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Can One Have Faith without Justice? (October 16, 2016)

justiceLuke 18:1-8

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

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 was talking to a teacher at an elementary school in Jeffco School District last week. She told me that the air conditioning and the heat don’t work in her classroom. The room got up to about 90 degrees early in the school year, and although the temperature in the room is OK right now, soon the children in her room will be freezing. Some have no coats.

She has spoken to the school administrators, who have been in contact with the Jeffco School Board, but as of now there is no money to have the heating system fixed.

At the same time, she told me about another elementary school in the district whose A/C went out earlier in the year. That administration also called the School Board and by the end of the day it was fixed.

One school’s student population is brown, speaks a lot of Spanish, and comes from poor families. The other school’s population is mostly white and comes from upper middle class families. Guess which is which?

This is an example of injustice in our culture, which includes our schools, businesses, government, and more. Injustice is when those who have more power use it to their advantage even as it harms those with less power.

And injustice is one of those things that the Bible speaks out against. A lot. Injustice is something that those who’ve been followers of God have always stood in opposition to. Always. Injustice is one of the things Jesus gets most angry about. Continually. Injustice is one aspect of this world that the followers of Jesus have consistently recognized as evil. Consistently.

And that’s what this parable is about.

A widow seeks justice in the courts of her day. Widows were those who were lowest on the social ladder. They had no power, no voice, no resources, and if they had no other family, no support. She has been wronged somehow and goes to a judge in order to attain justice. Her judge, however, is a man who readily admits he has no respect for God or other people. Yet this woman continues to seek justice from him.

Eventually, even this corrupt judge in a corrupt system grants her justice. If he does this just to keep a persistent woman from bothering him, imagine, Jesus says, how willing God is to grant justice to those who persistently seek it.

We are in a long line of God-people who have been called to stand up in the face of injustice. It is at the very heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It’s the DNA of our baptism. We stand with the victims of injustice and use whatever voice, power, resources, support we have to bring justice. The people who seek God always end up dealing with injustice because it is so opposite of God, God’s will, and God’s kingdom.

And sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it is frightening. Sometimes it really makes us uncomfortable. We stand in a long line of people who were frightened and uncomfortable when called upon to stand with those who are victims of injustice.

That’s why we are listening to those who are part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. And that’s why we need this partnership with Zion Baptist Church. They are the voices of our Black sisters and brothers who are victims of injustice. We need to listen. We need to understand. We need to persistently seek justice with them.

That’s why we are listening to the LGBT community. And why we will soon be considering how we can have a congregational conversation about becoming a “Reconciling in Christ” congregation—one that openly welcomes and supports our sisters and brothers who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. We need to listen. We need to understand. We need to persistently seek justice with them.

That’s why our council is proposing we use some of our resources in 2017 to find more effective ways to stand with our children and grow them as disciples of Jesus. Not only do our children need us as advocates now, but the world needs them as fellow followers of Jesus who will also stand against injustice into the future. We need to show them. We need to be an example for them. We need to persistently seek justice on their behalf.

That’s why we give away 11% of our congregational income, most of which goes to the work of our own Rocky Mountain Synod. When all 163 congregations of this synod pool our resources, we are much louder in our voice for justice. We are much stronger advocates for those who are victims of injustice. We need to persistently seek justice together on their behalf.

“And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”

Then comes the question we answer with a resounding “YES!” When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

YES! Lord! YES. We stand in this time and in this place as part of the great cloud of witnesses who persist in seeking justice to your people. Forgive us where we are complicit in injustice. Encourage us where we seek justice. Empower us where we stand for justice. Amen.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2016 in Sermon

 

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The Significance of the Insignificant (October 2, 2016)

Luke 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ “

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.

Worship together with Zion Baptist Church on August 28. Since I had no pastoral role, I took up my usual position standing in the back so I could watch. According to their tradition, a woman came up during altar call and rededicated her life to Jesus. Whole congregation prayed, and joined hands to do so. I watched and was impressed at the sincerity of it.

Suddenly, I felt someone grab my hand with a pretty firm grip. I looked up and it was a man—a member of Zion—who had been outside the tent talking with some elderly ladies on the lawn. He didn’t say a word, didn’t make eye contact. He just didn’t want me, the visiting white person, praying alone. No big deal for him, a very moving moment for me.

Mustard seed faith. Small acts of care, love, forgiveness, inclusion that don’t seem big, but might just grow.

After the death of my mom a month ago, I received many personal condolences, a bunch of sympathy cards and several donations to Alzheimer’s Association. Probably to most of you it wasn’t a big deal, but it mean a lot to me.

Mustard seed faith. Small acts of care, love, forgiveness, inclusion that don’t seem big, but might just grow.

As part of our fall stewardship emphasis, we asked you to write down one “Joyful Experiences” that come from being associated with this congregation. These are wonderful things that we have experienced and about 65 of you have done this so far. Most of them may not seem life-changing, but they mattered enough for people to take the time to write them down. For example:

  • Worshiping with an amazing group of people.
  • The consistent love, support, and prayers given to me over the last 50 years.
  • Teaching VBS with the preschool kids this summer. Learning about the Bible.
  • Attending both worship services. What an awesome congregation we have!
  • Sunday School. I love watching the kids get so excited about the things God has done for us.
  • Going to Sky Ranch because I had an awesome experience doing all the fun activities and making new friends.
  • Watching my kids grow and be loved by so many.

Mustard seed faith. Small acts of care, love, forgiveness, inclusion that don’t seem big, but might just grow.

They are possible because this congregation exists. Individually they may not seem like much, but collectively there is a culture deeply embedded with care, of love, of laughter, of joy, new life.

No one person or household gives enough financially to do all this. Each little gift, each act of generosity, each offering is an act of faith. Collect enough mustard seed acts of faith and we end up with a congregation full of people who experience love and care and inclusion.

And that mustard seed faith grows beyond our walls into the neighborhood around us. Embedded in love, forgiveness, and compassion, we sow those same little seeds as we live, and work, and go to school. Small, tiny acts that come from our life together in Jesus. They may not seem like much, but collectively they change the world. They grow. They matter.

Every year I stand up here and ask you to increase your financial acts of giving. Of course I do. The more money we have, the more ministry we can do. That makes sense.

But there is something more important than the ability to increase the overall LCM budget. That’s each person, each household, giving something. Because then we are all sowing little mustard seeds of faith together. We’re all part of the small things and the big things that become part of our lives, part of our neighborhood, part of the world. We do it together. We sow seeds that grow. We commit small acts of faith. We change lives.

Mustard seed faith. Small acts of care, love, forgiveness, inclusion that don’t seem big, but might just grow.

Fill out an Estimate of Giving card, even if it’s a mustard seed amount. It’s an act of faith on your part. It is participation in casting love and compassion out into the world. It might just change someone’s life. It matters.

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2016 in Sermon

 

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The Amazing Faith of Our Enemy (May 29, 2016; 2 Pentecost C)

Luke 7:1-10

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go,’ and he goes, and to another, “Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

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 want to take a closer look at the Roman centurion in today’s gospel. Although he seems to be a good guy, helping the Jews build a synagogue, he was still there as part of a foreign occupying oppressive force from Rome and a Pagan. He’s not a follower of Jesus nor is he Jewish. As a Roman, he likely believes in multiple gods.

And Jesus is amazed at this person’s faith.

Wait a minute! This centurion has no business having faith in Jesus! He doesn’t know who Jesus is, he doesn’t know God’s plan of salvation, he’s never been to church. What’s more, he’s oppressing God’s chosen people in their own homeland. He is an enemy. He’s pagan for crying out loud! And yet, Jesus is amazed by his faith. How can that be?

Faith isn’t so easily categorized or compartmentalized. Faith springs forth in surprising ways from surprising people. Faith isn’t something we “do,” it’s something God causes.

Because faith is a result of God pursuing us, connecting to us, and winning us over. Like the old fashioned way a young man would try to win a girl’s heart–God woos us. God attracts us, chases us, wins our affections. Paul refers to it in Romans as God’s Spirit bearing witness with our spirit. And when that connection is made, as God wins us over–even a little bit–faith happens.

In the case of the Roman centurion, even though he’s a Pagan, likely believing in multiple gods, God wooed him, connected with him, and the faith response was generosity and trust. This man helped build a synagogue for people whose religion he thought was weird. He trusted a Jewish rabbi to heal his slave. He didn’t convert to Judaism. There’s no indication he became a follower of Jesus. He’s never mentioned again. In fact, he never actually met Jesus. All communication was done through intermediaries. Yet God pursued him, won him over, just a little bit. That’s what faith is.

And it comes from God’s initial action. Faith has to be God acting first, otherwise, it isn’t faith. If it’s us doing it, it’s either self-justification or self-righteousness.

No, faith is God pursuing us first and winning us over. Which means the response can come from unexpected places. Like a Pagan Roman enemy. And their response to God’s wooing can be amazing. And surprising. And as this story makes clear, God will pursue anyone. And wins over a little bit of anyone’s heart. And faith–faith that can amaze Jesus–happens.

Faith is not the realm of the righteous. Faith is a result of a loving God who won’t quit pursuing us, and who, once in a while, continues to win a little bit of us over. Faith is God’s business, and it can happen anywhere to anyone. Churchy or not. Religious of not. Believer or not. Christian or not. Pagan enemy or not.

Think about what good news that is. That God woos anyone and wins over anyone. Who do you know who isn’t part of a Christian church? Think of someone you love who doesn’t show any sign of belief in Jesus. Who has kept you up at night worrying and praying because they don’t have a relationship with God? Who has caused you grief because they have left the church? Do you have someone in mind?

Picture God pursuing them. Relentlessly chasing them trying win them over with love. Imagine God’s acts of compassion for them, wooing them, winning their affections. And in God’s never-ending pursuit, God wins a little bit of their hearts. And that’s why this person you love and care about who, having no connection to church or to God, does such faithful things sometimes. Because God has won a bit of their hearts. That’s why even these people who’ve left the church or never went to church or don’t believe in God are capable of such amazing acts of love. Faithful responses that amaze even Jesus.

Faith is a result of God pursuing us, connecting to us, and winning us over. And eventually, God succeeds. A little bit at a time. All of us. Each of us. Me. And you. God is wooing us in order to win our affections. And God won’t give up. Even on us.

We recognize that God has won a bit of our hearts today. God has pursued us and connected with us, and our faithful response includes taking time to put together care packages for our brothers and sisters who are homeless. We are acknowledging, and rightly so in our worship, that God has successfully won us over. Even just a little. These care packages are a great act of love. These are faithful responses that amaze Jesus, which is worship.

Faith springs up in suprising ways from surprising people. Roman centurions, enemies, Pagans, atheists, Muslims, Christians. Even us. God continues to pursue us in order to win us over. Bit by bit God’s relentless love wins out. And faithful responses happen. And Jesus is amazed.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Sermon

 

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When Faith Fails (Mark 13:1-8)

With the attacks in Paris, as well as Baghdad, The West Bank, Beirut, Cameroon Chad, Egypt (just in November), I have to admit my faith is challenged. I am not sure what God is doing in the midst of such violence and evil. And I imagine I’m not alone in that. For each of us, there are times when we discover that our faith just isn’t big enough to wrap around what’s happening in our lives and explain where God is and what God is doing. Sometimes, in the face of new life experiences or new difficulties, we are forced into the realization that our faith isn’t working.

What do you do then?

Sometimes we try to force our complex life into a small faith container. Even though our life matures, our faith remains childish. We ignore life and cling to an immature and unreal faith.

Sometimes we see our faith can’t hold the realities of our life and so we throw out the whole concept of God and of church. We ignore faith and cling to the realities of life.

Sometimes we tweak our faith just enough to allow parts of our life to fit into it. Then both our faith and our lives are unsatisfactory.

But I think here in the church, we need to be honest—sometimes our faith just isn’t good enough. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. Sometimes it seems like our faith isn’t trustworthy. And sometimes we’re right.

Our faith in God is really like the stones of the temple in this gospel reading. The bricks and mortar of the temple reveal God’s presence. The temple is trustworthy. We can see it and feel it. As long as it’s there, we trust God is near. Isn’t that how our faith works? As long as we have faith, we can trust God is near. So we depend of the physical temple. We depend on our faith. We put faith in our faith.

But what happens when the temple is destroyed? What happens if our faith no longer works? How do we know God is near? How do we trust what God may be doing?

Like the temple, our faith isn’t the most important thing. It’s not our ability to trust in God that counts—it’s actually God that counts. We can get so caught up trusting our faith is that we don’t realize God is trustworthy, whether our faith is working for us or not.

Our faith isn’t sacred. Our faith doesn’t save us, it doesn’t comfort us, it doesn’t love us. God does those things. Faith is merely a recognition of that.

As your life has changed, has your faith changed? Have the difficulties of your life challenged your faith? What was the situation that made your realize your faith wasn’t working?

  • Death/illness?
  • Loss of job or income or financial security?
  • End of a relationship?
  • A church that wouldn’t answer your questions or judged you for asking them?

Wherever it is that our faith in God fails us, the reality of God steps in. If our faith can’t sustain us, God can. Our faith doesn’t conquer death, God does. Our faith isn’t divine, God is. Our faith doesn’t hold us and comfort us and love us, God does.

So if your faith is not enough for you, if it’s failing you, if it cannot provide what you need in your life, good. Quit relying on it. God is there. And regardless of your faith, God is sustaining you and holding you and loving you and walking with you. Especially if you doubt it. Especially if you can’t see it or understand it. Especially if you don’t believe it. Especially if you have no faith in it.

In this gospel text, Jesus goes on to warn the disciples not to get all caught up in signs of the destruction of the temple. Don’t get all excited about wars and earthquakes. Don’t be distracted by people claiming to have truth. How easy it is to focus on that stuff! Because the temptation is to see those things, hear those things and then trust in those things. But they cannot sustain us any more than our faith can. At their absolute best, the most they can do is remind us that God is actually near and is still at work in our lives.

Even if you pay attention to signs and wonders, exciting philosophies and thoughts, new discoveries and ancient wisdoms, that doesn’t change who Christ is or how he walks with you. Even if your faith evolves and changes, is renewed and refreshed, is torn down and built up anew, that doesn’t affect how much God loves you.

If you can’t believe that today, don’t worry about it; that’s OK. There are others here who can continue to remind you of God’s grace and love. They can love you with God’s love, walk alongside you with God’s presence, they can trust God’s mercy for you.

Maybe your life has outpaced your faith right now. But it hasn’t outpaced God. You may not be able to trust your faith, but you can trust that you are loved, you are forgiven, you are not alone. Because Christ is really here for you. Christ is here for Paris, Baghdad, Israel, Palestine, Cameroon, Chad, and Egypt. Christ is with you. We are here with you too.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Faith: When We Actually Need God (2 Corinthians 12:2-10)

 

One of the problems in this Corinthian congregation is that some of the people there are lifting themselves up as super-pastors who have all credentials and are super spiritual. They assert that their list of credentials make them trustworthy–superior to Paul.

Yet Paul has credentials of his own: a vision of Paradise, the third heaven; hearing and seeing things he can never speak of. If they want to get into a spiritual credentials battle, Paul can certainly compete. Since he is claiming to be an Apostle, shouldn’t his credentials be better than his opposition?

Paul writes of this vision, but says that as amazing as it was 14 years ago, that’s not what gives him credibility. What matters isn’t how many visions he’s had or how spiritual they’ve been; what matters is he sees God at work most clearly through his weaknesses—the things he can’t do.

“I will not boast, except of my weakness,” he writes. “Power is made perfect in weakness.” “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.” “I am content with weaknesses.” “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

Where does he get this stuff? Try going into a job interview and boasting about your weaknesses. See if you get called back. It’s one thing to acknowledge your weaknesses, to try to improve them. But to boast about them? To point them out publicly, putting them in the spotlight and saying, “take a look. This is what I’m proud of!”? Really? In a congregation where his authority is already questioned, how can he think this is a viable strategy?

Because weak is a good description of Jesus. Jesus was arrested without a struggle, wore a crown of thorns without a complaint, was crucified without one protest of his innocence. Jesus is the poster child for what we would call being weak.

A Jesus who is strong or powerful would be more like the movies: beating up everyone who comes to arrest him, spitting in the face of anyone who mocks him, and never allowing himself to be killed. A powerful Jesus would find a way out of that crucifixion situation. Look out, Roman oppressors. Look out, Pontius Pilate. Super Jesus is fighting back with the power of Almighty God! That’s the Jesus we want, but it isn’t reality.

No. Power isn’t the way of Christ. Therefore, power isn’t the way of God. Those things that we consider weak and frail are actually God’s ways. Unconditional love, mercy, forgiveness. Those are God’s strengths. Paul reminds us that these weak ways of Christ are more powerful than anything we would consider strengths.

So Paul boasts of his weaknesses. Not to give himself credibility, but to recognize Go at work. If the gospel is proclaimed through Paul’s credentials, Paul gets credit and Christ is ignored. But if the gospel of life is revealed in ways that Paul can’t take credit for, then it is the power of Christ that is known; the power of forgiveness, of love, of grace. God’s strengths.

Let’s make this personal. In my work I am often required to submit a brief biography.  I say something like, “The Rev. Dr. (gotta include the “Dr.”) Robert Moss, serving as Senior Pastor of a very innovative congregation in the ELCA, has previously served the ELCA as the Interim Director for Evangelical Mission for the Rocky Mountain Synod. He is a published author (they love that) and serves on the Rocky Mountain Synod’s Mission Strategy Table. He has had 20 consecutive years of congregational growth in members and finances, including eight consecutive years of double-digit percentage growth in his current congregation.” That kind of stuff. Credentials? I’ve got them.

Paul would say, “So what? That’s all about you. Christ isn’t revealed in any of that. There’s no love shown, no forgiveness there, no compassion.” The credentials are about me, not about Christ and the mission of God.

So Paul would have me write a new bio that would say something like, “Rob Moss is an aging, balding, nearsighted, hard-of-hearing person who deals with depression and self-doubt. He shares responsibility for a nine year numerical decline in the congregation he serves. Very introverted, Rob sometimes finds it hard to connect with people, and too often keeps to himself. Oh, and he doesn’t exercise enough.”

If, like Paul, I were to appeal to the Lord about these weaknesses, that I could be stronger, God would say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Trusting God means that where we are weak and cannot accomplish God’s mission, we believe that God can. It isn’t about our power, our credentials, or our personal strengths. It is about God’s love that has no strings attached, about reconciliation, about mercy, about forgiving those who hurt us. And when our credentials don’t include these things, we have faith in the power of Christ to do them anyway. Life is found not in our strength and our power, but in God’s love and mercy. Even if that is seen as weakness.

On this 4th of July weekend, we recognize the strengths of this country. The power we have in the world. The might of our military. The freedoms we have procured. And we celebrate all that, with good reason. We rejoice in that and are thankful every day for that.

But I wonder if our emphasis on national power and strength prevents us from recognizing God’s real power of forgiveness, of loving our enemies, of doing good to those who hurt us. I wonder on this weekend when we say “God bless America,” if that’s really what we mean. Are we asking God to affirm our power, or are we asking God for the real power of unconditional love and forgiveness?

“So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, . . . for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Exercising Faith: Living a New Life (2 Cor. 5:6-17)

When I was in 2nd grade, I was chasing my sister through the house. She, of course, had done something that completely justified it. Just as I was about to catch her, she ran out the back door, which had a large pane of glass in it, and it clicked shut just as I put my hands out to push it open. My hand went through the glass and cut my hands and left wrist pretty seriously. The tendons and nerves were severed in my wrist and I underwent surgery to try ad repair as much as they could.

My wrist was immobilized in a cast for 6 weeks. After that, my left hand had no feeling and no movement. None at all. Nonetheless I started physical therapy to see how much mobility I might regain. There were no promises as to whether I would regain any sensation in my hand or any movement. I remember being terrified when my little 7-year-old hand couldn’t even grasp a tennis ball.

Therapy went on for three years. Slowly, through continual exercises, I began to regain some movement. After a few months, I could hold a tennis ball, then a golf ball, then I began to play with Tinker Toys–working to grasp those small sticks and maneuver them. Two years later, with continuous therapy and exercises, I began guitar lessons in order to exercise the fingers on my left hand to form chords on the frets.

Ultimately I regained full mobility. The feeling will never come back completely, but I’ve regained most of it. Not a day goes by, 50 years later, that I don’t deliberately move the fingers of my left hand and marvel that it works.

The repair work done in surgery was a gift to me. The neurosurgeon, Dr. Gerald Bergera, was way ahead of his time and reestablished nerve connections that few other surgeons in the country could do in that day. I am grateful for the gift he gave me that made it possible to use my left hand all these years later.

I was given the gift of nerve and tendon repair through complicated surgery. But that gift wouldn’t have made any difference without the physical therapy that followed. As much as it hurt, as frustrating as it became, as slow a process as it was, those exercises allowed me to experience the gift.

Paul is telling the church in Corinth that their faith is a gift. God has given it to them freely in Christ through the power of the Spirit. It is theirs, it is done. They are forgiven, loved, and made new. That has happened and it is God’s gift to them. They are fully restored. Trust it, he writes. Walk by faith and not by sight, he urges them.

And we experience the gift by exercising it.

The exercise of the gift of faith is a life-long process. We don’t see immediate results. But that doesn’t mean the repair work hasn’t been done. It doesn’t mean the gift hasn’t been given. We are made new, and we need to move forward and live that new life. For we walk by faith, not by sight.

  • We exercise forgiveness, no matter how difficult it is, because it is the gift given to us. Christ urges us on, Paul writes in v. 14. We keep exercising it.
  • We exercise mercy, no matter how long it takes, because it is the gift given to us. We regard no one from merely a human point of view any more, Paul writes in v. 16. Through God’s gift, we begin to see them as Christ.
  • We exercise love, no matter how painful, because it is the gift given to us. So if anyone is in Christ, Paul writes in v. 17, there is a new creation. We flex our love, practice our love because we are made new.
  • We exercise our new life in Christ, because it is the gift given to us. Everything old has passed away, writes Paul in v. 17, see everything has become new. We continue to practice living as Christ, over and over, day after day, year after year, getting stronger and more flexible.
  • The gift of faith, a spiritual life, a new way of living has already been given to us. The surgery has happened; Christ died for all.

Now we continue in long-term spiritual therapy, exercising that gift of faith. Slowly, gradually, sometimes even painfully we live a new life, walking by faith, trusting a God of love and life who cannot always be seen.

Exercise your faith, walk by faith and not sight. Expand and grow and strengthen your faith.

My new spiritual therapy exercise is to pray every day for those on our prayer list. I will also pray for each of you, day by day, one name, one household at a time. We walk by faith, not by sight.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Faith Doesn’t Change Anything . . .

3 Easter (A)

Luke 24:13-35

When has Jesus been absent for you? When have you needed him and he didn’t show up?  When have you said of Jesus, “We had hoped you would be the one to save us. . .” “We had hoped . . .”

Jesus, we had hoped you would be the one to:

–save our marriage;

–save me from this diagnosis;

–save my job;

–save me from the expense of this repair;

–save my kids from injury until I had health insurance.

Let’s face it – Jesus hardly ever works in the way we think Jesus ought to. There is hardship, pain, and distress – God doesn’t always get us out of it. We are disappointed. We had hoped . . .

So it’s easy to imagine how Cleopas and his companion are feeling as they travel the 7 miles to Emmaus. In v.21, we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

We had hoped he was the Messiah! But obviously not. Messiahs don’t die.

In the midst of their disappointment, grieving, struggles, and hopelessness, they simply didn’t see that Jesus was right there with them.

Jesus walks with them, asks them what’s the matter – what they’re talking about. They tell him the entire story. They know the whole thing, even the claims that he’s risen from the dead! They know everything except that he’s right there with them. They see everything except that the risen Lord with them at the very point of their disappointment; with them at the very moment when they are least likely to recognize him. They are caught in their disappoint—their unfulfilled hope—and cannot recognize the presence of God right there with them in the moment.

What they know doesn’t change anything; hearing the voice of Jesus doesn’t change anything; even inviting Jesus to stay with them doesn’t change anything. The only thing that changes anything (and it changes everything) is that Jesus is already with them.

We gather together in his presence – we know that, we talk about it here. But our knowledge doesn’t change us, or the world around us. Our understanding of this worship time doesn’t change us. Whether or not we are personally satisfied with what happens here today doesn’t change us. Not really. It is Christ who changes us. It is Christ who is with us, who forgives us, who gives us new life. It is Christ who is with us on the road, with us in our disappointment, with us in our struggles.

That’s often the way it works. The risen Jesus, whose presence not even death can hinder, meets us in our place of greatest disappointment, pain, grief, and struggle. He comes at the very times that we are living in unfulfilled hope. For him the most important thing is not whether or not we see him, but that his presence gives us new hope.

So how has God disappointed you? That’s where the risen Christ is. Where is your pain, despair, hopelessness? Where in your life are your deepest struggles? Where had you hoped? That’s where Jesus comes to you. That’s where he’s meeting you now.

He meets us here, he reveals himself in the breaking of the bread. He has come to us who are disappointed, who struggle, who had hoped, who are looking so hard at our difficulties that we can’t see beyond them. He has defeated the power of sin and death and brings victorious new life to us.

With all that whirls around us in our lives, it can still be difficult to recognize the risen Jesus in our midst. But Jesus comes. He opens. He forgives. He loves. He restores. He brings new life. He creates hope.

And when we look back of this day, we’ll say to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Don’t see him? That doesn’t mean he isn’t with you. Don’t recognize him at work in your life? That doesn’t mean he isn’t present with you. Can’t see past your life circumstances now? That doesn’t mean he isn’t bringing new life to you.

Today we can gather with one another, at the table, and trust his promise to be present. Today we can receive the forgiveness and life he offers. Today we can leave this table and recognize his presence at all the other places we go in our lives.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Ash Wednesday: Tangible, Real, Visible Discipleship

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ash Wednesday—official beginning of Lent. Season of deliberation, repentance, deepening discipleship. This is a season when we focus very intentionally on our spiritual lives, spiritual disciplines, our relationship with God. Sometimes that means we need to put aside other things during Lent in order to focus on this aspect of our lives.

We talk a good talk as Christians. We confess our faith, we believe in God, we come to church, we might even tell people we are Christians. But does that discipleship cause us to do anything that’s actually different? Does our belief in Jesus actually reveal itself in tangible ways?

Actually, it does. But we can become complacent about it. So it seems the question this year would be: Are our lives different this year as our relationship with God grows? Are the lives of the people around us different this year as our faith deepens? Are we able to share God’s story of love and grace and forgiveness more boldly this year? Are we more clearly seeing God’s story as our own? Are we recognizing God’s story intersecting with the life-story of the people in our neighborhoods?

Today, Ash Wednesday, we have the opportunity to express our faith, our trust, our repentance, our commitment in a different kind of way. Today, Ash Wednesday, we will be marked with the sign of the cross in a way that can be seen by everyone. With ashes.

Ashes were a Hebrew sign of repentance and cleansing. The cross is a sign of God entering our world, our very lives, in Christ. We will look at one another and see, with clarity, the reality of our faith and our commitment to Jesus as his disciples in the world.

The gospel text reminds us that we don’t do this for show. It’s not to impress anyone. But it is a tangible expression, a physical reminder, a different way of declaring the source of our life, our breath, our forgiveness, our salvation. We don’t wear this mark proudly, but in honest humility. We are dust, God is our life. Jesus entered into our world, into our life, even into our death on the cross. Because of him we are different than we were before. The difference in our life is real, tangible, evident. We will respond to Jesus tonight in a real, tangible, evident way. We wear God’s story on our foreheads. God’s story of forgiveness and life touches us even in the dirt and grime and ashes of our lives.

The ashes are real. God’s story is real. The cross is real. So our story in this Lenten journey is just as real because God’s promise of forgiveness and life are the most real of all. The cross of Jesus makes a tangible difference in the world. May these crosses on our foreheads remind us to recognize God’s story in our own life story and be part of that story in the world too.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Who Are Moses and Elijah? (March 2, 2014)

Matthew 17:1-9

So, Jesus invites Peter, James, and John up a mountain. Just them. All the other disciples are left down below. Now, prior to this in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus walked on water, has been announced as the Son of God, and as the long-awaited Messiah, so this is quite an honor for them. You kinda wonder if they were feeling a little privileged, a bit superior. And possibly curious. What did Jesus have planned? Why is he bringing them up here?

They soon find out. Jesus is transfigured — he changes — right in front of them. His face is like the sun, his clothes are dazzling white. And if it isn’t enough that the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah who walks on water starts glowing in front of them, Moses and Elijah come and are also with him. Like the perfect trifecta. These good Jewish boys have learned all their lives about these great historical leaders of God. Moses, who led their people out of slavery into freedom; who spoke with God and was given God’s law. And Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets of God; who defeated the god Baal, brought fire from the sky, raised the dead, and was whisked away to God in a whirlwind. Jesus is in some pretty good company here.

So Peter makes a very hospitable offer. Tell you what, Jesus, let me build three little cabins right here; one for each of you. I’ll do it right now, if you like.

If you think about it, that’s a pretty gracious, if a bit ambitious, offer. Peter, James, and John are witnessing something amazing: Jesus the water-walking Son of God, right there alongside the two greatest figures in history. The moment needs to be recognized, memorialized, monumentized. They figured Jesus is something special, but to be hanging out with Moses and Elijah is all kinds of impressive. Three little cabins. One for each. Recognizing this historic event.

For James, John, and Peter, the presence of Moses and Elijah validates the significance of Jesus. It proves he is someone special. It makes it OK to believe in him. Moses and Elijah support their belief in Jesus. They can trust Moses. They can believe Elijah. As long they they are going along with Jesus, the guy must be alright.

So I’m wondering, who/what are Moses and Elijah for us? What is it that we have confidence in, that we trust, that fit our lifelong beliefs and understanding, that support our faith in Jesus? Is it a person who makes Jesus credible (if Mom believes in him, he must be alright)? Is it the people we hang out with (lots of people believe in him, he must be alright)? Is it the fact that our life is content, that we are healthy, that we have a good retirement (I’m doing well, Jesus must be alright)? Or is it that the church is a comfortable place for us (the coffee is good at church and the people are nice, so I guess this Jesus is alright)? Or that belief in Jesus is what we’ve always done (so it must be fine). What or who is it that we want to build a little cabin for, right next to Jesus, to support our faith him?…

While Peter is still making his offer to build some cabins, a voice booms from the clouds, “THIS is my son; with HIM I am well pleased; listen to HIM!”

Nothing about Moses. Nothing about Elijah. Just Jesus. Now the three disciples witnessing this are terrified. Moses and Elijah are gone. It’s just Jesus. Jesus alone. It’s Jesus or nothing. And Peter, James, and John are overcome with fear.

What happens when Moses and Elijah disappear? What happens when the things that support our faith in Jesus don’t hold up? What happens when someone whose faith I admire gives up on God? What happens when our culture no longer feels a need to associate with Jesus? What happens when my life is in turmoil, when I am no longer healthy, when I face bankruptcy? What happens when the church is uncomfortable, and makes decisions I don’t like? What happens when Jesus doesn’t meet our expectations and talks about things that I don’t understand or don’t want to do? What happens when we fall to the ground overcome with fear?

“…[the disciples] fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.”

When Moses and Elijah disappear, aren’t standing with Jesus, or simply let you down, Jesus stays. He stays with you in your doubt, in your confusion, in your anger, in your frustration, in your disbelief, in your fear. And reaches out and touches you. And he helps you up. And he walks down the mountain with you.

Because when Moses and Elijah are gone; when the things or the people that prop Jesus up disappear; when all the things that make it OK to believe fall short; when you are face down in the dirt trembling in fear and anxiety, Jesus stays.

“And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.” Moses and Elijah are fine, but Jesus is the one who stays with you. On the mountaintop when your life is all shiney and bright. And down in the valley, where life is uncertain, frightening, and chaotic.

“Lord,” says Peter, “It is good for us to be here.”

Amen.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Don’t Trust Your Faith (20 Pentecost — Oct 6, 2013 at St. James’ Episcopal Church, Fremont, CA)

Luke 17:5-10

 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ”

I bring you greetings from the new lakefront property in Colorado; from my own congregation—Lutheran Church of the Master of Lakewood, CO; and from your full communion denominational partner, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I am so pleased to be here with you this morning. Thank you for letting me be part of your life and your ministry this weekend. A bunch of us were here yesterday and had a great time in conversation around this amazing congregation and your ministry in the world. I’m grateful to you for your boldness, your partnership, and your faith.

Which happens to be the point of this gospel text in Luke. For those of you who’ve been here the last several weeks as we’ve journeyed through Luke’s gospel, Jesus seems to be a little bit cranky, demanding, impatient. We’ve lately just taken to calling him “Grumpy Jesus.” In recent weeks he’s told us that if we’re really his disciples we will hate our families, carry a cross, get serious about what it will cost, and we have to give up all our possessions.

I can’t blame the disciples for asking him to increase their faith! Frankly, I’m amazed they’re still hanging with him. But, in grumpy Jesus style, he doesn’t try to soothe their anxiety or assure them, he seems to just twist the knife a little bit more. They are trying, they ask him to increase their faith so they can do the crazy stuff he’s demanding, and his response is to tell them that if they had faith even the size of a tiny mustard seed they could tell a big old mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea.

Thanks, Jesus. Apparently we don’t even have that small amount of faith. Even though we’re asking you for it, you just keep telling us how inadequate we are.

I don’t know about you, but I’m with the disciples here. I know I’m not the greatest disciple. I see homeless people at intersections holding cardboard signs asking for food and ignore them. I have time to volunteer at our local food pantry but don’t do it that often. I sometimes hold grudges longer than I should. I’m not the most ardent pray-er.  When our 15 year old Bassett Hound would have to go out in the middle of the night, I’d accidentally nudge my wife awake while pretending I was still asleep, hoping she’d get up and do it.

But c’mon, Jesus, I’m trying. And if I need a little help, you gotta do better than slamming me for my lack of faith which I already know is less than perfect.

But here’s the thing about faith. Like pretty much everything else, we make it about us. We think of faith as a possession, a commodity, something we can work up and bolster in order to do more spiritual things. I don’t think we trust God, I think we trust our faith in God. That’s different.

A friend told me a story that makes sense of this for me. During a flood, a mother and her little boy were soon to be trapped by the rising river. The mother knew they had to get across the river now if they were to have a chance of surviving. So she said to her son, “Hold on to my hand while we go across.” The little boy answered, “No, mommy. You hold onto my hand.”

That’s the difference. We tend to think of faith as holding onto God’s hand. As long as we have the strength to hold on, we think we’re OK. But I think Jesus is telling us here that faith isn’t proportionate to the difficulties. It’s not like the more faith we have the greater things we can do. No. It seems Jesus is saying the amount of faith doesn’t matter, because it’s not about us. It’s not trusting our ability to hold onto God, it’s about trusting that God is holding onto us. That’s different, right?

If we trust God to hold our hand, we can go across a river that is stronger than our grip. Because it isn’t our strength, it’s God’s. So even a tiny bit of faith is more than enough, because all faith needs to do is recognize we are in God’s hands. God does the rest. God takes us where we need to go, even if it’s in places we wouldn’t trust ourselves to go. You don’t have to hang on to God when you go out of this place, just recognize that God is hanging on to you.

Think of the difference that makes. Yesterday we came up with lots of different ways to live as disciples in a public way–in the world around us. Does that scare you? Sometimes the thought of that simply exhausts me. What if I goof it up? What if I get laughed at? What if I get called a Bible thumper or say something wrong? I simply don’t have enough faith to do that. And Grumpy Jesus says, It’s not about how much faith you have or what you think you can do. It’s about God holding you, never letting you go, always with you. Even if you’re crossing a rising river. Even if you’re going to work, or to school, or to your weekly Bridge Club. Even just the tiniest bit of faith, a willingness to take a risk that God’s got a grip on you, is more than enough.

Don’t worry about whether or not you have enough faith. Instead, watch what God does around you, through you, and in you. God will not let go of St. James’. And God will not let go of you. If you’re willing to even begin testing the possibility that that might be true, you have more than enough faith. Amen.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Sermon

 

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