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Preparing for Non-Violence (November 12, 2017)

(Amos 5:18-24); Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

“Repent! Jesus is coming soon!” is the cry of some Christians. Their point is that you better be ready when Jesus shows up, because your eternity hangs in the balance. Texts like this one in Matthew are used to prove their point. The five foolish bridesmaids are locked out of the wedding banquet (heaven) when the bridegroom (Jesus) comes, because they didn’t have oil for their lamps (weren’t ready).  And “readiness” means whatever.

Although there is an accurate element of being ready for Jesus to come at the end of time, there is, on the part of many of these kinds of Christians, a misunderstanding of what that means.

This parable isn’t just about being ready for the end of the world, it’s about being ready when the end of the world is delayed.

The only difference between the five wise and the five foolish bridesmaids is preparation for the wait. All of them are invited to be part of the wedding procession. All of them bring their lamps. All of them wait. All of them get tired when the bridegroom is later than expected and fall asleep. All of them, when awakened, trim their lamps. The only difference is that five were ready for the delay, and five weren’t.

In the gospel of Matthew, there are lots of these “judgment” scenes—what Amos today refers to as “the day of the Lord.” Some call it the final judgment, others the 2nd coming of Christ. There are all kinds of bad theologies (movies?) around all that, but it is a recurring theme in Matthew. So we need to deal with it.

Because we usually just don’t deal with it. We don’t often talk about Christ’s return or the end of time or the day of judgment or the “day of the Lord.” Usually we say something like, “well, it hasn’t happened in 2000 years, it’s not likely going to happen today.”

That may be true, but what does that say about our preparation? And, for that matter, what does it mean to be prepared, as this text says?

What “the day of the Lord,” and all the other terms, usually refer to is God finally making things right. God’s vision, God’s justice, God’s ultimate peace become the full reality, especially regarding the poor. Every time God’s people begin to act in ways contrary to God’s vision of justice, the prophets cry out that “the day of the Lord” is coming. Where will those who ignore the poor be then? Look out, they cry! It is coming!

That’s picked up in the New Testament, too. Jesus is expected to return somehow at the end of time and bring about God’s ultimate justice and righteousness, establishing once and for all God’s peace where everyone has enough, everyone is fed, everyone is loved, everyone is forgiven.

Matthew gets pretty dramatic about it, the only gospel that really gets into the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” thing. But like so many other places in Matthew, it’s done to get our attention, to be seen as important. Jesus tells his disciples at the end of this parable to be ready, because though delayed, that day of God’s reign of peace is gonna come.

The question for the bridesmaids, then, is “are we preparing for the day of the Lord—for peace?” Are we preparing to live in God’s reign where everyone is being cared for, where everyone lives without fear of violence? Seriously, are we preparing ourselves and our world to live in God’s peace, to live without violence?

It’s one thing to wish the world was less violent. But it’s another thing to actually prepare to live in non-violence—to have the oil. Speaking for myself, I relate well to the foolish bridesmaids, who, because I’ve been waiting so long for some slowing down of violence, have grown tired. I admit that in some ways I’ve abandoned hope that our culture can ever give up our obsession with violence. I hardly blinked after the latest mass shooting in a Texas church a week ago. I knew, before the body count, before the motive of the shooter was known, before we were told whether there was racism or terrorism or mental illness or domestic violence what the responses would be. The same responses over and over. “Don’t politicize this tragedy!” “We need better gun laws!” “If more people had more guns this would stop.” “If we closed the loopholes on gun sales to the mentally ill we could solve this.” On and on. Again and again. Over and over. The same rhetoric having the same results. Which are: none. So we lose hope as we wait for the next inevitable shooting, the next attack, the next act of mass violence. Couple of days, then we’ll start the useless rhetoric all over again.

I would say that qualifies as not preparing to live in a world of God’s peace. I’ll tell you now, if suddenly God’s peace broke out in the world, no one would be more surprised than me. My oil has run out in my waiting. God’s non-violence and justice haven’t arrived, and I’m no longer ready. I’ve discovered that I’ve even quit preparing for it. It seems beyond hope now.

So this parable is for me. Maybe it’s for you, too. The bridegroom is coming, though he’s quite delayed. The day of peace will arrive, though it seems beyond hope today. Violence will end, though I can’t even imagine it now. Call it whatever you want: the day of the Lord, the 2nd coming of Christ, the end of time, whatever. We are called to prepare to live in a world of God’s peace and justice, a world without violence.

Which means practicing non-violence. Paying attention to the movies we watch, the games we play, the way we speak, the politics we heed. Even when confronted with violence in our world, we practice what non-violence would look like. The day is coming. The peace of Christ will eventually rule in our hearts and minds. God’s day of justice will arrive. We can be ready. We can prepare to live in real peace. There’s plenty of oil for our lamps to light the way for the presence of Christ. Let us fill up our lamps today, and prepare for Christ’s peace.

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Posted by on November 12, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Who Does God Really Bless? (November 5, 2017)

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Before we can really look at the Beatitudes here, we need to clear up some language issues. First and foremost is this word “blessed.” Chances are, anytime we use that word in normal life we’re using it incorrectly—at least as far as the Beatitudes go. When we’re feeling good and life is fine, and someone asks how we’re doing, if we answer “I’m feeling blessed today,” we missed the mark a bit. Or, at least we’ve misunderstood what being “blessed” looks like.

Blessed, or the word translated as “blessed,” isn’t really about being successful or having good health or receiving a financial windfall or living in a free country. The best translation I could find is “greatly honored.” I think that gets at the meaning Matthew’s Jesus is getting at. And it’s a bit surprising at who he says is “greatly honored.”

Regardless of how much our Lutheran theology informs us that God loves everyone and God’s grace is for everyone, do we really believe that? When something really tough happens that has no legitimate explanation, how many of us say, “How could you let this happen, God?” Or, “Why them, God? They deserve better than that”?

Deep down, at some inner core of our being, we have this sense of fairness that flies in the face of God’s unconditional grace. Some people deserve better than they get. Others deserve worse than they get. We all kind of tend to agree on who belongs in which group. Because some people deserve to be honored, and others don’t.

It’s always been that way for us. In our honest moments, we have to admit that it appears that God favors some people over others. These are the ones who we tend to honor, that we often refer to as “blessed.”

We honor those who work hard and overcome obstacles.

We honor those who get good grades.

We honor football teams that don’t turn the ball over 5 times in Kansas City. . .

These are the ones who deserve to be greatly honored. We think of them as “blessed.”

Think about it. We really don’t honor the meek. We kind of feel sorry for them and wish they would stick up for themselves.

We don’t honor the pure in heart; we just think they’re out of touch and naïve.

We don’t honor the peacemakers; we call them wimps or even unpatriotic.

So what is Jesus really saying here? How are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who show mercy honored or blessed?

What Jesus is saying is that we still don’t fully get how God works. Those that we feel sorry for or disregard or lose patience with are the very ones toward which God shows great honor. Those who get bad grades, who embarrass their families, who are addicted, who live on the street, who can’t seem to get their lives together. These are greatly honored by God. Even if they are not always honored by us, they are nonetheless honored by God.

And as the church, our job is to honor those God honors; recognize as blessed those God blesses.

And guess what? That includes you. God won’t honor you any less when life gets overwhelming. God won’t bless you less when you’re in over your head. God still sees you when people are blaming you for their problems. God’s love for you continues when you’re facing an uphill struggle.

That’s the connection to All Saints’ Sunday. That God has honored those we love who’ve gone before us. Not because they were more perfect or holier or never wavered in their faith. No. They are honored by God as saints because God has named them blessed people. God accompanied them when they were low. God stood with them when they mourned. God took care of them when they were dying. God held them when they struggled. They are saints, honored, blessed by God.

And today, we remember them as saints. Today we acknowledge that God loves those we love, that God blesses those we miss, that God honors those we are grieving for.

For in the same way, God blesses us in our mourning today. God comes to us and honors us. That’s how God works.

During the next song, make your way over to the memorial candles, and light a candle for those you’ve lost recently. Write their name and place it in the basket. We’ll read all the names and commend them into God’s care. As we do so, we thank God for honoring them. And remember that in your grief, you are blessed by God too.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2017 in Sermon

 

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“Knowing Truth” (October 29, 2017)

John 8:31-36

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Today we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther’s experience of a deeper truth. One that caused him to change outlooks, approaches, and life itself. And as a result of his experience of a deeper truth, the whole church (including the Roman Catholic church) was reformed.

Here’s what’s going on in this 8th chapter of John. The narrative is set during the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles, which acknowledges God’s presence with the Jewish people as they fled from slavery in Egypt. They built temporary huts, sometimes called booths or tabernacles, and used them for shelter during their 40 years in the wilderness. At the time that John is describing, all people are invited to gather in Jerusalem for this celebration—many of whom would build replica booth-like dwellings and even eat and sleep there during the week of the celebration.

As the people are commemorating God’s protection in the wilderness during their flight from slavery in Egypt, Jesus speaks of the very things the people have gathered to observe: slavery and freedom, dwelling places and truth.

Jesus says, “If you continue (literally: dwell, tabernacle, live) in my word, you are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Those who had previously believed in him argue, saying, “We have Abraham and Sarah as our ancestors. We’ve never been slaves.” Uhhmmm . . . did they forget why they’re gathered in Jerusalem in the first place? What the Festival of Tabernacles is about?

Even if the people aren’t clear about what slavery–therefore freedom–is, Jesus is very pointed about it. “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

What does he mean by “knowing truth”? The word John uses for “to know” (ginosko) is more than intellectual agreement. It means to deeply know, to be assured by, to know completely. It is the word used in the Bible when a man and a woman “know” each other, and 9 months later a baby is born. It’s more than reading a book about a subject, OK?

It’s like the difference between objectively watching an event and actually seeing what’s happening.

It’s like the difference between casually hearing someone talk and actually listening to what they are saying.

It’s like this: I can read books about white-water rafting, listen to lectures, and see movies–and therefore know about it. But that’s different than actually going white-water rafting. Then, I know it from the inside out, based on my experiences. I know it much more deeply. Ginosko.

This is the knowing Jesus talks about: an experience of Christ (who is truth) that changes us from the inside out. Much deeper knowledge. For example, quite a few years ago, I knew that the Bible stood in opposition to homosexuality. I knew it, because I could recite all seven verses in the Bible that seemed to oppose it. That’s one kind of knowledge, a book-like, incomplete knowledge.

Then, through a series of events, experiences, studies, and conversations, I came to a different kind of knowing, ginosko, a deeper, more complete knowing than a few Bible verses. I experienced the truth of God’s love and God’s inclusivity in ways that have changed me from the inside out. I have been set free from a bondage of a narrow, external perspective to a deeper, internal freedom in God’s grace and love for all humanity.

We will be witnessing today, in love and support, three of our young people as they take significant steps in their faith journey. Two will affirm their baptisms, and one will be received in the rite of Welcome to Baptism. They are doing this today not because they know the doctrines of the church, or have memorized enough Bible verses, but because they have struggled with what they actually believe. They have been brought inside and come to a deeper knowledge of God in their lives—which sometimes leaves more questions than answers. They probably can’t articulate Luther’s explanation to the 3rd Article of the Apostles’ Creed, but they have, I believe, experienced a deeper, internal knowledge of the Holy Spirit working faith in them (because we all know that that’s what the 3rd Article is about, right? Right?). They don’t know all the answers, but they know how to ask questions, how to watch for God in the world, and how faith needs to continue to grow with them. I’m not even sure they would say that, but I know it, because I’ve watched it happen in them. They know God in significant ways. And they know from the inside that God knows them. They know some truths, and they are set free.

You have hopefully heard about LCM’s “Renewal Team,” which is part of a cohort of three congregations seeking to know more fully what God is calling us to be and do. The idea is not for us to follow a program or series of prescribed steps, but to come to a deeper knowing of what God is doing in us and in our neighborhood.

On this 500h Anniversary of the Reformation, John declares that we are set free in Christ—truly free. Free from prejudice, from fear, from pretention, from other people’s opinions, from stagnation, from whatever it is that keeps us captive. And it is Christ who not only reveals this truth, but in whom that truth comes to us. This is the freedom Martin Luther experienced 500 years ago. A freedom that changed the world. As we continue to grow in our experience, our deep knowledge of this Christ from the inside out, we too become more and more free.

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Is God pro-Trump or anti-Trump? (October 22, 2017)

Is God pro-Trump or anti-Trump? (October 22, 2017)

Matthew 22:15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Does God want you to be a Trump-supporter? Does God want you to be a Trump-resister? Is there anything more divisive in our country right now? Where is God on this? Believe it or not, that’s what this text in Matthew is asking.

This text describes an admitted attempt to trap Jesus. The Pharisees and the Herodians were working together even though they had virtually nothing in common. They had less in common with each other than today’s Republicans and Democrats. The Pharisees represented the majority of the Jewish people, and the Herodians represented the oppressing Roman government. The only thing they had in common was their desire to get rid of Jesus. Think of Trump-supporters and Trump-resisters joining forces. That’s what’s happening in these verses.

When these two groups banded together against Jesus, they really set an ingenious trap—one into which Jesus shouldn’t get out of. The divisive issue for them is if it’s OK to pay a tax to Rome. If Jesus says “yes,” the Pharisees can turn the Jewish people against him, saying Jesus supports the oppressors and has validated the Roman currency, which would be idolatry and breaking the first commandment, since the denarius declares Caesar to be Son of God (the first Caesar) and High Priest. If, on the other hand, Jesus says “no,” the Herodians can declare him in rebellion to the emperor, and have him jailed or even killed for insurrection. Either way, Jesus will be out of sight, hushed, no longer a threat to anyone. Foolproof.

But Jesus turns the tables. Instead of falling into their trap, he ups the

ante. He raises the stakes and makes their question an even more important one. No longer is this about whether or not to pay a poll tax to Rome, but about the very nature of their relationship with God. Instead of a trap, this is now about who we are and who God is.

Go ahead, Jesus says, and give to the emperor those things that are his, but to do that you have to acknowledge that there are things that do belong to Caesar. Then you have to define what those things are. And in order to do that, you have to know why those things belong to Caesar. Some things might belong to him if you believe him to be the head of the Roman government, but that’s way different than what belongs to him if you believe him to be divine, as all of Rome declares. If he’s divine, Son of god, you’re saying something completely different about what belongs to him, and therefore what ought to be given to him.

Jesus turns this around on them. Now they have to say where their own allegiance lies, they have to define what belongs to the emperor and why? And also what belongs to God and why?

That’s the question we have to answer too. What do we believe belongs to God? The stars? The earth? All the things that live on the earth? Us? The Church? Our gifts and talents? Our checkbooks? Our children? Our next breath? Do we believe everything belongs to God? And what does that even mean?

It starts with admitting that we belong to God. Each one of us. We are created in the very image of God, in God’s love and wonderful creativity, we are uniquely and beautifully made. We are God’s precious and holy creation. We don’t have to try. We don’t have to achieve it. We simply are. We can’t stop it, we can’t change it, we can’t improve it. All we can do is live it. Go ahead and pay taxes, put money in a 401(k), give generously when the offering plates come around. But recognize that you belong completely and totally to God. You will always be surrounded and held in God’s love.

And, therefore, we can live that way. Every time we show compassion, we are giving to God something that already is God’s. Every time we stand up for someone who’s been victimized or hurt, we are giving to God something that already is God’s. Every time we listen without judgment, we are giving to God something that already is God’s. Every time we recognize Christ present in those around us, we are giving to God something that already is God’s.

Is it OK with God to be a Trump-supporter? Is it OK with God to be a Trump-resister? Is it OK with God to be a Democrat? Is it OK with God to be a Republican? Is it OK with God to type #MeToo on your Facebook page? Is it OK with God to be gay or divorced or have an abortion or anything else that we, as imperfect, fallible humans, may think might be divisive?

Give to the emperor the things that are he emperor’s. Give to your own views the things that fall within those views. But give to God the things that are God’s. If everything belongs to God—if we belong to God—then nothing else can get in the way of that. We give unconditional love because it is God’s. We give over-the-top compassion because it is God’s. We give unrestricted forgiveness because it is God’s. We give that which already belongs to God. Those things that divide us come a distant second—if they make the cut at all. We give to God the things that are God’s. When we do that, the rest becomes obvious, doesn’t it?

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Wait. I Have to Wear that in Public? (October 15, 2017)

Matthew 22:1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

This parable today is a strange one. A king’s son is getting married—about the biggest event in the life of a kingdom. So the king hosts a huge wedding banquet. He’s already sent out a “save the date” card, and now he’s calling them to come. He calls them twice: the first time they wouldn’t come, the second time they simply went about their own business. To say that one’s own priorities are more important than the king’s is basically saying that the king isn’t the king. These invited guests make their sentiments very clear by killing the servants of the king who come to bring them to the banquet.

This is open rebellion, so the king has no real choice but to put down the rebellion—in this case by sacking the town. Then, since his agenda is the banquet for his son, he invites others to come—those on the fringe, on the edges, both “the good and the bad.”

This is God’s all-inclusive grace. It’s one of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago. God includes us by grace, not because we are good have done the right things or believe the right things. We are saved by God’s grace. Independent of anything else. That’ s who God is.

So, by the king’s grace, all these people have now been included in the wedding banquet for the king’s son. They’ve all been invited. They all get to come. That would be a wonderful ending to the story. In fact, Luke, in telling a similar parable, does end it there. Hooray! We’re in! Grace is neat, isn’t it?

But Matthew doesn’t stop. Because Mathew reminds us that there’s more to discipleship than just getting into heaven. There’s following Jesus now. There’s standing up with Jesus now. There’s living out God’s agenda now.

Which leads us to the guy in the parable who comes to the wedding banquet but won’t wear a wedding robe.

This person, who’s now included by the grace of the king, who has accepted the king’s invitation, who shows up at the king’s banquet, is still choosing to do things his own way. So he’s tossed out on his ear. He accepted the invitation and he showed up. So apparently accepting the invitation isn’t the point. Deciding to come to the banquet isn’t the point. The king has authority, and that authority takes precedence over the guest’s. When you come to the banquet, you give up your agenda for the king’s agenda. You wear the wedding robe.

You know what that means? Accepting the invitation to come to church is great, but is not what Jesus is asking. Saying “I believe in God” is great, but that’s not what Jesus is asking. Making a decision that Jesus is our personal Lord and Savior is great, but it’s not what Jesus is asking. As people who’ve been included in God’s banquet, what he is asking is that we give up our agenda for God’s agenda. In Lutheran language, we die to ourselves and are raised with Christ. It’s baptismal language. We wear the wedding robe.

What Matthew’s Jesus is telling his church members is that God’s will is to be done by those who are in Christ. Even if it’s in conflict with our priorities; even if we are uncomfortable with it. Many are called, Jesus says, but few are chosen. The invitation to come, to join in is for everyone. “I’ve been invited to the banquet!” “I’ve been saved by grace!” Great, so was everyone else. But not everyone will follow the call to re-order their lives according to God’s mission. As part of the church, we give up our agenda for God’s agenda. That’s wearing the wedding robe.

God’s agenda is to love unconditionally and show compassion to all and to forgive everyone and include those cast aside and to stand up for those who are pushed down.

More than accepting the invitation, that’s wearing the wedding robe.

Just this last week, Tiana, one of our high school students, wore this wedding robe at school. A kid in one of her classes made a horrible racist comment, using the “n” word. No one called it out. So she did. She stood up and in front of the whole class told the kid that this was not OK. That word has never been OK, and it’s not OK now. That kind of racism has to stop. Even though it meant taking the risk of speaking out in front of her peers, she stood up against racial discrimination. This is living out God’s agenda. This is wearing the wedding robe.

“For by grace we have been saved through faith, and this is not our own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast” writes Paul to the Ephesian church. This text is one of the key themes that clarified for Luther that God’s grace includes us. We are all invited. We are all included. We are all able to attend the banquet in the kingdom of heaven.

And we’re expected, as people who accept the invitation, to wear the wedding robe. It keeps slipping off, doesn’t it? God’s forgiveness is a centerpiece of God’s grace. It’s OK. We just pick up the wedding robe and put it on next time. We take a step.

Maybe we aren’t civil rights leaders. Maybe we cannot organize our neighborhood compassion drive for the homeless. But we can take a step in God’s agenda. With the confidence of God’s unconditional grace, we can encourage and support someone like Tiana, who took a bold stand with Christ. We can listen to people’s stories who tell us that justice doesn’t always include them in our culture.  We can learn from them and make adjustments in our own attitudes. We can let it be known that jokes that demean someone else are not appreciated. We can take a step. Surrounded and held in God’s grace, we can put the wedding robe of the king back on. And when it falls off we can put it back on again. And again. The invitation to the feast still stands. The banquet will go on. We’re still included. And, yes, the wedding robe is still there for us to wear.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Las Vegas and a Broken Church (October 8, 2017)

I was going to write an inspiring stewardship sermon for today. One that would move every person who hears it to increase their giving and joyfully re-write their 2018 Estimate of Giving cards with a much higher dollar amount. Everyone would discover the joy of generous giving, and would put that into practice today.

That was my intention. But it’s not what I’m going to do.

Some part of me is tearing open. And the violence last Sunday in Las Vegas, and especially our responses since then, have ripped open that tear in ways that are proving difficult. I’m recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit there. That, combined with my own awareness of the gospel of Christ makes a sermon about increased financial giving seem out of whack. At least today.

Something is broken in Christ’s church. It’s being torn open. Are you aware that (as of Oct 5, according to www.massshootingtracker.com) there have been 3 mass shootings in our country since Las Vegas? Two in FL and one in CA. They are the 340th and 341st mass shootings in the United States this year. This year. 341 mass shootings, which comes out to 12 mass shootings every 10 days. 12 every 10 days. More than one every day. All year.

Somehow, I don’t think Jesus is very happy about that. And I don’t think he’s very impressed with how we are responding to them. These are beloved, precious, holy children of God that are being gunned down every day. And as a country, our response is anything from weak to non-existent. That’s unacceptable. That’s incomprehensible.

But I’m more concerned about the attitude of Christ’s church, people who represent Jesus here on earth. Something is broken in the church. It’s being torn open.

I’m not talking about gun legislation or the 2nd Amendment. I’m talking about the fact that the disciples of Christ seem to be ignoring the teachings of Christ. Ignoring scripture. Ignoring our faith, our discipleship, our baptismal promise to be lights in the world.

Something is broken in the church. Deeply, systemically broken. It’s being torn open. We have become complacent about this kind of thing. We have accepted it as inevitable. We chalk it up to “evil,” which puts the blame “out there” somewhere and excuses us from dealing with it. Daily mass shootings are a symptom that the American church has lost its way. The church is people who are disciples of Jesus Christ, the one who said things like,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God”

“And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”

“So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”

We are disciples of Jesus Christ, who, for saying things like these, himself became a victim of violence—he was killed for it. That’s the Christ into whom we are baptized. That’s the light we are to shine in the world. Many Christians seem to have stopped. Something is broken in Christ’s church. It’s being torn open.

Maybe we’ve made it too easy to be a Christian. Maybe we’ve sold our collective soul for the sake of increasing our numbers. Maybe we’re more into power than into walking with the vulnerable. Maybe we have become so focused on believing in Jesus that we forget to follow him. Maybe we just don’t care anymore.

But whatever we’re doing as the whole body of Christ in the name of Christ isn’t cutting it. Something is broken in the church. It’s being torn open.

That also includes the Lutherans. According to the Dean of Students at Luther Seminary, of the six most heinous domestic terrorists in recent years, three of them were Lutheran. One half. Something is broken in our church. It’s being torn open.

That also includes us in this room. When we tell our kids that sports and homework and jobs are more important than following Jesus, something is broken in this church. And let us not fool ourselves—we are telling them that. When we care more about the convenience of worship than we do about Jesus in worship, something is broken in this church. It’s being torn open.

And that also includes me. I’ve spent way too much time avoiding criticism. I’ve kept too quiet about the things that matter to Jesus, putting energy into things that don’t matter nearly as much, because it makes my life easier. I’ve tried so hard to receive congregational approval that I forgot about Jesus’ approval—and these not always the same things. Something is broken in my church.  And I’m being torn open.

A man I respect said recently about the church, “Our diagnosis doesn’t go deep enough, so our prescriptions aren’t strong enough.” That rings true for me. There’s a deep brokenness in the church. A tear that is deeper than we are diagnosing. But it’s a tear that is making room for Christ, which is more than we’re prescribing. The depth of this breaking is painful and hard—we recognize that we are being torn open, because we talk about it in terms of “the decline of the church.” We know we are being torn open, because it feels like the church is dying. But it’s only when we are torn open that we are healed in Christ. Healing that is our resurrection.

There’s something broken in the church. It’s being torn open. But we must be broken open in order to be healed in Christ. And until the mass shootings are stopped, we will continue to be torn open and more deeply healed in Christ. It’s the people who are torn open and healed who follow Christ into the world’s brokenness. You see, something’s broken in the world—it’s being torn open. And its healing is why we are here. Our hope is in Christ. Amen.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Love: Our Gift to the World (October 1, 2017)

Philippians 2:1-13

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

This text from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi makes great sense, actually. You say you are disciples of Jesus, he says. You say you believe in him, trust him, follow him. So do that. Shouldn’t be a problem.You know what Jesus is like. Helping others, loving others, forgiving others, thinking about others, seeing others—even if it cost him. OK, Christ-ians, you’ve got the game plan. Go! Do that. Be that.

Paul’s writing here in kind of like the very first “WWJD” bracelet. What would Jesus do? How would he treat those outside of your church circle? There you go. Do that.It’s not extra credit. It’s not optional. It’s what it is to be a Christian. To be like Jesus. To follow that example. “Be of the same mind,” Paul says. “Have the same love.”

But this isn’t about trying harder or working at it more. It’s about God at work in us, enabling us to reflect Christ from our hearts, from our minds. In Christ we are new, we are changed, we are different. We have died and been raised into a new life. So it’s not that we have to work to make ourselves like Jesus. We simply have to let our own selfishness get out of the way, so that Christ in us can shine in the world.

Christ is visible in the world. As we live that new life, it is visible too. There are some signs that that is coming along, Paul says. It’s a process, we keep reverting to our selfishness. But we can take a step. We can move our own ambition and conceit out of the way on occasion. We can let the Christ within us come through once in a while.

We keep at it. We can watch for the signs of God at work in us. Christ is revealed in us whenever we act not out of selfishness but out of the interests of others.

We show that in our kindness, our listening, our compassion, our not insisting on our own way. And we do it with our money. That is the most straight-forward way, the simplest way to reveal Christ in us. Giving money away for the sake of others. Putting their needs ahead of our own.

I’m proud that as a congregation, we reveal the mind of Christ with our congregational budget. We are committed to simply giving away 11% of everything that comes in through the offering plate. Through that, we support new congregations, military chaplains, missionaries around the world, disaster relief, church camps, education of students and future pastors and deacons through our colleges and seminaries, and so much more!

We are, as a church body together, very generous every time there is a special appeal. We give graciously and unselfishly together in times like now when disasters strike and people are hurting. That’s what Paul is talking about. Living unselfishly, humbly offering some of what we have for the sake of others. Recognizing that the needs of people in Puerto Rico are more urgent than ours right now.

That is the heart of Christ. And it shows. And it is moving.

So the journey of being of the same mind as Christ continues for us. Showing the world what Jesus looks like is our priority as people who bear Christ’s name.

Take one more step in the journey with Christ this week. To the 121 households that are currently giving financially to this congregation, consider one of two steps: 1) Consider giving regularly. Electronic giving is the easiest way. Who woulda thought that the internet could help us have the same love as Christ? Most banks allow a scheduled transfer of any amount on any schedule. Set it up. Lois and I have done that for years, scheduling a payment to this church right after my paycheck is deposited. It’s easy. It’s simple. And it’s being of the same mind as Christ—doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.

2) Consider an increase in your giving. Either a larger dollar amount or an increase in the percentage of your income. Doing that can make sure our own interests aren’t taking over every aspect of who we are, but Christ within us comes through in our generosity!

And to the 38 households—24%–who are active members of this congregation who currently aren’t giving anything financially here, consider doing one thing. Fill out an “Estimate of Giving” card. Just take that step. Since you’re active, you received one in the mail (or soon will). Or you can pick one up here next Sunday.

Perhaps you are giving generously somewhere else. Cancer research or the Action Center or Foothills Animal Shelter. Great! That is showing the heart and love of Christ from within you! Keep it up! Increase it!

But fill out a card and turn it in here anyway. Even if it’s a big red zero on it—that’s OK. Even if you only commit to $1 or $5 a week. That’s OK. Just take that step. Be part of this congregational community that strives to love with Christ’s love and serve as Christ serves. Put something on that card and turn it in next week. It’s not about judgment, it’s about being part of a community that bears the name of Christ, being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. It is together letting  the same mind be in us that as in Christ Jesus. It is acting not from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regarding others as better than ourselves. It is God at work in us, enabling us to reveal Christ together to the world. Christ’s love, poured into us, making us new, is our gift to the world. Take one step forward on the journey of love.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2017 in Sermon

 

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