Tag Archives: compassion

Power Doesn’t Bring Victory (June 25, 2017)

Matthew 10:24-39

“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

I was one of those kids who got bullied a lot in elementary and middle school. I was the shy, passive, skinny, band geek who wore big glasses and got good grades and wasn’t good in sports. In those days, that was a perfect recipe for being picked on. I believed, at the time, that I had two choices: either fight back, fighting power with more power, or run away, avoiding the power altogether. I rarely did the first, and became very good at the second.

Jesus is talking to me in this text. Because both of my choices in response to the power of bullies were responses to their power. Either I got more power (learn how to beat them up) or be frightened by their power (run away). But what Jesus is actually saying here is that power isn’t relevant. In the kingdom of heaven, power doesn’t bring victory. Only love and compassion do.

He’s been pretty clear with his disciples up until now. You have the authority, he says as he’s sending them out, to love with God’s love and to show God’s compassion to those you meet. Start with your neighbors, and show them what the kingdom of heaven looks like. It looks like healing, like kindness, like removing obstacles in their lives, like lifting them up. You have the authority to do that. So go do it.

He continues today by recognizing that showing the compassion of God in the face of those who use power has consequences. Don’t worry about that, he says. When you follow me, you love your enemies and you show compassion to those around you. This won’t be easy. Those who use power to win may not respond well. Follow me in love anyway. Some may turn against you. Even if they’re in your own family. Follow me to show compassion anyway. In the kingdom of heaven, power doesn’t bring victory. Only love and compassion do.

You don’t have to be afraid of those who use power, he says. They cannot affect your soul, he says. You don’t have to be afraid, because God, who knows every sparrow that falls, loves you. God knows how many hairs are on your head, and says you are valuable to God. So it’s God you pay attention to. It’s God’s kingdom you reveal in the world. Because God, who created the heavens and the earth, is with you and loves you and knows how valuable you actually are. So we don’t have to be afraid of those who use power to win. Because their power doesn’t matter to God. In the kingdom of heaven, power doesn’t bring victory. Only love and compassion do.

We may understand that, but it doesn’t make it easy. And, if we’re honest, I think most of us would admit that following Jesus in into the pits of power armed only with love is not the kind of Christianity we signed up for. Very few of us are Jesus “activists,” marching in Jesus rallies and risking alienation from our loved ones for Jesus’ sake.

This discipleship work is hard stuff, and we can’t afford to start kicking ourselves if we don’t measure up to some arbitrary (and false!) standard we’ve created in our heads. Instead of running away in fear because those who use power might use it against us, we need to lift each other up, and encourage each other, because there will be another opportunity to show compassion. And another one after that. And then another. We aren’t going to follow Jesus to stand with every person in every situation where compassion is called for, but we can follow him into some of them, even though we’ll miss the mark in others.

Rather than feeling bad about the ones we miss, or defending ourselves when we miss them, we need to encourage each other for the next opportunity. Instead of fighting those who use power with more power, we need to remind each other what love looks like. As we do that, the ways in which we follow Jesus become clearer. We can see more opportunities to follow Jesus in love and compassion, and we venture a little further than we did the last time we tried.

What this looks like for me is that I’ve become more vocal about the racism in our culture. Sometimes I can bring compassion into the midst of racists without fighting to win a racist argument. I’m clearer about calling out my own white privilege. I’m more bold in being an outspoken advocate for the LGTBQ community. And I’ve appreciated the support when I am “unfriended” on social media or hear disparaging remarks as a result. I’ve needed the forgiveness offered when I haven’t stood up with love for those who need a voice and a friend. As a result, I’m more likely to follow Jesus further the next time.

Following Jesus isn’t about winning, or being right, defeating those in power, or even using power for good things. It’s about being Christ’s love and Christ’s compassion in the face of those who use power to win. Following Jesus makes for very bad politics but very good discipleship. Because it is love and compassion. In fact, following Jesus, cross and all, is the only way to reveal to the world what the kingdom of heaven looks like. Jesus is pretty clear with us. We have the authority, he says, to love with God’s love and to show God’s compassion to those we meet. No matter the consequences. In the kingdom of heaven, power doesn’t bring victory. Only love and compassion do.

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Posted by on June 26, 2017 in Sermon


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“That’s What Compassion Looks Like” (June 18, 2017)

Matthew 9:35—10:8

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” 10:1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

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.

Jesus gives his apostles their marching orders. He gives them specific instructions on how to go about this mission. “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Proclaim that the kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons. Accept no pay.

What do you think? Are these specific instructions how disciples all over the world and who live centuries later are to go about being part of Jesus’ mission? Don’t go near non-Jews, stay out of towns that aren’t exclusively Jewish, and talk only to Jews? Of course not. We understand these specific instructions are for those twelve in a precise context at a particular time.

So how do we understand our role, our own specifics, in being part of Jesus’ mission? Where do we find that? Where in the Bible do we discover what Jesus calls us to do in our context, in in our time, in our particular circumstances?

I find the answer to that toward the beginning of this text. Jesus is going about cities and villages, but he’s the only one teaching, healing, and so forth. Then, in verse 36, “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless.” It’s at that point that he gathers the twelve disciples together and sends them out to do the same thing he’s been doing: cast out demons, teach, heal and so forth.

The trigger that turns him from doing it alone to recruiting and equipping his disciples to join him is his compassion for those who are stressed, who are worried, who are helpless. In his context, compassion looks like healing and casting out demons—the source of people’s worry and anxiety. Those are the things that keep them without any voice or power. It’s his compassion, recognizing the depth and breadth of people’s anxiety and pain.

The guiding value here isn’t Jesus’ specifics of teaching, healing, or casting out demons. Rather, it’s compassion—noticing the concerns that cause people to throw their hands up in despair, to give up. Stepping in when someone is helpless or vulnerable, especially when it would be easier to look the other way.

The girl who noticed a new classmate seemed sad. When she tried to talk to him, she realized he only spoke Spanish. So she took out her phone and used a translation app to write him a note asking if he wanted to sit with her today. “Look for me at lunch, and I’ll show you where we sit. We can just color or tell scary stories.” That’s what compassion looks like.

The man on the lite rail who noticed another man with his head in his hands, mumbling. When he asked the man if he was ok, the man replied he had a headache and was running late for a job interview. A woman nearby offered him an Advil, but he had no water, so a young mother offered him a juice box. The first man suggested that when the other man got to the interview, to apologize for being late, but offer no excuses. Just walk into the interview tall and tie his hair back if he could. A teenager nearby gave him a hair-tie off her wrist. When the man stepped off the train for his interview, the whole car waved and wished him good luck. That’s what compassion looks like.

Or the grandmother who was new to text messaging and tried to invite her grandchild to Thanksgiving dinner, but entered the wrong number, accidentally inviting a random 17 year old. When they figured out the mistake, the grandma invited him anyway texting, “Of course you can come. That’s what grandmas do . . . feed everyone.” That’s what compassion looks like.

Or this week at VBS, one girl’s first time here and didn’t know anyone.  One the first night and was having a hard time participating, obviously very shy. Another girl in her crew saw it, came over to her and invited her to do the movements to the song together. By the next night, the girl was involved in everything and having a wonderful time. That’s what compassion looks like.

Those are the instructions Jesus gave his disciples. Show compassion. Simply pay attention to those you meet and step in when someone is stressed or defenseless. It’s less about solving the issue and more about simply being there–showing up. Letting someone know they aren’t alone in their helplessness. Going a step beyond what’s easy to accompany another person who is vulnerable.

Those who follow Jesus are sent into their neighborhood simply to do that—show compassion.

Think about where you’re likely to be his week. What would compassion look like in those places, among those people. Recognize that each one of us are called, are equipped, and are sent to those exact places with clear instructions from Jesus himself. Pay attention to those you meet. When you see someone alone or anxious or helpless, step in and walk with them for a few minutes. Le them know someone cares. That’s what Jesus himself did. That’s what he sent his disciples to do. Show compassion.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”

That’s us. We are the disciples who are now being sent to show compassion. As we go, we are already proclaiming the good news, that “the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

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Posted by on June 20, 2017 in Sermon


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Redeeming the Stones (May 14, 2017)

Acts 7:55-60

But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand Image result for beautiful stonesof God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

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.

My Uncle Tom Melville, who was very dear to me, died two weeks ago. He had quite an influence on me as Iwas growing up. He was a missionary priest in Guatemala. He would come to visit us occasionally, and told exotic stories of his adventures in the jungles of Guatemala that kept all of us riveted. Stories of good people who suffered in poverty, their struggle with an oppressive government and powerful landowners, and his efforts to bring fairness and justice into their lives. Things that make the very best stories.

When I was about ten years old, I remember my Uncle Tom no longer being in Guatemala. He and his new wife, my Aunt Marge, had been forced out of Guatemala for opposing the government’s policies that kept the poor in poverty. They were also released from their vows as a priest and a nun.

They had gone from Guatemala to Washington, D.C. In protest of the Vietnam War and the U.S. support of a corrupt government in Guatemala, they, along with seven other people, broke into the selective service office in Catonsville, MD, removed almost 400 military draft records there, took them out into the parking lot, and burned them. All of the “Catonsville Nine,” as they came to be called, then stood in a circle praying and waiting for the police to come and arrest them.

Tom and Marge both served some time in federal prison for that. What I took away from that was that when you act with compassion for others who are powerless to act for themselves, there may be consequences. Rather than back away from acts of compassion for the sake of justice, you act anyway and take the consequences.

So when I read this story in the book of Acts about Stephen, it elicits a similar reaction from me.

Stephen was one of the seven people who were chosen by this fledgling Jesus movement to serve tables and do other tasks. The apostles, then, would be freed up to teach and share what this Jesus movement was all about.

Stephen, however, was pretty good at preaching himself. Some who were in power were upset, accused him of blasphemy, and incited a crowd. He stood up for Christ’s gospel of peace and compassion, and was killed by those who couldn’t see God’s vision in that.

Sometimes, when you act with compassion for others who are powerless to act for themselves, there may be consequences. Rather than back away from acts of compassion for the sake of justice, you act anyway and take the consequences.

All my life I’ve marveled at Stephen, whose convictions were so strong that he was willing to face death rather than back away. I still do, but as I grieve the death of my uncle, something else occurs to me. When you don’t see God’s vision of peace, justice for the least, and compassion, you can easily justify throwing rocks at those who do.

Like Stephen, my uncle faced significant consequences because those in power couldn’t see God’s work of compassion and justice being done by him. We could argue about whether or not his methods produced the best results—the same with Stephen, actually. Still, because they couldn’t/ wouldn’t recognize God, those in power could justify throwing stones.

Think about this: throwing stones is actually anything we say and do that doesn’t support the gospel of peace and compassion. We all throw rocks. We all oppose God’s vision in some ways. And we all justify doing it.

The stoning of Stephen is a big example, but there are all kinds of small ones too. Stones that we constantly tossing at other people or things so we don’t have to see the hard part of God’s vision of justice and love.

Any time I try to gain something for myself at the expense of someone else, I’m throwing a stone at them.

Any time I turn aside when someone else is hungry or hurting or in need, I’m throwing a stone at them.

Any time I’m not hearing the pain or sadness that someone else is speaking, I’m throwing stones at them.

Any time I throw blame, exclude someone who’s different, talk about someone instead of talking to them, put my own comfort and preferences ahead of someone else’s, I’m throwing stones. I’m acting in opposition to the gospel of peace and compassion.

Stones themselves aren’t bad, but we can use stones badly. We have a God who is forgiving and gracious, whose very nature is compassion and redemption. Today, God can redeem our stones of opposition, and allow us to use them instead for God’s vision of peace.

The very stones that were used to kill Stephen could have been used in good and helpful ways. Homes could have been built from those stones. Beautiful sculptures and artwork could have come from those stones. Roads could have been built. Even jewelry could have been made from those stones. They could have been used for beautiful, peaceful, compassionate purposes. They didn’t have to be used to oppose Christ’s gospel of peace with such violence.

We have a pile of stones in the back of the church. When you leave today, take one with you. Consider the many ways it could be used. And in the same way, consider how many different ways our words can be used. How many different actions we can take, how many different behaviors we can exhibit. How many uses there are for our money and resources. All of these can be used to oppose Christ’s gospel, or to reveal it. We have been given a new chance today for the stones of our lives to be part of God’s justice and compassion in the world.

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Posted by on May 14, 2017 in Sermon


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When Compassion is Shown, God Become Visible (June 5, 2016, Pentecost 3 C)

Luke 7:11-17

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town.13When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

This is a story that strikes us as unusual, because people just aren’t raised from the dead very often. Not that we hear about. But it’s not unheard of biblically. Our first reading is one of those times, and there are a few others. Yet always it’s about the glory of God, and the person raising someone from death is proclaimed a prophet of God.

The same with Jesus today. Only to a bigger degree. He raises this man in front of the whole town, it’s public. And their praise of God and proclamation of Jesus as a prophet are louder and longer. Prophets reveal God’s intentions. Jesus reveals God.

Jesus recognizes he is one in whom God becomes visible. He reveals over and over the presence of God, and how God sees the world and how God’s vision is different. He understands that his “job” is to proclaim that God can be seen because God is here, and then show it regardless of the cost. Which means he consistently shows compassion, love, and forgiveness. When compassion is shown, God becomes visible.

So it’s consistent with Jesus to see a woman who is now hopeless. Not only has she lost her primary means of support (her husband), but now has lost any hope for her future (in the death of her only son). She is completely powerless now and is nothing more than an object of pity. So Jesus shows compassion and restores her son. When compassion is shown, God becomes visible.

This is more than just a story of bringing someone back to life. Look at how Jesus reveals God. Take a look at what compassion looks like for him.

He’s traveling with his disciples, presumably on other business, when he sees this woman.

He sees her.

It’s hard to show compassion unless you see the need. In our busy lives, it’s much easier to look away, ignore, or make judgments about those in need of compassion. It’s inconvenient to take notice. Even if we do notice them, too often we blame them for their situation or rationalize why we don’t need to show compassion.

But Jesus sees this woman. He understands her situation. He doesn’t think about the inconvenience or whether or not she should have had a better financial plan. He sees her pain, sees her grief, sees her vulnerability. When you see someone’s hurt, you have the opportunity to show compassion.

Who in need of compassion are we noticing? Who in need of compassion are we not noticing? When compassion is shown, God becomes visible.

Seeing her, Jesus then speaks to her. A personal contact. Words that show he sees her difficulty. “Don’t cry.” More than just noticing she’s in pain, he makes contact with her. He walks alongside her. He enters her life.

Writing a check to a good cause is a good thing, but entering the lives of those to whom you are trying to show compassion is another. There’s something consoling about being present with people. Even if you can’t fix the situation, you can be present with someone. There’s power in showing up. Spending time with someone reveals compassion.

Who can you show up for? Who can you get to know? Who can you meet and listen to? When compassion is shown, God becomes visible.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Seeing the woman, and being present with her, he then acts to lessen her difficulty. This is a situation where he can actually do that. You and I can’t raise someone from the dead (I don’t think), but we can spend time at the Action Center, we can be a Big Brother or Big Sister, we can record books for the blind, we can build houses with Habitat for Humanity. We can bring someone a meal. We can say a prayer. We can mail someone a card.

Whose suffering can you lessen? How can your time be spent to make a difference for someone else? When compassion is shown, God becomes visible.

Jesus is the one who shows us the heart of God. He does so through his compassion for others, regardless of their situation, or reasons, or choices.

Jesus sees you, he is present with you, and he steps into your life in compassion.

And he invites us to join him in doing so for others. To pay attention and see the suffering of others, to listen to them and be present with them, and to step in on their behalf to make a difference for them.

In other words, to show compassion and reveal God. When compassion is shown, God becomes visible.

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Posted by on June 9, 2016 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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Cup of Water or Confession of Faith? (Mark 9:38-50)

So here’s my question: What does it mean to be a “Christian”? Is it a set of one or more beliefs you agree to? Is it one or more rules for how we are to live in the world? Is it being a good person? Is it something else?

Ask three Christians to answer that question and you’re likely to get five different answers.

But one thing we all know for sure, and that’s that our way of being Christian is right, which means their way is obviously wrong (whoever “they” are).  That’s sarcasm, by the way. . .

Bible scholars say that the gospel writer of Mark included this little section because the people of Mark’s own congregation were likely all pretty much in agreement about following Jesus, but then met people from another congregation who believed, lived, trusted in Jesus differently. An argument broke out; one that hasn’t stopped yet.

Isn’t that one of Christianity’s weaknesses? That we just can’t get along with each other? Instead of supporting — or even learning from — each other, we turn our Christian faith into a competition.

So the disciples complain in this gospel that someone else is doing it wrong. They found someone who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but wasn’t part of their group. They believed, then, that this wayward disciple of Jesus must be stopped. There must be an end to his activity, because something about it must be wrong.

So who’s right? Which way of being Christian is best? Who is the most devout follower of Jesus? Jesus answers this by telling them that whoever gives you even just a cup of water because you are bear the name of Christ is right. He says that whoever even gets in the way of anyone who believes in Jesus is wrong.

And he says this in the strongest terms possible: drowning and cutting of limbs is better than getting in the way of anyone’s discipleship. Apparently Jesus thinks this is kind of important! If you tell someone their way of following Jesus is inferior to yours, you are getting in their way. Instead of competing with them over whose version is better, give them a cup of water to drink.

These verses today are right in the middle of a whole bunch of stuff about serving others in humility, that the greatest one is the servant, that the ones who don’t matter actually matter the most, the last are actually first. The thing that matters to Jesus seems to be that his followers be the ones taking care of the least, the lost, the littlest ones, and not competing with each other about who’s the greatest or who’s the best disciple, or who’s beliefs are most orthodox.

Whether or not you agree with all the practices and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, is there any doubt about the discipleship of Pope Francis as he’s made his way along the eastern part of the US?

Many of you know I grew up in Utah, and one of the favorite topics of conversation is whether or not Mormons are really Christian. I’ve taken an active role in those arguments over the years, I’m embarrassed to say.

How much time I’ve wasted! While I was arguing with someone about who are “real” Christians, many of my Mormon friends were out serving their neighbors. While I was busy perfecting my true Christan theology, many of my Mormon friends were going around the world talking about their faith. Whoever gives even a cup of water in my name, Jesus says, will not lose their reward.

Apparently being a Christian is more about serving the least than having better beliefs. It’s more about loving the unloved than following rules. It’s more about bringing water to a thirsty person than being first and best. Maybe all Jesus wants out of us is to love others the way God loves us.

So, yeah, let the guy cast out demons! Why would you stop him? Because he isn’t part of our elite group? Because he believes differently? Because emphasizes different things than we do? No! Regardless of how much the disciples may disagree with his theology, he’s helping a demon-possessed person while they’re arguing about who the real followers of Jesus are!

So, what does it mean to be a Christian? Maybe the answer is that we should quit arguing about it. Maybe following Jesus is broader than my way of doing it. Maybe I could learn something new about serving in Jesus’ name from someone who believes differently. Maybe there’s someone who would be better served by a cup of water than by a confession of faith.

Maybe being a Christian is just as simple as Jesus makes it out to be: love God, love your neighbor.

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Posted by on September 28, 2015 in Sermon


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Abundant Faith: Excelling in Generosity (2 Corinthians 8:7-15)


A bunch of boys were playing soccer at recess. They had all the soccer balls off in one corner of the field, but were only playing with one of them. Some girls came up and asked for one of the extra soccer balls. The boys said ‘No, because we might need them.’

Paul keeps telling the congregation in Corinth that God’s grace has provided more than what they need. They have extra everything, he says, because Christ continues to provide them with extra faith, extra speech, extra knowledge, extra eagerness, and extra love. It’s all there, Paul writes. And he reminds them of this over and over.

His question to them here is, Since God has given you more than enough of everything, how about doing something with it? Since you excel in everything by God’s generosity, how about showing that—how about living that?

What does your discipleship look like? Because it has to look like something! If you have been given all kinds of faith and love and forgiveness and generosity to the point of overflowing in you, shouldn’t it be leaking out somewhere!? Shouldn’t it be evident? If you’ve got more soccer balls than you need, shouldn’t the girls be able to play soccer too?

Then Paul advises them on one way their abundant faith can be lived. Remember that collection you were so excited to start a year ago? Remember you were doing that for the poor in Jerusalem? Then you got mad at me and got sidetracked and didn’t finish it? Why not get that collection going again and finish that up? It is a great way to put flesh on this excellent faith you have been given. It’s a way you can live out of the abundance of generosity God has given you. It’s a way to put your beliefs into practice.

Generosity is a very tangible aspect of discipleship. It is a reminder that the ways of God are different than our ways and that our life is found in God’s ways. Generosity is a spiritual thing, so counter-cultural that it seems foolish to many people. It is an expression of life in Christ.

So Paul makes a suggestion–“advice,” he calls it. The excitement you had for helping the poor in Jerusalem a year ago was a faithful response. So finish it up. Let the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ not only flow into you, but flow out of you too.

Christians have a tendency to emphasize what Jesus gives us, and push aside what that should look like in our lives. Many of us never get to the life-applications of our beliefs. We talk a lot about beliefs, about faith, about discipleship. We have argued and fought over doctrines. We have been very quick to judge as inferior those who believe differently.

But Paul reminds us that talking about discipleship isn’t being a disciple. Debating faith isn’t living faith. Knowing our beliefs isn’t experiencing our beliefs. New life is to be lived in the world! We are called to do what we say we believe!

And one of the most straight-forward, foundational, attention-getting, counter-cultural life practices of Christian discipleship is generosity. Specifically, financial generosity.

Where do you believe God is most active? Where do you believe God’s mercy, compassion, forgiveness, unconditional love are being revealed? If we believe God is doing something in the world, doesn’t it make sense that that belief would be reflected in our lives somehow?

How we use money is one of the loudest statements we can make as to what we really believe. God’s generosity will always provide more grace, forgiveness, and love than we need.

Editing a saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel with your generosity, and when absolutely necessary, use words.” May we always grow in faith; and may we always live what we believe. There are plenty of soccer balls for everyone.

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Posted by on June 29, 2015 in Sermon


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Investing in the Main Thing (Matthew 22:15-22)

In Matthew, this text is happening during the last few days before Jesus is killed. There’s no time for trivialities. The Pharisees sent their minions along with the Herodians to trap Jesus. Normally, they hate each other, but to trap Jesus they become partners. Together they plan and scheme and spend all kinds of time coming up with a fool-proof plan to discredit Jesus. If he says, “Yes, pay taxes to Caesar,” the Pharisees can condemn him to the crowds as a religious fraud. If he says, “No, don’t pay taxes to Caesar,” the Herodians can have him arrested by Rome for insurrection.

They approach Jesus with disingenuous, empty flattery, and think that this question about taxes will trip him up? You’ve got to be kidding! God incarnate is about to be nailed to a cross. The central piece of God’s entire salvation history is a couple of days away. The redemption of all creation is coming to fruition right now, right in front of them. They think this is important? That this is where their energy is best used? Really?

I’m amazed Jesus answers them at all, considering what he’s getting ready to face. Yeah, pay your taxes. Whatever. Don’t let the emperor’s stuff get in the way of God’s stuff. Don’t let temporary, trivial things get in the way of the main thing.

And Jesus is all about the main thing. God is making everything new: forgiveness is now breaking into sinfulness; hope is breaking into despair; wholeness is breaking into brokenness; life is breaking into death. This is the main thing. God is all about this, and we in this congregation have been created to be part of it. Not only do we experience this among ourselves, but we proclaim the reality of this to the world. We exist as church to be with God in making all things new through forgiveness, hope, wholeness, and life.

Jesus got that, and didn’t seem to get sidetracked from the main thing very often. Certainly not here. Certainly not by the Pharisees and Heriodians. Certainly not by a question about taxes.

For the rest of this month, our council will be working on the 2015 budget. This isn’t just a spreadsheet of how we’re going to spend money; it’s a declaration of how we will live in the image of God, of how we will be part of God’s main thing.

And we will be part of God’s main thing. We will reveal generosity, compassion, and grace. We will proclaim forgiveness, love, and mercy. And quite honestly, doing that as a congregation in our culture involves having a budget. That’s just real. Our council will present an honest, authentic, balanced proposal of how LCM will take part in God’s main thing—that for which we exist.

Today we’re receiving Estimate of Giving cards for 2015. Part of that is to help our council get a better idea of what funds we’ll have for the year. But another part, I think, is more important. It’s the opportunity to think about, to deeply consider, how we will invest in God’s main thing. How we will invest in mercy, grace, compassion; forgiveness, love, and mercy being revealed in our world.

Don’t get all weird because we’re talking about money and pledges in the church. Money is just part of life. Oh well. So give or don’t give, whatever. Turn in a card or don’t turn in a card, whatever. So don’t worry about that. But I do invite you to take this opportunity to consider investing in the main thing. Consider how much you’re willing to invest in revealing God’s love and compassion in our world. Because the world needs more love, compassion, mercy, and grace.

Whether you turn in an Estimate of Giving card today or not isn’t the main thing. Whether you increase or decrease giving isn’t the main thing. God’s forgiveness and grace being shown in the world is the main thing. As a council, I assure you that with whatever money this congregation has, God’s main thing will be our main thing. That will be reflected in the budget we will propose for 2015.

I invite you to take the opportunity to make an investment in that. Give to the emperor the emperor’s things give to God God’s things. Whatever. We no longer let the temporary, trivial things sidetrack us. Because for us in this congregation, the main thing of God’s is the main thing for us.

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Posted by on October 21, 2014 in Sermon


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Chosen for Celebration (Matthew 22:1-14)

Jesus’ audience for these parables is very specific: the chief priests and the elders of the Pharisees, the church leaders of the day. These are the people committed to their church, who serve on the council, teach Sunday School, sing in the choir, lead a Bible study, mow the church lawn, and give more than10% of their income to the church. These are the insiders of church insiders, and are the types of people everyone wants as members of their church.

Yet Jesus is trying very hard to make a point with them. Since he’s being so persistent in getting those committed church people to understand something, it’s probably worth our while to listen—especially those of us who are committed church members. Jesus is speaking to us.

This parable today is a strange one. A king’s son is getting married—about the biggest event in the life of a kingdom. So the king hosts a huge wedding banquet. He’s already sent out the invitations so the guests knew it was coming, and now he’s calling them to come. He calls them twice: the first time they wouldn’t come, the second time they simply went about their own business. To say that one’s own priorities are more important than the king’s agenda is basically saying that they have no use for the king. These invited guests make their sentiments very clear by killing the servants of the king who come to bring them to the banquet.

This is not merely turning down an invitation, it is open rebellion. So the king has no real choice but to put down the rebellion—in this case by sacking the town. Then, since his original request is for the banquet for his son, he invites others to come—those on the fringe, on the edges, both “the good and the bad.”

They accept the king’s invitation, but one comes without a wedding robe. This isn’t like he got off work at 5:00 and the banquet starts at 5:30. It’s not any issue of him being poor and not having nice clothes. This guest had weeks or months to go home, clean up, put on appropriate clothing (borrowing if necessary), and still come.

This person, who accepted the king’s invitation, is still choosing to do things his own way. So he’s tossed out on his ear. He accepted the invitation and he showed up, but apparently accepting the invitation isn’t the point. Deciding to come to the banquet isn’t the most important thing. What Jesus is telling these good religious church people is that the king is going to celebrate, and do it right. Everyone is invited, and anyone can come. But the king decides what the celebration looks like.

Many are called, but few are chosen, Jesus explains. As if that clears this all up with the wedding robe and the invitations and the rebellious town.

Usually we want to make that into a self-righteous thing about how because we’ve accepted the invitation to make Jesus our Lord or because we’re pretty good people that we’re among the special ones chosen for heaven.

But that’s not it. Remember, Jesus is talking to the most religious people on the planet. People who love God and strive to obey God with their whole lives. Jesus is trying to get these religious people to understand the will of God–the reign of God–and their role in it.

Don’t be all high and mighty because you were invited to the banquet by the king, Jesus tells them. Many are called; the whole town. And don’t even lord it over others because you actually showed up in the presence of the king. Many are called; both good and bad people were dragged in off the street.

That’s not it. Everyone is called to the banquet. The wedding robe is the difference. Those in the wedding robes are those are on board with the king. They are celebrating with the king. They are participating with the king.

For many years, Linda Wheeler makes these baptismal cloths. We give one to each person who is baptized here. A white cloth. A sign of baptism, of being clothed in Christ. A celebration cloth. A wedding robe.

In baptism, we are chosen to wear the wedding robe for the king. Chosen to be part of what the king is doing. This isn’t a parable about who gets into heaven or not. This is a parable about our call to be part of God’s mission, God’s celebration.

God’s celebration is forgiveness. God has invited us to the forgiveness banquet. In baptism we are clothed with forgiveness. The church wears the robe of forgiveness in the world.

God’s celebration is mercy. God has invited us mercy banquet. In baptism we are clothed with mercy. The church wears the robe of mercy in the world.

God’s celebration is including the outcasts. God has invited us to the inclusion banquet. In baptism we are clothed in inclusion. The church wears the robe of inclusion in the world.

God’s celebration is taking care of the least in the world. God has invited us to the caring banquet. In baptism we are clothed in care. The church wears the robe of care in the world.

The feast is prepared. We have been called. And clothed in Christ at our baptism, we are chosen to celebrate with the king. Welcome to the banquet!

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Posted by on October 15, 2014 in Sermon


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Image of God: One Reason I Need the Church

Genesis 1:26-27

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness . . .’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Growing up, I was the nerdy smart kid with few social skills, even fewer friends, and the one who could disappear into the woodwork and become invisible to avoid getting beat up. I always felt I didn’t measure up, wasn’t good enough, always fell just short of what was expected.

I believed my self-worth came from what I couldn’t do, which far outweighed what I could do.

I believed my value as a person came from what others said was valuable, which didn’t happen to coincide with my gifts.

I believed my identity was grounded in failure and weakness, which my peers would continuously point out.

I didn’t like myself very much as a kid, because I believed there wasn’t much about me worth liking.

It was all a lie, but the lie had power and I believed it. I believed that those around me knew better than me. I believed that if some people didn’t think I was worthwhile, then I wasn’t worthwhile. I believed it, and in buying into this lie I was depriving the world of a unique glimpse of the image of God. A glimpse that only I could give.

Because the truth is that I am created in the image of God. Not the complete image–certainly not everything about me is Godly. But the deepest, most significant, most authentic part of me is. Because I am created by God, I reveal God. Part of God’s character is part of me. As someone created by God, it cannot be any other way.

If God is good, there is goodness that is authentically part of who I am.

If God is merciful, there is mercy that is authentically me.

If God is forgiving, there is forgiveness that is authentically me.

Do I believe that this is the truth about who I am? Sometimes, sort of. The lies continue to swirl around me, however, and I can’t seem to block them out all the time. Certainly not by myself.

That’s where I need you. Other people who know that they, too, are created in the image of God and so can recognize that. I need people to remind me of who I really am, people who can recognize the lies and point them out, people who know the image of God and can see that in me–expecially at those times when I cannot see it in myself.

That’s what we do for each other. We look for the image of God in one another. We point it out to each other. We expose the lies about our identity and celebrate together God revealed in one another.

We’ve all been lied to. Each of us has believed at one time or another that we are somehow less, that we don’t really matter, that our value is directly connected to others’ opinions, that our weaknesses define who we are. It’s not true. We are all created in the image of God. We all shine forth with God’s love and grace in wonderful and dazzling ways–not because we work up to it, but because it’s at the very core of who we are. Strip away the lies, the self-doubts, the insecurities, and the inadequacies, and the central, authentic identity we all have is people who reflect the holy, generous, gracious image of God.

That’s something we need to be reminded of. It’s something we need to hear. It’s something we need to point out to those around us.

What are the lies about yourself that you’ve believed? Lies that maybe you’ve even lived into? Have you ever believed the lie that you are farther away from God that others? Have you ever believed the lie that you have nothing to contribute? Have you ever believed the lie that you don’t make a difference in the world?

We all fall prey to the lies about who we are. And we all need to see and remind each other of the image of God shining forth. That’s why we will love each other, forgive each other, show compassion to each other; because it’s God’s image among us. And that’s why we point out to those around us how we see God in them: how we see God’s goodness, mercy, love, kindness, compassion shining forth from them. Because they may not be seeing it. We owe each other the truth about who we are. We are people who, no matter what else, are created in the image of a loving, gracious, forgiving, generous God.

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Posted by on July 22, 2014 in Sermon


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