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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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Holy Life Together (Acts 2:43-47)

There are a couple of different things going on here: some miraculous healings, and this band of disciples’ community life together.

Here’s what’s remarkable about this very early community of disciples: everyone was in awe, more and more people were coming each day into this fledgling movement. But it wasn’t because of the signs and wonders. It was because of the way these disciples lived together. It was the things they did as a community together that caused the surrounding neighborhood to sit up and take notice.

They shared all things in common.

They sold their possessions and gave the proceeds away to anyone in need.

They were continually spending time in the temple together in worship and prayer.

They ate together (pot lucks?)

They did all this with glad and generous hearts. They had fun together.

They enjoyed being together. They celebrated time together. It was how they lived that revealed Christ to the broader community.

The signs and wonders were cool. But as is still the case, the impact of signs and wonders is short-lived. I’m sure the wind and fire of Pentecost was astounding, but you can also bet the amazement faded.

Have you ever experienced something you might consider the presence of God, being in the presence of the Divine, or even miraculous? A sunset, a healing, a moment of inspiration, a time of calm in stress.

Those moments are inspirational! They are awesome! They carry you, sometimes for quite a while. We need to share these experiences with each other because they are so inspiring!

But let’s be honest. After a while usually we end up close to where we were before the sign and wonder experience. “What have you done for me lately, God?” we ask. Few people change their view of God in any significant way after an amazing spiritual experience—signs and wonders. They are astounded, they are amazed, they are moved, they may even remember, but rarely changed in any deep way. Signs and wonders are not how disciples are made. And signs and wonders are not how a community of disciples lives.

But, the way we live together, the way we celebrate together, the way we treat each other is how Jesus is most deeply revealed to our neighbors. It’s through us as a community.

Does the LCM community live any differently than any other community? Are we the people that live together with generosity as normal, forgiveness as assumed, giving each other the benefit of the doubt is what’s expected? Do we rush to protect each other from rumors or ridicule? Is our knee-jerk reaction a willingness to make a personal sacrifice for the sake of the LCM community?

Well, sometimes. We’re a mixed bag. We certainly don’t do so perfectly. We hurt each other and hold grudges sometimes. But today, I want to point out and emphasize that whether we feel like it or not, whether we exhibit it all the time or not, we are a community created in the image of God. We actually do reflect Christ. Not because we try so hard to do it, but just because we are bound together by Jesus.

When those Christ-like things happen it is a sign of the presence of Christ binding us together. And it is our relationships to one another that get the long-term attention of our neighborhood. Because it is our relationships to one another in this place that come from and reflect our relationship with God.

Look around this room. Look into the faces of all these gifts God has given us! Look at how blessed and holy we are together! Look how the Divine is real right in this room!

Who here has ever experienced holy care or comfort or support through your association with LCM? Who here knows God better because of your relationships here? Who has ever been a recipient of holy generosity through LCM? Who has been forgiven by someone in LCM? Who is loved by someone at LCM?

Who, then, can do anything but call this congregation holy? We’re a mixed bag, but don’t ever deny our holiness. When we lose sight of the holiness of this congregation, we risk losing sight of God. But the reality is that when we gather together, we gather in the presence of holiness. The way we live together bears that out, for the sake of the world.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2015 in Sermon

 

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One Flock, One Shepherd, One Voice (John 10:11-18)

(This sermon was preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska, on the occasion of their celebrating 50 years of ministry)

50 years? Really?  Congratulations on 50 years of revealing Jesus. 50 years of the voice of the good shepherd being proclaimed through this congregation. 50 years. No one ever said following Jesus, the good shepherd, was going to be easy. If they did, they lied. It’s not easy. Listening to the voice of Jesus and following is extremely difficult. Yet, this congregation has been serious about that for 50 years. It’s astonishing. But it’s being done. Because you are a flock that knows the shepherd.

For the first time, I noticed in this text that Jesus doesn’t say anything about individual sheep. He loves the flock, cares for the flock, lays down his life for the flock, will gather all the sheep into one flock. It’s not so much about individual sheep, but more about the flock as a whole. “Sheep” is plural throughout this chapter.

Of course Jesus loves each individual sheep, but the emphasis here is that he lays down his life for the flock. And he will bring in the other sheep too so there will be one flock, one shepherd. One flock, for whom he lays down his life.

This changes everything in this text for me. We’re not just individual sheep, each of us trying to discern the voice of the shepherd. We are first a flock for whom the Good Shepherd lays down his life. It’s not “you’re a sheep” and “I’m a sheep,” so let’s get together and create a flock. No, it’s “we are already a flock!” and we belong to the Good Shepherd. We are part of something bigger than just us. That’s who we are. Our identity comes not from being an individual sheep who chooses a shepherd’s voice, and then seeks out other individual sheep who agree on that voice, and call ourselves a flock. No, our identity comes from already being part of the flock for whom the shepherd lays down his life. We are already included. It’s already done.

Now, if that isn’t cool enough, there are implications as to what this means about our life together as a flock.

Most importantly, Jesus the Good Shepherd is enough. As a flock, the Good Shepherd is all we need. We are enough right now. Faith Lutheran Church has enough, you are enough, right now. Because, as a flock, the Good Shepherd lays down his life for you.You have been called, gathered, and cared for by the Good Shepherd who sees the wolf yet will always stay with you. The shepherd saves you. Saves us. The whole flock. He knows you and lays down his life for you—as a flock.

He says there are other sheep who do not belong to this fold but who he will bring into the flock. Sometimes we can get frantic about that, and think our primary purpose is in seeking them out, thinking that we have to get them in our doors. So we sometimes put a lot of energy into calling them.

But Jesus says they will listen to his voice, not ours. It’s his voice they will follow, not our individual baaaing and bleating. So when we speak to sheep who may be outside the fold, we do so as part of his flock, taking care to use his voice, his words, doing so in his character—that of the Good Shepherd, which has already embraced us, loved us, forgiven us.

We know the sound of his voice. His voice is always that of love, forgiveness, grace, compassion, a willingness to lay down our lives, our agendas for them. That’s the voice they hear; that’s the voice they will follow.

So as a flock belonging to the good shepherd, we love other sheep, whether we consider them inside or outside the flock–because that ultimately not our concern. It is the concern of the shepherd. So we love all sheep, without strings and without conditions. They will listen to that voice. We show them compassion and mercy—even if they haven’t deserved it. They will follow that voice. We forgive those who offend us. That’s the voice of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the flock.

Nobody can ever say that listening to the voice of the shepherd is easy. No one can tell you that following the good shepherd is comfortable. And yet, Faith Lutheran Church has been doing exactly that for 50 years. That is impressive.

I hope you can take this opportunity, as you celebrate these 50 years of faithfulness, to begin to look to the next 50. The good shepherd knows you, and knows you are listening to his voice. Amen.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Life Can’t Be Contained (Mark 16:1-8)

Of the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection in the Bible, this one in Mark is my favorite. Most scholars agree that the text we read today is the original ending of this gospel, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The end.

There are no resurrection appearances, no putting away doubts, no assurances. Just an empty grave and some frightened women, who, even though they were the only ones who stayed at the cross while Jesus died, now they run away in terror. It’s simply stated that Jesus isn’t here, he’s raised from the dead, and that he will meet them in Galilee. So, go tell his disciples and then get on the road to Galilee if you want to see him.

As faithful and courageous disciples, these women came to the cemetery early in the morning expecting Jesus to be there–at least his body to be there. They are ready for that encounter. They brought all the appropriate spices for anointing. They are on a mission of love and compassion. They aren’t hiding, they aren’t playing it safe, they aren’t giving up. They are expressing their love for Jesus by coming to the cemetery where they expect to find him and where they can perform this act of service for him.

The only problem is that he isn’t where they expect. He’s not contained in the grave. He’s gone on ahead of them. If they want to see him, they need to go where he is, not just where they think he ought to be. If they want to perform acts of love and service for him, they need to follow him back to Galilee, not stick around a cemetery.

So Mark’s point isn’t that we had better believe this account of resurrection. This gospel’s point is that Jesus isn’t to be found in a cemetery just because we think he ought to be there. He isn’t safely tucked away in a convenient place back where we left him. No, Jesus is raised and goes out ahead of us, to Galilee—the place where our lives are.

Too often, I think, we come to a church on a Sunday morning looking to find Jesus. Because, we think, that’s where he ought to be! Don’t you expect to find Jesus in a church? So we put on our piety and our best behavior to show Jesus we love him and believe in him. Even though we may be nervous about entering a church building, we do so. It’s brave, it’s showing respect and love, and it’s where we think Jesus ought to be found.

That’s wonderful! But Mark’s gospel will tell us that Jesus can’t be contained in a church building on a Sunday morning. He’s not just where we expect him to be. He’s risen, he’s gone ahead of us to our homes, our schools, our neighborhoods, our workplaces. He’s gone ahead of us to Galillee. There we will see him. In our homes we will see his unconditional love. In our workplaces we will see his grace and compassion. In our schools we will see his forgiveness that defies explanation. In our neighborhoods we will see his unexplainable generosity. There we will see him.

And what’ more, there we will join him in loving the world. We get to reveal new life in Galilee. There, too, we get to live out the forgiveness he gives. There, too, we get to see his new life in loving others, in forgiving others, in being generous to others.

Whether we believe a particular view of resurrection or not isn’t Mark’s main thing. This gospel’s point is that nothing can contain this risen Christ. Not a building, not a church, not a belief system, not a doctrine, not a religion. Wherever we go, Jesus has arrived there ahead of us. When we leave here today, Jesus leads the way. Are you going to brunch from here? Jesus is there waiting for you! Gathering with family today? Jesus is part of it. Heading out for a quiet afternoon in the mountains? Enjoy your time with Jesus, who’s there already. He’s already gone to Galilee. There, too, you will see him.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2015 in Sermon

 

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The Dismantling of the Church (John 2:13-22)

What is Jesus so mad about? Are the temple moneychangers cheating people or being dishonest? No.

Is this whole setup of exchanging money that declares Caesar as Lord for money that declares God as Lord not working? No.

Is this temple system ineffective? No, it’s working quite well, actually.

Is it dishonoring God? No, not really.

So why is he so angry?

The whole temple system, which operates quite well and efficiently, isn’t empowering people with God’s love, forgiveness, and generosity. It’s not pointing people to Jesus, who brings that into the world.

The fact that it works isn’t what counts. The fact that sincere, God-loving people like it isn’t what counts. The fact that it’s been around for centuries isn’t what counts. The fact that it’s good religious practice isn’t what counts.

The temple system of sacrifice, even though it functions well, doesn’t reveal what God is doing. It doesn’t bring people into forgiving others, loving others, being generous to others. It doesn’t allow for Reign of God, the Heart of God coming in Jesus. It’s a system of religious practice that functions in a cul-de-sac all by itself. But it’s not connecting with God and God’s mission of forgiveness, love, and generosity happening in Jesus.

Jesus comes into the temple and is dismantling the system, taking it apart. Any system that bears God’s name but isn’t about God’s work—isn’t empowering, even compelling, people into forgiving, loving, being generous ought to be dismantled.

That’s all well and good. But here’s where this gets hard. God’s doing it again. A religious system that operates well and that lots of God-fearing people like is being dismantled. Church as we know it is being taken apart—by God, I believe. For similar reasons. The church we are familiar with isn’t set up to reveal the fullness of God’s will as revealed in Jesus. Christianity as an institutional church is more about self-perpetuation than forgiveness. It’s more about numerical growth than unconditional love. We care more about fellow Christians than we do about atheists, Jews, Muslims, or non-religious people. We, the Christian Church, are a well-functioning, religious, well established cul-de-sac that functions far too often separately from God and God’s mission. And we are being dismantled. Look around at all the countries that we used to call “Christian.” Every one of the traditional Christian countries is losing members hand over fist.

What if that is by the leading of the Holy Spirit? What if Jesus has come into our temples and is turning over our systems of practicing religion because they aren’t joining people to what God is doing? What if the people leaving our churches in droves are being led by God to something else?

What if that’s true?

Sure, some of those who participated in the temple system in Jesus’ day were moved to greater love and forgiveness. And sure, some people who participate in the church today are authentically moved to greater mercy and generosity. But it seems the system of church itself isn’t accomplishing that.

Because I don’t know what it’s going to look like. If God would show us what she’s doing with the church, perhaps we could help with it. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. We don’t know, and that makes us uncomfortable at best, terrified at worst. Or else we just ignore it and keep offering our temple sacrifices despite Jesus turning over the tables.

If this is happening, what do we do?

Vs. 22, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he has said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” I guess we cling to Jesus. I guess we trust God. I guess we follow the Holy Spirit’s movement as we can. What else can we do? God is going to do what God is going to do. Love, forgiveness, and generosity—those things of God—will be the signs of Jesus’ disciples. Why not run full speed to Jesus? Run headlong to forgiveness, love, and generosity. The tables of the church are being overturned. Let’s see what Jesus is up to. And let us follow him.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2015 in Sermon

 

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How Do You Know if You’re Successful? (Mark 8:31-38)

Think of someone who is successful. Why do you think they are successful? What’s the measure?

Are you successful? How do you know?

Our human nature is to strive to be prosperous, strong, influential. Doesn’t God want us to be successful? Don’t we thank God for our  successes—calling them “blessings”?

Peter and the other disciples have experienced Jesus’ “success.” They have seen Jesus cure people, cast out demons, feed thousands, challenge the powerful, teach crowds in amazing ways. He is amazingly strong and influential! Everything you’d think a successful person would do. Everything we think a successful church should do.

So imagine how shocked these disciples were to hear Jesus saying that success means suffering, rejection, death. And when Peter tries to question that view of success—because, after all, that just doesn’t make any sense—Jesus calls him Satan. He says that Peter’s human view of success is not of God. It is merely human, satanic. If Peter believes that human views of success are God’s views, then Peter is standing in God’s way, and he needs to back down and get out of Jesus’ way. Because God has a mission, and God will be successful. God’s reign of love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and generosity has come into the world, and in Jesus it is taking on the powers of human success head on.

Even though it will cost Jesus his life. Even though it will look to all the world as if Jesus has failed. And in the face of all that Jesus is still adamant that this is God’s success. He brings God’s love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and generosity into the world regardless of how inconvenient it is. No matter the cost to him. So, Peter, if you’re not on board with that then “get behind me, Satan.” The world will be loved and we will be forgiven. Period. That is Jesus’ mission; therefore, as his church, it is ours too.

So how did the church get so far off track?

When did the church become more concerned about gaining members and money than about forgiveness and grace? When did Christ’s church begin to put its members’ comfort and convenience ahead the inconvenience of showing God’s love and mercy in the world?

Go to almost any Christian congregation of any denomination and it won’t be long before you hear the priority of human success. “How big is the church?” “This outreach program is fine, but will it bring in new members?” “How do we get more people inside our doors?” “How’s the budget?”

Peter would stand with us in using these as measures of success. Because in our world they make sense; from a human perspective they make sense. If our human measures are successful, we appear strong, prosperous, influential to the world. We gain status and respect in the world.

But if we hold that as a higher measure of success than forgiving the unforgiveable and loving the unloveable, then Jesus tells us to get behind him, because we are not contributing to God’s success.

Christ’s church can’t make decisions based on how many people like them. The church can’t back off loving the neighborhood because some withhold offerings. If we were merely a human institution those views might make sense. But we are not just a human organization. We are the body of Christ. We are called by God into God’s success. Even if it is painful. Even if it is hard. Even if it is inconvenient. Even if it costs us. Even if it leads us toward the cross.

Ironically, Jesus says it’s following him to the cross that leads us to success and life. Isn’t that a kick? God is successful. The world is loved. The world is forgiven. Even the church. Even you. And nothing will stop Jesus from continuing to bring that love and grace to you. Even if it costs him. God will succeed. God already has. God’s love surrounds you now. You are absolutely forgiven now. Perhaps, as the church, we will find that successful. Because apparently Jesus does.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Sermon

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Investing in the Main Thing (Matthew 22:15-22)

In Matthew, this text is happening during the last few days before Jesus is killed. There’s no time for trivialities. The Pharisees sent their minions along with the Herodians to trap Jesus. Normally, they hate each other, but to trap Jesus they become partners. Together they plan and scheme and spend all kinds of time coming up with a fool-proof plan to discredit Jesus. If he says, “Yes, pay taxes to Caesar,” the Pharisees can condemn him to the crowds as a religious fraud. If he says, “No, don’t pay taxes to Caesar,” the Herodians can have him arrested by Rome for insurrection.

They approach Jesus with disingenuous, empty flattery, and think that this question about taxes will trip him up? You’ve got to be kidding! God incarnate is about to be nailed to a cross. The central piece of God’s entire salvation history is a couple of days away. The redemption of all creation is coming to fruition right now, right in front of them. They think this is important? That this is where their energy is best used? Really?

I’m amazed Jesus answers them at all, considering what he’s getting ready to face. Yeah, pay your taxes. Whatever. Don’t let the emperor’s stuff get in the way of God’s stuff. Don’t let temporary, trivial things get in the way of the main thing.

And Jesus is all about the main thing. God is making everything new: forgiveness is now breaking into sinfulness; hope is breaking into despair; wholeness is breaking into brokenness; life is breaking into death. This is the main thing. God is all about this, and we in this congregation have been created to be part of it. Not only do we experience this among ourselves, but we proclaim the reality of this to the world. We exist as church to be with God in making all things new through forgiveness, hope, wholeness, and life.

Jesus got that, and didn’t seem to get sidetracked from the main thing very often. Certainly not here. Certainly not by the Pharisees and Heriodians. Certainly not by a question about taxes.

For the rest of this month, our council will be working on the 2015 budget. This isn’t just a spreadsheet of how we’re going to spend money; it’s a declaration of how we will live in the image of God, of how we will be part of God’s main thing.

And we will be part of God’s main thing. We will reveal generosity, compassion, and grace. We will proclaim forgiveness, love, and mercy. And quite honestly, doing that as a congregation in our culture involves having a budget. That’s just real. Our council will present an honest, authentic, balanced proposal of how LCM will take part in God’s main thing—that for which we exist.

Today we’re receiving Estimate of Giving cards for 2015. Part of that is to help our council get a better idea of what funds we’ll have for the year. But another part, I think, is more important. It’s the opportunity to think about, to deeply consider, how we will invest in God’s main thing. How we will invest in mercy, grace, compassion; forgiveness, love, and mercy being revealed in our world.

Don’t get all weird because we’re talking about money and pledges in the church. Money is just part of life. Oh well. So give or don’t give, whatever. Turn in a card or don’t turn in a card, whatever. So don’t worry about that. But I do invite you to take this opportunity to consider investing in the main thing. Consider how much you’re willing to invest in revealing God’s love and compassion in our world. Because the world needs more love, compassion, mercy, and grace.

Whether you turn in an Estimate of Giving card today or not isn’t the main thing. Whether you increase or decrease giving isn’t the main thing. God’s forgiveness and grace being shown in the world is the main thing. As a council, I assure you that with whatever money this congregation has, God’s main thing will be our main thing. That will be reflected in the budget we will propose for 2015.

I invite you to take the opportunity to make an investment in that. Give to the emperor the emperor’s things give to God God’s things. Whatever. We no longer let the temporary, trivial things sidetrack us. Because for us in this congregation, the main thing of God’s is the main thing for us.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Chosen for Celebration (Matthew 22:1-14)

Jesus’ audience for these parables is very specific: the chief priests and the elders of the Pharisees, the church leaders of the day. These are the people committed to their church, who serve on the council, teach Sunday School, sing in the choir, lead a Bible study, mow the church lawn, and give more than10% of their income to the church. These are the insiders of church insiders, and are the types of people everyone wants as members of their church.

Yet Jesus is trying very hard to make a point with them. Since he’s being so persistent in getting those committed church people to understand something, it’s probably worth our while to listen—especially those of us who are committed church members. Jesus is speaking to us.

This parable today is a strange one. A king’s son is getting married—about the biggest event in the life of a kingdom. So the king hosts a huge wedding banquet. He’s already sent out the invitations so the guests knew it was coming, and now he’s calling them to come. He calls them twice: the first time they wouldn’t come, the second time they simply went about their own business. To say that one’s own priorities are more important than the king’s agenda is basically saying that they have no use for the king. These invited guests make their sentiments very clear by killing the servants of the king who come to bring them to the banquet.

This is not merely turning down an invitation, it is open rebellion. So the king has no real choice but to put down the rebellion—in this case by sacking the town. Then, since his original request is for the banquet for his son, he invites others to come—those on the fringe, on the edges, both “the good and the bad.”

They accept the king’s invitation, but one comes without a wedding robe. This isn’t like he got off work at 5:00 and the banquet starts at 5:30. It’s not any issue of him being poor and not having nice clothes. This guest had weeks or months to go home, clean up, put on appropriate clothing (borrowing if necessary), and still come.

This person, who accepted the king’s invitation, is still choosing to do things his own way. So he’s tossed out on his ear. He accepted the invitation and he showed up, but apparently accepting the invitation isn’t the point. Deciding to come to the banquet isn’t the most important thing. What Jesus is telling these good religious church people is that the king is going to celebrate, and do it right. Everyone is invited, and anyone can come. But the king decides what the celebration looks like.

Many are called, but few are chosen, Jesus explains. As if that clears this all up with the wedding robe and the invitations and the rebellious town.

Usually we want to make that into a self-righteous thing about how because we’ve accepted the invitation to make Jesus our Lord or because we’re pretty good people that we’re among the special ones chosen for heaven.

But that’s not it. Remember, Jesus is talking to the most religious people on the planet. People who love God and strive to obey God with their whole lives. Jesus is trying to get these religious people to understand the will of God–the reign of God–and their role in it.

Don’t be all high and mighty because you were invited to the banquet by the king, Jesus tells them. Many are called; the whole town. And don’t even lord it over others because you actually showed up in the presence of the king. Many are called; both good and bad people were dragged in off the street.

That’s not it. Everyone is called to the banquet. The wedding robe is the difference. Those in the wedding robes are those are on board with the king. They are celebrating with the king. They are participating with the king.

For many years, Linda Wheeler makes these baptismal cloths. We give one to each person who is baptized here. A white cloth. A sign of baptism, of being clothed in Christ. A celebration cloth. A wedding robe.

In baptism, we are chosen to wear the wedding robe for the king. Chosen to be part of what the king is doing. This isn’t a parable about who gets into heaven or not. This is a parable about our call to be part of God’s mission, God’s celebration.

God’s celebration is forgiveness. God has invited us to the forgiveness banquet. In baptism we are clothed with forgiveness. The church wears the robe of forgiveness in the world.

God’s celebration is mercy. God has invited us mercy banquet. In baptism we are clothed with mercy. The church wears the robe of mercy in the world.

God’s celebration is including the outcasts. God has invited us to the inclusion banquet. In baptism we are clothed in inclusion. The church wears the robe of inclusion in the world.

God’s celebration is taking care of the least in the world. God has invited us to the caring banquet. In baptism we are clothed in care. The church wears the robe of care in the world.

The feast is prepared. We have been called. And clothed in Christ at our baptism, we are chosen to celebrate with the king. Welcome to the banquet!

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Better With You Than Without You (Matthew 16:13-20)

Matthew 16:13-20

One problem with a text like this one is that there’s so much going on in it. In just a few verses there’s all the speculation about who Jesus is, Simon Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter’s name change to Rock, the gates of Hades not prevailing, the binding and the loosing, the “don’t tell anyone I’m the Messiah.” Too much to cover in a 90-minute sermon . . . (just seeing if you’re paying attention).
The part that is intriguing to me right now is the second question Jesus asks his disciples, the one Peter answers correctly, “Who do you say that I am?”
Here’s why. It’s an identity question, right? In Jesus’ culture, people found their identity in the people they hung out with. They didn’t get psychological about individual development and self-actualization. They were part of a community, and the identity of the community was the identity of the people in it.
When Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” he’s asking a community question. He’s asking, “Why are you following me? Why are you hanging out with me? Why are you part of this community?” By answering the question of who they think Jesus is, they are answering the question of the purpose of the community of disciples. He’s asking the identity of the church–that community that gets its identity from him.
That’s a great question. Why are we part of the community of disciples? Why do we identify ourselves with the church? Or do we? What is it about bearing the name of Jesus that attracts us? Or does it? Why are we here?
Sometimes our answers to these questions are less than compelling. Sometimes they are deep and rich. But it’s worth struggling with, I think. Why are we here? What is it about a Jesus community that makes us want to be part of it?
The rap sheet on the church is far from spotless. As the church we often say one thing and do the opposite. Sometimes we expect the church to meet our own needs at the expense of everyone else’s. We make time to fight over whether or not we should stand during the Apostles’ Creed but don’t have time to feed the hungry. We buy a new car every year but can’t afford to increase our giving for Christ’s work through the church.
This is not new. Throughout history the church has cared for the institution of the church more than for the Lord whose name she bears. The church has been mean, manipulative, hypocritical, and not always very reflective of Jesus. And we still are. Some of the deepest evil and hatred has had its heart in the church. It would be easy to write off and disassociate from an organization that is so flawed.
But here we are. Why?
If I’m saying this is an important question, I suppose that obliges me to offer an answer. At least my answer. Why am I here? Why a I part of Christ’s Church? My answer is not simple. But it’s honest and it’s mine.
I am part of the church because there isn’t anything better. Nowhere else can people gather and talk openly about the deepest and most significant parts of our lives. No other community will walk with us from birth through death, celebrating and grieving together along the way.
I am part of the church because we offer hope where no one else can. We encourage love for those no one else loves. We consider mercy to be success rather than weakness.
I am part of the church, a community that bears the name of Jesus, because I love the things Jesus stands for. The fact that we don’t do it well all the time is frustrating, but we claim forgiveness not just for the world but for ourselves too. Again, something Jesus stands for.
I’m not part of the church because of the doctrine or the music or the tradition. I’m not part of the church because I think hanging out with you people gets me closer to heaven when I die. I am part of the church because it’s the one community where the values of Jesus are the bottom line. It’s the one community where we can talk freely about forgiveness, peace, making the world a better place, love, mercy, and compassion; in fact, the church is the one community where those things are expected.
I’m part of the church because I believe with all my heart that the ways, the values, the example of Jesus are worth showing to the world. I believe that as long as we’re holding Jesus as our standard, trusting in the forgiveness, mercy, love, compassion and peace that he brings, then the church offers hope to the world.
I’m part of the church because as long as we bear the name of Jesus together, we can hold each other accountable to his values.
I’m part of the church because I can live those values better with you than I can alone.
“Who do you say that I am?” is an important question that Jesus asks us. The answer reveals why we follow Jesus. It reveals why we’re here in this place. It reveals who we are and what we stand for. And when we know that, we can move forward together–in Jesus’ name.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2014 in Sermon

 

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