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A Gift Card, Crowds, More than Enough (August 6, 2017)


Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard [that John the Baptist had been killed], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

“[Jesus] ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.”

I read recently that the five loaves and two fish would be enough for a meal for about dozen people. Which means the disciples brought enough for themselves. It’s evening so they want Jesus to quit healing the crowds and send them into town so they can get some food for themselves.

The disciples have enough for themselves, but not for everybody else.

They have enough for themselves.

The disciples aren’t mean. They are noticing that it’s now evening, and if these crowds are going to have any chance of finding food for themselves they better get on it soon! Since the disciples have theirs, they want to make sure these thousands of others can get theirs too.

The disciples have enough for themselves. It’s not their fault the crowds didn’t plan ahead. But Jesus invites them to think about their food—and the crowds—differently too. He asks them to give their food away.

I wonder if the real miracle was that these disciples trusted Jesus enough to do it. Trusted him enough to be willing to take the risk of going hungry if others didn’t share also.

If the disciples had kept their mindset of “I’ve got mine, now you go get yours,” some would surely have gone hungry. But Jesus challenges them to think beyond that. Jesus’ message is that it can’t be “I’ve got mine, good luck to you.” Jesus helps us understand that, together, we’ve got more than enough already. More than enough. It’s a matter of thinking differently about our resources. Thinking beyond ourselves and our own needs. It’s a matter of knowing that there is already more than enough and acting on that. When we have more than enough we are free to be generous.

I talked a couple of months ago about a man named David I met in a coffee shop. When I first met him he was sitting at the table next to mine. The sermon I was working on at the time had to do with racism, and as David was Black, I eventually leaned over and asked this stranger to read over what I had written and give me his impressions. Which he generously and graciously did. I’ve seen him a few times since at the same coffee shop, and we always exchange greetings and he gives me encouragement to keep proclaiming the Word.

This past week David and I were both there again. As usual, we greeted each other and he encouraged me to “keep telling them about Jesus.” We went to our separate tables and each tended to our work. A while later I noticed David walking toward my table. He smiled, and as he approached he laid a coffee shop gift card on my table. “This is for you,” he said. “For your faithfulness and commitment to Jesus.” Then he left.

Here’s why I mention this. You see, when I got to the coffee shop that day and had ordered my latte, there was a moment where I didn’t think I had enough money with me to pay for it. I found a $5 bill, I breathed a sigh of relief—I could buy myself my own cup of coffee. And get change besides. With my drink in hand, I could ignore everyone else in the coffee shop, not really paying any attention as to whether they had coffee or not. I got mine.

But David saw more than just himself in the coffee shop. He saw at least one other person and shared some of his own resources with me. That make me think that there were 16 other people in that coffee shop at that point, and all of them are children of God, all of us are “sitting in the grass” of the coffee shop right then. The hearing impaired couple at the next table, the elderly couple neither of which could walk well, the woman in a wheelchair, the young man mentoring a high school student, the four women playing cards, and all the rest aren’t people to be ignored, but people with stories and lives and who are are worth being cared about.

So, inspired by my friend David, and in an attempt to live out the point of this text, I began to think about what I had that I could share with the multitudes sitting in the grass of the coffee shop. I’m not a stalking creeper or anything. I’m really good at respecting people’s space. But I’m writing this sermon on taking a risk of sharing what you have, and was just on the receiving end of that as the gift card was still sitting there in front of me.

What could I share? I had no more money with me. I wasn’t about to stand up and offer a benediction to all the coffee shop patrons. Interestingly enough, a woman at a nearby table seemed quietly frustrated with her computer. I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been inspired by David and this text to look beyond myself at the crowds around me. I left the comfort of my own world bubble and asked her if there was anything I could do. It turns out she couldn’t get on the internet even though her computer was brand new.

I’ve struggled to get online there too, and had kind of figured out how to do it, and offered to share that knowledge with her. There was enough band width for everyone with 12 baskets left over. I just had to look a little bit beyond myself and see what I had to share. There’s more than enough for all of us.

We have enough for everything God is calling us to do. Individually for sure. But as a congregation too. Right now. We have more than enough. Our budget is more than sufficient, our human resosurces are more than adequate, our overall giftedness is overabundant. We’re being called to look beyond ourselves and share the abundance of what we have so that all see the miracle of Christ present, so that all have enough. We have enough for ourselves. And it’s more than enough when we share it.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2017 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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Why is the Church Here? (Mark 12:38-44)

 

What do you think of the poor widow in this text giving away everything she has to live on? Is she someone we should emulate? Is she a model of stewardship? Should we feel guilty if we don’t give away everything we have? Is she just being irresponsible?

Notice that Jesus doesn’t commend her for contributing all she had to live on, nor does he tell his disciples to “go and do likewise.” Why she gives away everything isn’t actually the point here.

The first part of this text, in fact, this whole section of Mark’s gospel, is an escalation of the conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities (scribes and pharisees). The reason why this conflict is escalating is really the point. This poor widow stands in stark contratst to the scribes.

Scribes are denounced by Jesus because the way they are on the inside of a temple system that benefits them. They’re not stealing or anything. The customs and rules of the temple have been in place for centuries. There were 13 “trumpets” for offerings in one of the courtyards. They funded the running of the temple, made it convenient for sacrifices, helped the poor, and so on. The scribes aren’t doing anything unexpected, illegal, or dishonest. They are doing what everyone knows the temple has always done. It’s not their fault that it works for them. They just want respect, best seats, places of honor, look good to others (long robes and long prayers). Since it works for them, they don’t want this temple setup to change.

The contrast Jesus makes is between the scribes who are part of a temple where their needs are met vs. the poor widow who is on the outside edge of the temple community but whose needs are not met, and yet still gives all she has.

The deeper question Jesus is asking is, “Why is the temple here, and whose needs are being met by it?” And he has a problem with the answer, because even though the temple is a community of God’s people for God’s work, that’s not what is happening. It’s a system that sustains those on the inside, the scribes and Pharisees, while virtually ignoring the needs of people like this poor widow. Of course the scribes are most comfortable with it. It’s working for them! Instead of caring about this poor widow, the scribes are more concerned with maintaining a church system that meets their needs.

Oh, those nasty scribes! How dare they?! It’s so easy to judge them, because we are nothing like them! Right? . . .

Can you guess where I’m going here? How many of us, when looking for a church or critiquing a church, ask the question, “What does this church offer me? How can it benefit me? What can it meet the needs of my family?” and use that answer to evaluate that church? If I’m not getting what I want in one church, I’ll check out another one that will give it to me.

Again, Jesus asks the deeper question, “Why is the church here, and whose needs are being met by it?”

Jesus has been, and is now, leading up to a total denouncing of the temple system because those who are inside are the ones who benefit. Rather than using the temple to serve others in God’s name, the scribes use it for their own comfort and benefit, to meet their own needs.

So I wonder, why are we here in this place? What’s our primary concern about whose needs should be met by this church?

Jesus makes it very plain that he and the community of his disciples are here first for those outside, those on the margins, the poor, the lost, the helpless. We, as followers of Jesus, are gathered together by the Holy Spirit not primarily for ourselves but for those Jesus came to serve. If we, and our families, and our friends, are the primary beneficiaries of our own congregational system, we will be continually disappointed and frustrated in the church. Because that’s not the core identity of the church, not what the church is here for. Jesus is calling us to something else–a life in which we are not the center. We are called to give ourselves away. Our whole lives. For the sake of those the rest of the world disregards.

What would be different if that whole temple system was set up to meet the needs of people like this poor widow who has nothing—no income, no support, no security? What if she was the primary beneficiary rather than those inside?

That’s where Jesus’ conflict with the scribes and Pharisees is leading him. Jesus challenges systems that aren’t serving others. He calls out religious people, acting in God’s name, who believe the church should primarily benefit themselves. Jesus keeps trying, over and over, to get his disciples to see this. This is what God is about. This is what the Jesus community exists for.

If there’s any conflict in the church today, it’s over the same thing. Does the church primarily exist to serve its members, or does it primarily exist to serve the world Jesus died to save?

LCM is at a perfect point, right now, to clarify our answer that question. Why is the church here? Why is LCM here? For those of us on the inside of this church, whose needs should be considered first?

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Where is God? Last, Least, Servant, Slave (Mark 10:35-45)

If you’ve been here any Sunday during any of the last several weeks, you’ve heard this theme in Mark repeatedly: the greatest are servants, the last are first, whoever wishes to be first of all must be slave of all.

Everytime Jesus tells them this, the disciples never get it. This time James and John are wanting glory for themselves. And when the others hear about it they’re angry because they didn’t think of it first.

Why is it in Mark’s gospel, Jesus gives us this same emphasis over and over? Welcome the kingdom like a little child instead of a powerful person. Give all your money to the poor and then you’ll have treasure in heaven. If you want to save your life lose it. If you want to be first, then be last. If you want to be the greatest, be the servant.

Last, least, servant, slave. Over and over, Jesus, we get it! We’ll take serving others more seriously! We won’t seek our own glory! We won’t abuse power over others! We’ll be humble and meek and generous and helpful to everyone!

Sort of.

What we mean is that we’ll serve others when we have time to do it. We’ll put others ahead of ourselves until they start getting credit for our work. We’ll be generous with all of our extra money and time. We won’t seek glory for ourselves unless someone else starts getting recognized. We’ll consider ourselves last until others start thinking we actually are last.

Let’s be honest, it seems that what Jesus is proposing–over and over and over–doesn’t really work in our world. You start putting everyone else ahead of you and pretty soon everyone else is ahead of you.

You start being the servant of all and it isn’t too long before all people start thinking of you that way.

You keep being last and soon you are last.

If you don’t shine at least a small spotlight on yourself and tout your own abilities somehow, who will ever notice your abilities? Then, even when you have gifts to offer no one will take them seriously because you won’t be seen as credible. Your strengths won’t be recognized after a while. If you do a good job of being last of all and servant of all and least of all, that’s exactly where you end up.

We get what Jesus is saying, and we try to live it, I think. Up to a point. Is that enough? Is that what Jesus really wants from us? Just do what he commands–to a point? Just follow him–partway?

Our Estmate of Giving cards for 2016 are coming in today. We’ll give generously–kind of.

How do we reconcile these constant demands of Jesus to be last and least and servant and slave with the reality of how our world actually works?

At some point, don’t we have to recognize what we’re good at–maybe even great at—and call attention to that aspect of ourselve in order to be seen as having something worth offering? In order to contribute with our gifts?

Jesus seems pretty clear, over and over. I’m not as clear as to how that works out. But here’s how I’m wrestling with it–at least today.

I believe Jesus means what he’s saying here. As his disciples, we are to be least, last, servant, slave. We know he means it, because he does it himself. From birth through life and even into death, Jesus is last, least, servant, and slave. Doing this may mean we don’t get ahead at work. We may not maximize our earning potential. It might result in those who glorify themselves not taking us seriously. It’s humbling, even humiliating at times.

But what happens when we are last, least, servant, and slave is that we look at people differently. We connect to them differently. Or relationship with them changes. We notice what’s going on in their lives. We recognize needs we never would have noticed before. The whole barometer of measuring success is dramatically different.

One by one, little by little, we affect people’s lives in ways we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. We may not even notice, they may not either. What happens when we are last, least, servant, and slave is that we embody the compassion of Jesus. We become Christ in the world. We change the world in God’s image from the bottom up rather than contribute more of what the world already knows, from the top down.

I’m beginning to think that the only way to save the world is from the bottom up, not the top down. We reveal Jesus more significantly from below, not from above. We affect people’s lives in more important ways as the least rather than as the best.

Most people around us, even many in the church, will disagree. Because the prevailing understanding is that power changes the world, not slavery. Jesus challenges that. And then calls us to join him at the bottom. Last, least, servant, slave. That’s how the world is saved. That’s where we’re called to be. That’s where we join Jesus.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Relationships Matter. That’s Why We Invest in Them (Mark 10:2-16)

 

This is one of those texts that can make us cringe when we hear it. It seems so harsh and judgmental when it comes to divorce. I know in my own family the way this text has been used has left a lot of pain.

But here it is. Usually all we hear is the judgment and apparent shame in Jesus’ words. But I don’t believe Jesus intends this the way we too often hear it.

Rather than a judgment on divorce and divorced people, Jesus instead is impressing upon his disciples the power of relationships. Some Pharisees are testing Jesus with a trick question, and instead of being baited into a trap, Jesus turns it into an opportunity to put the Pharisees in their place and teach his disciples. Relationship matter. They are life-giving and ought not be taken for granted. The closer the relationship, the more power there is to give life. And more power to take life away. Ask anyone who’s ended a marriage–there is no fun way to do it. Because the relationship matters. The language Jesus uses is strong in order to make that point.

Jesus just finished telling his disciples to cut off their offending hands or feet and tear out their offending eyes. Obviously this isn’t to be taken literally, any more than this text is about remarrying and adultery. Of course that’s not actually the case and more than you should actually cut off parts of your body.

But he gets your attention with these over-the-top sayings like these, doesn’t he? Is there any doubt that Jesus takes close relationships like marriage seriously?

And immediately after impressing on his disciples the depth and power of a marriage relationship, Jesus teaches them that a relationship with children shows us what the kingdom of God is like.

Marriage is an even partnership, but a relationship with children is much more one-sided. Adults have the power and children don’t. In a relationship where one has more power and influence, you need even more care with these relationships. And again Jesus stresses the importance by saying only those who receive the kingdom like a child can enter it. Not literally, but it makes the point. Relationships matter. They are important. They sustain us and have the power to give life.

Lutheran Church of the Master is a community of relationships. Everything we value as church, e.g., love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, etc., is directly tied to the relationships we have with one another.

As Jesus makes evident, relationships matter. Without relationships there is no church. Without relationships built on love and compassion and care, there is no LCM.

I want to invite you to consider that you are investing i relationships here. All our ministries, our programs, our staffing, our goals are a result of the relationships we have as a community.

Investing in the ministries of LCM is investing in our relationships together as a congregation.

Let me share with you what that looks like…

2015.10.04_Mark.10.2-16

Relationships matter. As you consider your giving for 2016, recognize that about two-thirds of your offerings go toward deepening our relationships together as a congregation. We are investing in each other.

Next week we’ll look at the other third, that which strengthens our relationships outside of the congregation.

Relationships matter, says Jesus. It’s who we are. It’s what we do.

 

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Who *Really* Wants to Take the Kingdom of God Seriously? (Mark 9:30-37)

I want you to notice the difference between Jesus and his disciples in this text today. It begins here with Jesus and his disciples on their way through Galiliee, and Jesus “did not want anyone to know it”. Travelling incognito, unknown, quietly, without fanfare or recognition.

On the way he is teaching his disciples that he will be betrayed, killed, and will rise again. And this is the second time he’s told them this.

They get to the house in Capernaum, and the whole journey Jesus is trying not to call attention to himself, to lay low, helping them understand the role of suffering and even dying—tremendously humble and meek topics.

The disciples, meanwhile, too frightened to ask him about all this, had been arguing about which one of them is the greatest.

Humble, suffering Jesus. Frightened, boasting disciples.

Jesus deflecting attention from himself to God’s will in the world. Disciples who want recognition, deserved or not (and it’s definitely not).

Jesus: it’s all about others. Disciples: it’s all about us.

What the disciples never seem to get in Mark’s gospel is how differently God works in the world than we usually do. Jesus is continually trying to teach and show his disciples what God’s kingdom is actually like. It is so opposite of what they experience that they just can’t seem to understand it. Today’s verses shine a light on that misunderstanding.

In God’s kingdom, Jesus says, the greatest are the servants. The least in our world should be treated like Christ himself. The one who serves others has their life given to them. The one who is ignored is the one in the center.

If God had God’s way, this would be the normal way of the world. The disciples never seem to catch onto that.

When Jesus goes on about how different God’s way is, it just doesn’t click with the disciples. All this “serve others, love enemies, forgive everyone, last are first, weak is strong” business Jesus tells them may as well be “up is down, red is green, and squares are round.” It doesn’t connect with them.

As I suspect it still doesn’t with us. God’s way is soooooo different from how the world actually operates that we usually find it easier to just kind of ignore it.

Think about if everyone took Jesus seriously when he says that the greatest of all is the servant of all. That would mean that the night janitor at McDonald’s has more status than any of our current presidential candidates . . . (OK, maybe a bad example). It would mean that everyone would accept that the homeless alcoholic man with a cardboard sign at the traffic light is just as valuable in the world as the person in the Mercedes who gives him money and food. Or the totally nerdiest kid in school is elected student body president over the most popular kid.

If everyone took Jesus seriously, can you imagine how badly it would turn out if we actually did love our enemies? Makes it kind of hard to fight a war, don’t you think? Capitalism kind of falls apart.

How about Jesus taking a child, the most powerless and most vulnerable person in his society, and telling us to welcome these as if they were Christ himself? If everyone actually welcomed and embraced the most vulnerable, most powerless people in our culture, imagine the changes in immigration and how we’d deal with the Syrian refugee crisis?

Then there’s the whole suffering and dying thing Jesus talks about. Can you imagine if everyone trusted so fully in God that they would go to that extreme for the sake of others?

Hard to even imagine that, isn’t it? God’s ways are just too different. The world would turn upside down if everyone took all that stuff seriously. And let’s be honest, not everyone even wants God’s ways, much less be willing to live them.

No, not everyone will. Hardly anyone. Maybe no one.

This is where the church comes in. Jesus calls his followers to do it. We are the ones Jesus sends into the world to be last of all and servant of all. How about if we, as Lutheran Church of the Master, were willing to suffer as a congregation because showing God’s mercy and compassion for others was more important to us than our own comfort or even survival?

God is so committed to this that God keeps removing the barriers that get in the way of following Jesus. So God keeps forgiving us, coming among us, giving us gifts, equipping us, and loving us so that we can love others.

Do you think we’ll do this perfectly? Nope, not gonna happen. But we can serve someone today. Then stand up for someone else tomorrow. Then show love to an undeserving person the next day. Sometimes it will cost us. Sometimes it will be hard. Sometimes we won’t benefit ourselves at all. But God is seen. Jesus is lifted up. God’s kingdom is exposed. Maybe without fanfare or recognition. Usually with humility and meekness. Not everyone wants it. May we be among those who do.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2015 in Sermon

 

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