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Go Another Way (Jan 5, 2020)

Matthew 2:1-12

We’re all pretty familiar with the basics of this story, right? Magi see a star, follow it to Bethlehem, bring unusual but expensive gifts, find Jesus, and worship the newborn king.

But the part of the story around king Herod is interesting. They go to Herod’s royal palace to find out where this new king can be found. Which makes sense. Where else would you go to find where a king is? The religious scholars find a prophecy in Micah revealing Bethlehem as the place and share that information with the Magi.

Herod plays along even though he’s now frightened that a new king may mean he doesn’t stay in power. So he lies to the Magi, saying that they should report back to him so he can pay homage to the new king too. His plan, as we discovered last week, was to get rid of this threat to his throne and kill this one the Magi are calling the newborn king.

At the very end of this story is this amazingly relevant little piece of information. “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”

The magi met Jesus by following a star. Studying the sky was familiar to them, a part of their lives. But because of new information, of recognizing the truth of how things are now different, they had to return “by another way.” This is part of their Epiphany: the new king is born, but also that as a result, things are different, and they can’t go back the same way they came. Although they went back to their own country, they returned by another way. Symbolically, this doesn’t just mean that they avoided Herod. It means they returned as different people. They were changed by this encounter and can’t go back to the way things were. There was a lot at stake in returning by another way—their own lives, and certainly the life of Jesus and his family.

That’s part of having an Epiphany: with new awareness, new eyes to see, things are different, and you can’t go back to the way things were before. You have to go a different way.

I’ve been deliberate the last few years in listening to experiences and perspectives of Black friends and reading Black authors. This has created a slowly dawning Epiphany as to the depth of racism and white privilege that are embedded into our American culture. I can no longer see things the way I used to. To go back to my life means I have to do it by another way. To pretend everything was the same, to deny this epiphany would be unfaithful, unloving, and contrary to the direction of the Holy Spirit. My life is certainly different. Because of an epiphany, I left to return to my own country by another road.

I am confident that God is providing us with an Epiphany now. God is revealing to us that we can’t return to the familiar ways of operating as the church that we’ve traveled for centuries. We are experiencing an Epiphany, an awareness of God doing something new, something different that we didn’t know before. And because of this, we need to return to our ministry by another way.

There are some who are predicting that the ELCA will cease to exist sometime before the year 2050.That this denomination that began in 1989 with five million members will decline to 67,000 by 2050, and only 16,000 in worship on an average Sunday morning by 2041—twenty-one years from now.[1]

With this potential epiphany, we cannot return to our familiar church country the same way we got here. Although the mission of God is the same—which is the country we are returning to, the way God is doing it is most definitely different. We need to return to our church identity by a different road.

To ignore what God is doing and continue in the same way is done at the peril not only of the ELCA, but of the world—the world we are called to reveal Christ to.

Some of these studies seem to be warning us that a lot is at stake. For the magi, what was at stake was the life of Jesus. For us, believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior or being a member of the Church have been the emphases we’ve always had since the 4th century. But now, there is a dawning epiphany that we can’t go back the same way:

Rather than returning to church identity by the road of telling people what to believe about Jesus so they can go to heaven when they die, a different way would be to show them what it looks like to follow Jesus here and now—in a culture that doesn’t yet get it.

Rather than returning to church identity by the road of Sunday worship based on robes, candles, music styles, and personal preferences, a different way would be to use Sunday worship to be empowered to live more compassionately today and seek ways to do God’s justice today—in a culture that doesn’t yet get it.

Rather than returning to church identity by the road of membership as an exclusive club that bears the name of Jesus, a different way would be to understand church membership as belonging to a community absolutely committed to God’s mission of extravagant love and generosity—in a culture that doesn’t yet get it.

Be ready. The star of Bethlehem is shining in our lives. God is revealing God’s way—an epiphany. Which means we return to life as a Christian in a different way. Watch for God’s presence to be revealed differently in your life, which means we are given a new perspective on compassion, mercy, generosity; a whole new life. Then watch for God to call into new ways to live that life, because we are being warned to return by a different way. An Epiphany.

 

[1] Dwight Zscheile, Vice President for Innovation at Luther Seminary. Source: ELCA Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2020 in Sermon

 

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An Epiphany: God Meets You Where You Are. Right Now.

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

I think I’ve been unfair to the magi on Epiphany. I’ve often referred to them as tea-leaf reading, chicken-bone shaking, fortune tellers from the Psychic Hotline.

That may not be true.

Matthew is likely actually describing priests of the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism, which was the official religion of the Persian Empire before Islam. One of the key components of this faith was using watching, plotting, and paying attention to the movement of the stars. It was, in fact, the most advanced science of the time.

Think about what that would mean. In Matthew’s gospel, there is no manger and no shepherds. The first people to acknowledge the newborn king of Israel are these magi—non-Jews following a foreign religion. And the birth of Jesus was revealed to them through science quite apart from faith or scripture. These are the ones who go and worship the Christ-child. Not Herod, who was the ruler of all Israel. Not the chief priests and scribes who through scripture advised Herod of the place of Jesus’ birth, but missed the relevance of this newborn king.

No, the only ones who show up are these Zoroastrian scientists. Hardly what one would expect! There was a newborn king of Israel, yet no one in religious or political authority in all Israel knew anything about it! Matthew’s point is that the birth of Jesus is truly good news for ALL people!

Now, I’m the first to encourage everyone to be serious about spiritual growth. There are lots of ways to do it and we should. But it’s not like there’s some mystic secret to enlightenment or a particular path to God. GOD finds a way to connect with you. If God could find Zoroastrian priests in Persia through their science and stars, then God can certainly find you.

The magi were passionate about the science of stars. So that’s where God found them. What are you passionate about? That’s likely where God will find you. Is it books, movies, sports, bicycling, writing, nature, or even science? Matthew is making the clear point that God comes to you where you are. It’s like an Epiphany!

One fault of the institutional church is that we’ve convinced the world that God only works in the ways that the church can control: Prayers(especially old ones other people wrote); the Bible (especially when interpreted in a way the church says is correct); Sunday worship(especially when it has the right music); or social justice (especially when it benefits causes endorsed by the church).

There are a couple of problems with the church controlling the ways God can come to people. If God only comes to us in pre-approved ways,

  1. It limits people outside the church from recognizing God present and calling them.
  2. It limits the church from recognizing God present and calling us.

Don’t get me wrong. The church has good reason to recognize God’s presence and invitation through prayer, scripture, worship, and justice. Because God is present and inviting through these things! We know it, we’ve witnessed it, we can testify to it. But Matthew’s magi would seem to indicate it’s wrong to think that God is limited somehow to these.

Take a minute and think about what you love to do most. What excites you, that you’d stay up all night talking about? What are you passionate about? What matters to you? . . .

That’s where God is likely to reveal God’s self. That’s often where the invitation will come. Follow that star, whatever it is.

I want to add here, that if that’s true for us individually, it’s also true for us congregationally. If you were to summarize LCM’s passion as a community, you’d probably come up with something about care or compassion. We excel at that. Why wouldn’t God, then, be present with us there? Why wouldn’t that be an important way where God invites us to come and see Jesus?

This matters, because whether it’s affected you individually or not, this congregation has really gone through a very difficult year. We’ve grieved more in the last 12 months than we ever have in our history. But I’ve also watched more compassion shown in the last 12 months than I’ve ever witnessed before.

Matthew writes that God comes to us where we are with what we know and what matters in our lives. The science of stars for Persian priests, and compassionate care for this congregation.

Make no mistake, God has come to us in our compassion for one another. God invites us to meet the Christ-child in the care we express together.

Christ has come. God is present. With the magi, today we experience this as good news for all people. God comes to us where we are. It’s like an Epiphany!

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2019 in Sermon

 

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“Get Used to the Disruption” (January 28, 2018)

Mark 1:21-28

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

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

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

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

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

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

But just getting started with what?

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

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

And this is just chapter one.

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

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

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

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

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

How awful, right?

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

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

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

Week after week this happened.

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

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

How? The addict asked.

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

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

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2018 in Sermon

 

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“God Has Found a Way to You” (January 7, 2018)

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

God finds a way. The coming of Christ is so important to all people that God finds a way to reveal it.

The Magi were foreign, were pagan, and knew nothing whatsoever about Jewish law or the Jewish God. They got information from the stars not from prophecy or scripture or Sunday School. In their culture they looked at stars.

That’s not how God has ever revealed anything to anyone.

Yet, here they are. Right at the house where the Christ child is living. Because they followed a star.

To a God-fearing Jew that is ridiculous. To anyone who has any sense of who God is and how God works, that is ludicrous. Can’t happen.

Yet, here they are. Because God found a way.

And here you are. Who knows what has happened in your life to bring you to this moment in the presence of Christ.

But here you are. Raised by Lutheran parents? Invited by a friend? Felt a need for some deeper meaning in your life? Brought here kicking and screaming by a spouse/significant other/grandma? It doesn’t matter what the “star” is that you’ve followed.

It doesn’t matter. God has found a way. You are here. The Christ child is here. God has found a way to you. That’s what God does.

It is so important to God that you know that love has come into the world. Love has come to all of us. To everyone. To you.

You are important enough to God that God has found a way to let you know. Here you are. You are loved. God has found a way to you.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2018 in Sermon

 

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An Ungodly God (Epiphany–Matthew 2:1-12)

starMatthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

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.

 

Today we celebrate Epiphany! The time of “aha,” of new insights, of revelation as to who Jesus is and of God’s presence in the world! And the gospel text for this important day is one most people are pretty familiar with—the coming of the magi. What do you do with a story most people already know? In celebrating the Epiphany, hopefully you do something new, insightful, revealing. An epiphany about Epiphany.

Magi in Jesus’ day had no business visiting the Jewish Messiah. These people would not normally have been welcomed. The shepherds were bad enough: smelly, rude, rejected outcasts who spent their time not with other people but with animals. But at least they know who God is. At least they have some sense of worship and God’s ways.

But these magi were about as far from pious Jews as you could get. Magi were not “wise men”. They weren’t kings. They were everything that a God-fearing person tried to avoid. They were pagan, chicken-bone reading, star-gazing magicians. Their faith was not in the God of Israel, it was in tea leaves or chicken gizzards. They knew nothing of God, nothing of the promised Messiah, nothing of worship.

So they come all this way in order to offer gifts to the young King of the Jews because they saw a star. That wouldn’t make sense to good Jewish folk, because every good Jew knows that God doesn’t work that way. We know how God works. Through the law of Moses, through righteousness, through obedience.

But God reached out to these magi in a way that worked for them, made sense to them. They weren’t Jews, so God didn’t call them in a way Jews would understand. Instead, God led them in a way that would make pious Jews squirm. It was different because it was for these foreign pagans, so they could experience the presence of God. That’s how far God is willing to go. That’s how radically inclusive this God is.

How many of us have arguments with other Christians about where God stands on some issue (even other Lutherans. Even other ELCA Lutherans. Even other members of LCM!)?

I work hard to try and align myself with God about hot topics like Syrian refugees, presidential politics, immigration, or same sex marriage. But then I have a discussion with another person who has also aligned themselves with God on those issues. And we completely disagree.

Like most people, I simply assume I’m right. I’ve studied and paid attention to God on these issues. If you disagree with me, you simply have to be wrong about God! You couldn’t know God’s ways as well as I do. Because God could never work the way you are saying. And I know that because I know how God works. Right? Right?

Which is exactly what all Jerusalem was saying when these magi came looking for the new king. They don’t know God like we Jews do. God would never reveal God’s own Messiah through a star. That’s ungodly!

Yet God did. And God does.

Whenever God does things in ways that are outside our experiences of God, or outside of Lutheran thinking, or outside our sense of righteousness, or–let’s face it–outside of what we believe to be godly, it can be a bit unnerving or uncomfortable. Too often our response is to just deny God’s activity. But God is about calling all people, loving all people, revealing grace to all people, forgiving all people.

Even people who hear things differently.

Even people who need different signs of God’s presence.

Even people who aren’t the least bit interested in being part of a Lutheran congregation.

Even people who aren’t Christian, or who don’t believe in God at all.

God shines a star for them; reveals God’s loving, gracious presence for them. God can do it in ways that may not make sense to Lutherans.

The magi, led by God through a star to the newborn Messiah, make it hard to judge people who have different theologies or different perspectives on God, the Divine, Allah, Spiritual things. Because God does things for others that wouldn’t make sense to me. And God does things that I may disagree with or think are godly. Sometimes we have an ungodly God.

But that would be my problem, not theirs. And certainly not God’s.

This is the celebration of Epiphany! The time of “aha,” of new insights, of revelation as to who Jesus is and of God’s presence in the world. This is the celebration of Epiphany, and God is revealing something new in the world. It doesn’t have to seem godly to us. It just has to be God doing it. Happy Epiphany.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Epiphany: God’s Surprise (Matthew 2:1-12)

The gospel text for Epiphany is always the story of the Magi in Matthew 2. They saw the light, an unusual star, and followed it to Palestine, where, naturally, they went to Jerusalem. Where else would a king be born? They go to the king to inquire where the new king was to be found. King Herod consults the priests and elders, then sends magi to Bethlehem and they find the baby Jesus, and offer him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Familiar story, right? It usually gets lumped into the Christmas story with the shepherds and the manger. All of our Nativity Scenes have Mary & Joseph, Jesus in a manger, shepherds, and three kings, right?

There are lots of myths and stories about these Magi, very little of which is actually known to be true. Magi were NOT kings, NOT wise men. Instead, they were pagan, dream-interpreting, fortune-telling, psychic hot-line, Tarot card readers. They represent to Mary and Joseph and other good religious people of the day idolatry and religious hocus-pocus, those who told the future using chicken gizzards and tea leaves. They were not royal, respected, or educated. They were everything the people of God were not.

Yet in Matthew’s gospel, they are the first to come and worship the Christ child. God called them—of all people—God revealed to them the newborn king, the Savior of the world.

God didn’t come to the magi because of the purity of their doctrine, the morality of their lives, or the correctness of their faith! God came to them, called them, gave them an epiphany because God’s love includes everyone. Jesus has come for the sake of everyone.

God came to them in a different way, but a way they could recognize—through a star. God entered their lives and called them from within their own lives and their own experience. Like God does for all of us, God enters our world, our lives, our particularities and reveals God’s own self in ways we can recognize.

That’s first: are we paying attention as God comes into our lives with epiphanies, working in ways we don’t expect? When was the last time God surprised you?

Let me tell one. I volunteer as a big brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado. In December they held a holiday party for the 25 or so Bigs and Littles that are part of our local program. The sponsor for this party is a financial company that buys past-due loans and muscles people into paying them. A long time ago I was on the wrong end of a company like this, and it wasn’t a good experience.

But for this party, this company provided a full meal for all these Bigs and Littles plus their families. They gave all the kids an opportunity to earn Monopoly money and use it to go into a room and buy presents for their families that this company had provided. They then gave each of the 25 Littles a personal gift based on their individual interests. And finally, they gave each Little, 25 of them, a new laptop computer. The generosity shown these families that are enduring some hardships blew me away. And it made me angry. What business did these people have being part of God’s generosity? That is reserved for us, the godly people! It was God’s own generosity, coming from a company that I didn’t want it to come from. An epiphany. A surprise.

Pay attention for God’s epiphanies. They’ll surprise you. And they change you.

We recognize in a new way God’s forgiveness, then we are drawn more deeply to forgive.

We recognize in a new way God’s generosity, then we are drawn more deeply to be generous.

We recognize in a new way God’s mercy, then we are drawn more deeply into mercy.

Is your capacity for forgiveness increasing? Are you becoming more generous? Are you showing more mercy? Pay attention, because the good news is that God is doing these things in you and around you every day.

Pay attention. Be ready. The star of Bethlehem is even now shining in our lives. God is revealing God’s self—an epiphany. Watch for the star, God’s presence in your life, be surprised where you discover forgiveness, generosity, compassion. Then watch for God to allow you to have the ability to offer forgiveness, generosity, compassion. God’s love includes everyone. Even you. Jesus has come for the sake of everyone. Even you.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2015 in Sermon

 

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And the Story Goes On . . . (2 Epiphany A — Jan. 19, 2014)

2 Epiphany — A

Isaiah 49:1-7

 I have a nephew who has had some difficulty finding his way in life. He’s talented, intelligent, and charismatic; a lot of fun to be around. But he just couldn’t find anything he could grab hold of–nothing that would stick. He tried everything from graphic art for computer games to phlebotomy (drawing blood for medical testing), with lots of odd jobs along the way. But nothing that got his juices flowing. Nothing that he could own as his purpose.

He dropped in and out of school for a decade, just not finding anything that was significant enough to hold him. He drifted from one job to another, from one relationship to another.

It was a crisis for him.

Because he was good at drawing blood from difficult veins, he was asked one day to go as part of an ambulance team to the scene of an highway accident, just in case. He agreed to go this one time, and suddenly, it was as if life opened up for him! As he tagged along with the paramedics and ambulance crew, he knew he had found his passion. The lights in his life suddenly turned on and he had a focus, a direction, a purpose.

He now wanted, more than anything he had ever wanted before, to become a paramedic.

Almost 600 years before Jesus was born, the nation of Judah and a remnant from Israel were taken captive. They were led from their homes and their ancestral land — promised to them by God — and held prisoner in a foreign land by pagan people.

For decades they cried out to God for help. For decades they wondered what was to become of them. Had God abandoned them? Had God revoked God’s promises to them? Was this a punishment for something they had done wrong? Where was God? Would they ever see their homes again?

This was a crisis for them.

After so long a time that few of the Israelites even remembered what their homeland even looked like, a new king came into power in this foreign land. And with this new king all the Israelites who had been help captive for for all those years were set free to return home.

Finally, after 50 years of captivity, their hope was renewed; they were returning home.

Feeling lost and abandoned happens to all of us. Hopes get dashed, dreams are trampled, and we are powerless to do anything about it. We can feel lost, alone, helpless.

That can happen anytime there’s a major change in our lives. Anytime there’s a significant loss: in our family, in our identity, in our church. It can be a crisis for us.

All we want is to feel normal again. To be restored, to get through this. To have a glimmer of hope again.

My nephew, with new motivation, went back to school one more time. The crisis of what to do with his life was over. He had a long and difficult road ahead of him, but that was OK. At least he had hope for the future.

He worked full time and went to school full time. He studied, lived very simply, he made whatever sacrifice was necessary to get certified as a paramedic.

Finally, after several years of sacrifice, he was awarded a Bachelor’s degree, completed all his training, and was given the opportunity for his dream. He became a certified paramedic. Crisis averted. That should end the story. However…

The people of Israel, with new motivation, went back to Jerusalem and their homes. The crisis of faith and trusting God was over. They had a long and difficult road ahead of them, but that was OK. At least they had hope for the future.

They worked hard to rebuild their fallen city. They constantly had to fend off invaders who sought to take advantage of their vulnerable situation. They made whatever sacrifice was necessary to restore their homes.

Finally, after years of sacrifice, they had rebuilt the city walls, the temple, and their homes. A dream come true. Crisis averted. That should end the story. However…

 

Each of us has come through a crisis, moved forward with new motivation, and reclaimed some hope. We’ve come through difficulties, dreamed new dreams, and made the necessary sacrifices in our lives. We’ve survived our grief, we’ve discovered new gifts, we’ve fought off a budget shortfall. Crisis averted. That should end the story. However…

My nephew became certified as a paramedic. Now what? The story continues with him getting a job in Las Vegas. It continues with every comforting word he speaks to a frightened person, every injury he treats, every life he saves. It turns out, the story wasn’t about him at all. It was about God’s bigger story of saving the whole world. And my nephew’s story is now part of that.

The exiles returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt their homes. Now what? The prophet Isaiah in this text today tells them that wasn’t the end of the story at all. The story continues with God gathering them back to move them forward with God’s purpose: the salvation of the world. Though they lived through the crisis of exile, God says to them, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to . . . restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” It turns out, the story wasn’t about them at all. It was about God’s bigger story of saving the whole world. And Israel’s story is now part of that.

We’ve dealt with our loss, adapted to a new normal, survived as a congregation. Now what? For LCM, our membership gains, our revenue as a church, our preferred worship styles, even thriving as a congregation aren’t the end of the story at all. The story continues with God’s mission and our purpose in that. It continues with every act of mercy, every expression of compassion, every attempt at forgiveness in the world. It turns out, the story isn’t about us at all. It is about God’s bigger story of saving the whole world. And now our story is part of that.

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2014 in Sermon

 

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