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A Very Secure Investment (September 22, 2019)

Luke 16:1-13

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?’ He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Let’s cut to the chase here. This is a hard parable. Jesus is saying that if the priority of our lives attaining money makes for a more fragile and more vulnerable life than most of us realize. If our lives are centered on making sure we are financially secure in order to provide a good life, what happens if we discover an inoperable tumor? All that wealth doesn’t change that. We may have money for retirement, but what if there are no golden years to enjoy? Ultimately, our finances can’t be trusted.

I don’t mean to be a downer, but since that’s true, then there has to be something deeper to life than finances. “Success” has to be defined by something other than economics.

One of cruelest lessons of life is that our economy doesn’t care about us, the quality of our lives, our sick children, or our leaky roofs. The bottom line of our economic world is that the bottom line is the only line that matters. From an economic perspective, every one of us is expendable.

Yet, it is still the way we approach our world; still the primary view we have. We center our lives on being able to take care of our own individual financial security. That is the lens through which we see life. That’s how we measure our success: do we have enough wealth to believe we are secure? And this perspective, this way we look at our lives, this approach we have to living is impersonal, sometimes cruel, and pits us against one as we compete for financial resources. What’s more, seeing our world from this economic definition disconnects us from each other because it encourages me to take care of myself and, well, good luck to you. I hope you do OK. If you need help, maybe there’s some charity for you or someone with some extra cash that feels sorry for you. But really, in this worldview, we’re each on our own. Securing our individual security through wealth is the opposite of how Jesus reveals God’s intention for our lives.

That view of individual financial security is exactly the perspective of this dishonest manager in Jesus’ parable today. He was using his position as manager of a wealthy master’s estate to take care of himself financially; though it was at the expense of others in the community. He was doing it dishonestly somehow—we don’t have the details of that. But he got caught by his master, the rich man in the parable.

Without his economic security, his means of making a living, his economic worldview is revealed as lacking. He realizes that he isn’t equipped to secure his financial future any other way than the way he’s been doing it. He can’t do physical labor. He ashamed to beg from his neighbors. He’s at a loss as to what to do.

This is the turning point of this parable. Though he was stealing from his master, what he does next is commended by the rich man. He turns to those in the community who owe his master money. He reduces their debt. His master commends his shrewdness, better translated as wisdom.

What was so wise about that? The lens through which he had been viewing the world shattered. He could no longer accomplish the primary goal of securing wealth for himself—provide for himself and his family. That is no longer possible.

So because he can no longer invest in his own financial security, by reducing their debt he invests in his neighbors’ financial security. That’s the wisdom, that’s the shift in thinking. That’s the new perspective. He will no longer be able to survive if he’s only out for himself. In order to live he now has to throw his lot in with his neighbors. His worldview has been forced away from “taking care of myself and good luck to you” and instead he’s realized “we’re in this thing together. As a community, we sink or swim together. My fate, my security, is actually tied to yours.” That is the wisdom Jesus lifts up. Though dishonest, this slave now understands security—God’s way. Not through taking care of himself, but taking care of others.

Now remember, this isn’t an historical event. It’s a parable, so Jesus is making a point here. He’s exposing the fallacy of believing that we can secure our lives through our finances. I heard someone say that the big lie of 400 years of American Christianity is that we believe we can serve both God and wealth. We cannot. We cannot serve a Triune God whose very nature is interdependent community while at the same time separating ourselves for our own security. We can’t do both. We still try, but Jesus calls us out on it.

He points out the truth that security-from-wealth is an illusion. Genuine security comes from trusting and connecting to a community. That’s the wisdom this dishonest manager now understands. The best way to achieve security is to work for the wellbeing of our neighbors, to recognize that when life takes us beyond our financial ability to fix it, the relationships we’ve invested in are what will hold us. If we are only looking out for ourselves and our own security while our neighbors are being hurt, being detained, being separated from family, being oppressed, and being shot, we are setting ourselves up for misery. Because according to the very nature of God, our fates are tied together—the richest and the poorest together. If one part of our body has cancer, the whole body is in danger. If one part of our human community is suffering, all of us are at risk.

So, yeah, this is a hard parable. Not because we can’t understand it, but because we can. We either trust in our ability to gain wealth to save us or we trust in God. Money is fine—even necessary. Let’s use it to invest in each other, in our neighborhood, in the human community. For in each other is where our security truly lies.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 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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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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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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