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Reforming, Mission, and Model: This Matters (Oct 28, 2018)

John 8:31-36

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

“Churches that love their model more than the mission will die.” [i]

That’s one of the predictions from Carey Nieuwhof, who’s a broadly recognized and acclaimed church futurist. Here’s how he explains that prediction:

When the car was invented, it quick[ly] took over from the horse and buggy. Horse and buggy manufacturers were relegated to boutique status and many went under, but human transportation actually exploded. Suddenly average people could travel at a level they never could before.

The mission is travel. The model is a buggy, or car, or motorcycle, or jet.

Look at the changes in publishing, music, and even photography industry in the last few years.

See a trend? The mission is reading. It’s music. It’s photography. The model always shifts . . . moving from things like 8 tracks, cassettes and CDs to MP3s and now streaming audio and video.

Companies that show innovation around the mission (Apple, Samsung) will always beat companies that remain devoted to the methods (Kodak).

Churches need to stay focused on the mission . . . and be exceptionally innovative in our model.

This is Reformation Sunday. It’s a day where we not only recognize the immense ways the church has reformed its model in its history, but where we open ourselves up to being reformed by God today. The model of how we go about God’s mission is constantly reforming. God’s mission is constant. God’s mission is the recreation of a world where everyone—regardless of anything else—is equally valued, loved, forgiven, respected. The church is created by God exclusively for that mission. The model is up for grabs.

The question for us on this Reformation Sunday is, “To move forward in this mission, how is God trying to reform the church now?” And, “Are we cooperating or resisting?”

We are in the throes of Reformation. Right now. At this moment. Paraphrasing the late Phyllis Tickle, God is having a huge church garage sale. God is even now in the process deciding what will be kept and what will be thrown out. According to what models help God’s mission.

What is God trying to do among us here at LCM? How is God reforming our model of being church? What has to change, perhaps even die, in order for us to more clearly be part of God’s mission in the world?

Let me toss a few things out there and see if anything sticks. I believe God is reforming the church around:

  1. Discipleship—following Jesus—is becoming more important than church order or doctrine. Rather than teaching about the dual nature of Jesus and the Trinity and the books of the Bible in order, it’s becoming more important to accompany people as they struggle to follow in the footsteps of Christ. The Reforming Church will be the living as the Body of Christ present in the world.
  2. Compassion is gaining a voice and growing legs. The church will take the model of God’s unconditional love, mercy, and grace into the streets. We will loudly and visibly take the side of any who are powerless and victimized. If that means we stand up to businesses, elected officials, anyone in power then that’s what we will do it publicly and boldly. One good example right now is how the Reforming Church will respond to the caravan of migrants and refugees coming through Mexico from Central America.
  3. Community matters. Forgiveness and grace lived among us. Everything will begin with how we treat each other in the congregation. Reforming Church communities will be where we practice Jesus’ compassion so that we can carry it out into the world.
  4. Success is being measured by influence rather than numbers. There will be less weight given to worship attendance numbers and more given to how much love and compassion are made real (to real people) in our neighborhoods. The Reforming Church will find ways to measure that success.
  5. Leadership. Luke will lead us. I don’t mean just him. He’s the one who is affirming his baptism today which means he is committing to live as a disciple of Jesus and continue to grow in his capacity to do so. He has a better understanding of what the Reforming Church needs to look like than anyone over 30. The Reforming Church will listen to him.

The church will continue to reform. There will always be a vibrant and mission-focused church led by the Holy Spirit. The question is, which denominations—which congregations will be part of it?

Those congregations where God’s mission matter more than their particular model of being church are being reformed. That, I believe, is good news.

[i] https://careynieuwhof.com/10-predictions-about-the-future-church-and-shifting-attendance-patterns/

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Posted by on October 28, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Connected Beyond Me (Oct 14, 2018)

Mark 10:17-31

As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

This text seems pretty straight-forward. In order to have treasure in heaven, you have to sell everything you own and give all that money to the poor. Then, after you’ve done that, follow Jesus. You have to do that because if you have wealth, it’s impossible to enter the kingdom of God.

Jesus can’t really mean give everything away, can he?

What if he does? What if that’s what it took to be a disciple of Christ? What if Jesus meant this as a requirement to enter the kingdom of God? How would we deal with that?

I’m just going to leave you with that to wrestle with. If you believe this text is a command to give everything you own to the poor, why aren’t you doing it? And if you don’t believe that, why not?

Take that home and wrestle with it, and if that’s all that happens today, it’s a very successful day!

But I want to bring something else into this discussion also. I wonder if Jesus is telling this rich young man that the “one thing” he lacks isn’t the giving away of his possessions. I wonder if what he lacks is an awareness of other people around him. Hear me out on this.

Jesus doesn’t just tell him to get rid of his wealth and his possessions. He specifically tells him to give them to the poor. I wonder if it’s not his wealth that’s the problem, but the insulation his wealth allows him to live in.

Think about that. Our world has certain attitudes about wealth that we all buy in to, to some degree. The danger of wealth is that it lures us into believing we are totally self-sufficient. It gives us a false belief that we don’t need anyone else. The temptation of wealth is that it provides a power that turns us away from others and in on ourselves.

If you’re rich enough, you can afford to live a life separated from people who are different. You can live in a gated community that keeps “those others” out. You don’t have to go places where you encounter anyone who makes you uncomfortable.

Jesus calls out this rich young man to save him from falling prey to the narcissism of wealth that blinds him to others. He exposes this wealthy man’s self-centeredness because it blocks his ability to love others outside of his own small circles. In commanding him to sell everything and give the money to the poor, Jesus is demanding that this young man look beyond his own self and turn towards others—others that he wouldn’t have to encounter if he remained protected by his money.

So Jesus pushes this man away from the insulating protection of his money out towards awareness of the people around him.

That’s what we all want. With or without money, we want that insulated self-reliance. Everyone wants to live without having to rely on anyone else. But the inherent danger of self-reliance is the same one Jesus warns the young man about: self-reliance separates us from real awareness of others.

What matters to Jesus, it seems to me, is that we become aware of others—take them seriously, listen to them, and make their gifts and their needs part of our lives too.

Which is why it’s so painful to hear complaints about worship style. When we are so isolated that we live as if our own personal needs are the only ones that matter, we miss out on the opportunity to support someone else at LCM who experiences worship differently. When we complain about worship, we lack one thing, Jesus says. We lack an awareness of the spiritual needs of the person who might be sitting next to us right now.

An awareness of others. It’s not just money. It’s not just worship style. It’s whatever it is that insulates us from the people around us. It’s whatever it is that make us think someone else’s needs don’t matter. It’s whatever it is that causes us to believe that the other person has nothing to offer us. We lack one thing, Jesus says. An awareness that our own lives aren’t the only ones that matter.

We have an opportunity to step outside of that which insulates us from others and into a deeper awareness of others. Today we turn in our Estimate of Giving cards. We tend to think of these as the church asking us for money—and, well, it is. But it’s so much more than that. Today we can get help with this one thing we lack. This is a tangible way of saying that our own lives aren’t the only ones that matter in God’s kingdom. We are concretely taking the needs of others into account and standing up with them. We do make a financial commitment, but in so doing we are stating clearly that other people matter too because we’re giving money away for the sake of the people around us. We are taking a step to overcome this one thing we lack. And this year we’re offering, all at the same time, several opportunities to commit to others beyond ourselves. Participation in worship isn’t just about what we get out of it, it’s about supporting one another in community with Christ—recognizing that others need you and you need others. Spiritual growth through scripture and prayer, both personally and communally, push us beyond ourselves into a deeper awareness of what God is doing.

Jesus looks at us today, loves us and says, “You lack one thing; go, step outside of yo

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2018 in Sermon

 

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What’s in Our Way this Advent? (Nov 27, 2016)

Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

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.

Advent: Season of preparation, getting ready for Christ to come. We get ready for Jesus because the coming of Christ means something different for the world. It is good news for the world right now. The coming of Christ is not merely hope for heaven after you die, but hope for all people in our world right now. A hope that Christ’s presence in the world will include everyone living in love, joy, grace, and peace.

If that hope for each person to live in peace and love is to be realized, there are some things that will change in the world with the coming of Christ. Some things do have to change because not all people are experiencing hope, forgiveness, compassion, and absolute love. Christ’s job, then, is to be changing the world according to God’s character and God’s vision. Christ comes to change the world, to reveal the power of God’s love, to bring peace and wholeness, to expose life coming out of death. He comes to embody that hope for each one of us.2016-advent

If the coming of Christ means hope and love and peace and grace for all of creation, then as the church, we are called in baptism to be part of that presence of Christ in the world. We are called to be part of the hope of grace and peace being realized. “God’s Work, Our Hands” in the ELCA. Whatever God is doing, that’s what we are to be about. We know it will always be based in love, in compassion, in peace, forgiveness. That’s the nature of God, and therefore, the nature of Christ’s church.

So for us as church, our call is to reveal the presence and the hope of Christ to the rest of the world. To show what God’s forgiveness, love, compassion, grace look like. To be part of that being made real in the world—to put flesh on it. To be the presence of Christ for the world and in the world.

As we look at this gospel text at the beginning of Advent, there are two things we need to come up with answers for:

  1. If the coming of Christ means love, compassion, and peace, where might God be getting ready to reveal those things in our lives/world?
  2. What’s in the way of us revealing this presence of Christ?

Take a look at Joseph in this text.

  1. If the coming of Christ means love, compassion, and peace, where might God be getting ready to reveal those things in his life/world?

Joseph is recognizing God is moving toward what prophets had spoken of for centuries. God will be with us, God will save us.

  1. What’s in the way of his revealing this presence of Christ? Limiting God to customs/laws of his religion. Once opened to that possibility, Joseph could trust a dream that was crazy.

LCM:

  1. If the coming of Christ means love, compassion, and peace, where might God be getting ready to reveal those things in our lives/world?

I believe God is attempting to make this congregation a community where all can be safe, express vulnerability, experience trust. We haven’t always done that well in our congregational history, and it has limited us. Only in a trusting environment can God’s love be experienced and growth in God’s mission occur.

  1. What’s in the way of us revealing this presence of Christ?

This Advent as we wait for the presence of Christ and the love for one another that he brings, we can consider changing the things that are in the way. That is our preparation. So this Advent, we can give the benefit of the doubt, quit talking “about” people and instead “to” talk them, listen for the voice of God in those with whom we disagree, show support and encouragement for those who approach church differently in this place.

Each of us:

  1. If the coming of Christ means love, compassion, and peace, where might God be getting ready to reveal those things in our lives/world?
  2. What’s in the way of us revealing this presence of Christ?

That is what we can be doing this Advent. The presence of Christ will be changing something in our lives and the world in which we operate. Can we use this Advent season of preparation to see one thing that that might be? And then, can we spend this Advent time being opened to the presence of Christ changing something in us so that we can better reveal Christ to the world?

Blessings this Advent. As God opened Joseph’s heart to see God’s presence in a new way, may God open us to what God is doing in our world today. Amen.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Noticing, Identifying, and Moving to Wholeness (October 9, 2016)

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

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.

Noticing:

1.A—Have you ever noticed that when you’re out of town, there’s like a signal that goes out to all the businesses that throw advertising litter on your driveway and pamphlets stuck to your door to jump into action?

For various reasons I was out of town much of September, for some of that time my wife, Lois, was gone also. So of course, the “bat signal” lit up in the sky, or however they know, and our driveway was littered with pamphlets I didn’t ask for, newspapers I don’t read, and ads I don’t need. It’s just messy and annoying.

What’s worse, it also broadcasts to anyone going through the neighborhood that the house is vacant. It’s like a sign out in front of the house saying “Free TV, computer, probably some free jewelry! Come on in and help yourselves!”

Yet when Lois and I got back into town, I noticed that there were no pamphlets, ads, newspapers anywhere. Somehow, they had disappeared. I noticed they were gone.

2.A–Ten lepers, who had nothing in common except a condition that kept them socially and legally separated from their communities. They were different religions, and from different town—even different regions. But their mutual need forged them into a community of their own.

But then, Jesus came by. Together, they all asked him for mercy. Jesus sent all 10 of them to the priests so they could all be declared clean. They could all return to their families and their churches and their neighborhoods. And in the midst of this hope, this excitement, this opportunity, as they hurried to the priests, all noticed they were healed.

3.A—On the back wall are “Joyful Experiences” from 60 people (so far!) that come as a result of their association with this congregation. So far, 60 people have taken the time to share that:

  • Participating in Small Groups such as choir and Bible Study is a joyful experience here.
  • Volunteering with our youth is a joyful experience here.
  • Being an assistant at communion is a joyful experience here.
  • Going to Sky Ranch is a joyful experience here.
  • Women’s Retreat on poverty is a joyful experience here.

If you go back there and look, or better yet, if you listen to people here, you can notice that some amazing things happen within this congregational community.

Identifying the Source:

1.B—Several days later after noticing that all the ads and all the other litter had been removed from my driveway and my front door, I was talking with a neighbor who knew we had been gone. He said that he hoped it was OK that he collected all the ads and newspapers that had were on the driveway and threw them out. Did I mind, he asked?

Now I knew why the pamphlets and papers were gone. In this conversation with a neighbor, I had identified the source of this kindness. And I thanked him profusely. Of course I didn’t mind! I was grateful!

2.B—Ten lepers on their way to the priests noticed they were healed. One of the ten, however, identified the source of his healing. He knew it was Jesus. They had all asked Jesus for mercy and they had all been sent by him to the priests. It was Jesus who had healed them. This one, this Samaritan, upon receiving this healing gift, knew who had done it. He was able to identify the source of his being made well.

3.B—In the course of this congregation’s history, there are thousands upon thousands of experiences of joy! Countless lives have been changed because this congregation lives and moves. What’s amazing is that the source of these congregational experiences and changed lives is, in fact, God. The very one who binds us together despite all our good and our bad. Apart from our imperfections as a church, our differences, our occasional disagreements, and sometimes our over-zealous emphasis on the negative, God does amazing things through us and around us. As we look around, it’s pretty easy to identify the source of our joyful experiences here.

From Isolation to Wholeness:

1.C—Identifying the source of my clean driveway, I can’t help but feel more connected to this neighbor. I’m looking for ways to help him. Rather than stay hunkered down in my house ignoring my neighbors, I’m being a better neighbor. And I’m a fuller part of the neighborhood. I’m moving from isolation to wholeness.

2.C—The one former leper turned back, praising God. Fell at Jesus’ feet in thanks. Jesus stood him up and told him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you whole.” This one Samaritan, who had been isolated in a small community of lepers, is now sent by the one who made him whole out into the world. Jesus has moved him from isolation to wholeness.

3.C—When we notice and identify that God is at work in us, sometimes in spite of us, we can’t help but be changed by that.  We can’t help but live in new ways. It’s no longer just about us, be about being sent to be part of God’s joyful experiences in our workplaces, in our schools, in our neighborhoods. We are sent our way to be part of God’s work of making the world whole. We are being turned from isolation into whole people, as a whole congregation.

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2016 in Sermon

 

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“Dressed for Action” (August 7, 2014)

This sermon can also be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/lcm.lakewood/

Luke 12:32-40

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

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.

A week ago we took 12 LCM young people up to Sky Ranch Lutheran Camp. Before that, however, we had a lot of preparation to do We had made our reservations months before. The kids participated in multiple fund-raisers. There were physical exams, immunizations to be done and forms to be filled out. There were down payments and personal accounts to be kept track of.

Lists of what to bring and what not to bring were sent. Rides up to camp were arranged. Rides back home were planned.

Then there was the packing. It can get cold at 9000 ft, so jackets and long-sleeved shirts are necessary. It’s hot during the day, so summer clothing is nLooking.for.Godeeded. Plus shoes for playing, boots for hiking, sleeping bags, bug spray, extra socks, water bottles. A lot of preparation went into this one week.

But last Sunday, 12 kids were packed and ready. 12 kids, many of whom weren’t sure what they were getting into, loaded into cars one way or another and took off for the best week of the summer.

This gospel text today would describe them as “dressed for action with their lamps lit.” When it was time for camp to start at Sky Ranch, all 12 of our kids were ready. Because they, with their parents and with the support of their church, had prepared for that week.

This convoluted gospel reading in Luke is about that. God is on the move, and we are to be ready to be part of God’s work and God’s mission when those opportunities rise up. Jesus is telling us to be ready for him to come and knock on our door so we can be part of what he’s getting ready to do. He calls us to be ready, because you never know when Jesus is going to invite us into something big. Be dressed for action with your lamps lit.

So what will it be that Jesus calls us into? What big thing will God beLooking.for.God.1

doing that we need to be ready for? Racial justice? Homelessness? Children’s health? Hunger? Poverty? Or something we haven’t thought about yet? A major project that will take years, or a small act that may seem almost trivial? Whatever it is, be dressed for action with your lamps lit.

Last week we took part in some reconciliation with the Police Department and the African American community. There was some real energy around that. Part of it was one worship, so the room had more people, but there was more going on. God’s work of unity and reconciliation was being accomplished. Jesus came and knocked on our door. And I think we were ready. I think that we were dressed for action with our lamps lit. Jesus knocked, we opened the door, and a little more unity—a little more reconciliation came into the world. That’s what Jesus is making available to us. This is what he’s telling us to be prepared for. Be dressed for action with your lamps lit.

For the children at Molholm Elementary, Green Mountain Elementary, and throughout Jeffco who may have to start school without school supplies, Be dressed for action with your lamps lit.

For the homeless who may sleep tonight with empty stomachs, Be dressed for action with your lamps lit.

For those around the world with no means of feeding themselves, Be dressed for action with your lamps lit.

For those who are pushed around by bullies on the playground, or by employers who care more for profit than decency, or by local governments who cater to the powerful rather than defend the powerless, Be dressed for action with your lamps lit.

When Jesus comes knocking, be ready to open the door. When God moves in compassion, be prepared to follow.

It’s one thing to talk about being ready, another to actually do the prep work. The best way is to be able to recognize God at work. You can’t join God if you don’t see God. So rather than focusing on the darkness and the evil and the hatred that get so much of the attention around us, we can also look for the mercy, the compassion, the kindness, the efforts to bring peace and reconciliation that are happening right now. Watch for those, pay attention. God is doing this all around us—we need to see them.

So that we can be ready to join God in them.

To help us be dressed for action with our lamps lit, we have Looking for God booklets today. This is an idea from my friend Alexa Schroeder from Sky Ranch. I encourage you to pick one up and use it. It’s quite simple: each page has a different characteristic of God on it. Each day you watch for that characteristic happening, and you jot it down. For instance, day 1 is “Joyfulness.” On day 1 watch for something joyful, because that is God at work. Perhaps you can even join God in bringing joy to someone else that day. It’s amazing that when you’re looking for something you begin to see it. Being dressed for action with our lamps lit starts very simply. Watch for Jesus.

We had 12 kids watching for camp to begin. They knew it was happening so they could be ready.

We are people who are watching for God in action. We can know it’s happening so we can be ready.

God is at work in our world. God invites us to join in. Get ready. Be dressed for action with your lamps lit.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2016 in Sermon

 

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When Faith Fails (Mark 13:1-8)

With the attacks in Paris, as well as Baghdad, The West Bank, Beirut, Cameroon Chad, Egypt (just in November), I have to admit my faith is challenged. I am not sure what God is doing in the midst of such violence and evil. And I imagine I’m not alone in that. For each of us, there are times when we discover that our faith just isn’t big enough to wrap around what’s happening in our lives and explain where God is and what God is doing. Sometimes, in the face of new life experiences or new difficulties, we are forced into the realization that our faith isn’t working.

What do you do then?

Sometimes we try to force our complex life into a small faith container. Even though our life matures, our faith remains childish. We ignore life and cling to an immature and unreal faith.

Sometimes we see our faith can’t hold the realities of our life and so we throw out the whole concept of God and of church. We ignore faith and cling to the realities of life.

Sometimes we tweak our faith just enough to allow parts of our life to fit into it. Then both our faith and our lives are unsatisfactory.

But I think here in the church, we need to be honest—sometimes our faith just isn’t good enough. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. Sometimes it seems like our faith isn’t trustworthy. And sometimes we’re right.

Our faith in God is really like the stones of the temple in this gospel reading. The bricks and mortar of the temple reveal God’s presence. The temple is trustworthy. We can see it and feel it. As long as it’s there, we trust God is near. Isn’t that how our faith works? As long as we have faith, we can trust God is near. So we depend of the physical temple. We depend on our faith. We put faith in our faith.

But what happens when the temple is destroyed? What happens if our faith no longer works? How do we know God is near? How do we trust what God may be doing?

Like the temple, our faith isn’t the most important thing. It’s not our ability to trust in God that counts—it’s actually God that counts. We can get so caught up trusting our faith is that we don’t realize God is trustworthy, whether our faith is working for us or not.

Our faith isn’t sacred. Our faith doesn’t save us, it doesn’t comfort us, it doesn’t love us. God does those things. Faith is merely a recognition of that.

As your life has changed, has your faith changed? Have the difficulties of your life challenged your faith? What was the situation that made your realize your faith wasn’t working?

  • Death/illness?
  • Loss of job or income or financial security?
  • End of a relationship?
  • A church that wouldn’t answer your questions or judged you for asking them?

Wherever it is that our faith in God fails us, the reality of God steps in. If our faith can’t sustain us, God can. Our faith doesn’t conquer death, God does. Our faith isn’t divine, God is. Our faith doesn’t hold us and comfort us and love us, God does.

So if your faith is not enough for you, if it’s failing you, if it cannot provide what you need in your life, good. Quit relying on it. God is there. And regardless of your faith, God is sustaining you and holding you and loving you and walking with you. Especially if you doubt it. Especially if you can’t see it or understand it. Especially if you don’t believe it. Especially if you have no faith in it.

In this gospel text, Jesus goes on to warn the disciples not to get all caught up in signs of the destruction of the temple. Don’t get all excited about wars and earthquakes. Don’t be distracted by people claiming to have truth. How easy it is to focus on that stuff! Because the temptation is to see those things, hear those things and then trust in those things. But they cannot sustain us any more than our faith can. At their absolute best, the most they can do is remind us that God is actually near and is still at work in our lives.

Even if you pay attention to signs and wonders, exciting philosophies and thoughts, new discoveries and ancient wisdoms, that doesn’t change who Christ is or how he walks with you. Even if your faith evolves and changes, is renewed and refreshed, is torn down and built up anew, that doesn’t affect how much God loves you.

If you can’t believe that today, don’t worry about it; that’s OK. There are others here who can continue to remind you of God’s grace and love. They can love you with God’s love, walk alongside you with God’s presence, they can trust God’s mercy for you.

Maybe your life has outpaced your faith right now. But it hasn’t outpaced God. You may not be able to trust your faith, but you can trust that you are loved, you are forgiven, you are not alone. Because Christ is really here for you. Christ is here for Paris, Baghdad, Israel, Palestine, Cameroon, Chad, and Egypt. Christ is with you. We are here with you too.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Why is the Church Here? (Mark 12:38-44)

 

What do you think of the poor widow in this text giving away everything she has to live on? Is she someone we should emulate? Is she a model of stewardship? Should we feel guilty if we don’t give away everything we have? Is she just being irresponsible?

Notice that Jesus doesn’t commend her for contributing all she had to live on, nor does he tell his disciples to “go and do likewise.” Why she gives away everything isn’t actually the point here.

The first part of this text, in fact, this whole section of Mark’s gospel, is an escalation of the conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities (scribes and pharisees). The reason why this conflict is escalating is really the point. This poor widow stands in stark contratst to the scribes.

Scribes are denounced by Jesus because the way they are on the inside of a temple system that benefits them. They’re not stealing or anything. The customs and rules of the temple have been in place for centuries. There were 13 “trumpets” for offerings in one of the courtyards. They funded the running of the temple, made it convenient for sacrifices, helped the poor, and so on. The scribes aren’t doing anything unexpected, illegal, or dishonest. They are doing what everyone knows the temple has always done. It’s not their fault that it works for them. They just want respect, best seats, places of honor, look good to others (long robes and long prayers). Since it works for them, they don’t want this temple setup to change.

The contrast Jesus makes is between the scribes who are part of a temple where their needs are met vs. the poor widow who is on the outside edge of the temple community but whose needs are not met, and yet still gives all she has.

The deeper question Jesus is asking is, “Why is the temple here, and whose needs are being met by it?” And he has a problem with the answer, because even though the temple is a community of God’s people for God’s work, that’s not what is happening. It’s a system that sustains those on the inside, the scribes and Pharisees, while virtually ignoring the needs of people like this poor widow. Of course the scribes are most comfortable with it. It’s working for them! Instead of caring about this poor widow, the scribes are more concerned with maintaining a church system that meets their needs.

Oh, those nasty scribes! How dare they?! It’s so easy to judge them, because we are nothing like them! Right? . . .

Can you guess where I’m going here? How many of us, when looking for a church or critiquing a church, ask the question, “What does this church offer me? How can it benefit me? What can it meet the needs of my family?” and use that answer to evaluate that church? If I’m not getting what I want in one church, I’ll check out another one that will give it to me.

Again, Jesus asks the deeper question, “Why is the church here, and whose needs are being met by it?”

Jesus has been, and is now, leading up to a total denouncing of the temple system because those who are inside are the ones who benefit. Rather than using the temple to serve others in God’s name, the scribes use it for their own comfort and benefit, to meet their own needs.

So I wonder, why are we here in this place? What’s our primary concern about whose needs should be met by this church?

Jesus makes it very plain that he and the community of his disciples are here first for those outside, those on the margins, the poor, the lost, the helpless. We, as followers of Jesus, are gathered together by the Holy Spirit not primarily for ourselves but for those Jesus came to serve. If we, and our families, and our friends, are the primary beneficiaries of our own congregational system, we will be continually disappointed and frustrated in the church. Because that’s not the core identity of the church, not what the church is here for. Jesus is calling us to something else–a life in which we are not the center. We are called to give ourselves away. Our whole lives. For the sake of those the rest of the world disregards.

What would be different if that whole temple system was set up to meet the needs of people like this poor widow who has nothing—no income, no support, no security? What if she was the primary beneficiary rather than those inside?

That’s where Jesus’ conflict with the scribes and Pharisees is leading him. Jesus challenges systems that aren’t serving others. He calls out religious people, acting in God’s name, who believe the church should primarily benefit themselves. Jesus keeps trying, over and over, to get his disciples to see this. This is what God is about. This is what the Jesus community exists for.

If there’s any conflict in the church today, it’s over the same thing. Does the church primarily exist to serve its members, or does it primarily exist to serve the world Jesus died to save?

LCM is at a perfect point, right now, to clarify our answer that question. Why is the church here? Why is LCM here? For those of us on the inside of this church, whose needs should be considered first?

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2015 in Sermon

 

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