveness. We come to realize that when we do live our lives in the ways in which our God has called us, that we will take risks. God risked everything in Jesus; we too are called to take risks as well.

Yet, taking risks can be scary. No one – not one person – can deny that. When we fear that risk we can become so bogged down in failing that we can become paralyzed and just bury those gifts given to us by God. 

If you’re anything like me, as you approach decisions regarding anything you seem to always ask yourself, “What if?” 

Have you noticed that the end of that question seems to always be negative?

What if I’m rejected? What if no one likes me? What if they look down on me? What if I fail?  What if... What if…

What if instead of listing negative things, our ‘what ifs’ focused on our faith and trust in God?

We as disciples are in this time of waiting. The ‘master’ has gone off and we do not know when that one will return. Much like those bridesmaids we read about last Sunday, we wait.

We wait for the second coming, we wait on Christ.

Within that time, we are called to use our gifts that God has blessed us with – those gifts of life, love, forgiveness. We are blessed with the gift of Christ himself. We do not bury these gifts. We are called, encouraged, and commanded to use those gifts to enact God’s justice in the world. We use those gifts to show God’s work through our hands in the world. We use these gifts to show God’s Word put into action.

As we do things, we will take risks. We could be subject to mocking. We could be rejected, could be yelled at. We could get hurt in a variety of ways. But, we also know that God is ever faithful. God will walk with us. God will be with us. God will continue to love us, to bless us, to hold onto us tightly because we are God’s own creation.

We might see those whom a group of people stereotypes as ‘misguided,’ ‘foolish,’ ‘sinful,’ or any number of terrible descriptions. What if we loved them as we love ourselves? The risk would be great wouldn’t it?

What if we shared the hurts and the pains that we live with? What if, we wore the scars of our lives uncovered and unashamed? What if, as we shared those hard truths – uncovered from the sterilized and ‘fake’ clean of social media posts – we proclaimed a God who is present with us in spite of those hurts? What if we proclaimed a God, who through such a great love, hunkers down into the trenches of life with us because of those pains? The risk would be great wouldn’t it?

We’re always fearful of the ‘negative’ answers to the question of ‘What if?’

What if we as the church, as Christians, talked openly about our faith? What if we invited everyone we met to come and worship this loving God? What if we reached out and helped that family who is a little dirtier than we’d like?  What if loved the sick despite their illness? What if we believed the stories of those hurt and walked with them through their healing? What if we stood firm against injustice and proclaimed God’s righteousness and love to all who could hear? The risk would be great wouldn’t it?

When we walk that path that God has set before us, we open ourselves up to risks. We risk rejection, we risk fear, we risk being hurt. But, we also risk being loved, we risk showing and receiving grace, we risk being changed, we risk living into those gifts that God has graciously handed to each of us.

What if we could change our thoughts and ways so that when we ask ourselves ‘what if’ we moved away from listing all those negatives and instead asked ourselves “What if we see God here? What if Christ is with us?  What if our faith and trust in God through Christ Jesus overshadowed or own fears and trepidations.”

What if, indeed. Amen.

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November 13, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about falling asleep...

Sermon from November 12, 2017

Text: Matthew 25:1-13

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, it is always at this time in the church year – as we quickly approach the season of Advent and the new church year, that we begin reading texts in worship that call for us to ‘be on the lookout’ of God coming near. Some years it is more overt than others, but nonetheless around this time of the year we hear about being ‘watchful.’

Whenever I read this text, I think of my girls when they promise to ‘stay awake’ to wait up for Erin and I as we come home from either a meeting or if we are together, from a date. Before going off to wherever it is that takes us from home, one of them will say, “You better come wish me good night, I’ll be up you know!”

Sure, you will kid.

I’ll be honest though, each night after we get back from wherever we are, I’ll go peak my head in their rooms just to check. And, you know what – they’re always asleep. Asleep in the middle of books, lights, and toys.

I think of those moments as I read in this parable about those 10 bridesmaids. Because, if you hadn’t noticed before – whether they are ‘foolish’ or ‘wise’ they all fall asleep. All of them. I think that’s something that we always read past and don’t process. We just assume that the wise ones stayed awake, and the foolish ones nodded off. Yet, that isn’t the case at all. They all succumb to slumber and they all are roused from their sleep by the call that the bridegroom is finally here.

Whenever we’ve read this text before, I think we’ve always interpreted it in such a way that we must be in ‘constant vigilance’ mode. Always at attention, always on the lookout, always wary about who’s going to walk in through the door.

But, I’m not sure that the text is calling exactly for that kind of vigilance. In fact, I want to shift a little bit in what this text brings to our attention.

This text – as I read it – isn’t so much about always being prepared (even though it does ask us to be prepared) but, that the bridegroom – our Christ – is going to come. Though, probably not within the timeframe that we’d expect. It’s gonna be awhile and that means you’re going to have to wait.

I don’t know about y’all, but waiting stinks.

This past week I waited every day for my car to arrive at my door. Even when I KNEW when it would get here, it was exciting, annoying, frustrating, and still brought up some anxiety. Would it get here on time, would it be what I expected, would I be happy with the delivery?

We don’t like to wait. Especially when we know when something is supposed to arrive. In the world we live in today, we can track things like never before. We can know – almost to the second – when something is supposed to be ready. When things go off schedule? Woe be to the one who feels our wrath.

My package was supposed to be here today! What happened!

I literally watched on your app as my pizza was being made – why isn’t it ready?

In our waiting, we become frustrated – especially in those petty and small moments like waiting for pizzas or packages. Yet, still… we wait for other things that are much bigger ordeals – moments where we don’t know when ‘it’ will come.

Waiting for a child to be born, for a friend to arrive, for food to be served. All those can be exciting moments as we wait. We still don’t like it, but we wait.

But, then there are those moments that we don’t look forward that we have to endure waiting – when is the surgery going to be done, how long are they going to deliberate on my job status, or even more anxiety inducing moments.

We wait. And it stinks. Especially when we think it’s taking too long.

I imagine many of you might be feeling that way as we see more reports given about violence somewhere in the world, especially after the news of last week with the shooting at a small church, in a small town in Texas.

How long O Lord are you going to take to return? What more do we have to go through for you to bring heaven on earth to us? What’s with the delay? We’re falling asleep over here!

Waiting. We still wait. We don’t know when the Lord will arrive.

I presume that when that time comes, someone will be bold to say – “You’re late Lord!” and I’m hopeful that Jesus’ response will be – in the kindest way possible, “I’m never late, I arrive precisely when I mean to.”

So, if we have to wait – what are we to do?

There’s something else that I noticed in this text that I overlooked many, many other times. Wise or foolish, these 10 bridesmaids are together in their waiting. They are with one another as they wait for the groom to arrive. They are with one another as they each fall asleep in their waiting.

They are a community together.

Perhaps that is the best thing to pull from this text as gospel. Perhaps, in our knowledge that we will wait. That we are watchful. That we don’t wait in hope alone. We do this together as the body of Christ as the community of believers.

I think about that as I go and visit and wait with folks as they are anticipating news of any kind. Good or bad, it helps that we wait together. It is never fun to wait alone, that brings so much more anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and more.

Sitting with others as we wait for news about a surgery. Being present with family as they await the news of a new baby born. Even having fun with folks as we still wait for the pizza to arrive.

We wait together. We wait together as we are watchful for when Christ will return.

As we wait together we continue to serve those around us, reaching out to those who come from afar and in ways that are different than what we expect.

We wait. Knowing full well that as we wait, we’re probably going to fall asleep together.

Yet, our God is still going to come, no matter what. And that is good news. Amen.

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November 5, 2017, 8:00 AM

the one about that blessing...

Sermon from November 5, 2017 - All Saints Sunday and the Rite of Baptism for Samuel James Holland

Text: Matthew 5:1-12

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and redeemer; amen!

So, at first glance… today might seem like we are smashing two divergent parts of faith into one service. Technically, you’d be correct. But, there’s more going on here this morning than you might have noticed.

As we began our worship service this morning, we did so honoring and remembering those who have died and whose funeral services were either held here at Redeemer or the church participated greatly in the service. Some of those names we called out you know very well, and some might be ones you have never heard. Regardless, we honor and remember those who have died. Coming up in our prayers, you’ll be given the opportunity to speak aloud the names of those people who have died in your life outside this community and we will toll the bell for them as well.

All Saints Sunday allows us that space to remember those who are no longer with us. It can be a very sad day – I’ve talked with a few and I have overheard a few conversations pertaining just to that. This day can be difficult. It is hard for us to remember those who are no longer present with us without that sadness. On this day, I think of friends and family members who have died that helped shaped me into the person and pastor I am today.

At times, it might seem odd that we as Lutherans – who don’t celebrate ‘saints’ the way that other sisters and brothers in the Christian faith do – would set aside this sort of day. The church sets aside All Saints Day to remember all the faithful who came before us. It is a chance for us to remember together, to grieve together for the recently departed, and to remember the lessons of their lives and faithfulness.

It is a day that we remember that we didn’t get here on our own. We have been shaped and molded; guided and prodded; pushed and pulled in our faith by others. Everyone has a story about someone who helped them in their faith along the way; a grandparent, a parent, a friend, a pastor, a child, a stranger – each of us has been shaped in our faith by others. It is what makes us a community. It is through that shaping and helping from others that we become strong in our faith in the ways in which we are challenged.

Challenged where our beliefs and thoughts might differ, but also challenged as we see others live into the life of faith in specific ways – as others have modeled for us.

This day, we remember, we mourn, we celebrate, we look to the future, we recognize our own responsibilities in this life of faith for others.

For together – as integral parts of the body of Christ – we remember that we are the gathered saints. Gathered with those who have come before us, gathered with those around us, and gathered with those yet to come. We are the gathered ones – along with all those gathered around the world - who come to worship in praise and thanksgiving of what God has done, is doing, and will do in the life of the world – in our lives.

So, this day, we remember those who have shaped us along this odd and wonderous path of faith. In that remembrance, we also see our place in the lives of others – as saints, as a part of the gathered multitude.

And it is in that space and knowledge that we turn to our other celebration today – for today Samuel James Holland is baptized. It is here where we recognize that God has called him as God’s own. It is this day that he is washed and welcomed into this community and family.

It is on this day that we surround not only Sam, but also his parents – Anne and Andy – with our prayers and support.

It is on this day that we together become examples and models of faith for him, just as those before us were examples and models of faith for each of us. It is also where we remember how we are continued examples of faith for one another. Striving and working together in this crazy little thing called the life of faith.

That’s powerful stuff right there. Each of us as a part in one another’s life as it comes to our faith. We are invested in one another. Invested in living together this life of faith.

On this day, we hear our Lord Jesus speak from the mountain about all those who are blessed. When we hear those blessings, it catches us off guard and then I think we interpret that blessing in ways that might not always be productive.

In my talks with colleagues and other pastors this week (not to mention in my visits to those in need) we talked about blessings. When we read this text, it sometimes feels as if we receive and respond to these blessings passively.

You that are hungry? You’re blessed, you’ll be fed. You that are mourning? You’re blessed, you’ll find comfort.

Where we recognize that if we just wait around long enough, our blessing will just turn into whatever it is that we need.

I think that’s kind of dangerous, and continues to turn our God into the Americanized religious vending machine genie. Where we just wait in hope that God will just magically wiggle a nose and nod a head and things will be made ‘perfect’ for us.

Sam, I’m going to tell you now – the temptation will be great throughout your life to believe that God works like that. For today, you indeed are set a part. God’s blessing is laid upon you and your future in faith is wide open and full of wonderful possibilities.

But, it won’t always be easy. Sometimes it will seem unfair. There will be days where that blessing might feel like salt in a wound. There will be times (probably more than once) where you’ll think or cry out, “Why?”

In those days, you and we will remember a few things.

First and foremost. On the day of your baptism, as your parents brought you to this font out of love, faith and hope. You were washed. Not washed so that you could finally be clean in God’s eyes; to finally be clean enough for God to love you. No. Not at all.

In these waters, you and we will remember that in our baptisms we are washed so that we might know what God already knows – that we are good. We are loved. We are welcomed. God has already declared us – declared you – good. In our baptism we get to know what God already knows.

Sometimes it’ll be hard to remember that. But, remember it nonetheless. You. Are. Good. God has declared it so.

Then, you’ll remember with us all those who came before. You’ll remember those saints in your life – those who are already present there and those who you have yet to encounter. You’ll be filled with faithful examples and models about hospitality, love, service, prayer, and more.

You’ll remember that you too are a part of this wonderful, crazy, and eclectic mixture of people.

You’ll hear stories of these models of faith, how they took particular pleasure in God’s beauty through art and song; wanting to share that beauty with others. You’ll hear stories of those saints who used humor and laughter to help spread God’s message of love. You’ll hear stories of how we take care of and nurture what God has given us so that we and others might be fed to live out this life of faith. You’ll hear stories of living out that radical hospitality, reaching out to and care for those whom others have cast aside.

You’ll hear the stories of the saints who helped shape us in faith and in turn help shape you as well.

You’ll remember that in these waters you are blessed. That on the day you were baptized we celebrated God’s presence. We celebrated the fullness and completeness of God’s presence. From the beginning of our life, to the washing and welcoming into the community, to the life and (at times) great ordeal that we live, in our death, and beyond; God is present with you.

That is our blessing. In that blessing – in that faith and hope that God is already here – in that faith that you have been called and saved through what God has already done in Christ our Lord – we get to be active in that faith and blessing.

We don’t just sit around. In the faith and knowledge that we are blessed, in the faith of what we have already received freely and graciously from God – we live into and actively participate in those promises that your parents and your community will make today. Those same promises that you too will sit with and join in on in the future.

Today we remember All the Saints of our life. Today we celebrate the baptism of Samuel James Holland.

Today, we remember that each of us is blessed by God.

Today, we remember that in that blessing, God is indeed present with us.

Knowing that God is indeed present with us, we get to participate and live out those blessings and this life of faith for others. Amen.

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November 1, 2017, 8:00 AM

Novmber 2017 Newsletter

Grace and peace to each of you this day!

October was busy, and it doesn’t look like November will bring any sort of relief.

It is always at this time that I look at my schedule and want to crawl right back into bed. This time of year can be overwhelming with expectations, activities, meetings, and surprises. At times it can seem to be too much.

It got me thinking that we – as a people – are overworked, stretched thin, and pulled in so many different directions. Our world works in such a way that everything seems to be important and must be attended to at this very moment.

Notifications pop up on our phones about a myriad of news, tweets, and game updates. Everything seems so important. We have to react, we have to have a response. I don’t know about y’all, but it is exhausting always being in a ‘heightened’ state of awareness.

So, I’ve done a few things to help lessen that pull.

Turn off notifications on your phone. Do it, it’s OK. Set a time later in the day to catch up on the news. It’s OK.

Once you do that, you’ll notice that you have a bit more free time (and perhaps a lot more energy) to devote to other things.

I would like you to take that new-found time and to sit in silence. We are pulled in so many directions and are lives are so hectic that we never get to sit. To be calm. To perhaps even talk to God in prayer and thoughts.

As you sit in that new stillness, I invite you into prayer, to think about the good things in your life and give thanks for them. Pray for those who are hurting. Ask God to open your heart and your life to those who are different from you. Dive into the Holy Spirit’s guidance for the day to see God at work.

I know it might be scary to turn off those notifications. Especially the news and social media updates. But, I promise you – those things can wait.

Take those freed moments to be in prayer. Read a little scripture. Give thanks to God.

Know deep down that God has claimed you, you are fearfully and wonderfully made, you are good already in God’s eyes. Amen.




October 29, 2017, 8:00 AM

the about the Reformation...

Service from October 29, 2017

On October 29th we gathered with over 300 other individuals at Wiles Chapel on the campus of Newberry College to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. 500 years since Martin Luther stood firm in his beliefs against the corruption in the church during his day. Unbeknownst to him, it would cause a ripple within the church that extends to today.

I didn't preach that day. Instead my friend and colleague - Rev. Earl Schafer - preached for this service. You can watch the entirety of the service below. Enjoy!

https://www.facebook.com/newberrycollege/videos/10155871020993588/

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October 22, 2017, 8:00 AM

the one about the trap...

Sermon from October 22, 2017

Text: Matthew 22:15-22

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, it is at this point in Jesus’ continued conversation with the religious elite (the same conversation we’ve been reading in for over a month now) that I think of one of my favorite scenes in one of my very favorite movies – Star Wars’ Return of the Jedi. Right at the moment that the climactic battle is to take place, the admiral of the Rebel Alliance comes to the great realization, “IT’S A TRAP!”

If there is one thing I learned from the Pharisees, religious elders, Herodians, and all those who were set to lay a trap against Jesus – it’s this: the quickest way to end a conversation you don’t want to be in is to talk about money.

Of course, the ‘trap’ they hope to spring is ingenious and simple. Should we pay taxes? If he says yes, he’ll lose the support of the crowds that love him so much – and they’ll possibly respond violently to that – they are an oppressed people after all. If he says no, then the Roman powers-that-be will have reason to silence him by any means necessary. He can’t get out.

Jesus, it’s a trap! Abort, abort, abort!

But, as usual, our Lord takes it another direction and cuts to the heart of the issue – the one that those asking didn’t even know that was there.

Let me back up for a minute. All the way back to Genesis, the stories of our creation and our beginnings as the people of faith. We read that God has vowed to create humanity in the likeness of God. Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make humankind in our image – in our likeness.”

Each of us – you and I – have been created in God’s likeness. Every person we come across – every single one – has been created in God’s likeness. From the person you cannot stand to be apart from to the person who drives you mad with all his blunders. Each one, each person, has been created in God’s likeness.

And there’s some things that come with that.

First and foremost, we have been created. We are God’s very own. We have been fashioned from the earth and have had the breath of life fill our very selves. The same one who fashioned the intricacies of the galaxies is the very same one who knows the hairs upon our head. And I don’t believe God knows this stuff to ‘hold it over’ us (don’t cross me, I know who you are!), but instead knows us to remind us every day – through all the ways – about who and whose we are – God’s.

Fear not, I know who you are.

We are created, and we are created in God’s image. That calls us to be stewards of what God has created and to be good towards those who have been created in the image of God.

A theologian I respect greatly put it this way, ‘We were made in the image and likeness of God, and because we bear God’s likeness we are to act like God.”

Now, this doesn’t mean we behave as if we are gods. We don’t go around demanding that people bow to us, serve us, and shower us with adulation, devotion, and loyalty. As followers, created beings, and bearers of God’s image we are not called to that in life and perhaps we should be wary of those who do seek and need that sort of attention.

But, as that same theologian writes, we are to act like God – the one who creates, sustains, redeems, and saves. We are called to stand with God as partners in this life caring for all of creation – all of it – as if it were our own.

In many ways, the ones who come to Jesus with their trap – especially the Pharisees in the group – have forgotten whose and who they are. Instead of being covered in God’s image – and remembering that they are indeed created in God’s likeness – they have cozied up to the powers that be. They’ve covered themselves in masks that hide their true created nature. They’ve been pulled away from the very good news of their life. They’ve been lured away from the promise and hope of what it means to be made in the image of God.

I think this is something that we still suffer from today. We have forgotten in whose image we have been created. We have forgotten the goodness that we have already been declared to be. The goodness that is shown to us in our baptism where we remember again what God already thinks – we’re good. The goodness we are reminded each time we come to this table to receive this meal. We receive it because we are God’s and God has invited us to the table.

We are sent out into the world to proclaim this truth. This truth that we don’t need to cover ourselves up with all these other icons and images. We don’t have to dress ourselves up so that we might look ‘good’ to others. We don’t have to seek the approval of others in order to define our self-worth.

We already have that worth because we have been created in God’s own image.

We remember that. We live that life. We live out that life as we are called to act like the God we see in Christ our Lord. The one who gathers, cares for, speaks with, and dives into the messiness and craziness of relationship with all he meets.

And that’s where the difficulty lies. For if we are created in God’s image – because God has created us, we must remember that God has created the other before us as well. They too have been created in God’s own image. We are called to care for them – just as they are called to care for me, for us – because we are called to care for God’s creation as good stewards.

That can be hard, really hard.

But, we stay in these conversations and relationships. Guiding, showing, and encouraging others to see not only their worth in God’s eyes and mind, but sharing the equal worth of others in God’s eyes as well.

We get to live into this life and act like God. To act like the God we see in Jesus Christ our Lord. To act like the ones who create, nurture, care for, walk with, hold on to, bring to health, listen to sorrows, rejoice in joy, sit in silence with, speak boldly towards, and probably most importantly to love – no matter what – the person before us in our lives.

You are created in the image of God. We are created in God’s likeness.

We – as creations of God – we these beings created in God’s likeness – we probably should start acting like it. It would so benefit ourselves. It would be so good for those around us. Amen.

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October 16, 2017, 7:22 AM

the one about the wedding robe and that guy...

Sermon from October 15, 2017

Text: Matthew 22: 1-14

 

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, there’s a wedding. Invitations are sent out. Those crème-de-la-crème that are invited decide that they’re too good and they don’t even attempt to come. The feast is spread. The party is here. Come on over! Let’s celebrate good times!

The answer from those invited is a resounding and disheartening no.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in a lot of weddings. It is a ‘perk’ of being a pastor to be involved in such gatherings and celebrations. I know how much stress goes into planning a wedding. I cannot imagine the amount of stress, anger, and sadness that would transpire if no one that was invited showed up.

And remember – this isn’t people who ‘forgot’ about the wedding. These aren’t even people who are too busy to attend. These are people who simply don’t want to come. They refused the invitation.

Can you imagine that hurt, that sadness? Can we understand that anger at being made so small and dismissed? You’ve invited people to celebrate in this joy. You want to share this joy with those you love and know. Yet, no one – not one person – feels it’s important enough to attend.

We hear that part of the parable, we recognize that sadness and anger, and then we see the king in this parable do a surprising thing.

He sends out his servants to gather anyone and everyone to come to the party. He invites – specifically – the good AND the bad. Invites them to the party. Fill this place up with people.

Throughout this parable – I love that image.

I keep thinking of the supposed upcoming wedding for Prince Harry in England. Instead of seeing diamonds, designer labels, and the finest attire one can only dream about…

We see fanny packs and sandals. We see tattoos and track marks. We see sashes and trash bags. We see tube tops and trucker hats. We see it all. Mostly filled with the people we wouldn’t expect at that wedding.

I don’t know about y’all, but that’s kind of a cool sight. Seeing those whom you never expected to be feasting on the best food, drinking the best wine, and having the grandest of times. Those who never thought they’d be invited, and not only are they sought out to attend, they are lavished as honored guests; they’re the ones on the dance floor. That’s a cool image.

The kingdom of God is full of those whom you wouldn’t expect, couldn’t expect. God has sought them out, brought them in, provided them with the best feast of food, drink, and fun.

Everything so far is OK in our understanding of this parable. We are right there walking along with Jesus as we are enjoying this little parable. We have lots of good and warm fuzzy feelings.

Yet, then we are introduced to that guy. That guy who is not dressed the part, that guy who doesn’t have the right attire. That guy – is thrown out.

Where did that come from? It doesn’t make sense. How can someone be thrown out when everyone is invited?

I remember once after college when I was in one of my first weddings. Everyone looked so nice and dressed so well. It was definitely one of the fanciest weddings I’d been a part of. I was honored to be in the wedding party. And yet, I remember that there was this other guy – he was part of the wedding party too – I distinctly remember him because he was dressed in jeans.

Now, I don’t have a problem with jeans – I really don’t. But, in that situation it just didn’t seem right. Especially for the couple. They were mad. Really mad about it. Because it was apparently done with intention; to draw focus; to be a topic of conversation.

I even vaguely remember hearing one of them say, “I even offered him some pants – and he refused.” They were livid.

He wasn’t thrown out where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth, but from the looks of my friends’ eyes – they really wanted to put him out there.

The biggest source of anger wasn’t so much that he didn’t wear the ‘right’ clothes, but made the couple feel that he didn’t consider their occasion ‘worthy enough’ to be set a part. To be different enough to fully celebrate with everyone. Where he even refused their gift.

I struggle – deeply – with this part of the parable in our Gospel today. It hurts. Anyone and everyone is invited – the good and the bad. People are invited from the (potentially) wildest of places to be here. And yet, this guy doesn’t belong?

Again, I struggle with this text.

Yet, as I thought, as I read, as I talked with friends, colleagues, and others I began to see – maybe – where Jesus is coming from. Perhaps where Jesus is pointing towards.

Yes, anyone and everyone is invited. Both those who just didn’t make that initial cut and those who weren’t even a thought on the list. All are invited at seemingly the last minute. Did they really have the right attire – the wedding robe – on hand?

I presume that they didn’t. When this parable begins the feast is ready and on the table. I think it is reasonable to assume that all these new guests didn’t have a wedding robe in waiting. But, the king’s got that stuff. I like to think that the robes were provided to all who attended. I think that’s reasonable, too. When you invite someone to partake in something at the last minute, don’t you usually help them out with what to wear, how to dress, what they need?

Hey, my plans with some others fell through to go camping this weekend – you wanna come? I know this is last minute, but don’t worry, I have everything you’ll need. Everything. I promise.

Hey, I know this is last minute, but do you want to come to this shindig I’m hosting? It’s kind of fancy and to help you out I’ve got some stuff for you to where. You’re doing me a favor by being here – and I want you here – so I’m going to help you out. Don’t worry. You’ll fit right in.

We do that sort of stuff, don’t we?

I like to think that the king was aware of that as well. He invited people at the last minute – literally the feast is prepared, and he doesn’t want it to go to waste. So, he invites all the people to come and to show them even further honor in attending; to help them see that they definitely belong there, to make it further known to them how he sees them as honored guests, he decks them out with a wedding robe.

I think that fits in our lives of faith as well.

In this kingdom of God that is here and now – we are invited. We weren’t the first on the list, if there was a list that some were on, it might’ve been the ‘do not invite’ list. Yet, in this celebration we are called, invited, and gathered here. We are welcomed to this great table, and what do we put on?

We put on God’s grace. We cover ourselves in Christ. We have been given robes of faith in our baptism.

Where God has invited us in and washed us clean – not so that we look presentable – I don’t think of it that way at all. Instead, I see baptism as God letting us see ourselves as God has always seen us; clean, pure, perfect. God’s own.

We have been washed so that we might know how God already views us.

We’ve put on that robe, we have been clothed in our faith in Christ. This gift that was given to us freely, we put it on and gather at the table.

Imagine the pain and hurt of the host when an invited person comes in (remember, they were all invited good and bad) and then refuses the gift at the door?

We have been given and lavished with wonderful gifts of life. We are invited into the kingdom through grace. We are washed so that we might know how worthy and good God views us. We are welcomed to the table to feast on the bread of life, the cup of salvation – the body and blood of our Lord. Filled to bursting because of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

We are sent out to invite others to be a part of this immense and glorious feast.

As Paul writes in Philippians – rejoice because you are here. Rejoice now and forever because you have been – we all have been – all of the world has been – invited to be here. Wash and know how God sees you as good and worthy. Come to this feast because you have been welcomed here. Be filled and go out in that thankfulness to the world. Serve. Love. Be generous.

Rejoice. You’re here in God’s grace. Your covered in God’s love. Your faith has made you well. God’s given that to you – always. Forever. Free. Rejoice. Share it with everyone else, because you know what? God’s invited them too. Amen.

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October 9, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about the wicked tenants...

Sermon from October 8, 2017

Text: Matthew 21:33-46

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, how do you define crazy? Something that seems utterly impossible?  Something so extravagant that it can't be real? How about the age-old definition – Crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

There are so many 'crazy' things that go on in our world today and in our lives. For those of you who are sports fans how maddening is it when the coach of your favorite football team continually runs the same play on 3rd and long in hopes that maybe this time it'll work and go for a big gain.  A number of years ago, I remember an old coach at Newberry who would always run the same play in the same situations every game. Everyone knew that on 3rd and long, Newberry would run a delayed hand off to the running back in hopes that this time the running back will go for a long run and convert the 3rd down play. It never did. Crazy.

Or how about the crazy family who continually support and attempt to help one individual despite that one's glaring addiction to alcohol and/or drugs? Or the crazy teacher who reaches out to the student who refuses to learn and continually berates the teacher, yet she never loses her cool and never gives up? Or even the group who continually speak up and out against those who oppress others, who destroy lives for the sake of gain, who discriminate others who are not 'like them'? They rise up despite the fact that they can be silenced by any sort of means. Or that their actions are continually ridiculed, misinterpreted, and threatened against.

Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

Today, in our Gospel text we learn a lot about crazy. Crazy in how this landowner continually sends servants to the tenants of his vineyard and expects them to give them what he seeks – the fruit that is due him. The tenants beat, stone, and kill the servants of the landowner. And when the landowner learns that not one, but BOTH of his servant delegations have been treated so harshly he does an absolutely crazy thing. He sends his son because surely, they will respect him.

Of course, they do not respect him, and they instead throw him out of the vineyard and kill him in hopes that they will receive the inheritance of the landowner.

As I read this parable, I was continually reminded of a quote from Martin Luther, “that one should squeeze a scripture text so that it leaks the gospel.”  Sisters and brothers, this text takes some squeezing.

This is crazy folks. This is ridiculous. How can the vineyard owner be so naïve, so ignorant, so off base in his actions? Why not send an army to thwart these rebellious and wicked tenants and be done with them once and for all? There must be something the vineyard owner wants in addition to this fruit... it’s just grapes. Why is he so relentless?

How crazy is it that the tenants continually beat, stone, and murder those that the landlord sends, including his son, and expect to 'get away' with it? This landlord is obviously not as 'absentee' as they'd hoped for. He has continued to send servants and his son. What is to keep him from sending even more servants or even an army after them to shut down their operation and forcefully take what is rightfully his? Even more so, they kill the son of the landlord with hopes that the owner will hand over the son’s inheritance to them. What?!

Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

Jesus then asks the chief priests and elders, “What will he do to those tenants?” They rightfully answer that the landowner will do away with those 'wretches' as he should. That is no way for them to act.

Of course, the chief priests and elders quickly realize that they have just condemned themselves. For Jesus calls them out for being those wicked tenants whom the vineyard owner, God, continually sought to obtain the fruits from. 

These are some very harsh words from our Lord. This is a harsh parable. It has been used in an assortment of terrible ways throughout the history of the church. One of those ways has been to support anti-Semitic views. Though, we must remember to whom this parable is directed, not at the nation of Israel nor at the Jewish people as a whole, but it is directed at the religious leaders of Israel. Those who Jesus compared to the wicked tenants. The religious ‘right’ who withheld from God what was rightfully God's – the fruits of the vineyard – the people and works of those who follow and love the Lord. Jesus was a Jew and it would be the wrong 'crazy' had he been condemning the entire Jewish people which he is a part of. 

Of course, as we have learned in the last few weeks. Just as we can see ourselves, the church, as those new tenants who the vineyard is handed over to; we then must also be aware that we too can be those wicked tenants.

Today, we too thwart God from taking from us what is rightfully God's. Ourselves, our time, our possessions. We too are stewards of the vineyard.  We do not own creation, only the creator, God our Lord, owns creation. God has graciously given land, possessions, talents, and gifts over to us so that we can take care of it, cultivate them, and give them back when we are called to do so. 

What is amazingly crazy is that God, despite our best efforts to thwart God’s callings, hasn't come back and dealt with us, the 'wretches' as the wicked tenants are called, in the way that fits our actions. No, what God has done is sent us God’s son and given him up to die on a cross for us.

It's absolutely crazy.

Who would do such a thing? No one... except maybe a crazy landlord so intent to be in relationship with these tenants that he will do anything, risk anything, to reach out to them.

This landowner acts more like a desperate parent, willing to do or say or try anything to reach out to a wayward child than he does a businessman. It's crazy, the kind of crazy that comes from being in love.

Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

We learn of two crazies today. One good and one, not so good. The not-so-good is the crazy of the tenants who attempt to get something for nothing.  Their attempt to hold onto what is not theirs in hopes that it'll just 'end up theirs' anyway.

We do this with our time and talents. We attempt to have our cake and eat it too. We do this with the works of God, through our hands we are called to those who are in need around us, desperate to hear the Word and see the love of God at work. But, we shirk our baptismal promises in hopes that 'someone else' will cover it. Or that it really isn't my business to meddle. Or I'm just not good enough, or I don't have the right words to express my faith to those around me. In one way or another we fall from our promises.

We continually lift up how much the Lord means to us, and how thankful we are, yet never express it by living out our lives with Jesus as our center, with Jesus as our cornerstone.

We see the one who is standoffish, the gruff individual and instead of reaching out we quietly ridicule, judge, and dismiss them.

We literally see people speaking out, asking and calling our attention to their lives because they are hurting in such a deep way that, so many cannot comprehend. Do we listen? No, we demonize them because of the means in which they use to get that attention.

We continue to do all of that, and expect everything to magically change for the better.

Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

Of course, there is good crazy in this story too. The crazy love of God, who continually reaches out to us. Who continually seeks us and calls us to work in the vineyard. Trying any way that God can to unharden our own hearts so that our love of God and thankfulness can only burst forth from our hearts because it cannot be contained. This God who desperately wants to be in relationship with us despite our fallings, failings, and sins. This God who has washed are lives clean through our baptisms. This God who is crazy enough to love us that our God boldly walked to the cross and suffered death for the entire world.

Our God is crazy. Our God is crazy good and is crazy in love with us. 

Our God isn't crazy like the coach who continually runs the same plays over and over again, God isn’t crazy like those who continually steal and horde and pollute in hopes that they'll 'get away with it.' Our God is crazy in how God reaches out to the lowly, lifting us up, holding us in arms of Love despite how unworthy we truly are.

As we read this parable, let us notice not what will the landowner do. But let us notice what did that landowner do. And to that question we have Jesus' own answer: the landowner sent his son, Jesus, to treat with all of us who have hoarded God's blessings for ourselves and not given back what was due. And when we killed him, God raised him from the dead, and sent him back to us yet one more time, still bearing the message of God's desperate, crazy love.

Our God is crazy. And thank God that crazy is love.

 




October 3, 2017, 7:20 AM

the one about God's inclusivity...

Sermon from October 1, 2017

Text: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 and Matthew 21: 23-32

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, as I read these passages for this 17th Sunday of Pentecost, I really focused in on the Old Testament and the Gospel, because though all the texts interweave with one another our first reading and gospel text really connect well. And, the way I see it, they connect because they speak about freedom and hope.

Seems kind of weird right, since they appear to have a lot more to do with authority. Who has it and from whom one is able to do the things that they are able to do. The Pharisees – the thorn in Jesus’ side as he is the thorn in theirs – want to know by whose authority he is capable of doing and saying the things that he’s doing.

Keep in mind, this text comes immediately after Jesus cleanses the temple and curses a fig tree. Let’s just say that the Pharisees are probably not all that happy with Jesus at the moment. They want to know why and from whom he can say and do this sort of stuff.

Of course, Jesus parries their question with his own and then turns the tables on them. He tells a short parable about two sons who are asked to work in the field. The first says ‘no’ and then changes his mind, the second says ‘yes’ and doesn’t follow through.

Through this, Jesus seems to be less concerned about their initial question of authority and more concerned about what his authority frees people to be.

Now, today we aren’t that removed in our outlook on people’s lives than from how people thought back then.

Even today, we still look at what a parent has done (or perhaps an older sibling) and think – big things are in store for you! Or even (and probably more common) ‘I’m going to have to keep my eye on you because I know who you’re kin to.’

We do that a lot, don’t we? Especially when it comes to sports or business. This woman’s dad was so astute in the business world – we’re going to have to watch her and listen, I’m sure the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. This guy’s brother was an excellent athlete, I’m sure he’ll be pretty good too.

But, more often than not we hear things like, ‘Your dad was a drunk, and fooled around. I don’t expect much from you either.’ ‘Your sister was a cutup in class, I’m going to keep you on a short leash. Don’t test me.’

We view someone’s family and assume – one way or another – what that person will be like.

They did that a lot in the time that we are reading into as well. Though, they went even deeper. Your grandfather’s father sinned in such a big way that you’re still paying for it now. Your family name is one not to be trifled with or interacted with.

Your dad was a tax collector, so you are. Your mom was a prostitute, you will be too. Even if you try to get out from under that burden, too bad. We know – and God knows – who you are.

That’s pressure, isn’t it? To live in such a way that you can’t escape what your parents did. Conversely, your children wouldn’t be able to distance themselves from what you will do.

That’s bondage. Those are chains shackled to our hands and feet to prevent us from being equal, loved, forgiven, accepted.

Yet, God speaks through Ezekiel as the Word of God happens to him – it’s an experience – and he states God’s intention. Sin doesn’t transfer through blood. Your very being and life is freed from what your parents have done, and your children are freed from what you will do. God loves all. God loves you.

Freedom. True freedom in God’s kingdom.

Jesus builds this up even more in our gospel reading. Here Jesus talks about tax collectors and prostitutes. Those who are ‘beyond the pale’ in society. Those who use others and use themselves in ways that are hurtful, deceptive, and sinful.

Those people who society has cast out, God has called to the table.

These past few weeks we have been seeing God’s radical love being shown against the common culture.

First it was forgiveness. God has forgiven us, we are called to live into forgiveness with those around. Where because of what God has done, our lives are fundamentally changed. We live our life as ones who notice what God has done.

Next, it was generosity. Are we envious because God is generous? If you didn’t figure it out last week, the answer to that question is yes, yes, we are. God shows merciful to all the people of God. Constantly calling all and welcoming them into the kingdom. God is inviting us into that life of mercy so that we don’t take the easy road in being slow to love and abounding in steadfast anger.

This Sunday, we see Jesus pointing out God’s radical inclusivity. All that forgiveness and generosity. All that mercy and love. All of it is not just directed at you, those who have been here from the beginning or those who feel destined to be loved by God because of who they were born to or where they’ve always lived.

No, God’s love and inclusivity is given to even those cast out. Those on the fringes. Those who have experienced God and have changed their mind. What they did, have done, or perhaps will do does not prevent them from God’s love. It never has.

I can only imagine what the Pharisees thought when they heard Jesus speak those words. Perhaps they thought they were being ‘persecuted’ because another and lower voice in their society was being listened to. When in actuality they were just being treated with the same love that they expected for themselves.

God gives people hope and freedom. Jesus shows us how far that freedom and hope extends. It extends far beyond our own perceptions and beliefs. Extending to those we wouldn’t expect. Even extending to us. That can be scary, it can seem unfair, it can even make us ask the question ‘why even me?’

These past few weeks have been building up that word of hope and that act of freedom through God’s forgiveness, generosity, and inclusion. No longer are just the ‘usual types,’ the ‘expected ones’ loved by God. Even the downtrodden and outcast are loved, welcomed. In fact, they’re going to be first.

Here is what I believe to be true, as it is shown in God’s theme throughout scripture. If God is to err (if that’s even possible) God errs on the side of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. God abounds in all of that.

That is hope. There is hope for all. No one is excluded from God’s love. No one.

We hear that we are loved and forgiven. We repent and turn towards God because of that generosity. We are included – all of us – in the kingdom of God. Amen.

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October 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

October 2017 Newsletter

This is a special October as it is the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. It amazes me that it has been 500 years since Martin Luther lifted up what he thought could and should be changed and re-formed in the church that he loved. Luther brought up a needed conversation. He saw where the church was straying from the gospel and took action to shine the light on it.

When he did that a lot of people didn’t like it. They even sought to kill him. He wasn’t being a good ‘church person.’ Sticking his nose where it didn’t belong, biting off more than he could chew. Putting himself, his vocation, his family in harm’s way. Using his public platform in a way that others thought to be disrespectful.

He still persisted. He stood his ground. He knew he was doing God’s work in shining the Gospel truth for the world to see.

As much as I love the history and story around Luther and the other Reformers, I still find this time rather difficult as a pastor. We give a lot of attention to Luther and his life. Patting ourselves on the back about what ‘good Christians’ we are, wearing red, and having fun. None of that is bad, but when it is coupled with not living into the sort of reforms that Luther advocated within the church it doesn’t help our cause.

The best way to show our love of the Reformation and the work that Luther famously began is to live our lives as followers of Christ knowing that we are constantly being re-formed in God’s love. Where that continual re-formation leads us to love and serve not only God, but every person we meet. Where we remember of this great free gift that we have been given by God; the knowledge that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love.

Our response to that gift? To live our lives for God and for others in love, thankfulness, and service.

So, yes – we’ve got a lot of stuff planned in our community to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. I’m excited about all of it. There will be so much opportunity for fellowship, fun, music, and worship.

In fact – here is all that is being done.

Thursday, October 26 @ 6pm – Half-Full Coffee and Wine Bar – Beer & Hymns

Friday and Saturday, October 27 and 28 @ 2pm and 7pm – Newberry Opera House – Showing of the new movie “Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World.”

Saturday, October 28 @ 4:30pm – Newberry Opera House – Lecture on Luther Woodcuts and the Art of the Reformation.

Sunday, October 29 @ 10:30am – Wiles Chapel at Newberry College – Community Reformation Service

Sunday, October 29 @ 2:00pm – Newberry College – Organ and Choir Recital, “Music of the Reformation and More.”

 

This is all GOOD stuff. However, as we celebrate this time, let us focus more on where we need to be continually re-formed to live into the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims. Where we need to be re-formed to invite others into this gifted life of faith. Where we need to be re-formed as a church to be the church for the world. Amen!


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