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Monthly Archives: November 2016

What’s in Our Way this Advent? (Nov 27, 2016)

Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

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.

Advent: Season of preparation, getting ready for Christ to come. We get ready for Jesus because the coming of Christ means something different for the world. It is good news for the world right now. The coming of Christ is not merely hope for heaven after you die, but hope for all people in our world right now. A hope that Christ’s presence in the world will include everyone living in love, joy, grace, and peace.

If that hope for each person to live in peace and love is to be realized, there are some things that will change in the world with the coming of Christ. Some things do have to change because not all people are experiencing hope, forgiveness, compassion, and absolute love. Christ’s job, then, is to be changing the world according to God’s character and God’s vision. Christ comes to change the world, to reveal the power of God’s love, to bring peace and wholeness, to expose life coming out of death. He comes to embody that hope for each one of us.2016-advent

If the coming of Christ means hope and love and peace and grace for all of creation, then as the church, we are called in baptism to be part of that presence of Christ in the world. We are called to be part of the hope of grace and peace being realized. “God’s Work, Our Hands” in the ELCA. Whatever God is doing, that’s what we are to be about. We know it will always be based in love, in compassion, in peace, forgiveness. That’s the nature of God, and therefore, the nature of Christ’s church.

So for us as church, our call is to reveal the presence and the hope of Christ to the rest of the world. To show what God’s forgiveness, love, compassion, grace look like. To be part of that being made real in the world—to put flesh on it. To be the presence of Christ for the world and in the world.

As we look at this gospel text at the beginning of Advent, there are two things we need to come up with answers for:

  1. If the coming of Christ means love, compassion, and peace, where might God be getting ready to reveal those things in our lives/world?
  2. What’s in the way of us revealing this presence of Christ?

Take a look at Joseph in this text.

  1. If the coming of Christ means love, compassion, and peace, where might God be getting ready to reveal those things in his life/world?

Joseph is recognizing God is moving toward what prophets had spoken of for centuries. God will be with us, God will save us.

  1. What’s in the way of his revealing this presence of Christ? Limiting God to customs/laws of his religion. Once opened to that possibility, Joseph could trust a dream that was crazy.

LCM:

  1. If the coming of Christ means love, compassion, and peace, where might God be getting ready to reveal those things in our lives/world?

I believe God is attempting to make this congregation a community where all can be safe, express vulnerability, experience trust. We haven’t always done that well in our congregational history, and it has limited us. Only in a trusting environment can God’s love be experienced and growth in God’s mission occur.

  1. What’s in the way of us revealing this presence of Christ?

This Advent as we wait for the presence of Christ and the love for one another that he brings, we can consider changing the things that are in the way. That is our preparation. So this Advent, we can give the benefit of the doubt, quit talking “about” people and instead “to” talk them, listen for the voice of God in those with whom we disagree, show support and encouragement for those who approach church differently in this place.

Each of us:

  1. If the coming of Christ means love, compassion, and peace, where might God be getting ready to reveal those things in our lives/world?
  2. What’s in the way of us revealing this presence of Christ?

That is what we can be doing this Advent. The presence of Christ will be changing something in our lives and the world in which we operate. Can we use this Advent season of preparation to see one thing that that might be? And then, can we spend this Advent time being opened to the presence of Christ changing something in us so that we can better reveal Christ to the world?

Blessings this Advent. As God opened Joseph’s heart to see God’s presence in a new way, may God open us to what God is doing in our world today. Amen.

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Posted by on November 27, 2016 in Sermon

 

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You are Welcomed, Valued, and Respected in the Kingdom of God (though your politics may not be)–Nov. 20, 2016

Luke 23:33-43

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 [Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

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.

When we think of a king, it’s usually about power. Which is a little different perspective than what we’re talking about on Christ the King Sunday.

Christ the King has Power, that power is used to help those who have no power: those on the edges, the homeless, those on the fringes of society.

Christ the King has might, that might is used in showing mercy to the least: those who live in the shadows, in fear, believe government is not for them.

Christ the King has Strength, that strength is used to love those who are different or who disagree with him.

Christ the King—who, while being mocked, ridiculed, scoffed at, yet revealed the reign of God in the forgiveness of those who crucified him. Who, while sarcastically being made fun of as one who cannot even save himself, was in actuality saving the world. Who, when asked merely to be remembered by a criminal, gave him paradise instead.

This is how Christ is King.

This is the kingdom he has brought to this world. A kingdom of love.

This is the way he rules over us. Ruling in acceptance and mercy.

This is the kingdom he calls us to reveal in the world. A kingdom where those who live in fear are recognized and held.

You may have noticed, but we are a divided country. We have known it for a long time but haven’t done much about it. We’ve seen it happening, but have ignored it or gone along with it or even pretended it wasn’t as bad as we thought. But it is. We’ve lived it among ourselves in various ways too—drawing lines that divide us into us-and-them groups. Though we’ve been divided for our entire history, reported incidents revealing that division have increased drastically in the past year.

As a congregation we embrace Christ as King. We make it a priority to proclaim and be part of this reign in the world. Which means a few things for us in this time of escalated division.

First—all are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place. One of this congregation’s values. Period. End of discussion.

All means all. No matter how you voted, or if you didn’t vote at all, this will be a safe place for you. Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Green, Socialist, non-political, you are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place.

All means all. Which means that married, partnered, single, divorced, widowed, Lutheran, other Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Mormon, agnostic, atheist, non-religious, you are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place.

All means all. Which means that gay, straight, bisexual, transgendered, questioning, unsure, you are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place.All means all. That means whatever language you speak, whatever country you or your ancestors came from, whatever documentation you may or may not have, you are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place.

All means all. Because Christ is King and we reveal his kingdom in this world, you are welcomed here, valued here, respected here.

But Christ as our King means something else too. Seeking to proclaim and make real his kingdom in the world also means that although all people are valued here, not all things are held with equal value here. In the kingdom of God hatred is not valued. Exclusion is not valued. Lying, sexism, homophobia, persecution of any religious group, sexual assault, inciting violence, judging those who hold different opinions are not valued in any place where Christ is proclaimed as King.

This isn’t about politics. It’s not sour-grapes about winners and losers in an election. It’s not red vs. blue, not electoral college vs. popular vote. It’s not about patriotism or protests. Nothing that temporary or trivial.

No, this is much more significant than that. This is about who we are as baptized children of God, called by God to be a light in the world.

Christ the King has Power, that power is used to help those who have no power: those on the edges, the homeless, those on the fringes of society.

Christ the King has might, that might is used in showing mercy to the least: those who live in the shadows, in fear, believe government is not for them.

Christ the King has Strength, that strength is used to love those who are different or who disagree with him.

Christ the King—who, while being mocked, ridiculed, scoffed at, yet revealed the reign of God in the forgiveness of those who crucified him. Who, while sarcastically being made fun of as one who cannot even save himself, was in actuality saving the world. Who, when asked merely to be remembered by a criminal, gave him paradise instead.

This is how Christ is King.

This is the kingdom he has brought to this world. A kingdom of love.

This is the way he rules over us. Ruling in acceptance and mercy.

This is the kingdom he calls us to reveal in the world. A kingdom where those who live in fear are recognized and held.

Know that you are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place. But some of the things our country revealed and supported in this election are not.

Check your politics at the door. Because in this place, among us, Christ is the King. And his kingdom of forgiveness and love will be proclaimed among us and by us. His kingdom of compassion and mercy will be revealed through us in this divided country.

Christ is the king. And thanks be to God for that.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2016 in Sermon

 

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We Place Our Hope in Something Higher (Nov. 13, 2016)

Luke 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!’ and, “The time is near!’ Do not go after them. 9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

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 wrote this sermon before the election results began. On purpose. Only later in the week did I add any particulars. But this is our first Sunday together after the election. That matters! Some are here feeling pretty good and hopeful. Others are here fearing the country is doomed. We’ll all get over it. Because we know, deep down, that our government—as wonderful and inspirational as it may at times be—cannot save us. It doesn’t matter who’s in the White House or in congress, our government—at its very best—is a human institution. It has limits. It has frailties. It will always benefit some at the expense of others. Those in power will always be able to exploit it for selfish gains.

As good as the concept of America might be, it cannot save us. We place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

That’s Jesus’ point here. Whenever Jesus talks about “the temple,” it’s almost always really about old human religious institutions that some place their trust in. Even if people marvel at them, approve of them, devote themselves to them, they cannot save us. No, Jesus is telling us to place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

The temple for 1st century Jews was a symbol of all that was holy, righteous, and godly. It represented the presence of a holy God among people. It gave them hope. It comforted them in difficult times. But it couldn’t save them. So Jesus lets them know that the temple and all it represents won’t last. Yet his disciples cannot take their eyes off the hope of the temple. “When will it fall, Jesus?” they want to know.

Jesus goes on to tell them that nothing in this world is worth putting all their hopes in. Disasters come, wars happen, people betray you, and bad things happen—not matter where you place your trust, no matter where your hope is. None of it can save us. No, we place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

What ever human institution it is that we’re looking at to save us will let us down. It won’t save us. We place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. Even if you are an enthusiastic supporter of his, will he save us? Even though I pray he proves to be an effective president, we place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

Both houses of congress remain in the hands of Republicans. There will be one political party in power in all aspects of our federal government. Even if you are a devoted Republican, will that save us? No, we place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

Michael Bennett was re-elected to the US Senate from Colorado. Even if he’s your good friend and married your sister, will he save us? No, we place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

LCM looks to have an increase in financial giving this year and next. Worship attendance is on the rise too. It’s certainly good news, but will that save us as a congregation? No, we place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

We could replace the council, all the staff, bring 40 professional singers into the choir and sell CDs of the band. Some of those things might make a some people happier, but will that save us? No, we place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

When this congregation disappoints us, we can look all to find someone or something to blame for not being the church we want it to be. When you find a suitable scapegoat, and then fix blame on them, will that save us? No, we place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

I have a friend who is awaiting a heart transplant. He’s fourth on the list, and has been for over six months now. He is rather matter-of-fact about it all, saying, “Whether I get a new heart or whether I die first, God is taking care of me.” My friend knows that a transplant will likely prolong his life, but it won’t save him. No, he’s clear that he places his hope in something higher. And he is called to reveal that hope.

If God can’t save it, it can’t be saved. If God can’t save our country, it can’t be saved. If God can’t save our church, it can’t be saved. If God can’t save us, we can’t be saved.

At the same time, if God can save any of it, any of us, then we can be saved. We can be made new. We can have new life. We can forgive and love and become generous.

Because God is already doing exactly that.

This is our first Sunday together after the election. That matters. Because God is even now calling on us to work for that hope we have. Democrat, Republican, Independent, or something else, God’s love is our hope. And God’s love overcomes government, political party, church affiliation, disappointment, even death itself. We hope in God’s love. And that is what we are called to reveal. There is nothing higher.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Today is Our Day! (All Saints Sunday, Nov 6, 2016)

​Luke 6:20-31
One important aspect of All Saints Day is the remembrance of those who’ve gone before  looking back in time to those we miss, whose faith story has become part of our faith story—not agreeing completely, but being touched by it. That part of “all the saints” that have directly had an influence on us and our faith journey. Those we have known and who have known us, and who have helped us seek our place at the table. 

We remember those we love who have died. We celebrate their eternal life in Christ and acknowledge the faith story they shared. 

This is important. Not just so that those we love aren’t forgotten, but because they have left a legacy of faith that contributes to the reign of God on earth. Those who’ve gone before us, in faith, have shaped the world in which we live. They have affected the world. God’s love for them made them a part of this journey of God’s renewal in the world. We remember them because they have changed us, therefore through us, they are still changing the world. Their faith stories need to be told. The influence they’ve had on us needs to be shared. 

Today is a day to acknowledge that and remember that. 

But of course, we aren’t the only ones who remember those who are loved and who have died. People all over the world are doing the same thing today. They are remembering loved ones who’ve impacted their lives and their world. Millions and millions of people today are acknowledging God’s love at work through millions and millions of those who’ve gone before us. 

And not just this All Saints Sunday, but All Saints Sundays through multiple generations. 

We share their loss, but celebrate God’s loved revealed through All the Saints  All those who gather around Jesus, in all places and in all times. Including saints who are yet to come. All Saints Sunday is a day that even as we look back in time to saints of old, we do so with a vision forward in time when all the saints—past, present, and future—will gather together at God’s great feast at the end of time.

As much as all of that matters, this text, chosen as the lectionary gospel for All Saints Sunday, doesn’t really go there. This text from early in Luke recalls Jesus speaking to his disciples about what being a disciple looks like  He’s offering a sort of guide for how his followers can participate in God’s vision of God’s reign.

Jesus says they aren’t less worthwhile or less loved when they’re hungry or crying, or pushed aside. That was the thinking then, and Jesus is telling them they are still blessed, even when life is difficult and unfair. At the same time, just because you have food and money and joy in your life doesn’t mean you are worth more or more loved. Enjoy it today, it will change. 

So in the meantime, regardless of your circumstances, Jesus says his disciples are the ones who love everyone—even enemies. Who don’t let violence turn them away from love. Who are generous with whatever they have to anyone. 

In other words, Jesus’ disciples are those who show the world what God’s unconditional love looks like. To all people in all circumstances. Jesus’ disciples take their part in shaping God’s world according to God’s vision. Jesus’ disciples are the saints of their day. 

Including today. It’s our turn today. Standing on the shoulders of all those giants of the faith who’ve gone before us, influenced by the saints whose passing we grieve, we are the ones who show the world God’s vision. We are the only ones who can do it in this time and in this place. We are the saints of today. We are the only ones who can influence our world with Christ’s unconditional love right now. 

The day will come when the saints yet to be will mourn our passing, and remember our contribution to God’s vision. There will be a day when the influence we’ve had on them will be part of God’s ongoing renewal in their time. The time will come when the saints of the future will look forward to the day when they will sit at God’s table with us and all who’ve gone before us. There will be a day when they take their turn in loving enemies, doing good to those who hate them, and giving to everyone who asks. 

But not today. Today is ours. It’s our turn in history to be part of God’s renewed and loving vision for the world. It’s my hope that our struggle to love, to bless, to pray, and to give will influence our world today as much as the struggles of the saints before us influenced theirs. 

And my hope also is that the ways we love, and bless, and pray, and give will inspire those yet to come. Because of Christ’s love in us, may the world in which they will live experience Christ’s love through them. 

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2016 in Sermon

 
 
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