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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?

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

John 14:23-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by on May 28, 2019 in Sermon

 

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

John 13:31-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2019 in Sermon

 

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In Peace There Is No Fear (April 28, 2019)

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin ), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Ah, yes. Doubting Thomas. We’re not messing too much with him today, other than to say he doesn’t react any differently than anyone else did upon hearing of the resurrection.

Then there’s that whole “if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.” Nah. We’re not going there this year either other than to say forgiveness is preferable.

If you are really disappointed that I’m not getting into either of those, then I gotta say I’m a little impressed you’re paying attention! You can go to my sermon blog (Pastor Rob Moss Sermons) and find a whole bunch of sermons I’ve done on both of those. And not just me, but pretty much every pastor whose ever preached a sermon ever has done that. Because they’re good and important topics.

I’m struck this year with Jesus’ repeating the phrase “peace be with you” three times in these few verses. The resurrected Jesus comes where disciples are gathered and says first thing, “Peace be with you.” Shows them hands and feet, and says again, “Peace be with you.” Later, when Thomas is with them too, he comes and says (guess what?), “Peace be with you.”

Apparently, they’re not at peace. This is evident, because they were meeting behind locked doors huddled in fear. When we’re afraid, it’s hard to feel at peace, right?

One night this week the dog had to out. Because of coyotes, we go outside with her because she’s so small. So at 3:00 in the morning I was startled in the dark to discover a tent that had been pitched in my back yard. Someone has set up camp my back yard! I don’t know if they’re dangerous—but they shouldn’t be in my back yard. At 3:00 in the morning fear has a lot of power. I swear that part of the tent was moving; obviously someone was in there. Let me tell you, peace is the last thing I was feeling right then.

While I’m waiting the few seconds for the dog to finish her business, I began to realize this wasn’t a normal looking tent. As I kept looking at it, I realized it was actually the patio umbrella that had somehow been blown up from the patio table out into the yard.

Whew! No uninvited campers behind my house.

But at 3:00 in the morning I was mostly reacting out of fear. If I had made a decision right then as to how to respond, it likely wouldn’t have been the best one. And certainly not one based on the peace of Christ. We can’t help feeling afraid, but we aren’t likely to make good discipleship decisions from fear.

In the midst of fear, peace is not present. I can only imagine the lack of peace these disciples are experiencing. The Jewish authorities who, in John’s gospel, were responsible for killing Jesus are looking for his followers. Plus, dead Jesus is standing in front of them. So it makes sense that Jesus has to offer peace to them three times.

More than just words of peace, Jesus offers the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of peace, comfort, and assurance. He gives that to them to replace the fear.

That would make a great ending to the story. The disciples are afraid, Jesus comes, wishes them peace, gives them the Holy Spirit as a comforter and advocate, and they now live happily ever after, never being afraid again.

But that’s not exactly how this goes. There are a couple of things that happen. First, Thomas isn’t there when Jesus gives the Holy Spirit, so Jesus has to do this over again a week later. And notice, the other disciples who were there the first time and received the Holy Spirit are still hiding behind locked doors a week later when Jesus is present the second time. So, apparently putting away fear isn’t necessarily instantaneous. Not a once-and-done thing.

Second, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit not to eliminate fear for its own sake, but to eliminate fear so they can continue what he had come to do, i.e., forgiveness. To do that, they need peace, they need the Spirit, they need to move past fear.

So Jesus comes and gives the Holy Spirit to remove fear so that they can continue this work of forgiveness—moving past any offense and calling out the image of God in all people.

And, this apparently isn’t a quick thing, but takes some time.

I think we make too many decisions based on our fears. We’re afraid of failing, so we decide not to try. We’re afraid of looking stupid, so we don’t take risks. We’re afraid of being hurt, so we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We’re afraid of certain groups of people, so we find different ways to keep them separated from us by avoiding them, making generalized statements about what a threat they are, building walls in front of them, or blaming them for our woes.

But whenever we are making decisions out of fear, we’re not making good discipleship decisions. In the midst of fear, peace isn’t present. And peace is what Jesus offers three times to these disciples; and backs it up by giving the Holy Spirit. Peace casting out fear matters to Jesus. Not only for our own life, but for our ability to follow him as disciples. Consider how different our own decisions would be if made from a peaceful place of trusting Jesus rather than our own fears.

If someone had pitched a tent in my back yard, my fearful decision wouldn’t have been good—for them or for me. But who knows, as a disciple of the one who brings peace, the risen Christ, a different decision could have shown compassion, mercy, forgiveness. Maybe not. I won’t know, because it was only an umbrella. In the meantime, may the peace of Christ continue to grow in each of us so we can trust Christ rather than fear when a tent is pitched in our backyards.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2019 in Sermon

 

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The Resurrection, or Resurrection? (April 21, 2019)

Luke 24:1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, [the women] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

This is Easter Sunday! The day of resurrection! This day is the pinnacle of our Christian faith. This day is the celebration at the very core of our identity as Christian people. And yet, we actually don’t talk about it that much.

I want to change that. Let’s begin with how we even use the word “resurrection. Normally, do you talk about “the resurrection” or about “resurrection”?

If we normally say, “the resurrection,” we’re probably talking about what happened to Jesus on that first Easter morning 2000 years ago. On the third day after his crucifixion, the women came and found an empty tomb and two men in dazzling clothes. We have all the different descriptions recorded in the different gospels. Because all of these accounts differ, we don’t really know exactly what we would have been able to video if we’d been at his tomb on that first Easter morning. But still, when we say “the resurrection” we’re likely referring to a Jesus event 2000 years ago outside of Jerusalem.

Many people extrapolate from this event that heaven is now open to us when we die. So the resurrection gives us on the one hand ß an event 2000 years ago, and on the other hand à the promise of heaven after we’re dead.

There’s more to it than that. But the point is that for a lot of people believing in the resurrection isn’t all that difficult because there’s nothing really in it today. This also means that for a lot of people dismissing the resurrection isn’t all that difficult because there’s nothing really in it today.

So for too many people, for a lot of different reasons, this central tenet of all of Christianity ends up as something that doesn’t necessarily affect their lives. For too many people, the resurrection doesn’t have much to say about their current relationships, their struggles, their failures, their worries. And if the resurrection doesn’t bring new life into those real-life issues, why do we use that phrase to talk about new life?

I said there was more to the resurrection than that, and there is. But because we tend to think about it as a 2000 year old event that doesn’t affect anything until after we die, we miss out on its significance today.

For instance, we don’t often talk about the resurrection as God’s seal of approval that Jesus revealed God’s reign, God’s way of living, God’s will for us. The resurrection is God’s validation of Jesus’ life of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, unconditional love, inclusion of those pushed aside. It is God’s endorsement of that way living is of God.

So the resurrection includes not merely an isolated incident in history that can just as easily be believed as dismissed, but is a confirmation by God that Jesus shows us God’s intention for our lives. The resurrection means that in Jesus, we are shown the will of God for human life and all creation. When taken seriously, that is a game changer.

If that’s true, then for those of us who are disciples of Jesus, the resurrection calls us to also live this will of God. If we follow Jesus, we are also to show Jesus’ compassion, mercy, unconditional love, inclusion of those on the fringes. The resurrection means this is God’s will for our lives too.

So as important as the resurrection is, we can’t be casual about it because it’s too easy to make it irrelevant. Instead, we need to talk about not just “the resurrection,” but “resurrection.” Not just the resurrection as a one-time-event where God on one occasion reached down and raised one guy from the dead. But “resurrection” is something that is continuous for God. If God is a God of life, then resurrection is who God is and what God does.

Talking about it that way can free us up to live the life Jesus calls us to live. Because resurrection doesn’t just mean life after you die, but an ongoing newness that is to be lived every day.

Resurrection means that there is real life on the other side of whatever pain or difficulty we encounter.

Resurrection means that God goes with us right through hardships that we are sure cannot be overcome.

Resurrection means God brings us out with new life on the other side of those things.

Resurrection is a game-changer, affecting every aspect of our lives here and now. More than history or a promise of eternal life, when we talk about “resurrection” we’re talking about new life beyond what might seem like overwhelming hardships for each of us, and for the whole world.

Think about what that means. If God is a God of new life, of resurrection, then we are completely free to live this new way in our world. We can face whatever the world throws at us. We can live this new life that is validated by God in Christ in our culture.

As we live resurrection lives, we reveal some pretty powerful hope to a world that for too many seems hopeless.

As we live resurrection lives, we show the world God’s intended way of compassion, mercy, unconditional love, and inclusion of the excluded.

As we live resurrection lives, we reveal the living Christ in the world.

As we live resurrection lives, we bring, along with the risen Christ, God’s hope and newness into the world.

Resurrection means hope for the whole world right now. This is Easter Sunday! The day of resurrection! This day is the pinnacle of our Christian faith. This day is the celebration at the very core of our identity as Christian people. God is a God of resurrection! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2019 in Sermon

 

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C’mon, Jesus, Give Us a Win! (April 14, 2019)

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Luke 19:28-40

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

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.

Let’s go back in time to March 20, 2012. That was the day Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos. Remember how excited we all were? After several years of falling short, we in Denver wanted another Superbowl victory, and we believed this was the quarterback who could give us that. We wanted the win. On March 20, 2012 we were all filled with renewed hope. It was a new day, a new era. We had reason to be excited, because the chances of victory had just increased exponentially. And it proved true. Two Superbowl appearances and one Lombardi Trophy back in Denver. March 20, 2012 was a day we could celebrate.

OK, so what if we later found out that Peyton Manning’s agenda wasn’t to win a Superbowl, but was something else entirely? What if his whole purpose in coming to Denver in 2012 was to make the NFL into a completely new sport? Not even a sport at all, but into more of a book club?

If we found that to be true, all of us who had put our hope in him for a Broncos Superbowl victory would be pretty disappointed—even angry—when we found out about that, wouldn’t we? We’d feel betrayed.

That’s kind of the feeling of Palm Sunday. Only rather than a Superbowl win, for Israel it’s freedom from Roman oppression. That’s the Lombardi trophy; that’s the victory; that’s the hope; that’s the excitement.

Jesus, the hero of this hope, is on his way, riding on what Luke describes as a colt, descending down the path from the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem. As he makes his way, people keep spreading their cloaks on the path in front of him because he’s going to bring us this victory. He’s got winner written all over him. He will bring the trophy of Freedom back to Jerusalem and all Israel.

Now, as he is getting closer to the city gates, “the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice . . . saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Can you see why this crowd is so excited? Jesus is entering Jerusalem, which means victory is at hand. So of course they are calling him a king. He is the one who will restore Israel. He will bring our victory. He is our hope, our savior.

The crowds are hailing him as king because they want a victory and they think Jesus can get it for them. But how do they think Jesus is going to fulfill this hope? . . . Their expectations can only match their experience. Victory will come through what they know—power, strength, violence, overcoming Rome with some kind of military victory. That’s how you score a win.

Jesus is coming into Jerusalem, but he does it with a completely different agenda. He comes knowing that what he stands for will get him killed. For Jesus this isn’t about getting a win for the home team over their arch-rival, Rome. For Jesus this is about putting into practice everything he’s been teaching and preaching his whole ministry. It’s about the presence of the reign of God, the kingdom of God, the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. It’s not about achieving victory over Rome, it’s about living God’s way of compassion, unconditional love, peace, and forgiveness right up to the end. It’s about living in God’s way regardless of the consequences. It’s about his words and his actions matching up. He will show compassion, even if he’s arrested. He will show love, even if he’s tortured. He will show forgiveness even if he’s killed.

The crowd hails him as a king, which is true, and therefore needs to be celebrated! But ironically his kingdom is way different than they think it is. Jesus will reveal God’s kingdom of compassion with every breath he has because it is God’s way—whether anyone agrees or not.

And when the crowds, who do disagree, discover that his victory isn’t what they think it ought to be, they feel betrayed. They won’t be able to contain their disappointment. In their anger they will turn on him. That’s the undercurrent within the parades and celebrations of Palm Sunday. You could see that in the video (“Hosanna, Hey-sanna” from Jesus Christ Superstar, 40th Anniversary edition, 2000 film).

We live in this same Palm Sunday tension. We have expectations of Christ, and they aren’t always met. We want the win, but we don’t see how the way of Jesus can ever bring it. We think that only strength and power can bring triumph, yet the will of God doesn’t ever go there. We want victory over all evil, sickness, war, poverty, and hardship. And we turn to Jesus for that. Sometimes we can even celebrate him as king over those things. But when he doesn’t act in power, when he doesn’t intimidate our enemies and conquer all the wrongs of this world with his mighty arm, we have a hard time containing our disappointment. Like the Palm Sunday crowds, we just don’t see how this commitment to compassion and love for all can ever accomplish what needs to be accomplished.

Jesus, we thought you were the one. But evil and suffering and poverty and adversity are still very much a part of our world. We put our hope in you, Jesus, and you’ve let us down. We call you Lord and Messiah, but you just aren’t getting the job done. So we’ll do it our way—with force and violence if necessary. If you won’t protect us, we’ll protect ourselves.

God’s way of peace, of compassion, of dignity for the poor, of unconditional love don’t always make sense in our world of where the strongest win. But they are God’s ways nonetheless, which makes them necessary. And God’s way for the world has come in Jesus! If we don’t celebrate that, “the rocks and stones themselves will start to sing.”

Yes, praise, sing, shout, celebrate! God’s reign is on the move! It may not be what we think we want, but it is even better news than that! It is God’s good news for all creation! The reign of God is here! And as we’ll find out in the events of this coming Holy Week, ultimately nothing can stop God’s ways. Not strength, not violence, not power, not money. Not even death. And so we do shout and sing, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Celebration and Support, Foundation of Love (April 7, 2019)

John 15:9-17

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

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.

Audio clip, stops at 1:06 (Theme from Cheers, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”)

Recognize that song? Do you ever yearn for something like that? “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.” Doesn’t that touch something deep in your heart?

That gets at part of what my vision for the church is: a community where you are fully and authentically known, valued for who you are, and loved without condition. Where you get to be part of it not because of what you believe, but because you can experience God’s love.

My dream is that whenever someone has something exciting and wonderful happen, they run to a church community because they know arms of joy will be wrapped around them! And whenever they have something tragic and difficult happen, they run to a church community because they know arms of support will be wrapped around them.

Who among us doesn’t yearn for a community where we can just breathe because we can trust that we are known, loved, valued, and respected exactly for who we are at our deepest level? A community where we can be loved without condition, without judgment, without question. A community where, no matter what we’re going through, feeling, thinking, experiencing, we are held and loved. A community where we don’t have to hide our failings, weaknesses, our insecurities, and inadequacies because people still recognize us as worthwhile and valuable. A community where people will stand with us no matter what it is we’re going through. A community where we can be our authentic selves because the foundation of that community is absolute love. A community where we don’t have to prove how strong we are, or pretend we’ve got everything together because the community surrounds us with God’s own strength.

That is Jesus’ vision. It’s this kind of community he yearns for on our behalf. And that’s what he’s actually talking about in this text from John. He’s pointing out that God already loves us without restrictions, without boundaries, without conditions. And that this love is the foundation for our relationship with God and with each other. Jesus affirms this, reveals this, and shows us what this kind of community looks like. Jesus makes this kind of community real in the world.

What’s more, Jesus is telling us that this is the kind of relationship he already has with us because it’s the kind of relationship he already has with God. He understands how fully he is loved by God and then openly loves us in the same way. Rather than just being our teacher or our master or our lord, he now says we are his friends. As our friend he would do anything for us because he lives God’s love for us.

This is what forms us as a community. As we live more and more in Christ’s love for us we are shaped and influenced by that love. As we live in Christ’s love we grow in our capacity for expressing that same kind of love toward each other—the love God already has for us. Authentic relationships of love without restrictions, boundaries, or conditions. That love is already present in us and among us. In Christ we are now set free to live together as a community in that love—not only with Christ, but with each other.

At some point in everyone’s life they’re going to yearn for a community like that. But we have a cultural bias toward autonomy, the false thinking that there’s something wrong with us if we can’t handle everything by ourselves; that we’re somehow weak if we need support and care from others.

Which is why people usually seek out a supporting community when something unforeseen and tragic occurs in their lives—something that turns out to be out of their control and beyond their capacity to deal with alone. And here’s the thing: it happens to everyone. Because no matter how hard you try or how organized you are, life always gets messier, and bigger, and more unpredictable than any one of us can handle. At that point people seek out a community where they can be held and supported through those times.

You can easily see that after national tragedies. Worship attendance went up across the country after Columbine and after 9/11. But then it goes right back down again. Because although at those times we see a need for a non-judgmental community of love and support, we tend to expect it to simply appear instantly and without effort. And when that doesn’t happen easily, we just try to soak up what we can in the moment and once the crisis is over, go back to our neater, smaller, more predictable lives with proof that “the church doesn’t work.”

But what relationship of that depth and authenticity happens easily or instantaneously? Authentic relationships require an investment of time, of commitment, of vulnerability. And when you consider the depth of Christ’s love that is the foundation of this community, it means at the least being deliberate about it. That kind of deep trust and unconditional love simply can’t happen in a minute or on an occasional Sunday morning. Though the foundation is already here in Christ’s unconditional love, in all honesty we need to marinate in it. And for those who have been deliberate about it, they find that this community reveals astonishing love and surprising support!

I am someone who has had to be converted to the need for authentic, supportive communities. I’m here to tell you to pay attention to the innate yearning for a community “where everyone knows your name and they’re always glad you came.”

Christ’s unconditional love gets shown here. This is a community where you can bring your celebrations and your difficulties. Because this is a community that will hold you both in joy and in support. Christ reminds us that the foundation of this congregation is his love. And we’re always glad you came.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2019 in Sermon

 

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One Family. Period. (March 31, 2019)

This was my sermon, given at Green Mountain United Methodist Church as part of an ecumenical “Pulpit Exchange.”

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: . . . 11 “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22 But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ “

I am so pleased that it’s been a full ten years now that the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have enjoyed full-communion partnership. That is significant for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that we can do this kind of pulpit swap without worrying about kickback from our respective bishops.

But also, together we are making a statement to the world that unity in Christ can be celebrated in the very midst of our diversity. Even when you note our distinctive histories and practices, we have much more in common than we have differences. That matters.

Far too often the world only sees the church expressing division and disunity. They only notice our self-righteous declarations of correct doctrine. They only pay attention to those times of arrogant positioning on narrow biblical interpretation. In the face of that, together we are proclaiming to the world unity in Christ. And if they take a look at the Methodists and the Lutherans, they will see what a celebration of unity in the midst of diversity looks like.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that in our world this message of unity and common purpose is far more important than any message of division or exclusion.

It seems to me that we set an example for the rest of the church as we recognize the diversity among us and still joyfully celebrate our unity in Christ.

It seems to me that in the midst of divisive activity meant to exclude certain people, we can boldly proclaim that by the grace of God we are One Church that has room for all.

And the United Methodist Church, through public statements by the Western Jurisdiction, the Mountain Sky Conference, the Council of Bishops, the Commission on a Way Forward, and notably the actions and voice of this congregation, are claiming the life-changing love of Jesus Christ for ALL people.

We in the ELCA, and specifically we at Lutheran Church of the Master proudly stand with you in support and admiration as you boldly proclaim on Green Mountain that God’s love includes everyone—without exception. Regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, documentation, political views, religion, or anything else that to some may divide, you reveal the risen Christ by lovingly including anyone. I’m proud to stand in this pulpit today.

You walk in good company. Not only with Methodist tradition, but also with scriptural consistency of God’s radical, extravagant, all-inclusive love. Today’s text is just one of many that make clear the radical love for all of God’s people. I want to turn to that now.

A father loves both his sons. Even though they are as different as night and day. The younger son is selfish and disrespectful. He’ll get a share of the property after his father has died. But asking for his share of the family property before then is way out of line. The father doesn’t have to grant the request—some would say he would be foolish to do so. It not only is reckless, but makes the father (and the whole family) look untrustworthy to the entire community.

Yet the only thing this parent hopes for is the return of this child. If you notice, the parent doesn’t wait for this prodigal to repent or make amends or prove they won’t do this foolish thing again. No, the point is that this parent’s love for their child knows no limits, no boundaries, no conditions. If this horrible child is loved this much by their parent, how much more is the Divine love for any of us. Without limits. Without boundaries. Without conditions. Love that seems foolish, extravagant, beyond reason. Love that has to be celebrated with a party. Love that restores this child, not just into the periphery, but to full status as part of the family—complete with rings and robes and sandals. Because all are invited. All are included. All are loved. There is One Family, and whether this child deserves it or not isn’t the question. The only thing that matters is the waiting arms of this loving parent. That’s what God’s love looks like. That’s the image in which we are created and that we are called to reveal to the world.

There’s also the elder child, the self-righteous one who clings to their resentment and anger. They think this inclusion of the unworthy sibling is unjust—even unrighteous. From this child’s perspective, their parent’s love for the younger one shows a disregard for faithfulness. Yet, this elder one knows better than anyone how radical God’s all-encompassing love is. They are offended and scandalized by this love. Because it goes beyond sensibility, beyond righteousness. Unconditional love is going to be offensive to some. Because it includes people some of us would rather not include.

So this loving parent reaches out to this child too. They affirm this child’s place in the family and invite this one also to come to the party. Because all are invited. All are included. All are loved. There is One Family, and whether this child deserves it or not isn’t the question. The only thing that matters is the waiting arms of this loving parent. That’s what God’s love looks like. That’s the image in which we are created and that we are called to reveal to the world.

As we strive to love all people the way God loves all people, we can’t help but be One Church.

Both children are included. Both have a place in God’s love. Whether any child deserves it or not isn’t the question. Because all are invited. All are included. All are loved. There is One Church, and whether any of us deserve it or not isn’t the question. The only thing that matters is the waiting arms of a loving God. That’s what God’s love looks like. That’s the image in which we are created and that’s what GMUMC is revealing to the world.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2019 in Sermon

 

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