Monthly Archives: September 2017

Here, We Love One Another (September 24, 2017)

Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being. I’m going to be saying that a few more times today, and hopefully it will be clearer in 10 or 12 minutes. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being.

I’ve come to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this parable. On the one hand, Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven brings justice to those who are at the bottom. Justice and generosity. The ones who could only get one hour of work are still paid a full day’s wage. Those with nothing—the most vulnerable and the most powerless—are lifted up. The last shall be first! Yes! The kingdom of heaven is like this! Isn’t it?

However, there is no real justice here. Nothing is changed. All of these workers will be vulnerable again tomorrow—not just those hired last. They will all be in exactly the same situation tomorrow, hoping that someone will hire them so they can eat that day. The only difference the landowner made is that now there’s division among these laborers. Division and jealousy. Rather than celebrating the landowners generosity together, now those who were “first” are envious of those who were “last.” No! The kingdom of heaven is not like this! Is it?

What do we do with this parable? The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being.

If you remember from this whole year of Matthew’s gospel, for this author the “kingdom of heaven” is right here among us. It is any time and any place that God’s compassion and love are shown in the world. But that love and compassion aren’t always received well. God is generous, but we don’t always respond well to it. The kingdom of heaven isn’t just about being nice, its coming among us also signifies transformative change—and the conflict and self preservation that accompany that change. The proof is that Jesus came bringing the kingdom of heaven, and was killed for it. This parable isn’t just about how nice God is, but it is also about how our response to God’s goodness isn’t always as good.

The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being.

So here’s where we are. We are kingdom of heaven people, and therefore we recognize that we are recipients of God’s ongoing generosity. But when that ongoing generosity begins to change us, we can exhibit some bad behaviors and some envy. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being.

As the church, we no longer have to respond to God’s new way with envy because God is generous. We no longer have to live divided, suspicious of one another, watching to make sure no one else gets more than they deserve. As kingdom of heaven people, we are committed to loving one another. The church is the community where God’s love is practiced. As we talked about last week, we know that God loves each person here completely, and in the church, we are capable of treating each other that way too. The church community can be a safe place to practice the new ways of the kingdom of heaven. The church community can be the place where mistakes are forgiven, where truth is told, where all are welcomed, and valued, and respected for who they are.

God’s generosity is more than just me. It is about us. The kingdom of heaven shows us that each of us are a precious gift. And in the church community, we can show one another what a gift they really are. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being. And we do that together, with one another.

The kingdom of heaven blesses our new way of being community. We strive to live that out. Which is why our congregational budget includes so many ways we show love to one another. Over 40% of our annual budget is invested in various ways in expressing love that is part of this community.

$15,700 invested in making sure our kids are loved. For every $100 you give, more than $6.00 goes to our children. We do this because we love one another.

$10,500 invested in people who share time and energy to make sure others here are appreciated and encouraged. For every $100 you give, over $4.00 goes to fellowship and encouragement. We do this because we love one another.

$49,000 invested in our own discipleship growth through worship and education. For every $100 you give, almost $20 goes to worship supplies, salaries, music, copyrights, and education. We do this because we love one another.

$7000 invested in caring for one another when we’re sick or hurting. For every $100 you give, $2.70 goes to pastoral care. We do this because we love one another.

$24,000 invested in making sure we have a warm and safe place to gather for worship, for learning, for planning. For every $100 you give, $9.30 goes to using, cleaning, and maintaining our building. We do this because we love one another.

(Magnets connecting one to another)The kingdom of heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being. A way of loving each other. A way of taking care of each other. A way where envy and division have no place. A way that proclaims to the world, “We do things differently here. Here in this place, we love one another.”

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Posted by on September 24, 2017 in Sermon


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God Loves You. Period. (Sept 17, 2017)

Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. 5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. 11 For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ 12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Paul is writing to a divided church. At first glance, it doesn’t seem very serious. Some people eat whatever’s in front of them, others are vegetarians. No big deal. Some lift up holy days, others don’t. This is their worst problem? Really?

But it’s much more than those little things. The separation comes from a congregation steeped in judgment. It’s not just that you eat anything, it’s that you are wrong for eating anything. If you aren’t being a Christian the way I am, you are less of a Christian. You are wrong. You are unworthy.

And that was a problem. To sit in judgment of others is, as Paul writes, taking God’s place. Especially when God has already declared them all to be welcomed, included, loved, worthwhile. This judgmental attitude was divisive. It was harmful. It left some people feeling privileged and others feeling shamed.

Good thing the church doesn’t do that anymore, huh?

One of the most pervasively negative attitudes that people who aren’t in the church have toward people in the church is that we are too judgmental. It’s an ongoing issue, this issue of judging others. For the Romans it was eating. . “Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat.”

It’s no longer about what we eat, but about the style of worship—including the music. “Those who like electric guitars and drums must not despise those who prefer pipe organs, and those who prefer pipe organs must not pass judgment on those who like electric guitars and drums.”

Or even less significant things. “Those who think the pastor is totally awesome must not despise those who think the pastor is slightly less than totally awesome . . .”

So if it’s problematic, why do we keep doing it?  We judge others because we’re frightened that others will judge us—and find us unworthy, unlovable, flawed. Which is our deepest fear. We’re deeply afraid we might not be as worthwhile as we pretend to be. So we bolster ourselves, protect ourselves from that terribly vulnerable position of being found “less than.” Less than everyone else, less than good, less than worthy, less than what we project to other people. We judge others to protect ourselves from vulnerability.

Yet vulnerability is a key to humanity. We experience love most profoundly when we are vulnerable.

About 5 ½ years ago, I was the most vulnerable I’ve ever been. I was nominated as a candidate for Bishop of the RMS. As a strong introvert and foundational nerd whose default setting is to shy away from any situation that might open me up to ridicule, this prospect was terrifying at a core level. I desperately wanted out.

I could already hear the taunts and jeers, surprisingly similar to those that haunted me through Junior High School. “Hey, everybody, look at Moss! He actually thinks he’s got a chance at this! Ha! Who does he think he is? What a loser.” And I could already hear the sneers and the laughter echoing from all corners of the four states and part of a fifth that make up this synod. Junior High terror again, only now swelled to a multiple state level.

There was still an out, however. To be considered an actual candidate, biographical information had to be submitted online. Which I hadn’t yet done.

I stewed on this for a couple more weeks. But in the end, for a variety of reasons, I quickly filled out the biographical information form and, with trembling hand and churning stomach, submitted it the evening of the last day it could be accepted. Then I went and threw up.

And there it was. My name, picture, and hastily drafted biographical information were thrust out into uncontrolled internet space where I was certain the mocking and laughter would be unrestrained. My insecurities were flying high. Every molecule of self-doubt and inadequacy had risen up and was demanding attention. There was, from this point on, no place to hide. It was the most vulnerable feeling I could ever imagine.

I didn’t get very far in the election. But it began a process of radical spiritual growth that included the realization that I am worthy of being loved and respected and cared about. Right now, as imperfect and as flawed as I am, I am nonetheless someone God has declared is already enough. Just as I am.

That’s the point Paul makes. Each one of you is worth being loved. Right now. Not because of your achievements or making the travelling soccer team or a promotion or because other people judge you positively. But because of who you are. Because of who God made you to be. Because the authentic, deep-down, real you is already loved. You, at this moment, with all your baggage, all your frailties, all your weaknesses, all your vulnerability—you are welcomed by God. You are enough.

Take the mirror you were given at the beginning of worship. Look in it and let this begin to sink in. You are loved more than anything in all creation because of who you authentically are. The fact that you are worthy of that love is incredibly liberating. It is life-giving. It gives you the courage to face any judgments that deny how worthy of love you are.

Because right now, today, this morning, as you look at yourself, you are loved. Period. Deeply and completely loved. What you have to offer the world matters. You are already more than enough. And love changes everything.

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Posted by on September 18, 2017 in Sermon


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God’s Work, Our Hands (September 10, 2017)

Matthew 18:15-20

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”


Like so many other passages in the Bible, this one has the potential to be misused—even abused—by those trust not in Jesus but instead in a clear-cut formula for good discipleship. I’ve seen this passage on conflict resolution in the church used to kick people out, to exclude, to justify holding grudges against some who disagree, to isolate people from the rest of their church community.

If they get called out on this very un-Christ-like behavior, the reply is always, “But I followed the steps in Matthew 18! That makes it right!”

The Bible is a funny thing. It is an amazing gift of loving grace, yet can easily be used to justify truly hateful actions.


The same with this text. This isn’t a stand alone roadmap for dealing with people we may find offensive. It’s part of a larger section where Jesus teaches the priorities of the what Matthew calls the “kingdom of heaven.” Feed the hungry, forgive the sinner, include the outcast, use your power on behalf of those who have none.

In other words, the kingdom of heaven is showing God’s love and compassion in this world.

This section on dealing with difficulty within the church is a continuation of that same theme. In order to defend the interests of the least in our world, we have to be clear about that within the church too. We don’t kick people out for being sinners or having faults. We embrace them and include them and listen to them and treat them.


Whenever we turn scripture into a clear formula for discipleship, we’ve already missed the point. Discipleship is trusting and following Jesus, not trusting and following a series of steps or a formula. The kingdom of heaven isn’t like chemistry or math. There are no set formulas that, if we follow them, will give us the right discipleship answer. Rather, the kingdom of heaven is kind of like giving us a pile of crayons and Legos and string and saying, “Show God’s love.”

Jesus’ intention in most of Matthew is that we’re all in this kingdom of heaven thing together, not so that we can be lifted up above others, or push others down below us. But so that we can help each other love the world. Discipleship is how we love the world together, not how closely we can follow a righteousness formula.

This series of reconciliation steps in this text has more to do with overcoming the obstacles that come from living within a community. We do that so we can love the world better. It really has very little to do with knowing when to kick someone out of the church. We love the world better as a community than individually. This text reminds us that showing the kingdom of heaven in the world is what we need to keep foremost in mind.

So what about the binding and loosing part? “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Anyone ever struggle with what that means? Alright! Jesus says I can forgive anyone I want, or send anyone who bugs me into eternal hellfire and damnation! Whoopee! This power is awesome!

Uhmm… Maybe we need to take another look in the context of what’s happening in Matthew’s gospel.

Matthew records Jesus spending several chapters leading up to this one trying to explain the “kingdom of heaven.” Nobody gets it, but essentially it’s the job of his disciples to recognize the kingdom of heaven is present whenever God’s unconditional love and compassion show up. Even when they don’t always make sense in this world. His disciples are those that strive to reveal that kingdom of heaven everywhere and to everyone.

What we do here in this life on earth should reflect this kingdom of heaven. So, of course, we want to stick close to those things and those people that help us. We attach ourselves—bind ourselves—to those things. And we stay away from—loose from us—those things that deter us from those things.

Today, throughout the ELCA, we are participating in “God’s Work, Our Hands” Sunday. A day where we, all of us Lutherans together in one big ol’ community, bind ourselves to acts of service, compassion, and love. We do so because bringing love and service into our communities reveals the kingdom of heaven there. We get to join in, participate with God in kingdom of heaven work. Matthew’s Jesus would be really happy!

We’ve done this in a whole lot of different ways over the years. This year is a different way of showing God’s love and compassion still.

Neighborhood service through local government. How wonderful it would be if participants in city, county, and state governments had the kingdom of heaven foremost in their hearts and minds. This is different than having a Christian government. What we’re striving for is some people, who feel called to do so, have a kingdom of heaven perspective—God’s love and compassion—as one of the voices present when information is gathered, service is done, or decisions are made among us.

As we do this together—this revealing and participating in the compassionate kingdom of heaven, because, as Jesus says, even if it’s only two or three of us—Jesus is there among us.

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Posted by on September 10, 2017 in Sermon


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