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Monthly Archives: July 2015

That’s What the Church Looks Like (Ephesians 3:14-21)

Have you seen this picture? It’s gone viral on facebook, which is where I saw it. For those who haven’t seen this before, what would you guess was happening? . . .

We’ll get back to that in a minute, but I want to make sure we talk about the text for today (not just Facebook), because this reading from Ephesians gives this photo context.KKK.Cop_grace

Ephesians continues in chapter 3 with the same basic theme from the last two weeks: God is in charge of eternity and includes all people in God’s plan of redemption. And, therefore, in Christ all of us–all people–are recreated into one new humanity; all of us reconciled together in peace.

Here the author pushes it further. The author asks that this God of universal love, peace, and reconciliation help the churches comprehend that. Because in so doing they become aware of the love of Christ overflowing from then and they willingly participate in it.

For the author, this isn’t merely an intellectual exercise. It is the very meaning of the cross–it is the work of Jesus himself. It is the power and purpose of God made real. Yes, God’s plan of reconciling the whole world is in place, and therefore all humanity is brought together in peace. But that has to look like something! It has to be revealed, it has to be lived!

The churches in Turkey, including this one in Ephesus, have the opportunity to take that to heart. It starts with the two factions in the churches–Jew and Gentile–recognizing they are now one new humanity. And as they grow in their comprehension of that, they can begin to reveal that same reality of peace and love to “every family in heaven and on earth,” because it is just as true for them.

Reconciliation in peace has to have skin on it. And that’s what the church is for. To help one another live as one new humanity redeemed in Christ, so that comprehending that, show the rest of God’s redeemed people how that looks.

That’s what the church was created to do–put flesh on peace and reconciliation and forgiveness. But that doesn’t mean God is sitting around waiting for the church to figure that out. God is still doing that peace and that work of reconciliation in all kinds of ways with all kinds of people.

Do you want to know what’s going on in this picture? This was taken recently outside the state capitol in Charleston, SC at a Ku Klux Klan rally. The man on the right was there as a supporter of the KKK, a participant in the rally. The police officer’s name is Leroy Smith.

Officer LeRoy Smith, who you notice is Black, saw this man, this white KKK supporter, struggling in the intense heat. Officer Smith is actually taking the man to get medical attention.

That’s what the author of Ephesians is describing. All people are included in God’s plan, and the church is to show them that. We are to put skin on it, make it real, live it in the world. A black man giving assistance to a KKK supporter in Charleston, SC. That’s what God’s reconciliation looks like. That’s what the church looks like.

Most of us who are here today and who are part of this congregation are able to recognize God’s love and care here in this place. We can articulate that pretty well and recognize it as a strength here.

But how many of the “families in heaven and on earth” don’t experience care in this place? How many people have no idea how loved they are by God? How many don’t know they’re already included in God’s plan of reconciliation? How many have no idea what that looks like?

We used to say, “Get them in the church so they can experience God’s love.” In the first place, how’s that strategy working out for the church in the US? But in the second place, it’s a good thing Officer Leroy Smith didn’t wait for this man to come to him to find help. Leroy Smith went out into the heat and saw a man in distress. A man Officer Smith deeply disagrees with (I imagine). And yet, Leroy Smith found him, he helped him, he showed this man what God’s love looks like.

All that mattered at this moment was that there was a person God loves who was in trouble. Leroy Smith showed that man that God’s love includes him. Leroy Smith reached out in peace.

According to this third chapter of Ephesians, Officer Leroy Smith shows us all what the church looks like. Amen.

 

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Posted by on July 27, 2015 in Sermon

 

Wherever We Draw Dividing Lines, God Has Already Erased Them (Eph 2:11-22)

I was having a conversation a while back with someone. As sometimes happens when we allow it, the conversation turned to things spiritual. In the course of the conversation I asked this person why they didn’t take part in a church. They said, “God and I are OK, so I don’t really need a church.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to say, and, of course, couldn’t think of anything at the moment. So I went deep and offered the profound, wise response of, “Oh . . . OK.”

But that comment has stuck with me. If, as Ephesians says in chapter one (last week), God’s work of saving all creation and all people is now in place, then what do we need a church for? If all obstacles between humanity and God have been removed, then “God and me” are OK. So what’s the point of the church?

These verses in Ephesians give us a glimpse of an answer. The author starts by stating that in the cross, Jesus has “[created] in himself one new humanity . . . thus making peace.”

“One new humanity.” Jesus has created peace by creating one new humanity. Out of divided people, both Jews and Gentiles claiming the way of righteousness, each claiming to be better, each blaming the other for their woes, each focusing on the differences between them, Jesus has created something new in himself. One new humanity, reconciled to God and to each other through the cross. In Jesus the whole household of God is joined together, built together, reconciled together, with Jesus as the cornerstone of the whole structure. If there’s any disunity, it’s our doing, not God’s. We are the ones who put up divisions. And then we have the audacity to use God’s name to maintain these divisions.

The God who is reconciling all creation has also created a church with a particular purpose: to reveal God–which means God’s reconciliation–to the world. We can’t expect the world to get along if we can’t. How can we expect the peace of God in the world when the church isn’t boldly loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us? God’s church keeps separating, dividing, splitting and splintering over issues of doctrine or being “more right” than someone else, and then somehow we think the world is going to see God through our actions?

I caught part of the ESPY Awards on Wednesday night included betowing the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to Caitlyn Jenner–formerly Bruce Jenner. Regardless of any controversy around how she got the award, I find it sad that it’s the people who claim reconciliation in Christ who are often the most critical of her as a transgendered woman. Either we are reconciled in Christ or we are not. Either we trust God’s work on the cross or we don’t. We can’t have it both ways. If we are reconciled to God in Christ, then we are reconciled to one another in Christ too. It’s the same reconciling work. The cross has made us all one in Jesus.

Yes, each one of us is OK with God, but that means that we have to be OK with each other. The divisions we create–no matter where–are denials of Christ’s work on the cross.

Draw divisions wherever you want: male/female, young/old, long-timer/newcomer, 8:00/10:30, heretical /orthodox, active/inactive, progressive/conservative, gay/straight, Christian/Muslim, natural-born/immigrant. It doesn’t matter. Because God has already made peace between whatever groups we’re talking about. There is now just one new humanity with Jesus as the cornerstone of it. The dividing line has been erased. We are one instead of two, reconciled through the cross. The hostility between any of us has been put to death. In Jesus the whole thing is joined together. To deny another person–no matter who they are–is to deny Jesus.

When we pray today, let’s be sure to pray for our enemies, those we disagree with, those who’ve hurt us, those we are convinced God shouldn’t love. Whether we can love them or not, God already does. Whether we include them or not, God already has. Whether we are reconciled with them or not, they are already OK with God.

There is now one new humanity. We just have to admit it.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2015 in Sermon

 

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The Assurance of Redemption (Ephesians 1:3-14)

 

We are going to be spending the next seven weeks in Ephesians, so we need to take a minute and set the stage.

Ephesians is probably not from Paul, probably not written for the Ephesians, and probably isn’t even a letter.

More likely it is a sermon, written by someone using Paul’s name, meant to be passed around from congregation to congregation in the region of present-day Turkey.

A common issue in the churches of that area was that Gentile converts are now outnumbering the Jewish Christians. Since these newer church members don’t have much knowledge or history with God, they are quite different in their approach and attitude toward the church. They have pagan backgrounds and virtually no religious rules or lifestyles to draw from. And they are driving the longer-time church members crazy because these new comers don’t know how we do things around here. And they aren’t showing much interest in learning. “They” aren’t like “us,” and we aren’t sure what to do about it.

On the other hand, the new members resent the experienced members telling them the rules they have to follow. The Jewish rules don’t apply to them, they feel, and they aren’t sure what to do about all these imposed restrictions that don’t make any sense to them.

So there’s a issue of unity and cohesion in the churches of the area. The church is changing, the world around them is changing, and they don’t know how to adjust to it.

Nothing new under the sun!

So the author addresses this growing concern in these churches and cuts right to the center of things in this reading today. Jew or Gentile doesn’t matter. Rules of righteousness or pagan background don’t matter. Past or future doesn’t matter. Even heaven or earth don’t matter. Everyone is part of God’s plan of redemption. All things are to be gathered up in God’s grace.

So church, quit fighting about who’s a better Christian or whether new ways or old ways are superior. You’re all the same! You’ve all received the same inheritance! You are all redeemed! You are all forgiven! You are all destined for adoption!

The issue isn’t who’s better or who’s worse, who’s in or who’s out, who’s saved or who isn’t, who’s ways are closer to God’s ways. The thing that really matters has nothing to do with what we do, it’s about what God is doing. And God’s plan of redemption for all people, for all things in heaven and on earth, has already been put into action. The evidence of that goes back deep into Jewish history, where God continually made redeeming covenants with a disobedient people. Which culminated in one covenant for all people set forth in Christ. And ultimately winds up with all people gathered up in him.

Your job as church is not to fight over whose ways are better. No, your job as church is to reveal that redemptive love. Reveal what it looks like when things are being reconciled to God in Christ. So quit judging each other, quit fighting, quit talking about “them,” because in Christ we’re all “us.” God started it, and God will finish it. You just reveal love to the world.

How would the church behave differently if we started with the assumption that God’s plan includes all people and all creation being gathered up together in God’s grace? Everyone we meet is destined for adoption no matter who they are or what they believe. If we didn’t have to worry about them going to hell or whether or not they were “saved.” Would our energy, time, and priorities be any different?

It seems that the point in these verses is that the church needs to trust God with eternity, and recognize our role today. How would it look if the Christian Church throughout the world was intent on showing the world what God’s unconditional love looked like? What would be different if, rather than converting people, the church just loved them. And that was all. If the church committed to a world-wide endeavor to make sure every single person was shown how worthy of love they are, right now, just as they are. What would it look like if, instead of churches fighting among themselves, we stood up to institutions or governments or businesses that make people feel they are not worth being loved.

What would it look like if, rather than trying to fix LCM, we simply made sure every single person who lives or works in Green Mountain was touched by a genuine act of love? What if each one was shown that they are worthy of being loved? What would happen to our congregational cliques? To any disagreements? To any rumors? What would happen to our personal preferences around worship styles or music styles? What would happen if we changed our emphasis from numerical growth and getting more “families with children” to discovering ways to show every person who lives in this neighborhood that they are worthy of love—regardless of what their background is or what they’ve done or what they’ve experienced?

The point in these verses from Ephesians is that eternity belongs to God. It is to recognize the mystery that in Christ God’s plan for gathering up everyone has already been set in motion. It is that we don’t have to figure out how to get people “saved.” We are to show God’s love around us. Jew or Gentile no longer matters. God-fearing background or pagan background no longer matters. Long-time member or brand new member no longer matters. In God’s eternal plan, all things, all people God has made are worthy of love. No matter what, no matter who, we are all loved, chosen, adopted, destined for redemption. God has made known to us the mystery of his will . . . To gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Now we just love them.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Faith: When We Actually Need God (2 Corinthians 12:2-10)

 

One of the problems in this Corinthian congregation is that some of the people there are lifting themselves up as super-pastors who have all credentials and are super spiritual. They assert that their list of credentials make them trustworthy–superior to Paul.

Yet Paul has credentials of his own: a vision of Paradise, the third heaven; hearing and seeing things he can never speak of. If they want to get into a spiritual credentials battle, Paul can certainly compete. Since he is claiming to be an Apostle, shouldn’t his credentials be better than his opposition?

Paul writes of this vision, but says that as amazing as it was 14 years ago, that’s not what gives him credibility. What matters isn’t how many visions he’s had or how spiritual they’ve been; what matters is he sees God at work most clearly through his weaknesses—the things he can’t do.

“I will not boast, except of my weakness,” he writes. “Power is made perfect in weakness.” “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.” “I am content with weaknesses.” “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

Where does he get this stuff? Try going into a job interview and boasting about your weaknesses. See if you get called back. It’s one thing to acknowledge your weaknesses, to try to improve them. But to boast about them? To point them out publicly, putting them in the spotlight and saying, “take a look. This is what I’m proud of!”? Really? In a congregation where his authority is already questioned, how can he think this is a viable strategy?

Because weak is a good description of Jesus. Jesus was arrested without a struggle, wore a crown of thorns without a complaint, was crucified without one protest of his innocence. Jesus is the poster child for what we would call being weak.

A Jesus who is strong or powerful would be more like the movies: beating up everyone who comes to arrest him, spitting in the face of anyone who mocks him, and never allowing himself to be killed. A powerful Jesus would find a way out of that crucifixion situation. Look out, Roman oppressors. Look out, Pontius Pilate. Super Jesus is fighting back with the power of Almighty God! That’s the Jesus we want, but it isn’t reality.

No. Power isn’t the way of Christ. Therefore, power isn’t the way of God. Those things that we consider weak and frail are actually God’s ways. Unconditional love, mercy, forgiveness. Those are God’s strengths. Paul reminds us that these weak ways of Christ are more powerful than anything we would consider strengths.

So Paul boasts of his weaknesses. Not to give himself credibility, but to recognize Go at work. If the gospel is proclaimed through Paul’s credentials, Paul gets credit and Christ is ignored. But if the gospel of life is revealed in ways that Paul can’t take credit for, then it is the power of Christ that is known; the power of forgiveness, of love, of grace. God’s strengths.

Let’s make this personal. In my work I am often required to submit a brief biography.  I say something like, “The Rev. Dr. (gotta include the “Dr.”) Robert Moss, serving as Senior Pastor of a very innovative congregation in the ELCA, has previously served the ELCA as the Interim Director for Evangelical Mission for the Rocky Mountain Synod. He is a published author (they love that) and serves on the Rocky Mountain Synod’s Mission Strategy Table. He has had 20 consecutive years of congregational growth in members and finances, including eight consecutive years of double-digit percentage growth in his current congregation.” That kind of stuff. Credentials? I’ve got them.

Paul would say, “So what? That’s all about you. Christ isn’t revealed in any of that. There’s no love shown, no forgiveness there, no compassion.” The credentials are about me, not about Christ and the mission of God.

So Paul would have me write a new bio that would say something like, “Rob Moss is an aging, balding, nearsighted, hard-of-hearing person who deals with depression and self-doubt. He shares responsibility for a nine year numerical decline in the congregation he serves. Very introverted, Rob sometimes finds it hard to connect with people, and too often keeps to himself. Oh, and he doesn’t exercise enough.”

If, like Paul, I were to appeal to the Lord about these weaknesses, that I could be stronger, God would say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Trusting God means that where we are weak and cannot accomplish God’s mission, we believe that God can. It isn’t about our power, our credentials, or our personal strengths. It is about God’s love that has no strings attached, about reconciliation, about mercy, about forgiving those who hurt us. And when our credentials don’t include these things, we have faith in the power of Christ to do them anyway. Life is found not in our strength and our power, but in God’s love and mercy. Even if that is seen as weakness.

On this 4th of July weekend, we recognize the strengths of this country. The power we have in the world. The might of our military. The freedoms we have procured. And we celebrate all that, with good reason. We rejoice in that and are thankful every day for that.

But I wonder if our emphasis on national power and strength prevents us from recognizing God’s real power of forgiveness, of loving our enemies, of doing good to those who hurt us. I wonder on this weekend when we say “God bless America,” if that’s really what we mean. Are we asking God to affirm our power, or are we asking God for the real power of unconditional love and forgiveness?

“So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, . . . for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2015 in Sermon

 

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