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Tag Archives: death and resurrection

Las Vegas and a Broken Church (October 8, 2017)

I was going to write an inspiring stewardship sermon for today. One that would move every person who hears it to increase their giving and joyfully re-write their 2018 Estimate of Giving cards with a much higher dollar amount. Everyone would discover the joy of generous giving, and would put that into practice today.

That was my intention. But it’s not what I’m going to do.

Some part of me is tearing open. And the violence last Sunday in Las Vegas, and especially our responses since then, have ripped open that tear in ways that are proving difficult. I’m recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit there. That, combined with my own awareness of the gospel of Christ makes a sermon about increased financial giving seem out of whack. At least today.

Something is broken in Christ’s church. It’s being torn open. Are you aware that (as of Oct 5, according to www.massshootingtracker.com) there have been 3 mass shootings in our country since Las Vegas? Two in FL and one in CA. They are the 340th and 341st mass shootings in the United States this year. This year. 341 mass shootings, which comes out to 12 mass shootings every 10 days. 12 every 10 days. More than one every day. All year.

Somehow, I don’t think Jesus is very happy about that. And I don’t think he’s very impressed with how we are responding to them. These are beloved, precious, holy children of God that are being gunned down every day. And as a country, our response is anything from weak to non-existent. That’s unacceptable. That’s incomprehensible.

But I’m more concerned about the attitude of Christ’s church, people who represent Jesus here on earth. Something is broken in the church. It’s being torn open.

I’m not talking about gun legislation or the 2nd Amendment. I’m talking about the fact that the disciples of Christ seem to be ignoring the teachings of Christ. Ignoring scripture. Ignoring our faith, our discipleship, our baptismal promise to be lights in the world.

Something is broken in the church. Deeply, systemically broken. It’s being torn open. We have become complacent about this kind of thing. We have accepted it as inevitable. We chalk it up to “evil,” which puts the blame “out there” somewhere and excuses us from dealing with it. Daily mass shootings are a symptom that the American church has lost its way. The church is people who are disciples of Jesus Christ, the one who said things like,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God”

“And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”

“So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”

We are disciples of Jesus Christ, who, for saying things like these, himself became a victim of violence—he was killed for it. That’s the Christ into whom we are baptized. That’s the light we are to shine in the world. Many Christians seem to have stopped. Something is broken in Christ’s church. It’s being torn open.

Maybe we’ve made it too easy to be a Christian. Maybe we’ve sold our collective soul for the sake of increasing our numbers. Maybe we’re more into power than into walking with the vulnerable. Maybe we have become so focused on believing in Jesus that we forget to follow him. Maybe we just don’t care anymore.

But whatever we’re doing as the whole body of Christ in the name of Christ isn’t cutting it. Something is broken in the church. It’s being torn open.

That also includes the Lutherans. According to the Dean of Students at Luther Seminary, of the six most heinous domestic terrorists in recent years, three of them were Lutheran. One half. Something is broken in our church. It’s being torn open.

That also includes us in this room. When we tell our kids that sports and homework and jobs are more important than following Jesus, something is broken in this church. And let us not fool ourselves—we are telling them that. When we care more about the convenience of worship than we do about Jesus in worship, something is broken in this church. It’s being torn open.

And that also includes me. I’ve spent way too much time avoiding criticism. I’ve kept too quiet about the things that matter to Jesus, putting energy into things that don’t matter nearly as much, because it makes my life easier. I’ve tried so hard to receive congregational approval that I forgot about Jesus’ approval—and these not always the same things. Something is broken in my church.  And I’m being torn open.

A man I respect said recently about the church, “Our diagnosis doesn’t go deep enough, so our prescriptions aren’t strong enough.” That rings true for me. There’s a deep brokenness in the church. A tear that is deeper than we are diagnosing. But it’s a tear that is making room for Christ, which is more than we’re prescribing. The depth of this breaking is painful and hard—we recognize that we are being torn open, because we talk about it in terms of “the decline of the church.” We know we are being torn open, because it feels like the church is dying. But it’s only when we are torn open that we are healed in Christ. Healing that is our resurrection.

There’s something broken in the church. It’s being torn open. But we must be broken open in order to be healed in Christ. And until the mass shootings are stopped, we will continue to be torn open and more deeply healed in Christ. It’s the people who are torn open and healed who follow Christ into the world’s brokenness. You see, something’s broken in the world—it’s being torn open. And its healing is why we are here. Our hope is in Christ. Amen.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2017 in Sermon

 

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The Good Samaritan, Fear, and Transformation (July 10, 2016)

video of this sermon can be seen at: http://www.facebook.com/lcm.lakewood

Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

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.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty tired of the divisions that seem to be deepening around us and among us. The “us vs. them” mentality seems harsher then ever. The black and white thinking of “I’m right, you’re wrong” seems more entrenched. We seem to be less open to dialogue, moving instead to argument. We have come to believe that our opinions are facts, by virtue of them being our opinions,. We demonize and attack anyone who disagrees with us because, if they disagree, they are not only wrong, but evil, unpatriotic, ungodly, or just “one of those people” and can therefore be written off and disregarded.

That was apparently happening in Jesus’ day too. It’s what’s happening in the parable of the Good Samaritan. “A lawyer stood up to test Jesus,” we began. If he wants to test Jesus, he believe he knows the answer, right? He wants to see if Jesus knows what he knows, believes what he believes. He wants to know if Jesus is “one of us” or “one of them.” So he tests him to see if Jesus is right, which will be revealed if Jesus agrees with this lawyer’s interpretation of the law regarding eternal life. I don’t think the lawyer really cares about eternal life. I think he believes he has the right answer and wants to know if Jesus can be counted on to back him up.

We don’t ever find out what happened to this lawyer. But one thing we can be pretty confident about: Jesus didn’t pass his test right then. This man is not an attorney like we understand it. He’s a teacher of God’s law, a religious expert. And Jesus’ answer to “who is the neighbor?” wouldn’t be what a teacher of the law would believe. Jesus says that a heretic, a Samaritan, reveals God better than a priest or a Levite—both of which are religious experts too.

Samaritans had a falling out with Jews centuries before, when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was overthrown. Samaritans, from Samaria, were the Jews who were left behind and weren’t killed off. Left behind in Israel, they corrupted the Jewish faith by intermarrying other religions and incorporating some of those practices into their own. By Jesus’ day, Samaritans represented everything that was abhorrent and opposed to God.

Yet Jesus chooses in his parable to lift up a Samaritan as the one through whom God’s mercy is recognizable. A Samaritan! One of “them!”

Part of Jesus’ point, it seems to me, is that God is seen, revealed, can work through anyone. Even those we consider wrong, or evil, or “one of them.”

Have you ever recognized God in the words or actions of someone you disagree with?

I initiated several conversations with friends on Facebook about gun legislation. Yes, I did that. On Facebook. On purpose.

I started badly. I called out a government official with whom I disagreed and used the word “disgusting.” Not a great way to start a conversation. Like the lawyer in this parable, I was testing people on Facebook to see who agreed with me and who didn’t. When someone from this congregation took offense at my language, and called me out on not wanting to have a conversation, it eventually caused me to rethink my approach. After, of course, I said a few more argumentative statements. At least the lawyer had the good sense to shut up when Jesus called him out.

So I deleted that post and tried again with others. This time, actually listening and acknowledging the possibility that perhaps I needed some transformation too. Maybe I needed to see what God was doing beyond my own opinion. Perhaps I could recognize the voice of God in the words of those I disagree with.

And the conversations were civil, mostly. I respected the opinions of those I disagreed with and they respected mine. And I learned a few things, and I heard God’s voice.

It’s not that anyone’s mind was changed. It’s more that I saw and heard something we have in common that God was addressing. Gun rights advocates and gun legislation advocates are both afraid. We’re all looking for something to bring security in the midst of that fear. Fear causes us to test others and see who rallies to our position. Fear causes us to blame others for the things that are wrong. Fear causes us to label people, to jump to conclusions, to scapegoat, to draw lines of division. If we’re afraid, we seek the security of closing borders to “them,” to keep “them” away. Police shootings of two black men in Baton Rouge and in St. Paul bring out our fear. Snipers mowing down police at a peaceful march in Dallas bring out our fear. And it is our fear that separates us.

In scripture, whenever God is going to do something big, why do you think the first words God speaks are, “Do not be afraid”? Because fear separates us from each other—and from God. And the point of this parable of the Good Samaritan is that God works through “them” just as well as God works through “us.” And that is the part we need to pay attention to, to be open to.

But I’ll tell you, when we’re open to God’s activity, we will be changed, transformed. Isn’t that the heart of this whole Jesus thing anyway? New life? Death and resurrection? Dying to the old and being raised to the new? That can be uncomfortable, even frightening. We’re back into fear. So, to comfort us in our fear of being changed, we use Jesus to defend our opinions and positions. Too often we use our religion to prevent change instead of initiating it. We must be transformed, which is the work of God and the purpose of our faith. And transformation comes when we embrace God’s activity, even when it is revealed by those we disagree with. Even if it is done by those we hate. Even if God speaks to us through those we are afraid of.

The violence and division are eroding us, diminishing us, enslave us in fear. It must stop. God is in the midst of it doing something new. That’s what we need to watch for, what we need to pray for. “Do not be afraid.” We will be changed. God is at work. Even through our enemies. Even through those we fear. Even through those we disagree with. Even through us. The neighbor, Jesus says, is the one who shows us God. Go and do likewise.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2016 in Sermon

 

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