Monthly Archives: April 2014

When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, Easter Does

Matthew 28:1-10

One of my favorite things about being a Lutheran is that we aren’t afraid to ask hard questions. We ask real-life, down-in-the-dirt, significant questions about real-life, down-in-the-dirt, significant things. We don’t mess around with fluff answers that fit only the questions we want asked. Nope, we take them all. We don’t have all the answers, but this is a place where we acknowledge up front that if the question is important to you, it’s important.

Lutherans recognize that life doesn’t always make sense, that there aren’t always easy answers. We know that things aren’t always black-and-white; that sometimes life is complicated; a paradox. There are lots of gray areas and cul de sacs in our life journey. No matter how comforting it might be to have a liar with the title of “pastor” tell us that it’s easy if we follow steps or the road is straight if we believe the correct things, we Lutherans know life just doesn’t work that way.

So we do things like openly talk about being “at the same time, saint and sinner.” This doesn’t mean that sometimes we are good and sometimes bad. It has nothing to do with whether choices we make are holy or evil. It doesn’t even divide us into part saint and part sinner. No, we Lutherans talk about every part of who we are is at the same time absolutely broken and absolutely redeemed. We talk about things like light present in the darkness and life coming out of despair of death. We proclaim that the God who can raise Jesus from the pit of death is the same God who brings life and hope and newness out of our deepest, darkest places.

That’s why Easter works. It makes so much sense and explains so much about our life experience. No matter how much of a scoundrel we are, God’s goodness and love can bring something new and beautiful out of us. That’s Easter. And no matter how wonderful and delightful we may be, our brokenness gets in the way. That’s why we need Easter.

Think about that next time your best efforts fail miserably. Doesn’t something valuable and even life-giving out of that? And when you are being praised for a doing something wonderful, don’t you always know deep down that you’ve somehow kept your inadequacies covered up–at least this time? That’s honesty. That’s the experience of real life. That’s Lutheran. That’s Easter.

Doesn’t this “saint/sinner,” “life/death” theology make sense for our faith community too? Sometimes I think we are harder on our congregation than we are on other organizations. Maybe because we somehow expect more saint and less sinner, more life and less death in the church. Maybe because the church can often be places where we feel we have to pretend saint-ness and hide sin-ness.

But the reality is that the church is made up of people. Not better than anyone; not worse than anyone. Just people. People who are, at the same time, saints and sinners. Congregations are real places with real people. The church is completely messed up, broken, and selfish. And at the same time, the church cant stop feeding the hungry, keeps showing mercy to the helpless, and walks with other saint/sinner people at major turning points in their lives. Jesus is Lord of all creation, not just the church, and yet we understand the brokenness and hypocrisy of the rest of the world. But we somehow expect something different from our church.

Because here in this place we do ask hard questions and do recognize hard answers, we know that this faith community will never, ever be whole and magnificent and holy. We will never reflect God’s love the way we should. We will fight and be divisive and mean. Everything we do will have selfish motives. Just like every single one of us.

And at the same time this faith community is amazingly forgiving and merciful. This congregation will go out of our way to love. God’s grace and compassion and new life of Easter are lived in and through this congregation. Just like each one of us. Lutherans know this happens! We aren’t afraid to admit both realities exist at the same time.

Easter is here, and we Christians celebrate the reality of life coming out of death, of newness springing forth in the midst of hopelessness. This is a time to boldly proclaim our confidence in the God of life, of hope, of mercy. In our lives, and in the life of our church, and in the world around us.  We aren’t looking for pat answers here. We aren’t playing at phony holiness. If you’re looking for a fake community that puts on a show of holiness, that pretends to have all the godly answers, you probably won’t stay here for long. Because we’re too honest for that. We’re too authentic for that. We take the reality of Christ’s death and the gift of new life in him too seriously for that. Our hope is in him, so we aren’t afraid to admit that we are a broken and imperfect community that, because of Christ’s resurrection, at the same time reveals God’s love and grace and forgiveness in the world in ways that are more beautiful and more holy than words can ever describe. There is new life here; new life given to us in Christ. We are honest about that.

Christ is risen, which is why we live a new life right in the midst of our imperfection. Christ is risen. That’s where our hope lies. And we don’t have to fake that. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

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Posted by on April 23, 2014 in Sermon


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Quit Going to Church (April 6, 2014)

Acts 10:44-48; Acts 17:32-33

I’ve decided I’m going to quit going to church. Let me explain that:

If I “go” to church, that means church is a place separated from the rest of my life—contrary to God’s call in baptism.

If I “go” to church, that means I have activities that are part of God’s work and some that aren’t —contrary to God’s call in baptism.

If I “go” to church, that separates what happens inside this building from what happens outside–again, contrary to the life we’ve been called to in baptism.

Any time we separate church from other part of our lives, we’ve missed the point of church.

So, yes, I’m going to quit “going” to church; and instead, I’m going to recognize that I “am” church. Every day. In every situation. Anything that compartmentalizes faith, baptismal life, God, or church into some separate place or activities pulls me away from my life as church.

That’s the point Peter and Paul are making in these texts in Acts today. Peter in Acts 10 is among the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house. These are people who Peter had always been taught were separated from God, separated from righteousness, separated from belief. And yet, God was among them and including them.

Paul knew from his own experience that there is no separation between people that love God and people that God loves. So he’s revealing God’s creative and redeeming work to those who asked him about it in Athens. OK, they aren’t so receptive to it. Not the point. The point is that Paul knows they are loved by God and that Jesus embodies that love for them.

No, God’s love never separates us. God’s love unites us. As Peter and Paul both recognize, in God’s love the sacred is no longer separated from the secular; believers are no longer separated from non-believers; church life is no longer separated from Monday-Saturday life. God is the God of all of it, all of us. Jesus came among us to remove any separation between us and God, between us and each other. So the work of the church has to do the same thing – live beyond those things that we falsely believe separate us from one another.

If God loves in Christ is for all people, we now recognize Christ in others.

Therefore, If God loves in Christ is for all people, we acknowledge that we are united in Christ with others, whether they are Christian or not, believing or not.

There are lots of people we’ll come across this week. Most of them will never step foot inside this building. We are the body of Christ for them. God put us in their lives to show them what God’s love for them looks like, because they, too, are united by Christ into God’s love. God has sent us, the church, to them to reveal that Christ has removed all separations between us and them. We are all loved by God and forgiven in Christ, all of us the same.

The work of Jesus, lived out by Peter and Paul, is the removal of those things that separate us. That is our purpose in the world. Showing all people what God’s love for them looks like. Because the separations are gone. Christ died for all. To live as if we are more righteous, closer to heaven, or less in need of forgiveness is to stand against the mission of Jesus Christ. You are forgiven today through the cross of Jesus Christ. And so is your co-worker who will never step foot into a church building. We are united in our need of that forgiveness, and because of Jesus we are no longer separated because of it.

That is true as we live as church in the world. But it is also true as we live as church in this building. We have to admit that we live as if we were a separated congregation. The most recent manifestation of that in recent years is worship style and music. But those are just container for our idolatry. Many of us would rather reject the work of Christ, clinging to separated lives as a congregation than recognize we already are one in him.

And if you’re thinking, “I hope he says/said that at the other worship service,” I would say that that thinking is what we have to move past. Whenever we dwell on those things that we believe are more important than our unity in Christ, we are rejecting the work of Christ. All of us have been brought together in a common purpose. All of us are forgiven in Jesus’ name. All of us are loved desperately by a God of mercy. And all of us are called to live that each day as church. And whenever we live as if that isn’t the most important thing, we are in the way not only God’s mission, but the work of the very congregation we all so dearly love.

In Christ you are all deeply loved. In Christ you are thoroughly forgiven. In Jesus Christ you are one. And you are also church.

Let’s quit “going” to church. Instead, let’s simply “be” the church. Let’s remind each other that forgiveness and mercy and love that we receive in Christ are most important.  Let’s recognize that we are no longer separated from the world, and that new life without separations is practiced here among us. Because as we do it here, we also do it there. Because of Jesus, we are no longer separated from God, and we are no longer separated from one another.

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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in Sermon


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Cinderella and Faith: The Condensed Versions

Acts 10:34-43; Acts 17:22-31

If I were to ask you to tell the story of Cinderella in two sentences, could you do it? Anyone willing to give that a try? . . . (volunteer?)

How did s/he do?

Now, there’s a lot of detail that had to be left out, but the main points of the story can be covered, right?

Most of it, probably. If we were all to do share the story of Cinderella in two sentences, each of us would do it a bit differently. None of us would have identical sentences.

Why would that be? Some of us have influenced by the Disney animated version from 1950. Or the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical version. Or any of the at least 36 movie versions of this story. Then there’s the Grimm’s Faerie tale version. Or even the original version from France published in 1634.

Add to that, we each use language a little differently.

What if your life resembled Cinderella’s?

And because of my own personal perspective, what may be a critical point for you might be a little different than a critical point for me. Are the glass slippers an essential part of the story? How important is the goodness of Cinderella even in her circumstances? Is the moral of the story an important aspect? And if so, would we all agree exactly on what that moral is?

Trying to boil down a story with a lot of detail and a lot of history into a couple of sentences might be more difficult than we thought.

Then there’s the audience you’re telling the story of Cinderella to. What if your audience was preschool children living in poverty? Or a wealthy person who abuses hired help? Or a group of college professors, all of whom have PhDs in literature? It might change a bit.

That is Paul’s difficulty in Acts 17. And Peter’s in Acts 10. Both are trying to condense a history-changing story down into a few sentences. To people they don’t know well, but who’ve asked to hear it.

How would you do that?

Peter and Paul each tell the story of Jesus differently, in part because of vastly different audiences. Peter starts out by saying, “You know the message [God] sent to the people of Israel”. But Paul starts by saying, “I found among [the objects of your worship] an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’”

Peter’s version of the story of God’s forgiveness and love is based on his personal friendship with Jesus; as an apostle and disciple who witnessed the crucifixion and the resurrected Christ.

Paul was not one of the original disciples. He knew very little about Jesus until the resurrected Christ came to him on the road to Damascus.

So of course their accounts will be different. They are telling this story of God’s grace and new life based on what is important to each of them. They have different experiences of God’s grace in Christ, God’s forgiveness in Christ, and God’s new life in Christ. So the story is going to come out differently for each of them. They even argue about a few of the important points, but they know their story, their experience, the difference in their lives. They tell it from their perspective.

Just like each of us. We have a story to tell because we have experienced God’s forgiveness, love, grace, and compassion. Each differently. And so the way each of us tells about that is unique.

The story is ours to tell according to our experience with it. And we might even argue about what are the  most important parts.

So, what are the very foundational, most important parts of God’s story in the world for you? If you had to reduce your faith down to two sentences, what would those be?

Whatever those two sentences are, they are yours. They are unique based on your experiences with Christ. They are yours. And those two sentences need to be spoken.

Next week we’ll talk about whether people hear our stories or not. That actually isn’t our problem. Knowing what our stories are, and having the ability to articulate our own story in our own unique way is essential.

So take some time now, and like [name] did with Cinderella, write out two sentences that encompass the main points of your faith, your experience with God.

Once you have that, if you’re willing, I’d like you to go back to the prayer table, write them again, and place them in the prayer basket.  As part of the prayers of the people later on, it would be really cool to hear a whole bunch of two-sentence faith statements, our collective stories of God in Christ, forgiveness, and grace.

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Posted by on April 1, 2014 in Sermon


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