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Monthly Archives: January 2018

“Get Used to the Disruption” (January 28, 2018)

Mark 1:21-28

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found myself reading this rather dramatic text pretty casually. Jesus teaches in the synagogue, everyone’s amazed, then he casts out a demon during worship, and he becomes famous. Like all this is no big deal.

But imagine that happening here, today. Say we have a guest preacher who knocks your socks off. Everyone here says, “Wow! This is amazing! She preaches like nothing we’ve ever heard before, not like Pastor Rob! This is astounding!

OK, so far? Now one of you, who is part of this congregation, shouts at her during worship. “Are you here to destroy us? I know who you are!” Then our guest preacher, still in the middle of worship, shouts back, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” Then the one of you who started this whole thing has a seizure and starts screaming.

Do you think things would just continue as normal in that synagogue after that? You can’t ignore those events. The normal, peaceful, status quo of that synagogue has been disrupted—probably forever!

This is pretty dramatic stuff. But in Mark, it’s just the beginning. This is only halfway through the first chapter! Jesus is just getting started here.

But just getting started with what?

Here’s the first chapter of Mark in a nutshell: Jesus is baptized, goes into the wilderness, calls four disciples, –this text: preaches one sermon and casts out a demon, then –next week: heals Simon’s mother-in-law and a bunch of other people, then heals a leper.

These aren’t just random healings. These begin a systematic pattern of disruption in all these communities. And each event is followed by a hint at the disruption that follows. Come back for the next few weeks and follow this—how Jesus comes and disrupts everything. Everything.

And this is just chapter one.

I’m thinking that even though it may start slowly, when Jesus shows up things are disrupted. The status quo cannot survive with Jesus. Things get turned upside down. One sermon and one demon. And an entire synagogue is turned upside down. Jesus is just ramping up.

Remember last week how Jesus began his ministry? Right before he called Simon, Andrew, James, and John to fish for people? He said one sentence, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” That’s what Jesus is doing: bringing the kingdom of God into our world. And the kingdom of God disrupts everything. It turns everything upside down. Not for its own sake, but because the reign of God is so different than what we’re used to. God operates much differently than us.

Think again about what happened in this text today happened here. A member of the congregation is demon-possessed and this new guest preacher causes a ruckus casting the demon out. For Jesus, that is the new normal for worship. No longer a peaceful, quiet liturgy where everything is nicely projected on screens because that’s how they planned it several weeks ago. Nope. Now it’s more about casting out demons and shouting.

How would you react? Some of us may be upset by the unruly behavior. Others of us might respond by looking around and wondering who else is demon-possessed. We might become frightened to show up because we might be sitting next to someone who doesn’t match our description of a church-goer. Church is supposed to be quiet and peaceful, a sanctuary from the chaos of the world.

But others might invite our demon-possessed friends because Jesus has turned this is into a place of healing and wholeness. Then we become a congregation filled with spiritually unhealthy people who happen to be seeking something better, something new, something life-giving.

How awful, right?

I heard a story of church disrupted by Jesus, told by Prof. Nate Frambach of Wartburg Seminary at a conference retreat this week. I share it because it’s a good example of the kind of disruption Jesus brings.

Nate visited a Lutheran church called “Solomon’s Porch” in Minneapolis. During worship a man got up and shared his story. “I’m a meth addict,” he began. Then he told how one day, strung out, he wandered into Solomon’s Porch because there was a light on and he could smell coffee. There was food and he began stuffing his mouth and his pockets intending to make a quick getaway before anyone knew he was stealing food.

Suddenly, a man appeared next to him. Oh, no, he thought. I’m caught. Yet the man offered his hand and told him to help himself to more food and coffee. “Anything else you need” he asked? “There’s more.” Then he let him know he was welcome to stay for worship if he wanted. He didn’t.

Week after week this happened.

One day, the addict, when asked again by the man if there was anything else he could get for him, ‘fessed up that he was there just taking advantage of them. He was a meth addict and was only coming for free food and coffee.

I know, the other man said. I knew you were strung out the first time I laid eyes on you.

How? The addict asked.

How do you think I found this place? I was you a year ago. I would come in here strung out and someone offered me food and coffee. I was overwhelmed by the compassion, and eventually I stayed.

Sounds to me like Jesus showed up there and disrupted their church a while ago, don’t you think? That’s what Jesus does. Today, he’s disrupting the church. Tomorrow there’s more. And he’s just getting started. I think we better get used to the disruption. The kingdom of God has come near.

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Posted by on January 28, 2018 in Sermon

 

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“Who Would Follow Jesus? Anyone Who Longs for the World to Change” (January 21, 2018)

Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The very first words out of Jesus’ mouth as recorded in Mark are in this text, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” His first words are also his first “sermon” and is pretty short. If I was Jesus, maybe I could be that short, too. But since I’m not . . .

I’m kind of caught by two things in this text that I’ve not really paid attention to before. One is a phrase from Jesus, “the kingdom of God has come near.” Come near. When the Kingdom of God comes, it means that God’s life and peace and justice are established in the world. It means an end of poverty and injustice. It means no fear of enemies and enough food for everyone. And Jesus says it’s nearby. Not actually here, just kind of in the neighborhood. What does that mean? If you go two blocks west you’ll find God’s peace? Or it’s just a little bit late, but if you wait fifteen or twenty minutes, our enemies will put down their weapons? What does it mean that the Kingdom of God has come near?

He says it’s close, but there’s no evidence of it. Too many people are still poor, Israel is still occupied by a foreign oppressive government, Herod, although a Jewish king in Judea, was doing whatever Rome told him. Life is still extremely hard and unjust. Nothing is different. Apparently, the Kingdom of God coming “near” doesn’t really change anything.

That’s one thing. The nearness of the kingdom of God.

The other thing that is grabbing my attention is that all four of these fishermen that Jesus calls to follow him left real and significant lives behind in order to do so. They had jobs, families, friends, and homes. They were settled in a lifestyle and a routine that had been part of their lives their whole lives. They knew who they were and what they were about. Yet they left everything they knew behind to follow Jesus. Why?

It’s even more fascinating when you put both of these things together. These fishermen dropped their familiar, comfortable lives to follow Jesus when there’s no evidence at all of this Kingdom of God he talks about.

It seems like a huge risk. For them to give up everything for this so-called Kingdom of God when there’s no evidence of it. Why take that kind of a chance?

Not to mention that Jesus give no instructions to these fishermen at all. They are called away from the familiarity of their lives into an uncertain future with no guarantees whatsoever. Who would do that?

Yes, who would do that?

I’ll tell you who. These four fishermen would. And when you really think about it, so would anyone who hopes for a better world. Anyone who believes that greed and selfishness are not the way to real life. Anyone who has seen that humanity hasn’t been able to bring about peace and justice on our own. Anyone who is willing to work with God to make this world a place where all are valued, all are respected, all have a place. Anyone willing to give love a chance. Anyone who has longed for the world to change. Anyone who feels this just may be bigger than humanity can do on our own. Anyone who has the imagination to consider that perhaps in this Christ, this Kingdom of God’s peace and compassion really has come near.

Just think what it would be like if fear and death and violence were finally put to an end. Think about a world where anyone can go anywhere without worrying about safety. Think what life would be like if anything that opposed God’s peace and life and sharing were put away forever. Think what it would be like if there was a God who was committed to doing this among us.

Wouldn’t you follow one in whom this was possible? Wouldn’t you leave behind those things that work against God’s work? Wouldn’t you lay down the parts of your own life that aren’t helping God’s vision? Even if those pieces of your life are familiar or even comfortable? Wouldn’t you be willing to walk away from prejudices, political views, family dysfunctions, or fears? Wouldn’t you put all that away to follow one who brings that hope so close we can taste it?

That, I believe, is what Simon and Andrew, James and John did. It’s not that there was no evidence of this Kingdom of God; it’s that in this Christ there was a real and present hope for it.

You see, God has not given up. In the midst of the violence and the threats and the racism and the misogyny and clamoring for power in our culture, God still comes. And the good news Jesus brings is a real hope that God is still here, that God’s peace will still come in fullness, that the kingdom of God comes along side of us especially when it doesn’t look that way.

Jesus brings hope. When all evidence points away from peace and away from compassion and away from justice for the vulnerable among us, Jesus brings those very things right in front of us.

We are called to be part of this hope. We are called to leave all else behind. We are called to follow. Because in Christ, the good news of God’s kingdom is here.

“The time is fulfilled, “Jesus tells us. “The kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. Come, follow me.”

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2018 in Sermon

 

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A Fig Tree Moment (January 14, 2018)

John 1:43-51

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Nathanael is interesting. He’s suspicious, sarcastic, and skeptical. He doubts as well as Doubting Thomas ever could.

Right before this, Jesus had called Andrew and Peter. Philip was from the same town and probably heard about Jesus from them. So in the text today, Philip readily accepts Jesus’ invitation to follow him. He’s so excited that he finds his friend Nathanael and tells him that they’ve found the one the prophets had written about. His name is Jesus and he’s from Nazareth.

Instead of being excited, Nathanael responds, “Nazareth? Has anything worthwhile ever come from Nazareth?”

Philip shrugs his shoulders and says, “Why don’t you find out for yourself? Come and see.”

As they are approaching Jesus, Jesus sees Nathanael and says, “Here is someone who tells it like it is. No sugar-coating from this one.”

Suspicious Nathanael asks him, “How do you know that?”

“I had already seen you under the fig tree.”

And that’s it. At that point Nathanael begins to follow Jesus. His mind apparently changes in a fig-tree moment and he start gushing praise and faith.

Something happened there. Nathanael had some sort of “Aha! Epiphany moment” and everything changed. We don’t know what exactly it was that brought about this sudden change of heart, but obviously it was significant. At least for Nathanael. Whatever it was, shared only by him and Jesus, it mattered. He was different after that. Jesus then assured him, “You will see greater things than this.”

Has something like that ever happened to you? I’m guessing that it has. You may not talk about it; you may not even associate it with God or anything spiritual. But I’m pretty sure you’ve had moments where things suddenly had new clarity, or your perspective on something changed, or you saw things in a new light. That’s an epiphany. The same as Nathanael. God finds a way to come to you.

Like Nathanael, these epiphany moments are rather personal, often defying reason or logic. We think they won’t make sense to anyone else. Which means that sometimes we hesitate to share them. No one else would understand.

I disagree. Because it’s an experience that everyone can resonate with in one way or another. Besides, sharing an epiphany moment can never affect the impact it has had on us. And, who knows, maybe there’s a Nathanael sitting under a fig tree who needs to hear your story, who needs the assurance that God is still at work—that God is still there having an impact in the world. Someone waiting to see even greater things than these.

Some of you are aware of one of my more recent Epiphany moments, but telling it in this context matters. I invite you to listen to a fig tree moment, and, although I’m quite positive this is unique to me, perhaps there’s some part of it that you can relate to or be reassured by.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have had a on-and-off struggle with depression. When it was at is worst, I had the energy to function day-by-day, but nothing else. During that time, all the things that I was relying on within myself fell away, one by one. My talents failed me, my intellect, my experience. Even my theology, which has always been foundational to me. Everything within me that I leaned on to make me who I am fell out from underneath me.

Even my faith.

It wasn’t that I questioned God or doubted God’s existence, it’s that I didn’t have the energy to care one way or another. It simply didn’t matter to me whether or not there was a God, much less whether I believed in one. Trust God? How? Cling to my faith? With what? There was nothing there.

All I knew was that I was free-falling, and everything I had used in my life to catch me, or slow down the fall, or hang on to was no longer there. I couldn’t fight against it, I couldn’t alter its course, I felt like I was simply falling through space. I was completely helpless, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to change it. I understand utter powerlessness, because there was no other way to describe it.

That’s when the epiphany happened. That’s when I understood Nathanael’s fig tree moment. I somehow, inexplicably, became aware that I wasn’t falling any more. Instead, I realized I was actually being held. By what or by whom didn’t matter at the time. I was aware of simply being held. With nothing on my own to hold on to, in my complete helplessness, I was being held.

That realization changed everything for me. What I believed or even whether I believed weren’t the most significant things by far. Because in my inability to believe or trust, God was holding me. Nothing I did or didn’t do could begin to change that. It wasn’t about my faith or my doctrine or my theology or my good efforts—it was about God’s love that will always hold me. Because that’s who God is. It doesn’t matter if I believed it or not. It’s an awareness that I have.

I get Nathanael’s epiphany when Jesus says, “I saw you under the fig tree.” It was simply an epiphany, God’s presence opening something up inside him. He was aware of something he wasn’t aware of before.

If you’re honest, you’ve had those fig-tree moments too. Recognize the presence of God behind them. Share them with someone. You will see greater things than these.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2018 in Sermon

 

“God Has Found a Way to You” (January 7, 2018)

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

God finds a way. The coming of Christ is so important to all people that God finds a way to reveal it.

The Magi were foreign, were pagan, and knew nothing whatsoever about Jewish law or the Jewish God. They got information from the stars not from prophecy or scripture or Sunday School. In their culture they looked at stars.

That’s not how God has ever revealed anything to anyone.

Yet, here they are. Right at the house where the Christ child is living. Because they followed a star.

To a God-fearing Jew that is ridiculous. To anyone who has any sense of who God is and how God works, that is ludicrous. Can’t happen.

Yet, here they are. Because God found a way.

And here you are. Who knows what has happened in your life to bring you to this moment in the presence of Christ.

But here you are. Raised by Lutheran parents? Invited by a friend? Felt a need for some deeper meaning in your life? Brought here kicking and screaming by a spouse/significant other/grandma? It doesn’t matter what the “star” is that you’ve followed.

It doesn’t matter. God has found a way. You are here. The Christ child is here. God has found a way to you. That’s what God does.

It is so important to God that you know that love has come into the world. Love has come to all of us. To everyone. To you.

You are important enough to God that God has found a way to let you know. Here you are. You are loved. God has found a way to you.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2018 in Sermon

 

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“Every Boundary has Already Been Crossed” (December 31, 2017)

Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

The baby Jesus is only 40 days old, and already every aspect of his culture is affected by him. Gospel-writer Luke tells of a truly inclusive Messiah who affects people across all kinds of racial, political, economic, and religious lines. Everyone is touched and changed by this baby:

from Zechariah the powerful priest to Mary the poor, young, illegitimate mother,

from shepherds who live as social outcasts to angels who sing in heavenly choirs,

from devout Simeon who is moved by the Spirit to the elderly Anna the temple prophet.

At 40 days old, this baby is already making room for rich/poor, male/female, Jew/Gentile, young/old, insiders/outsiders. God’s good news is already being carried across every boundary. People are changed by the very presence of this newborn child—and he hasn’t even made a sound yet.

This child comes into the world in order to reveal and create God’s reign on earth. And although his adult teaching, miracles, compassion, death and resurrection all do that, it’s his very presence that starts it all. In God’s vision for the world everyone is included, everyone is valued, everyone is needed. And as God’s vision is established and takes hold, we become part of it.

This Christ-child has reached across whatever boundaries are in the way in order to come to you. To include you. To recognize you. And now, we are not just recipients who have been included, but we are part of the great cloud of witnesses who carry it forward.

Everyone’s story matters in God’s reality. Everyone’s life and experience and background and religion are included. There are no longer any people beyond the boundary of God’s reign in this world. Starting with a 40-day-old infant, all barriers have already been crossed.

And, in the name of this Christ-child, the one who has included us, we follow that pattern.

We not only tolerate people who see the world differently, we are to seek them out. Every boundary has already been crossed.

We not only hear the voices of people who sing a new song, we look to sing it too. Every boundary has already been crossed.

We not only invite people who don’t know have much religious experience, we learn from them. Every boundary has already been crossed.

The way of living as part of God’s vision for the world is way different than the way we seem to want to live. One of the difficulties we are experiencing as a culture is an avoidance of anyone who doesn’t see the world the way we do. We hang out only with those who share our views. We’ve begun to demonize those who disagree with us or who have a different viewpoint. Our world seems to have become rigidly black-or-white, right-or-wrong, good-or-evil. We’ve lost the willingness to listen, to recognize validity in someone whose life experiences have shaped their perspective in different ways than our life experiences have shaped ours.

But what this 40-day-old tiny child is showing us is that this isn’t how God sees the world. Every boundary has already been crossed. God loves and values every one. Even those who see things differently.

Following this child means moving beyond our own boundaries. Bearing the name of this infant Christ means standing alongside those whose challenge our perspective on the world. Being disciples of Jesus means we learn to see the world with their eyes, hear other voices with their ears, seek to understand people we think we have nothing in common with.

Because in Jesus, every boundary has already been crossed.

This isn’t easy, and it certainly runs counter to our cultural norms. But it is God’s way, God’s vision, the reality of the Christ-child among us. So as Christian people, it is necessary. In order to know God, we need to know people beyond what we’re familiar or comfortable with.

Here’s some ways we can grow in our spirituality, deepen our relationship with God. Be deliberate about spending time with people who are different than you. You don’t have to prove anything or convince anyone of anything. Just listen, watch, try to understand.

If you are a reader, read books by authors of a different ethnicity.

If you’re a TV watcher, watch shows with characters with a different sexual orientation.

If you’re a movie-goer, make it a point to go to movies produced by people of different faiths.

If you’re on social media, reach out to a friend of a friend who is black or Hispanic or an immigrant or a refugee.

If you work, have lunch with someone who has talked about a cause that you don’t know about. Get to know them. Listen to them. Recognize the Christ-child who has already reached out to them.

To be a Christian has to mean we follow Christ. And by definition, from his very earliest days, Christ brought different people together. Jesus lived his whole life deliberately crossing uncomfortable boundaries. Because that’s who he has always been, from the time he was born. That’s the vision of God that Christ brings into the world—that all people matter. If we don’t know them, we cannot know Christ.

I’ve begun to take this aspect of my own journey with Christ seriously. And even just dipping my toe into the wide waters of others’ viewpoints has given me new experiences in God’s love that could never have happened otherwise.

Come and see the baby Jesus. He has included you, because in him every boundary has already been crossed.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2018 in Sermon

 

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