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The Power of Powerlessness (Ash Wednesday, Feb 14, 2018)

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near— 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. . . .
12 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16 gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, “Where is their God?’ “

As the people of Jerusalem try to rebuild the city after returning from a 70 year exile held captive in Babylon. They are experiencing the worst disaster that anyone can remember. For an agricultural society, a plague of locusts means starvation and death. But this plague tops anything that even the oldest people have ever heard about. It’s overwhelming. It’s hopeless.

I think that in some ways we share that experience of hopelessness. There are things in our world that we can’t even imagine fixing. Our country is more divided than ever before; greed, lies, obstruction  seem to grow unchecked; an all-out war on the most vulnerable among us seems to actually be deliberate, our national leaders seem more out of touch and uncaring than ever.  There are 2400 homeless children in Jefferson County, yet the obstacles and the anger around any address of the issue seem insurmountable.

It just seems like there’s nothing we can do. Sometimes, as if we’re experiencing a plague of locusts, we can feel powerless.

And that’s what the people of Israel were experiencing too.

Our tendency when we feel overwhelmed is to pull in, hunker down, and make sure our own little corner of the world is safe. If the world is falling apart, we’re going to do what we can to stay clear of that. We’re going to remain where it’s safe, put in a security system, buy a handgun, and do what we can to make sure we’re going to be OK.  If the situation is bigger than our ability to deal with, we take care of ourselves first.

But here’s what Joel’s people in Jerusalem did in the face of a hopeless situation. All of them together threw their lot in with God. They recognized that their situation was bigger than their ability to deal with, so they—all of them together—publicly turned to God for hope and help. Maybe God would do something, maybe not. That was up to God, not them. But they called everyone together to fast and pray and see what God would do. And they did it openly and publicly.

15Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 

For Joel and his people, the response to despair wasn’t “how can I survive this?” but “how can we help each other seek God in this?” And everyone participated.

As church, as the body of Christ, as followers of Jesus, this is what we can offer the world. A public, altogether, open, everyone involved, plea to God in the midst of things that seem impossible.

We say God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

We say God is our refuge and strength.

We say God is with us in the midst of difficulties.

We say Jesus brings among us the mercy, compassion, love, and forgiveness of God.

We say that this is unconditional.

We say we trust God in these things.

Here’s our chance to live those things we believe. Let us come together during this season of Lent. Let us, as the whole congregation of Lutheran Church of the Master—all of us—call upon God to spare our world, to end hatred, to stop terror, to put an end to poverty, to protect the vulnerable, to do those things that we ourselves can feel powerless to do.

15Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;  16gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 

This Lent, as we gather each week, both on Wednesdays and Sundays, across ages, ethnicities, genders, faith backgrounds, let us remind one another of God’s promise of hope and newness. Let us discover our own part in God’s promise. Let us, altogether, publicly and openly, call upon our God. Let us share with the world what we believe our God can do. Amen.

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Posted by on February 14, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Admitting There’s Room for Growth (Ash Wednesday, 2/10/16)

ash-wednesdayAsh Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. . . . 16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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.

We talk a good talk as Christians. We confess our faith, we believe in God, we come to church, we pray for things. Does our belief in Jesus actually reveal itself in ways that look compassionate and merciful? Are our lives different as our relationship with God grows? Is God’s vision of compassion and love in the world more realized by us than it was a year ago?

In other words, are we actually growing in our discipleship? Are we discovering more about Jesus and God’s vision for the world? Have there been any changes in our lives, our attitudes, our activities to reflect that growth?

Today, Ash Wednesday, we have the opportunity to begin a deliberate journey of growth in our faith and our discipleship. Today, Ash Wednesday, we will be marked with the sign of the cross in ashes on our foreheads. A sign of our commitment to change, to grow, to more fully join the journey. In other words, a sign of repentance.

This is more than just being sorry for our sins so God will love us and we can go to heaven when we die. No, repentance literally means “to change direction.” Repentance is actually more about changing our minds, changing our lives, changing our direction as people committed to God’s ways revealed in Christ.

The gospel text makes clear to us that we don’t show this sign of repentance—of change—to impress anyone. We don’t wear this ashen cross proudly, but in honest humility. This is a sign to ourselves, to one another, and to the world that LCM is committing ourselves to God’s compassion and justice in the world. So much so that we are willing to begin a journey of change in our our lives in order to follow Jesus more closely.

Jesus was so committed to God’s vision of life and peace that he was willing to be killed for it. Just as the cross is a symbol of that commitment by Jesus to love and mercy and grace, the crosses on our foreheads are a symbol of our commitment to that same vision for the world.

So our first step in this Lenten journey tonight centers on the real, biblical meaning of repentance. That first step is committing to a change in our lives. This is repentance, a willingness to change and to grow.

We enter into Lent tonight. A journey of the cross. A time to deliberately grow in our discipleship. And we begin by using language and symbols of repentance. We begin with a commitment to change.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Ash Wednesday: Tangible, Real, Visible Discipleship

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ash Wednesday—official beginning of Lent. Season of deliberation, repentance, deepening discipleship. This is a season when we focus very intentionally on our spiritual lives, spiritual disciplines, our relationship with God. Sometimes that means we need to put aside other things during Lent in order to focus on this aspect of our lives.

We talk a good talk as Christians. We confess our faith, we believe in God, we come to church, we might even tell people we are Christians. But does that discipleship cause us to do anything that’s actually different? Does our belief in Jesus actually reveal itself in tangible ways?

Actually, it does. But we can become complacent about it. So it seems the question this year would be: Are our lives different this year as our relationship with God grows? Are the lives of the people around us different this year as our faith deepens? Are we able to share God’s story of love and grace and forgiveness more boldly this year? Are we more clearly seeing God’s story as our own? Are we recognizing God’s story intersecting with the life-story of the people in our neighborhoods?

Today, Ash Wednesday, we have the opportunity to express our faith, our trust, our repentance, our commitment in a different kind of way. Today, Ash Wednesday, we will be marked with the sign of the cross in a way that can be seen by everyone. With ashes.

Ashes were a Hebrew sign of repentance and cleansing. The cross is a sign of God entering our world, our very lives, in Christ. We will look at one another and see, with clarity, the reality of our faith and our commitment to Jesus as his disciples in the world.

The gospel text reminds us that we don’t do this for show. It’s not to impress anyone. But it is a tangible expression, a physical reminder, a different way of declaring the source of our life, our breath, our forgiveness, our salvation. We don’t wear this mark proudly, but in honest humility. We are dust, God is our life. Jesus entered into our world, into our life, even into our death on the cross. Because of him we are different than we were before. The difference in our life is real, tangible, evident. We will respond to Jesus tonight in a real, tangible, evident way. We wear God’s story on our foreheads. God’s story of forgiveness and life touches us even in the dirt and grime and ashes of our lives.

The ashes are real. God’s story is real. The cross is real. So our story in this Lenten journey is just as real because God’s promise of forgiveness and life are the most real of all. The cross of Jesus makes a tangible difference in the world. May these crosses on our foreheads remind us to recognize God’s story in our own life story and be part of that story in the world too.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2014 in Sermon

 

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