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“Jesus is Too Divisive” (August 18, 2019)

Luke 12:49-56

[Jesus said to his disciples,] “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

There’s a lot in this brief text this morning. There’s fire, baptism, stress, weather reports, accusations of hypocrisy, and seeing signs of the times. But my guess is that what most of us hear today in this text isn’t any of those things. It’s probably Jesus saying, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

I heard someone say recently that they are part of a Christian Bluegrass band, and they had a gig at a local bar one night. After playing a few songs, the manager asked if all their songs were about Jesus. “Well, yeah, it’s kind of a beer-and-hymns sort of idea.” They were then asked to pack up and leave the bar because, as the manager said, “Jesus is too divisive.”

Now, understand that Jesus isn’t saying it’s his goal to be divisive. Just that that’s sometimes the reality when the Reign of God is shown. Jesus isn’t saying it’s his goal to oppose peace. Just that people’s reaction to the presence of the Reign of God isn’t always peaceful.

See if that isn’t true. The Reign of God is present anytime and anyplace where the character of God is evident. Any time someone exhibits God’s over-the-top compassion, anytime someone gives with God’s extravagant generosity, any place where someone grants God’s never-ending forgiveness, anywhere that someone is loved with God’s unconditional love. Try doing that and see how divisive it can be.

What would happen if someone tried to exhibit God’s generosity with our tax dollars, or God’s compassion with our immigration laws? I’m not talking about agreement; I’m talking about the division that would result.

Or what happened right here in Lakewood when the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless tried to build housing on Federal land? Again, put aside whether it was a good idea or not, I’m just talking about the divisive way people responded. It largely wasn’t a conversation about whether this was the best way to provide housing for people who are homeless. It was just met with division. Those meeting certainly weren’t peaceful.

Even when the church reveals the Reign of God, it can be divisive. The ELCA in assembly last week voted to become a “sanctuary church body.” Even though this stance doesn’t call anyone to do anything illegal, just that we are publicly declaring that for us as Lutherans, walking alongside immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers is a matter of faith—a matter of following Jesus; a matter of the Reign of God. And the response by some media outlets was quite divisive.

So Jesus is stating reality here—that the response to the Reign of God can be divisive. Here’s why he says it. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is not meandering like an itinerant preacher, he is intentionally travelling to Jerusalem for almost half the gospel. Because that is where the Reign of God—God’s compassion, love, and forgiveness—will be most prominently revealed. On a cross. In Jerusalem the ultimate division will take place. A very un-peaceful fate awaits him.

So for ten chapters, almost half of Luke’s gospel, Jesus is heading to Jerusalem where he’ll be killed. And all along the way, he’s trying to get his disciples ready to take over this Reign of God work. He is sometimes rude, sometimes abrupt, sometimes extreme. Because this work of God is that important. All the teaching, all the healings, all the signs are to help prepare these disciples for the difficult work that awaits them. Showing God’s kindness and mercy will not always be met with peace. And people will be divided when some of them begin to follow these ways of Jesus. Division is not the goal, but it is the reality. These disciples need to be ready.

This text today is part of that travel narrative where Jesus becomes very direct. Recognizing the Reign of God present in the world is that important. That’s why he turns to the crowds—not just the disciples now, but everyone—and says all that stuff about seeing clouds and knowing it will rain, seeing the wind and knowing it’ll be hot. They’ve got to recognize God’s compassion when they see it, to know God’s all-inclusive love, to be looking for the presence of God’s justice so they can continue the work of revealing it. That’s the hope of the world.

I wonder whenever Luke describes Jesus turning toward the crowds—toward everyone—if he means for that to include us.

So I would ask, do we see the Reign of God? Do we recognize God’s compassion? Are we looking for God’s mercy and love being shown? It’s around us all the time. Right now I can point to 116 incidents of the Reign of God being present. Look at the timeline on the back wall. There are so far, to my count, 116 LCM “Glory Moments,” when some kind of compassion, love, forgiveness, grace, inclusivity were recognized by you in this congregation. Because you experienced them. And what a difference that has made!

That, to me, is astounding. Right here, among us, the Reign of God is revealed in ways that Jesus describes and points to. God’s compassion and love make us new, and for Jesus, that is the highest priority. And in order to provide those things to you, Jesus is willing to risk division. For your sake. To change your life. To make you new.

How can that not give hope to the world? How can we, who are the recipients of the Reign of God, not be part of revealing this to change the world? Even though it won’t be smooth, easy, or even harmonious, there’s nothing more important. It is the hope of the world.

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Posted by on August 19, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Just One Step (August 11, 2019)

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.”

You’re at the Dr’s office for some testing and you’re already nervous with all the needles and gadgets and probey things. Then you hear the technician say as she grabs something that looks amazingly like a circular saw, “You might feel a little pressure.” You know what’s coming. Or you’re at the dentist’s office and through your trembling you hear the dentist say, “You may experience slight discomfort.” Grab the arms of the chair and hold on.

That’s the same sense I sometimes get when I hear Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid,” which he does a bunch of times, including today. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Uh-oh. Look out for whatever is coming next. Sure enough, here it comes, “Sell your possessions, and give alms.” Which is specifically giving to the poor. Not just an offering in church. Really, Jesus?

Why would anyone voluntarily follow Jesus in doing things like this? If the whole world did that, that would be one thing, but I don’t know anyone who actually does that. Sure, we all give away some of our excess, but that isn’t the same thing. It seems we’re always holding back, not fully following Jesus. It’s like an old boss I used to have when I worked in a lamp store in Salt Lake City, who said she had enough faith to walk on water like Jesus, just as long as the water was shallow. You know, just in case.

Here we have a straightforward teaching by Jesus about our relationship with God. So why is it that we reject even this clear answer and keep trying other, safer ways—water that isn’t so deep? Why are we so hesitant to follow him when he’s quite clear what following him means and choose instead to stay in the shallow water? Just in case.

Lots of reasons, all of which we believe are very good, I’m sure. At least my reasons are—I don’t know about yours.

So, how about this. How about we each admit where we are, and that we’re still trying to stay away from the deep water of following Jesus all the way. And then, we commit to taking a step toward following Jesus into deeper water. Just one step. “Do not be afraid, little flock,” he says. God has already committed the whole kingdom to you.

What would that one step look like for you? Just a step into deeper water following Christ. What would be one step toward living Christ’s love in the world, especially toward those who are hard to love? One step closer. It could be as simple as an act of kindness toward someone you dislike. “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

What would be one step toward showing Christ’s compassion, especially to those who simply make you angry? One step closer. Maybe praying for God to move you to forgive someone who’s offended you. “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

What would be one step toward including those who Christ includes, especially those who are so different they make you uncomfortable? One step closer. How about learning a song by someone from a different ethnic background. “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

What would be one step toward expressing Christ’s generosity, especially if you have to change your lifestyle to do it? Just one step closer. With our “Building to Share” capital campaign coming up, consider how you can help to make this building more attractive and accessible for more ministry. “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

What would be one step toward establishing Christ’s justice, especially if you risk alienating some of your friends? One step closer. Listen to and believe the stories of Latino refugees or African Americans who are telling us hatred and racism are everyday realities. “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

“For it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God’s generosity, compassion, love, forgiveness, and justice are already yours. Gladly and fully. God eagerly wants to pour those things that are the kingdom over you, immersing you in them. God’s pleasure is to saturate you in love and compassion and grace. Nothing makes God happier than giving this kingdom to you.

We no longer have to be afraid to live as part of God’s kingdom right now. We can freely and joyfully live the same way in this world. One step today. One step into God’s joy. One step with Jesus into the deeper water of compassion and love.

“Do not be afraid, little flock. For it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Just one step closer. One step in discipleship. One step in widening the circle of who’s welcomed. One step in sharing love and compassion. One step toward justice. Have no fear, little flock.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2019 in Sermon

 

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“‘You Should Start Spreading Peace Around the Neighborhood,’ She Encouraged” (July 7, 2019)

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ . . .
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” 17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Jesus has gathered these 70 followers, equipped them in his teaching and healing, and now is sending them into the neighborhoods where he himself has plans.

That’s still what Jesus is doing: gathering, equipping, and sending. It happens every Sunday. He gathers us together in God’s presence, he equips us by meeting us in word and sacrament, and then he sends us out into the neighborhood where Jesus himself has plans. Us. Each of us. All of us. We talk a lot as Lutherans about being a word and sacrament church, but we are just as much a gathered and sent church. Those four parts make up the entirety of our Sunday worship experience: we’re gathered, we’re equipped through word and sacrament, and then we are sent. Every week. Every time.

Now, we tend to think of being part of this “gather, word, sacrament, sent” church community as an extra thing we add into our real, regular lives. Sometimes it’s a struggle to create time for church apart from all the necessary things we’re already committed to. But Jesus seems to be saying it’s the other way around. What we generally think of as our “real life” is actually just the places where he is sending us as his followers.

Have you thought about it that way? Your job is where Jesus sends you as his follower. School, soccer, community involvement are the places you are sent by Jesus.

And in this text there are just a few things he is sending us to do there: Bring peace, cure the sick, and let them know that the kingdom of God is right there. That close. Those things: peace, care, a glimpse of God’s love and compassion.

The thing is, again according to Jesus, we’re already fully equipped to do these things. We don’t have to bring purse, bag, sandals. All the stuff where we think we’re inadequate. We are enough. Just as we are. We don’t have to bring vast biblical knowledge, impeccable theology, debating skills, or even the perception that we have everything in our lives all put together. No. Right now, Jesus has already equipped us with peace, care, and with God’s own love and compassion. Bring that. Do that. That’s why we’re gathered here. That’s why we’re equipped in the presence of Christ, so we can be sent. It’s like this.

Peace.Walk_Rochester.NYMay 30, 2019 08:21 AM ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — After violence forced kids to stay inside and off the playground, the children decided to fight back with messages of peace. . . .

“We’ll be walking, holding signs up we’re making now, saying we want peace,” explained 8-year-old De’Shawn Isidore.

It’s a simple message: keep kids safe, let them play. 

After a string of shootings in 2013 kept the kids indoors and unable to play safely in their own neighborhood, the Peace Walk was formed. 

The walk will take place Thursday, May 30 at 4:30 p.m. along Lyell Avenue, a neighborhood that has one of the highest rates of crime in the City of Rochester. . . .

Addison Washington, 10, hopes everyone in the city pays attention.

“You should start spreading peace around the neighborhood,” she encouraged.

Kaylee Vo, 11, agreed, saying, “no more violence, no more kids getting hurt, no more kids dying.”

Their little voices want to make a big difference.[1]

That’s what being sent by Jesus looks like. They felt sent to bring peace to their neighborhood. They showed their neighbors a glimpse of the love of God, it was so close the neighborhood could almost taste it that day.

What would that look like in our neighborhood?

Congregationally, one way we do it in this neighborhood is with the free use of our building by our neighbors. Over 400 people utilized this building just in June (which begins a summer slump!). Literally tons of food, clothing, school and household items to TheActionCenter. We’ve begun a ministry of accompaniment with GMES Refugee and Asylee families.

We do things that make a difference. But what would it look like if together, the entirety of this congregation poured our whole hearts into bringing peace, care, and a glimpse of God’s love and compassion in some specific way to Green Mountain? Those children in Rochester changed a neighborhood in one fell swoop. How would the neighborhood around this property be different if we took seriously that we as LCM are sent here?

For example, here’s an idea: The Samaritan Ministry has encouraged us to read Helen Thorpe’s book, “The Newcomers,” about the challenges faced by young refugees adjusting to life in the US. We also have a ministry that provides support to refugee families at GMES. So we have a beginning. But have we considered the possibility that we are sent by Jesus to bring peace, care, and God’s love/compassion to every refugee household around us? What if we took that on for a year? Partnering with LIRS and with IRC and making sure every refugee household in Green Mountain (or beyond?) is held by us in authentic peace, love, and compassion.

How could each of us be part of this being sent to local refugees? That whole relationship thing from Jesus about being sent to their homes and eating what they eat takes on new meaning!

We have been gathered, we are being equipped, and at the end of this service we’ll be sent—by Jesus—to bring peace, care, and a glimpse of God’s love and compassion into the neighborhood. Are you ready?

[1] https://www.whec.com/news/peace-walk-local-kids-march-for-peace-right-to-play-in-safe-neighborhood/5371452/

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Who are Your Favorites? (February 17, 2019)

Luke 6:17-26

[Jesus] came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

There is a major theme throughout the gospel of Luke. Everywhere in this gospel God is lifting up those who are low, revealing God’s loving intentions for the poor, the hungry, and the powerless. We can see God’s vision all through this gospel. We can really hear God compassion for those the world excludes and looks down on. In this gospel, the author is clear that the low are lifted up and those up high are brought down. Everyone is level, even. Those who think they are God’s favorites discover they aren’t, and those who think they are far from God discover they aren’t.

Unlike Matthew’s “sermon on the mount,” in today’s text Luke deliberately has Jesus doing this “Beatitude-like” teaching on a level place. Luke has everyone at the same level.

The author spells it out, making it very clear. Those who are poor, those who are hungry, those who are weeping, and those who are hated and excluded are blessed by God. Regardless of what others say, they aren’t lower. They aren’t despised. They are loved and included and welcomed and valued. Just as much as those whom everyone thinks are favored.

The playing field is level. Good news, right? Well, think about that, because the implications of a level playing field affect us more than we may believe. It goes in all kinds of different directions and extends into parts of our lives that we hadn’t considered before.

Not only is the man who stands at the intersection with a cardboard sign and a mental illness just as beloved by God as I am, but it goes beyond that. Beyond those who are socioeconomically low. It also means that those whose theology I despise, those who use the holy name of Jesus in abhorrent ways, those who abuse and twist and distort this life-giving gospel message for profit and their own agendas, those who give Christianity a black eye, are beloved to God. And that’s hard to hear.

That means God favors Pat Robertson, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Marilyn Hickey, Franklin Graham, T.D. Jakes, Beth Moore, Joel Osteen, and rest of them just as much as God favors Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, the apostles, Mary Magdalene, all those who are deliberate about revealing the living, resurrected Christ in our world.

This level field of God’s favor applies everywhere. Including political figures and parties, business and non-profit, race and ethnicity, gender identity and sexual identity, citizen status and documentation. Those who are low or ignored or hated or treated unfairly are favored by God.

It’s one thing to acknowledge that, but it also means they have to be favored by me, too. As a disciple of this Jesus who taught about levelling the field on a level place, I need to acknowledge the presence of Christ in each of these people. In all of these people. Those who are not favored by me are nonetheless blessed by God. And I need to deal with that. If not, then I’m included in the “woe to them” part of this gospel text.

This level, lack of favoritism by God extends beyond that even. It also means that those the world seems to favor, e.g., the rich, the powerful, the popular, the good-looking, the healthy are not favored by God over me. There are those people who just seem to have everything put together. They’re gifted, talented, intelligent, good incomes, have well-behaved children, they’re respected in their field, never sick, have yet to experience hardship—even the death of a loved one. And I know everyone has their issues and it’s not fair to generalize, but it does seem that a few people already have a leg up on life. We call them blessed, we think of them as favored—if not by God then certainly by everyone else.

Jesus’ teaching and example on the level place today says that as far as God’s compassion and love, they have no advantage at all. Luke uses the language of “woes,” meaning these who seem to have everything need to recognize, too, that none of that matters to God.

Those at the top, those we look up to, those who have all the luck, those who are constantly fortunate, those who are our heroes, they are not that way because they are closer to God.

And those at the bottom, who can’t catch a break, who fight and scratch every day to pay rent, who live in fear of the next catastrophe that will put them over the edge, who struggle to gain some kind of acknowledgment that they are present and valuable, they are not that way because they are further from God.

God’s care, God’s compassion, God’s grace all rain down equally on everyone—regardless of how much value the world places on them.

But like rain, God’s mercy and justice, though it falls on everyone, still flows down and pools in the lowest places. Some days that’s you. Some days it’s not.

This major theme of levelling in the gospel of Luke becomes real for us in the church. That which God does, we do also. Those who are at the bottom today, need us the most today. Those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and excluded today are to be cared for, fed, comforted, and welcomed today. Those who think they are God’s favorites discover they aren’t, and those who think they are far from God discover they aren’t. As Christ lives, may he live through us.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 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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“Get Used to the Disruption” (January 28, 2018)

Mark 1:21-28

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found myself reading this rather dramatic text pretty casually. Jesus teaches in the synagogue, everyone’s amazed, then he casts out a demon during worship, and he becomes famous. Like all this is no big deal.

But imagine that happening here, today. Say we have a guest preacher who knocks your socks off. Everyone here says, “Wow! This is amazing! She preaches like nothing we’ve ever heard before, not like Pastor Rob! This is astounding!

OK, so far? Now one of you, who is part of this congregation, shouts at her during worship. “Are you here to destroy us? I know who you are!” Then our guest preacher, still in the middle of worship, shouts back, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” Then the one of you who started this whole thing has a seizure and starts screaming.

Do you think things would just continue as normal in that synagogue after that? You can’t ignore those events. The normal, peaceful, status quo of that synagogue has been disrupted—probably forever!

This is pretty dramatic stuff. But in Mark, it’s just the beginning. This is only halfway through the first chapter! Jesus is just getting started here.

But just getting started with what?

Here’s the first chapter of Mark in a nutshell: Jesus is baptized, goes into the wilderness, calls four disciples, –this text: preaches one sermon and casts out a demon, then –next week: heals Simon’s mother-in-law and a bunch of other people, then heals a leper.

These aren’t just random healings. These begin a systematic pattern of disruption in all these communities. And each event is followed by a hint at the disruption that follows. Come back for the next few weeks and follow this—how Jesus comes and disrupts everything. Everything.

And this is just chapter one.

I’m thinking that even though it may start slowly, when Jesus shows up things are disrupted. The status quo cannot survive with Jesus. Things get turned upside down. One sermon and one demon. And an entire synagogue is turned upside down. Jesus is just ramping up.

Remember last week how Jesus began his ministry? Right before he called Simon, Andrew, James, and John to fish for people? He said one sentence, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” That’s what Jesus is doing: bringing the kingdom of God into our world. And the kingdom of God disrupts everything. It turns everything upside down. Not for its own sake, but because the reign of God is so different than what we’re used to. God operates much differently than us.

Think again about what happened in this text today happened here. A member of the congregation is demon-possessed and this new guest preacher causes a ruckus casting the demon out. For Jesus, that is the new normal for worship. No longer a peaceful, quiet liturgy where everything is nicely projected on screens because that’s how they planned it several weeks ago. Nope. Now it’s more about casting out demons and shouting.

How would you react? Some of us may be upset by the unruly behavior. Others of us might respond by looking around and wondering who else is demon-possessed. We might become frightened to show up because we might be sitting next to someone who doesn’t match our description of a church-goer. Church is supposed to be quiet and peaceful, a sanctuary from the chaos of the world.

But others might invite our demon-possessed friends because Jesus has turned this is into a place of healing and wholeness. Then we become a congregation filled with spiritually unhealthy people who happen to be seeking something better, something new, something life-giving.

How awful, right?

I heard a story of church disrupted by Jesus, told by Prof. Nate Frambach of Wartburg Seminary at a conference retreat this week. I share it because it’s a good example of the kind of disruption Jesus brings.

Nate visited a Lutheran church called “Solomon’s Porch” in Minneapolis. During worship a man got up and shared his story. “I’m a meth addict,” he began. Then he told how one day, strung out, he wandered into Solomon’s Porch because there was a light on and he could smell coffee. There was food and he began stuffing his mouth and his pockets intending to make a quick getaway before anyone knew he was stealing food.

Suddenly, a man appeared next to him. Oh, no, he thought. I’m caught. Yet the man offered his hand and told him to help himself to more food and coffee. “Anything else you need” he asked? “There’s more.” Then he let him know he was welcome to stay for worship if he wanted. He didn’t.

Week after week this happened.

One day, the addict, when asked again by the man if there was anything else he could get for him, ‘fessed up that he was there just taking advantage of them. He was a meth addict and was only coming for free food and coffee.

I know, the other man said. I knew you were strung out the first time I laid eyes on you.

How? The addict asked.

How do you think I found this place? I was you a year ago. I would come in here strung out and someone offered me food and coffee. I was overwhelmed by the compassion, and eventually I stayed.

Sounds to me like Jesus showed up there and disrupted their church a while ago, don’t you think? That’s what Jesus does. Today, he’s disrupting the church. Tomorrow there’s more. And he’s just getting started. I think we better get used to the disruption. The kingdom of God has come near.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2018 in Sermon

 

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God’s Work, Our Hands (September 10, 2017)

Matthew 18:15-20

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

 

Like so many other passages in the Bible, this one has the potential to be misused—even abused—by those trust not in Jesus but instead in a clear-cut formula for good discipleship. I’ve seen this passage on conflict resolution in the church used to kick people out, to exclude, to justify holding grudges against some who disagree, to isolate people from the rest of their church community.

If they get called out on this very un-Christ-like behavior, the reply is always, “But I followed the steps in Matthew 18! That makes it right!”

The Bible is a funny thing. It is an amazing gift of loving grace, yet can easily be used to justify truly hateful actions.

 

The same with this text. This isn’t a stand alone roadmap for dealing with people we may find offensive. It’s part of a larger section where Jesus teaches the priorities of the what Matthew calls the “kingdom of heaven.” Feed the hungry, forgive the sinner, include the outcast, use your power on behalf of those who have none.

In other words, the kingdom of heaven is showing God’s love and compassion in this world.

This section on dealing with difficulty within the church is a continuation of that same theme. In order to defend the interests of the least in our world, we have to be clear about that within the church too. We don’t kick people out for being sinners or having faults. We embrace them and include them and listen to them and treat them.

 

Whenever we turn scripture into a clear formula for discipleship, we’ve already missed the point. Discipleship is trusting and following Jesus, not trusting and following a series of steps or a formula. The kingdom of heaven isn’t like chemistry or math. There are no set formulas that, if we follow them, will give us the right discipleship answer. Rather, the kingdom of heaven is kind of like giving us a pile of crayons and Legos and string and saying, “Show God’s love.”

Jesus’ intention in most of Matthew is that we’re all in this kingdom of heaven thing together, not so that we can be lifted up above others, or push others down below us. But so that we can help each other love the world. Discipleship is how we love the world together, not how closely we can follow a righteousness formula.

This series of reconciliation steps in this text has more to do with overcoming the obstacles that come from living within a community. We do that so we can love the world better. It really has very little to do with knowing when to kick someone out of the church. We love the world better as a community than individually. This text reminds us that showing the kingdom of heaven in the world is what we need to keep foremost in mind.

So what about the binding and loosing part? “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Anyone ever struggle with what that means? Alright! Jesus says I can forgive anyone I want, or send anyone who bugs me into eternal hellfire and damnation! Whoopee! This power is awesome!

Uhmm… Maybe we need to take another look in the context of what’s happening in Matthew’s gospel.

Matthew records Jesus spending several chapters leading up to this one trying to explain the “kingdom of heaven.” Nobody gets it, but essentially it’s the job of his disciples to recognize the kingdom of heaven is present whenever God’s unconditional love and compassion show up. Even when they don’t always make sense in this world. His disciples are those that strive to reveal that kingdom of heaven everywhere and to everyone.

What we do here in this life on earth should reflect this kingdom of heaven. So, of course, we want to stick close to those things and those people that help us. We attach ourselves—bind ourselves—to those things. And we stay away from—loose from us—those things that deter us from those things.

Today, throughout the ELCA, we are participating in “God’s Work, Our Hands” Sunday. A day where we, all of us Lutherans together in one big ol’ community, bind ourselves to acts of service, compassion, and love. We do so because bringing love and service into our communities reveals the kingdom of heaven there. We get to join in, participate with God in kingdom of heaven work. Matthew’s Jesus would be really happy!

We’ve done this in a whole lot of different ways over the years. This year is a different way of showing God’s love and compassion still.

Neighborhood service through local government. How wonderful it would be if participants in city, county, and state governments had the kingdom of heaven foremost in their hearts and minds. This is different than having a Christian government. What we’re striving for is some people, who feel called to do so, have a kingdom of heaven perspective—God’s love and compassion—as one of the voices present when information is gathered, service is done, or decisions are made among us.

As we do this together—this revealing and participating in the compassionate kingdom of heaven, because, as Jesus says, even if it’s only two or three of us—Jesus is there among us.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2017 in Sermon

 

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