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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Does the Holy Spirit Still Do Big “Pentecost” Stuff?

The Day of Pentecost

Romans 8:22-17; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15; Acts 2:1-21

Wow. When the Holy Spirit moves, she really moves. Fire, sound of violent wind, unprecedented styles of communication. When the Holy Spirit is poured out, she brings visions, dreams, prophecies; blood, fire, and smoke. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord is saved.

If we were to read on to the conclusion of Peter’s sermon here, we would see that because of this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, 3000 people were baptized in one day. Wow. When the Holy Spirit moves, things happen.

Do things like this happen today? I’ve never heard of any followers of Jesus standing up at the United Nations and preaching a sermon that everyone understands in their own native language. I’d settle for one person preaching in Spanish and one person understanding it in English.

I’ve never heard of any church service anywhere that included a sound like the rush of a violent wind, tongues of fire over everyone’s heads, and sudden boldness in faith. The closest I’ve seen is when the wind rattles through the cooler vents during a Christmas Eve candlelight service.

I’ve never heard of 3000 people being baptized at once because of one sermon. Though I’ll admit I dream about it!

So I guess my question is this: Is the Holy Spirit moving now? I think most of us would say, “yes.” And that’s fine. I wonder how many of us who say would say that do so because we’re supposed to. It’s part of our doctrinal language to speak of the power of the Holy Spirit of God. It’s part of the faith we are taught that the same Holy Spirit from Pentecost is still at work, doing amazing things. We feel sacrilegious or blasphemous if we say otherwise.

So we chalk some things up to the power of the Spirit. A new insight, we say the right thing at the right time even though we didn’t know it. A prayer for someone we hadn’t thought of for a long time. And those probably are the Holy Spirit at work.

But where are the big things? Where are the public things? Where are the 3000 new members waiting to be baptized in order to become part of this congregation?

I don’t know that I have an answer to that though I wish I did. It seems the Holy Spirit moves wherever she wants, doing whatever she wants, whenever she wants to do it. The disciples in Acts on that day of Pentecost weren’t looking for this. They weren’t praying for the Holy Spirit to come. Of all the things they were hoping would happen as they cowered in their room, the events of that day probably weren’t on the list. But for whatever reason, the Spirit of God moved in a powerful, public, and obvious way. Peter preached, people listened, and even though some made fun of them, 3000 others were baptized. You cannot control the Holy Spirit any more than you can control the wind.

For us, the only thing I can point out is that when the Holy Spirit moves, things generally don’t go the way we expect.

Consider Peter. He wasn’t planning on 3000 baptisms. He wasn’t planning on preaching to thousands more who were gathered in Jerusalem for the festival. He wasn’t planning on being heard in at least 15 different languages at once. All he did was move with the wind of the Spirit, breathe in the breath of the Spirit. He wasn’t responsible for the languages nor the baptisms. Just breathing and moving and speaking. The Spirit did what she wanted.

She cannot be controlled, manipulated, or predicted. What the Spirit does in one case is completely different than what she does in another. Virtually the same sermon was preached at least twice more in Acts with vastly different results. Peter and John together preached it again in Acts 3 and instead of 3000 baptisms, they were imprisoned. Stephen preached it in Acts 6. No multiple languages; instead he was stoned to death.

Some might say this means you shouldn’t preach someone else’s sermons, but I think it might be more than that. I think it indicates that the Holy Spirit does whatever she wants, whenever she wants to do it.

So why doesn’t she bring 3000 people in here for baptism today? Well, in the first place the day isn’t over yet. But in the second place, the Holy Spirit is doing other things among and through us.

Perhaps our prayer shouldn’t be for 3000 people to come in seeking baptism, but that we would breathe with the Holy Spirit, move with her, and speak as she prompts. I believe the Holy Spirit does move now. Is moving now. Right now. I also think we don’t always want to see her activity. At least not on her terms. If the Spirit of God isn’t doing what we expect, perhaps it’s because we’re expecting different things. I also wonder if the miracle of Pentecost wasn’t the tongues of fire, the sound of the wind, the languages, or the baptisms; but rather that these disciples, who never got anything right, stood up and spoke. If there’s power in the Spirit, perhaps it’s that she got these disciples to breathe and move on her terms rather than theirs.

May the Holy Spirit never do what we want or expect! May we see the miracle of Pentecost among us—not necessarily the fire or wind or languages. But a gathering of people that are moved by the power of the Holy Spirit to breathe and move on the Spirit’s terms. Who knows what that will be.

Come, Holy Spirit!

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Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Sermon

 

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Why Would Jesus Pray for Us? 5/20/2012, Easter 7 B

7th Sunday of Easter

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; John 17:6-19

Pull out the small thin sheet of paper. Next to each number, write the name of a person you know you’ll see at some point this week. Hang on to this for now.

This text in John describes John’s version of the events before Jesus was betrayed and crucified. Jesus knows he won’t be with his disciples much longer, and spends five chapters in this gospel doing last minute preparations to help them. The entire 17th chapter is one long prayer that we’re listening in on.

In the portion of this prayer included today, Jesus is praying for the church—for his disciples then, and his disciples to come—he’s praying for us!

Look at this prayer. One of the main emphases is that Jesus is praying for our protection. Why? A couple of reasons: 1) we are the ones who continue his ministry, and 2) we don’t always know what we’re doing.

  1. As his disciples, we are the ones who continue his ministry in his name. We are the ones who carry on in the world, and it is neither comfortable nor safe.

Jesus doesn’t pray for us to live in monasteries, or sanctuaries, or retreat centers. We are sent right into and among a sinful society which is deeply misinformed about God. Our culture makes bad assumptions based on bad theology and misinformation.

We aren’t separated from the world, but driven into it. The church was not created to be a safe place to escape from the sin and hardships of a cruel world.

  1. Which is why I personally never refer to this room as a “sanctuary.” It’s not a safe place. It’s a worship area.
  2. We bring all the brokenness, sin, cruelty, and evil of the world right here into the church with us—because we’re just as broken and shattered in here as we are everywhere else. The church is not for “good people,” but broken people who need a new life.

So Jesus prays for protection in the midst of our living constantly in the brokenness of the world—praying that we would seek God’s presence and forgiveness continually. But he also prays for our protection because

  1. We don’t always know what we’re doing. Just like the original disciples, we don’t fully understand our role. We feel inadequate, frightened, incompetent to go into the world on Jesus’ behalf.

Do you know why?  Because we are!

If the continuation of his ministry of revealing love, mercy, generosity and forgiveness depends on us, Jesus better be praying for us.

  1. If there’s one thing the church has proven over the centuries, it’s that whenever we attempt to do something for God, we screw it up. There’s that constant reminder that we’re part of the brokenness of the world.
  2. But it’s not our righteousness or our brokenness that we’re charged with revealing in the world. It’s Christ’s. We go as witnesses to his resurrection, to new life in him, to forgiveness in his name, to the relationship to God that he has provided.

So he prays for our protection—as hurting/broken people sent into a hurting/broken world; and as hurting/broken people who don’t know what we’re doing.

But we go anyway. We’re already there. We go into the world, we live in the world. We’re already part of the world.

But Christ is already there before us: praying for us, forgiving us, protecting us. He gives us his new life.

~~As we belong to him, we now live in the world in his name.

~~With our identity in him, we go out in his name.

~~Inadequate and sinful, we reveal forgiveness in him name.

We go to those who—just like us—are broken, hurting, and undeserving of God’s love. We can identify with those who believe they are furthest from God or who don’t even care about God because we’re just like them.

And yet we reveal something else too. As we go into the world, we reveal who Christ has made us to be: people made new in the grace, the love, the forgiveness, and the new life of Jesus Christ.

Whether we feel prepared or not, confident or not, we are equipped and sent into the world. And we go. We can’t proclaim our own righteousness, but we do reveal the reality of new life in Christ, because we go as forgiven people, as loved people, and new people.

Who will you encounter this week? Look at your list. As you meet them during the week, know that Jesus is already there with them ahead of you. Below each name, jot down one particular way you can show his love, mercy, forgiveness, generosity specifically to each of them. As you do that, know he is praying for you in your encounter with them. He’s praying for you as you carry on his ministry even though you may feel you don’t know what you’re doing. He’s praying for you, because it’s his new life, made real in you, that you bring to them. He’s praying for you so that they would experience his love which is, even now, being made real in you.

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2012 in Sermon

 

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Lay-Down-Your-Life Kind of Love (6 Easter B), May 13, 2012

6th Sunday of Easter (B)

John 15:9-17

This is a beautiful text, don’t you think? It’s all about the love. As the Father loves the Son, so the Son loves us. Jesus tells us to just live in it. Soak it up. Make that love our home. Get used to it, he says. Abide in it. That’s the word he uses. Abide.

Then he tells us how deep that love is. It’s the kind of love that would cause someone to lay down their live for another. You are that important, Jesus says. You are that special. As the Father loves me, he says, so I have loved you.

…Well, isn’t that cute.

Sounds a bit trite, if you ask me. It’s easy to say. Jesus loves you, Jesus died for you, Jesus forgives you all your sins. I’m sorry, but to be honest, those are just words. Whether true or not, no one will believe the words just because someone says them. This is Mother’s Day, and I can say to Lois—the mother of my children—that I love her. I can say it poetically and at great length. And it would be good and right for me to do so. It may even be true. But what if, in spite of my words, I continue to act in completely selfish ways? What if my primary concern continues to be for myself, for my comfort, my likes, my career, my preferences, my life? What if her concerns, her fears, her career, her comfort, her life make no real difference in my actions toward her? How long before my words of love become empty and meaningless—an annoying gong, a clanging cymbal, as Paul wrote? I can tell you, it wouldn’t be long.

If I mean these words of love, it would be evident in my priorities, wouldn’t it? Her feelings would be a significant. The things that make her happy would be central. That which is best for her would be at the top of the list. Isn’t that love? Putting the other ahead of yourself? Not just saying it, but living it?

That’s what Jesus is about here. It’s more than words. Love is a willingness to lay down your life for friends. You are my friends, he says. This is not just a slogan. His love for his friends was lived out. He laid down his life.

But for many, even those are still just words. A nice story. Cute. Which is why Jesus tells us to make our home in his love, for it to be natural, a part of who we are. He commands us to love the same way he loves us. Because as the body of Christ, the church is the only Jesus many people will ever see. God’s love for them is best known by them through our Christ-like love for them. Laying down our life for them. This doesn’t necessary mean actually dying—you can love someone without throwing yourself in front of a bus to prove it—but it does mean putting their needs, their benefit, their life ahead of our own. That’s Jesus’ “laying down your life” kind of love.

Some of us, for instance, will throw food away tonight while children not very far from here will go to bed hungry tonight. What does “laying down your life” love look like here?

Some of us will buy yet one more electronic devise this month while others will try to figure out how to pay rent this month. What does “laying down your life” love look like here?

Some of us will be adding thousands of dollars to our 401k this year while malaria needlessly kills hundreds of thousands of African children this year. What does “laying down your life” love look like here?

As a congregational community, we do exhibit Christ-like, laying down your life, kind of love in some incredible and amazing ways. Paul Alexander, who takes all the Action Center donations from the bins every week, is always talking about how full those bins are—every week.

This Lent, we gave over $1600 toward the eradication of malaria.

Our own Green Mountain Elementary School Mentors invest about 150 hours a year in relationships with the students, helping with homework.

Quite a few LCM members volunteer at the Action Center, Habitat for Humanity, Lutheran Family Services of the Rockies, and even our own Meal Ministry. We provide lunches for grieving families—members or not—after they bury their loved ones. We make sure many who are deployed in Afghanistan know they are loved and prayed for through the “Loads of Love” ministry here.

We contribute generously through the ELCA World Hunger and through LWR every time there’s a disaster in the world.

Before any of that, we give away 10% of our congregational offerings out of love for those who need it most.

And yet, as generous as we are, we’ve been equipped—loved—for more.

Jesus says, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you.” I appointed you for this. I love you completely and my love has taken root in you. It lives in you. You have that much love to give. So go, he says, love those that need it, bear the fruit of that love; it will make a lasting difference. Live my love in the world. Do it for the sake of our neighbors, so that they don’t just hear empty words of Christ’s love, but know his “lay down your life” kind of love.

Our council is committed to an expression of that Christ-like love. One of our goals for 2012 is for each council member to become involved in our neighborhood in a way that shows this kind of active love.

I invite you to do the same. Let Jesus’ life-giving love for you be lived out for the sake of someone else. Around the worship space are 13 local agencies who serve our neighbors in various ways. Plus some blanks for you to add others that you know of. We’ll take some time now for you to look them over, jot down some information, but most importantly, sign up for one or more of them to lay down your life for someone else. Our love is more than words. As Jesus loves us, so we love them.

. . . . .

During worship there were 63 sign-ups for one or more of the following:

  • The Action Center
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver
  • C.A.S.A.
  • Colorado Coalition for the Homeless
  • Colorado Talking Books Library
  • Family Tree
  • Foothills Animal Shelter
  • Green Mountain Elementary School Homework Club (LCM)
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Hope Ministry (LCM)
  • Hospice of St. John
  • Interfaith Hospitality Network
  • Jefferson County Sheriff Victim Service Unit
  • Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains
  • Second Wind
 
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Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Sermon

 

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Apparently, It’s About the Fruit (5 Easter, B)

5th Sunday of Easter (B)

Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31; John 15:1-8

My son Phil worked right after college selling a particular product door-to-door in the Minneapolis area. In order for him to make any money, he needed to sell this product. Success for him, then, was obviously increasing the number of sales he made. The bottom-line was the number of this product he sold, so the larger the bottom-line, the more money he made, and the more successful he was considered to be.

The way you define success has a lot to do with how you go about achieving it. Since number of sales was the measure of success, any and all tactics were justified to achieve success. Exaggerating, allowing people to believe something that may not be true, pressure to sign on the dotted line right now, fear tactics, even out-an-out lying were actually taught in order for him to be “successful.” Integrity, honesty, and the customers’ actual needs were secondary, if they were considered at all. Sell more, bigger bottom line, leads to success. In this case I’m proud to say he wasn’t completely successful.

Self-centered bottom lines are really the measures of success for most things in our lives. More. Bigger. Higher numbers. The way we define success has a lot to do with how we go about achieving it. Far too often a bottom line takes precedence over the methods used to achieve that success. If my bottom line comes at the expense of someone else’s needs, oh well. If my bottom line causes pain or suffering for someone else, oh well.

What’s unfortunate is that the church has assumed this base corporate measure of success too. We are considered successful if our numbers are higher, if our membership is increasing, if we have more money in the bank, if more people are sitting in our chairs on a Sunday morning. That’s what we measure. That’s what we count. That’s what we brag about. That’s what we value. The bottom line. We get a little proud when it’s up and a little anxious when it’s down.

I’m not sure the kingdom of God is served when our primary measure of success as the church is the same as a door-to-door salesperson using questionable techniques. I believe we need to redefine the word “success” for the church. And I think this is a biblical text that can help.

Jesus talks about two vital relationships in this text. The first is between his Father as the vine grower and him as the vine. The second is between Jesus as the vine and us as the branches.

Our relationship to Jesus—vine and branches—gives us life. He is our source. Through him we bear the fruit of the kingdom as his disciples. He is the vine, we are the branches. Everything we do that reveals God in the world is done through him. This isn’t surprising nor is it a new concept to most people who’ve been in the church for any length of time.

It’s his relationship to the Father that’s interesting. This relationship, between the vine and the vine grower, is all about removing and pruning. That’s what is described as the role of the Father here. Removing branches that don’t bear fruit and pruning branches that do. And all this—the cutting away and the pruning—are for the sole purpose of allowing the branches to bear fruit. It seems that the fruit is what matters here. We are to abide in Jesus like branches connected to a vine so that we can bear fruit.

According to the previous two chapters in the gospel of John, as well the rest of this chapter, the fruit Jesus is talking about here is love. Love of God and love of others. A little different bottom line, it would seem. The more fruit we as branches bear—the more love we show—the more successful we are.

Here’s where our cultural assumptions about “bottom line” equaling success get challenged. If the fruit we are to bear in Christ is love, which is all about the needs of others, then the measure of success for us as Christian people is how well loved those around us are. How the needs of those in our neighborhoods are being met. The measure of success for us as a church can never be primarily about how many people join us in here, but rather how many of us join them out there. How many of them out there have experienced love from the church and from church members? How many out there have been served, helped, hugged, fed, housed, welcomed, befriended by us as LCM members?

The measure of success for us as a church can never be how much money we have in surplus. It must be about how much money we give away.

The measure of success for us as a church can never be whether our membership is going up or down, but whether the poverty rate around us is going up or down.

If we are bearing this fruit, the Father will prune us—clean out the parts in us that inhibit that fruit. Is that failure? Having parts of us cleaned out or removed so we can love more? Hardly! Apparently it’s what the Father does. We live in Christ. We are part of the living vine. We do bear fruit. So pruning will happen to us. The parts of us that get in the way of loving our neighbor and loving our God do get cleaned and cut6. Some call it repentance. Jesus calls it pruning.

No one likes being pruned. I’m in the throes of it right now as a result of my brief participation in the Rocky Mountain Synod bishop election process. I’m not sure which parts of me are being pruned because of it; but God is certainly using that experience to cut away aspects of my life and ministry that aren’t producing the fruit they could. I certainly see some things differently.

I don’t like being pruned. None of us do. But it’s not about that. Our success as disciples of Jesus Christ is not about our bottom line. It’s about how much we love, how much we serve, how much we give away, how much we forgive, how much we care. “My father is glorified by this,” Jesus says, “that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2012 in Sermon

 
 
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