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Monthly Archives: October 2016

Can One Have Faith without Justice? (October 16, 2016)

justiceLuke 18:1-8

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

I was talking to a teacher at an elementary school in Jeffco School District last week. She told me that the air conditioning and the heat don’t work in her classroom. The room got up to about 90 degrees early in the school year, and although the temperature in the room is OK right now, soon the children in her room will be freezing. Some have no coats.

She has spoken to the school administrators, who have been in contact with the Jeffco School Board, but as of now there is no money to have the heating system fixed.

At the same time, she told me about another elementary school in the district whose A/C went out earlier in the year. That administration also called the School Board and by the end of the day it was fixed.

One school’s student population is brown, speaks a lot of Spanish, and comes from poor families. The other school’s population is mostly white and comes from upper middle class families. Guess which is which?

This is an example of injustice in our culture, which includes our schools, businesses, government, and more. Injustice is when those who have more power use it to their advantage even as it harms those with less power.

And injustice is one of those things that the Bible speaks out against. A lot. Injustice is something that those who’ve been followers of God have always stood in opposition to. Always. Injustice is one of the things Jesus gets most angry about. Continually. Injustice is one aspect of this world that the followers of Jesus have consistently recognized as evil. Consistently.

And that’s what this parable is about.

A widow seeks justice in the courts of her day. Widows were those who were lowest on the social ladder. They had no power, no voice, no resources, and if they had no other family, no support. She has been wronged somehow and goes to a judge in order to attain justice. Her judge, however, is a man who readily admits he has no respect for God or other people. Yet this woman continues to seek justice from him.

Eventually, even this corrupt judge in a corrupt system grants her justice. If he does this just to keep a persistent woman from bothering him, imagine, Jesus says, how willing God is to grant justice to those who persistently seek it.

We are in a long line of God-people who have been called to stand up in the face of injustice. It is at the very heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It’s the DNA of our baptism. We stand with the victims of injustice and use whatever voice, power, resources, support we have to bring justice. The people who seek God always end up dealing with injustice because it is so opposite of God, God’s will, and God’s kingdom.

And sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it is frightening. Sometimes it really makes us uncomfortable. We stand in a long line of people who were frightened and uncomfortable when called upon to stand with those who are victims of injustice.

That’s why we are listening to those who are part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. And that’s why we need this partnership with Zion Baptist Church. They are the voices of our Black sisters and brothers who are victims of injustice. We need to listen. We need to understand. We need to persistently seek justice with them.

That’s why we are listening to the LGBT community. And why we will soon be considering how we can have a congregational conversation about becoming a “Reconciling in Christ” congregation—one that openly welcomes and supports our sisters and brothers who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. We need to listen. We need to understand. We need to persistently seek justice with them.

That’s why our council is proposing we use some of our resources in 2017 to find more effective ways to stand with our children and grow them as disciples of Jesus. Not only do our children need us as advocates now, but the world needs them as fellow followers of Jesus who will also stand against injustice into the future. We need to show them. We need to be an example for them. We need to persistently seek justice on their behalf.

That’s why we give away 11% of our congregational income, most of which goes to the work of our own Rocky Mountain Synod. When all 163 congregations of this synod pool our resources, we are much louder in our voice for justice. We are much stronger advocates for those who are victims of injustice. We need to persistently seek justice together on their behalf.

“And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”

Then comes the question we answer with a resounding “YES!” When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

YES! Lord! YES. We stand in this time and in this place as part of the great cloud of witnesses who persist in seeking justice to your people. Forgive us where we are complicit in injustice. Encourage us where we seek justice. Empower us where we stand for justice. Amen.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Noticing, Identifying, and Moving to Wholeness (October 9, 2016)

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Noticing:

1.A—Have you ever noticed that when you’re out of town, there’s like a signal that goes out to all the businesses that throw advertising litter on your driveway and pamphlets stuck to your door to jump into action?

For various reasons I was out of town much of September, for some of that time my wife, Lois, was gone also. So of course, the “bat signal” lit up in the sky, or however they know, and our driveway was littered with pamphlets I didn’t ask for, newspapers I don’t read, and ads I don’t need. It’s just messy and annoying.

What’s worse, it also broadcasts to anyone going through the neighborhood that the house is vacant. It’s like a sign out in front of the house saying “Free TV, computer, probably some free jewelry! Come on in and help yourselves!”

Yet when Lois and I got back into town, I noticed that there were no pamphlets, ads, newspapers anywhere. Somehow, they had disappeared. I noticed they were gone.

2.A–Ten lepers, who had nothing in common except a condition that kept them socially and legally separated from their communities. They were different religions, and from different town—even different regions. But their mutual need forged them into a community of their own.

But then, Jesus came by. Together, they all asked him for mercy. Jesus sent all 10 of them to the priests so they could all be declared clean. They could all return to their families and their churches and their neighborhoods. And in the midst of this hope, this excitement, this opportunity, as they hurried to the priests, all noticed they were healed.

3.A—On the back wall are “Joyful Experiences” from 60 people (so far!) that come as a result of their association with this congregation. So far, 60 people have taken the time to share that:

  • Participating in Small Groups such as choir and Bible Study is a joyful experience here.
  • Volunteering with our youth is a joyful experience here.
  • Being an assistant at communion is a joyful experience here.
  • Going to Sky Ranch is a joyful experience here.
  • Women’s Retreat on poverty is a joyful experience here.

If you go back there and look, or better yet, if you listen to people here, you can notice that some amazing things happen within this congregational community.

Identifying the Source:

1.B—Several days later after noticing that all the ads and all the other litter had been removed from my driveway and my front door, I was talking with a neighbor who knew we had been gone. He said that he hoped it was OK that he collected all the ads and newspapers that had were on the driveway and threw them out. Did I mind, he asked?

Now I knew why the pamphlets and papers were gone. In this conversation with a neighbor, I had identified the source of this kindness. And I thanked him profusely. Of course I didn’t mind! I was grateful!

2.B—Ten lepers on their way to the priests noticed they were healed. One of the ten, however, identified the source of his healing. He knew it was Jesus. They had all asked Jesus for mercy and they had all been sent by him to the priests. It was Jesus who had healed them. This one, this Samaritan, upon receiving this healing gift, knew who had done it. He was able to identify the source of his being made well.

3.B—In the course of this congregation’s history, there are thousands upon thousands of experiences of joy! Countless lives have been changed because this congregation lives and moves. What’s amazing is that the source of these congregational experiences and changed lives is, in fact, God. The very one who binds us together despite all our good and our bad. Apart from our imperfections as a church, our differences, our occasional disagreements, and sometimes our over-zealous emphasis on the negative, God does amazing things through us and around us. As we look around, it’s pretty easy to identify the source of our joyful experiences here.

From Isolation to Wholeness:

1.C—Identifying the source of my clean driveway, I can’t help but feel more connected to this neighbor. I’m looking for ways to help him. Rather than stay hunkered down in my house ignoring my neighbors, I’m being a better neighbor. And I’m a fuller part of the neighborhood. I’m moving from isolation to wholeness.

2.C—The one former leper turned back, praising God. Fell at Jesus’ feet in thanks. Jesus stood him up and told him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you whole.” This one Samaritan, who had been isolated in a small community of lepers, is now sent by the one who made him whole out into the world. Jesus has moved him from isolation to wholeness.

3.C—When we notice and identify that God is at work in us, sometimes in spite of us, we can’t help but be changed by that.  We can’t help but live in new ways. It’s no longer just about us, be about being sent to be part of God’s joyful experiences in our workplaces, in our schools, in our neighborhoods. We are sent our way to be part of God’s work of making the world whole. We are being turned from isolation into whole people, as a whole congregation.

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2016 in Sermon

 

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The Significance of the Insignificant (October 2, 2016)

Luke 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ “

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Worship together with Zion Baptist Church on August 28. Since I had no pastoral role, I took up my usual position standing in the back so I could watch. According to their tradition, a woman came up during altar call and rededicated her life to Jesus. Whole congregation prayed, and joined hands to do so. I watched and was impressed at the sincerity of it.

Suddenly, I felt someone grab my hand with a pretty firm grip. I looked up and it was a man—a member of Zion—who had been outside the tent talking with some elderly ladies on the lawn. He didn’t say a word, didn’t make eye contact. He just didn’t want me, the visiting white person, praying alone. No big deal for him, a very moving moment for me.

Mustard seed faith. Small acts of care, love, forgiveness, inclusion that don’t seem big, but might just grow.

After the death of my mom a month ago, I received many personal condolences, a bunch of sympathy cards and several donations to Alzheimer’s Association. Probably to most of you it wasn’t a big deal, but it mean a lot to me.

Mustard seed faith. Small acts of care, love, forgiveness, inclusion that don’t seem big, but might just grow.

As part of our fall stewardship emphasis, we asked you to write down one “Joyful Experiences” that come from being associated with this congregation. These are wonderful things that we have experienced and about 65 of you have done this so far. Most of them may not seem life-changing, but they mattered enough for people to take the time to write them down. For example:

  • Worshiping with an amazing group of people.
  • The consistent love, support, and prayers given to me over the last 50 years.
  • Teaching VBS with the preschool kids this summer. Learning about the Bible.
  • Attending both worship services. What an awesome congregation we have!
  • Sunday School. I love watching the kids get so excited about the things God has done for us.
  • Going to Sky Ranch because I had an awesome experience doing all the fun activities and making new friends.
  • Watching my kids grow and be loved by so many.

Mustard seed faith. Small acts of care, love, forgiveness, inclusion that don’t seem big, but might just grow.

They are possible because this congregation exists. Individually they may not seem like much, but collectively there is a culture deeply embedded with care, of love, of laughter, of joy, new life.

No one person or household gives enough financially to do all this. Each little gift, each act of generosity, each offering is an act of faith. Collect enough mustard seed acts of faith and we end up with a congregation full of people who experience love and care and inclusion.

And that mustard seed faith grows beyond our walls into the neighborhood around us. Embedded in love, forgiveness, and compassion, we sow those same little seeds as we live, and work, and go to school. Small, tiny acts that come from our life together in Jesus. They may not seem like much, but collectively they change the world. They grow. They matter.

Every year I stand up here and ask you to increase your financial acts of giving. Of course I do. The more money we have, the more ministry we can do. That makes sense.

But there is something more important than the ability to increase the overall LCM budget. That’s each person, each household, giving something. Because then we are all sowing little mustard seeds of faith together. We’re all part of the small things and the big things that become part of our lives, part of our neighborhood, part of the world. We do it together. We sow seeds that grow. We commit small acts of faith. We change lives.

Mustard seed faith. Small acts of care, love, forgiveness, inclusion that don’t seem big, but might just grow.

Fill out an Estimate of Giving card, even if it’s a mustard seed amount. It’s an act of faith on your part. It is participation in casting love and compassion out into the world. It might just change someone’s life. It matters.

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2016 in Sermon

 

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