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Author Archives: Rob Moss

About Rob Moss

Pastor at Lutheran Church of the Master in Lakewood, Colorado, with a heart to proclaim, point out, and participate in God's activity in the world. D.Min. in Congregational Mission and Leadership. What is God doing? What does God want to do? How can we join?

Wait. I Have to Wear that in Public? (October 15, 2017)

Matthew 22:1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

This parable today is a strange one. A king’s son is getting married—about the biggest event in the life of a kingdom. So the king hosts a huge wedding banquet. He’s already sent out a “save the date” card, and now he’s calling them to come. He calls them twice: the first time they wouldn’t come, the second time they simply went about their own business. To say that one’s own priorities are more important than the king’s is basically saying that the king isn’t the king. These invited guests make their sentiments very clear by killing the servants of the king who come to bring them to the banquet.

This is open rebellion, so the king has no real choice but to put down the rebellion—in this case by sacking the town. Then, since his agenda is the banquet for his son, he invites others to come—those on the fringe, on the edges, both “the good and the bad.”

This is God’s all-inclusive grace. It’s one of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago. God includes us by grace, not because we are good have done the right things or believe the right things. We are saved by God’s grace. Independent of anything else. That’ s who God is.

So, by the king’s grace, all these people have now been included in the wedding banquet for the king’s son. They’ve all been invited. They all get to come. That would be a wonderful ending to the story. In fact, Luke, in telling a similar parable, does end it there. Hooray! We’re in! Grace is neat, isn’t it?

But Matthew doesn’t stop. Because Mathew reminds us that there’s more to discipleship than just getting into heaven. There’s following Jesus now. There’s standing up with Jesus now. There’s living out God’s agenda now.

Which leads us to the guy in the parable who comes to the wedding banquet but won’t wear a wedding robe.

This person, who’s now included by the grace of the king, who has accepted the king’s invitation, who shows up at the king’s banquet, is still choosing to do things his own way. So he’s tossed out on his ear. He accepted the invitation and he showed up. So apparently accepting the invitation isn’t the point. Deciding to come to the banquet isn’t the point. The king has authority, and that authority takes precedence over the guest’s. When you come to the banquet, you give up your agenda for the king’s agenda. You wear the wedding robe.

You know what that means? Accepting the invitation to come to church is great, but is not what Jesus is asking. Saying “I believe in God” is great, but that’s not what Jesus is asking. Making a decision that Jesus is our personal Lord and Savior is great, but it’s not what Jesus is asking. As people who’ve been included in God’s banquet, what he is asking is that we give up our agenda for God’s agenda. In Lutheran language, we die to ourselves and are raised with Christ. It’s baptismal language. We wear the wedding robe.

What Matthew’s Jesus is telling his church members is that God’s will is to be done by those who are in Christ. Even if it’s in conflict with our priorities; even if we are uncomfortable with it. Many are called, Jesus says, but few are chosen. The invitation to come, to join in is for everyone. “I’ve been invited to the banquet!” “I’ve been saved by grace!” Great, so was everyone else. But not everyone will follow the call to re-order their lives according to God’s mission. As part of the church, we give up our agenda for God’s agenda. That’s wearing the wedding robe.

God’s agenda is to love unconditionally and show compassion to all and to forgive everyone and include those cast aside and to stand up for those who are pushed down.

More than accepting the invitation, that’s wearing the wedding robe.

Just this last week, Tiana, one of our high school students, wore this wedding robe at school. A kid in one of her classes made a horrible racist comment, using the “n” word. No one called it out. So she did. She stood up and in front of the whole class told the kid that this was not OK. That word has never been OK, and it’s not OK now. That kind of racism has to stop. Even though it meant taking the risk of speaking out in front of her peers, she stood up against racial discrimination. This is living out God’s agenda. This is wearing the wedding robe.

“For by grace we have been saved through faith, and this is not our own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast” writes Paul to the Ephesian church. This text is one of the key themes that clarified for Luther that God’s grace includes us. We are all invited. We are all included. We are all able to attend the banquet in the kingdom of heaven.

And we’re expected, as people who accept the invitation, to wear the wedding robe. It keeps slipping off, doesn’t it? God’s forgiveness is a centerpiece of God’s grace. It’s OK. We just pick up the wedding robe and put it on next time. We take a step.

Maybe we aren’t civil rights leaders. Maybe we cannot organize our neighborhood compassion drive for the homeless. But we can take a step in God’s agenda. With the confidence of God’s unconditional grace, we can encourage and support someone like Tiana, who took a bold stand with Christ. We can listen to people’s stories who tell us that justice doesn’t always include them in our culture.  We can learn from them and make adjustments in our own attitudes. We can let it be known that jokes that demean someone else are not appreciated. We can take a step. Surrounded and held in God’s grace, we can put the wedding robe of the king back on. And when it falls off we can put it back on again. And again. The invitation to the feast still stands. The banquet will go on. We’re still included. And, yes, the wedding robe is still there for us to wear.

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Posted by on October 15, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Las Vegas and a Broken Church (October 8, 2017)

I was going to write an inspiring stewardship sermon for today. One that would move every person who hears it to increase their giving and joyfully re-write their 2018 Estimate of Giving cards with a much higher dollar amount. Everyone would discover the joy of generous giving, and would put that into practice today.

That was my intention. But it’s not what I’m going to do.

Some part of me is tearing open. And the violence last Sunday in Las Vegas, and especially our responses since then, have ripped open that tear in ways that are proving difficult. I’m recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit there. That, combined with my own awareness of the gospel of Christ makes a sermon about increased financial giving seem out of whack. At least today.

Something is broken in Christ’s church. It’s being torn open. Are you aware that (as of Oct 5, according to www.massshootingtracker.com) there have been 3 mass shootings in our country since Las Vegas? Two in FL and one in CA. They are the 340th and 341st mass shootings in the United States this year. This year. 341 mass shootings, which comes out to 12 mass shootings every 10 days. 12 every 10 days. More than one every day. All year.

Somehow, I don’t think Jesus is very happy about that. And I don’t think he’s very impressed with how we are responding to them. These are beloved, precious, holy children of God that are being gunned down every day. And as a country, our response is anything from weak to non-existent. That’s unacceptable. That’s incomprehensible.

But I’m more concerned about the attitude of Christ’s church, people who represent Jesus here on earth. Something is broken in the church. It’s being torn open.

I’m not talking about gun legislation or the 2nd Amendment. I’m talking about the fact that the disciples of Christ seem to be ignoring the teachings of Christ. Ignoring scripture. Ignoring our faith, our discipleship, our baptismal promise to be lights in the world.

Something is broken in the church. Deeply, systemically broken. It’s being torn open. We have become complacent about this kind of thing. We have accepted it as inevitable. We chalk it up to “evil,” which puts the blame “out there” somewhere and excuses us from dealing with it. Daily mass shootings are a symptom that the American church has lost its way. The church is people who are disciples of Jesus Christ, the one who said things like,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God”

“And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”

“So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”

We are disciples of Jesus Christ, who, for saying things like these, himself became a victim of violence—he was killed for it. That’s the Christ into whom we are baptized. That’s the light we are to shine in the world. Many Christians seem to have stopped. Something is broken in Christ’s church. It’s being torn open.

Maybe we’ve made it too easy to be a Christian. Maybe we’ve sold our collective soul for the sake of increasing our numbers. Maybe we’re more into power than into walking with the vulnerable. Maybe we have become so focused on believing in Jesus that we forget to follow him. Maybe we just don’t care anymore.

But whatever we’re doing as the whole body of Christ in the name of Christ isn’t cutting it. Something is broken in the church. It’s being torn open.

That also includes the Lutherans. According to the Dean of Students at Luther Seminary, of the six most heinous domestic terrorists in recent years, three of them were Lutheran. One half. Something is broken in our church. It’s being torn open.

That also includes us in this room. When we tell our kids that sports and homework and jobs are more important than following Jesus, something is broken in this church. And let us not fool ourselves—we are telling them that. When we care more about the convenience of worship than we do about Jesus in worship, something is broken in this church. It’s being torn open.

And that also includes me. I’ve spent way too much time avoiding criticism. I’ve kept too quiet about the things that matter to Jesus, putting energy into things that don’t matter nearly as much, because it makes my life easier. I’ve tried so hard to receive congregational approval that I forgot about Jesus’ approval—and these not always the same things. Something is broken in my church.  And I’m being torn open.

A man I respect said recently about the church, “Our diagnosis doesn’t go deep enough, so our prescriptions aren’t strong enough.” That rings true for me. There’s a deep brokenness in the church. A tear that is deeper than we are diagnosing. But it’s a tear that is making room for Christ, which is more than we’re prescribing. The depth of this breaking is painful and hard—we recognize that we are being torn open, because we talk about it in terms of “the decline of the church.” We know we are being torn open, because it feels like the church is dying. But it’s only when we are torn open that we are healed in Christ. Healing that is our resurrection.

There’s something broken in the church. It’s being torn open. But we must be broken open in order to be healed in Christ. And until the mass shootings are stopped, we will continue to be torn open and more deeply healed in Christ. It’s the people who are torn open and healed who follow Christ into the world’s brokenness. You see, something’s broken in the world—it’s being torn open. And its healing is why we are here. Our hope is in Christ. Amen.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Love: Our Gift to the World (October 1, 2017)

Philippians 2:1-13

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

This text from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi makes great sense, actually. You say you are disciples of Jesus, he says. You say you believe in him, trust him, follow him. So do that. Shouldn’t be a problem.You know what Jesus is like. Helping others, loving others, forgiving others, thinking about others, seeing others—even if it cost him. OK, Christ-ians, you’ve got the game plan. Go! Do that. Be that.

Paul’s writing here in kind of like the very first “WWJD” bracelet. What would Jesus do? How would he treat those outside of your church circle? There you go. Do that.It’s not extra credit. It’s not optional. It’s what it is to be a Christian. To be like Jesus. To follow that example. “Be of the same mind,” Paul says. “Have the same love.”

But this isn’t about trying harder or working at it more. It’s about God at work in us, enabling us to reflect Christ from our hearts, from our minds. In Christ we are new, we are changed, we are different. We have died and been raised into a new life. So it’s not that we have to work to make ourselves like Jesus. We simply have to let our own selfishness get out of the way, so that Christ in us can shine in the world.

Christ is visible in the world. As we live that new life, it is visible too. There are some signs that that is coming along, Paul says. It’s a process, we keep reverting to our selfishness. But we can take a step. We can move our own ambition and conceit out of the way on occasion. We can let the Christ within us come through once in a while.

We keep at it. We can watch for the signs of God at work in us. Christ is revealed in us whenever we act not out of selfishness but out of the interests of others.

We show that in our kindness, our listening, our compassion, our not insisting on our own way. And we do it with our money. That is the most straight-forward way, the simplest way to reveal Christ in us. Giving money away for the sake of others. Putting their needs ahead of our own.

I’m proud that as a congregation, we reveal the mind of Christ with our congregational budget. We are committed to simply giving away 11% of everything that comes in through the offering plate. Through that, we support new congregations, military chaplains, missionaries around the world, disaster relief, church camps, education of students and future pastors and deacons through our colleges and seminaries, and so much more!

We are, as a church body together, very generous every time there is a special appeal. We give graciously and unselfishly together in times like now when disasters strike and people are hurting. That’s what Paul is talking about. Living unselfishly, humbly offering some of what we have for the sake of others. Recognizing that the needs of people in Puerto Rico are more urgent than ours right now.

That is the heart of Christ. And it shows. And it is moving.

So the journey of being of the same mind as Christ continues for us. Showing the world what Jesus looks like is our priority as people who bear Christ’s name.

Take one more step in the journey with Christ this week. To the 121 households that are currently giving financially to this congregation, consider one of two steps: 1) Consider giving regularly. Electronic giving is the easiest way. Who woulda thought that the internet could help us have the same love as Christ? Most banks allow a scheduled transfer of any amount on any schedule. Set it up. Lois and I have done that for years, scheduling a payment to this church right after my paycheck is deposited. It’s easy. It’s simple. And it’s being of the same mind as Christ—doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.

2) Consider an increase in your giving. Either a larger dollar amount or an increase in the percentage of your income. Doing that can make sure our own interests aren’t taking over every aspect of who we are, but Christ within us comes through in our generosity!

And to the 38 households—24%–who are active members of this congregation who currently aren’t giving anything financially here, consider doing one thing. Fill out an “Estimate of Giving” card. Just take that step. Since you’re active, you received one in the mail (or soon will). Or you can pick one up here next Sunday.

Perhaps you are giving generously somewhere else. Cancer research or the Action Center or Foothills Animal Shelter. Great! That is showing the heart and love of Christ from within you! Keep it up! Increase it!

But fill out a card and turn it in here anyway. Even if it’s a big red zero on it—that’s OK. Even if you only commit to $1 or $5 a week. That’s OK. Just take that step. Be part of this congregational community that strives to love with Christ’s love and serve as Christ serves. Put something on that card and turn it in next week. It’s not about judgment, it’s about being part of a community that bears the name of Christ, being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. It is together letting  the same mind be in us that as in Christ Jesus. It is acting not from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regarding others as better than ourselves. It is God at work in us, enabling us to reveal Christ together to the world. Christ’s love, poured into us, making us new, is our gift to the world. Take one step forward on the journey of love.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Here, We Love One Another (September 24, 2017)

Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being. I’m going to be saying that a few more times today, and hopefully it will be clearer in 10 or 12 minutes. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being.

I’ve come to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this parable. On the one hand, Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven brings justice to those who are at the bottom. Justice and generosity. The ones who could only get one hour of work are still paid a full day’s wage. Those with nothing—the most vulnerable and the most powerless—are lifted up. The last shall be first! Yes! The kingdom of heaven is like this! Isn’t it?

However, there is no real justice here. Nothing is changed. All of these workers will be vulnerable again tomorrow—not just those hired last. They will all be in exactly the same situation tomorrow, hoping that someone will hire them so they can eat that day. The only difference the landowner made is that now there’s division among these laborers. Division and jealousy. Rather than celebrating the landowners generosity together, now those who were “first” are envious of those who were “last.” No! The kingdom of heaven is not like this! Is it?

What do we do with this parable? The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being.

If you remember from this whole year of Matthew’s gospel, for this author the “kingdom of heaven” is right here among us. It is any time and any place that God’s compassion and love are shown in the world. But that love and compassion aren’t always received well. God is generous, but we don’t always respond well to it. The kingdom of heaven isn’t just about being nice, its coming among us also signifies transformative change—and the conflict and self preservation that accompany that change. The proof is that Jesus came bringing the kingdom of heaven, and was killed for it. This parable isn’t just about how nice God is, but it is also about how our response to God’s goodness isn’t always as good.

The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being.

So here’s where we are. We are kingdom of heaven people, and therefore we recognize that we are recipients of God’s ongoing generosity. But when that ongoing generosity begins to change us, we can exhibit some bad behaviors and some envy. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being.

As the church, we no longer have to respond to God’s new way with envy because God is generous. We no longer have to live divided, suspicious of one another, watching to make sure no one else gets more than they deserve. As kingdom of heaven people, we are committed to loving one another. The church is the community where God’s love is practiced. As we talked about last week, we know that God loves each person here completely, and in the church, we are capable of treating each other that way too. The church community can be a safe place to practice the new ways of the kingdom of heaven. The church community can be the place where mistakes are forgiven, where truth is told, where all are welcomed, and valued, and respected for who they are.

God’s generosity is more than just me. It is about us. The kingdom of heaven shows us that each of us are a precious gift. And in the church community, we can show one another what a gift they really are. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being. And we do that together, with one another.

The kingdom of heaven blesses our new way of being community. We strive to live that out. Which is why our congregational budget includes so many ways we show love to one another. Over 40% of our annual budget is invested in various ways in expressing love that is part of this community.

$15,700 invested in making sure our kids are loved. For every $100 you give, more than $6.00 goes to our children. We do this because we love one another.

$10,500 invested in people who share time and energy to make sure others here are appreciated and encouraged. For every $100 you give, over $4.00 goes to fellowship and encouragement. We do this because we love one another.

$49,000 invested in our own discipleship growth through worship and education. For every $100 you give, almost $20 goes to worship supplies, salaries, music, copyrights, and education. We do this because we love one another.

$7000 invested in caring for one another when we’re sick or hurting. For every $100 you give, $2.70 goes to pastoral care. We do this because we love one another.

$24,000 invested in making sure we have a warm and safe place to gather for worship, for learning, for planning. For every $100 you give, $9.30 goes to using, cleaning, and maintaining our building. We do this because we love one another.

(Magnets connecting one to another)The kingdom of heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being. A way of loving each other. A way of taking care of each other. A way where envy and division have no place. A way that proclaims to the world, “We do things differently here. Here in this place, we love one another.”

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2017 in Sermon

 

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God Loves You. Period. (Sept 17, 2017)

Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. 5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. 11 For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ 12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Paul is writing to a divided church. At first glance, it doesn’t seem very serious. Some people eat whatever’s in front of them, others are vegetarians. No big deal. Some lift up holy days, others don’t. This is their worst problem? Really?

But it’s much more than those little things. The separation comes from a congregation steeped in judgment. It’s not just that you eat anything, it’s that you are wrong for eating anything. If you aren’t being a Christian the way I am, you are less of a Christian. You are wrong. You are unworthy.

And that was a problem. To sit in judgment of others is, as Paul writes, taking God’s place. Especially when God has already declared them all to be welcomed, included, loved, worthwhile. This judgmental attitude was divisive. It was harmful. It left some people feeling privileged and others feeling shamed.

Good thing the church doesn’t do that anymore, huh?

One of the most pervasively negative attitudes that people who aren’t in the church have toward people in the church is that we are too judgmental. It’s an ongoing issue, this issue of judging others. For the Romans it was eating. . “Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat.”

It’s no longer about what we eat, but about the style of worship—including the music. “Those who like electric guitars and drums must not despise those who prefer pipe organs, and those who prefer pipe organs must not pass judgment on those who like electric guitars and drums.”

Or even less significant things. “Those who think the pastor is totally awesome must not despise those who think the pastor is slightly less than totally awesome . . .”

So if it’s problematic, why do we keep doing it?  We judge others because we’re frightened that others will judge us—and find us unworthy, unlovable, flawed. Which is our deepest fear. We’re deeply afraid we might not be as worthwhile as we pretend to be. So we bolster ourselves, protect ourselves from that terribly vulnerable position of being found “less than.” Less than everyone else, less than good, less than worthy, less than what we project to other people. We judge others to protect ourselves from vulnerability.

Yet vulnerability is a key to humanity. We experience love most profoundly when we are vulnerable.

About 5 ½ years ago, I was the most vulnerable I’ve ever been. I was nominated as a candidate for Bishop of the RMS. As a strong introvert and foundational nerd whose default setting is to shy away from any situation that might open me up to ridicule, this prospect was terrifying at a core level. I desperately wanted out.

I could already hear the taunts and jeers, surprisingly similar to those that haunted me through Junior High School. “Hey, everybody, look at Moss! He actually thinks he’s got a chance at this! Ha! Who does he think he is? What a loser.” And 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 terror again, only now swelled to a multiple state level.

There was still an out, however. To be considered an actual candidate, biographical information had to be submitted online. Which I hadn’t yet done.

I stewed on this for a couple more weeks. But in the end, for a variety of reasons, I quickly filled out the biographical information form and, with trembling hand and churning stomach, submitted it the evening of the last day it could be accepted. Then I went and threw up.

And there it was. My name, picture, and hastily drafted biographical information were thrust out into uncontrolled internet space where I was certain the mocking and laughter would be unrestrained. My insecurities were flying high. Every molecule of self-doubt and inadequacy had risen up and was demanding attention. There was, from this point on, no place to hide. It was the most vulnerable feeling I could ever imagine.

I didn’t get very far in the election. But it began a process of radical spiritual growth that included the realization that I am worthy of being loved and respected and cared about. Right now, as imperfect and as flawed as I am, I am nonetheless someone God has declared is already enough. Just as I am.

That’s the point Paul makes. Each one of you is worth being loved. Right now. Not because of your achievements or making the travelling soccer team or a promotion or because other people judge you positively. But because of who you are. Because of who God made you to be. Because the authentic, deep-down, real you is already loved. You, at this moment, with all your baggage, all your frailties, all your weaknesses, all your vulnerability—you are welcomed by God. You are enough.

Take the mirror you were given at the beginning of worship. Look in it and let this begin to sink in. You are loved more than anything in all creation because of who you authentically are. The fact that you are worthy of that love is incredibly liberating. It is life-giving. It gives you the courage to face any judgments that deny how worthy of love you are.

Because right now, today, this morning, as you look at yourself, you are loved. Period. Deeply and completely loved. What you have to offer the world matters. You are already more than enough. And love changes everything.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2017 in Sermon

 

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God’s Work, Our Hands (September 10, 2017)

Matthew 18:15-20

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

 

Like so many other passages in the Bible, this one has the potential to be misused—even abused—by those trust not in Jesus but instead in a clear-cut formula for good discipleship. I’ve seen this passage on conflict resolution in the church used to kick people out, to exclude, to justify holding grudges against some who disagree, to isolate people from the rest of their church community.

If they get called out on this very un-Christ-like behavior, the reply is always, “But I followed the steps in Matthew 18! That makes it right!”

The Bible is a funny thing. It is an amazing gift of loving grace, yet can easily be used to justify truly hateful actions.

 

The same with this text. This isn’t a stand alone roadmap for dealing with people we may find offensive. It’s part of a larger section where Jesus teaches the priorities of the what Matthew calls the “kingdom of heaven.” Feed the hungry, forgive the sinner, include the outcast, use your power on behalf of those who have none.

In other words, the kingdom of heaven is showing God’s love and compassion in this world.

This section on dealing with difficulty within the church is a continuation of that same theme. In order to defend the interests of the least in our world, we have to be clear about that within the church too. We don’t kick people out for being sinners or having faults. We embrace them and include them and listen to them and treat them.

 

Whenever we turn scripture into a clear formula for discipleship, we’ve already missed the point. Discipleship is trusting and following Jesus, not trusting and following a series of steps or a formula. The kingdom of heaven isn’t like chemistry or math. There are no set formulas that, if we follow them, will give us the right discipleship answer. Rather, the kingdom of heaven is kind of like giving us a pile of crayons and Legos and string and saying, “Show God’s love.”

Jesus’ intention in most of Matthew is that we’re all in this kingdom of heaven thing together, not so that we can be lifted up above others, or push others down below us. But so that we can help each other love the world. Discipleship is how we love the world together, not how closely we can follow a righteousness formula.

This series of reconciliation steps in this text has more to do with overcoming the obstacles that come from living within a community. We do that so we can love the world better. It really has very little to do with knowing when to kick someone out of the church. We love the world better as a community than individually. This text reminds us that showing the kingdom of heaven in the world is what we need to keep foremost in mind.

So what about the binding and loosing part? “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Anyone ever struggle with what that means? Alright! Jesus says I can forgive anyone I want, or send anyone who bugs me into eternal hellfire and damnation! Whoopee! This power is awesome!

Uhmm… Maybe we need to take another look in the context of what’s happening in Matthew’s gospel.

Matthew records Jesus spending several chapters leading up to this one trying to explain the “kingdom of heaven.” Nobody gets it, but essentially it’s the job of his disciples to recognize the kingdom of heaven is present whenever God’s unconditional love and compassion show up. Even when they don’t always make sense in this world. His disciples are those that strive to reveal that kingdom of heaven everywhere and to everyone.

What we do here in this life on earth should reflect this kingdom of heaven. So, of course, we want to stick close to those things and those people that help us. We attach ourselves—bind ourselves—to those things. And we stay away from—loose from us—those things that deter us from those things.

Today, throughout the ELCA, we are participating in “God’s Work, Our Hands” Sunday. A day where we, all of us Lutherans together in one big ol’ community, bind ourselves to acts of service, compassion, and love. We do so because bringing love and service into our communities reveals the kingdom of heaven there. We get to join in, participate with God in kingdom of heaven work. Matthew’s Jesus would be really happy!

We’ve done this in a whole lot of different ways over the years. This year is a different way of showing God’s love and compassion still.

Neighborhood service through local government. How wonderful it would be if participants in city, county, and state governments had the kingdom of heaven foremost in their hearts and minds. This is different than having a Christian government. What we’re striving for is some people, who feel called to do so, have a kingdom of heaven perspective—God’s love and compassion—as one of the voices present when information is gathered, service is done, or decisions are made among us.

As we do this together—this revealing and participating in the compassionate kingdom of heaven, because, as Jesus says, even if it’s only two or three of us—Jesus is there among us.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2017 in Sermon

 

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“Who Do You Say I Am?” Can We Be Honest? (Aug. 27, 2017)

Matthew 16:13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

There are two questions that Jesus asks in this text. “Who do others say I am?” and, “Who do you say I am?”

I think we’re good at answering the first one, and not as good at answering the second.

The first question, “Who do other people say I am?” includes what we’ve been taught about Jesus, what people we respect say about Jesus, and what is generally accepted about Jesus. This question is often about doctrine, where there are right and wrong answers. We’ve become so reliant on what others say about Jesus that we have a hard time answering for ourselves. In the old days, if someone answered this question incorrectly, we would burn them at the stake.

We don’t do that anymore. Instead, if someone disagrees with the correct doctrinal position they simply burn in hell. Because we’re no longer uncivilized barbarians.

We’ve been trained over the centuries to have the “correct” answers to all things Jesus. We’ve had the ability to answer the second question, “Who do you say that I am?” frightened out of us. We’re so afraid of being wrong that we simply go along with everyone’s answer, assuming they are right. We’re no longer willing to go out on a limb, do a gut-check, to discover something new about Jesus. It’s as if all there was to know about him was discussed in the first few years, the question was called, the debate was closed, and a vote was held. No more discussion. No more discovery. No more sharing of eye-opening personal experiences with one we claim has risen from the dead. It’s all about what other people have said about him.

It’s important to note Jesus’ questions weren’t “Who do others say that I am?” and then, “OK, now what’s the correct answer?” No, he asks the disciples who Jesus is for them. He asks for their honest speculation. He asks them to take a risk, venture out, be vulnerable, and answer for themselves.

All the disciples are silent. You can hear crickets chirping, feet shuffling. Then Peter, who can’t stand awkward silences, opens his mouth and says something. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus praises him for answering. And we’ve assumed all these centuries that Peter is praised for having the “right” answer, even though Peter proves in the verses immediately following today’s text that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about (come back next week!). It’s true that his answer has become the doctrinally correct one—the answer we are now supposed to use when asked who Jesus is. But in reality, it’s still probably what other people say Jesus is.

The church, at our heart, is a community where we ought to listen to what others have said about Jesus. We should hear what wise and deeply spiritual people have experienced him to be. But that cannot prevent us from discovering how he encounters us now, how he opens our hearts to God today, how he moves us in our own growth as disciples. What others say about him matters because it can open us up to possibilities, but it can’t be the final word for us.

We know all the “correct” answers. We know what is proper doctrine. We know what the first Christians voted on and approved as the right answers. But unless we are encountering the living Christ, we are only able to quote what other people say about him. Until we’ve answered for ourselves, based on our experience with the resurrected Christ, the best we can do is be silent like the rest of the disciples.

So here’s my question today. Why not answer Jesus’ second question, “Who do you say that I am?” What’s wrong with being honest about who Jesus is for us? What’s stopping us from sharing our own experiences, our own heart-events with him? Others might say our experiences are wrong. Some might even want to burn us at the stake because we may not be doctrinally correct.

But Jesus still asks, “Who do you say that I am?” In your spiritual journey, in your life-experience, who is he to you?

Because he has encountered you. If you haven’t recognized him, it might be because you’re only looking for the Jesus that other people have described. That may not be the way he comes to you. If you’ve been moved to acts of compassion, might that be the risen Christ? If you find yourself desiring mercy—given or received, couldn’t that be Christ moving in your life? When you are generous, kind, gracious, when you serve others, can’t we consider the possibility that it is Christ who has met us and moved us there?

Who is Jesus for you?

For me, at least today, Jesus is the one who reveals what God is like. He is the one who inspires me to live differently, generously, boldly. He is the one who makes me realize that those I tend to ignore are just as worthwhile as those I pay attention to. He is the one who moves me from judgment to listening. He is the one who brings out the “image of God” in me. It is in these ways that he is the Son of the Living God for me.

Feel free to disagree. You can call me a heretic or believe I’m on my way “somewhere” in a handbasket. But when Jesus asks who I say he is, I need to answer him.

Who do you say he is? I’d love to hear how you answer that!

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2017 in Sermon

 

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