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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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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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