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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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Stuck? Quit Spinning Your Wheels (July 21, 2019)

Luke 10:38-42

When I was a kid, my three sisters and I all had chores to do. I mowed the lawn, shoveled the snow, mopped the floors, emptied the garbage, shook out the rugs, pulled the weeds, cleaned the bathrooms, changed the sheets on the beds, cleaned the carport, and picked up the neighborhood trash that blew against the fence. My three sisters each took a turn doing the dishes. You don’t need to check with them about the accuracy of this list; I’m sure they remember it the same way.

One day, one of my sisters, when it was her night to do the dishes, was instead sitting in a rocking chair listening to records. As a good brother, I very patiently reminded her that it was her night to do the dishes, but she continued rocking and listening. Trusting that she simply forgot, I, with the utmost gentleness, repeated to her that it was, in fact, her night to do the dishes. With eyes closed, she informed me she was praying. And she actually used this story in Luke to say she didn’t have to do the dishes. She said that her praying, just like Mary, was “the better part,” that Jesus said so himself, and that therefore she shouldn’t be required to demean herself with the unholy chore of washing dishes.

With tremendous respect and deep understanding, I compassionately offered her an alternate perspective. And as her loving brother, I cautioned her that if somehow our mother ever discovered this, she would likely not be as understanding as me, and her response probably would not benefit my sister. So for my dear sibling’s well-being, I advised, she may want to consider postponing the rest of her prayers until after this unholy chore was done. She did.

What do you do with text? Poor Martha is stuck with all the chores while Mary gets to sit in the living room with Jesus while he tells stories. And when Martha dares speak up, Jesus takes Mary’s side! I mean, I don’t care what you say, Jesus, somebody’s still gotta do the dishes.

I hope you’re not surprised to hear me say that’s not what this text is about. This isn’t a text about who has to clean the kitchen. It’s about whether or not the kitchen even needs to be cleaned, and if so,why someone would want to.

It’s like this. Have you ever got your car stuck in the snow with your wheels spinning? Step on the gas and you simply have no traction. You can step on the gas as much as you want, spin your wheels as fast as you can, you’re still stuck. The point isn’t to spin your wheels, the point is to be able to get where you’re going. That’s Martha. Spinning her wheels just because it’s doing something. Even if it’s not helping. Even if it’s actually making it worse. Just doing something for the sake of doing something.

Mary is the one who gets out of the car, looks at how deeply she’s stuck and recalls a conversation with a trucker friend who told her to keep a bag of sand and a small shovel in the trunk just in case. Now, with that information, she can give her wheels some traction so when she does gently step on the gas, she has a much better chance of getting unstuck and continue driving.

It’s not Martha vs. Mary; it’s not action vs. contemplation. It’s about understanding the purpose, and letting that purpose inform the action. And what Jesus commends Mary for is seeking to understand his purpose. Not just a random or personal purpose, but Jesus’ purpose. That’s what being a disciple is—knowing and trusting Jesus’ purpose and letting that inform the actions we take.

That’s what spiritual disciplines are about. Coming to know God’s purposes within the world as revealed by Jesus. That’s what Mary is taking the time to do. That’s what Jesus is commending her for. That’s the part Martha, in all her activity, is missing.

Our culture disagrees with Jesus on this. What we usually say is “Good for Martha. At least she gets stuff done.” Because culturally we reward busy-ness, and tend to look down on people who don’t seem as busy as we think they ought to be.

Think about that a minute. Have you ever complained about how busy you are, how you have too many irons in the fire, how you don’t know how you’re going to get everything done? And, have you ever said those things with just a little bit of pride? Have you ever heard someone complain about working 60 hours a week and felt just a little bit guilty because you only worked 55? This cultural sense of our worth being decided by our busy-ness is a priority that Jesus calls out and challenges.

When our calendars and our day planners are dictating our lives, we are stuck in the snow. When checking things off our to-do list becomes our purpose, we’ve lost traction. When church, and spiritual growth, and discovering God’s purpose in Christ become items on a list of things we’ll do if we can find time, we are spinning our wheels. We need to stop, get out of the car, and because we’ve listened to Jesus, let that inform how we get where we need to go.

What this comes back to is God’s purpose in the world right now. The One who created this world in the first place knows how it ought to run, knows what the priorities should be, knows what actually will work. And Jesus reveals that purpose with absolute clarity. Discovering that, growing in that, discussing that, putting that into context here and now takes deliberate intention. It requires some time sitting in the living room with Jesus. It doesn’t happen automatically just because we’re making sure the dishes got done.

Remmy Mateo is being baptized today. God is including him in Christ’s purpose in the world. What his mom, his sponsors, and this congregation are promising is that we will sit with him at Jesus’ feet and help him grow in that purpose. And let that inform his decisions and how he lives his life.

Bad news for my sister is that the dishes still need to be washed. But what my sister may better understand is how that is part of God’s purpose in the world.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Forgiveness: Giving and Receiving (March 17, 2019)

Matthew 6:14-15

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the 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.

One of our priorities this Lent is recognizing there is some difference between “belief” and “discipleship.” They are most definitely related, but they are not the same. They certainly inform each other, but they are not the same.

Our emphasis right now is more on the discipleship side. That’s the one that’s usually received the short end of the stick in our history, yet it’s also what Jesus emphasized much more.

The difference between belief and discipleship is, in a nutshell, that discipleship is how we live out what we believe. We can believe anything while sitting on our couch, but in discipleship we are compelled to get up and live that belief. So, actually, discipleship reveals what we really believe.

We continue this journey of “Authentic Relationships” as one large category of discipleship.

Specifically this week, forgiveness is our discipleship topic. Forgiveness is more than being forgiven by God. That can too easily fall within the realm of couch-sitting belief. But as a discipleship practice, forgiveness as following Jesus is living forgiveness with one another—both the giving and the receiving of it. Discipleship involves both. As we’re doing through Lent, each Sunday we’ll talk about “why” forgiveness is a discipleship issue and on Wednesday we’ll talk more about “how” we can live it more fully.

I’ve discovered that we can’t really assume we all know what forgiveness actually is. We use the word so much its meaning can get lost.

  1. Forgiveness is a deliberate action. It’s not automatic and it’s not necessarily easy. Whether it’s God forgiving us or us forgiving each other, it is a conscious choice.
  2. Forgiveness has nothing to do with whether or not the recipient deserves it. It’s an action taken by the forgiver independent of the forgivee.
  3. Forgiveness is a conscious release of resentment toward a person or a group who has harmed us.

It’s just as important to know what forgiveness is not, especially when it comes to dangerous situations, like cases of abuse. That’s one way this word gets misused with potentially very serious consequences.

  1. Forgiveness is not glossing over or denying the seriousness of an offense against you.
  2. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses.
  3. Forgiveness does not obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or release them from legal accountability.

Instead, forgiveness brings us peace of mind and frees us from corrosive anger. Forgiveness means we need to acknowledge the pain we suffered without letting that pain define us. That’s why forgiveness enables us to heal and move on with our life. Forgiveness is much more about the forgiver than the forgivee.

Research at the University of California at Berkeley has found a direct correlation between forgiveness and improvements in happiness, physical health, mental health, productivity, and even generosity (Stewardship campaign?).[1]

Forgiveness as an act of discipleship is more than just being nice. It’s following Jesus in God’s vision—God’s intention—for the world. Our health and well-being certainly are part of that.

Each of these texts approach the topic of forgiveness differently. One is more about receiving it and the other more about giving it. But both are grounded in the same principle of forgiveness from a discipleship perspective.

The first text from Luke, usually called “The Prodigal Son” is pretty well known and is more about God’s willingness to forgive us. The father in the parable is a God-figure, whose attitude of forgiveness is evident. In fact, there’s some speculation as to whether the son actually is repentant. Some scholars believe he was simply playing his father in order to be able to eat.

But forgiveness means that this doesn’t matter because it’s not about whether or not the son deserves it. The father, out of love for his son, runs out to meet him while he’s far off, even cutting off the son’s rehearsed speech of repentance.

The same with the older son who is holding on to his resentment. The father includes him, invites him in, acts of forgiveness. Whether the older son forgives or not isn’t known. But the choice is his: celebrate or cling to his anger.

Forgiveness is God’s way. Therefore it is Christ’s way. Therefore, as disciples, it is the way we follow too.

The other one from Matthew is Jesus postscript to the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer. It sounds rather harsh, like, “you better forgive others or else!” More accurately it points out that there is a connection between our ability to give forgiveness and our ability to receive it. If we aren’t able to forgive others (again, a deliberate action of letting go of resentment) it’s likely that we aren’t able to receive forgiveness from God either.

Discipleship involves both. Receiving forgiveness from God and from each other, and also offering it—to ourselves and to others. Receiving forgiveness from God changes us, frees us to live in that very same image of God in which we were created. Receiving forgiveness allows us to offer it. And the more we practice, the more deliberately the image of God in Christ is reflected through us.

[1] https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/forgiveness/definition#why-practice-forgiveness

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Respect for All People (March 10, 2019)

James 2:1-13

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

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.

Discipleship = learning from and committing to a particular person or teaching or philosophy. Taking those things that they put forth and applying those same priorities in our own lives because we believe they matter. Follow them and their teaching.

People are disciples of lots of things: a particular physicist, a certain type healing methodology, or a way of doing meditation. When we are a disciple of someone or something, we approach life informed by the one we follow. We incorporate that one’s wisdom, teaching, way of living into our own life.

For those of us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus, it means growing in our attempts at following Jesus. We do this because we acknowledge that he is the fullest revelation of the nature of God we can understand. Therefore, discipleship means that his priorities become ours because we trust they are God’s. His attitudes toward other people become ours because we trust they are God’s. As we seek to grow in this way we believe we reflect more fully God’s Reign in the world, which, we trust, is the hope we have for creation.

This Lent we are giving each other an opportunity to grow in our discipleship by considering Christ’s approach to “Authentic Relationships,” and we begin this series this week with the topic: Showing Respect for All People.

We’ll prime the pump today and hopefully get us all thinking about how showing respect to all people is an important aspect of discipleship: why it matters and how Jesus views it. Then, you’re invited back here on Wednesday (noon or 6:30) for a deeper discussion together about how we can grow in this aspect of discipleship.

To start, we treat people with respect because they are created in the image of God. Every single human being on earth—from the poor living on the streets to kings and rulers, young and old, healthy and sick, LGBTQ or straight, people we like and people we don’t. We are all created in the image of God and are all deserving of basic respect.

In addition, Luther understood that God can and does use anybody to make the world work. People are valuable because God actually works through them. People matter to God. Therefore, people matter to us.”

Since each one of us is created in the image of God, each one of us is a reflection of God in some authentic way. Think about what that says about God. Many of us have been taught that God is a straight-and-narrow God of rigid rules and that we, as diverse humans, need to deny that diversity in order to conform to God’s narrow righteousness. Perhaps we have that backwards.

Since we are all so different—each one of us is truly unique—then God is apparently much more diverse than we often imagine. When we respect others, especially those that are different from us, we are respecting the God whose image they reflect and reveal.

Which includes each of us! Do we see ourselves as people who reveal the image of God and who are worthy of respect? It’s so easy to focus on our faults and our failures, our weaknesses and gifts we don’t have.

Again, many of us have been taught that when we look at ourselves, we are to see first and foremost as sinner in need of redeeming. However, over-emphasizing the negative aspects of who we are blocks our ability to see the image of God in ourselves. When we focus so much on our sinfulness we miss out on the love, grace, and compassion that is the basis of who we are. In the first creation story in Genesis 1, after each day of creation, God saw all that was made that day was good. But on the day God created humanity—you and me—that’s the one day God saw that what was created was very good.

Right now, just as you are, with the whole mix of compassion and selfishness, where you’re gifted and where you’re not, with all the ways you are ignored and all the ways you are recognized, just as you are—here and now—you are worthy of the deepest respect. You, right now, as you are, reflect the image of God in ways no one else can—and you are worthy of the deepest respect. All parts of you are created by God in God’s image—and you are worthy of the deepest respect.

Take a minute and consider yourself. All of who you are. Don’t categorize into good and bad, sinful and righteous. Just you; your whole self. . . .

Can you see the image of God revealed through you? . . .

If so, what aspects of God do you reflect? . . .

If not, then at least imagine the image of God in which you were created. Imagine yourself reflecting that image just because you were created.

Now look around this room. See the wonderful diversity of a very creative and loving God. We are all so different, and yet we all reflect the image of God. See God present in each one, whether they look like you or not. Whether they agree with you or not. Whether you like them or not. Whether you know them or not. Each one reflecting God in unique and magnificent ways. Each one loved deeply by God. Each one worthy of the deepest respect.

Everyone we encounter this week is someone dearly loved by God and who has been created in God’s image. Each one reflects that image in unique and wonderful ways. Each one is therefore worthy of respect.

Let’s talk about how we can incorporate this aspect of discipleship more fully into our lives this Wednesday.

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Transfiguration Moments (March 3, 2019)

Luke 9:28-43a

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

What’s the Transfiguration of Jesus all about?

Take a look at where it’s placed within Luke:

There’s the Sermon on the Plain: teaching about lifting up those at the bottom and including the outcast.

Then several chapters of Jesus actually doing that! Healing outsiders, outcasts, excluded, unworthy:

  • Roman soldier’s servant healed,
  • Widow’s son raised from the dead,
  • Sinful woman forgiven,
  • Including women as disciples,
  • Gerasene Demoniac,
  • Daughter of a synagogue leader raised from the dead,
  • Hemorrhaging woman healed,
  • Transfiguration,
  • Picks right up again with demon possessed boy healed.

Once or twice there are little “side-scenarios” where the identity of Jesus is lifted up, e.g., John the Baptist’s followers asking if Jesus is the one or should they wait for someone else? Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah

The Transfiguration kind of fits in as one of those. Just kind of a quick, inserted scene affirming the identity of Jesus. In Luke it happens pretty quickly, actually. The Greek implies it didn’t take very long. And then it’s back to business as usual—lifting up those at the bottom and including the outcasts.

It’s like there are these little reassurances that God endorses what Jesus is saying and doing so that the disciples can be confident in following him. Because Jesus is leading then into some weird-sounding stuff: pay just as much attention to the poor, the homeless, and the immigrant as you do the rich and powerful. Love your enemies just as much as you love your friends. When violence comes at you, resist the temptation to return it with violence. Instead, meet it head on with non-violence. And Jesus is already starting to have them say and do these same things. That’s what’s happening at the end of this text—the disciples tried to show care and compassion for a demon-possessed boy and his family, but failed.

It looks like the Transfiguration, with all the dazzle and famous people and clouds and voices coming from the clouds, is a significant reassurance that following Jesus is following the way of God.

So here’s why this matters. God does that. God gives us these nudges, these reassurances, these flashes that what Jesus says and does, the people Jesus includes and lifts up, that is the way of God. And that God is still there, still calling us to follow Christ.

I want to ask you to remember a time when you knew God was there. When you experienced grace. When you received some reassurance. Those are little transfiguration moments. They don’t always last and they are usually unexpected. Sometimes we don’t even recognize them as reassurances from God, because these transfiguration moments can happen through anyone or anything. But they are generally reassuring, comforting. When have you had a transfiguration moment?

I’m going to give you a minute in silence to think about it. To contemplate it. To remember it. And then, if anyone is willing, I’ll give you the opportunity to share that experience of grace or reassurance or comfort. Your transfiguration moment.

. . .

Thank you. Watch for these times of Transfiguration. Be comforted. Be reassured. And then boldly follow Jesus, because that’s what those reassuring transfiguration moments are for.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 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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Wait. I Have to Wear that in Public? (October 15, 2017)

Matthew 22:1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

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 a “save the date” card, 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 is basically saying that the king isn’t 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 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 agenda is the banquet for his son, he invites others to come—those on the fringe, on the edges, both “the good and the bad.”

This is God’s all-inclusive grace. It’s one of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago. God includes us by grace, not because we are good have done the right things or believe the right things. We are saved by God’s grace. Independent of anything else. That’ s who God is.

So, by the king’s grace, all these people have now been included in the wedding banquet for the king’s son. They’ve all been invited. They all get to come. That would be a wonderful ending to the story. In fact, Luke, in telling a similar parable, does end it there. Hooray! We’re in! Grace is neat, isn’t it?

But Matthew doesn’t stop. Because Mathew reminds us that there’s more to discipleship than just getting into heaven. There’s following Jesus now. There’s standing up with Jesus now. There’s living out God’s agenda now.

Which leads us to the guy in the parable who comes to the wedding banquet but won’t wear a wedding robe.

This person, who’s now included by the grace of the king, who has accepted the king’s invitation, who shows up at the king’s banquet, 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. So apparently accepting the invitation isn’t the point. Deciding to come to the banquet isn’t the point. The king has authority, and that authority takes precedence over the guest’s. When you come to the banquet, you give up your agenda for the king’s agenda. You wear the wedding robe.

You know what that means? Accepting the invitation to come to church is great, but is not what Jesus is asking. Saying “I believe in God” is great, but that’s not what Jesus is asking. Making a decision that Jesus is our personal Lord and Savior is great, but it’s not what Jesus is asking. As people who’ve been included in God’s banquet, what he is asking is that we give up our agenda for God’s agenda. In Lutheran language, we die to ourselves and are raised with Christ. It’s baptismal language. We wear the wedding robe.

What Matthew’s Jesus is telling his church members is that God’s will is to be done by those who are in Christ. Even if it’s in conflict with our priorities; even if we are uncomfortable with it. Many are called, Jesus says, but few are chosen. The invitation to come, to join in is for everyone. “I’ve been invited to the banquet!” “I’ve been saved by grace!” Great, so was everyone else. But not everyone will follow the call to re-order their lives according to God’s mission. As part of the church, we give up our agenda for God’s agenda. That’s wearing the wedding robe.

God’s agenda is to love unconditionally and show compassion to all and to forgive everyone and include those cast aside and to stand up for those who are pushed down.

More than accepting the invitation, that’s wearing the wedding robe.

Just this last week, Tiana, one of our high school students, wore this wedding robe at school. A kid in one of her classes made a horrible racist comment, using the “n” word. No one called it out. So she did. She stood up and in front of the whole class told the kid that this was not OK. That word has never been OK, and it’s not OK now. That kind of racism has to stop. Even though it meant taking the risk of speaking out in front of her peers, she stood up against racial discrimination. This is living out God’s agenda. This is wearing the wedding robe.

“For by grace we have been saved through faith, and this is not our own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast” writes Paul to the Ephesian church. This text is one of the key themes that clarified for Luther that God’s grace includes us. We are all invited. We are all included. We are all able to attend the banquet in the kingdom of heaven.

And we’re expected, as people who accept the invitation, to wear the wedding robe. It keeps slipping off, doesn’t it? God’s forgiveness is a centerpiece of God’s grace. It’s OK. We just pick up the wedding robe and put it on next time. We take a step.

Maybe we aren’t civil rights leaders. Maybe we cannot organize our neighborhood compassion drive for the homeless. But we can take a step in God’s agenda. With the confidence of God’s unconditional grace, we can encourage and support someone like Tiana, who took a bold stand with Christ. We can listen to people’s stories who tell us that justice doesn’t always include them in our culture.  We can learn from them and make adjustments in our own attitudes. We can let it be known that jokes that demean someone else are not appreciated. We can take a step. Surrounded and held in God’s grace, we can put the wedding robe of the king back on. And when it falls off we can put it back on again. And again. The invitation to the feast still stands. The banquet will go on. We’re still included. And, yes, the wedding robe is still there for us to wear.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2017 in Sermon

 

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