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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Today is the Day, Now is the Time (3 Epiphany C)

3rd Epiphany — C

Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6,8-10; Luke 4:14-21

In the early chapters here in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is born, gets baptized by John, is tempted by the devil, and then this text. He leads a few Bible studies in small churches in Galilee, and then returns to his hometown church in Nazareth. These people all know him, because he grew up there. He’s already got a bit of a reputation around the area as a pretty good Bible teacher, so everyone turns out to welcome him home.

Now the synagogue Sabbath service wasn’t like Christian worship as we think of it. It was really more like an Adult Forum, or a Bible study. So they asked Jesus to read the text and lead the study.

So he does. Now listen to what he chose to read. Of all of scripture,  he deliberately finds this wonderful verse-and-a-half in Isaiah (61:1-2a), “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Pretty good stuff.

Every eye was on him. Every ear was tuned to what he would say next. Every person was holding their breath, anticipating the words of this local boy who’s gained some notoriety.

And Jesus sat down to teach, opened his mouth, and spoke.

”Today,” he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Then he sat back in his chair and stopped. That was it.

What do you think their response was? Were they excited or disappointed? (they try to throw him off a cliff; I invite you to read it in Luke 4) In the meantime, what should we make of this? In Jesus’ teaching, consider the radical aspect of the word “today.” He’s not talking about “someday.” He says “today.” Today is the day, now is the time. It would have been a lot safer for Jesus to look to history and say, “Remember how it used to be? Remember how it was before? Remember the stories? It will be that way again.” It would have been a lot less risky for him to look to the future and say, “Someday all will be well. Hang on, hope, wait, it’s coming one day.”

No, he says, “today.” Now, At this moment. As you are hearing it.  Today is the day, now is the time. Today is a urgent word. It means right now. There is a point in time when what has been hoped for and what will be remembered meet. There are urgent moments when what was and what will be hang in the balance. Turning points in history, that shape what is to come.

I’ve spoken before of the one time I went sky diving—before I was married. It was fun to anticipate the thrill of jumping out of an airplane. It was also fun to think about how, for the rest of my life, I could say, “Remember the day when I did that?” The future anticipation and the past remembrance. Both are fun.

But there was a moment, an exact time, when I had to step out onto the wheel of that plane and actually let go. Today is the day, now is the time. Unless that actual moment came, the anticipation would be for nothing. The memories wouldn’t exist. Today is the day, now is the time. Step out. Let go. Fall.

There are moments in our lives that change everything that follows. Pivot points. Once you let go of the plane, everything after that is different. Once you stand before the altar and say, “I do,” everything after that is not the same. Once that baby is born, everything after that cannot compare to what has been. Once you receive that diploma, everything after that is different. (Caitlin), once the stole is placed on your shoulders as you are ordained into the ministry of word and sacrament, you don’t go back. Once the person you love stops breathing, nothing can ever be the same. There are those moments that change everything.

That’s what Jesus is proclaiming. Today is the day, now is the time. The promise of God proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah centuries ago is here. In the person of Jesus, good news, release, recovery, freedom are upon us at this moment. It is happening. What we have hoped for is now. From here on out the future will be different. This is the moment. Today is the day, now is the time.

Jesus is letting us know. We can’t avoid it. The moment is upon us. Remembering the days gone by aren’t the essential parts. A hopeful vision for someday doesn’t matter now. Jesus is telling us that this is that moment of stepping out, of letting go. Now is the time for forgiveness. Today is the day for mercy. This is the moment of good news, of release, of recovery, of freedom. You are different as of now. Jesus has come to you, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. Now. Today is the day, now is the time.

What will you do? Every hope to be set free from that which holds you back has arrived. Jesus has opened it to you, broken into your lives with this good news. The hopes you’ve carried up until now and the memories you will have from here on are culminating right now. The moment has come to step off, to begin, to let go. Forgiveness is now a reality in your life. Release from bondage is yours starting now. Recovery from the hurts and pains of your past are happening as we speak. Today is the day, now is the time.

What will you do? We can retreat into the past. We can continue to wait for “someday.” Or you can let go now. Step off, now. Live forgiveness beginning now. Live free from bondage beginning now. Live recovery beginning now. Live this in the world today. Reveal this new reality in the world today. Make it known that “today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Today is the day, now is the time.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Sermon

 

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Signs of a New Reality (2 Epiphany C)

2nd Sunday of Epiphany

Isaiah 62:1-5; John 2:1-11

Signs are an important part of our culture. They tell us all kinds of things. Take a look at these signs, and think about what each of them means.

Start PowerPoint slides “signs.” They’ll advance on their own.

The purpose of a sign is to make you aware of a reality you may not otherwise know: sharp curve, wildlife that may jump in front of your car, train coming, where the airport is compared to where you are, etc.

LCM Building. Leave on screen.

Once you understand the reality a sign is revealing, you usually don’t pay attention to the sign. If a sign draws attention to just itself, it has not fulfilled its purpose. A sign always points to something else.

Notice that John deliberately refers to Jesus changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana as “a sign.” It points to something else, a reality that those present may not otherwise be aware of. The point of this sign wasn’t the miracle itself, it revealed something else entirely. Be thinking about what that is.

The steward totally missed the sign. After tasting the wine, he went to the bridegroom and made an assumption based on what he already knew. Different wine, good wine; obviously it must have been stashed away by the groom until now. Nothing  new, nothing different. Because he doesn’t recognize the sign, he doesn’t get what the sign is pointing out.

Who knows what the other guests thought. But this sign revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him. Every time John writes of “signs” (17 times), it always has to do with the reign of God breaking into the world, present in Jesus. God has come to do something new and different. Not just change water into wine, not just heal the sick and cast out demons; but in Christ, God comes to make the world new. The sign points to a new reality. Sin and evil and death will no longer have the last word. They no longer reign supreme. God is doing something new. And it is happening in the person of Jesus.

This sign at the wedding of Cana points to God’s presence in the world in a new way; a reality that this broken world can’t contain and can’t explain.

This sign points to a new and present reality that turns our normal world upside down – a new reality where death leads to life, where forgiveness is a done deal, where the meek inherit the earth, where enemies are loved. How often do we miss the signs that reveal these new things God is doing, the overcoming of our brokenness and the brokenness of the world? God is forgiving and showing mercy all around us, but because we don’t always see the signs, we don’t always see it.

There are signs pointing to God’s new reality right here in front of us, around us right now: the Word of God read and proclaimed, Jesus’ presence in bread and wine, a community of people created in his name. Every time you show mercy, it is a sign of God’s new reign. Every time you give away money or material things to the point that it actually affects your lifestyle, God’s new reign is shown. Every time the words “I forgive you” are experienced, it is a sign of God’s presence in the world.

If that’s not amazing enough, think about this: most of our neighbors don’t see the signs so aren’t looking for it. They don’t know about the power and depth of forgiveness and love. They’re missing out on God’s new reality because like the steward, they don’t know they are seeing signs.

So God has planted this community of faith right in their midst. We are the sign for them. You point to a new reality that your neighbors may not otherwise see. You reveal God’s forgiveness in ways that are so startling that it demands attention; you make known God’s love to those who have simply missed the signs; you expose God’s peace amongst those who hate you; you show mercy where the stewards of the world never expect it. Want a sign? You are giving away more of your money, more of your time, more of your resources than you ever have before.

You are a sign of the presence of God’s new reality. You are revealing to your neighbors something other than the normal self-serving existence. Some will see the sign revealing Christ’s glory and believe in him. Some will see and experience the love that you point toward, the forgiveness you reveal.

God provides signs for us, and sends us as signs to those around us. This is a new reality. God is doing something new. And it is happening in the person of Jesus. May we be looking for the signs. May we be signs that are impossible to miss.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Sermon

 

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Continuing the Epiphany Story (at Well of Hope, ELCA, Castle Pines, CO) 1/6/13

The Epiphany of Our Lord – C

Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

 Greetings from the Office of the Bishop, Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA. I need, first of all, to express appreciation for the partnership we share, not only with the other 164 congregations of the RMS and the other 10,000 congregations of the ELCA, but additionally for the special witness you bring, that of using imagination in sharing the gospel. I hope you can teach the rest of the church how to think in new ways and walk on new ground, as you are being led by the Holy Spirit.

So today is the Day of Epiphany! The day of “aha,” of new insights, of revelation as to who Jesus is and what his purpose is in the world! And the gospel text for this important day is one most people are pretty familiar with—the coming of the magi. What do you do with a story most people already know? On the Day of Epiphany, hopefully you do something new, insightful, revealing.

Magi in Jesus’ day had no business visiting God’s Messiah. The shepherds were bad enough: smelly, rude, rejected outcasts who spent their time not with other people but with animals. But at least they know who God is. At least they have some sense of worship and God’s ways.

But these magi were about as far from pious Jews as you could get. Magi were not “wise men”. They were everything that a God-fearing person tried to avoid. They were pagan, chicken-bone reading, star-gazing magicians. Their faith was not in the God of Israel, it was in tea leaves or chicken gizzards. They knew nothing of God, nothing of the promised Messiah, nothing of worship.

So they come all this way in order to offer gifts to the young King of the Jews because God brought them by a star. That wouldn’t make sense to good Jewish folk; it might have even been abhorrent. But God reached out to these magi in a way that worked for them, made sense to them. God didn’t call them in a way Jews would respond. God didn’t reveal what God was doing through signs God-fearing people would understand. God didn’t even lead them in any way God had ever used before, in a way that would make pious Jews squirm, like a psychic hotline. It was new, it was different, it was for these foreign pagans, so they could experience the presence of God. That’s how far God is willing to go. That’s how radically inclusive this God is.

So that makes me wonder: is God still calling radically diverse people? Is God still reaching out to people in ways the traditionally religious wouldn’t get? Is God using new ways to reach new people with the good news of love, forgiveness, and grace in Jesus?

I believe that’s where you come in. There are hundreds of congregations in this part of the world that see God calling people in more traditional ways. Lots of churches that use evangelism programs, food banks, and social justice issues to reveal God at work in the world. And good! Those are necessary and wonderful!

But you are new. You are unique. You have ways to share the gospel news with people in this neighborhood that no one else can do. You can discover who the magi in Castle Pines are and be God’s sign to them.

Think about that. In the few years this ministry has been in existence, you’ve not really done anything the “normal,” “traditional” way. Your existence here is a living witness to a God who is willing to lead you in new ways. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that God would lead you to reach new people? If this story of the magi tells us anything, it’s that God is quite willing to do things differently, to break new ground in order to reveal the Christ to all people. You are God’s continuation of that.

And one of the most wonderful things about all this is that God has called a pastor to be among you who isn’t afraid of that. Pastor Michelle, you may have noticed, appreciates trying new things and doing things in different ways. Isn’t that what God seems to be about in this gospel story too?

Sometimes that isn’t easy, and sometimes it may be a bit frightening. This text says “all Jerusalem” was frightened by these strange, foreign pagans who came to pay homage to the king of the Jews. Whenever God does things in ways that are outside the experiences of traditional Christian people like me, it can be a bit unnerving or uncomfortable. But God is about calling all people, loving all people, revealing Christ to all people, forgiving all people. Even people who need to hear things differently. Even people who need different signs of God’s presence. Even people who aren’t the least bit interested in being part of what we would call a “normal Lutheran experience.” And God has called you to be the shining star for them; to be the sign of God’s loving, gracious presence for them. Probably in new ways. Because if the previous ways worked, they’d probably already be part of a Lutheran church, right?

So here’s what I encourage you to do:

  • Recognize God’s amazing presence in your own life and ministry.
  • Grow in your understanding of new ways God is at work around you.
  • Study scripture, paying special attention to ways God works and people God calls that are new or unusual.
  • Discover who the magi are in this neighborhood—the people God is calling but who aren’t likely to hear that call through normal church means.
  • Recognize your call as a star rising to lead them to Jesus.

This is the Day of Epiphany! The day of “aha,” of new insights, of revelation as to who Jesus is and what Jesus is about in the world. This is the Day of Epiphany, and God is revealing something new in the world. And you, here in Castle Pines, are called to be that sign in this community.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Sermon

 

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A Messy God (Christmas Eve)

Christmas Eve, 2012

Luke 2:1-20

 Messing up Christmas

Caroline’s confirmation class was doing a pageant entitled, “What if Jesus were born today?” Caroline had volunteered to be Mary.

In preparation, the confirmation class had to do some research and creative interpretation of the Christmas story from Luke’s Gospel. They determined that today, Mary and Joseph would be a homeless couple traveling to a new home with all of their belongings in a shopping cart. There would be no “donkey” for Mary to ride as in the Bible, so they chose a rusty 1969 Chevy Impala for that task. There would be no room for Mary and Joseph at the Motel Six, and no hospital in “Hicksville” where they would settle, but a temporary room was found them in the back of a barn. Caroline and her friends started to really get into this.

But Caroline felt that there were further details of the story neglected by the previous pageants. She made plans to correct those, hoping she wouldn’t offend the good people of her congregation. She made her secret plans and carried them out without anyone noticing. She looked radiant during the scene in which an angel appears on her television screen to announce that she would have a baby. She cried appropriately when she had to tell Joseph, her fiancé, what was going on, and cried again when he informed her that he loved her anyway and would still marry her. Then, as the scene changed, she disappeared backstage to prepare for the “journey and birth” portion of the play.

When she emerged for the final scene, walking slowly with Joseph, she brought gasps and not a few nervous throat-clearing from the congregation. Caroline had tied a pillow under her “Mary” costume, clearly indicateing that she was expecting a baby. When “the time came for her to be delivered” Caroline imitated full-out labor pains, complete with screaming. Some people were shocked at how far Caroline carried her assignment. It was just that no one had ever seen Mary “pregnant” in a pageant before. Caroline had given them an image that disturbed the clean pictures of Jesus’ birth that we normally see.

Mary and Joseph’s Experience

Over the years we have cleaned up the Christmas story, made it something only for children. But that’s not the story in the Bible, and it’s not the “good news” God has for us.

We sanitize this story to the point that it’s separated from our own life stories. The shepherds were hired hands and represented the lowest levels of society in the ancient world. Those who spent time only with animals would not be quite so well behaved as we command our pageant shepherds to be. We imagine a quaint manger scene in a nice cave or clean little grotto for the animals. But we usually neglect to imagine the animal manure, and its accompanying smell, in our minds eye. And of course, few of us actually dare to imagine Mary as really pregnant.

As a result, we can’t imagine a holy God to coming into the middle of a messy world, where shepherds sleep in the dirt after drinking too much, where animals do what animals do, and where pregnant women scream in labor pains. We place God in this story only in such a way as to keep a clean God separate from the harsh,  shameful mess of our world—and of our own lives.

God in the Midst of the Mess

When we do that, we fail to understand what God is doing on this night. God chose to be born into our messy, despairing world, into the middle of hopelessness. God chose to come not into a cleaned up palance, but into the squalor of humanity’s injustice and cruelty to one another, into a family that wanders homeless, announced to shepherds in a pre-dawn stupor, in a place only good enough for smelly barnyard animals. God chooses to be in our mess. We just choose to ignore it. And so we tough it out with an image of a distant God too holy and clean to be in our unholy and messy lives.

The message of Christmas is that the God of creation is not clean, but messy. On this night, God chooses the dirt and grime, the pain and suffering, the very human and worldly stuff of pregnancy and childbirth. This is the lengths to which God will go to be in this broken world and in our broken lives.

The Presence of Christ

God comes into the mess. He comes right into history, into a despairing world, so that he can set us free from hopelessness. For as we see Jesus in a cattle feeding trough, we can no longer see God as separate, distant, clean. What that means is that no matter how messy, disgusting, shameful, or broken our lives are, God chooses to be in it with us. And when God is present, our hope is revealed.

That’s why we sing with joy this night of nights. Not because we’ve cleaned ourselves up good enough for Christ to be with us, but because when we are unable to clean up our lives, God chooses to come to us.

In the end, I think that Caroline had it right. Christmas reveals God bringing our hope into the stuff of a messy life.

So for those whose lives are a mess, for those who aren’t clean enough to be with Jesus, for those who just can’t seem to get things together, Merry Christmas. This night is for you. This place is for you. Tonight your hope is revealed.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Sermon

 

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Sweet Baby Jesus May Not Always Be Helpful (1 Advent C)

1st Sunday of Advent – C

Luke 21:25-36

 Well, isn’t this a fun way to begin Advent? We want to be looking for cute little baby Jesus asleep on the hay. Instead we are told to look for the whole earth to be distressed; nations to be confused; the seas to roar; people to faint in fear and dread; the very powers of the heavens to shake. Thank you, gospel-writer, Luke. If it’s all the same to you, we’d rather look for shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night, or a baby wrapped on swaddling clothes, or decorated trees, or colorful lights, Santa specials on TV. You know, the real signs that Jesus is coming. . .

Advent is about preparing for the coming of Christ. So if this season is going to be meaningful it makes sense to talk not only about the baby 2000 years ago, but also about how Christ is present with us today. The baby in the manger is significant, but reminiscing about that 2000 year old event may not be enough when we need him now. It’s kind of like looking at Benjamin Franklin’s original fire department in 1736 when your house in on fire now. Nice, significant, but perhaps more is needed.

So one of the first things this gospel text in Luke points out is actually something we already know: that things in our world don’t always go right. There are things that happen that are destructive, terrifying, painful, and cause tremendous anxiety. That was true in Luke’s day, and it’s just as true now. We are a broken world, and that means that there are hard things in our lives. Try as we might, there will be things that happen that are painful and wrong and unfair and just plain difficult.

Sometimes, when we’re in the middle of this painful broken stuff, we want to just escape it—so we look longingly back at what seemed like a better time. A time we were happy, fewer problems, easier life. We idealize the good days, long for a simpler time. We get nostalgic and yearn for those less painful days.

Baby Jesus can become a part of that reminiscing. The manger and the carols and the lights can take us back to what we remember to be a more innocent time—and we avoid some of the pain and difficulty we experience today.

At least for a while.

But these hard days don’t go away. The reality of our worry and our stress and our pain comes back all too quickly. As nice, and as important as it is, sometimes we need more than a look back at a baby born 2000 years ago. Sometimes we need a bigJesus right here and right now.

 

I believe that’s what we are getting here today in this first Sunday of Advent. In the midst of the fear and the woe and the anxiety and the wars and the poverty and the hatred and the bombs and the death and the stress, Luke reminds us to “stand up and raise [our] heads, because [our] redemption is drawing near.”

While everyone around you is fainting from fear and foreboding, Luke reminds you that “when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

More than a baby in the manger surrounded by cows and shepherds 2000 years ago, Luke is telling us that Jesus is with us now—in the very midst of our stress. In Advent, here’s more than “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.” There’s the one who conquers death, who brings the very peace of God, who stands with you in your brokenness. This is the Christ we need, and this is the Christ who comes.

Yes, we tell the story of the baby Jesus. But in Advent we are being prepared for the presence of the living Christ with us right now. What we watch for is the God’s hope given flesh in our lives today. What God prepares us for is to be free in midst of our worry.

What’s causing the distress in your life right now? Where do you see confusion and roaring and fear and foreboding? Where does the hard stuff of your real life today shake the very powers of the heavens?

When you see those things, that’s when you look for Christ to come to you. When you are stressed and full of anxiety, that’s when you look for Christ to be present through someone comforting you. When you are broken and hurting, that’s when you stand up and raise up your head, because the living Christ comes to you in the love and forgiveness of someone nearby. When you are overwhelmed in your life, that’s when you know that the peace of a very present Jesus comes in the hug and the listening ear of someone who loves you.

You see, as the church, as baptized people of God, we are the presence of Christ for those around us. We, who receive forgiveness and grace and mercy and love every day, reveal a very present Jesus to those we meet. We who are being shaped more and more by the love of God, become the hope, the hands, the voice of Jesus to those who see only fear and foreboding.

Sometimes we need Jesus to come. Sometimes we are the coming of Jesus for others. Wherever you are today, there is a very real, very present Christ coming to you. May this be a blessed Advent as we look for the presence of Jesus. Amen.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Sermon

 

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