RSS

Neighbor, ICE, Helplessness, Compassion (July 14, 2019)

GEO.Detention.AuroraLuke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

I was prompted by this text to remember an incident that happened my first year of college. Back then I was lighter, more agile, and more energetic. Being late for a class I was running out of a building to head across campus. I had to get from the third floor to the ground floor, and knew I could take the stairs down much faster than waiting for an elevator. The stairway had a landing halfway between each floor, so I just jumped from the top down to the landing, then jumped from the landing to the next level. On the landing between the first and second floors, I was off balance and rolled my ankle with some real force. The pain was so intense that I couldn’t move. As I laid there on the landing, curled up in the fetal position moaning helplessly, a couple of students came up the stairs from the first floor. They looked at me, made eye contact, and then kept walking. I felt angry, abandoned, and absolutely helpless. I was the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.

I wished someone had taken the time to at least check to see if I was ok. I needed someone who could be a neighbor to me.

This lawyer comes to Jesus with a question. What has to happen for me to inherit eternal life? Jesus responds by asking him what he has learned from scripture. The lawyer quotes Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. “Love God and love your neighbor.”

Yes! Says Jesus. You’ve got it. That’s all there is to life. Do that and you have nothing to worry about.

Instead of taking “yes” for an answer, the lawyer just can’t leave it alone. “But . . .” says the lawyer, “which ones are my neighbors? Which ones do I need to love; and which ones do I not have to love?”

Jesus responds with this oh-so-familiar parable. The neighbor, Jesus says, the one we are to love, is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone. Jew or even Samaritan. Friend or enemy. Someone you know or someone you’ve never met.

But . . . you could say the injured man in the parable should never have been on that road from Jerusalem to Jericho in the first place. It’s a wilderness road, a haven for robbers. And Jesus says, the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone.

But . . . he should know better than to travel alone. He’s asking for trouble. And Jesus says, the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone.

But . . . his situation is really his own fault. He should never have put himself in that position. And Jesus says, the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone.

As I’m curled in the fetal position, paralyzed by pain in the corner of the stairwell, you could say, “But . . . your reasons for being late and therefore in such a hurry weren’t good ones.” You could say, “But . . . jumping down 10-12 steps at a time wasn’t a wise choice.” You could say, “But . . . the fact that you were writhing in pain on a landing in the stairwell of a state university was your own fault.” You could say that, and you would be right. But at that moment, none of that mattered—certainly not to me. I was in agonizing pain, helpless, and ignored.

Jesus says, the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone. Jew or Samaritan. Friend or enemy. Someone you know or someone you’ve never met.

Christ is revealed in those “neighbor” moments when someone comes alongside anyone who is in pain or helpless. Jesus says the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone. Jew or Samaritan. Friend or enemy. Someone you know or someone you’ve never met.

Even a 64-year-old man for whom medical staff failed to seek emergency care. He died as a result.

Even a 71-year-old man with Parkinson’s disease and chronic kidney disease who receives a different number of pills without explanation. The man also has dementia and is unable to determine whether he is receiving the correct dosage.

Even a transgender woman, who faces repeated sexual harassment, hasn’t been given the hormone medication since January that she had been taking for eight years. She is depressed and feels hopeless.

Even a 42-year-old woman who hasn’t been receiving cortisone shots she used to receive for arm and knee injuries.

Each of these people, because they are helpless and in pain, qualify according to Jesus as needing a neighbor. Someone who will come alongside of them in care and compassion; someone who will reveal Christ to them. Someone who is a neighbor to them.

Each one of these are real people who are in the ICE Detention Center right here in Aurora, CO.[1]

And if any of us have a reaction that includes, “But . . . aren’t some of them here illegally? But . . . didn’t they know this would happen? But . . . this is really their own fault” Jesus answers us, the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone. Jew or Samaritan. Friend or enemy. Someone you know or someone you’ve never met.

Christ is revealed in those “neighbor” moments when someone comes alongside anyone who is in pain or helpless. Anyone. Christ invites us to be neighbors. And Christ assures us he will always be our neighbor.

[1] https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/adolfoflores/colorado-ice-detention-aurora-medical-care-migrants

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 12, 2019 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

“‘You Should Start Spreading Peace Around the Neighborhood,’ She Encouraged” (July 7, 2019)

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ . . .
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” 17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Jesus has gathered these 70 followers, equipped them in his teaching and healing, and now is sending them into the neighborhoods where he himself has plans.

That’s still what Jesus is doing: gathering, equipping, and sending. It happens every Sunday. He gathers us together in God’s presence, he equips us by meeting us in word and sacrament, and then he sends us out into the neighborhood where Jesus himself has plans. Us. Each of us. All of us. We talk a lot as Lutherans about being a word and sacrament church, but we are just as much a gathered and sent church. Those four parts make up the entirety of our Sunday worship experience: we’re gathered, we’re equipped through word and sacrament, and then we are sent. Every week. Every time.

Now, we tend to think of being part of this “gather, word, sacrament, sent” church community as an extra thing we add into our real, regular lives. Sometimes it’s a struggle to create time for church apart from all the necessary things we’re already committed to. But Jesus seems to be saying it’s the other way around. What we generally think of as our “real life” is actually just the places where he is sending us as his followers.

Have you thought about it that way? Your job is where Jesus sends you as his follower. School, soccer, community involvement are the places you are sent by Jesus.

And in this text there are just a few things he is sending us to do there: Bring peace, cure the sick, and let them know that the kingdom of God is right there. That close. Those things: peace, care, a glimpse of God’s love and compassion.

The thing is, again according to Jesus, we’re already fully equipped to do these things. We don’t have to bring purse, bag, sandals. All the stuff where we think we’re inadequate. We are enough. Just as we are. We don’t have to bring vast biblical knowledge, impeccable theology, debating skills, or even the perception that we have everything in our lives all put together. No. Right now, Jesus has already equipped us with peace, care, and with God’s own love and compassion. Bring that. Do that. That’s why we’re gathered here. That’s why we’re equipped in the presence of Christ, so we can be sent. It’s like this.

Peace.Walk_Rochester.NYMay 30, 2019 08:21 AM ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — After violence forced kids to stay inside and off the playground, the children decided to fight back with messages of peace. . . .

“We’ll be walking, holding signs up we’re making now, saying we want peace,” explained 8-year-old De’Shawn Isidore.

It’s a simple message: keep kids safe, let them play. 

After a string of shootings in 2013 kept the kids indoors and unable to play safely in their own neighborhood, the Peace Walk was formed. 

The walk will take place Thursday, May 30 at 4:30 p.m. along Lyell Avenue, a neighborhood that has one of the highest rates of crime in the City of Rochester. . . .

Addison Washington, 10, hopes everyone in the city pays attention.

“You should start spreading peace around the neighborhood,” she encouraged.

Kaylee Vo, 11, agreed, saying, “no more violence, no more kids getting hurt, no more kids dying.”

Their little voices want to make a big difference.[1]

That’s what being sent by Jesus looks like. They felt sent to bring peace to their neighborhood. They showed their neighbors a glimpse of the love of God, it was so close the neighborhood could almost taste it that day.

What would that look like in our neighborhood?

Congregationally, one way we do it in this neighborhood is with the free use of our building by our neighbors. Over 400 people utilized this building just in June (which begins a summer slump!). Literally tons of food, clothing, school and household items to TheActionCenter. We’ve begun a ministry of accompaniment with GMES Refugee and Asylee families.

We do things that make a difference. But what would it look like if together, the entirety of this congregation poured our whole hearts into bringing peace, care, and a glimpse of God’s love and compassion in some specific way to Green Mountain? Those children in Rochester changed a neighborhood in one fell swoop. How would the neighborhood around this property be different if we took seriously that we as LCM are sent here?

For example, here’s an idea: The Samaritan Ministry has encouraged us to read Helen Thorpe’s book, “The Newcomers,” about the challenges faced by young refugees adjusting to life in the US. We also have a ministry that provides support to refugee families at GMES. So we have a beginning. But have we considered the possibility that we are sent by Jesus to bring peace, care, and God’s love/compassion to every refugee household around us? What if we took that on for a year? Partnering with LIRS and with IRC and making sure every refugee household in Green Mountain (or beyond?) is held by us in authentic peace, love, and compassion.

How could each of us be part of this being sent to local refugees? That whole relationship thing from Jesus about being sent to their homes and eating what they eat takes on new meaning!

We have been gathered, we are being equipped, and at the end of this service we’ll be sent—by Jesus—to bring peace, care, and a glimpse of God’s love and compassion into the neighborhood. Are you ready?

[1] https://www.whec.com/news/peace-walk-local-kids-march-for-peace-right-to-play-in-safe-neighborhood/5371452/

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 5, 2019 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Fire from Heaven, Threats, and Exclusion (June 30, 2019)

Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

About a year ago I got off Facebook. Initially, I stopped because I was beginning a sabbatical, but soon realized I needed to stay off because I was getting too churned up and angry about some of the absolutely evil things people would post. In the name of Jesus, no less.

Over and over, I became enraged at people I knew who were defending the most horrific, despicable, cruel actions and attitudes toward other human beings; toward Muslims and people of color, particularly immigrants; who would justify tearing frightened babies from their mothers’ arms, locking them in cages with no beds or soap; who would use the Bible to explain taking jewelry and medicine away from these people who were fleeing from more horrors and violence than I ever will be able to imagine. I had to express my righteous anger. I needed to defend Christ-like compassion in the name of Jesus. More than that, I felt it necessary to put those pseudo-Christians in their place, to demean them, to rage about how wrong, narrow-minded, evil they were. I wanted to blast them off social media. Or worse.

“When his disciples James and John saw [that the Samaritans had rejected Jesus], they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’” Yes! That! Do that!

Oh, I get it. James and John were just defending Jesus against people who are openly rejecting him. They even have scripture to back them up (some copiers inserted “like Elijah did” after requesting fire from heaven). The honor of Jesus is at stake here. The truth of his message is on the line.

But Jesus turned and rebuked them for defending him. This is not the attitude of those who follow me, he says. Then they went on to another village to do it all over again.

Jesus has to call out the violent and vengeful tendencies among his disciples. Even if their reasons are good. Even if they are confronting evil. Even if they are defending Jesus himself. These threats of violence and attitudes of hatred have no place with him. It will stop—at least among his followers. That includes me.

It’s becoming easier and easier for us to demonize anyone on “the other side” of any issue. It’s becoming more and more normal to draw a dividing line between “us” and “them,” and to hate, threaten, and dehumanize “them,” whoever “they” are. We better check our own Facebook and Twitter feeds because Jesus has something to say about that.

That same attitude is often exhibited with much less drama than “fire from heaven.” When we take the opportunity to respond to anyone we disagree with, we tend to abuse it. We are all too willing to inflict emotional harm, we easily degrade people, we ignore those whose voices aren’t as strong as ours, we put down those who might challenge our way of thinking, we talk about them behind their backs, we create alliances against them. Who is it we’ve been bad-mouthing lately? Because Jesus will have none of it.

Because here’s the thing. Whether his disciples are angrily defending him or the Samaritans are openly rejecting him, Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem. He is determined to get there, knowing he will die there. His love for his disciples who seek vengeance, his love for the Samaritans who flatly reject him, his love compels him to go to Jerusalem and the cross. Love determines his actions, nothing else.

And nothing can dissuade him. Not rejection, not threats of violence, not hateful attitudes. He will act in love no matter what. No matter who. No matter what’s in the way.

That’s where the second part of this text comes in. Jesus invites us to follow him in exhibiting this kind of love, to follow him even if it means going to Jerusalem. We too often respond, I will follow, but first I need to bury my father. I will follow, but I just need to say goodbye to my family and friends. And yet, he will go to the cross for us even when we put our own priorities ahead of following him. He will go to Jerusalem for us even when we’re so busy doing good things that we neglect to follow him in love.

It’s worth asking, what beliefs or positions are we so attached to that they come before following Jesus in love? What are we clinging to that is a higher priority than his compassion and non-violence and forgiveness?

So I’m back on Facebook, but with some conditions. I’m trying not to post anything that Jesus would turn and rebuke me for. Even if I think my reasons are good and my anger is just, I’m trying to post only things that reveal the kind of love Jesus has for me. And for any who might read them.

No matter what our attitudes or priorities or actions, Jesus is going to Jerusalem for us. His love for us is that unconditional. And he invites us to follow.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 1, 2019 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Your Story Needs to be Told (June 23, 2019)

Luke 8:26-39

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

While on sabbatical last year we spent a few days in Paris. We wandered over to a classic French sidewalk café, and wanting a full “Paris” experience, I ventured into an area about which I know nothing: French cuisine. So I ordered a grade AAAAA sausage that was advertised as unique to France. This ought to be great!

The server, however, upon hearing my order, frowned. “I don’t recommend that for tourists,” she said with significant emphasis. “Don’t worry,” I responded. “I’m feeling brave.” “No,” she said again. “This is not good for tourists. It is very strong.” “Good!” says the naive tourist, who, ironically, was on a sabbatical the theme of which is “Listening.”

She brought the unique French sausage, called “andouillette” (“ahn-dwee-yet”), and I quickly admitted she was right about the strong odor. Well, more than strong. It was revolting. But I’m in France, so, I took a bite–after all, it couldn’t taste worse than it smelled.

Oh, was I wrong. Now, to my credit, I did swallow a bite. And kept it down. But then I made the mistake of pulling out my phone and Googling it. There’s a reason for the horrendous smell. It’s made of all kinds of meat from various parts of animal intestines. Including the colon. Hence, the indescribable taste.

I tell you that story not because of the particular significance of it as a story, but because of the significance of stories in general. Stories have the power to connect people. When we hear a story, almost always we discover ways that our own stories can connect to it. If you’ve been to Paris, there’s that intersection between our stories. If you’ve sat at a sidewalk café, you can connect there. If you’ve eaten anything strange or disgusting, you’ve got that connection. When someone tells a story, there are almost always parts that our own story has an intersection with. It’s the nature of stories.

Which is why I believe this gospel text ends the way it does. We usually get all caught up with this strange story and miss the ending. There’s a lot going on. A man possessed by thousands of demons, uncontrollable and living among the tombs of the dead; the casting of the demons into the pigs and their destruction in the lake; the pig farmers demanding that Jesus leave their town. There’s so much there that we don’t always hear the end.

This man who has been saved by Jesus is sane and calm. And he begs that he could now follow Jesus. Isn’t that what we would think to be the best outcome possible? Another disciple! Isn’t that what we hope for everyone? That all would want to follow Jesus? Isn’t that the ultimate positive ending?

But it’s not what happens. The man begs to follow Jesus, and Jesus says, “no.” Have you ever noticed that? Instead, Jesus instructs him to go home and tell his story. Share his experience of this encounter with God. Because stories connect people. Can you even begin to imagine hearing him tell this story from his own perspective? His experience? His encounter with God?

So Jesus invites this man to share his.

Notice Jesus tells him just to tell his story, not to expect a particular outcome. He doesn’t need to convince anyone of anything, he doesn’t need to coerce a particular faith response, he doesn’t need to demand some kind of commitment to Jesus. Just tell your story. Just share your experience. There’s a bond, a connection, an intersection when people share their own stories. Something more profound than intellectual agreement. There’s a deeper connection—soul to soul.

As beings created in the image of God, of course we’ve had encounters with God. We all have God stories to tell. We just don’t tell them. Why don’t we? Maybe because we discount our own stories ourselves. Or maybe we think we’re the only ones who’ve had an experience like that. Or maybe because we’re afraid no one will believe us. Maybe because we think our story isn’t mystical enough. Or maybe because we think the only reason anyone would tell a God story would be if they’re trying to convert somebody.

No. Like this formerly demon-possessed man, we have those stories and they need to be told.

We have stories about our journeys from sickness to health, from chaos to peace, from oppression to value, from death to life, from bondage to freedom. We have those stories and they need to be told.

We have stories of times we’ve experienced grace, forgiveness, compassion, holiness in unexplainable ways. We have those stories and they need to be told.

We have stories of encounters with God, with a creator, with the divine, with the living Christ. We have those stories and they need to be told.

Our stories are unique to each of us, which means that unless we tell our stories, the world is deprived of that unique connection to another way God meets us. We need to tell our stories because the world needs to hear them and connect to them and know something more about the God who loves them.

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with [Jesus]; but Jesus sent him away, saying “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

What has God done for you? What is your God story? We have those stories and they need to be told.

One of my God stories is posted on my sermon blog, http://www.pastorrobmoss.wordpress.com. The web address can be founds in the announcement sheet. You’re invited to read it there!

(One of my God stories is posted here, but due to time constraints wasn’t part of the oral presentation of this message).

I have a clinical diagnosis of depression. This results in a chronic vulnerability to circumstances and stress that can leave me with no energy or desire to deal with it all. It flares up occasionally, but with medication and therapy I’ve learned a lot of coping mechanisms to keep me relatively healthy.

However, during one of the worst episodes, I found myself feeling that I was simply in a free-fall. Down and down and down in what seemed like a bottomless pit with nothing to slow it down or stop it. It was terrifying. All of the things that I’d been able to use previously to use to stop or at least slow the sense of falling were either not working or out of reach. My intelligence, my humor, my resilience, my theology, even my faith made no difference whatsoever. There was nothing in my life but falling. Trite expressions like “trust God” or “put your faith in God” were meaningless. It’s not that I did or didn’t believe in God, it’s that I simply didn’t care if there was a God or not. I didn’t have the resources available to me to sort that out.

And so I fell. Deeper and darker into the pit with nothing to grab or push against or hold. But it was in the midst of this darkness that I came to a realization that somehow I was no longer falling. It wasn’t a sudden realization, but a slowly dawning awareness. Rather than falling, I had the impression of being held. In this, my most vulnerable, helpless state, I was being held–kept from falling, if you will. This had nothing to do with me, it was nothing I did. It was  happening in spite of me. I was being held. I was safe. The darkness would end. The falling would stop.

Whatever it was that was holding me is what I call God. I can trust this God because this God came to me when I could do absolutely nothing for myself. What has emerged in this journey, and what I’m now able to articulate is that this God apparently finds me worthwhile, valuable, and lovable. I’m worth the effort to this God.

Many others were part of my “being held,” it’s true. I wasn’t alone, but had people in my life that were very caring and connected. That connection, that care, that compassion is the very nature of this God who found me, came to me, and held me. This is a God I can trust. This is the God Jesus talks about and reveals for me. Nothing has been the same since.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 21, 2019 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , ,

Holy Trinity, Hamilton, Fathers’ Day, and the Pride Parade (June 16, 2019)

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

This is the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. This doctrinal description of one God existing as three Persons is unique among all religions that proclaim one God. It is so unique, so novel, that even Christians don’t really get it.

Yet, the purpose is to help us know something about this indescribable God. Let’s look at it this way:

I’m going to read two partial reviews of the hit Broadway musical, “Hamilton”:

“The singular genius of Hamilton, the greatest musical ever written, is that it recognizes that the American Revolution did not end with Yorktown, but is ongoing, even today, and that there are Founders of America being born even as we speak” (DC Theatre Scene).

Do you get a sense of this musical from that review? Or try this one:

“Is Hamilton overhyped? The musical created by some guy from Puerto Rico about a treasury secretary in the 1700s set to hip-hop sounds a little strange. . . .” (Dallas Observer).

Do you get a different sense of it? Different, but you still get some idea of what this musical is about.

The doctrine of the Trinity is like that. It’s like the review of a play. You probably hear about the play or read a review first, and from that you get a sense of what the play is about, what it’s like. But the review is not the play. You have to go to the play; you have to experience a performance of Hamilton yourself. Then, perhaps, when you go back and look at the reviews, you can see how they make sense.

You can know everything about a review that describes a musical, but it’s more important to know the musical that is being described in the review.

You can know everything about a doctrine that describes God, but it is more important to know the God who is described in this doctrine.

Many of us as kids heard about or were taught this doctrine of the Trinity, which hopefully reveals something about the God being described. From my experience with the God described as Three-in-One, here’s where the doctrine of the Trinity makes sense: God exists as relational community. The nature of God is relational. “Three-in-one” is describing a relationship. The nature of God is intimate, sharing, self-giving, mutual—those things that become real in relationships. That’s who God is. And the doctrine of the Trinity attempts to describe that.

What’s more, because we are created in the image of this “three-in-one” relational God, God is experienced most fully by us through relationships. We are relationship creatures. We are empowered by relationships and sustained by relationships. We know one another—and therefore ourselves—through our relationships. We exist most fully in the relationships of a community. We live in communities of all kinds: American community, Colorado community, a school community, communities created by hobbies or passions, family communities. Any group of people where we are able to share ourselves, support each another, encourage one another reveals through those relationships the image of God—the God who is relational community: a holy Trinity.

There are various degrees of experiencing God as community. I took sailing classes last summer during my sabbatical, and was part of that community. Based on a common interest (for some a definite passion) in sailing, it was fun. We had that in common and therefore there was a real sense of community. Not the people I would turn to in a crisis, but a sense of community to be sure. I got a little glimpse of God in those relationships.

On the other hand, I’ve experienced profound support and encouragement here at times. When I’ve been in crisis mode, there are people in this church who have expressed more love and genuine care than I knew existed. That sense of being held by a community when you can’t hold yourself is an astonishing experience of God.

The more authentic we can be in a community, the more we can be loved for who we are in a community, the more we can give and receive support in a community — the more we are experiencing God, who is, as Trinity, the creator of community.

So it matters that as a church community, we reflect and reveal the image of God—as community. And the more fully and deeply we experience authentic relationships in community, the more fully and deeply we are experiencing God.

That’s the foundation of who we are as a congregation. We are a community created by the God who is community. It’s our nature to be authentic and real and supportive and unconditional in our love—the most significant aspects of relationships in a community. So it’s what we strive to reveal and to be. A community where you can be who you are, where you don’t have to be alone in your pain, where you can be encouraged and loved, where you can find kindness and forgiveness and grace. In other words, a community where you experience God.

On this Father’s Day we recognize the importance of supportive, caring relationships. And on this day of Denver’s Pride Parade, we recognize that everyone is worthy of that kind of loving, supportive, community.

As I experience God in that way—through loving, caring, genuine relationships—the doctrine of the Holy Trinity begins to make sense. One God who is three persons: a community. A Holy Trinity.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on June 17, 2019 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Same Spirit, Same Purpose (June 9, 2019)

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there on that Pentecost day to witness all this? If you had been part of the crowd in Jerusalem who had come for this big harvest festival, what would you think if, over the din of the

crowd noise, you heard the sound like the rush of a violent wind? How would you feel if you saw these tongues as of fire resting on each of those disciples? Have you ever wondered if you had been there, would you have been able to hear these disciples speaking in English (or whatever your first language is)? What would your reaction have been to all this outpouring of the Holy Spirit? What one word would you use to describe how you’d feel in this experience: Excited? Frightened? Amazed? Astonished? Perplexed? . . .

To see the movement of the Holy Spirit in such stark and powerful ways had to be inspiring, faith-building, motivating, wouldn’t you think?

Apparently not for everyone. Some were simply confused. Others thought these disciples had been drinking. Some sneered and made fun of them. And still others just wondered what this all meant.

Today, on this Pentecost day, I’m interested in these, the ones who were skeptical or wrote off the events of that Pentecost day. Wind, fire, language, and prophecy should be enough for anyone. Anyone who witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit in such dramatic ways should be convinced that God was doing something pretty special and would want to be part of that.

But some weren’t. I’m wondering why not? Why wouldn’t all this described in Acts 2 be enough for them to jump on board with what God was apparently doing there?

I find myself having more empathy with these lately. That’s because I’ve come to believe we’re in a similar situation. God is up to something pretty significant.

Our reactions are strikingly parallel to those of the people in Acts 2. Some of us are excited, amazed, and astonished! Others of us are skeptical, confused, and maybe even frightened. We are, at the same time, ready to jump on board, and wondering “What’s really going on?” If we were in Jerusalem on that day, I think we’d fit right in with the crowds.

There’s an outpouring of the Holy Spirit here lately. Expressions of love and compassion are rising more frequently among us. There’s a renewing energy and sense of optimism. Some of you have noticed it. Don’t just sneer and write this off. This is the stuff of Pentecost.

Two specifics in attitude: 1. We’re beginning a capital campaign to tackle some facility issues that have dogged us for decades, e.g., elevator, landscaping, lighting, cooling, parking, and more. Even before it has begun we’re entering into it with enthusiasm and generosity. Money is coming in already that we had no idea was there. We just got a $50,000 check this week. I’m not one who says “if you have enough faith, you can make God do whatever you want.” No, it’s not that. This is not something we’ve contrived or earned or believed in or created. It’s the Day of Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit is blowing through us.

2. Have you noticed a difference in the way we’ve been looking to the future of our ministry? Rather than panicking, feeling like we have to do something so the doors don’t close, we, for instance, recognized at our congregational meeting a few weeks ago that the warmth and love on the inside isn’t being well projected on the outside, and so we spent several minutes having fun tossing around possible new names for this congregation that better convey who we actually are. It’s the Day of Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit is allowing us to hear good news in new languages.

Some of us are experiencing excitement and amazement at this outpouring of the Spirit. Others of us aren’t paying any attention at all and so are probably skeptical. Still others are cautious and afraid of what this means. But as Peter said in Acts, “Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.”

We are witnessing an outpouring of the Holy Spirit among us. Pay attention—this is not of our making. It is simply a gift from God. If any of you wonder how to describe or understand the Holy Spirit, you really can’t. But what’s happening among us isn’t a bad way to begin. The Spirit is beyond our control, for reasons that cannot always be explained, the Holy Spirit of God is once again blowing, moving, firing up in us, among us, and around us. And the revealing of Christ’s love, compassion, generosity, and grace are the result.

There’s so much in this text, but one aspect of all this is vital. In Acts 2, this outpouring of the Spirit was experienced by the disciples, but it wasn’t only for their sake. It was also for the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost Festival. The wind, the fire, the languages were all to help reveal God’s love in Christ for all those people gathered.

What we’re experiencing is an outpouring of the same Holy Spirit, and even some of our reactions are the same as those gathered. The means of the Spirit’s movement is different, but the purpose is the same. We are experiencing the Holy Spirit, but not just for our own sakes. The Spirit is moving among us for the sake of the crowds gathered in our neighborhoods and communities who need a sign of compassion, love, and mercy.

The Holy Spirit is here, and her power is real. Anything can happen as Christ is revealed. Something very good is going on around here.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 10, 2019 in Sermon

 

Love in Disagreement (June 2, 2019)

John 17:20-26

[Jesus prayed,] “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I’m sensing a little bit of division in our country. I know, I know, sometimes it just seems like I’m just making stuff up. But if you look closely, you just might see evidence that there could be some truth in what I’m saying.

Much of the division seems to be centered politically. That’s not the only arena, but it is certainly one of the largest. What seems to be happening is that I and those who agree with me are right, therefore you and the people who agree with you must be wrong. And since you’re already wrong, I cannot work with you, cooperate with you, or (God forbid), compromise (gag). That would be selling out to the enemy—those who are wrong, aka, those I disagree with.

So this part of Jesus’ prayer in John’s gospel seem rather odd. He’s praying for unity, for oneness. That we would be one as he and the Father are one. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us . . . I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.”

In this culture of division, do we even know what unity means? Does it mean we all agree all the time? That we always get along? That we look the same? That we believe all the same things about God? That we all vote the same way?

That would be more like “uniformity” than “unity.” That’s different.

Unity is about being part of a community. Standing together. Being with and for each other for a greater purpose than our individual selves.

Unity is all the Lutheran denominations, who can’t even come to the Lord’s table together, who nonetheless work together through Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran World Federation, and Lutheran Disaster Response for the sake of those suffering.

Unity is a family, whether together in one household, spread across the country, or simply chosen, all committed to loving one another and being present for one another no matter who you voted for or where you work or what your gender identity is.

Unity is a congregation that goes to a lot of trouble and expense, spending months in planning and coordinating, just to have 5 really good nights of Vacation Bible School for the children of our neighborhood. Five evenings where our neighbor kids will not just hear, but will experience unconditional love. Five nights that no one can take away from them.

Jesus isn’t praying for us to get along. He’s not praying for us to express the same moral views or even go to the same church or confess the same doctrines. He’s praying that the love that binds him and the Father together would also bind us to one another and to him.

He’s praying that this love would catch us up, hold us together, and be shared in the world that Jesus also loves.

He’s praying that this love, this unity, this purpose is what we’ll be known for in the world. Not just the original disciples gathered around his table at the Last Supper, but “also on behalf of those will believe in me . . . that they may all be one.” Jesus includes us in his prayer. That we would be united: in him and in one another, together in the love God has for us and the whole world.

And here’s the thing: his prayer is answered. Not perfectly, but there are still signs of Christ’s love that holds us all together being expressed—both in this building and beyond. We don’t always agree; that’s fine. Christians don’t always get along; that’s unfortunate but not necessary. Some Lutherans aren’t even able to pray together. But God’s love, that holds us together, is still shown among us. And it is shown in the world. Unity is about love. And the love of Christ can be seen uniting us all over the place.

Even in this politically divided country where one party can’t even talk to the other. And yet, so far this year, the 116th Congress has passed 17 laws with bipartisan support. Including the creation of 1.3 million more acres of public lands and national parks, the largest in a decade. They’ve passed changes to Medicaid services, even a Colorado River Drought Contingency. And it looks like they may be ready to pass a couple more very soon: the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, and (one that will change my life) the Telephone Consumer Protection Act which will block illegal robocalls. That’s become so bad that I’m actually getting robocalls from my own phone number!

The unity Jesus prays for exists—it’s just that sometimes we need to dig underneath some of our disagreements to find it. Which is why our unity in our love-for-all is a game-changer. It’s an answer to prayer. Rather than basing our lives on our disagreements, here we base our lives on the love God has for us. And we show the world what that love looks like as it holds us together. And we share that same love with the world as it holds us together with them.

“I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Maybe we’re not so divided after all. We’re all united in God’s love. But we are the ones who will show the world what that looks like. God loves the entire world—it’s just that as the church, we can dig underneath the disagreements and bring that love to the surface so it can be known.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: