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Monthly Archives: October 2015

Holy and Broken, a Human Complexity

Reformation Sunday is the day we commemorate Martin Luther, a Catholic priest and teacher, and his posting of 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany in 1517, igniting the Protestant Reformation. He called for a number of church reforms, particularly an end to the practice of selling indulgences, which were like spiritual “get out of jail free” cards. He emphasized that we are saved by God’s grace, not our own efforts.

It’s often a day of celebration, even pride for many Protestants–Lutherans included. And with lots of good reasons.

But one of Luther’s best contributions to the Christian faith was his understanding that we are, all of us, completely and totally sinful people and at the very same time, thoroughly and absolutely holy people. At the same time. In everything. It’s not a 50/50 deal, like we’re half good and half bad. No, every aspect of ourselves, every action, every thought, every motive is completely broken and at the very same time completely divine.

This saint and sinner identity is true for the Reformation too. This movement that was so needed in the church at the time is also the movement that has torn the church apart. The Protestant Reformation has helped the world understand how loved we are by a gracious God, while at the very same time has caused Christian to be pitted against Christian, in opposition to Jesus’ prayer for unity. But that doesn’t stop us from celebrating the Reformation.

That’s the reality of us and our world. The very things that reveal holiness also reveal our brokenness. That doesn’t change our call to love the world.

Obviously it’s the same for LCM too. At the height of our strength we are still a selfish and entitled bunch of people. And at the depth of our weakness we are church that still touches people with the reality of God’s compassion and grace. We are a whole congregation, complete with our dysfunctions and our saintliness. It’s who we are as a church. From our ministry review we received both recommendations and affirmations. Both are real, both are us. Saint and sinner. Holy and broken. But that doesn’t stop us from being God’s love in the world.

This saint and sinner reality is true for each one of us. We are a mixture of experiences, gifts, failures, talents, and culture. Each one of us is unique. Each one of us can mess something up more completely than anyone who’s ever lived. And at the same time, each one of us shines forth with incredible grace and love in ways no one else can possibly do. It’s possible for us to do both of these at the same time. With the same action. It’s the totality of who we are.

The things that make someone a poor neighbor could be the very same things that make them an outstanding advocate for the poor.

The things that paralyze a person in panic could be the very same things that make them truly compassionate.

The things that reveal another person to be a real jerk could be the very same things that make them a strong leader.

God is present in all of it. We are whole people, not just good and bad parts. Who we are is what God uses. Just as we are. Saint and sinner. Broken and holy.

On this Reformation Sunday, we recognize a divided world-wide church, torn apart by intolerance and self-righteousness. And we also recognize on this Reformation Sunday that we are the world-wide body of Christ, embodying God’s love, grace, and forgiveness in the world.

Each of us is a whole person, broken and holy. Each one loved by God and called by God. Right now. Saint and sinner. May we recognize ourselves and each other as instruments of God. Holy and broken. Just as we are. Infinitely loved. Completely forgiven. Thoroughly redeemed.

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Where is God? Last, Least, Servant, Slave (Mark 10:35-45)

If you’ve been here any Sunday during any of the last several weeks, you’ve heard this theme in Mark repeatedly: the greatest are servants, the last are first, whoever wishes to be first of all must be slave of all.

Everytime Jesus tells them this, the disciples never get it. This time James and John are wanting glory for themselves. And when the others hear about it they’re angry because they didn’t think of it first.

Why is it in Mark’s gospel, Jesus gives us this same emphasis over and over? Welcome the kingdom like a little child instead of a powerful person. Give all your money to the poor and then you’ll have treasure in heaven. If you want to save your life lose it. If you want to be first, then be last. If you want to be the greatest, be the servant.

Last, least, servant, slave. Over and over, Jesus, we get it! We’ll take serving others more seriously! We won’t seek our own glory! We won’t abuse power over others! We’ll be humble and meek and generous and helpful to everyone!

Sort of.

What we mean is that we’ll serve others when we have time to do it. We’ll put others ahead of ourselves until they start getting credit for our work. We’ll be generous with all of our extra money and time. We won’t seek glory for ourselves unless someone else starts getting recognized. We’ll consider ourselves last until others start thinking we actually are last.

Let’s be honest, it seems that what Jesus is proposing–over and over and over–doesn’t really work in our world. You start putting everyone else ahead of you and pretty soon everyone else is ahead of you.

You start being the servant of all and it isn’t too long before all people start thinking of you that way.

You keep being last and soon you are last.

If you don’t shine at least a small spotlight on yourself and tout your own abilities somehow, who will ever notice your abilities? Then, even when you have gifts to offer no one will take them seriously because you won’t be seen as credible. Your strengths won’t be recognized after a while. If you do a good job of being last of all and servant of all and least of all, that’s exactly where you end up.

We get what Jesus is saying, and we try to live it, I think. Up to a point. Is that enough? Is that what Jesus really wants from us? Just do what he commands–to a point? Just follow him–partway?

Our Estmate of Giving cards for 2016 are coming in today. We’ll give generously–kind of.

How do we reconcile these constant demands of Jesus to be last and least and servant and slave with the reality of how our world actually works?

At some point, don’t we have to recognize what we’re good at–maybe even great at—and call attention to that aspect of ourselve in order to be seen as having something worth offering? In order to contribute with our gifts?

Jesus seems pretty clear, over and over. I’m not as clear as to how that works out. But here’s how I’m wrestling with it–at least today.

I believe Jesus means what he’s saying here. As his disciples, we are to be least, last, servant, slave. We know he means it, because he does it himself. From birth through life and even into death, Jesus is last, least, servant, and slave. Doing this may mean we don’t get ahead at work. We may not maximize our earning potential. It might result in those who glorify themselves not taking us seriously. It’s humbling, even humiliating at times.

But what happens when we are last, least, servant, and slave is that we look at people differently. We connect to them differently. Or relationship with them changes. We notice what’s going on in their lives. We recognize needs we never would have noticed before. The whole barometer of measuring success is dramatically different.

One by one, little by little, we affect people’s lives in ways we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. We may not even notice, they may not either. What happens when we are last, least, servant, and slave is that we embody the compassion of Jesus. We become Christ in the world. We change the world in God’s image from the bottom up rather than contribute more of what the world already knows, from the top down.

I’m beginning to think that the only way to save the world is from the bottom up, not the top down. We reveal Jesus more significantly from below, not from above. We affect people’s lives in more important ways as the least rather than as the best.

Most people around us, even many in the church, will disagree. Because the prevailing understanding is that power changes the world, not slavery. Jesus challenges that. And then calls us to join him at the bottom. Last, least, servant, slave. That’s how the world is saved. That’s where we’re called to be. That’s where we join Jesus.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Camels through Needles: With God, All Things are Possible (Mark 10:17-31)

If ever there was a text that was self-explanatory, this is probably it. Wealth is a problem. The man kneeling before Jesus is a respectful, God-fearing, commandment-obeying, church-going believer. Jesus acknowledges that, but also tells the man that to inherit the kingdom of God he lacks one thing. Sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor, then follow Jesus.

Who here has done that? Like the man in this text, we leave grieving because we have many possessions. This is one of those texts where the meaning is pretty clear, even though parts are exaggerated; we pretty much nudge it off to the side. It’s a spiritual thing, we say. It’s not literal, it’s about discipleship.

That may be true, but it is clearly about money. Wealth is often a problem for rich people who follow Jesus. So our tendency is to immediately skip over to Jesus saying that those things that are impossible for humans are entirely possible for God!

Whew! Maybe everything will be OK. Maybe God will make things good for us who have a lot of possessions. Maybe God will smooth the way. Maybe our wealth will no longer be a problem. Maybe we can continue as before. Because with God, all things are possible! Right?

Except that’s not exactly where Jesus is taking this. He’s not letting us off our wealthy hook. He’s telling us that with God, it’s possible to eliminate those things that stand in the way of our following Jesus. Even our money and our possessions. When he says it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, he’s not saying that because of God, a camel no longer has to go through the eye of a needle. He’s saying that with God, a camel can pass through the eye of a needle. God doesn’t keep things the same; God changes everything.

That which is possible for God and impossible for us is a change so deep within us that we are willing to give up possessions for the sake of the poor. That’s what Jesus came to reveal: that God is changing the world that profoundly–changing us that deeply. With God that actually is possible.

So the question isn’t how much money you give away. The question is how much are we being changed—revealed by how much we give away? What impossible thing is God doing in our hearts and in our lives? What obstacle is God eliminating to draw us into God’s kingdom?

For those who are rich, wealth can be a problem. That’s pretty much all of us. Which is why we have worked so hard as a congregation to give away 11% of everything that comes through the offering plates right off the top. And when you factor in staff time, neighborhood partnerships, and parts of other ministries, we’re actually investing about a third of our income outside our walls. We subsidize Lutheran Family Services, government advocacy for the poor, congregations that deliberately minister in neighborhoods of high poverty, to name a few. Missionaries, world hunger, disaster relief. More!

Some of us say, “Really? A third of my offering isn’t invested in this congregation? We’d have no struggles if we kept that. Take care of things at home first, then start looking outside.” It’s tempting for those who are rich to say “let’s emphasize our own Christian education, upgrade our building, take care of our property, hire our own youth staff person first, then consider the poor.”

Then Jesus looks around and says to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!'”

But Jesus, we say, we need to educate our kids and teach them to pray and make sure they obey the ten commandments!

Jesus looks at us, loves us, and says,”You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”  This text is annoyingly clear. Ministry outside our congregation is absolutely necessary as disciples of Jesus. In fact, that is our priority as disciples of Jesus.

Perhaps another way to look at this is that it’s great that a third of our offerings help the poor and others in our world. Wouldn’t it be better if it was half? And not just because more of the poor Jesus loves would be helped, but also because if we were to invest half of our offerings in ministry outside of ourselves, that would reveal God doing an impossible thing. That would be God getting a camel through the eye of a needle. That would be a rich congregation entering the kingdom of God. “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

We are beginning a budgeting process for 2016. The council will be preparing a budget to propose to the whole congregation for approval. Hold us, as council, accountable. When you look at the proposed budget in a few weeks, check how much will be invested outside of ourselves. See whether our congregation is being changed by God. See if we are being part of God’s kingdom in the world or simply keeping “all the commandments.” Make sure we are following Jesus and not “lacking one thing.” When we approve a budget, let us be sure we will have “treasure in heaven” and not “grieving because we have many possessions.”

Good Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life? . . . You know the commandments. . . Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth. . . You lack one thing; go, sell what you own and ive the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Relationships Matter. That’s Why We Invest in Them (Mark 10:2-16)

 

This is one of those texts that can make us cringe when we hear it. It seems so harsh and judgmental when it comes to divorce. I know in my own family the way this text has been used has left a lot of pain.

But here it is. Usually all we hear is the judgment and apparent shame in Jesus’ words. But I don’t believe Jesus intends this the way we too often hear it.

Rather than a judgment on divorce and divorced people, Jesus instead is impressing upon his disciples the power of relationships. Some Pharisees are testing Jesus with a trick question, and instead of being baited into a trap, Jesus turns it into an opportunity to put the Pharisees in their place and teach his disciples. Relationship matter. They are life-giving and ought not be taken for granted. The closer the relationship, the more power there is to give life. And more power to take life away. Ask anyone who’s ended a marriage–there is no fun way to do it. Because the relationship matters. The language Jesus uses is strong in order to make that point.

Jesus just finished telling his disciples to cut off their offending hands or feet and tear out their offending eyes. Obviously this isn’t to be taken literally, any more than this text is about remarrying and adultery. Of course that’s not actually the case and more than you should actually cut off parts of your body.

But he gets your attention with these over-the-top sayings like these, doesn’t he? Is there any doubt that Jesus takes close relationships like marriage seriously?

And immediately after impressing on his disciples the depth and power of a marriage relationship, Jesus teaches them that a relationship with children shows us what the kingdom of God is like.

Marriage is an even partnership, but a relationship with children is much more one-sided. Adults have the power and children don’t. In a relationship where one has more power and influence, you need even more care with these relationships. And again Jesus stresses the importance by saying only those who receive the kingdom like a child can enter it. Not literally, but it makes the point. Relationships matter. They are important. They sustain us and have the power to give life.

Lutheran Church of the Master is a community of relationships. Everything we value as church, e.g., love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, etc., is directly tied to the relationships we have with one another.

As Jesus makes evident, relationships matter. Without relationships there is no church. Without relationships built on love and compassion and care, there is no LCM.

I want to invite you to consider that you are investing i relationships here. All our ministries, our programs, our staffing, our goals are a result of the relationships we have as a community.

Investing in the ministries of LCM is investing in our relationships together as a congregation.

Let me share with you what that looks like…

2015.10.04_Mark.10.2-16

Relationships matter. As you consider your giving for 2016, recognize that about two-thirds of your offerings go toward deepening our relationships together as a congregation. We are investing in each other.

Next week we’ll look at the other third, that which strengthens our relationships outside of the congregation.

Relationships matter, says Jesus. It’s who we are. It’s what we do.

 

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2015 in Sermon

 

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