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Monthly Archives: August 2019

Jesus, You’ve Gone Too Far (August 25, 2019)

Luke 13:10-17

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Can I just say, I’ve got some empathy for this “leader of the synagogue”? I think he would say Jesus was right to heal that poor, bent over, crippled woman who’s been suffering for eighteen years. Who could argue that? The healing is great, he might say, we’ve been helplessly watching this unfortunate, twisted woman for years.

The problem is that there are six other days to do that. The sabbath is set apart. Jesus shouldn’t be using it for work. Call it an occupational hazard, but I feel for this synagogue leader who has a job to do. He’s been appointed to run this religious gathering according to the laws and traditions of his faith. For him, keeping sabbath law is necessary for his community’s relationship with God. He’s got a responsibility to these people and, more importantly, to God. I get that!

What’s more, there’s the simple matter of him being right about the sabbath. There is to be no work done on that day. That’s the law. It must be kept. Because if there are some exceptions to the law the whole thing breaks down. Rather than “10 Commandments” they become “10 Pretty Decent Ideas.”

It must have been exciting to have Jesus come and teach in his synagogue. After all, Jesus is getting to be a pretty big name. Booking Jesus for this sabbath would score him quite a few points with the whole town.

It starts off great, but then it begins to slide off the rails. Jesus sees this crippled woman in the crowd. He stops his teaching and calls her up front. He tells her she is set free and touches her. Suddenly she stands up straight and starts praising God. Unusual, and certainly good for her—except he did it on the sabbath. The one day he can’t do this. And he of all people should know better. It’s just not right. It’s not the way we do things. It’s not how the law works. It’s not respectful to God.

So he feels he has to say something. He has to call out Jesus’ disrespectful behavior. God cannot be pleased with Jesus’ blatant disregard for God’s own law.

Further, he’s got to make sure the members of his synagogue understand this too. He believes that their relationship with God is at stake here. He’s got to rescue them from this type of thinking that you can break God’s law whenever it suits you. This has to stop. And it has to stop now. Jesus has just gone too far.

I get it. If we allow Jesus to push his agenda far enough, I suspect we all can sympathize with this synagogue leader. We all trust what we know, our faith traditions, and our own views and interpretations. And at some point Jesus will go beyond our views, beyond what we’re comfortable with. He will. And when he does:

That’s why some of us have a hard time when the church isn’t like it used to be—Jesus goes too far with his “I’m doing a new thing” message.

That’s why some of us have a hard time welcoming immigrants and refugees—Jesus goes too far in his concern for the poor and oppressed.

That’s why some of us have a hard time seeing people who aren’t Christian as equal—Jesus goes too far in loving everyone.

That’s why some of us have a hard time recognizing how violent our culture is—Jesus goes too far with peace and loving our enemies.

That’s why some of us have a hard time admitting our complicity with racism and sexism—Jesus goes too far with his whole “those at the top will be brought low and those at the bottom will be lifted up” thing.

Sooner or later, Jesus will go too far for all of us. If we don’t think so, we’re not hearing all that Jesus is saying.

As uncomfortable as that can be, Jesus “going too far” is actually the best news of all for us. However far we think we need to be forgiven, Jesus takes forgiveness for us even further. Whenever we are feeling unloved or unlovable, Jesus takes his love for us even further. Every time we come to believe we are unappreciated or worthless, Jesus takes his inclusion of us even further. It’s hard to believe how far he goes. You know how far it is? He goes all the way to the cross.

We get to the point where it’s hard to follow Jesus because he just goes too far. And yet, for our sakes, and for the sake of the whole world, thank goodness he does.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2019 in Sermon

 

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“Jesus is Too Divisive” (August 18, 2019)

Luke 12:49-56

[Jesus said to his disciples,] “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

There’s a lot in this brief text this morning. There’s fire, baptism, stress, weather reports, accusations of hypocrisy, and seeing signs of the times. But my guess is that what most of us hear today in this text isn’t any of those things. It’s probably Jesus saying, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

I heard someone say recently that they are part of a Christian Bluegrass band, and they had a gig at a local bar one night. After playing a few songs, the manager asked if all their songs were about Jesus. “Well, yeah, it’s kind of a beer-and-hymns sort of idea.” They were then asked to pack up and leave the bar because, as the manager said, “Jesus is too divisive.”

Now, understand that Jesus isn’t saying it’s his goal to be divisive. Just that that’s sometimes the reality when the Reign of God is shown. Jesus isn’t saying it’s his goal to oppose peace. Just that people’s reaction to the presence of the Reign of God isn’t always peaceful.

See if that isn’t true. The Reign of God is present anytime and anyplace where the character of God is evident. Any time someone exhibits God’s over-the-top compassion, anytime someone gives with God’s extravagant generosity, any place where someone grants God’s never-ending forgiveness, anywhere that someone is loved with God’s unconditional love. Try doing that and see how divisive it can be.

What would happen if someone tried to exhibit God’s generosity with our tax dollars, or God’s compassion with our immigration laws? I’m not talking about agreement; I’m talking about the division that would result.

Or what happened right here in Lakewood when the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless tried to build housing on Federal land? Again, put aside whether it was a good idea or not, I’m just talking about the divisive way people responded. It largely wasn’t a conversation about whether this was the best way to provide housing for people who are homeless. It was just met with division. Those meeting certainly weren’t peaceful.

Even when the church reveals the Reign of God, it can be divisive. The ELCA in assembly last week voted to become a “sanctuary church body.” Even though this stance doesn’t call anyone to do anything illegal, just that we are publicly declaring that for us as Lutherans, walking alongside immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers is a matter of faith—a matter of following Jesus; a matter of the Reign of God. And the response by some media outlets was quite divisive.

So Jesus is stating reality here—that the response to the Reign of God can be divisive. Here’s why he says it. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is not meandering like an itinerant preacher, he is intentionally travelling to Jerusalem for almost half the gospel. Because that is where the Reign of God—God’s compassion, love, and forgiveness—will be most prominently revealed. On a cross. In Jerusalem the ultimate division will take place. A very un-peaceful fate awaits him.

So for ten chapters, almost half of Luke’s gospel, Jesus is heading to Jerusalem where he’ll be killed. And all along the way, he’s trying to get his disciples ready to take over this Reign of God work. He is sometimes rude, sometimes abrupt, sometimes extreme. Because this work of God is that important. All the teaching, all the healings, all the signs are to help prepare these disciples for the difficult work that awaits them. Showing God’s kindness and mercy will not always be met with peace. And people will be divided when some of them begin to follow these ways of Jesus. Division is not the goal, but it is the reality. These disciples need to be ready.

This text today is part of that travel narrative where Jesus becomes very direct. Recognizing the Reign of God present in the world is that important. That’s why he turns to the crowds—not just the disciples now, but everyone—and says all that stuff about seeing clouds and knowing it will rain, seeing the wind and knowing it’ll be hot. They’ve got to recognize God’s compassion when they see it, to know God’s all-inclusive love, to be looking for the presence of God’s justice so they can continue the work of revealing it. That’s the hope of the world.

I wonder whenever Luke describes Jesus turning toward the crowds—toward everyone—if he means for that to include us.

So I would ask, do we see the Reign of God? Do we recognize God’s compassion? Are we looking for God’s mercy and love being shown? It’s around us all the time. Right now I can point to 116 incidents of the Reign of God being present. Look at the timeline on the back wall. There are so far, to my count, 116 LCM “Glory Moments,” when some kind of compassion, love, forgiveness, grace, inclusivity were recognized by you in this congregation. Because you experienced them. And what a difference that has made!

That, to me, is astounding. Right here, among us, the Reign of God is revealed in ways that Jesus describes and points to. God’s compassion and love make us new, and for Jesus, that is the highest priority. And in order to provide those things to you, Jesus is willing to risk division. For your sake. To change your life. To make you new.

How can that not give hope to the world? How can we, who are the recipients of the Reign of God, not be part of revealing this to change the world? Even though it won’t be smooth, easy, or even harmonious, there’s nothing more important. It is the hope of the world.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Just One Step (August 11, 2019)

Luke 12:32-40

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

You’re at the Dr’s office for some testing and you’re already nervous with all the needles and gadgets and probey things. Then you hear the technician say as she grabs something that looks amazingly like a circular saw, “You might feel a little pressure.” You know what’s coming. Or you’re at the dentist’s office and through your trembling you hear the dentist say, “You may experience slight discomfort.” Grab the arms of the chair and hold on.

That’s the same sense I sometimes get when I hear Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid,” which he does a bunch of times, including today. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Uh-oh. Look out for whatever is coming next. Sure enough, here it comes, “Sell your possessions, and give alms.” Which is specifically giving to the poor. Not just an offering in church. Really, Jesus?

Why would anyone voluntarily follow Jesus in doing things like this? If the whole world did that, that would be one thing, but I don’t know anyone who actually does that. Sure, we all give away some of our excess, but that isn’t the same thing. It seems we’re always holding back, not fully following Jesus. It’s like an old boss I used to have when I worked in a lamp store in Salt Lake City, who said she had enough faith to walk on water like Jesus, just as long as the water was shallow. You know, just in case.

Here we have a straightforward teaching by Jesus about our relationship with God. So why is it that we reject even this clear answer and keep trying other, safer ways—water that isn’t so deep? Why are we so hesitant to follow him when he’s quite clear what following him means and choose instead to stay in the shallow water? Just in case.

Lots of reasons, all of which we believe are very good, I’m sure. At least my reasons are—I don’t know about yours.

So, how about this. How about we each admit where we are, and that we’re still trying to stay away from the deep water of following Jesus all the way. And then, we commit to taking a step toward following Jesus into deeper water. Just one step. “Do not be afraid, little flock,” he says. God has already committed the whole kingdom to you.

What would that one step look like for you? Just a step into deeper water following Christ. What would be one step toward living Christ’s love in the world, especially toward those who are hard to love? One step closer. It could be as simple as an act of kindness toward someone you dislike. “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

What would be one step toward showing Christ’s compassion, especially to those who simply make you angry? One step closer. Maybe praying for God to move you to forgive someone who’s offended you. “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

What would be one step toward including those who Christ includes, especially those who are so different they make you uncomfortable? One step closer. How about learning a song by someone from a different ethnic background. “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

What would be one step toward expressing Christ’s generosity, especially if you have to change your lifestyle to do it? Just one step closer. With our “Building to Share” capital campaign coming up, consider how you can help to make this building more attractive and accessible for more ministry. “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

What would be one step toward establishing Christ’s justice, especially if you risk alienating some of your friends? One step closer. Listen to and believe the stories of Latino refugees or African Americans who are telling us hatred and racism are everyday realities. “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

“For it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God’s generosity, compassion, love, forgiveness, and justice are already yours. Gladly and fully. God eagerly wants to pour those things that are the kingdom over you, immersing you in them. God’s pleasure is to saturate you in love and compassion and grace. Nothing makes God happier than giving this kingdom to you.

We no longer have to be afraid to live as part of God’s kingdom right now. We can freely and joyfully live the same way in this world. One step today. One step into God’s joy. One step with Jesus into the deeper water of compassion and love.

“Do not be afraid, little flock. For it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Just one step closer. One step in discipleship. One step in widening the circle of who’s welcomed. One step in sharing love and compassion. One step toward justice. Have no fear, little flock.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Prayer, Shoes, and Humiliation (July 28, 2019)

Luke 11:1-13

[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

When I was a much younger pastor, I knew I didn’t have a lot of experience. So like a lot of young professionals, I tried to cover it up with presenting a sense of confidence. Totally false, but I thought this façade of wisdom and knowledge made me more credible. Even though it didn’t take much to break through the thin veneer of pretending to know what I was doing.

The church I was serving at the time had just completed a successful capital campaign and a building project, so I was feeling pretty arrogant. As a result, I had managed to coerce the members of a synod committee I served on to meet in my new church building. You know, show off a little. “Oh, this little thing? Why, yes, it is new. Yeah, we just doubled our square footage. No big deal.” I especially wanted the person from the bishop’s staff who was on this committee to be impressed. Not with the building and the new ministry plans that motivated my congregation, but with me.

So the day of the meeting, I dressed in my most impressive clerical collar and suit, and put on the shoes I had so carefully shined the night before. I opened up the new part of church building, made the coffee, and set up the tables and chairs just right. I’m competent, right? I was the picture of an experienced, wise, capable pastor. Certainly the assistant to the bishop would be impressed.

The members of the committee began to arrive, including the person from the bishop’s office. They were gracious in allowing me to show them through the new part of the building, and they oooh’d and aww’d appropriately. I noticed, however, that the assistant to the bishop and most of the rest of them kept looking down—like toward the ground, and many of them were smiling, especially the assistant to the bishop.

I took a little longer impressing them with my new building than I should. And they kept smiling and looking toward the ground. Even after we moved to the new meeting room with the new chairs and the new table. Wow! I’m so impressive that they can’t help but smile.

In my memory, the meeting went well, but to be honest I can’t remember much. Because right at the end I happened to lean back and glance down at the floor and noticed that I was wearing two completely different shoes. Not even the same color. Totally different.

I had been strutting around showing off this building, trying to impress everyone with my professionalism, all the while looking like a two-year old who can’t dress himself. It was mortifying.

The bishop’s assistant and I actually became friends later on. He never said a word to me about that day. I loved him for that. Because I knew he didn’t judge me or think less of me because of it. He and I went on to do some really creative and fun ministry throughout that synod. I knew I could trust him with anything, because he met me in my humiliation and still saw me as valuable.

Who do you share your most humiliating moments with? Who do you trust with your embarrassment? Who are you confident won’t judge you, or think less of you, or ridicule you, but instead will stand with you, maybe enough just laugh with you?

That’s the relationship that’s being described in this text. A friend goes to another friend in the middle of the night and asks for three loaves of bread to feed an unexpected guest. You need to understand that hospitality to travelers was a big deal culturally. It was also required by Jewish law. So to be caught with nothing to serve a guest was desperately humiliating.

Yet the relationship with this neighbor was strong enough and trustworthy enough that he could go and ask, even if that means he reveals his humiliation. He could wake up this friend and beg for bread in the middle of the night because the relationship could endure that.

Do you have someone like that in your life? Someone you can go to when you’re in a tough spot? Someone who you can call in the night, knowing they’ll be there for you even if you wake them from a sound sleep? If so, think about them for a minute. Think about that relationship. Think about the trust that’s been built up. Think about how, even if you disappoint that person, they’ll still always be there for you.

Jesus doesn’t tell this parable to teach us about neighbors. Not this time. This isn’t a parable about what person you can trust, but about the God you can trust.

This parable is an explanation to the prayer he teaches his disciples. It’s not about the words so much as it is about knowing you can trust God with anything. Because God will always be there for you. There’s such a trusting relationship that you can begin by praying to God as a child would come to a loving parent. You can ask anything because God holds you so closely you can trust God with any request, even if you’re embarrassed to ask.

This God is always there for you. Just ask, and it you’ll receive. Just knock in the middle of the night and the door will open. God knows just what to give, just what you need. And is always there for you. Even if you ask for a snake, God knows you need a fish because it’s better. Even if you ask for a scorpion, God will give you an egg because it’s better. Just ask. God is that kind of God. Nothing can change the love God has for you.

That’s how Jesus explains prayer to these disciples. Prayer isn’t just a wish list of things you want, like writing a letter to Santa. Prayer is an expression of the relationship with God that Jesus opens up for us. A relationship of trust, where we don’t have to be embarrassed or worry if we’re doing something wrong. God is already more than willing to pour out the Holy Spirit on you. And is doing that even now. Even if you aren’t sure. Even if you think it’s too good to be true. Even if you’re wearing two different shoes.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2019 in Sermon

 

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