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Today You Are Loved (Nov 24, 2019)

Luke 23:33-43

“You’re not quite good enough.”

That was the earliest message I can remember receiving.

“That was a dumb thing to do, Robbie, I wonder if you’re just not smart enough.” “You get good grades, but look at your friend Allen. His are better. I guess he just works harder.” “You practice your music, apparently not quite enough, though. Otherwise you’d be first chair all the time.”

As I grew up, that message became for me more than not being able to do enough. It became a belief that as a human being, I wasn’t good enough. It moved from a lack in what I did to a lack in who I am. That message formed a foundation of my whole identity. Not being good enough is a demon I’ve wrestled with my whole life. Striving to be seen as good enough has been a lifelong endeavor.

That’s mine. But I think everyone has some way they fall short, aren’t enough, are a failure. Most everyone has some experience of shame that’s part of their personal story, some part of their lives where they feel unworthy or disgraced.

What makes it so difficult is that everyone has been judged for it. And found lacking.

So what we tend to do is cover up those inadequacies, keep them secret. We avoid situations where they might be exposed. Sometimes we even pretend to ourselves that they aren’t even there. But they always show up. Our shortcomings find a way to sneak out and reveal themselves. Which prompts us to work even harder at covering them up. Which means that when they show up again, we feel even more like a failure.

On Christ the King Sunday, we’re reminded that we are constantly on the lookout for a king who doesn’t live with that kind of shame. One who doesn’t fail, who doesn’t have those shortcomings. One who really is good enough. And then, when we find that king, we commit to following that king—hoping that maybe we, too, can have our shortcomings, our failures, our incompetancies removed. Then we can be seen, finally, as good enough.

That’s the king we want. Someone who can overcome our failures. One who will finally make us “good enough.” That’s the king we hope for.

But it’s not the king we get.

The king we get is a shameful, powerless, weak, inglorious loser. That’s what crucifixion makes public. The king we get was betrayed, arrested, put on trial, beaten, humiliated, mocked. Finally, and publicly, the king we get was nailed to a cross in the most shameful form of death that Rome could think up. Crucifixion was more than capital punishment, it was a public display of shame. According to the standards of this world, this king didn’t measure up.

The crowds knew it; that’s why they just stood by and watched.

The leaders knew it; that’s why they scoffed at this king who couldn’t even save himself.

The soldiers knew it; that’s why they mocked him and stole his clothing.

One of the criminals being executed with Jesus knew it; that’s why he derided him as a false messiah who couldn’t save anyone, much less him.

Rather than a king who fixes all our weaknesses, we get one who shows up with even more.

“But,” we say, because we’re still looking for the king we prefer, “Jesus was innocent. He didn’t do anything wrong. Therefore, he can still fix all our shortcomings.”

But that’s not what this king is about. This king doesn’t make us worthwhile by making us good enough. The reign of this king has nothing to do with somehow becoming good enough or successful enough or likable enough or holy enough. No, the reign of this king goes a completely different direction. It starts in a completely different place.

What kind of a king do we really have? Not one who has come to make the world see us as good enough, but one for whom the only thing that matters is love, forgiveness, mercy, and compassion. Which this king doles out indiscriminately, constantly, unconditionally. Whether the world around us thinks we’re good enough or not doesn’t even come into the picture in the reign of this king.

Now, overcoming shame is a good thing. Learning from our failures and growing into more competent human beings is great. There is nothing wrong with being recognized by our world as good enough. But whenever we talk about overcoming our inadequacies as the goal—the purpose—of a king, we are measuring that king’s reign by the standards of this world. It doesn’t work. Look at Jesus. The prime example. He and his kingdom were measured by Rome’s standards, and fell quite short. He didn’t overcome those who killed him, he forgave them, for, as he said, “they do not know what they are doing.” He didn’t condemn the criminal being executed next to him, but promised that “today you’ll be with me in Paradise.”

What kind of a king do we really have? Not one who has come to make the world see us as good enough, but one for whom the only thing that matters is love, forgiveness, mercy, and compassion.

The funny thing is, the love, forgiveness, mercy, and compassion that define this king and his reign are the very things that assure us we already are good enough. Not because we’ve overcome so many inadequacies, but simply because we are loved by this king. And you are loved by this king. Christ the King. Which means that no matter what the world around you says, you are, right now, more than good enough. You are loved by Christ the King.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Where There’s Suffering and Fear, God’s Love is Shown (Nov. 26, 2017)

Matthew 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

There are some events that change history. Pearl Harbor for the Greatest Generation. Nothing would ever be the same after that.

For me and many around my age it was the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK.

For many now it’s 9/11.

If you live through events like these your world is forever changed.

That’s true with Matthew’s community, too. To really hear this gospel, we need to know the life-changing events that forever changed Matthew’s community. Their “Pearl Harbor” event, their “9/11” event was the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by Roman forces in 70 AD.

This gospel was most likely written between 80 and 90 AD. All the original eye-witnesses of Jesus’ ministry are long dead. The Apostle Paul has been dead for 20-30 years. Every Christian living at this time was part of the 2nd generation of the church.

Matthew’s community probably was located in Syria. They were mostly Jewish Christians, who may have scattered and relocated in Syria after the Roman invasion of Jerusalem.

In about 66AD or so, Israel got tired of unjust (sinful) taxes they had to pay to Rome, and they revolted. The revolution escalated until Jewish zealots were killing off Roman citizens in Jerusalem.

Rome, of course, retaliated and plundered the temple, taking all the wealth there, claiming it all belonged to Rome anyway.

The plundering of the temple led to an all-out rebellion by the Jews against Rome.

Rome sent in armies from Syria to put it down and restore order, but by then the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem had already set up their own autonomous government. Because Jerusalem was so well fortified (with three thick walls surrounding the city) and well defended, Rome sought out rebel strongholds an eradicated them, beginning in Galilee.

This sent Jews from Galilee fleeing to Jerusalem as refugees. Which would have been fine except that the Galilean Jews had formed their own government too, which now clashed with the rebel government in Jerusalem. That internal conflict escalated too.

So in 70AD, (ten or twenty years before Matthew’s gospel was written), Rome attacked Jerusalem directly. After a 7-month siege, they broke through the third wall, sacked Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple.

The Jews that weren’t enslaved scattered throughout the region, perhaps with the author of Matthew’s gospel among them. The tensions between he Jews and Rome continued for decades, breaking out into two more wars in the 2nd century.

In any case, this particular community of Jewish people who were disciples of Jesus now lived in Syria with the tension of Roman conquest changing everything. They weren’t native Syrians, they were Israelites. Still living within the boundaries of the Roman Empire, they were still vulnerable.

With all that these Jews had been through in the last 15-20 years, they had to be wondering how God was going to deal with all of it. What does Jesus the Messiah, resurrected 50-60 years ago, have to do with it?

The author of Matthew takes the last couple of chapters in his gospel to address some of that. What will Jesus do to the world at the end of time? This text is part of that speculation.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory . . . all the nations will be gathered before him.” All the nations. Including Rome and all the other Gentile regions. Jesus will be on the throne then and will decide the fate of all these Gentile countries. And the same Jesus who taught the Beatitudes, who preached love for enemies, who revealed God as merciful to all, is the same Jesus who will judge these nations.

God hasn’t forgotten the persecution of these Jewish followers in Mathew’s community. God knows their suffering at the hands of some, and also knows the kindness shown to them by others.

On the day of the Lord, at the end of time, when Jesus is rightfully sitting on the throne of judgment, he will separate nations and peoples according, in part, to how these nations have treated “the least of these who are members of my family.”

Do you hear how that would sound to these people whose family and friends are either enslaved or who have had to flee for their lives? God remembers them, the least and most vulnerable of all people, and looks with favor on the nations that have shown them kindness. These refugees matter to God.

And how consistent that is with everything Jesus taught and did! Those who are powerless matter. Those who are poor and who mourn are blessed. Those who are frightened and vulnerable are lifted up in love. Live in hope, because God sees you and remembers you!

And God will also look with kindness on those who are kind to you. Not because they’ve tried harder (in the parable they don’t even know they’ve done things God finds favorable), but because they are filled with God’s love and simply live that way.

So, this isn’t a gospel text about trying harder to be nice to people. It’s two-fold: Jesus remembers you when you are suffering and frightened and helpless. But also, that  God’s love is going to be shown. Because God’s love changes people. Even now when our world feels more chaotic and frightening than ever, God’s love is still changing the world. May Christ’s love continue to change us. May we then be among those who show mercy and compassion to refugees, to the poor, to the vulnerable, to the forgotten.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2017 in Sermon

 

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You are Welcomed, Valued, and Respected in the Kingdom of God (though your politics may not be)–Nov. 20, 2016

Luke 23:33-43

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 [Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

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.

When we think of a king, it’s usually about power. Which is a little different perspective than what we’re talking about on Christ the King Sunday.

Christ the King has Power, that power is used to help those who have no power: those on the edges, the homeless, those on the fringes of society.

Christ the King has might, that might is used in showing mercy to the least: those who live in the shadows, in fear, believe government is not for them.

Christ the King has Strength, that strength is used to love those who are different or who disagree with him.

Christ the King—who, while being mocked, ridiculed, scoffed at, yet revealed the reign of God in the forgiveness of those who crucified him. Who, while sarcastically being made fun of as one who cannot even save himself, was in actuality saving the world. Who, when asked merely to be remembered by a criminal, gave him paradise instead.

This is how Christ is King.

This is the kingdom he has brought to this world. A kingdom of love.

This is the way he rules over us. Ruling in acceptance and mercy.

This is the kingdom he calls us to reveal in the world. A kingdom where those who live in fear are recognized and held.

You may have noticed, but we are a divided country. We have known it for a long time but haven’t done much about it. We’ve seen it happening, but have ignored it or gone along with it or even pretended it wasn’t as bad as we thought. But it is. We’ve lived it among ourselves in various ways too—drawing lines that divide us into us-and-them groups. Though we’ve been divided for our entire history, reported incidents revealing that division have increased drastically in the past year.

As a congregation we embrace Christ as King. We make it a priority to proclaim and be part of this reign in the world. Which means a few things for us in this time of escalated division.

First—all are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place. One of this congregation’s values. Period. End of discussion.

All means all. No matter how you voted, or if you didn’t vote at all, this will be a safe place for you. Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Green, Socialist, non-political, you are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place.

All means all. Which means that married, partnered, single, divorced, widowed, Lutheran, other Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Mormon, agnostic, atheist, non-religious, you are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place.

All means all. Which means that gay, straight, bisexual, transgendered, questioning, unsure, you are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place.All means all. That means whatever language you speak, whatever country you or your ancestors came from, whatever documentation you may or may not have, you are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place.

All means all. Because Christ is King and we reveal his kingdom in this world, you are welcomed here, valued here, respected here.

But Christ as our King means something else too. Seeking to proclaim and make real his kingdom in the world also means that although all people are valued here, not all things are held with equal value here. In the kingdom of God hatred is not valued. Exclusion is not valued. Lying, sexism, homophobia, persecution of any religious group, sexual assault, inciting violence, judging those who hold different opinions are not valued in any place where Christ is proclaimed as King.

This isn’t about politics. It’s not sour-grapes about winners and losers in an election. It’s not red vs. blue, not electoral college vs. popular vote. It’s not about patriotism or protests. Nothing that temporary or trivial.

No, this is much more significant than that. This is about who we are as baptized children of God, called by God to be a light in the world.

Christ the King has Power, that power is used to help those who have no power: those on the edges, the homeless, those on the fringes of society.

Christ the King has might, that might is used in showing mercy to the least: those who live in the shadows, in fear, believe government is not for them.

Christ the King has Strength, that strength is used to love those who are different or who disagree with him.

Christ the King—who, while being mocked, ridiculed, scoffed at, yet revealed the reign of God in the forgiveness of those who crucified him. Who, while sarcastically being made fun of as one who cannot even save himself, was in actuality saving the world. Who, when asked merely to be remembered by a criminal, gave him paradise instead.

This is how Christ is King.

This is the kingdom he has brought to this world. A kingdom of love.

This is the way he rules over us. Ruling in acceptance and mercy.

This is the kingdom he calls us to reveal in the world. A kingdom where those who live in fear are recognized and held.

Know that you are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place. But some of the things our country revealed and supported in this election are not.

Check your politics at the door. Because in this place, among us, Christ is the King. And his kingdom of forgiveness and love will be proclaimed among us and by us. His kingdom of compassion and mercy will be revealed through us in this divided country.

Christ is the king. And thanks be to God for that.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Syria, Paris, Mali, and Christ the King (John 18:33-37)

 

This text for Christ the King Sunday reveals a clash of two kingdoms. Make no mistake, they are distinctly different, but they are both present. Each kingdom has different rules, and each one operates differently. And they are both operating among us now.

These kingdoms aren’t places, like one is earth and the other heaven. No, both of these kingdoms function here and now, side by side. Both are seen in our everyday lives, and both are vying for our loyalty. Each one uses different tools to try and win us over.

Jesus shows us how one kingdom works and what it looks like, and Pilate shows us the other. Each kingdom proclaims similar goals sometimes, but they couldn’t be more different.

Pilate understands that he has power; with a word he can condemn Jesus to death. He knows how one kingdom works. And he is in a position to take advantage of that. The kingdom he affiliates with runs on power and the things that give a person power. So strength, position, recognition, and money are important tools of Pilate’s kingdom. Weapons and force and control are some of the things at Pilate’s disposal. One belief of his kingdom is that if you have enough power, you can bring about peace, because those who are threats to his kingdom are eliminated. Pilate is working toward peace through intimidation, through fear, and through brutality.

If Jesus is a king, Pilate wonders, then Jesus is a threat to the emperor (you can’t have two kings!). He would be a threat to the oppressive, forced peace of Rome.

If we can get past the fact that this is Pilate here–the one who condemns Jesus to crucifixion–we’d likely admit that this is the way the world works. Those with power win. Those with money win. Those with position and strength and backing and friends in high places win. The prize goes to the biggest, the strongest, the mightiest, and the smartest.

We know this kingdom. Because to move up, to get ahead, to win in this world–perhaps even to survive–these are the things we must do. We don’t even think about it, because the ways of this kingdom is so prevalent, so common, so every day. Everyone operates more or less in this way.

And then there’s the kingdom Jesus reveals. Way different. While Pilate uses strength, Jesus uses weakness. Pilate uses intimidation, Jesus uses vulnerability. Pilate uses force, Jesus uses mercy. Pilate uses power, Jesus uses forgiveness.

Jesus points out how different these two kingdoms are when he answers Pilate. Jesus says that if his kingdom were of this world, you’d know it because there would be fighting and a struggle for power. But, since his kingdom is not of this world, those things aren’t happening. Instead, Jesus’ kingdom is about something deeper and more significant than strength. It’s about truth. You can tell the people who affiliate with Jesus’ kingdom, because they listen to the truth of mercy, the truth of compassion, the truth of forgiveness, the truth of loving others. These are the principles by which they operate.

And we know this kingdom too. Because the Spirit keeps filling us with with love and forgiveness. God continues to forgive us and show us compassion. We sometimes experience the truth of divine mercy when we experience compassion; someone going out of their way on our behalf. We can the truth of that, and we can live the truth of that.

Never is the battle of these two kingdoms seen more clearly than right now in the argument about Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. One kingdom says there’s a threat there. Let’s not be stupid and take unnecessary risks. The other says showing compassion to our neighbors compels us to make sure they have safety—even if that means some of them come here.

We are pulled by the lures of both kingdoms. Power and force might impose a superficial and temporary lack of conflict, but do so based on fear and intimidation. Love and mercy appear weak in the world kingdom and leave us vulnerable, but are the ways Jesus reveals.

Today, we confess Christ as King. Which means we defer to his kingdom as his disciples.

The kingdom of force, of violence, of power, of fear, of intimidation may be able to put Jesus to death. It may be able to put 129 to death in Paris, take hostages in Mali, and wreak havoc all over the world.

But the kingdom of violence, fear, and power has already been defeated. Christ the King took the worst threat this world’s power could throw at him. And then he rose from the dead. And he breathed the ways of his kingdom of compassion into frightened disciples. And he inspired them to live and reveal his kingdom of mercy and love. Right in the face of fear and oppression.

Jesus came not just to bring mercy and grace to us. He came to show us the truth of mercy and grace so we can live it in the world. May we hear the voice of Christ the King. And may we follow him.

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2015 in Sermon

 

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