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Monthly Archives: May 2019

Love in Disagreement (June 2, 2019)

John 17:20-26

[Jesus prayed,] “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I’m sensing a little bit of division in our country. I know, I know, sometimes it just seems like I’m just making stuff up. But if you look closely, you just might see evidence that there could be some truth in what I’m saying.

Much of the division seems to be centered politically. That’s not the only arena, but it is certainly one of the largest. What seems to be happening is that I and those who agree with me are right, therefore you and the people who agree with you must be wrong. And since you’re already wrong, I cannot work with you, cooperate with you, or (God forbid), compromise (gag). That would be selling out to the enemy—those who are wrong, aka, those I disagree with.

So this part of Jesus’ prayer in John’s gospel seem rather odd. He’s praying for unity, for oneness. That we would be one as he and the Father are one. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us . . . I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.”

In this culture of division, do we even know what unity means? Does it mean we all agree all the time? That we always get along? That we look the same? That we believe all the same things about God? That we all vote the same way?

That would be more like “uniformity” than “unity.” That’s different.

Unity is about being part of a community. Standing together. Being with and for each other for a greater purpose than our individual selves.

Unity is all the Lutheran denominations, who can’t even come to the Lord’s table together, who nonetheless work together through Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran World Federation, and Lutheran Disaster Response for the sake of those suffering.

Unity is a family, whether together in one household, spread across the country, or simply chosen, all committed to loving one another and being present for one another no matter who you voted for or where you work or what your gender identity is.

Unity is a congregation that goes to a lot of trouble and expense, spending months in planning and coordinating, just to have 5 really good nights of Vacation Bible School for the children of our neighborhood. Five evenings where our neighbor kids will not just hear, but will experience unconditional love. Five nights that no one can take away from them.

Jesus isn’t praying for us to get along. He’s not praying for us to express the same moral views or even go to the same church or confess the same doctrines. He’s praying that the love that binds him and the Father together would also bind us to one another and to him.

He’s praying that this love would catch us up, hold us together, and be shared in the world that Jesus also loves.

He’s praying that this love, this unity, this purpose is what we’ll be known for in the world. Not just the original disciples gathered around his table at the Last Supper, but “also on behalf of those will believe in me . . . that they may all be one.” Jesus includes us in his prayer. That we would be united: in him and in one another, together in the love God has for us and the whole world.

And here’s the thing: his prayer is answered. Not perfectly, but there are still signs of Christ’s love that holds us all together being expressed—both in this building and beyond. We don’t always agree; that’s fine. Christians don’t always get along; that’s unfortunate but not necessary. Some Lutherans aren’t even able to pray together. But God’s love, that holds us together, is still shown among us. And it is shown in the world. Unity is about love. And the love of Christ can be seen uniting us all over the place.

Even in this politically divided country where one party can’t even talk to the other. And yet, so far this year, the 116th Congress has passed 17 laws with bipartisan support. Including the creation of 1.3 million more acres of public lands and national parks, the largest in a decade. They’ve passed changes to Medicaid services, even a Colorado River Drought Contingency. And it looks like they may be ready to pass a couple more very soon: the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, and (one that will change my life) the Telephone Consumer Protection Act which will block illegal robocalls. That’s become so bad that I’m actually getting robocalls from my own phone number!

The unity Jesus prays for exists—it’s just that sometimes we need to dig underneath some of our disagreements to find it. Which is why our unity in our love-for-all is a game-changer. It’s an answer to prayer. Rather than basing our lives on our disagreements, here we base our lives on the love God has for us. And we show the world what that love looks like as it holds us together. And we share that same love with the world as it holds us together with them.

“I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Maybe we’re not so divided after all. We’re all united in God’s love. But we are the ones who will show the world what that looks like. God loves the entire world—it’s just that as the church, we can dig underneath the disagreements and bring that love to the surface so it can be known.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Today You Are Held in Christ’s Peace (May 26, 2019)

John 14:23-29

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. 25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

Peace is something everyone wants, right? So how do you define it? . . .

In the midst of a lot of other stuff, one of the things Jesus promises his disciples in this text during the Last Supper is the gift of peace. What got my attention is that he says that the peace he gives is different than the peace the world gives.

Right away I want to know the difference. Why is Christ’s peace better?

When everything is going well, it’s easy to be at peace. When there is no fear, no anxiety, and you’re feeling loved by the people around us, we feel peaceful.

But really, how much of our lives are actually spent with no fear, no anxiety, or no alienation?

That points to the difference between Christ’s peace and the world’s peace.  The best peace this world can offer us is the temptation of a life without any fear, anxiety, or alienation. When you think about that, it’s an obvious lie. It can never happen.

Think about how we’re tempted into striving for a life without any fear, any anxiety, or any alienation or loneliness. A couple of basic examples:

It would start with more money. If you have enough money you don’t have to worry about your job, or your retirement, your housing, or (if you have way more money) even medical expenses. That’s a lot less stress and worry. So the peace this world does take care of some things, to be sure! But when do we have enough? Is there a point where we give up generosity in order to keep more for ourselves? Why is it that the more I put into my retirement fund, the more anxious I am about it?

The richest person in the world can still be terrified at the prospect of getting Alzheimer’s disease.  More money does not bring peace.

It also includes more power and strength. If you can impose your will or your opinions on others, you can avoid conflicts because everyone winds up agreeing with you. If you can convince people that you are right, you can dictate the terms of peace. If you have the power to impose your views, you have the power to intimidate people into backing down. Conflict avoided.

This goes beyond individual power. It’s why virtually every country in the world has a military—to impose peace in terms that are most beneficial to them. But they have to have the power to do so. So the peace this world offers means gaining power over others.

The most powerful person in the world can still be hit by a drunk driver. More power does not bring peace.

So why is it that we think about peace and security as the peace the world around us offers us? No matter how hard we strive, our lives will always be inflicted with chaos that brings fear, anxiety, and alienation.

It’s worth listening when Jesus says his peace is different. Rather than trying to remove the causes of our fear and anxiety, his is a peace that removes the fear and anxiety no matter the cause. Rather than changing our circumstances to attain peace, his is a peace that comes no matter the circumstances. Rather than working to get more to defeat the chaos, his is a peace that is a gift no matter what our abilities or our resources.

Even though it is present, it is real, and it actually is peace, this peace of Christ isn’t always easy to live. It is already here with us and for us, but we generally hesitate to relax into it. Because it involves giving up our attempts to create and control our own peace. We can only let go of that if we trust Christ to hold us in his deeper, more authentic peace. We grow in our trust of Christ as we experience Christ. This peace doesn’t come by believing doctrines or creeds, it comes in the presence of the living, risen Christ—as he and the Father “come to us and make their home with us.”

Christ’s peace grows in us as we grow in our awareness of Christ’s presence. So we need to keep reminding each other of Christ’s presence, Christ’s love, Christ’s promises. We need to remind each other that we are already held in the comfort of Christ’s peace.

So that’s what we’re going to do right now. Take a minute in silence and consider the things in our lives that are causing us fear or anxiety. At the same time, know that everyone else is doing the same thing. After that, I will remind you that “The peace of the Lord is with you always.” You’ll reply, “and also with you.” Then we will turn to those around us, and, knowing they too are experiencing fear and anxiety in their lives, we will remind each other with a handshake or a hug, saying something like, “God’s peace is with you,” or “You are held today in the peace of Christ.” But first, let us take a minute and consider our own fear, anxiety, and alienation. . .

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2019 in Sermon

 

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“Please Come to My Church So You Can be Loved!” (May 19, 2019)

John 13:31-35

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I’m amazed at this text in John. The author depicts this as happening during the Last Supper and Judas has just left to betray Jesus to the authorities. Jesus will be dead in less than 24 hours. And right after this text, Jesus informs Peter that he, Peter, will deny he even knows Jesus. This text is bookended by denial and betrayal.

So here’s what Jesus has to say to his disciples in the midst of all this: “Love one another. People will know whether or not you’re my disciples by this one thing—your love for each other.”

That’s it. That’s everything. Nothing about avenging his death, nothing about condemning Judas, nothing about watching out for the likes of Peter. No. Just that the sign of being a disciple of Christ is loving each other.

When it comes to this sign of being a disciple, I gotta tell you, I think LCM is starting to rock that house. For quite a while now, as I’ve heard anyone in this congregation talking, it’s been overwhelmingly expressions of care, love, support, and concern.

I experience more of you sharing parts of your personal stories and trusting the people around you to love you with some intimate aspects of who you are.

I hear you checking in with each other, remembering details about some painful situation mentioned a long time ago just to see how that’s going. Out of love.

I see you reaching out to those who are lonely or sick or grieving, just so they don’t have to endure those things alone. That’s what love looks like.

I watch as you take an authentic interest in people here that you don’t know—listening to their life stories, and welcoming them without any judgment or condition. We love you just as you are.

There haven’t even been whispers about people who go to the other worship service for a good while now. Quite the opposite—I hear people defending, speaking well of, and sometime even participating in the worship service they don’t usually go to! Rather than being a competition, our worship has become an expression of love for each other.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.” And I think we’re owning this identity: that we are a church that loves one another. And it is making a difference. At least it is for me.

I want to tell you one way this has been affecting me.

It’s no secret that I have a significant problem with the far-right wing of Christianity. I’ve been quite outspoken about my disagreement with the self-righteous, hypocritical, judgmental, anti-Jesus fringe of the church that hates, divides, and condemns. And that I do so because of the Bible, not in spite of it; because I follow Jesus, not in addition to him; because I’ve experienced God’s unconditional love, not because I deserve it.

When I meet someone and, in the course of the conversation they ask me what I do for a living, I’m so concerned about being judged as “one of those Christians” that I often dodge the question. I do this because I’ve experienced, over and over, especially as a straight, white, middle-aged, Protestant preacher, the assumptions that I’m automatically “one of them.” And conversations close off. And potential relationships die on the vine. And walls of defensiveness go up as the other person assumes I’m condemning them for some self-righteous reason.

I’ve become so focused on trying to reframe to the whole world what I believe a Christian is, that actually being a Christian has taken a back seat. I’ve spent so much energy proving what I’m not that I don’t always live what I am.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you prove to them that you’re not a judgmental hypocrite.” No, Jesus says, “if you have love for one another.” It’s less what you don’t do, and more what you do.

All this came to a head when I was watching TV one night. I was watching a show that included a small group of people being shown around a small town, which included a little church building. And one person who was on the tour stopped and couldn’t go inside. He physically couldn’t go in. It came out later that as a gay man he had endured such pain and hate and condemnation at the hands of the church that he actually couldn’t go through the doors. You could see on his face and in his posture all that pain resurfacing.

As I watched this, my heart just ripped open for him. And through the tears that were dripping down my face I heard myself say—out loud, to him, as if he could hear me on this show that had been recorded two years ago—I groaned from the depths of my soul, “Oh! Please come to my church so you can be loved.”

And as I heard myself say it, I knew those words were true. In my church you’d be loved.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

What the love of this congregation is doing for me is helping me be what I am instead of trying to prove what I’m not. Rather than being clear that I’m not one of those judgmental, self-righteous, hypocritical, condemning, right-wing fundamentalists, instead I’m being clear that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ which means that I will do my best to love you as Christ loves you: without condition, without judgment, just as you are.

Because that’s how this congregation seems to be loving people. With God’s absolute love. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” For Jesus, and for us, that’s the bottom line.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2019 in Sermon

 

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