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Las Vegas and a Broken Church (October 8, 2017)

I was going to write an inspiring stewardship sermon for today. One that would move every person who hears it to increase their giving and joyfully re-write their 2018 Estimate of Giving cards with a much higher dollar amount. Everyone would discover the joy of generous giving, and would put that into practice today.

That was my intention. But it’s not what I’m going to do.

Some part of me is tearing open. And the violence last Sunday in Las Vegas, and especially our responses since then, have ripped open that tear in ways that are proving difficult. I’m recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit there. That, combined with my own awareness of the gospel of Christ makes a sermon about increased financial giving seem out of whack. At least today.

Something is broken in Christ’s church. It’s being torn open. Are you aware that (as of Oct 5, according to www.massshootingtracker.com) there have been 3 mass shootings in our country since Las Vegas? Two in FL and one in CA. They are the 340th and 341st mass shootings in the United States this year. This year. 341 mass shootings, which comes out to 12 mass shootings every 10 days. 12 every 10 days. More than one every day. All year.

Somehow, I don’t think Jesus is very happy about that. And I don’t think he’s very impressed with how we are responding to them. These are beloved, precious, holy children of God that are being gunned down every day. And as a country, our response is anything from weak to non-existent. That’s unacceptable. That’s incomprehensible.

But I’m more concerned about the attitude of Christ’s church, people who represent Jesus here on earth. Something is broken in the church. It’s being torn open.

I’m not talking about gun legislation or the 2nd Amendment. I’m talking about the fact that the disciples of Christ seem to be ignoring the teachings of Christ. Ignoring scripture. Ignoring our faith, our discipleship, our baptismal promise to be lights in the world.

Something is broken in the church. Deeply, systemically broken. It’s being torn open. We have become complacent about this kind of thing. We have accepted it as inevitable. We chalk it up to “evil,” which puts the blame “out there” somewhere and excuses us from dealing with it. Daily mass shootings are a symptom that the American church has lost its way. The church is people who are disciples of Jesus Christ, the one who said things like,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God”

“And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”

“So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”

We are disciples of Jesus Christ, who, for saying things like these, himself became a victim of violence—he was killed for it. That’s the Christ into whom we are baptized. That’s the light we are to shine in the world. Many Christians seem to have stopped. Something is broken in Christ’s church. It’s being torn open.

Maybe we’ve made it too easy to be a Christian. Maybe we’ve sold our collective soul for the sake of increasing our numbers. Maybe we’re more into power than into walking with the vulnerable. Maybe we have become so focused on believing in Jesus that we forget to follow him. Maybe we just don’t care anymore.

But whatever we’re doing as the whole body of Christ in the name of Christ isn’t cutting it. Something is broken in the church. It’s being torn open.

That also includes the Lutherans. According to the Dean of Students at Luther Seminary, of the six most heinous domestic terrorists in recent years, three of them were Lutheran. One half. Something is broken in our church. It’s being torn open.

That also includes us in this room. When we tell our kids that sports and homework and jobs are more important than following Jesus, something is broken in this church. And let us not fool ourselves—we are telling them that. When we care more about the convenience of worship than we do about Jesus in worship, something is broken in this church. It’s being torn open.

And that also includes me. I’ve spent way too much time avoiding criticism. I’ve kept too quiet about the things that matter to Jesus, putting energy into things that don’t matter nearly as much, because it makes my life easier. I’ve tried so hard to receive congregational approval that I forgot about Jesus’ approval—and these not always the same things. Something is broken in my church.  And I’m being torn open.

A man I respect said recently about the church, “Our diagnosis doesn’t go deep enough, so our prescriptions aren’t strong enough.” That rings true for me. There’s a deep brokenness in the church. A tear that is deeper than we are diagnosing. But it’s a tear that is making room for Christ, which is more than we’re prescribing. The depth of this breaking is painful and hard—we recognize that we are being torn open, because we talk about it in terms of “the decline of the church.” We know we are being torn open, because it feels like the church is dying. But it’s only when we are torn open that we are healed in Christ. Healing that is our resurrection.

There’s something broken in the church. It’s being torn open. But we must be broken open in order to be healed in Christ. And until the mass shootings are stopped, we will continue to be torn open and more deeply healed in Christ. It’s the people who are torn open and healed who follow Christ into the world’s brokenness. You see, something’s broken in the world—it’s being torn open. And its healing is why we are here. Our hope is in Christ. Amen.

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Posted by on October 8, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Holy and Broken, a Human Complexity

Reformation Sunday is the day we commemorate Martin Luther, a Catholic priest and teacher, and his posting of 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany in 1517, igniting the Protestant Reformation. He called for a number of church reforms, particularly an end to the practice of selling indulgences, which were like spiritual “get out of jail free” cards. He emphasized that we are saved by God’s grace, not our own efforts.

It’s often a day of celebration, even pride for many Protestants–Lutherans included. And with lots of good reasons.

But one of Luther’s best contributions to the Christian faith was his understanding that we are, all of us, completely and totally sinful people and at the very same time, thoroughly and absolutely holy people. At the same time. In everything. It’s not a 50/50 deal, like we’re half good and half bad. No, every aspect of ourselves, every action, every thought, every motive is completely broken and at the very same time completely divine.

This saint and sinner identity is true for the Reformation too. This movement that was so needed in the church at the time is also the movement that has torn the church apart. The Protestant Reformation has helped the world understand how loved we are by a gracious God, while at the very same time has caused Christian to be pitted against Christian, in opposition to Jesus’ prayer for unity. But that doesn’t stop us from celebrating the Reformation.

That’s the reality of us and our world. The very things that reveal holiness also reveal our brokenness. That doesn’t change our call to love the world.

Obviously it’s the same for LCM too. At the height of our strength we are still a selfish and entitled bunch of people. And at the depth of our weakness we are church that still touches people with the reality of God’s compassion and grace. We are a whole congregation, complete with our dysfunctions and our saintliness. It’s who we are as a church. From our ministry review we received both recommendations and affirmations. Both are real, both are us. Saint and sinner. Holy and broken. But that doesn’t stop us from being God’s love in the world.

This saint and sinner reality is true for each one of us. We are a mixture of experiences, gifts, failures, talents, and culture. Each one of us is unique. Each one of us can mess something up more completely than anyone who’s ever lived. And at the same time, each one of us shines forth with incredible grace and love in ways no one else can possibly do. It’s possible for us to do both of these at the same time. With the same action. It’s the totality of who we are.

The things that make someone a poor neighbor could be the very same things that make them an outstanding advocate for the poor.

The things that paralyze a person in panic could be the very same things that make them truly compassionate.

The things that reveal another person to be a real jerk could be the very same things that make them a strong leader.

God is present in all of it. We are whole people, not just good and bad parts. Who we are is what God uses. Just as we are. Saint and sinner. Broken and holy.

On this Reformation Sunday, we recognize a divided world-wide church, torn apart by intolerance and self-righteousness. And we also recognize on this Reformation Sunday that we are the world-wide body of Christ, embodying God’s love, grace, and forgiveness in the world.

Each of us is a whole person, broken and holy. Each one loved by God and called by God. Right now. Saint and sinner. May we recognize ourselves and each other as instruments of God. Holy and broken. Just as we are. Infinitely loved. Completely forgiven. Thoroughly redeemed.

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2015 in Sermon

 

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