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Monthly Archives: May 2018

Forgiveness Has a Purpose (May 27, 2018)

Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Isaiah was a professional prophet. He was a temple employee in Jerusalem as one who speaks for God in service to the king. His ministry was during the 8th century BC at a time when Judah was actually doing well. King Uzziah had built new wells for the fields and watchtowers to be alert to invaders. The army was strong and things had finally turned around after a series of pretty bad kings. So Isaiah’s life wasn’t too bad.

Before this text, however, King Uzziah had made a mistake. His pride had gotten the better of him, apparently, and he decided he didn’t need the temple priests—even though their role was specifically designated by God. So, against God’s law, he went into the temple and was about to make an offering on his own. He was confronted by the priests and, as the story goes, was stricken with leprosy for this grievous infraction.

He had to live apart from everyone else and couldn’t rule that way. So he had to hand over the kingdom of Judah to his son Jotham.

Anyway, after suffering with leprosy for about 11 years, king Uzziah died. And Isaiah’s life was turned upside down. Not because Uzziah died—it actually had nothing to do with that—but because God, out of the blue, called Isaiah to a very specific prophetic ministry. A ministry he neither asked for nor wanted.

He had this bizarre vision of the greatness of God: the majesty, the awesomeness, the sovereignty of God were so vast that just the edge of God’s robe filled the entirety of the temple. Creatures were swirling around shouting about the holiness of God. And in the presence of the majesty of God’s glory, Isaiah suddenly realized how lowly and pathetic he, and all of Judah, really were.

But Isaiah’s sad condition didn’t stop God. One of the heavenly creatures took a hot coal from the altar and touched Isaiah’s mouth with it. Then this creature shouted, Now you’re forgiven. All’s good.

At that point Isaiah heard God ask, I’ve got a message for my people. Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?

Newly forgiven Isaiah rises up, Here am I; send me.

That’s where the text ends. Which is really unfortunate. Because we don’t get to hear what Isaiah was sent to do. Let me tell you, it wasn’t great. His call by God was very specific, very clear. He was called by God to tell the people that God says they’re never going to get it, they’ll never understand. No matter how hard they try, they will never see what God is about, never hear it, never know it. That was his God-appointed message. Can you imagine being the one sent to tell people that?

It’s at that point that Isaiah realizes this new prophet gig isn’t what he thought it would be, and says, Uhmm, so how long do I have to do this?

A couple of things to note that are relevant for us. 1) Forgiveness is about removing barriers. Isaiah was forgiven (with the live coal) not to get into heaven when he died, but forgiveness was actually removing barriers between Isaiah and God so that he could be with God to say these hard things in God’s name. And, 2) A call from God is always specific to the context. Isaiah was called by God to do this because it is what God needed at that time and in that place.

In the same tone as Isaiah, we are forgiven and called. Both individually and congregationally. We are forgiven and called.

Re: Forgiveness: It’s important that we grow beyond the preschool notion that Jesus died on the cross so I can be forgiven and go to heaven when I die. Forgiveness has a purpose in God’s work in the world. Forgiveness removes the barriers between us and God so that we are no longer separated from God but are with God in God’s mission in the world of love, compassion, mercy, and grace. Forgiveness is not an end in itself. Forgiveness allows us to join God in loving the world.

Re: Being Called: Our call to join God is probably more specific than we assume. It’s one thing to say, “Love the world in Jesus’s name.” But it’s another thing to say, “God calls me to show love in the world that looks like this particular thing.”

God is active in this time and in this place. And God’s love for the world meets the world as it is now. Our call is to show God’s love in this part of the world. What gifts, what passions do you have that allow you to show love? That’s probably God’s call to you!

Let me give you a personal example. I grew up in Ogden, UT as the only non-Mormon family in the neighborhood, so I was already on the outside looking in. I was the smart, nerdy, insecure kid who wasn’t good at sports and played the clarinet in the band. I got beat up more days than I didn’t. Got the picture? I was never the “popular” kid.

But as painful as parts of that were, I have a heart—a passion—for those people who get left out, pushed away, not included. Part of my “Isaiah-type” call from God is to welcome the unwelcomed, include the excluded. Which is why you hear me preach so often about racism, sexism, LGBTQ, poverty. In our context today, these are among the people who have historically been excluded from privilege and power. God has called me to speak of God’s call to love these.

And God keeps removing the barriers that are in the way of me doing this. More and more. Day after day. Sometimes the same barriers have to keep being removed. Sometimes I discover God is removing a new one. But that removal of barriers is forgiveness, so that I can follow God’s call.

Isaiah wasn’t called to change the world. Isaiah was called to follow God’s call in a specific time and in a specific place.

Pause in silence for a minute. . . . Think about the world in which you live. Your context. . . . Where is there a lack of compassion that bothers you? . . . Where are you aware of hatred or violence or exclusion being shown? . . . God sees it too.

This is why you are forgiven. This is why barriers between you and God have been removed. You are forgiven.  And God now asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Who can show my love and grace and compassion in that situation?

Newly forgiven and called people of God, now we rise up and say, “Here we are; send us.”

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Posted by on May 30, 2018 in Sermon

 

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We’re Moving From Acts 1 to Acts 2 (May 20, 2018)

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

  1. Church in North America in decline for 40+ years.
    1. LCM
      1. Decline last 10 years
      2. Gained 15 years prior
      3. Steady now
    2. Even with “flash in the pan” churches, reality is that fewer people are part of a church in Lakewood, and that number continues to decrease. Shows no sign of letting up.
    3. Everyone’s got a “Quick Fix!”
      1. More of this, less of that.
      2. Give people what they want to hear.
      3. Make people happy. Don’t make them uncomfortable.
    4. IT’s NOT YOUR FAULT!
      1. Not because we’re slacking off or caring less.
      2. Not because we aren’t putting in enough energy or commitment.
      3. Many of you are worn out from working so hard for the sake of Christ’s church.
    5. Reality is that the culture has simply changed too fast. Faster and faster. Church isn’t able to change as quickly. No let-up in sight.
      1. Our best efforts are not going to be enough.
      2. We can feel lost and helpless.
    6. Knowing we are baptized into Christ’s mission of loving the world as God loves it, knowing how important the purpose of the church is, yet realizing we can’t do it, we pray, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the church?” Take us back to our glory years?
  2. Acts and Pentecost
    1. Acts 2. (Pentecost text today) we know: fire, wind, HS, other languages, 3000 baptized. “Wow! Holy Spirit, do that!”
    2. Acts 1. Worth backing up just a bit to put this all into context:
      1. Jesus has been dead 6-7 weeks.
      2. Rumors that some have seen him alive, but no one claims to have seen him for several weeks now.
      3. He’s gone. And with him went all hope of God’s justice and God’s kingdom.
        1. Knowing how important this mission is, their best efforts are not going to be enough.
        2. They feel lost and helpless.
      4. Then, when all are together, he appears and speaks to them.
        • Hope restored! We can’t, but Jesus can! Knowing how important God’s mission through God’s chosen people is, they ask Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore Israel?”
  1. Sound familiar? Take us back to our glory years?
  1. Then he disappears again, so . . . they replace Judas.
  • Today!
    1. Doesn’t it feel like we’re living in Acts 1 sometimes?
      1. We know how important this work is.
      2. Excited and hopeful, then nothing happens.
      3. Jesus shows up, and then seems to disappear.
      4. We don’t exactly what to do, so we hunker down, form committees, and have meetings.
    2. But if today can feel like Acts 1, guess what’s next? Acts 2!
      1. Holy Spirit is on the move! Nothing will be like it was before! . . . Nothing.
      2. Further parallels in Acts 2 à
        1. The job of the disciples changed from keeping order to keeping up! They couldn’t see the Spirit, but they could see what the Spirit was doing.
          1. When we pray, “Wow! Holy Spirit, do that!” we’re praying that even if we can’t see the Spirit, that we could keep up with what the Spirit is doing.
        2. The responses to what the disciples were doing were mixed, at best. Bewildered, Amazed, Astonished, Perplexed, Sneered and made fun of them, Made false accusations. These were fellow Jews!
          1. When we pray, “Wow! Holy Spirit, do that!” we’re recognizing the responses will be mixed at best. These from fellow Christians—maybe even LCM members.
  • Peter pointed out from scripture (Joel) that all that was happening was not unusual for God. The Hebrew scriptures are full of images of fire and wind and Spirit moving through diverse people. Young/old, male/female, slave/free.
    1. When we pray, “Wow! Holy Spirit, do that!” we’re praying that we would be prepared for the Spirit to do anything—through anyone! What matters is that we know God, and can recognize God’s movement anywhere and anytime. God loves and God saves!
  1. It might feel like we’re living in Acts 1 sometimes, but we’re really living in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit is on the move—now! Nothing is like it was before. nothing. The Holy Spirit will surprise us, so hang on. It’s gonna get a little windy and a little firey. Ready or not, the Spirit’s got this.
 
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Posted by on May 22, 2018 in Sermon

 

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The Fierce Love of a Mama God (May 13, 2018)

John 17:6-19

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

You know what’s the most ferocious animal in all of creation? It’s any mama animal whose babies are being threatened. I’d rather face male black bear than a mama possum if I got too close to the babies.

There’s a fierce natural sense of protection by mamas. They will, without batting an eye, attack anything no matter how big, if they think their babies are in danger. This is generally true for human mamas too. Think about that image on this Mothers’ Day.

Biblical gender language aside, since God really isn’t male (we all know this, right?) I think that’s the kind of maternal protection that Jesus is praying about in this text. He’s praying that God would protect Jesus’s disciples with that kind of ferocity. Like a mama protecting her babies.

Mamas don’t fiercely protect their babies so the babies can sleep in their cave the rest of their lives. Mamas protect their babies so they can learn to be OK in this world, to take care of themselves, become big bears, raccoons, sparrows, humans, whatever. It’s not just protection for its own sake, but protection with a purpose. It’s protection so that the baby can grow up and be what it is intended to be.

That’s what Jesus is praying for in this text from John. He prays that the Father (the Mama?) would protect disciples in God’s own name so they may be one in the same way Jesus and this Mama God are one. Then he prays they would be protected from evil as they go into the world.

Whenever there’s something in the Bible about “names,” it’s more than what you tell people to call you. “Name” has to do with character, the essence of the person. So protecting us disciples in God’s name has to do with protecting us in the very nature of God—Jesus’s prayer is that we be protected in this Mama God’s fierce love, mercy, grace, and compassion. That love in all its ferocity would surround us and hold us and keep us in unity with God, but also so we can venture out into this difficult world knowing we are protected in love the whole time.

This Mama God’s protection is not so we can sleep in our caves the rest of our lives. It’s not so we can be safe inside our church buildings. It’s not so we can feel safe because we know the right things or believe the right things or understand the right things. Being protected in God’s love is so we can love with this fierce Mama-love as we were created to do—as full human beings in the image of God. Lives full of love and joy and compassion and grace.

And now, protected in this love that keeps Jesus and this Mama God together in unity, we are sent into the world. Because that’s what the Mama God’s love for Jesus has done. Sent him into the world, protected in love, in order to be free to love. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? That being protected in love, Jesus was free to love us with that same fierceness.

And good thing, too. Because protected in the ferocity of the Mama God’s love, Jesus was free to love us with that same intensity. He would take on anyone, anything, if he thought it would endanger our unity with him. Even if it cost him his life, he was protected in love so he could show that love.

And since we are now united with him in that same ferocious love, we have that same protection in order to love the world the same way. We, too, are sent into the world, protected in love, and set free to love just like Jesus. We don’t have to worry about who deserves it, or who will love us back, or who is like us or unlike us, who’s right or who’s wrong. We are always protected, like a Mama’s babies, so that we can love just as ferociously.

It’s a Mothers’ Day image that is rather compelling for me. A Mama God protecting her babies with love. Jesus, united in this Mama God with love, is sent to include us in that love. So now we too, as Jesus prayed, are brought in, united in this fierce Mama God’s protection of love. And we too, knowing we are fiercely protected in love by this Mama God and Jesus, are free to venture into the world to show that same love.

Nothing can prevent this Mama God from loving us. Nothing better try, because there’s nothing in all creation as fierce as a mama whose babies are being threatened. That’s how fiercely we are loved. That’s how fiercely we are protected. And that’s how fiercely we are set free to love the rest of the world.

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2018 in Sermon

 

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