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Monthly Archives: January 2019

When Good News is Really Good News, and When It’s Not So Much (January 27, 2019)

Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Last week, in John, Jesus’ first public act was turning water into wine. In Luke’s gospel today, his first public act is this sermon in his home congregation. He preaches from Isaiah 61 on Isaiah’s vision of God’s reign and God’s justice for all people. This means it is especially good news for the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed.

  1. Good news of Jesus is universal. When poor are released from poverty, that is good news for the whole world—and that makes it good news for us. When those shoved to the edges are fully included, that is good news for the whole world—and that makes it good news for us. When the homeless are housed, the hungry fed, the sick are healed, the refugees are welcomed, that is good news for the whole world—and that makes it good news for us.

Because we are all connected within creation. What affects one affects all. We are one giant community of creation, connected, intersecting, interdependent—all part of God’s same created order. So good news for one is good news for all.

The problem is that this release may not affect us in the ways we individually hope for. E.g., Year of Jubilee (the year of the Lord’s favor) all land returned to its origins. For those of us with European ancestry, that wouldn’t be individual good news when the land we pay mortgages on is returned to their Native origins.

So we tend to view “good news” through the lens of how good it is for me, not how good it is for the world. Yet justice for all of God’s creation is what good news looks like. We can’t recognize God’s good news unless it releases the poor from captivity to poverty.

  1. At the same time, God’s life of release from captivity does include us individually. Again, not in the ways we may hope for. What if our release from captivity meant release from relentless pull of our cell phones, calendars, the never ending chaos and frenzy of our lives today. Release! Today! This good news of God’s release in Christ means we can stop living that way. We can have a life that includes art, music, friendships, reading, hobbies. A life with more joy and more love.

For me personally, release from captivity might look like this:

  1. Don’t check email after 8pm and minimize email on days off.
  2. Don’t go it alone, i.e., seek appropriate support from GM clergy, Metro South Conference, (and, if possible) LCM Council.
  3. Stay more focused on positives and gratitude; less attention to criticism and negativity.
  4. Recognize I cannot (and do not need to) “fix” anything about LCM, but am only responsible for my own health and life in the midst of this community.

This is not just abstract, pie-in-the-sky dreaming. It’s not just a vague hope or an “if only” kind of thing. That’s why this matters that Jesus is the one who proclaimed the reality of this good news. It is real, it is present, it is possible, it is now part of the world. There has been a trajectory of God’s justice through history from Isaiah’s vision. In Jesus, that trajectory has caused it to break through into the present-day world. The reality of this good news, this release from captivity, affects real people in real situations in real life in real time.

Jesus is the one in whom this good news has broken in and revealed as God’s intention for creation. That’s why it is good news today. That’s why it is being fulfilled in our hearing. For us individually, but more importantly, for all creation. And we get to be part of it. We get to experience that release today. And we get to be part of that release in the world today.

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Posted by on January 25, 2019 in Sermon

 

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The Best Wine. Who Knew? (Jan. 20, 2019)

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

There are some stories we have of events in our lives that will never go away. These are the incidents that shape us, that tell us who we are. Sometimes they are really good events, sometimes the stories are tragic.

Here’s one of those stories. I was a sophomore in high school and had a history of being a favorite target for bullies. But it had died down since Junior High. Until that day.

Our high school had a pool next to the gym. And on that day, for some unknown reason, a group of kids picked me up and carried me to the pool and threw me in. Fully clothed and before lunch. I had a long day in wet clothes.

All the old memories of being bullied rose up and took over again. Once more, I was nothing more than the unpopular nerd kid. I figured I just deserved to get beat up several times a week. I would, I assumed, continue to get picked on for the rest of my life.

The humiliation of having to go to class dripping wet for the rest of the day was, I thought, unbearable. I will never live this down. Ever. I could only imagine what new and horrible nick-names would haunt me from now on. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than this.

I think that must have been how the bride and groom felt in this story from John’s gospel. Weddings were big deals then, bigger even than they are for us. Everyone was invited, they became huge community festivals, and lasted for a week. It was the biggest event in a couple’s life. And to run out of wine was the worst possible thing that could happen. They would never live this down. The shame and humiliation of their wedding would haunt them for the rest of their lives. They would now be the benchmark for every bad wedding that would ever be held. I’m sure they couldn’t imagine anything worse than this.

You’ve been there before, right? Maybe you’re there now. You know what that’s like. Thinking nothing could be worse, unsure how you’re going to get through this shame or pain or depression or slip up. That horrible defining moment in your life with a hole so deep that you’re sure it has no bottom. You will just fall forever.

Well, my involuntary dip in the high school pool was, in fact, a defining moment. But different than I ever could have imagined. The story spread through the school, but no one laughed at me or ridiculed me. Instead, somehow, it was told with some awe, and my name was—dare I say it?—used in the same sentence with the word “cool.” “Did you hear about Moss? Yeah, he got tossed into the pool. It was awesome! Look, there he is! He’s still wet!”

The worst event became one of the best. My life changed as a result. I was never picked on again.

The worst event became one of the best. “The steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’”

The worst event became one of their best. This newly married couple’s lives changed as a result. Now, theirs was the benchmark for the best wedding—the wedding to beat.

The worst event became one of the best. Jesus shows up.

It’s important to note that this wedding wasn’t a fancy affair with important guests. It was a poor couple in a backwater village who didn’t plan their wedding very well. But Jesus still shows up.

It’s at the worst times that Jesus reveals something better. It’s at the poor, backwater, poorly planned events that Jesus points to something better for us.

I would never disregard the awfulness of these desperate moments in our lives. It’s horrible when these tragic, shameful, painful events assault us. The pain and shame are real. It seems as if the horror will never leave. But it Jesus shows up. And so we hang on and wait patiently. Even now, though no one notices, Mary is telling the servants to do whatever Jesus says. Even now, back in the kitchen, large stone jars are slowly being filled up with water—one after another. Even now, unnoticed by anyone, the chief steward is tasting the new wine in those jars and looks up in surprise. Even now he’s looking around to complement the despairing bridegroom. Even now Jesus is showing up.

At some unknown point in your life, in some surprising way in the midst of the shame and the hurt, the astonished steward will call you over and say, “I don’t understand it, but this is amazing. You have kept the good wine until now.”

And the worst event will be the event that assures you that Jesus does, in fact, show up. The worst event will be the event that assures you that God’s reign is true.

“Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Even at the little wedding of Cana, Jesus shows up. Even in your life, Jesus is there.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2019 in Sermon

 

An Epiphany: God Meets You Where You Are. Right Now.

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.

I think I’ve been unfair to the magi on Epiphany. I’ve often referred to them as tea-leaf reading, chicken-bone shaking, fortune tellers from the Psychic Hotline.

That may not be true.

Matthew is likely actually describing priests of the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism, which was the official religion of the Persian Empire before Islam. One of the key components of this faith was using watching, plotting, and paying attention to the movement of the stars. It was, in fact, the most advanced science of the time.

Think about what that would mean. In Matthew’s gospel, there is no manger and no shepherds. The first people to acknowledge the newborn king of Israel are these magi—non-Jews following a foreign religion. And the birth of Jesus was revealed to them through science quite apart from faith or scripture. These are the ones who go and worship the Christ-child. Not Herod, who was the ruler of all Israel. Not the chief priests and scribes who through scripture advised Herod of the place of Jesus’ birth, but missed the relevance of this newborn king.

No, the only ones who show up are these Zoroastrian scientists. Hardly what one would expect! There was a newborn king of Israel, yet no one in religious or political authority in all Israel knew anything about it! Matthew’s point is that the birth of Jesus is truly good news for ALL people!

Now, I’m the first to encourage everyone to be serious about spiritual growth. There are lots of ways to do it and we should. But it’s not like there’s some mystic secret to enlightenment or a particular path to God. GOD finds a way to connect with you. If God could find Zoroastrian priests in Persia through their science and stars, then God can certainly find you.

The magi were passionate about the science of stars. So that’s where God found them. What are you passionate about? That’s likely where God will find you. Is it books, movies, sports, bicycling, writing, nature, or even science? Matthew is making the clear point that God comes to you where you are. It’s like an Epiphany!

One fault of the institutional church is that we’ve convinced the world that God only works in the ways that the church can control: Prayers(especially old ones other people wrote); the Bible (especially when interpreted in a way the church says is correct); Sunday worship(especially when it has the right music); or social justice (especially when it benefits causes endorsed by the church).

There are a couple of problems with the church controlling the ways God can come to people. If God only comes to us in pre-approved ways,

  1. It limits people outside the church from recognizing God present and calling them.
  2. It limits the church from recognizing God present and calling us.

Don’t get me wrong. The church has good reason to recognize God’s presence and invitation through prayer, scripture, worship, and justice. Because God is present and inviting through these things! We know it, we’ve witnessed it, we can testify to it. But Matthew’s magi would seem to indicate it’s wrong to think that God is limited somehow to these.

Take a minute and think about what you love to do most. What excites you, that you’d stay up all night talking about? What are you passionate about? What matters to you? . . .

That’s where God is likely to reveal God’s self. That’s often where the invitation will come. Follow that star, whatever it is.

I want to add here, that if that’s true for us individually, it’s also true for us congregationally. If you were to summarize LCM’s passion as a community, you’d probably come up with something about care or compassion. We excel at that. Why wouldn’t God, then, be present with us there? Why wouldn’t that be an important way where God invites us to come and see Jesus?

This matters, because whether it’s affected you individually or not, this congregation has really gone through a very difficult year. We’ve grieved more in the last 12 months than we ever have in our history. But I’ve also watched more compassion shown in the last 12 months than I’ve ever witnessed before.

Matthew writes that God comes to us where we are with what we know and what matters in our lives. The science of stars for Persian priests, and compassionate care for this congregation.

Make no mistake, God has come to us in our compassion for one another. God invites us to meet the Christ-child in the care we express together.

Christ has come. God is present. With the magi, today we experience this as good news for all people. God comes to us where we are. It’s like an Epiphany!

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2019 in Sermon

 

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