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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?

Authentic Relationships: Confronting Each Other When Necessary (March 24, 2019)

2 Samuel 12:1-13;

Galatians 2:11-14

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13 And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This area of confrontation as part of discipleship isn’t my “go-to.” I recognize the need for it, the benefit of it, but still kind of resist it—actually I pretty much avoid it if possible. I don’t always confront very well for some reason. On those occasions when I get past my avoidance and actually confront someone when I think it’s necessary, I usually come off like a bulldozer—very little tact or sensitivity. And I usually end up causing resentment, anger, and an injured relationship, which is the opposite of what I hope will happen. That, then, reinforces my avoidance of confrontation and the cycle starts all over.

On the other hand, I’ve seen confrontation as harassment or abuse. It can be used by people to judge, to condemn, and to self-justify. Sometimes people who are really good at confrontation use it to intimidate others in an effort to prop themselves up above someone they feel to be weaker. They use confrontation as a weapon, as nothing more than a bully tactic.

But why is this really hard topic an issue of discipleship? We need to take a look at the texts today for help with that.

The setting for the 2 Samuel text is King David’s attempt to cover up a murder for which he was responsible. He ordered the husband of his mistress into the heat of a battle in order to get him killed. It worked. He got away with it. No one’s the wiser.

Except for the prophet Nathan who knew what had happened. In this text he confronts David using a parable of a poor man whose beloved lamb is stolen by a rich man—the injustice of this. “What should happen to that rich man?” asks Nathan. “He deserves to die,” answers the king. “You are that man!” Nathan exclaims.

The result is that David acknowledges his sin and provides one of the greatest repentance stories in all of scripture. Read Psalm 51.

Confronting David led him to repentance, which made him a better king—both in God’s eyes and in the eyes of Israel.

The other text from Galatians is a bit different. Fairly recently some parts of the Church have begun including—even baptizing—Gentiles. For the first time non-Jews are being welcomed as equal disciples of Jesus. For us no big deal. For them, this was a seismic shift in thinking. It was incredibly controversial. As is often still the case, some of the outlying congregations were adopting this practice of equal inclusivity more readily than the orthodox “mother church” in Jerusalem. So the church was divided over this issue.

Now Peter had had this dream (cf. Acts 10) about eating unclean food because God had said that if God makes it clean, it’s clean. So when Peter (Cephas) came to Antioch, he participated in these inclusive meals and worship times with Jews and Gentiles together. He even ate at Gentile tables with Gentile food, which was forbidden by the orthodox Jewish church in Jerusalem. So the church in Jerusalem sent some people up to Antioch to check, and Peter backed down.

Now, a lot of scholars believe Peter removed himself from the Gentile meals to help keep peace in the church. He didn’t want to promote a division over a small issue like meals, so he sided with Jerusalem.

Keeping peace isn’t bad, is it? Keeping the church from splitting isn’t bad, is it? It’s easier to back out of these common meals and keep the churches happier, right? Especially those who are in power.

There was more at stake that keeping people happy. An issue of the gospel was actually at stake here. If Peter sides with the powerful church in Jerusalem, he is in essence saying that the Gentiles—whom Peter acknowledges that God was including—didn’t matter. They were essentially second-class citizens whose inclusion wasn’t as important as the approval of the Jerusalem church. Peter sold out the gospel because it was easier. He ignored God’s inclusion to keep more powerful people happy. His actions revealed that he felt God’s inclusion of the Gentiles wasn’t worth a conflict.

Can you imagine if someone of Peter’s importance said you weren’t worth standing up for?

So Paul confronts Peter, and does so publicly. This was an act of discipleship on Paul’s part because God’s vision for the church was at stake. If God includes people as Peter had argued before, then they are worth standing up for. They are worth including. They are worth risking a conflict. They are worth confronting the orthodox powers that be.

In the case of Nathan, confronting David made him a better king—thus helping Israel to better reveal the ethical nature of God to the nations.

In the case of Paul, confronting Peter helped the church to better reveal the inclusive nature of God to the nations.

Jesus certainly confronted people—but always regarding their opposition to the reign of God. Confrontation is discipleship when it points out a barrier to something God is doing. Confrontation is discipleship when it can pave the way for God’s reign of love and compassion and inclusion to be revealed more fully.

It’s worth thinking about: what is God doing here and now in our lives, in our church, in our culture? What’s in the way of that happening? Disciples of Jesus are called to point out those obstacles and confront those who support those obstacles. For the sake of the reign of God.

What are those hindrances, those obstacles, those things and people that need to be confronted for God’s sake? How can we best do that? Come back Wednesday and we’ll talk about that.

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Posted by on March 22, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Forgiveness: Giving and Receiving (March 17, 2019)

Matthew 6:14-15

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

One of our priorities this Lent is recognizing there is some difference between “belief” and “discipleship.” They are most definitely related, but they are not the same. They certainly inform each other, but they are not the same.

Our emphasis right now is more on the discipleship side. That’s the one that’s usually received the short end of the stick in our history, yet it’s also what Jesus emphasized much more.

The difference between belief and discipleship is, in a nutshell, that discipleship is how we live out what we believe. We can believe anything while sitting on our couch, but in discipleship we are compelled to get up and live that belief. So, actually, discipleship reveals what we really believe.

We continue this journey of “Authentic Relationships” as one large category of discipleship.

Specifically this week, forgiveness is our discipleship topic. Forgiveness is more than being forgiven by God. That can too easily fall within the realm of couch-sitting belief. But as a discipleship practice, forgiveness as following Jesus is living forgiveness with one another—both the giving and the receiving of it. Discipleship involves both. As we’re doing through Lent, each Sunday we’ll talk about “why” forgiveness is a discipleship issue and on Wednesday we’ll talk more about “how” we can live it more fully.

I’ve discovered that we can’t really assume we all know what forgiveness actually is. We use the word so much its meaning can get lost.

  1. Forgiveness is a deliberate action. It’s not automatic and it’s not necessarily easy. Whether it’s God forgiving us or us forgiving each other, it is a conscious choice.
  2. Forgiveness has nothing to do with whether or not the recipient deserves it. It’s an action taken by the forgiver independent of the forgivee.
  3. Forgiveness is a conscious release of resentment toward a person or a group who has harmed us.

It’s just as important to know what forgiveness is not, especially when it comes to dangerous situations, like cases of abuse. That’s one way this word gets misused with potentially very serious consequences.

  1. Forgiveness is not glossing over or denying the seriousness of an offense against you.
  2. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses.
  3. Forgiveness does not obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or release them from legal accountability.

Instead, forgiveness brings us peace of mind and frees us from corrosive anger. Forgiveness means we need to acknowledge the pain we suffered without letting that pain define us. That’s why forgiveness enables us to heal and move on with our life. Forgiveness is much more about the forgiver than the forgivee.

Research at the University of California at Berkeley has found a direct correlation between forgiveness and improvements in happiness, physical health, mental health, productivity, and even generosity (Stewardship campaign?).[1]

Forgiveness as an act of discipleship is more than just being nice. It’s following Jesus in God’s vision—God’s intention—for the world. Our health and well-being certainly are part of that.

Each of these texts approach the topic of forgiveness differently. One is more about receiving it and the other more about giving it. But both are grounded in the same principle of forgiveness from a discipleship perspective.

The first text from Luke, usually called “The Prodigal Son” is pretty well known and is more about God’s willingness to forgive us. The father in the parable is a God-figure, whose attitude of forgiveness is evident. In fact, there’s some speculation as to whether the son actually is repentant. Some scholars believe he was simply playing his father in order to be able to eat.

But forgiveness means that this doesn’t matter because it’s not about whether or not the son deserves it. The father, out of love for his son, runs out to meet him while he’s far off, even cutting off the son’s rehearsed speech of repentance.

The same with the older son who is holding on to his resentment. The father includes him, invites him in, acts of forgiveness. Whether the older son forgives or not isn’t known. But the choice is his: celebrate or cling to his anger.

Forgiveness is God’s way. Therefore it is Christ’s way. Therefore, as disciples, it is the way we follow too.

The other one from Matthew is Jesus postscript to the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer. It sounds rather harsh, like, “you better forgive others or else!” More accurately it points out that there is a connection between our ability to give forgiveness and our ability to receive it. If we aren’t able to forgive others (again, a deliberate action of letting go of resentment) it’s likely that we aren’t able to receive forgiveness from God either.

Discipleship involves both. Receiving forgiveness from God and from each other, and also offering it—to ourselves and to others. Receiving forgiveness from God changes us, frees us to live in that very same image of God in which we were created. Receiving forgiveness allows us to offer it. And the more we practice, the more deliberately the image of God in Christ is reflected through us.

[1] https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/forgiveness/definition#why-practice-forgiveness

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Respect for All People (March 10, 2019)

James 2:1-13

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Discipleship = learning from and committing to a particular person or teaching or philosophy. Taking those things that they put forth and applying those same priorities in our own lives because we believe they matter. Follow them and their teaching.

People are disciples of lots of things: a particular physicist, a certain type healing methodology, or a way of doing meditation. When we are a disciple of someone or something, we approach life informed by the one we follow. We incorporate that one’s wisdom, teaching, way of living into our own life.

For those of us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus, it means growing in our attempts at following Jesus. We do this because we acknowledge that he is the fullest revelation of the nature of God we can understand. Therefore, discipleship means that his priorities become ours because we trust they are God’s. His attitudes toward other people become ours because we trust they are God’s. As we seek to grow in this way we believe we reflect more fully God’s Reign in the world, which, we trust, is the hope we have for creation.

This Lent we are giving each other an opportunity to grow in our discipleship by considering Christ’s approach to “Authentic Relationships,” and we begin this series this week with the topic: Showing Respect for All People.

We’ll prime the pump today and hopefully get us all thinking about how showing respect to all people is an important aspect of discipleship: why it matters and how Jesus views it. Then, you’re invited back here on Wednesday (noon or 6:30) for a deeper discussion together about how we can grow in this aspect of discipleship.

To start, we treat people with respect because they are created in the image of God. Every single human being on earth—from the poor living on the streets to kings and rulers, young and old, healthy and sick, LGBTQ or straight, people we like and people we don’t. We are all created in the image of God and are all deserving of basic respect.

In addition, Luther understood that God can and does use anybody to make the world work. People are valuable because God actually works through them. People matter to God. Therefore, people matter to us.”

Since each one of us is created in the image of God, each one of us is a reflection of God in some authentic way. Think about what that says about God. Many of us have been taught that God is a straight-and-narrow God of rigid rules and that we, as diverse humans, need to deny that diversity in order to conform to God’s narrow righteousness. Perhaps we have that backwards.

Since we are all so different—each one of us is truly unique—then God is apparently much more diverse than we often imagine. When we respect others, especially those that are different from us, we are respecting the God whose image they reflect and reveal.

Which includes each of us! Do we see ourselves as people who reveal the image of God and who are worthy of respect? It’s so easy to focus on our faults and our failures, our weaknesses and gifts we don’t have.

Again, many of us have been taught that when we look at ourselves, we are to see first and foremost as sinner in need of redeeming. However, over-emphasizing the negative aspects of who we are blocks our ability to see the image of God in ourselves. When we focus so much on our sinfulness we miss out on the love, grace, and compassion that is the basis of who we are. In the first creation story in Genesis 1, after each day of creation, God saw all that was made that day was good. But on the day God created humanity—you and me—that’s the one day God saw that what was created was very good.

Right now, just as you are, with the whole mix of compassion and selfishness, where you’re gifted and where you’re not, with all the ways you are ignored and all the ways you are recognized, just as you are—here and now—you are worthy of the deepest respect. You, right now, as you are, reflect the image of God in ways no one else can—and you are worthy of the deepest respect. All parts of you are created by God in God’s image—and you are worthy of the deepest respect.

Take a minute and consider yourself. All of who you are. Don’t categorize into good and bad, sinful and righteous. Just you; your whole self. . . .

Can you see the image of God revealed through you? . . .

If so, what aspects of God do you reflect? . . .

If not, then at least imagine the image of God in which you were created. Imagine yourself reflecting that image just because you were created.

Now look around this room. See the wonderful diversity of a very creative and loving God. We are all so different, and yet we all reflect the image of God. See God present in each one, whether they look like you or not. Whether they agree with you or not. Whether you like them or not. Whether you know them or not. Each one reflecting God in unique and magnificent ways. Each one loved deeply by God. Each one worthy of the deepest respect.

Everyone we encounter this week is someone dearly loved by God and who has been created in God’s image. Each one reflects that image in unique and wonderful ways. Each one is therefore worthy of respect.

Let’s talk about how we can incorporate this aspect of discipleship more fully into our lives this Wednesday.

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Transfiguration Moments (March 3, 2019)

Luke 9:28-43a

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

What’s the Transfiguration of Jesus all about?

Take a look at where it’s placed within Luke:

There’s the Sermon on the Plain: teaching about lifting up those at the bottom and including the outcast.

Then several chapters of Jesus actually doing that! Healing outsiders, outcasts, excluded, unworthy:

  • Roman soldier’s servant healed,
  • Widow’s son raised from the dead,
  • Sinful woman forgiven,
  • Including women as disciples,
  • Gerasene Demoniac,
  • Daughter of a synagogue leader raised from the dead,
  • Hemorrhaging woman healed,
  • Transfiguration,
  • Picks right up again with demon possessed boy healed.

Once or twice there are little “side-scenarios” where the identity of Jesus is lifted up, e.g., John the Baptist’s followers asking if Jesus is the one or should they wait for someone else? Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah

The Transfiguration kind of fits in as one of those. Just kind of a quick, inserted scene affirming the identity of Jesus. In Luke it happens pretty quickly, actually. The Greek implies it didn’t take very long. And then it’s back to business as usual—lifting up those at the bottom and including the outcasts.

It’s like there are these little reassurances that God endorses what Jesus is saying and doing so that the disciples can be confident in following him. Because Jesus is leading then into some weird-sounding stuff: pay just as much attention to the poor, the homeless, and the immigrant as you do the rich and powerful. Love your enemies just as much as you love your friends. When violence comes at you, resist the temptation to return it with violence. Instead, meet it head on with non-violence. And Jesus is already starting to have them say and do these same things. That’s what’s happening at the end of this text—the disciples tried to show care and compassion for a demon-possessed boy and his family, but failed.

It looks like the Transfiguration, with all the dazzle and famous people and clouds and voices coming from the clouds, is a significant reassurance that following Jesus is following the way of God.

So here’s why this matters. God does that. God gives us these nudges, these reassurances, these flashes that what Jesus says and does, the people Jesus includes and lifts up, that is the way of God. And that God is still there, still calling us to follow Christ.

I want to ask you to remember a time when you knew God was there. When you experienced grace. When you received some reassurance. Those are little transfiguration moments. They don’t always last and they are usually unexpected. Sometimes we don’t even recognize them as reassurances from God, because these transfiguration moments can happen through anyone or anything. But they are generally reassuring, comforting. When have you had a transfiguration moment?

I’m going to give you a minute in silence to think about it. To contemplate it. To remember it. And then, if anyone is willing, I’ll give you the opportunity to share that experience of grace or reassurance or comfort. Your transfiguration moment.

. . .

Thank you. Watch for these times of Transfiguration. Be comforted. Be reassured. And then boldly follow Jesus, because that’s what those reassuring transfiguration moments are for.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2019 in Sermon

 

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The Shape of the Inside Determines the Appearance on the Outside (February 24, 2019)

Luke 6:27-38

 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

pottery

As a potter creates a pot, the idea around the purpose of the vessel comes first. The purpose determines how the inside of the pot needs to be shaped; the inside of a vase needs to be shaped differently than the inside of bowl. Then, the shape of the inside of a pot determines the shape of the outside. As the potter shapes the inside, the outside—the visible part of the pot—changes because it matches the inside.

Keep that image in mind as we go through this text. The shape of the inside determines the appearance of the outside.

This text in Luke is a direct continuation from last week, the Sermon on the Plain. So, much of what we talked about last week come into play here. It started with Jesus beginning this major teaching session with some Beatitude-like sayings, similar to what’s recorded in Matthew’s gospel. But unlike Matthew’s version, where the Beatitudes are the beginning of the famous “Sermon on the Mount,” in Luke Jesus teaches from a level place. And this is in keeping with Luke’s major theme of bringing up the lowest in the world and lowering those most exalted in the world. Because, as Luke makes clear, God has no favorites, everyone is loved, valued, and included by God equally. Everything and everyone is level with God.

The implication being that this is what the church, as the body of Christ, is to reveal. God’s priorities, God’s lack of favoritism, God’s equality. That means we are to be deliberate about calling for justice from the rich and powerful while lifting up, including, and advocating for the poor and excluded. Lift up those who are at the bottom of the world’s order while calling to account those at the top of the world’s order.

And this text today continues where it left off last week. Jesus teaching about God’s level playing field while revealing God’s level playing field.

But a word of caution about this text, because it is often distorted into one more reason to feel guilty and inadequate as disciples. This isn’t a text about what we need to try harder to do and then need to repent of when we can’t do it. Because as soon as we hear it that way, it becomes a means to judge one another, or even ourselves. “I’m much more successful at loving my enemies than you. I am obviously a real Christian. You, therefore, need to listen to me and follow Jesus like I do.” Do you see how that kind of self-righteousness could be a problem?

Or, “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t turn the other cheek. I guess I’m not a very faithful person. If I can’t do that, I may as well forget the whole thing, because obviously I can’t follow Jesus.”

This teaching by Jesus isn’t a competition to see who’s the best disciple. It’s not a measuring stick to compare ourselves to anyone else. It’s not a weapon to use against those who aren’t followers of Christ because they don’t use the language of blessing those who curse you.

No, this is a vision, not a moral imperative. This is what the Reign of God looks like. This is what would happen if the playing field actually was level. It’s how people would live if the world—like God—actually did have no favorites. This is a description of what we would begin to look like on the outside if on inside we were shaped like Christ. Remember the pottery image? The shape of the inside of a pot determines what it looks like on the outside.

As we continue to allow God to shape us from the inside—as we are stretched and molded and changed—the way we live in the world begins to be shaped differently too. God, whose nature as Luke describes today, is to be “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked,” creates us in that image, and continues to recreate us and shape us in that image. This text reveals some signs of what that Christ-shaped life looks like.

So rather than beating up someone else because they don’t turn the other cheek, or rather than condemning yourself because you don’t give to everyone who begs from you, consider this text from a different point of view. As you look around your world, where do you see strange, almost extreme acts of compassion like Jesus talks about here? Where do you see this kind of mercy and generosity and striving for justice being lived out? When you see those kinds of things, you are seeing how someone is being shaped by God from the inside.

More than that, pay attention to your own signs of compassion, mercy, love. You, too, are being shaped to be like Christ from the inside. The way you live on the outside shows that happening. God at work in you. Re-shaping you as Christ from the inside. The shape of the inside of a pot determines what it looks like on the outside.

How is God shaping you into Christ-like compassion today? How is God revealing to you new ways to be merciful? How is God giving you new opportunities to love people who might seem unlovable or include people who are usually ignored? God is shaping you from the inside into the image of Christ. And it will begin to look different from the outside. It starts to look like doing what’s in the best interests even of people who hate you. It starts to look like facing violence with non-violent resistance. It starts to look like careless generosity toward those who will never be able to repay you.

As God continues re-shaping us from the inside, we are able to catch for ourselves, and give glimpses to the world, what life in Christ looks like on the outside. It will begin to look like God’s vision. It will begin to look like the Reign of God. It will begin to look like Jesus.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Who are Your Favorites? (February 17, 2019)

Luke 6:17-26

[Jesus] came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

There is a major theme throughout the gospel of Luke. Everywhere in this gospel God is lifting up those who are low, revealing God’s loving intentions for the poor, the hungry, and the powerless. We can see God’s vision all through this gospel. We can really hear God compassion for those the world excludes and looks down on. In this gospel, the author is clear that the low are lifted up and those up high are brought down. Everyone is level, even. Those who think they are God’s favorites discover they aren’t, and those who think they are far from God discover they aren’t.

Unlike Matthew’s “sermon on the mount,” in today’s text Luke deliberately has Jesus doing this “Beatitude-like” teaching on a level place. Luke has everyone at the same level.

The author spells it out, making it very clear. Those who are poor, those who are hungry, those who are weeping, and those who are hated and excluded are blessed by God. Regardless of what others say, they aren’t lower. They aren’t despised. They are loved and included and welcomed and valued. Just as much as those whom everyone thinks are favored.

The playing field is level. Good news, right? Well, think about that, because the implications of a level playing field affect us more than we may believe. It goes in all kinds of different directions and extends into parts of our lives that we hadn’t considered before.

Not only is the man who stands at the intersection with a cardboard sign and a mental illness just as beloved by God as I am, but it goes beyond that. Beyond those who are socioeconomically low. It also means that those whose theology I despise, those who use the holy name of Jesus in abhorrent ways, those who abuse and twist and distort this life-giving gospel message for profit and their own agendas, those who give Christianity a black eye, are beloved to God. And that’s hard to hear.

That means God favors Pat Robertson, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Marilyn Hickey, Franklin Graham, T.D. Jakes, Beth Moore, Joel Osteen, and rest of them just as much as God favors Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, the apostles, Mary Magdalene, all those who are deliberate about revealing the living, resurrected Christ in our world.

This level field of God’s favor applies everywhere. Including political figures and parties, business and non-profit, race and ethnicity, gender identity and sexual identity, citizen status and documentation. Those who are low or ignored or hated or treated unfairly are favored by God.

It’s one thing to acknowledge that, but it also means they have to be favored by me, too. As a disciple of this Jesus who taught about levelling the field on a level place, I need to acknowledge the presence of Christ in each of these people. In all of these people. Those who are not favored by me are nonetheless blessed by God. And I need to deal with that. If not, then I’m included in the “woe to them” part of this gospel text.

This level, lack of favoritism by God extends beyond that even. It also means that those the world seems to favor, e.g., the rich, the powerful, the popular, the good-looking, the healthy are not favored by God over me. There are those people who just seem to have everything put together. They’re gifted, talented, intelligent, good incomes, have well-behaved children, they’re respected in their field, never sick, have yet to experience hardship—even the death of a loved one. And I know everyone has their issues and it’s not fair to generalize, but it does seem that a few people already have a leg up on life. We call them blessed, we think of them as favored—if not by God then certainly by everyone else.

Jesus’ teaching and example on the level place today says that as far as God’s compassion and love, they have no advantage at all. Luke uses the language of “woes,” meaning these who seem to have everything need to recognize, too, that none of that matters to God.

Those at the top, those we look up to, those who have all the luck, those who are constantly fortunate, those who are our heroes, they are not that way because they are closer to God.

And those at the bottom, who can’t catch a break, who fight and scratch every day to pay rent, who live in fear of the next catastrophe that will put them over the edge, who struggle to gain some kind of acknowledgment that they are present and valuable, they are not that way because they are further from God.

God’s care, God’s compassion, God’s grace all rain down equally on everyone—regardless of how much value the world places on them.

But like rain, God’s mercy and justice, though it falls on everyone, still flows down and pools in the lowest places. Some days that’s you. Some days it’s not.

This major theme of levelling in the gospel of Luke becomes real for us in the church. That which God does, we do also. Those who are at the bottom today, need us the most today. Those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and excluded today are to be cared for, fed, comforted, and welcomed today. Those who think they are God’s favorites discover they aren’t, and those who think they are far from God discover they aren’t. As Christ lives, may he live through us.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Right Now. You are Called. And It Matters (February 10, 2019)

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Two call stories. Isaiah and Simon. Two different ways of being called:

Isaiah Simon
  Inconvenienced x2

·         After working all night, “put out a little way from shore.”

·         After no catch, “put out into deep water, let down nets.”

WOW! Presence of God!

·         Throne Room

·         Hem filled temple

·         Seraphs crying out, “Holy!”

·         Earthquake and smoke

WOW! Presence of God!

·         Big catch!

   Unworthy, “Woe is me! I am lost” Unworthy, “Go away, I’m sinful”
Forgiven–

Seraph brings live coal and touched his lips with it.

Now he’s worthy.

 
Called to speak Called to catch
Accept with understanding proclaim to Israel their ignorance and their destruction.

But needs clarification, “how long?”

Accept with no idea what this means or what it entails.

But left everything to follow (along with James and John).

There is no clear-cut pattern to being called by God. No template where people can fill in the blanks. No checklist where people can mark off the steps as they’re completed. Each call is unique. And each call is specific. And each call is necessary.

There are a couple of things about being called by God that we can say with a little bit of certainty. One is that through our baptism we are called! Through our discipleship we are called!

Another is that we are called to be part of something that God is doing. It fits somehow into God’s vision, God’s mission, God’s intention for the world. What that looks like and how we recognize it are up for grabs, however.

Accepting a call from God is not a smooth process. It’s not a “one and done” kind of deal. It’s ongoing, it involves making mistakes, and it usually feels more like stepping off a ledge than it does following a well-defined path.

If this is all true, then how do we go about figuring out this call stuff?

  1. Trust that you are called by God to be part of what God is doing. Remind yourself every day. Say it out loud, “I am called by God — to be part of what God is doing.”
  2. Know that none of us do this alone, but we are all parts of a whole. We need to remind each other that we are all called to be part of what God is doing. Tell someone, “You are called by God — to be part of what God is doing.” As a congregation, we need to be encouraging each other, supporting each other, lifting each other up. Because it’s not just each of us separately following, but all of us following together.
  3. Grow in your own understanding. Discover your gifts and your passions. Isaiah loved the temple and Jerusalem. He was concerned about the people’s straying from their temple identity as God’s people. Simon knew fishing. That was about it. Grow in your spiritual life, grow in your discipleship, and grow in your own self-awareness. God isn’t calling you to become something you’re not; God is calling you because of who you already are.
  4. Accept that we won’t do it right. Forgiveness means that you get to try again. How many times in scripture does God have to remind people, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus says it to Simon in this text today, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” We don’t have to afraid that we’re not doing it perfectly. God can easily work with failed attempts and mistakes. It’s a lot tougher for God to work with no attempt at all.
  5. Keep at it. The prophets that make up the book of Isaiah watched the destruction of Jerusalem and the people being forcefully taken away as captives into Babylon. Simon watched the as the one on whom he bet everything—his entire life—was killed on a cross as a criminal. When it looks like nothing is happening, when it seems God has abandoned this project, when it appears that God may not be able to use you after all, keep at it. When we see that God’s work isn’t going as expected or hoped for, we’re in really good company.
  6. Celebrate the victories! Watch for God’s justice happening. Pay attention to compassion being shown. Look for love and grace and mercy being lived out in unlikely places. See how God is surprising people not only with what God is doing, but through whom God is doing it! And then, having recognized God’s vision moving forward, share that good news!
  7. Rinse and repeat. We continue in this process of our spiritual awakening and discipleship growth. As we continue working these process steps, we’ll re-discover our call to a deeper purpose for our lives and a fulfillment that comes from being who God has created us to be. Plus, our trust, our faith, our awareness of the reality of God takes on new life and more meaning. And all the while, God’s intention for creation continues in its fulfillment.
 
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Posted by on February 10, 2019 in Sermon

 

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