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Monthly Archives: February 2017

Being in Holy Moments (Transfiguration, Feb. 26, 2017)

Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

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 in Mexico with a group one time. We were touring a couple of small villages and learning about life in general for these people in abject poverty. They were telling us about the importance of their church and how they supported one another. There was a real unity in the midst of their poverty. Interesting, but it was getting toward lunch time and we had a little bit of a ride to get back. So as the conversation and interaction kept going, I kept glancing at my watch wondering how long before we could return.

It wasn’t until much later that I discovered that the Lutheran pastor there in those villages in Mexico was actually bringing insulin to a diabetic woman in one of those neighborhoods who would never be able to afford it. Somewhere he had been able to procure it, and was able bringing her life-saving supplies. It was a holy moment—his work and generosity, and her gracious appreciation. Christ was present. But I missed most of it because I was concerned about lunch.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that there are many more of these holy moments than we know. We just miss them because we’re too busy trying to do something. So we talk, or plan, or reason our way through these holy times.

I’m wondering if part of the point of the Transfiguration story is that sometimes the only agenda is to recognize a holy moment and simply be present in it. Not to analyze it, improve upon it, or even describe it, but just recognize it and be in it.

As is often the case, Peter gives us an idea of what not to do. He is chosen by Jesus, along with James and John, to go up this mountain alone. And they witness what can only be described as a holy moment. Jesus is transfigured—changed—right in front of them. Shining face, white clothing, Moses and Elijah showing up. Cloud covering them just like it did for Moses. A voice coming from the cloud giving Jesus high praise and accolades. This certainly falls within the general category of “holy moment.”

Peter just can’t help himself. Rather than be part of it, be fully present in it, he tries to improve it. “Let me just build some booths,” he says. “Because my contribution to this unbelievable moment will surely make it better.” What, just being present there with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah isn’t good enough? Don’t ruin this, Peter. Just know this is holy time and you get to be there for it. Absorb it. Live in it. Be aware that there’s more going on than you may know at the time. Recognize that when you start talking you are taking the focus off the holiness of the moment and limiting your experience of it. Just be present in it.

Sometimes the agenda is just to be there. To know you’ve been present. To experience holiness. To be in the presence of  Christ.

As Lutherans, we gather together on Sundays around Word and sacrament. We proclaim the presence of Christ with us during worship. Jesus tells us that “when two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Isn’t that here? Isn’t that now? If that’s the case, perhaps we could actually become more aware of this as a holy moment. If Christ is truly present with us, maybe we could be more fully present with him.

Try something with me. Close your eyes and sit quietly for a minute. . . .

Think of one word or phrase you need to hear right now. Take some time in the silence and consider what that word would be. Maybe it’s something you already know, or maybe it’s something new. But have that word or phrase in your mind. . . .

Picture Jesus here with you. Hear him as he speaks to you the very words you need to hear today. . . .

Just be with him and listen. . . .

Repeat those words to yourself with Jesus a few times. . . .

Go ahead and open your eyes again. Holy moments happen all around us all the time. We are made new in the presence of Christ.

We are starting the season of Lent on Wednesday. It is the 40 days (plus Sundays) before Easter. It’s traditionally a season of discipline and repentance. You’ll often hear people talking about “giving something up for Lent.” Usually like chocolate, a TV show, or even coffee (but that would not only be unhealthy, it would just be silly . . .).

Rather than any of those things, which aren’t bad, but may or may not actually help us grow spiritually, I’m suggesting we watch for holy moments during Lent. Practice recognizing them and being fully present in them. If we are experiencing the presence of Christ, stop what we’re doing and simply be with him then and there.

Today is a holy moment, here together. There are more, because Christ is active in the world. Let’s watch for him.

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Posted by on February 27, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Following Jesus to Victory–It’s Not What You Think (Feb. 19, 2017)

Matt. 5:38-48

“You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Vince Lombardi, coach of the Green Bay Packers back 50 years ago,  is known to have said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” He’s kind of right. We orient everything toward winning. You feel better about yourself when you find something you can win at. So we strive to find areas where we can be the biggest, the fastest, the brightest, the best. Whether it’s getting an Olympic medal or being picked first at recess for kickball; whether it’s having a perfect 4.0 or just getting a better grade than an older sibling who took the same class; we all want to find some area where we can win, have the advantage, gain some power.

Because winning lifts you up above the losers. It gives you an advantage. It gives you power. There’s nothing so debilitating as losing. It’s a helpless, powerless feeling. So we struggle to find areas in which we can win and have power.

For centuries, this is how the church has operated too. We’ve struggled for power—whether the reasons were good or not are debatable, but power has often been the way the church operates. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, The Salem Witch Trials, the Moral Majority, and even today with the extreme right wing of Christianity fighting its own interpretation of evil, it’s about power—defeating some enemy. Overpowering them and bringing them into submission. For a good cause, of course…

Jesus has something specific to say exactly about that. Jesus knows all about those who struggle for power.

In Jesus’ day, it was blatantly obvious who had power and who did not. The Roman government did, Israel did not. Rome decided the legal system, culture, art, money, who was good and who was evil.

Not everyone was able to win in the Roman government. In Israel you were completely without power. Any Roman soldier could conscript anyone or anything to assist them in carrying their weapons. This power was often abused, as soldiers forced Jews to simply carry their weapons for up to a mile. It was a continuous reminder of the order of power: Rome had it all, Israel had none.

This is what Jesus is addressing in this part of the Sermon on the Mount. How do you deal with those in power when others are absolutely powerless? As church, we’ve often figured that we should just try to gain more power.

Jesus tells his disciples that you can’t begin by looking at power. In the reign of God, it’s not about power or winning, but about revealing God’s character.  Instead of struggling for power, Jesus says struggle for compassion. The government deals in power; God deals in love.

 

The followers of Jesus are called to something different—something that short-circuits power and advantage. We are called as God’s people to reveal God’s love, whether people have power or not. Power doesn’t enter into the picture at all.

That’s what Christ’s church may be starting to figure out again in these recent days. It’s becoming more obvious that we are called to live differently than those who seek power or winning. If we’re struggling for political power, we by definition are not living as Christ calls. We are not being the church Jesus envisions. Anyone who claims to be a Christian but seeks positions of power, strength, intimidation, is the opposite of a follower of Jesus.

This is hard for us, because for centuries—including most of our lifetimes—we as church were included among the ones with the power and with the advantages. Because the church and our culture have been power partners for a long time.

In our current American context, texts like the Sermon on the Mount are beginning to make clear that disciples of Jesus cannot follow Jesus from positions of power. Turning the other cheek is the opposite of power. Walking a second mile isn’t like power in any way we know. Giving to everyone who asks gives power to the poor. Loving your enemies contradicts power.

Individually, sometimes we can identify with the powerless. Everyone who’s had surgery knows the feeling of absolute helplessness. Everyone who’s gone through the death of a loved one has experienced complete powerlessness. We actually get embarrassed if we can’t handle even these things with strength. We’ve been trained and rewarded for thinking in terms of power—both in the church and in the culture. But sometimes, as individuals, we don’t have any. So the Sermon on the Mount can have meaning for us personally. Grab hold of that when you are powerless.

But most of the time, we have been among the ones seeking power. But Jesus is being extremely clear on this. His disciples are called to something other than victory, power, and control. Everyone, he says, loves those who already love them. Everyone is good to their own friends.  But Jesus is teaching that the way of God is different than what everyone else does. Life with God is about love and compassion and care for all. Those who follow Jesus don’t do so from the ways of power, but from living the ways of God.

That’s what the church is called to reveal to the world. That happens not in struggles for power and control, but in loving enemies and praying for those who wish you harm.

I hate to say it, but Vince Lombardi was wrong. You see, winning isn’t the only thing. Not for followers of Jesus. Loving is the only thing. It’s the only thing for God, which means it’s the only thing for God’s church.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2017 in Sermon

 

I Didn’t Murder Anyone This Week, But We Still Sink or Swim Together (Feb 12, 2017)

Matthew 5:21-37

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder’; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. 31 “It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be “Yes, Yes’ or “No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

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.

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Several years ago my mom was coming to Denver to visit us for a couple of days. The day of her came and I grabbed my keys to go to the airport and pick her up. “Where are you going?” Lois asked. I rolled my eyes, exasperated, and said, “to pick my mom at the airport.”

“What!?” she asked me as the lasers coming from her eyes were boring holes through my soul.

“I told you my mom was coming.” I began to feel a little bit sick.

“Uhmm. No, you didn’t.”

“Oh, sure I did!” I replied as lightly as possible, suspecting that this is not going to end well.

“No… You. Did. Not…”

This was not a good day in our marriage. Do you think my lack of consideration affected Lois? Do you think it would have helped if I had said, “I’m the only one going to the airport. It doesn’t affect you at all”? Do you think her mood afterward affected me?

We are suffering from a delusion. This ruse is now so deeply embedded into our psyche that it sounds strange to even identify it. But it’s a misconception nonetheless. The big lie is that we believe it’s possible to act alone. But it’s not possible. Because everything we do affects those around us. Everything others do affects us. We sink or swim together.

Jesus continues the Sermon on the Mount in this third week by taking the Law of Moses and turning it toward relationships with others that we affect. He’s really saying that we are all in this together; we need to be doing this for each other.

Instead of feeling righteous as an individual because I haven’t murdered anyone this week, Jesus understands the Law to be about how we live together, because everything we do affect others. So it’s not just that I haven’t committed murder, and therefore I’m fine—regardless of how you’re doing—but that I’m accountable to you for your well-being also. So if I take out my anger on you, or call you a name, or hold a grudge, or look with lust, or lie to you, I’m affecting you. Whether I’ve committed murder or not. Jesus is pointing out the reality that we cannot simply live for ourselves, because if we aren’t lifting up those around us, we’re sinking ourselves too.

When he says to cut your hand off if it’s causing you to sin, he’s not literally telling us to run your arm through a table saw. He’s pointing out that we cannot be righteous alone. Therefore everything we do affects everyone else. So we need to quit just looking out for ourselves and our own righteousness, and take seriously the fact that we sink or swim together.

It’s the same thing with the divorce verses here that so often catch us up. It’s not about feeling guilty because I’ve gone through a divorce. It’s pointing out that relationships affect each of us and we can’t simply take them for granted. What we do affects others. We sink or swim together.

This is true not just in families, but in all communities. As a congregation, like it or not, we sink or swim together. When one ministry disregards another, or one part of the congregation resents another, or one group believes they are above the rest of the church, we are all hurt. In our attempts to lift ourselves up over others, we end up pulling everyone down. That’s what Jesus is pointing out. If we are only concerned about our own righteousness, our own place in the church, our own ministry, our own preferences, the congregation as a whole cannot benefit. And we all stand to lose. We sink or swim together

Doesn’t it make sense, then, that God is constantly calling us to care for the least, the lost, the victims, the helpless, those pushed to the edges? As a country—as a world—we are only doing as well as those at the bottom.  As God’s children, we sink or swim together. We cannot claim godliness or righteousness when any of our brothers and sisters are starving, uneducated, ignored, or left out.

We are thinking about helping out LIRS (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service) for Sundays in Lent. Watch for information about how you can help lift up the lowest among us. But as disciples of Jesus, we know that we cannot rise above the most vulnerable among us. We sink or swim together.

I read a story David Lose posted that brings this all home for me. A little boy got into an argument with his younger sister. It escalated until the boy pinned her down and was ready to punch her. Their mom came in, saw what was going on, and told him to stop. “She was wrong,” he yelled. “Besides, I’m bigger and I can do what I want to my sister.” “No you can’t,” replied the mother. “It doesn’t matter who’s right or who’s wrong. She’s my daughter.”

When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter who’s stronger, who’s more righteous, who claims to love God more. God reminds us we are all God’s children. We are here not for our own individual righteousness, but for those who are most helpless, weakest, and most vulnerable. Since we are all God’s children, it doesn’t matter who’s more righteous and who’s less. I can claim nothing just because I haven’t murdered someone. My own righteousness—and yours—our righteousness is tied intimately to the fate of refugees, and the poor, and Blacks and Hispanics, and the LGBT community, anyone who does not have a place at the table. We sink or swim together.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Political Divisiveness, Light, and the Table (February 5, 2017)

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Matthew 5:13-20

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

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.

Are you ready for part 2 of the Sermon on the Mount? Last week Jesus taught his disciples that God blesses the weak, the poor, the vulnerable, those who’ve been wronged–those who no one else thinks are blessed. Today, Jesus tells his disciples who they are.

He begins this part by telling them that they are salt and light. These aren’t just random items, but are two things the culture was dependent upon for survival. Salt was a preservative for food, which made it invaluable, and light for safety and to be able to see what was coming in the dark. Remember there was no electricity, so no flipping a switch at night.

Jesus says, then, that because they are filled with the God he reveals, because they are created in the image of the God he reveals, his disciples then, also, reveal that same God. And so God’s love is already present in the world. Isn’t that what the world needs in order to be saved? More of God’s love and grace and peace? Doesn’t a world in conflict need more grace? Doesn’t a world full of selfishness need more love? Doesn’t a world that seems to run on power and intimidation need more peace?

His disciples are the salt and the light that the world needs. Their presence means there is love and grace and peace and compassion in the world. Which is what the world needs.

Now, it’s important to notice he doesn’t tell his followers to become salt and light, or that they need to be salt and light, or that they ought to be salt and light. No, they are salt and light. Already. Right now. They are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are what the world needs. You.

I’m guessing you aren’t buying that. Or, if you are, that you are attaching some conditions to it, like, I know some people are salt because they do things like help people stuck on the side of the road. Or there might be times when I’m a little flicker of a light, like when I visited my friend in the hospital.

That’s not what Jesus is saying at all. It’s not about what you do, it’s about who you are. You, right now, are the light of the world. Sometimes we cover it up, and Jesus agrees that we do that, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are who you are.

Think about this. Right now, the most divisive arena our country is political, right? Marches, protests, executive orders, and bans are all gearing up toward a long and difficult fight. As a congregation, we are pretty diverse politically. We are made up of some pretty hard-core Conservatives and some wildly progressive Liberals and everything in between. Yet every week we come together and pray for each other and love each other and forgive each other and listen to each other. Every week we join with the people around us at the table with Jesus, no matter how they voted, and share the unity of a Eucharistic meal. Every week we take someone’s hand, whether they are conservative or progressive, and support them in their prayers. You tell me, isn’t that what shining a light looks like? Aren’t we telling the world that there is a place, and that we are a community, that will love right through the barriers? That is the salt of the earth. That is a light that will brighten the world.

I think it might be a little easier to shine in here with each other. It’s when we leave here that we cover our light with a bushel. Suddenly, outside of this community, we find ourselves being judged for things that aren’t really about God. Things like production and competence and numbers and strength. It can be uncomfortable being salty when saltiness isn’t valued. It’s easier to cover up the light of who we are and accept other accolades based not on who we are, but solely on what we do. It’s in what we do that we get raises and promotions. What we accomplish gets us recognition and a good resume. Those things end up becoming our priority, rather than shining the light of love in which we are created.

Then we justify this by telling ourselves that faith is a private matter, between us and God. I’ll live my faith, I’ll just do it privately. I’ll follow Jesus, just not so anyone will notice. If I’m going to stand out, I want to stand out for things that get me somewhere, not for showing mercy to people who are really getting what they deserve. At least not all the time.

Except that Jesus says that our light is to be put on a lampstand for all to see. That’s pretty public. We say that at every baptism as we hand the newly baptized a lit candle, a reminder that they are the light of the world and ought to shine.

The world in which we live provides a pretty large bushel basket, and can cover up a lot of light. But it doesn’t take a lot of light to brighten the darkness. It doesn’t take a lot of love to overcome hate. It doesn’t take a lot of grace to overcome selfishness.

What it takes is you being you. Recognizing that the very core of your identity is actually God’s love and grace. That’s the image in which you were created in the first place. Be what you are. And be that in the world.

Think for a minute about a time you revealed compassion. A time you made a difference for someone who needed it. That’s your light! That’s you!

Now consider what would happen if you revealed that part of you at work, in your neighborhood, to the local or federal government.

Would you be rewarded? Get a promotion? Be able to retire sooner? Have an easier life? Probably not, truth be told. But the world would shine a little brighter. Because of you. You are the light of the world. Put your light on a lampstand and give glory to God! It’s who you are. It’s what the world needs.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2017 in Sermon

 

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