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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Perspective and Action (March 23, 2014)

3rd Sunday of Lent

Acts 10:23-33; Acts 17:19-21

Do you remember the first time, as an adult, you went into an elementary school bathroom? When you were little, everything normal sized, but now everything is so small? When did the porcelain shrink? You gain a new perspective as an adult.

When I moved from Salt Lake City to St. Paul, MN, I was warned about the cold there. “I have a coat, ” I said. “How cold can it be?” I gained a new perspective very quickly.

When my children were small, I’d talk with parents of teenagers and think, “Just tell them what they should do. Reward them if they do it, and punish them if they don’t. How hard can that be?” Then my kids became teenagers. Teenagers are wonderful, just not the same as young kids. It’s an experience that will gain you a new perspective.

There are experiences that simply change our perspective. And when our perspective changes, we do things differently.

Peter in Acts 10 understood God’s love and God’s law. He knew who was in and who was out. It made sense. And then this whole thing sheet thing happened with clean and unclean animals and God telling him that profane and holy aren’t as clear-cut as he thought. It was an experience that changed his perspective. And with a new perspective that God loves people who shouldn’t be loved, he is doing things differently.

So when three men sent by the Roman centurion Cornelius (obviously not a Jew) come to him, he goes to Joppa with them “without objection.” Only after he gets to Cornelius’ house does he ask, “Why did you send for me?”

The Athenians in Acts 17 recognize that what Paul is teaching is new. They don’t have a frame of reference for this information about someone named Jesus being raised from the dead. So wanting a new perspective, they ask to know more.

There are experiences that simply change our perspective. And when our perspective changes, we do things differently.

So, I’m wondering what new perspectives have we gained from God? As a result of an spiritual experience, how do we do something differently? What has God shown us that would cause us to “get and go without objection?”

Let me give you some examples:

As a result of spending time with these chapters in Acts as well as some others, passages like “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean,” my perspective on our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers changed. Those who God has made clean I can’t call unclean. My perspective on immigration was clarified so that it doesn’t matter to me whether someone has proper documentation or not. These are just more people that God loves and should be treated exactly that way.

As  result of new perspectives, I do things differently surrounding those two issues, and many others. When God shows us something that changes our perspective, we do things differently.

One more perspective that may be changing as a result of an experience with God. What if holy communion wasn’t for the baptized, but was the responsibility of  the baptized to provide it to the world? If we trust Jesus comes to us in bread and wine, bringing forgiveness and life, why aren’t we taking this meal, as a church, to the park, the shopping center, the coffee shop?

And what about LCM? How has our congregational perspective been changed by an encounter with God that has caused us to do things differently?

I believe God is speaking to us, showing us that God is active in our neighborhood outside the church building. And that we are most fully the church not when we’re in here, but when we’re out there–with God. That’s why we have embraced ministries like Hope, Green Mountain Elementary Homework Helpers, Abrazos a Molholm. That’s why we have so many people from here who are joining God at The Action Center, with Habitat for Humanity, and all the others that we’ll be able to see and celebrate on April 27th right here on our Celebration Sunday.

God shows us God’s work, and our perspective changes. And we end up considering possibilities like mentoring Green Mountain and Bear Creek High School students in career possibilities.

Peter’s perspective was changed by a vision from God. As a result, a Gentile and his household were baptized into Christ.

God comes to you now in love, grace, mercy, forgiveness. Let that sink in. As forgiven people, experiencing unconditional love, how might you see the world differently? With these new eyes touched by grace, new ears touched by forgiveness, a new perspective from God, how will you do things differently now?

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Entering the Divine Conversation

Acts 10:1-8

 I want you to listen again to the description of Cornelius. In addition to being Roman military, which means a foreigner and a Gentile, Cornelius was “a devout man who feared God . . . Gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.”

Do you know anyone like that? Anyone that you’d describe as devout, generous, and a constant pray-er?

And yet, when this devout, prayerful, and generous man of God sees a messenger from God, he is terrified. That makes me think it didn’t happen to him very often. I guess angels appearing to him wasn’t an everyday occurrence and hearing the voice of God wasn’t really common in his life.

Now here’s where it gets pretty funky. Cornelius actually answers. Terrified, worried, and uncertain, he still answers what he believes is the voice of God, saying, “What is it, Lord?” And he does this with an apparent willingness to follow through, since he actually does what God asks of him.

What’s your first reaction to someone who’s claimed to hear the voice of God telling them to do something? Especially something that makes no sense, like, “Go into the next town and knock on a door asking for a guy names Simon”? More of us have had some kind of experience like this than we will admit, so it still seems pretty bizarre.

So here’s my question for us: How did Cornelius know this was the voice of God; that this angel was a messenger of God? How did he recognize it?

The answer lies in the description of who Cornelius is. He is devout, he is generous, he is prayerful. Because he’s been listening for God’s voice for years, because he knew God well through his religious practices, he was able to recognize God’s voice and God’s presence when it came specificially to him.

And do you know what happened as a result? This was the first step toward Gentiles being recognizec, included, and baptized as people God loves. Cornelius, because he recognized God’s voice, was able to accept an invitation by God to be part of God’s work of including all people in love and forgiveness.

Because of his spiritual life, his devotional habits, his religious practices, Cornelius could serve the world with God. He was part of God’s vision taking shape in the world. So now, when we talk about the story of Cornelius, we are also talking about the story of God.

It seems that a spiritual life is important if we are going to be part of God’s vision becoming real in the world. It seems that devotional habits canbe developed. Religious practices actually are helpful if we are to be about God’s work in the world! Even the Greek Stoics and Epicurians from Acts 17 (our first reading), because of their religious practices, recognize something worth hearing in Paul’s message.

So here, in the safety of this place and this community of faith, we are going to practice a spiritual discipline, a devotional practice to help us be able to recognize God’s voice when it comes to us.

We’ll do this in several steps. First, I’m going to read the first four verses of Acts 10 again, somewhat slowly, and I want you to just listen. See if there is a word or a phrase that sticks out or stays with you or confuses you or moves you. Don’t force this, just listen and see what word or phrase seems to stick with you. Whatever pops up for you is right . . .

Next, ponder that word or phrase. Consider this to be from God, spoken just for you at this point in your life. Take a minute and get used to that idea, that the word you’re pondering is actually from God to you. . .

Now, spend a couple of minutes asking God why this word or phrase is God’s word to you today. What is God getting at? What’s going on in your life that may be related? Where is there pain or joy, anxiety or celebration? Consider how this word from God connects to your life. . .

Finally, rest. You don’t have to do anything or make goals or plan anything out. Just take this minute to be in God’s presence. Relax, knowing that whatever is happening in your life, God is delighted to there with you in deep love. Rest with God for a time now . . .

 

Well done! If this was helpful for you, I encourage you to practice with any passage of scripture. It’s officially called “Lectio Divina,” or divine reading. The name doesn’t matter, but the time with God does.

We’ll learn more of these kinds of things during Lent. Not for our personal piety, but so that when God invites us to be part of God’s vision in the world, we can — with Cornelius — answer, “What is it, Lord?”

 

A Version of Lectio Divina

1. Read a small passage of scripture slowly, listening deeply. What word or phrase stands out for you?

2. Consider this word or phrase to be God’s word for you today. Be ready for God to speak to you.

3. Ponder what’s happening in your life, and what God is saying through this word or phrase. Why would God call your attention to this word at this time?

4. Rest in the loving presence of God. Relax, enfolded in the loving arms of God in this time.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Ash Wednesday: Tangible, Real, Visible Discipleship

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ash Wednesday—official beginning of Lent. Season of deliberation, repentance, deepening discipleship. This is a season when we focus very intentionally on our spiritual lives, spiritual disciplines, our relationship with God. Sometimes that means we need to put aside other things during Lent in order to focus on this aspect of our lives.

We talk a good talk as Christians. We confess our faith, we believe in God, we come to church, we might even tell people we are Christians. But does that discipleship cause us to do anything that’s actually different? Does our belief in Jesus actually reveal itself in tangible ways?

Actually, it does. But we can become complacent about it. So it seems the question this year would be: Are our lives different this year as our relationship with God grows? Are the lives of the people around us different this year as our faith deepens? Are we able to share God’s story of love and grace and forgiveness more boldly this year? Are we more clearly seeing God’s story as our own? Are we recognizing God’s story intersecting with the life-story of the people in our neighborhoods?

Today, Ash Wednesday, we have the opportunity to express our faith, our trust, our repentance, our commitment in a different kind of way. Today, Ash Wednesday, we will be marked with the sign of the cross in a way that can be seen by everyone. With ashes.

Ashes were a Hebrew sign of repentance and cleansing. The cross is a sign of God entering our world, our very lives, in Christ. We will look at one another and see, with clarity, the reality of our faith and our commitment to Jesus as his disciples in the world.

The gospel text reminds us that we don’t do this for show. It’s not to impress anyone. But it is a tangible expression, a physical reminder, a different way of declaring the source of our life, our breath, our forgiveness, our salvation. We don’t wear this mark proudly, but in honest humility. We are dust, God is our life. Jesus entered into our world, into our life, even into our death on the cross. Because of him we are different than we were before. The difference in our life is real, tangible, evident. We will respond to Jesus tonight in a real, tangible, evident way. We wear God’s story on our foreheads. God’s story of forgiveness and life touches us even in the dirt and grime and ashes of our lives.

The ashes are real. God’s story is real. The cross is real. So our story in this Lenten journey is just as real because God’s promise of forgiveness and life are the most real of all. The cross of Jesus makes a tangible difference in the world. May these crosses on our foreheads remind us to recognize God’s story in our own life story and be part of that story in the world too.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Who Are Moses and Elijah? (March 2, 2014)

Matthew 17:1-9

So, Jesus invites Peter, James, and John up a mountain. Just them. All the other disciples are left down below. Now, prior to this in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus walked on water, has been announced as the Son of God, and as the long-awaited Messiah, so this is quite an honor for them. You kinda wonder if they were feeling a little privileged, a bit superior. And possibly curious. What did Jesus have planned? Why is he bringing them up here?

They soon find out. Jesus is transfigured — he changes — right in front of them. His face is like the sun, his clothes are dazzling white. And if it isn’t enough that the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah who walks on water starts glowing in front of them, Moses and Elijah come and are also with him. Like the perfect trifecta. These good Jewish boys have learned all their lives about these great historical leaders of God. Moses, who led their people out of slavery into freedom; who spoke with God and was given God’s law. And Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets of God; who defeated the god Baal, brought fire from the sky, raised the dead, and was whisked away to God in a whirlwind. Jesus is in some pretty good company here.

So Peter makes a very hospitable offer. Tell you what, Jesus, let me build three little cabins right here; one for each of you. I’ll do it right now, if you like.

If you think about it, that’s a pretty gracious, if a bit ambitious, offer. Peter, James, and John are witnessing something amazing: Jesus the water-walking Son of God, right there alongside the two greatest figures in history. The moment needs to be recognized, memorialized, monumentized. They figured Jesus is something special, but to be hanging out with Moses and Elijah is all kinds of impressive. Three little cabins. One for each. Recognizing this historic event.

For James, John, and Peter, the presence of Moses and Elijah validates the significance of Jesus. It proves he is someone special. It makes it OK to believe in him. Moses and Elijah support their belief in Jesus. They can trust Moses. They can believe Elijah. As long they they are going along with Jesus, the guy must be alright.

So I’m wondering, who/what are Moses and Elijah for us? What is it that we have confidence in, that we trust, that fit our lifelong beliefs and understanding, that support our faith in Jesus? Is it a person who makes Jesus credible (if Mom believes in him, he must be alright)? Is it the people we hang out with (lots of people believe in him, he must be alright)? Is it the fact that our life is content, that we are healthy, that we have a good retirement (I’m doing well, Jesus must be alright)? Or is it that the church is a comfortable place for us (the coffee is good at church and the people are nice, so I guess this Jesus is alright)? Or that belief in Jesus is what we’ve always done (so it must be fine). What or who is it that we want to build a little cabin for, right next to Jesus, to support our faith him?…

While Peter is still making his offer to build some cabins, a voice booms from the clouds, “THIS is my son; with HIM I am well pleased; listen to HIM!”

Nothing about Moses. Nothing about Elijah. Just Jesus. Now the three disciples witnessing this are terrified. Moses and Elijah are gone. It’s just Jesus. Jesus alone. It’s Jesus or nothing. And Peter, James, and John are overcome with fear.

What happens when Moses and Elijah disappear? What happens when the things that support our faith in Jesus don’t hold up? What happens when someone whose faith I admire gives up on God? What happens when our culture no longer feels a need to associate with Jesus? What happens when my life is in turmoil, when I am no longer healthy, when I face bankruptcy? What happens when the church is uncomfortable, and makes decisions I don’t like? What happens when Jesus doesn’t meet our expectations and talks about things that I don’t understand or don’t want to do? What happens when we fall to the ground overcome with fear?

“…[the disciples] fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.”

When Moses and Elijah disappear, aren’t standing with Jesus, or simply let you down, Jesus stays. He stays with you in your doubt, in your confusion, in your anger, in your frustration, in your disbelief, in your fear. And reaches out and touches you. And he helps you up. And he walks down the mountain with you.

Because when Moses and Elijah are gone; when the things or the people that prop Jesus up disappear; when all the things that make it OK to believe fall short; when you are face down in the dirt trembling in fear and anxiety, Jesus stays.

“And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.” Moses and Elijah are fine, but Jesus is the one who stays with you. On the mountaintop when your life is all shiney and bright. And down in the valley, where life is uncertain, frightening, and chaotic.

“Lord,” says Peter, “It is good for us to be here.”

Amen.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2014 in Sermon

 

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