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“Jesus is Too Divisive” (August 18, 2019)

Luke 12:49-56

[Jesus said to his disciples,] “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

There’s a lot in this brief text this morning. There’s fire, baptism, stress, weather reports, accusations of hypocrisy, and seeing signs of the times. But my guess is that what most of us hear today in this text isn’t any of those things. It’s probably Jesus saying, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

I heard someone say recently that they are part of a Christian Bluegrass band, and they had a gig at a local bar one night. After playing a few songs, the manager asked if all their songs were about Jesus. “Well, yeah, it’s kind of a beer-and-hymns sort of idea.” They were then asked to pack up and leave the bar because, as the manager said, “Jesus is too divisive.”

Now, understand that Jesus isn’t saying it’s his goal to be divisive. Just that that’s sometimes the reality when the Reign of God is shown. Jesus isn’t saying it’s his goal to oppose peace. Just that people’s reaction to the presence of the Reign of God isn’t always peaceful.

See if that isn’t true. The Reign of God is present anytime and anyplace where the character of God is evident. Any time someone exhibits God’s over-the-top compassion, anytime someone gives with God’s extravagant generosity, any place where someone grants God’s never-ending forgiveness, anywhere that someone is loved with God’s unconditional love. Try doing that and see how divisive it can be.

What would happen if someone tried to exhibit God’s generosity with our tax dollars, or God’s compassion with our immigration laws? I’m not talking about agreement; I’m talking about the division that would result.

Or what happened right here in Lakewood when the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless tried to build housing on Federal land? Again, put aside whether it was a good idea or not, I’m just talking about the divisive way people responded. It largely wasn’t a conversation about whether this was the best way to provide housing for people who are homeless. It was just met with division. Those meeting certainly weren’t peaceful.

Even when the church reveals the Reign of God, it can be divisive. The ELCA in assembly last week voted to become a “sanctuary church body.” Even though this stance doesn’t call anyone to do anything illegal, just that we are publicly declaring that for us as Lutherans, walking alongside immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers is a matter of faith—a matter of following Jesus; a matter of the Reign of God. And the response by some media outlets was quite divisive.

So Jesus is stating reality here—that the response to the Reign of God can be divisive. Here’s why he says it. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is not meandering like an itinerant preacher, he is intentionally travelling to Jerusalem for almost half the gospel. Because that is where the Reign of God—God’s compassion, love, and forgiveness—will be most prominently revealed. On a cross. In Jerusalem the ultimate division will take place. A very un-peaceful fate awaits him.

So for ten chapters, almost half of Luke’s gospel, Jesus is heading to Jerusalem where he’ll be killed. And all along the way, he’s trying to get his disciples ready to take over this Reign of God work. He is sometimes rude, sometimes abrupt, sometimes extreme. Because this work of God is that important. All the teaching, all the healings, all the signs are to help prepare these disciples for the difficult work that awaits them. Showing God’s kindness and mercy will not always be met with peace. And people will be divided when some of them begin to follow these ways of Jesus. Division is not the goal, but it is the reality. These disciples need to be ready.

This text today is part of that travel narrative where Jesus becomes very direct. Recognizing the Reign of God present in the world is that important. That’s why he turns to the crowds—not just the disciples now, but everyone—and says all that stuff about seeing clouds and knowing it will rain, seeing the wind and knowing it’ll be hot. They’ve got to recognize God’s compassion when they see it, to know God’s all-inclusive love, to be looking for the presence of God’s justice so they can continue the work of revealing it. That’s the hope of the world.

I wonder whenever Luke describes Jesus turning toward the crowds—toward everyone—if he means for that to include us.

So I would ask, do we see the Reign of God? Do we recognize God’s compassion? Are we looking for God’s mercy and love being shown? It’s around us all the time. Right now I can point to 116 incidents of the Reign of God being present. Look at the timeline on the back wall. There are so far, to my count, 116 LCM “Glory Moments,” when some kind of compassion, love, forgiveness, grace, inclusivity were recognized by you in this congregation. Because you experienced them. And what a difference that has made!

That, to me, is astounding. Right here, among us, the Reign of God is revealed in ways that Jesus describes and points to. God’s compassion and love make us new, and for Jesus, that is the highest priority. And in order to provide those things to you, Jesus is willing to risk division. For your sake. To change your life. To make you new.

How can that not give hope to the world? How can we, who are the recipients of the Reign of God, not be part of revealing this to change the world? Even though it won’t be smooth, easy, or even harmonious, there’s nothing more important. It is the hope of the world.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2019 in Sermon

 

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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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In Peace There Is No Fear (April 28, 2019)

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin ), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Ah, yes. Doubting Thomas. We’re not messing too much with him today, other than to say he doesn’t react any differently than anyone else did upon hearing of the resurrection.

Then there’s that whole “if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.” Nah. We’re not going there this year either other than to say forgiveness is preferable.

If you are really disappointed that I’m not getting into either of those, then I gotta say I’m a little impressed you’re paying attention! You can go to my sermon blog (Pastor Rob Moss Sermons) and find a whole bunch of sermons I’ve done on both of those. And not just me, but pretty much every pastor whose ever preached a sermon ever has done that. Because they’re good and important topics.

I’m struck this year with Jesus’ repeating the phrase “peace be with you” three times in these few verses. The resurrected Jesus comes where disciples are gathered and says first thing, “Peace be with you.” Shows them hands and feet, and says again, “Peace be with you.” Later, when Thomas is with them too, he comes and says (guess what?), “Peace be with you.”

Apparently, they’re not at peace. This is evident, because they were meeting behind locked doors huddled in fear. When we’re afraid, it’s hard to feel at peace, right?

One night this week the dog had to out. Because of coyotes, we go outside with her because she’s so small. So at 3:00 in the morning I was startled in the dark to discover a tent that had been pitched in my back yard. Someone has set up camp my back yard! I don’t know if they’re dangerous—but they shouldn’t be in my back yard. At 3:00 in the morning fear has a lot of power. I swear that part of the tent was moving; obviously someone was in there. Let me tell you, peace is the last thing I was feeling right then.

While I’m waiting the few seconds for the dog to finish her business, I began to realize this wasn’t a normal looking tent. As I kept looking at it, I realized it was actually the patio umbrella that had somehow been blown up from the patio table out into the yard.

Whew! No uninvited campers behind my house.

But at 3:00 in the morning I was mostly reacting out of fear. If I had made a decision right then as to how to respond, it likely wouldn’t have been the best one. And certainly not one based on the peace of Christ. We can’t help feeling afraid, but we aren’t likely to make good discipleship decisions from fear.

In the midst of fear, peace is not present. I can only imagine the lack of peace these disciples are experiencing. The Jewish authorities who, in John’s gospel, were responsible for killing Jesus are looking for his followers. Plus, dead Jesus is standing in front of them. So it makes sense that Jesus has to offer peace to them three times.

More than just words of peace, Jesus offers the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of peace, comfort, and assurance. He gives that to them to replace the fear.

That would make a great ending to the story. The disciples are afraid, Jesus comes, wishes them peace, gives them the Holy Spirit as a comforter and advocate, and they now live happily ever after, never being afraid again.

But that’s not exactly how this goes. There are a couple of things that happen. First, Thomas isn’t there when Jesus gives the Holy Spirit, so Jesus has to do this over again a week later. And notice, the other disciples who were there the first time and received the Holy Spirit are still hiding behind locked doors a week later when Jesus is present the second time. So, apparently putting away fear isn’t necessarily instantaneous. Not a once-and-done thing.

Second, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit not to eliminate fear for its own sake, but to eliminate fear so they can continue what he had come to do, i.e., forgiveness. To do that, they need peace, they need the Spirit, they need to move past fear.

So Jesus comes and gives the Holy Spirit to remove fear so that they can continue this work of forgiveness—moving past any offense and calling out the image of God in all people.

And, this apparently isn’t a quick thing, but takes some time.

I think we make too many decisions based on our fears. We’re afraid of failing, so we decide not to try. We’re afraid of looking stupid, so we don’t take risks. We’re afraid of being hurt, so we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We’re afraid of certain groups of people, so we find different ways to keep them separated from us by avoiding them, making generalized statements about what a threat they are, building walls in front of them, or blaming them for our woes.

But whenever we are making decisions out of fear, we’re not making good discipleship decisions. In the midst of fear, peace isn’t present. And peace is what Jesus offers three times to these disciples; and backs it up by giving the Holy Spirit. Peace casting out fear matters to Jesus. Not only for our own life, but for our ability to follow him as disciples. Consider how different our own decisions would be if made from a peaceful place of trusting Jesus rather than our own fears.

If someone had pitched a tent in my back yard, my fearful decision wouldn’t have been good—for them or for me. But who knows, as a disciple of the one who brings peace, the risen Christ, a different decision could have shown compassion, mercy, forgiveness. Maybe not. I won’t know, because it was only an umbrella. In the meantime, may the peace of Christ continue to grow in each of us so we can trust Christ rather than fear when a tent is pitched in our backyards.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 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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Forgiveness Has a Purpose (May 27, 2018)

Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Isaiah was a professional prophet. He was a temple employee in Jerusalem as one who speaks for God in service to the king. His ministry was during the 8th century BC at a time when Judah was actually doing well. King Uzziah had built new wells for the fields and watchtowers to be alert to invaders. The army was strong and things had finally turned around after a series of pretty bad kings. So Isaiah’s life wasn’t too bad.

Before this text, however, King Uzziah had made a mistake. His pride had gotten the better of him, apparently, and he decided he didn’t need the temple priests—even though their role was specifically designated by God. So, against God’s law, he went into the temple and was about to make an offering on his own. He was confronted by the priests and, as the story goes, was stricken with leprosy for this grievous infraction.

He had to live apart from everyone else and couldn’t rule that way. So he had to hand over the kingdom of Judah to his son Jotham.

Anyway, after suffering with leprosy for about 11 years, king Uzziah died. And Isaiah’s life was turned upside down. Not because Uzziah died—it actually had nothing to do with that—but because God, out of the blue, called Isaiah to a very specific prophetic ministry. A ministry he neither asked for nor wanted.

He had this bizarre vision of the greatness of God: the majesty, the awesomeness, the sovereignty of God were so vast that just the edge of God’s robe filled the entirety of the temple. Creatures were swirling around shouting about the holiness of God. And in the presence of the majesty of God’s glory, Isaiah suddenly realized how lowly and pathetic he, and all of Judah, really were.

But Isaiah’s sad condition didn’t stop God. One of the heavenly creatures took a hot coal from the altar and touched Isaiah’s mouth with it. Then this creature shouted, Now you’re forgiven. All’s good.

At that point Isaiah heard God ask, I’ve got a message for my people. Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?

Newly forgiven Isaiah rises up, Here am I; send me.

That’s where the text ends. Which is really unfortunate. Because we don’t get to hear what Isaiah was sent to do. Let me tell you, it wasn’t great. His call by God was very specific, very clear. He was called by God to tell the people that God says they’re never going to get it, they’ll never understand. No matter how hard they try, they will never see what God is about, never hear it, never know it. That was his God-appointed message. Can you imagine being the one sent to tell people that?

It’s at that point that Isaiah realizes this new prophet gig isn’t what he thought it would be, and says, Uhmm, so how long do I have to do this?

A couple of things to note that are relevant for us. 1) Forgiveness is about removing barriers. Isaiah was forgiven (with the live coal) not to get into heaven when he died, but forgiveness was actually removing barriers between Isaiah and God so that he could be with God to say these hard things in God’s name. And, 2) A call from God is always specific to the context. Isaiah was called by God to do this because it is what God needed at that time and in that place.

In the same tone as Isaiah, we are forgiven and called. Both individually and congregationally. We are forgiven and called.

Re: Forgiveness: It’s important that we grow beyond the preschool notion that Jesus died on the cross so I can be forgiven and go to heaven when I die. Forgiveness has a purpose in God’s work in the world. Forgiveness removes the barriers between us and God so that we are no longer separated from God but are with God in God’s mission in the world of love, compassion, mercy, and grace. Forgiveness is not an end in itself. Forgiveness allows us to join God in loving the world.

Re: Being Called: Our call to join God is probably more specific than we assume. It’s one thing to say, “Love the world in Jesus’s name.” But it’s another thing to say, “God calls me to show love in the world that looks like this particular thing.”

God is active in this time and in this place. And God’s love for the world meets the world as it is now. Our call is to show God’s love in this part of the world. What gifts, what passions do you have that allow you to show love? That’s probably God’s call to you!

Let me give you a personal example. I grew up in Ogden, UT as the only non-Mormon family in the neighborhood, so I was already on the outside looking in. I was the smart, nerdy, insecure kid who wasn’t good at sports and played the clarinet in the band. I got beat up more days than I didn’t. Got the picture? I was never the “popular” kid.

But as painful as parts of that were, I have a heart—a passion—for those people who get left out, pushed away, not included. Part of my “Isaiah-type” call from God is to welcome the unwelcomed, include the excluded. Which is why you hear me preach so often about racism, sexism, LGBTQ, poverty. In our context today, these are among the people who have historically been excluded from privilege and power. God has called me to speak of God’s call to love these.

And God keeps removing the barriers that are in the way of me doing this. More and more. Day after day. Sometimes the same barriers have to keep being removed. Sometimes I discover God is removing a new one. But that removal of barriers is forgiveness, so that I can follow God’s call.

Isaiah wasn’t called to change the world. Isaiah was called to follow God’s call in a specific time and in a specific place.

Pause in silence for a minute. . . . Think about the world in which you live. Your context. . . . Where is there a lack of compassion that bothers you? . . . Where are you aware of hatred or violence or exclusion being shown? . . . God sees it too.

This is why you are forgiven. This is why barriers between you and God have been removed. You are forgiven.  And God now asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Who can show my love and grace and compassion in that situation?

Newly forgiven and called people of God, now we rise up and say, “Here we are; send us.”

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2018 in Sermon

 

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OK, Really. Are You the One? Will You Change the World? You? (Dec. 11, 2016)

Matthew 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

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.

One of my professional passions is in the area of those outside of the church. I’ve spent years of study, conversation, and trial-and-error in connecting with many of these people. I’ve recently been on a journey of discovery about our Millennials (that generation that is between 20 and 35 years of age), and why they by-and-large are uninterested in church—or, if present, see the church quite differently.

First to those of you who are under 40. We haven’t listened to you very well. I don’t have easy answers, but do know that those of us who are older have to take your views more seriously than we have. The fact that an entire generation is largely missing from Christian congregations of all stripes means that what we are doing isn’t significant to you. And research indicates that once you leave you aren’t likely to come back, even if you have children (which worked for previous generations). I’m hearing you say that you find no compelling reason to be part of a congregational community. Everything you would get from a church that would be of value you can get at least as well somewhere else.

No only do many of you as youth and young adults find the church not really helpful, but your view of the church and Christianity is more negative than positive. You often categorize the church as hypocritical, judgmental, exclusive, homophobic, and more into political power than loving our neighbors. Not every congregation falls into that generalization, and I think LCM does a little better than some. But unfortunately, we all get lumped together whether we like it or not.

Few positives and lots of negatives. Makes for a grim outlook for the future of LCM and the rest of the church, doesn’t it?

I don’t necessarily think so. I bring this up on the 3rd Sunday of Advent because I think John the Baptist can actually help us all understand some things. John the Baptist gets you, I think. He asks questions of Jesus that sound a lot like the questions you ask.

John’s in prison in this text, having been arrested by King Herod for opening his mouth once too often. But regardless, from prison he hears about Jesus’ ministry and sends some of his own followers to question Jesus. Well, just one question. “Are you the Messiah, or should we keep looking?” Are you really going to make a difference, or just another religious hypocrite.

Jesus’ answer: Tell John what you see. Blind see, lame walk, lepers healed, deaf hear, dead live, poor have good news.

John is asking Jesus the same kinds of questions that many of you younger people are asking. Is the message of church significant for me? Are church people serious about God’s love and compassion? Do you really care? When we look at you, will we get a clear picture of this Jesus you talk about?

And apparently, you’re not getting great answers to your questions. You look at the church as see the same judgmental, closed-minded, hypocritical people you see everywhere else. And the church therefore looks no different than any other volunteer organization.

I hope you give us another chance. There are significant things that can happen through this church. There are some powerfully good things here. We are an organization that is built on love for all people, justice for all people, peace for all people, compassion for all people. The church has changed history, and in some pretty amazing ways. Hospitals, education, care for the poor, asylum for refugees, standing with those who are not part of the power structure—these are all things the church has a history of initiating. And we do so because of Jesus, actually. We may not follow him perfectly (and never will), but as long as we’re connecting to him we will feed the hungry, serve the poor, stand with the oppressed. We will follow Jesus in changing the world. You can’t judge the path based on those who are walking on it. To be the church in the world Jesus envisions, we need your help.

Now to those of us who are older—40s on up. It’s not that people younger than you are opposed to God, but they are opposed to much of what they see being done in God’s name. They often see a church that talks badly about people. A church that claims their God loves everyone, but won’t stand up for the poor. A church whose God calls them to help those who are discriminated against, but isn’t putting much effort into it. A church that claims to follow Jesus in loving all people, even his enemies, yet seems to exist primarily for itself.

What do you think people see when they look at LCM? A church that is willing to sacrifice for the sake of the world around us, or yet one more judgmental group of people.

Though we are serious about God’s compassion and live that out every day, we can take more seriously how we reflect the Christ who forgives all.

We send fifty-six 6th graders to Outdoor Lab, but we can acknowledge we don’t always emphasize living as disciples of Jesus.

We can serve the neighborhood around us, but still need to listen to the critiques and repent when they are valid.

As we struggle to love God, each other, and our neighbors, we can be honest about our struggle to love God, each other, and our neighbors.

When people ask, “Does LCM have anything worthwhile for my life?” we can respond with honesty, “What do you see? Imperfect people, yes, but also lives that are now changed, people that are now loved, hopeless that now have hope, the poor that now have good news.”

The future can be very good. We just need to be willing to be changed by two things: by God’s love for us shown to us in Jesus. And by the cries of people who need that love shown to them.

John’s question is that simple, “Are you going to change the world?” And Jesus’ answer is that simple, “What do you see?”

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2016 in Sermon

 

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

Luke 7:11-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He sees her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2016 in Sermon

 

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