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A Place at the Table (Oct 21, 2018)

Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to [Jesus]and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Well, whatever’s going on in this text can’t be good. “OK, Jesus, we want you to do whatever we ask.” Promise that first and then we’ll tell you what we want. Deal?

What could possibly go wrong here?

Can you just see Jesus rolling his eyes? Can you hear the deep sigh as he fortifies his patience?

“What is it you want me to do for you?” he asks.

James and John pull him a little further away from the others. Then they lean in close and whisper, “We want to be on either side of you when you become king. We want to ride your coattails into power. We want to sit in the best seats in positions glory. C’mon, Jesus, you know we’re your favorite apostles.”

With a sad look in his eyes, Jesus slowly shakes his head and says “You still don’t get it. Getting more power over others and benefitting yourself is the opposite of how God’s reign works. The ‘way’ of the cross is the way of serving others, giving up power so those without it have equal places at the table.” And then watch when we get to Jerusalem. Watch as I’m arrested, spit at, beaten, mocked, and put on a cross. I’ll show you what this cup is that you want to drink. I’ll show you what this baptism is that you’re so excited about. It’s the opposite of what you think—the opposite of what you want. So be careful. You may just get what you’re asking for. What is greatness?

So I’m wondering before hearing this text, if asked who’s the greatest person you know–would your answer be different than if you were asked now? Isn’t our first, immediate thought someone who is powerful, famous, influential–more along the lines of what James and John are looking for? But then Jesus’ definition sinks in a bit, and we have to rethink it. So go ahead and rethink it. By Jesus’ definition, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all,” who is the greatest person you know? . . .

Let me tell you about a great person I met in Jackson, MS this summer. I’d just spend a couple of days in Mississippi, and was finding this state to be both hopeful and frustrating. There were definite signs, not only of the deep and cruel racism that were glaring parts of its history, but also signs of genuine striving for inclusivity and equality. Yet there seemed to be a tiredness, an acceptance by blacks of their lesser places at the table and a refusal by whites to actually acknowledge their seats of privilege. I was confused because MS has the largest percentage of black citizens of any state in the country, and I couldn’t understand why there was such a repressive imbalance of power.

So, on my last night in Jackson, MS, I met a great person. She was a black woman about 25-30 years old and was serving tables at the restaurant of the hotel where I was staying. She was competent, attentive, funny, personable, and was on her way to earning a pretty good tip. We were getting along fine.

On a whim, since it was my last night in MS, I called her over and wondered if she’d answer a question for me. “Sure, if I can,” she said.

I explained to her how I was feeling about this state of Mississippi, and wondered if she had any insights (this was a “listening tour” sabbatical, remember?). “With such a high percentage of black citizens,” I pursued, “why does there seem to be this oppressive undertone? Am I misreading something?”

“No,” she replied. And then she said some things I found incredibly courageous—and that revealed her greatness. “I find it confusing too. I’m not from MS originally—I’ve only lived here for a couple of years. But, yes, for some reason I can’t figure out the power here is still held by whites.”

Then she said what I consider to be the most courageous—and the greatest—thing of all. “For instance, in this hotel, all the service employees are black, and all the managers are white.”

Even though she didn’t know anything about me, who I was, or why I was asking, she spoke up on behalf of blacks who may well be stuck in service jobs relying on tips or minimum wage to pay rent. For all she knew I could’ve been a friend of management coming to check up on how well the service employees were doing their jobs. There were many scenarios where someone like me could have had her fired.

But from her position of relatively little power, she spoke a truth that revealed her greatness. The blindness to power and privilege on the part of management was laid bare by this waitress. A place at the table for all.

The white management of that hotel seeks to sit, one at the right hand and one at the left of glory, clinging to seats of power and refusing to acknowledge any injustice. In the words of Jesus, they lord their power over others and are tyrants over them. And a black table server, drinking the cup that Jesus drinks, the cup of what could have been a huge personal sacrifice, took a risk of becoming last of all by speaking up for service employees who need a place at the table. That’s the greatness Jesus talks about. That’s the greatness James and John don’t understand. That’s the greatness of Jesus himself, and this is the greatness that reveals the nature of God.

It’s the greatness of Jesus that has opened the kingdom of heaven. It is the greatness of Jesus that includes even us. And it’s this greatness of Jesus we are now called to reveal, and then to emulate. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Who opens up places at the table? Who extends the table to include more? Who gives up cushy seats of honor and privilege so that others can share? That person may be the greatest person you know.

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Posted by on October 21, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Connected Beyond Me (Oct 14, 2018)

Mark 10:17-31

As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

This text seems pretty straight-forward. In order to have treasure in heaven, you have to sell everything you own and give all that money to the poor. Then, after you’ve done that, follow Jesus. You have to do that because if you have wealth, it’s impossible to enter the kingdom of God.

Jesus can’t really mean give everything away, can he?

What if he does? What if that’s what it took to be a disciple of Christ? What if Jesus meant this as a requirement to enter the kingdom of God? How would we deal with that?

I’m just going to leave you with that to wrestle with. If you believe this text is a command to give everything you own to the poor, why aren’t you doing it? And if you don’t believe that, why not?

Take that home and wrestle with it, and if that’s all that happens today, it’s a very successful day!

But I want to bring something else into this discussion also. I wonder if Jesus is telling this rich young man that the “one thing” he lacks isn’t the giving away of his possessions. I wonder if what he lacks is an awareness of other people around him. Hear me out on this.

Jesus doesn’t just tell him to get rid of his wealth and his possessions. He specifically tells him to give them to the poor. I wonder if it’s not his wealth that’s the problem, but the insulation his wealth allows him to live in.

Think about that. Our world has certain attitudes about wealth that we all buy in to, to some degree. The danger of wealth is that it lures us into believing we are totally self-sufficient. It gives us a false belief that we don’t need anyone else. The temptation of wealth is that it provides a power that turns us away from others and in on ourselves.

If you’re rich enough, you can afford to live a life separated from people who are different. You can live in a gated community that keeps “those others” out. You don’t have to go places where you encounter anyone who makes you uncomfortable.

Jesus calls out this rich young man to save him from falling prey to the narcissism of wealth that blinds him to others. He exposes this wealthy man’s self-centeredness because it blocks his ability to love others outside of his own small circles. In commanding him to sell everything and give the money to the poor, Jesus is demanding that this young man look beyond his own self and turn towards others—others that he wouldn’t have to encounter if he remained protected by his money.

So Jesus pushes this man away from the insulating protection of his money out towards awareness of the people around him.

That’s what we all want. With or without money, we want that insulated self-reliance. Everyone wants to live without having to rely on anyone else. But the inherent danger of self-reliance is the same one Jesus warns the young man about: self-reliance separates us from real awareness of others.

What matters to Jesus, it seems to me, is that we become aware of others—take them seriously, listen to them, and make their gifts and their needs part of our lives too.

Which is why it’s so painful to hear complaints about worship style. When we are so isolated that we live as if our own personal needs are the only ones that matter, we miss out on the opportunity to support someone else at LCM who experiences worship differently. When we complain about worship, we lack one thing, Jesus says. We lack an awareness of the spiritual needs of the person who might be sitting next to us right now.

An awareness of others. It’s not just money. It’s not just worship style. It’s whatever it is that insulates us from the people around us. It’s whatever it is that make us think someone else’s needs don’t matter. It’s whatever it is that causes us to believe that the other person has nothing to offer us. We lack one thing, Jesus says. An awareness that our own lives aren’t the only ones that matter.

We have an opportunity to step outside of that which insulates us from others and into a deeper awareness of others. Today we turn in our Estimate of Giving cards. We tend to think of these as the church asking us for money—and, well, it is. But it’s so much more than that. Today we can get help with this one thing we lack. This is a tangible way of saying that our own lives aren’t the only ones that matter in God’s kingdom. We are concretely taking the needs of others into account and standing up with them. We do make a financial commitment, but in so doing we are stating clearly that other people matter too because we’re giving money away for the sake of the people around us. We are taking a step to overcome this one thing we lack. And this year we’re offering, all at the same time, several opportunities to commit to others beyond ourselves. Participation in worship isn’t just about what we get out of it, it’s about supporting one another in community with Christ—recognizing that others need you and you need others. Spiritual growth through scripture and prayer, both personally and communally, push us beyond ourselves into a deeper awareness of what God is doing.

Jesus looks at us today, loves us and says, “You lack one thing; go, step outside of yo

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2018 in Sermon

 

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The Church Has Some Serious Work to Do (October 7, 2018)

Mark 8:34-38

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Let me share with you one of the more surprising things I experienced during my sabbatical. I discovered a hesitancy to tell people what I do for a living. I found myself being just a little bit embarrassed about it.

When I began to hear people’s perspective of the church, what they assume, what they believe, what their personal experiences have been, I found myself not wanting to be associated with the church institution they were describing. Both from people outside of the church and people inside the church.

For instance, Frank in Birmingham, AL, was the grandson of a pastor who served there in the 1960s. I loved the church, he told me. We helped people. We made a difference. I remember the marches, I remember the acts of violence against us. What we did then mattered. We changed people’s lives. But since then, he has found it to be too judgmental for him. People within his own congregation shunned him when he lost his job and eventually his home. He lives in a park and says the church doesn’t matter to him. He’s not bitter or angry about it. He just accepts that as the way things are. Why would he expect anything different from the church? It was as if he was talking about General Motors or Universal Studios or something. Helping him, a homeless black man, isn’t what they’re about.

Or the couple we met during a cooking class in Florence, Italy who were devout and proud members of their church. And the husband who, without even being aware of it, was speaking offensively about race and women. In the same sentences with his church membership. And the rest of the people in the cooking class kind of backed away and tried to change the subject. And so they looked at me and asked, “What do you do, Rob?”

Over and over, time and again, whenever church came up, which, honestly wasn’t that often, I noticed a couple things about it. 1) normally church didn’t much matter—both to members and non-members. It was not a big deal for them. Or, 2) to a few, it mattered greatly. And that was always (hear me!), always in a way that was opposed to my understanding of the gospel. Church was about power (making other people conform to my perspective), about justification (they are less than me unless they do conform). Church was about how they, as church members, could improve their own circumstances. In the language of this gospel text, how they could save their own lives. Church was a way to serve themselves. Every. Single. Time.

There was a universal acceptance of a disconnect between the church and the poor, the vulnerable, the weak, the powerless, the abused, the oppressed, the hopeless. There was no thought that the church exists for the very people Jesus lifts up, holds, comforts, heals, forgives, and hangs out with. The very people Jesus equipped his disciples to go to, to serve, and give themselves away for. In the language of this gospel text, to lose their life for. It was embarrassing that this is the view of the church.

But I needed to hear it. It crystallized some things I’ve been struggling with for a while now. What I was hearing from people about the church was almost completely opposite of the things I was hearing from God about the church. And I’ve got an idea as to how we can move more fully into God’s view of the church. You’ll be hearing more in the days and weeks to come.

The church has some serious work to do, and we need serious disciples to do it. “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

The church has some serious work to do, and we need serious disciples to do it. In my estimation, we simply don’t have time to waste. This congregation exists so that each of us can give ourselves away for the benefit of those around us.

Each of us who bears the name of Christ has already been equipped in the waters of that baptismal font to be Christ for the world. To exhibit forgiveness, to live compassion, to serve the poor, to stand with those whose power is taken away, to speak up for those whose voices go unheard. And to speak and live this gospel truth in the very midst of our culture and especially to those with power.

And this is not easy. And this isn’t automatic. And this will require serious discipleship and serious sacrifice. “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

The church has some serious work to do, and we need serious disciples to do it. That means we don’t have time to squabble among ourselves over things that don’t matter to the gospel of Christ in the world. We don’t have time to use our own personal preferences to draw a line in the sand. We don’t have time to detour from Christ’s work in our neighborhood to deal with threats because someone isn’t getting their way.

The church has some serious work to do, and we need serious disciples to do it. I hope you’re with me. I hope you too are willing to give up some things in your own life in order to gain life following Jesus. As we increase our service to those Christ calls us to serve, not only do we find real life, but we find real life for this church. The presence of this church can mean something that matters. Something worth giving our time, our money, our very selves away for. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” The church has some serious work to do, and we need serious disciples to do it. It’s worth everything. Let’s get to it.

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Sabbatical

Pastor Rob Moss is on sabbatical from July 1 — October 6, 2018.

Please return then when new sermons will be posted.

In the meantime, I invite you to peruse the sermons already posted on this site. Comment, question, “like,” and subscribe. Feel free to share anything posted here. But mostly, pray that we all may be part of revealing God’s love, compassion, and grace in this world.

Until October!

Peace to you,

Pastor Rob

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2018 in Sermon

 

Get in the boat with Jesus. Things are different as you travel to the other side.

Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

After teaching and healing and angering the religious and political authorities, Jesus now wants to take his disciples into a boat across the Sea of Galilee “to the other side.”

He may have just meant the other side of the lake, but for his disciples it ended up meaning a lot more than that.

For them, getting into the boat with Jesus meant going, not just to the other side of the lake into Gentile territory, but also to the other side of their fear, the other side of their faith, the other side of their comfort, the other side of what they know about Jesus.

Get in the boat with Jesus and things will be different on “the other side.”

Many of you know I grew up in a single-parent household. My dad left when I was young, so I grew up with my mom and three sisters. We did fine when all was said and done, but I held a lot of anger and resentment toward my father for many years. I blamed him for any difficulties or inadequacies in my life. As long as I held onto that resentment, I could simply blame him.

Then for one reason or another, Jesus invited me again into the boat and go somewhere in this part of my life. This time to go across to the other side of my long-held resentment. The sea was pretty rough, let me tell you. And in the course of that journey, like the disciples, I was convinced Jesus had abandoned me—or was at least asleep while my life was going through this chaotic transition. It was confusing and frightening, because there were no precedents or known paths. This was me in the boat with sleeping Jesus trying to weather the storm of changing resentment.

Travelling to the other side of my anger at my dad brought me through storms I hadn’t experienced before. Because rather than blaming him and bemoaning all the things that were wrong in my life, on the other side of resentment I owned the responsibility of changing my life. Part of that meant letting go of some things and forgiving some things. Even though it seemed as if Jesus was asleep in the boat, he was there the whole time, during every minute of every storm.

Get in the boat with Jesus and things will be different on “the other side.”

I’ve watched, sometimes even encouraged people to get into the boat with Jesus. I’ve listened to their stories of the storms they encountered. For some it was the loss of someone they love. For others it was telling their family that they’re gay. I’ve watched as people admitted major life mistakes or standing up to a bully for the first time. Or leaving the church. Or ending a marriage. Or facing their addiction.

But two things were always true every time: Jesus was always in the boat with them; and, things were always different on the other side.

I start a sabbatical a 14-week one week from today. We’re calling it “The Listening Tour,” and I’m hoping—among other things—that I can hear Jesus’ invitation to get into the boat with him. I’ll spend some time in Europe, literally on the other side of the sea. We’ll see what I hear and how things will be different on the other side.

I’ll also spend some time travelling across the deep south of the United States. I’ve never been there and wonder what storms I might encounter there. But I know I’ll hear thing differently having listened to the voices of people who live on the other side of this country—geographically, culturally, racially, and politically. I’m excited about what I’ll be hearing on the other side of this experience.

Jesus keeps inviting us to get into the boat with him. Day by day. That’s what it is to be a disciple. And when we do, we’ll likely hit some significant storms along the way. Because that’s what happens on the way to the other side. And that is frightening. Much of what we know gets challenged. Much of what we thought was reliable gets shaken up on the journey. The way we’ve always known Jesus can change, because he doesn’t avoid the storms at all. He heads right into them. The things that we’ve found comforting and comfortable get blown away in the wind. Things are definitely different on the other side.

If you get into the boat with Jesus, what storms are you likely to encounter? What black and white issue about which you’re certain might become gray? What fears do you have that might get faced? What aspects of your faith might be shown to be immature? What resentments are you hanging on to that might give way to forgiveness?

Get in the boat with Jesus and things will be different on “the other side.”

In the boat with Jesus, we can’t sit by while almost 2000 children are still separated from their parents with no plan of reuniting them. Because Jesus takes us to the other side of policy to compassion. And there will be storms as we go. Things you can do as disciples in the face of this immoral disaster are at the Welcome Center. Please stop by and pick up that sheet!

In the boat with Jesus, we can’t be complacent in our privilege (for those of us who are white, especially white males). Because Jesus takes us to the other side of the violence and evil of racism and into the need for full community. And there will be storms as we go.

In the boat with Jesus, there’s no room to stand in judgment of someone’s sexual identity and orientation. Because Jesus takes us to the other side of self-righteousness into the joy of inclusivity. And there will be storms as we go.

It can be terrifying to get into the boat with Jesus. Because we afraid of what might be coming. And the storms are big. And the other side is unknown.

But we know two things: Jesus is with us in the boat every minute of every storm. And Jesus is the one taking us to the other side.

Get in the boat with Jesus and things will be different on “the other side.”

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2018 in Sermon

 

Religion for Division or for Unity? (June 3, 2018)

Mark 2:23—3:6

One sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

A number of years ago I was visiting my mom and went to church with her. She belonged to a different branch of Christianity and the doctrines around communion were rather strict. Knowing this, I had planned to not participate until the pastor, who knew what I do for a living, looked me square in the eye during the sermon and said, “Holy Communion is for the entire body of Christ.” I figured he was telling me it was OK to come to communion.

So I did.

Apparently, I had misunderstood what he was saying in the sermon. Because when I got to the front, he simply stood there. No bread, no blessing, he just stood still, quietly looking at the floor.

I felt I needed to add to the awkwardness of the moment too, so I chose to stand there and wait also.

There were two lines coming forward for communion, and the other line kept moving. My line was now stopped and the pastor and I shared this moment together. Finally, he said to me, “Uhmm, we don’t normally do this.” So I continued on my way, making my way past the wine chalice back around to the pew where my mom had long since returned. She was aghast. I was simply embarrassed.

After the service, the pastor was waiting for me. He had run into his office and retrieved the documentation that prohibited him from giving me communion. He showed me the section—he even underlined it—that said I, by virtue of being of a different Christian tradition, wasn’t to be included.

The pastor correctly followed his tradition’s doctrine. But his use of that doctrine itself wasn’t good discipleship. It segregated people and ranked them. There became insiders and outsiders. It was religion at its worst.

Religion can be the worst thing we do or it can be the best. It can be used for separation, judgment, and division or it can be used for compassion, forgiveness, and unity. Division happens when our religions become an end unto themselves. When we are led by ideologies and doctrines instead of the Spirit of God.

Unity happens when our religions point us toward the Divine. When we

are opened to the loving nature and character of God that come to us and make us new.

We can look to our religious preferences and doctrines to justify ourselves, or we can use our religious traditions and practices as ways to open us to the presence of God.

Both happen in this text in Mark today. There seems to be a disagreement between Jesus and the Pharisees and Herodians about keeping Sabbath laws. And it’s quite a disagreement! Except the thing is the Pharisees and Herodians (who rarely agreed with each other) didn’t really disagree with Jesus’ interpretation of Sabbath law here. All three would agree that compassion takes precedence over Sabbath. That was long understood and accepted.

What’s at stake here isn’t the doctrine itself, but the role of their religion. The Pharisees and Herodians are using the Sabbath laws to determine who’s in and who’s out, who’s righteous and who’s unrighteous. And, surprise, surprise, using their argument they come out better than everyone else. The Jewish doctrine around Sabbath became for them an end unto itself. It took on a life of its own. The Pharisees and Herodians correctly followed their tradition’s doctrine. But their use of that doctrine itself wasn’t good discipleship. It segregated people and ranked them. There became insiders and outsiders. It was religion at its worst.

Jesus, on the other hand, understood Sabbath laws as means to emphasize God’s compassion. Sabbath is about restoring, about giving life. More than just “not working,” but all people being refreshed and restored.

Of course you restore a man on the Sabbath! Now not only is his hand fixed, but he can go back to work and take care of his family. His dignity and his position within the community are restored. For Jesus, the Sabbath is about restoring life for everyone, not righteousness for yourself. For Jesus, the Sabbath is for everyone. It is a chance for all things to be restored and renewed. The doctrine of Sabbath points to God’s desire to restore everyone, God’s desire for life for everyone. Sabbath law is a way to make sure all can be renewed. For Jesus it cannot be a way to rank or divide or exclude. For Jesus, Sabbath law was religion at its best.

Hearing that your religion doesn’t make you more righteous than anyone else can be hard to listen to. Hearing that the dividing line that separates us from them, good from bad, orthodox from heretical is not what religion is about can make a person angry. That’s what got the Pharisees and Herodians plotting against Jesus. Religion at its worst destroys life.

But hearing through your religion that even at your worst times, even at your lowest, even at your weakest and most vulnerable places, you matter to God as much as the best, highest, and strongest can be liberating—exhilarating! Inclusivity and unconditional love are the nature—the essence—of God. Religion that opens us up to this nature of God gives life. That is religion at its best.

Christianity, even Lutheranism, isn’t an end unto itself. There are devout Lutherans who use their religion to judge, to divide, and to proclaim their own righteousness. But there are others, some who aren’t even Lutheran(!), who recognize their faith as a way to be open to God’s unconditional love and grace, and who then show that same compassion to all that God loves. We Lutherans have a helpful way of looking at that. But whether Lutheran or not, that is religion at its best.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Forgiveness Has a Purpose (May 27, 2018)

Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Isaiah was a professional prophet. He was a temple employee in Jerusalem as one who speaks for God in service to the king. His ministry was during the 8th century BC at a time when Judah was actually doing well. King Uzziah had built new wells for the fields and watchtowers to be alert to invaders. The army was strong and things had finally turned around after a series of pretty bad kings. So Isaiah’s life wasn’t too bad.

Before this text, however, King Uzziah had made a mistake. His pride had gotten the better of him, apparently, and he decided he didn’t need the temple priests—even though their role was specifically designated by God. So, against God’s law, he went into the temple and was about to make an offering on his own. He was confronted by the priests and, as the story goes, was stricken with leprosy for this grievous infraction.

He had to live apart from everyone else and couldn’t rule that way. So he had to hand over the kingdom of Judah to his son Jotham.

Anyway, after suffering with leprosy for about 11 years, king Uzziah died. And Isaiah’s life was turned upside down. Not because Uzziah died—it actually had nothing to do with that—but because God, out of the blue, called Isaiah to a very specific prophetic ministry. A ministry he neither asked for nor wanted.

He had this bizarre vision of the greatness of God: the majesty, the awesomeness, the sovereignty of God were so vast that just the edge of God’s robe filled the entirety of the temple. Creatures were swirling around shouting about the holiness of God. And in the presence of the majesty of God’s glory, Isaiah suddenly realized how lowly and pathetic he, and all of Judah, really were.

But Isaiah’s sad condition didn’t stop God. One of the heavenly creatures took a hot coal from the altar and touched Isaiah’s mouth with it. Then this creature shouted, Now you’re forgiven. All’s good.

At that point Isaiah heard God ask, I’ve got a message for my people. Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?

Newly forgiven Isaiah rises up, Here am I; send me.

That’s where the text ends. Which is really unfortunate. Because we don’t get to hear what Isaiah was sent to do. Let me tell you, it wasn’t great. His call by God was very specific, very clear. He was called by God to tell the people that God says they’re never going to get it, they’ll never understand. No matter how hard they try, they will never see what God is about, never hear it, never know it. That was his God-appointed message. Can you imagine being the one sent to tell people that?

It’s at that point that Isaiah realizes this new prophet gig isn’t what he thought it would be, and says, Uhmm, so how long do I have to do this?

A couple of things to note that are relevant for us. 1) Forgiveness is about removing barriers. Isaiah was forgiven (with the live coal) not to get into heaven when he died, but forgiveness was actually removing barriers between Isaiah and God so that he could be with God to say these hard things in God’s name. And, 2) A call from God is always specific to the context. Isaiah was called by God to do this because it is what God needed at that time and in that place.

In the same tone as Isaiah, we are forgiven and called. Both individually and congregationally. We are forgiven and called.

Re: Forgiveness: It’s important that we grow beyond the preschool notion that Jesus died on the cross so I can be forgiven and go to heaven when I die. Forgiveness has a purpose in God’s work in the world. Forgiveness removes the barriers between us and God so that we are no longer separated from God but are with God in God’s mission in the world of love, compassion, mercy, and grace. Forgiveness is not an end in itself. Forgiveness allows us to join God in loving the world.

Re: Being Called: Our call to join God is probably more specific than we assume. It’s one thing to say, “Love the world in Jesus’s name.” But it’s another thing to say, “God calls me to show love in the world that looks like this particular thing.”

God is active in this time and in this place. And God’s love for the world meets the world as it is now. Our call is to show God’s love in this part of the world. What gifts, what passions do you have that allow you to show love? That’s probably God’s call to you!

Let me give you a personal example. I grew up in Ogden, UT as the only non-Mormon family in the neighborhood, so I was already on the outside looking in. I was the smart, nerdy, insecure kid who wasn’t good at sports and played the clarinet in the band. I got beat up more days than I didn’t. Got the picture? I was never the “popular” kid.

But as painful as parts of that were, I have a heart—a passion—for those people who get left out, pushed away, not included. Part of my “Isaiah-type” call from God is to welcome the unwelcomed, include the excluded. Which is why you hear me preach so often about racism, sexism, LGBTQ, poverty. In our context today, these are among the people who have historically been excluded from privilege and power. God has called me to speak of God’s call to love these.

And God keeps removing the barriers that are in the way of me doing this. More and more. Day after day. Sometimes the same barriers have to keep being removed. Sometimes I discover God is removing a new one. But that removal of barriers is forgiveness, so that I can follow God’s call.

Isaiah wasn’t called to change the world. Isaiah was called to follow God’s call in a specific time and in a specific place.

Pause in silence for a minute. . . . Think about the world in which you live. Your context. . . . Where is there a lack of compassion that bothers you? . . . Where are you aware of hatred or violence or exclusion being shown? . . . God sees it too.

This is why you are forgiven. This is why barriers between you and God have been removed. You are forgiven.  And God now asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Who can show my love and grace and compassion in that situation?

Newly forgiven and called people of God, now we rise up and say, “Here we are; send us.”

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2018 in Sermon

 

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