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Monthly Archives: October 2019

Make No Mistake, the Church is Being Reformed (October 27, 2019)

Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 8:31-36

Reformation Sunday is a festival Sunday unique to Lutherans. As the last Sunday in October, it’s a celebration of the day Martin Luther called out the church on it’s need to reform. He began a movement that resulted in what we call the Lutheran Church, but is more than that. Martin Luther helped us recognize that the work of the Holy Spirit through the church is ongoing. Reforming isn’t a one-time thing from in the 16th century, but never ends. As long as there is a church, there will be a need for reformation.

That said, I wonder what the Rev. Dr. Luther would think of the Lutheran Church today? Personally, I think he’d be somewhat confused. There’d be a few things he’d think were pretty stellar, e.g., our emphasis on grace, our understanding of scripture both in terms of law and gospel, our acceptance of the priesthood of all believers. But I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be so happy about some other things. I think he’d be sorely disappointed with the role the Lutheran Church plays in our culture. Or rather, the lack of the church’s role.

I think he’d be annoyed at the casual attitude we have around Christian and Biblical education—for adults, primarily.

I think he’d be upset about our general lack of effort regarding supporting the poor and most vulnerable among us.

But mostly, I think the fact that the Lutheran church just can’t seem to share the gospel effectively would absolutely shock him. Granted, he lived in a different time, culture, and political system. But one thing he never had to worry about was the Church’s message being communicated. That’s part of why his protests mattered so much. The church DID communicate with the rest of the world, and, in his biblical opinion, was communicating the wrong things. That was a problem because the world actually heard the message of the church. We had to get it right, because the gospel of Christ was at stake.

How offensive it would be to him today that really bad, harmful, even dangerous theology is being proclaimed in Jesus’ name in our world, and we Lutherans remain pretty quiet about it. It’s as if we don’t think it matters all that much, which Luther would never accept nor understand. Christ’s message is one of hope, of forgiveness, of grace, of life itself. Luther almost lost his life proclaiming that. On the one hand, this gospel is being dangerously distorted by those on the religious right for power and for personal gain. And on the other hand the gospel of life is being casually taken for granted by those on the religious left.

If Martin Luther understood the state of the church today, I’m pretty sure he’d call for another Reformation.

And I think he’d get it.

Not because Luther would be outraged, but because it’s what the Holy Spirit already seems to be doing. The church that came after the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century looked way different than the church that preceded it.

And it will be so in the Reformation we are already in the midst of today.

Reformation itself isn’t a new thing, nor is it a one-time thing. About 2600 years ago, Jeremiah wrote in our OT text today, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors . . . says the Lord.”

In the gospel of John today, Jesus talks about the truth setting us free. Apparently, there was a denial of the truth about Jesus that would change everything. That’s reformation talk. Jesus brought reformation. The funny thing is, the Judeans who heard this Reformation talk didn’t like it because they disagreed with it. Jesus says that not being set free by truth is bondage to the lie. It’s that important. We’ve gotten into a bad habit of deciding that if we don’t like something, it isn’t true. That’s what Jesus is calling out here.

The truth is, the church that’s coming will not look like the church that currently exists. The sooner we accept this reformation, the sooner we’ll be set free to be part of it. Although I’m no expert or futurist, I believe the church that’s coming:

  • will be more focused on following Jesus and less on following doctrine.
  • will be more about compassion and less about conversion.
  • will be more about what we do on Monday and less about what we do on Sunday.
  • will be more about loving others and less about labeling them.
  • will be more about celebrating diversity of beliefs and less about policing uniformity of them.

And the truth is, here at LCM we are making every effort to be part of that future, reforming church. Trusting in the guidance and movement of the Holy Spirit, we want to be part of God’s new reformation.

The truth is that if the changes that are coming in the church are hard, it’s because every reformation is always hard. We will all be challenged in our faith, our spiritual lives, even our daily priorities. If we are hoping for a church that makes us comfortable, we’re hoping for a dying church. If we’re hoping for a church that affirms what we already think and believe, we’re hoping for a dying church. Reformation means that God is up to something new. And how exciting that we get to witness the beginnings of this new thing God is doing!

What would the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther say to us about the Lutheran church today? I think he’d tell us that as uncomfortable as reformation might be, God is behind it, so it will be fine. And finally, in the midst of upheaval reformation can bring, in the midst of the uncertainty of not knowing what we can cling to in this time of change, I think he’d point to his wife Katie’s last words spoken on her deathbed, “I will cling to Christ as a burr clings to a coat!”

Welcome to the Reformation.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Truth Found in Community (October 20, 2019)

Luke 18:1-8; Genesis 32:22-31

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Have you noticed? There seems to be a growing crisis of anxiety and depression in our culture. More and more people are experiencing hopelessness and despair, and the reasons are all around us. Increasing gun violence, separating refugee families and caging children, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and fear-inducing rhetoric about the perceived dangers that are all around us. We hear these words day in and day out. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month.

All of these words constitute an actual spiritual assault on our collective soul. The words of injustice and hatred and fear that are constantly being heaped on us are having an effect. There is a correlation between the hateful voices we’re continually hearing and the deep sense of gloom we’re experiencing as a culture.

We’re not alone. These texts today speak to this cultural despair. One aspect of depression and anxiety is the belief that the hopelessness, the injustice, the anxiety of today is the way it will be from now on.

That is a lie and we cannot believe the lie. One of the reasons we fall prey to that lie is that far too often it’s the only voice we hear.

In both of these texts, the main characters are dealing with hopeless, anxiety-causing situations, but doing so all alone. The widow in the gospel is alone because she has no one to advocate for her, no one to speak encouragement and hope to her. Where is her community? She has to face this unjust judge all alone. The only voice she hears is one that says there will be no justice for you. There will never be justice for you.

In the Genesis text, Jacob is worried about his pending meeting with his twin brother Esau. And he has reason to be. Jacob cheated Esau out of both a birthright and a blessing. All his life Jacob has been a scoundrel and a cheat. As he returns to his homeland for a reunion with Esau in this chapter, he’s still trying to trick his brother. He divides his property into two camps, hoping Esau and his men will attack one camp and not the other. He then, in an attempt to soften up his brother, divides the tribute he’s bringing among three different groups of his servants. Jacob deals with his situation alone because he keeps dividing his property and household into smaller and smaller camps until he ends up alone. And alone, the only voice Jacob hears is one that says your brother wants to kill you and steal you fortune. So there will be no peace for you. There will never be peace for you.

Can’t we relate to these stories? It seems the only voices we hear are voices of hopelessness, injustice, despair, cruelty, division. It’s wearing us down. We’re starting to believe that what these voices are saying is true.

But there’s the word of hope for us. Somehow in both of these texts there is another voice that counters the lie. For the widow in the gospel, there is a voice that tells her that the injustice she is currently living with is not the only outcome. It doesn’t have to be a permanent reality. That little sliver of hope—that the lie of injustice she keeps hearing isn’t the way it will always be—is something she clings to. As she hears this other voice of hope and then boldly repeats it herself, she wears out even an unjust judge and a new reality emerges. The hopeless injustice of today gives way to the newness of tomorrow.

For Jacob too, another voice is heard. In his situation it is the voice of God who comes in human form during the night. The voice of God who is vulnerable enough and persistent enough to wrestle with him all night long. The voice of God who keeps offering the possibility of another outcome. The voice of God who winds up blessing him. The voice of God who wrestles the lie away from Jacob and as a result leaves him changed, scarred, tired, but with a new voice and a new purpose for his life. Jacob limps away from his encounter with God, but having heard God’s voice he begins a new life with a new name.

These are timely stories for us. Dark nights of the soul are now part of our daily human experience. What matters is that when we’re in the struggles of these dark nights, there is another voice we can listen to. There is a voice other than the one telling us there will only hate, only fear, that there will never be any hope, that there is no future. There is another voice that we can cling to. And what’s more, we can echo that voice right into the heart of that hateful, hopeless abyss.

What we know about God, what Jesus reveals to us about Gods, is that God speaks something different than the injustice and anxiety we see and endure. What these two texts tell us is to cling to that voice of God. Rather than struggle alone, we can speak together of God’s promise of justice; to encourage each other to never let go of God no matter how dark the night gets or how long the night lasts. We must not believe the lie that is spoken in the night. We must wrestle, cling, and continue to repeat the voice of God. Dawn is coming. Justice will be delivered.

The voices of hate and fear seem real in the night, but they are shown to be lies when the dawn comes. God comes to us and whispers words of truth, words of love, hope, and new life into our ears. It’s these words we cling to, these words we repeat, these words we remind each other. The dawn is coming. Hear the voice of hope, of justice, of peace, and of joy.

Hear them. Because they are words of truth.

Repeat them. Because they are words of encouragement.

Shout them. Because they are words of hope.

The hateful, frightening voices of the night will not win today. Speak words of truth to the person next to you: they are loved, they are worthwhile, the dark nighttime of injustice and despair is coming to an end. Together we can endure. God has spoken it.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Fear Doesn’t Make Our Decisions — Thank You! (October 13, 2019)

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

One of my deepest fears is public ridicule. The thought of people seeing some embarrassing flaw or insufficiency in me, judging me for that, and then pointing and laughing (because in my fearful heart, that’s what always happens) strikes terror in my soul. I don’t think anyone enjoys that, but for me this fear hits the level of irrational.

Which is why December of 2011 was terrible month for me. It was that month that someone nominated me for the office of bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod.

As it turned out, I was among the group of “pre-nominees.” In order to remain on the list of actual nominees, these “pre-nominees” were asked to submit information about why you’d make a good bishop in an online form. This information would then be publicized throughout the entire Rocky Mountain Synod.

It wasn’t official, and wouldn’t be until I filled out a 3-page form telling why I thought I’d make a good bishop. That form would be would go to every pastor, deacon, and voting member in the RMS. That caused flashbacks from when I tried out for my Middle School basketball team. “Hahaha! Moss thinks he can play basketball!” That public ridicule is my version of hell. It was in front of me again. I knew, however, that I could avoid it by simply not filling out that online form.

Up until now all this had been someone else’s doing. I hadn’t sought this out; someone else had given my name to the synod office. But if I submitted that form, I was saying in a very public way that I was open to being considered for the office of bishop. I could already hear the sneers and the laughter echoing from all corners of the four states and part of a fifth that make up this synod. Junior High basketball terror again, only now swelled to a multiple state level.

“I can’t do this,” I told my family after several sleepless nights. “This whole thing simply terrifies me. I can’t sleep, I can’t think, I have knots in my stomach. I stewed on this for a couple more weeks.

But finally, if for no other reason than avoiding accusations of hypocrisy from my three adult children (I always told them that “fear doesn’t make our decisions), I quickly filled out the form and, with trembling hand and churning stomach, I hit the enter button and submitted it the last day it could be accepted. Then I went and threw up.

My name, picture, and hastily drafted information were thrust out into uncontrolled internet space where I could already hear the mocking and laughter. “Hahaha! Moss thinks he can be a bishop!” Every molecule of self-doubt and inadequacy was rising up. There was, from this point on, no place to hide.

“As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.'”

Because of their illness, these lepers couldn’t come near to Jesus to ask for help privately. Culturally and legally. They had to stand far away and yell, hoping Jesus might have mercy and help them. Their illness was then public knowledge; and so they were seen by everyone as insufficient, lacking, unworthy, laughable. Shouting in public, they were vulnerable to ridicule.

These ten lepers have to live this way–separated, isolated, humiliated—but at least they could do that privately. They were considered broken and flawed people, and asking for help from Jesus pushed them out into the public view. The broadcasting of their embarrassing insufficiency had to be terrifying.

We all want to hide our frailties and our failures. We all want to keep them private. Lots of us have a fear of publicly exposing all the ways we don’t measure up. We want to keep our inadequacies private, thank you.

What the lepers longed to remain private was now public. But it was when their flaws became known to Jesus, they were made clean. They were restored. They were loved. This is what Jesus does. He meets us in those areas of our lives that we desperately want to remain hidden and shows us mercy there. It’s in those parts we desperately want to keep private that Jesus comes and loves us with unconditional love.

Jesus knows the deepest, most humiliating pieces of our lives, meets us there, and loves us. Day by day, Jesus continues to save us. That’s how love works. That’s how mercy works. Jesus does his most loving and gracious redemption in those parts of our lives that we desperately hope no one ever finds out about.

I didn’t win the bishop election. I didn’t make it past the first couple of rounds. But something changed for me. In the midst of my terror, the risen Christ met me. It was through that experience that I saw the presence of God as love, grace, mercy, redemption, and—yes—healing.

In the gospel reading, one leper–a Samaritan–returns and falls at Jesus’ feet giving thanks to God. One recognized the gift of salvation he had received. One saw the presence of God in love, grace, mercy, redemption, and—yes—healing.

Our response to the presence of Christ’s love and grace is up to us. Our response won’t change how God feels about us. It won’t change our forgiveness. It won’t change our worth as children of God. Regardless, Jesus is present for you. Even now he’s meeting you in the hidden and secret parts of your life. He is cleansing you. He is making you whole. He is saving you. We can recognize the risen Christ’s love and mercy that’s there. And we can give thanks to God. Amen.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2019 in Sermon

 

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