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Your Story Needs to be Told (June 23, 2019)

Luke 8:26-39

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

While on sabbatical last year we spent a few days in Paris. We wandered over to a classic French sidewalk café, and wanting a full “Paris” experience, I ventured into an area about which I know nothing: French cuisine. So I ordered a grade AAAAA sausage that was advertised as unique to France. This ought to be great!

The server, however, upon hearing my order, frowned. “I don’t recommend that for tourists,” she said with significant emphasis. “Don’t worry,” I responded. “I’m feeling brave.” “No,” she said again. “This is not good for tourists. It is very strong.” “Good!” says the naive tourist, who, ironically, was on a sabbatical the theme of which is “Listening.”

She brought the unique French sausage, called “andouillette” (“ahn-dwee-yet”), and I quickly admitted she was right about the strong odor. Well, more than strong. It was revolting. But I’m in France, so, I took a bite–after all, it couldn’t taste worse than it smelled.

Oh, was I wrong. Now, to my credit, I did swallow a bite. And kept it down. But then I made the mistake of pulling out my phone and Googling it. There’s a reason for the horrendous smell. It’s made of all kinds of meat from various parts of animal intestines. Including the colon. Hence, the indescribable taste.

I tell you that story not because of the particular significance of it as a story, but because of the significance of stories in general. Stories have the power to connect people. When we hear a story, almost always we discover ways that our own stories can connect to it. If you’ve been to Paris, there’s that intersection between our stories. If you’ve sat at a sidewalk café, you can connect there. If you’ve eaten anything strange or disgusting, you’ve got that connection. When someone tells a story, there are almost always parts that our own story has an intersection with. It’s the nature of stories.

Which is why I believe this gospel text ends the way it does. We usually get all caught up with this strange story and miss the ending. There’s a lot going on. A man possessed by thousands of demons, uncontrollable and living among the tombs of the dead; the casting of the demons into the pigs and their destruction in the lake; the pig farmers demanding that Jesus leave their town. There’s so much there that we don’t always hear the end.

This man who has been saved by Jesus is sane and calm. And he begs that he could now follow Jesus. Isn’t that what we would think to be the best outcome possible? Another disciple! Isn’t that what we hope for everyone? That all would want to follow Jesus? Isn’t that the ultimate positive ending?

But it’s not what happens. The man begs to follow Jesus, and Jesus says, “no.” Have you ever noticed that? Instead, Jesus instructs him to go home and tell his story. Share his experience of this encounter with God. Because stories connect people. Can you even begin to imagine hearing him tell this story from his own perspective? His experience? His encounter with God?

So Jesus invites this man to share his.

Notice Jesus tells him just to tell his story, not to expect a particular outcome. He doesn’t need to convince anyone of anything, he doesn’t need to coerce a particular faith response, he doesn’t need to demand some kind of commitment to Jesus. Just tell your story. Just share your experience. There’s a bond, a connection, an intersection when people share their own stories. Something more profound than intellectual agreement. There’s a deeper connection—soul to soul.

As beings created in the image of God, of course we’ve had encounters with God. We all have God stories to tell. We just don’t tell them. Why don’t we? Maybe because we discount our own stories ourselves. Or maybe we think we’re the only ones who’ve had an experience like that. Or maybe because we’re afraid no one will believe us. Maybe because we think our story isn’t mystical enough. Or maybe because we think the only reason anyone would tell a God story would be if they’re trying to convert somebody.

No. Like this formerly demon-possessed man, we have those stories and they need to be told.

We have stories about our journeys from sickness to health, from chaos to peace, from oppression to value, from death to life, from bondage to freedom. We have those stories and they need to be told.

We have stories of times we’ve experienced grace, forgiveness, compassion, holiness in unexplainable ways. We have those stories and they need to be told.

We have stories of encounters with God, with a creator, with the divine, with the living Christ. We have those stories and they need to be told.

Our stories are unique to each of us, which means that unless we tell our stories, the world is deprived of that unique connection to another way God meets us. We need to tell our stories because the world needs to hear them and connect to them and know something more about the God who loves them.

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with [Jesus]; but Jesus sent him away, saying “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

What has God done for you? What is your God story? We have those stories and they need to be told.

One of my God stories is posted on my sermon blog, http://www.pastorrobmoss.wordpress.com. The web address can be founds in the announcement sheet. You’re invited to read it there!

(One of my God stories is posted here, but due to time constraints wasn’t part of the oral presentation of this message).

I have a clinical diagnosis of depression. This results in a chronic vulnerability to circumstances and stress that can leave me with no energy or desire to deal with it all. It flares up occasionally, but with medication and therapy I’ve learned a lot of coping mechanisms to keep me relatively healthy.

However, during one of the worst episodes, I found myself feeling that I was simply in a free-fall. Down and down and down in what seemed like a bottomless pit with nothing to slow it down or stop it. It was terrifying. All of the things that I’d been able to use previously to use to stop or at least slow the sense of falling were either not working or out of reach. My intelligence, my humor, my resilience, my theology, even my faith made no difference whatsoever. There was nothing in my life but falling. Trite expressions like “trust God” or “put your faith in God” were meaningless. It’s not that I did or didn’t believe in God, it’s that I simply didn’t care if there was a God or not. I didn’t have the resources available to me to sort that out.

And so I fell. Deeper and darker into the pit with nothing to grab or push against or hold. But it was in the midst of this darkness that I came to a realization that somehow I was no longer falling. It wasn’t a sudden realization, but a slowly dawning awareness. Rather than falling, I had the impression of being held. In this, my most vulnerable, helpless state, I was being held–kept from falling, if you will. This had nothing to do with me, it was nothing I did. It was  happening in spite of me. I was being held. I was safe. The darkness would end. The falling would stop.

Whatever it was that was holding me is what I call God. I can trust this God because this God came to me when I could do absolutely nothing for myself. What has emerged in this journey, and what I’m now able to articulate is that this God apparently finds me worthwhile, valuable, and lovable. I’m worth the effort to this God.

Many others were part of my “being held,” it’s true. I wasn’t alone, but had people in my life that were very caring and connected. That connection, that care, that compassion is the very nature of this God who found me, came to me, and held me. This is a God I can trust. This is the God Jesus talks about and reveals for me. Nothing has been the same since.

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Posted by on June 21, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Holy Trinity, Hamilton, Fathers’ Day, and the Pride Parade (June 16, 2019)

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

This is the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. This doctrinal description of one God existing as three Persons is unique among all religions that proclaim one God. It is so unique, so novel, that even Christians don’t really get it.

Yet, the purpose is to help us know something about this indescribable God. Let’s look at it this way:

I’m going to read two partial reviews of the hit Broadway musical, “Hamilton”:

“The singular genius of Hamilton, the greatest musical ever written, is that it recognizes that the American Revolution did not end with Yorktown, but is ongoing, even today, and that there are Founders of America being born even as we speak” (DC Theatre Scene).

Do you get a sense of this musical from that review? Or try this one:

“Is Hamilton overhyped? The musical created by some guy from Puerto Rico about a treasury secretary in the 1700s set to hip-hop sounds a little strange. . . .” (Dallas Observer).

Do you get a different sense of it? Different, but you still get some idea of what this musical is about.

The doctrine of the Trinity is like that. It’s like the review of a play. You probably hear about the play or read a review first, and from that you get a sense of what the play is about, what it’s like. But the review is not the play. You have to go to the play; you have to experience a performance of Hamilton yourself. Then, perhaps, when you go back and look at the reviews, you can see how they make sense.

You can know everything about a review that describes a musical, but it’s more important to know the musical that is being described in the review.

You can know everything about a doctrine that describes God, but it is more important to know the God who is described in this doctrine.

Many of us as kids heard about or were taught this doctrine of the Trinity, which hopefully reveals something about the God being described. From my experience with the God described as Three-in-One, here’s where the doctrine of the Trinity makes sense: God exists as relational community. The nature of God is relational. “Three-in-one” is describing a relationship. The nature of God is intimate, sharing, self-giving, mutual—those things that become real in relationships. That’s who God is. And the doctrine of the Trinity attempts to describe that.

What’s more, because we are created in the image of this “three-in-one” relational God, God is experienced most fully by us through relationships. We are relationship creatures. We are empowered by relationships and sustained by relationships. We know one another—and therefore ourselves—through our relationships. We exist most fully in the relationships of a community. We live in communities of all kinds: American community, Colorado community, a school community, communities created by hobbies or passions, family communities. Any group of people where we are able to share ourselves, support each another, encourage one another reveals through those relationships the image of God—the God who is relational community: a holy Trinity.

There are various degrees of experiencing God as community. I took sailing classes last summer during my sabbatical, and was part of that community. Based on a common interest (for some a definite passion) in sailing, it was fun. We had that in common and therefore there was a real sense of community. Not the people I would turn to in a crisis, but a sense of community to be sure. I got a little glimpse of God in those relationships.

On the other hand, I’ve experienced profound support and encouragement here at times. When I’ve been in crisis mode, there are people in this church who have expressed more love and genuine care than I knew existed. That sense of being held by a community when you can’t hold yourself is an astonishing experience of God.

The more authentic we can be in a community, the more we can be loved for who we are in a community, the more we can give and receive support in a community — the more we are experiencing God, who is, as Trinity, the creator of community.

So it matters that as a church community, we reflect and reveal the image of God—as community. And the more fully and deeply we experience authentic relationships in community, the more fully and deeply we are experiencing God.

That’s the foundation of who we are as a congregation. We are a community created by the God who is community. It’s our nature to be authentic and real and supportive and unconditional in our love—the most significant aspects of relationships in a community. So it’s what we strive to reveal and to be. A community where you can be who you are, where you don’t have to be alone in your pain, where you can be encouraged and loved, where you can find kindness and forgiveness and grace. In other words, a community where you experience God.

On this Father’s Day we recognize the importance of supportive, caring relationships. And on this day of Denver’s Pride Parade, we recognize that everyone is worthy of that kind of loving, supportive, community.

As I experience God in that way—through loving, caring, genuine relationships—the doctrine of the Holy Trinity begins to make sense. One God who is three persons: a community. A Holy Trinity.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Same Spirit, Same Purpose (June 9, 2019)

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there on that Pentecost day to witness all this? If you had been part of the crowd in Jerusalem who had come for this big harvest festival, what would you think if, over the din of the

crowd noise, you heard the sound like the rush of a violent wind? How would you feel if you saw these tongues as of fire resting on each of those disciples? Have you ever wondered if you had been there, would you have been able to hear these disciples speaking in English (or whatever your first language is)? What would your reaction have been to all this outpouring of the Holy Spirit? What one word would you use to describe how you’d feel in this experience: Excited? Frightened? Amazed? Astonished? Perplexed? . . .

To see the movement of the Holy Spirit in such stark and powerful ways had to be inspiring, faith-building, motivating, wouldn’t you think?

Apparently not for everyone. Some were simply confused. Others thought these disciples had been drinking. Some sneered and made fun of them. And still others just wondered what this all meant.

Today, on this Pentecost day, I’m interested in these, the ones who were skeptical or wrote off the events of that Pentecost day. Wind, fire, language, and prophecy should be enough for anyone. Anyone who witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit in such dramatic ways should be convinced that God was doing something pretty special and would want to be part of that.

But some weren’t. I’m wondering why not? Why wouldn’t all this described in Acts 2 be enough for them to jump on board with what God was apparently doing there?

I find myself having more empathy with these lately. That’s because I’ve come to believe we’re in a similar situation. God is up to something pretty significant.

Our reactions are strikingly parallel to those of the people in Acts 2. Some of us are excited, amazed, and astonished! Others of us are skeptical, confused, and maybe even frightened. We are, at the same time, ready to jump on board, and wondering “What’s really going on?” If we were in Jerusalem on that day, I think we’d fit right in with the crowds.

There’s an outpouring of the Holy Spirit here lately. Expressions of love and compassion are rising more frequently among us. There’s a renewing energy and sense of optimism. Some of you have noticed it. Don’t just sneer and write this off. This is the stuff of Pentecost.

Two specifics in attitude: 1. We’re beginning a capital campaign to tackle some facility issues that have dogged us for decades, e.g., elevator, landscaping, lighting, cooling, parking, and more. Even before it has begun we’re entering into it with enthusiasm and generosity. Money is coming in already that we had no idea was there. We just got a $50,000 check this week. I’m not one who says “if you have enough faith, you can make God do whatever you want.” No, it’s not that. This is not something we’ve contrived or earned or believed in or created. It’s the Day of Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit is blowing through us.

2. Have you noticed a difference in the way we’ve been looking to the future of our ministry? Rather than panicking, feeling like we have to do something so the doors don’t close, we, for instance, recognized at our congregational meeting a few weeks ago that the warmth and love on the inside isn’t being well projected on the outside, and so we spent several minutes having fun tossing around possible new names for this congregation that better convey who we actually are. It’s the Day of Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit is allowing us to hear good news in new languages.

Some of us are experiencing excitement and amazement at this outpouring of the Spirit. Others of us aren’t paying any attention at all and so are probably skeptical. Still others are cautious and afraid of what this means. But as Peter said in Acts, “Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.”

We are witnessing an outpouring of the Holy Spirit among us. Pay attention—this is not of our making. It is simply a gift from God. If any of you wonder how to describe or understand the Holy Spirit, you really can’t. But what’s happening among us isn’t a bad way to begin. The Spirit is beyond our control, for reasons that cannot always be explained, the Holy Spirit of God is once again blowing, moving, firing up in us, among us, and around us. And the revealing of Christ’s love, compassion, generosity, and grace are the result.

There’s so much in this text, but one aspect of all this is vital. In Acts 2, this outpouring of the Spirit was experienced by the disciples, but it wasn’t only for their sake. It was also for the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost Festival. The wind, the fire, the languages were all to help reveal God’s love in Christ for all those people gathered.

What we’re experiencing is an outpouring of the same Holy Spirit, and even some of our reactions are the same as those gathered. The means of the Spirit’s movement is different, but the purpose is the same. We are experiencing the Holy Spirit, but not just for our own sakes. The Spirit is moving among us for the sake of the crowds gathered in our neighborhoods and communities who need a sign of compassion, love, and mercy.

The Holy Spirit is here, and her power is real. Anything can happen as Christ is revealed. Something very good is going on around here.

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2019 in Sermon

 

Love in Disagreement (June 2, 2019)

John 17:20-26

[Jesus prayed,] “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I’m sensing a little bit of division in our country. I know, I know, sometimes it just seems like I’m just making stuff up. But if you look closely, you just might see evidence that there could be some truth in what I’m saying.

Much of the division seems to be centered politically. That’s not the only arena, but it is certainly one of the largest. What seems to be happening is that I and those who agree with me are right, therefore you and the people who agree with you must be wrong. And since you’re already wrong, I cannot work with you, cooperate with you, or (God forbid), compromise (gag). That would be selling out to the enemy—those who are wrong, aka, those I disagree with.

So this part of Jesus’ prayer in John’s gospel seem rather odd. He’s praying for unity, for oneness. That we would be one as he and the Father are one. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us . . . I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.”

In this culture of division, do we even know what unity means? Does it mean we all agree all the time? That we always get along? That we look the same? That we believe all the same things about God? That we all vote the same way?

That would be more like “uniformity” than “unity.” That’s different.

Unity is about being part of a community. Standing together. Being with and for each other for a greater purpose than our individual selves.

Unity is all the Lutheran denominations, who can’t even come to the Lord’s table together, who nonetheless work together through Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran World Federation, and Lutheran Disaster Response for the sake of those suffering.

Unity is a family, whether together in one household, spread across the country, or simply chosen, all committed to loving one another and being present for one another no matter who you voted for or where you work or what your gender identity is.

Unity is a congregation that goes to a lot of trouble and expense, spending months in planning and coordinating, just to have 5 really good nights of Vacation Bible School for the children of our neighborhood. Five evenings where our neighbor kids will not just hear, but will experience unconditional love. Five nights that no one can take away from them.

Jesus isn’t praying for us to get along. He’s not praying for us to express the same moral views or even go to the same church or confess the same doctrines. He’s praying that the love that binds him and the Father together would also bind us to one another and to him.

He’s praying that this love would catch us up, hold us together, and be shared in the world that Jesus also loves.

He’s praying that this love, this unity, this purpose is what we’ll be known for in the world. Not just the original disciples gathered around his table at the Last Supper, but “also on behalf of those will believe in me . . . that they may all be one.” Jesus includes us in his prayer. That we would be united: in him and in one another, together in the love God has for us and the whole world.

And here’s the thing: his prayer is answered. Not perfectly, but there are still signs of Christ’s love that holds us all together being expressed—both in this building and beyond. We don’t always agree; that’s fine. Christians don’t always get along; that’s unfortunate but not necessary. Some Lutherans aren’t even able to pray together. But God’s love, that holds us together, is still shown among us. And it is shown in the world. Unity is about love. And the love of Christ can be seen uniting us all over the place.

Even in this politically divided country where one party can’t even talk to the other. And yet, so far this year, the 116th Congress has passed 17 laws with bipartisan support. Including the creation of 1.3 million more acres of public lands and national parks, the largest in a decade. They’ve passed changes to Medicaid services, even a Colorado River Drought Contingency. And it looks like they may be ready to pass a couple more very soon: the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, and (one that will change my life) the Telephone Consumer Protection Act which will block illegal robocalls. That’s become so bad that I’m actually getting robocalls from my own phone number!

The unity Jesus prays for exists—it’s just that sometimes we need to dig underneath some of our disagreements to find it. Which is why our unity in our love-for-all is a game-changer. It’s an answer to prayer. Rather than basing our lives on our disagreements, here we base our lives on the love God has for us. And we show the world what that love looks like as it holds us together. And we share that same love with the world as it holds us together with them.

“I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Maybe we’re not so divided after all. We’re all united in God’s love. But we are the ones who will show the world what that looks like. God loves the entire world—it’s just that as the church, we can dig underneath the disagreements and bring that love to the surface so it can be known.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Sermon

 

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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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