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Monthly Archives: June 2018

Get in the boat with Jesus. Things are different as you travel to the other side.

Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

After teaching and healing and angering the religious and political authorities, Jesus now wants to take his disciples into a boat across the Sea of Galilee “to the other side.”

He may have just meant the other side of the lake, but for his disciples it ended up meaning a lot more than that.

For them, getting into the boat with Jesus meant going, not just to the other side of the lake into Gentile territory, but also to the other side of their fear, the other side of their faith, the other side of their comfort, the other side of what they know about Jesus.

Get in the boat with Jesus and things will be different on “the other side.”

Many of you know I grew up in a single-parent household. My dad left when I was young, so I grew up with my mom and three sisters. We did fine when all was said and done, but I held a lot of anger and resentment toward my father for many years. I blamed him for any difficulties or inadequacies in my life. As long as I held onto that resentment, I could simply blame him.

Then for one reason or another, Jesus invited me again into the boat and go somewhere in this part of my life. This time to go across to the other side of my long-held resentment. The sea was pretty rough, let me tell you. And in the course of that journey, like the disciples, I was convinced Jesus had abandoned me—or was at least asleep while my life was going through this chaotic transition. It was confusing and frightening, because there were no precedents or known paths. This was me in the boat with sleeping Jesus trying to weather the storm of changing resentment.

Travelling to the other side of my anger at my dad brought me through storms I hadn’t experienced before. Because rather than blaming him and bemoaning all the things that were wrong in my life, on the other side of resentment I owned the responsibility of changing my life. Part of that meant letting go of some things and forgiving some things. Even though it seemed as if Jesus was asleep in the boat, he was there the whole time, during every minute of every storm.

Get in the boat with Jesus and things will be different on “the other side.”

I’ve watched, sometimes even encouraged people to get into the boat with Jesus. I’ve listened to their stories of the storms they encountered. For some it was the loss of someone they love. For others it was telling their family that they’re gay. I’ve watched as people admitted major life mistakes or standing up to a bully for the first time. Or leaving the church. Or ending a marriage. Or facing their addiction.

But two things were always true every time: Jesus was always in the boat with them; and, things were always different on the other side.

I start a sabbatical a 14-week one week from today. We’re calling it “The Listening Tour,” and I’m hoping—among other things—that I can hear Jesus’ invitation to get into the boat with him. I’ll spend some time in Europe, literally on the other side of the sea. We’ll see what I hear and how things will be different on the other side.

I’ll also spend some time travelling across the deep south of the United States. I’ve never been there and wonder what storms I might encounter there. But I know I’ll hear thing differently having listened to the voices of people who live on the other side of this country—geographically, culturally, racially, and politically. I’m excited about what I’ll be hearing on the other side of this experience.

Jesus keeps inviting us to get into the boat with him. Day by day. That’s what it is to be a disciple. And when we do, we’ll likely hit some significant storms along the way. Because that’s what happens on the way to the other side. And that is frightening. Much of what we know gets challenged. Much of what we thought was reliable gets shaken up on the journey. The way we’ve always known Jesus can change, because he doesn’t avoid the storms at all. He heads right into them. The things that we’ve found comforting and comfortable get blown away in the wind. Things are definitely different on the other side.

If you get into the boat with Jesus, what storms are you likely to encounter? What black and white issue about which you’re certain might become gray? What fears do you have that might get faced? What aspects of your faith might be shown to be immature? What resentments are you hanging on to that might give way to forgiveness?

Get in the boat with Jesus and things will be different on “the other side.”

In the boat with Jesus, we can’t sit by while almost 2000 children are still separated from their parents with no plan of reuniting them. Because Jesus takes us to the other side of policy to compassion. And there will be storms as we go. Things you can do as disciples in the face of this immoral disaster are at the Welcome Center. Please stop by and pick up that sheet!

In the boat with Jesus, we can’t be complacent in our privilege (for those of us who are white, especially white males). Because Jesus takes us to the other side of the violence and evil of racism and into the need for full community. And there will be storms as we go.

In the boat with Jesus, there’s no room to stand in judgment of someone’s sexual identity and orientation. Because Jesus takes us to the other side of self-righteousness into the joy of inclusivity. And there will be storms as we go.

It can be terrifying to get into the boat with Jesus. Because we afraid of what might be coming. And the storms are big. And the other side is unknown.

But we know two things: Jesus is with us in the boat every minute of every storm. And Jesus is the one taking us to the other side.

Get in the boat with Jesus and things will be different on “the other side.”

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Posted by on June 25, 2018 in Sermon

 

Religion for Division or for Unity? (June 3, 2018)

Mark 2:23—3:6

One sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

A number of years ago I was visiting my mom and went to church with her. She belonged to a different branch of Christianity and the doctrines around communion were rather strict. Knowing this, I had planned to not participate until the pastor, who knew what I do for a living, looked me square in the eye during the sermon and said, “Holy Communion is for the entire body of Christ.” I figured he was telling me it was OK to come to communion.

So I did.

Apparently, I had misunderstood what he was saying in the sermon. Because when I got to the front, he simply stood there. No bread, no blessing, he just stood still, quietly looking at the floor.

I felt I needed to add to the awkwardness of the moment too, so I chose to stand there and wait also.

There were two lines coming forward for communion, and the other line kept moving. My line was now stopped and the pastor and I shared this moment together. Finally, he said to me, “Uhmm, we don’t normally do this.” So I continued on my way, making my way past the wine chalice back around to the pew where my mom had long since returned. She was aghast. I was simply embarrassed.

After the service, the pastor was waiting for me. He had run into his office and retrieved the documentation that prohibited him from giving me communion. He showed me the section—he even underlined it—that said I, by virtue of being of a different Christian tradition, wasn’t to be included.

The pastor correctly followed his tradition’s doctrine. But his use of that doctrine itself wasn’t good discipleship. It segregated people and ranked them. There became insiders and outsiders. It was religion at its worst.

Religion can be the worst thing we do or it can be the best. It can be used for separation, judgment, and division or it can be used for compassion, forgiveness, and unity. Division happens when our religions become an end unto themselves. When we are led by ideologies and doctrines instead of the Spirit of God.

Unity happens when our religions point us toward the Divine. When we

are opened to the loving nature and character of God that come to us and make us new.

We can look to our religious preferences and doctrines to justify ourselves, or we can use our religious traditions and practices as ways to open us to the presence of God.

Both happen in this text in Mark today. There seems to be a disagreement between Jesus and the Pharisees and Herodians about keeping Sabbath laws. And it’s quite a disagreement! Except the thing is the Pharisees and Herodians (who rarely agreed with each other) didn’t really disagree with Jesus’ interpretation of Sabbath law here. All three would agree that compassion takes precedence over Sabbath. That was long understood and accepted.

What’s at stake here isn’t the doctrine itself, but the role of their religion. The Pharisees and Herodians are using the Sabbath laws to determine who’s in and who’s out, who’s righteous and who’s unrighteous. And, surprise, surprise, using their argument they come out better than everyone else. The Jewish doctrine around Sabbath became for them an end unto itself. It took on a life of its own. The Pharisees and Herodians correctly followed their tradition’s doctrine. But their use of that doctrine itself wasn’t good discipleship. It segregated people and ranked them. There became insiders and outsiders. It was religion at its worst.

Jesus, on the other hand, understood Sabbath laws as means to emphasize God’s compassion. Sabbath is about restoring, about giving life. More than just “not working,” but all people being refreshed and restored.

Of course you restore a man on the Sabbath! Now not only is his hand fixed, but he can go back to work and take care of his family. His dignity and his position within the community are restored. For Jesus, the Sabbath is about restoring life for everyone, not righteousness for yourself. For Jesus, the Sabbath is for everyone. It is a chance for all things to be restored and renewed. The doctrine of Sabbath points to God’s desire to restore everyone, God’s desire for life for everyone. Sabbath law is a way to make sure all can be renewed. For Jesus it cannot be a way to rank or divide or exclude. For Jesus, Sabbath law was religion at its best.

Hearing that your religion doesn’t make you more righteous than anyone else can be hard to listen to. Hearing that the dividing line that separates us from them, good from bad, orthodox from heretical is not what religion is about can make a person angry. That’s what got the Pharisees and Herodians plotting against Jesus. Religion at its worst destroys life.

But hearing through your religion that even at your worst times, even at your lowest, even at your weakest and most vulnerable places, you matter to God as much as the best, highest, and strongest can be liberating—exhilarating! Inclusivity and unconditional love are the nature—the essence—of God. Religion that opens us up to this nature of God gives life. That is religion at its best.

Christianity, even Lutheranism, isn’t an end unto itself. There are devout Lutherans who use their religion to judge, to divide, and to proclaim their own righteousness. But there are others, some who aren’t even Lutheran(!), who recognize their faith as a way to be open to God’s unconditional love and grace, and who then show that same compassion to all that God loves. We Lutherans have a helpful way of looking at that. But whether Lutheran or not, that is religion at its best.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2018 in Sermon

 

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