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Authentic Relationships: Confronting Each Other When Necessary (March 24, 2019)

2 Samuel 12:1-13;

Galatians 2:11-14

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13 And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
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.

This area of confrontation as part of discipleship isn’t my “go-to.” I recognize the need for it, the benefit of it, but still kind of resist it—actually I pretty much avoid it if possible. I don’t always confront very well for some reason. On those occasions when I get past my avoidance and actually confront someone when I think it’s necessary, I usually come off like a bulldozer—very little tact or sensitivity. And I usually end up causing resentment, anger, and an injured relationship, which is the opposite of what I hope will happen. That, then, reinforces my avoidance of confrontation and the cycle starts all over.

On the other hand, I’ve seen confrontation as harassment or abuse. It can be used by people to judge, to condemn, and to self-justify. Sometimes people who are really good at confrontation use it to intimidate others in an effort to prop themselves up above someone they feel to be weaker. They use confrontation as a weapon, as nothing more than a bully tactic.

But why is this really hard topic an issue of discipleship? We need to take a look at the texts today for help with that.

The setting for the 2 Samuel text is King David’s attempt to cover up a murder for which he was responsible. He ordered the husband of his mistress into the heat of a battle in order to get him killed. It worked. He got away with it. No one’s the wiser.

Except for the prophet Nathan who knew what had happened. In this text he confronts David using a parable of a poor man whose beloved lamb is stolen by a rich man—the injustice of this. “What should happen to that rich man?” asks Nathan. “He deserves to die,” answers the king. “You are that man!” Nathan exclaims.

The result is that David acknowledges his sin and provides one of the greatest repentance stories in all of scripture. Read Psalm 51.

Confronting David led him to repentance, which made him a better king—both in God’s eyes and in the eyes of Israel.

The other text from Galatians is a bit different. Fairly recently some parts of the Church have begun including—even baptizing—Gentiles. For the first time non-Jews are being welcomed as equal disciples of Jesus. For us no big deal. For them, this was a seismic shift in thinking. It was incredibly controversial. As is often still the case, some of the outlying congregations were adopting this practice of equal inclusivity more readily than the orthodox “mother church” in Jerusalem. So the church was divided over this issue.

Now Peter had had this dream (cf. Acts 10) about eating unclean food because God had said that if God makes it clean, it’s clean. So when Peter (Cephas) came to Antioch, he participated in these inclusive meals and worship times with Jews and Gentiles together. He even ate at Gentile tables with Gentile food, which was forbidden by the orthodox Jewish church in Jerusalem. So the church in Jerusalem sent some people up to Antioch to check, and Peter backed down.

Now, a lot of scholars believe Peter removed himself from the Gentile meals to help keep peace in the church. He didn’t want to promote a division over a small issue like meals, so he sided with Jerusalem.

Keeping peace isn’t bad, is it? Keeping the church from splitting isn’t bad, is it? It’s easier to back out of these common meals and keep the churches happier, right? Especially those who are in power.

There was more at stake that keeping people happy. An issue of the gospel was actually at stake here. If Peter sides with the powerful church in Jerusalem, he is in essence saying that the Gentiles—whom Peter acknowledges that God was including—didn’t matter. They were essentially second-class citizens whose inclusion wasn’t as important as the approval of the Jerusalem church. Peter sold out the gospel because it was easier. He ignored God’s inclusion to keep more powerful people happy. His actions revealed that he felt God’s inclusion of the Gentiles wasn’t worth a conflict.

Can you imagine if someone of Peter’s importance said you weren’t worth standing up for?

So Paul confronts Peter, and does so publicly. This was an act of discipleship on Paul’s part because God’s vision for the church was at stake. If God includes people as Peter had argued before, then they are worth standing up for. They are worth including. They are worth risking a conflict. They are worth confronting the orthodox powers that be.

In the case of Nathan, confronting David made him a better king—thus helping Israel to better reveal the ethical nature of God to the nations.

In the case of Paul, confronting Peter helped the church to better reveal the inclusive nature of God to the nations.

Jesus certainly confronted people—but always regarding their opposition to the reign of God. Confrontation is discipleship when it points out a barrier to something God is doing. Confrontation is discipleship when it can pave the way for God’s reign of love and compassion and inclusion to be revealed more fully.

It’s worth thinking about: what is God doing here and now in our lives, in our church, in our culture? What’s in the way of that happening? Disciples of Jesus are called to point out those obstacles and confront those who support those obstacles. For the sake of the reign of God.

What are those hindrances, those obstacles, those things and people that need to be confronted for God’s sake? How can we best do that? Come back Wednesday and we’ll talk about that.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2019 in Sermon

 

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The Shape of the Inside Determines the Appearance on the Outside (February 24, 2019)

Luke 6:27-38

 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

pottery

As a potter creates a pot, the idea around the purpose of the vessel comes first. The purpose determines how the inside of the pot needs to be shaped; the inside of a vase needs to be shaped differently than the inside of bowl. Then, the shape of the inside of a pot determines the shape of the outside. As the potter shapes the inside, the outside—the visible part of the pot—changes because it matches the inside.

Keep that image in mind as we go through this text. The shape of the inside determines the appearance of the outside.

This text in Luke is a direct continuation from last week, the Sermon on the Plain. So, much of what we talked about last week come into play here. It started with Jesus beginning this major teaching session with some Beatitude-like sayings, similar to what’s recorded in Matthew’s gospel. But unlike Matthew’s version, where the Beatitudes are the beginning of the famous “Sermon on the Mount,” in Luke Jesus teaches from a level place. And this is in keeping with Luke’s major theme of bringing up the lowest in the world and lowering those most exalted in the world. Because, as Luke makes clear, God has no favorites, everyone is loved, valued, and included by God equally. Everything and everyone is level with God.

The implication being that this is what the church, as the body of Christ, is to reveal. God’s priorities, God’s lack of favoritism, God’s equality. That means we are to be deliberate about calling for justice from the rich and powerful while lifting up, including, and advocating for the poor and excluded. Lift up those who are at the bottom of the world’s order while calling to account those at the top of the world’s order.

And this text today continues where it left off last week. Jesus teaching about God’s level playing field while revealing God’s level playing field.

But a word of caution about this text, because it is often distorted into one more reason to feel guilty and inadequate as disciples. This isn’t a text about what we need to try harder to do and then need to repent of when we can’t do it. Because as soon as we hear it that way, it becomes a means to judge one another, or even ourselves. “I’m much more successful at loving my enemies than you. I am obviously a real Christian. You, therefore, need to listen to me and follow Jesus like I do.” Do you see how that kind of self-righteousness could be a problem?

Or, “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t turn the other cheek. I guess I’m not a very faithful person. If I can’t do that, I may as well forget the whole thing, because obviously I can’t follow Jesus.”

This teaching by Jesus isn’t a competition to see who’s the best disciple. It’s not a measuring stick to compare ourselves to anyone else. It’s not a weapon to use against those who aren’t followers of Christ because they don’t use the language of blessing those who curse you.

No, this is a vision, not a moral imperative. This is what the Reign of God looks like. This is what would happen if the playing field actually was level. It’s how people would live if the world—like God—actually did have no favorites. This is a description of what we would begin to look like on the outside if on inside we were shaped like Christ. Remember the pottery image? The shape of the inside of a pot determines what it looks like on the outside.

As we continue to allow God to shape us from the inside—as we are stretched and molded and changed—the way we live in the world begins to be shaped differently too. God, whose nature as Luke describes today, is to be “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked,” creates us in that image, and continues to recreate us and shape us in that image. This text reveals some signs of what that Christ-shaped life looks like.

So rather than beating up someone else because they don’t turn the other cheek, or rather than condemning yourself because you don’t give to everyone who begs from you, consider this text from a different point of view. As you look around your world, where do you see strange, almost extreme acts of compassion like Jesus talks about here? Where do you see this kind of mercy and generosity and striving for justice being lived out? When you see those kinds of things, you are seeing how someone is being shaped by God from the inside.

More than that, pay attention to your own signs of compassion, mercy, love. You, too, are being shaped to be like Christ from the inside. The way you live on the outside shows that happening. God at work in you. Re-shaping you as Christ from the inside. The shape of the inside of a pot determines what it looks like on the outside.

How is God shaping you into Christ-like compassion today? How is God revealing to you new ways to be merciful? How is God giving you new opportunities to love people who might seem unlovable or include people who are usually ignored? God is shaping you from the inside into the image of Christ. And it will begin to look different from the outside. It starts to look like doing what’s in the best interests even of people who hate you. It starts to look like facing violence with non-violent resistance. It starts to look like careless generosity toward those who will never be able to repay you.

As God continues re-shaping us from the inside, we are able to catch for ourselves, and give glimpses to the world, what life in Christ looks like on the outside. It will begin to look like God’s vision. It will begin to look like the Reign of God. It will begin to look like Jesus.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2019 in Sermon

 

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In the Midst of Chaos, Jesus Arises (March 4, 2018)

John 2:13-22

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Wow. Are you able to imagine this scene? Jesus walks into the temple area in Jerusalem—the high, holy place where God resides—and starts running amuck in there. Driving out animals, turning over tables, creating chaos in God’s house. Jesus is disrupting the entire system of the temple.

Since Moses, people of God have been required to offer sacrifices and tithes, according to God’s law. This marketplace in the temple courtyard allowed them to meet the requirements of the law and be found righteous with God. The system worked for everyone. Yet, even though it was beneficial and in keeping with Jewish (and Roman) law, it didn’t fit with God’s kingdom of love and compassion and mercy for all people. This workable, viable, traditional system of sacrifice for righteousness, following rules and procedures in a specific place, needed to end. Since the focus has always been on righteousness with God, sacrifices in the temple don’t actually do that. Righteousness with God is not centered in the temple, but instead is centered in Christ. So Jesus disrupts a system that doesn’t work according to God’s vision in order to lift up a new system that does.

In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

As long as the temple system was in place and working, God’s vision would never be seen or participated in. There was no easy way to make that adjustment away from it without complete disruption. In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

There are times when some area of our lives just aren’t working. Times when our lives are in chaos, when things simply feel out of control. The confusion in those times can leave us uncertain and unable to see beyond that chaos. Most of us who’ve experienced chaos in our lives being beyond our control can testify to the reality that God is not always visible at that time. We can’t see beyond the next minute, much less recognize the presence of Christ. In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

And this is true not just in our individual lives, but in any system or institution or organization that isn’t part of God’s vision of compassion and peace and grace. Not just the temple. Not just the way we run our lives. Bu even Christ’s church itself.

In many parts of the world, especially the US, people are leaving the church in droves. The system—the way of being church that many of us have known all our lives—feels beyond our ability to make work. Our best efforts don’t seem to make much difference at all. Our message of Christ’s love isn’t being heard or believed. No matter what we do, the church doesn’t seem to be able to adapt.

Much like the temple system in Jesus’ day, the church is being disrupted. I wonder if it’s because we are no longer able to see beyond the church system that’s been in place for 1700 years. In the midst of the disruption and chaos, even in the church, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

Here’s how the church system as we know it has developed.[i]

“Jesus’ apostles were constantly getting in trouble with the religious leaders and power brokers of their. . . . They were beaten, jailed, and finally killed because this way of life was such a threat to the social and political order.

“At the beginning of the fourth century . . . the Roman Empire was feeling increasingly threatened by rising forces beyond its border. In CE 311 the Romans became more open minded about matters of religion. Novel (and desperate) idea: pray to any God if it can help us hold back the barbarians! Christians were granted an indulgence and asked to pray “to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the commonwealth may continue uninjured on every side, and that they may be able to live securely in their homes.” This was the first step in creating an alliance with the Christian God, whom Constantine considered the strongest deity. Two years later, in CE 313, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan decriminalizing Christian worship. At that time he was more concerned about social stability and the protection of the empire from the wrath of the Christian God than he was for justice or care for the Christians. Finally the emperor consolidated his power within the church when he convened the first worldwide gathering of Christian leaders at the Council of Nicaea in CE 325. Christendom was born. The Jesus movement was subsumed into the empire and “Christian disciple” became synonymous with “good citizen.”

“Most churches today mirror political institutions in structure, operation, and governance. Denominations gather to vote on doctrine and polity and, in some cases, to elect bishops to oversee the church. Likewise, pastors are trained and carefully credentialed to administer the sacraments and manage their churches. . . . “Don’t rock the boat” is the underlying narrative. . . . In most Christian quarters, subversion is the enemy.

“The era of the Christian society has now ended in the United States. . . . Citizenship no longer means Christian. The church is no longer the center of life. Organized religion, in its Christendom edition, is growing more and more irrelevant and we are at a loss as to what to do about it.

“What would it look like for the church to reclaim Christ’s subversive gospel of abundance and trust that the kingdom of God is at hand? . . . Oftentimes that creation looks like rebellion to the church authorities— or just plain weird.

“Jesus ultimately died a humiliating and torturous death on the cross because he posed a threat to the political and religious powers.

“The Jesus movement, born out of subversion, is at its best when it is subversive.”

In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

The major disruption of the temple that felt like the end for Jews in Jerusalem was actually a focus on Jesus as God’s vision for the world. And what feels like the end of the church to many today is the same thing. We are experiencing God at work, a seismic shift away from a church system that works for many, but may not be pointing the world to God’s vision of peace, compassion, and grace for all people. Jesus is stepping in and turning over our tables in order to disrupt the church as we know it. Though we don’t understand and though it’s frighteningly uncomfortable, In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

Instead of bemoaning the loss of the temple, let us watch for Jesus to arise. And then, let us run to him and embrace him wherever he is and whatever he’s doing. Let us watch for Jesus to arise, for he is the revealing of God’s vision for peace, for compassion, and for grace for the whole world. In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

[i] Era of Christendom source: Estock, Beth Ann; Nixon, Paul. Weird Church: Welcome to the Twenty-First Century, The Pilgrim Press. Kindle Edition. 2016.

 

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Longing for God’s Vision (Dec 3, 2017)

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Is it even possible for the nations of our world to ever live in peace? Is there any hope at all of alleviating hunger and poverty in our world? Do we stand a chance of overcoming our cultural obsession with violence? Will we ever see an end to hate, racism, homophobia, or oppression? Is any of this remotely possible, or is it all just pie-in-the-sky and we are wasting our time longing for these things?

Advent is a season of longing. As we begin this season, we need to take time to acknowledge those deep longings of our souls. Because those deep longings are our spirit connecting to God’s Spirit. These longings are real. Where do God’s priorities for the world resonate within us? What are the possibilities of God’s vision that touch you spiritually?

In the first reading today, the prophet Isaiah believes that the unrighteous behavior of Israel has been in the way of God’s justice. Now that that unrighteousness has been dealt with, God’s long hoped-for vision can now be revealed. There is one coming, Isaiah cries, who will prepare the way for God’s peace to enter in. One who will point out the rough places in the world that will be smoothed, the low places in our culture that will be raised up.

The promise of a coming one who would prepare the way for God’s vision is made in Isaiah, and is kept in the coming of John the Baptist. John’s message is that God’s vision for the world is coming; what we long for in our spirits is in fact on its way.

So John points out the rough places, the low places, the crooked places. He calls people to help smooth, to lift up, to straighten. John makes clear that God’s vision, God’s justice, God’s peace is on the way. “There is one,” he says, “there is one coming through whom God’s vision will be realized.”

All that we’ve hoped for, says John, all the injustices and the wars and the violence and the hatred that our world has endured for so long will finally be resolved. In the coming of the Christ, we will see God’s reign at last. The possibilities we’ve longed for will finally begin.

So let’s prepare the way for God’s possibilities. Let’s smooth, let’s lift up, let’s straighten out.

In other words, John says, let’s repent.

John means something different by that word than we usually do. We hear “repentance,” and we go straight to how bad we each are and that each of us needs to be sorry for our sins. Usually there’s a hint of punishment involved if we don’t: either hell or God’s disfavor or some other bad thing will happen to the one who doesn’t repent of their sins.

That’s not really John’s emphasis. He uses the word “repentance” and “forgiveness of sins,” but his reasoning is significantly different than ours. Whereas we are more concerned with our individual salvation and personal righteousness— getting into heaven when we die, John’s concern is with God’s vision of peace and justice restoring all of creation.

For us, confession of sins usually means each person acknowledging their personal list of disobedient behaviors, trusting that God will forgive those who do confess.

But for John, confession of sins means acknowledging the obstacles in the way of God’s vision of justice for the world.

For us, repentance usually means each one of us feeling sorry for those bad things we’ve done and promising not to do them any more.

But for John, repentance means turning our life, our focus, our energy toward God’s vision of peace for the world.

So when John cries for repentance, he’s calling for us to turn away from hopelessness, that the world will never be better. Turn away from giving up on our longings and turn instead toward the realization that in Christ, God’s vision is actually becoming real. Make those paths straight.

He’s calling us to turn away from passively waiting for peace and turn toward making peace happen. Smooth out those rough places.

He’s calling us to turn away from seeking our own personal righteousness and turn toward God’s justice happening in the world. Lift up those low places.

One of the promises of Advent is that God’s justice is coming. God’s vision for peace and the renewal of creation is actually possible. In Christ we can see it. We can again turn our efforts toward being part of God’s vision for the world because Christ is coming. In him it is real.

Those deepest longings of our souls, those parts of God’s vision that are within us, are now possible. So prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight. God’s vision for us and our whole world is happening. Turn toward that. Christ is coming. In him there will be peace. And life. And wholeness. And justice.

As Isaiah reminds us today, “[the Lord] will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” This is God’s vision for the world. Prepare for that. Turn toward that. Work for that. It’s closer now than ever before.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2017 in Sermon

 

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I”m Tired of Hearing, “Oh, I used to be Lutheran” (May 7, 2017)

Acts 2:41-47

So those who welcomed [Peter’s] message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

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.

When people find out I’m a Lutheran pastor, the comment I hear most often is some variation of, “Oh! I used to be Lutheran.” That opens up the door for some interesting conversation. Because when I ask why they no longer are Lutheran, the responses go all over the place, with the bottom line being that church didn’t really matter—didn’t make much difference for them. Church wasn’t important enough for them to stick around. We’ll come back to that.

Do you know what the most common question I get asked as a pastor is? Any idea? The most common question I get as a pastor by far is, “How big is your church?” My answer generally varies from “about 30,000 square feet” to “Well, we have room for one more. Interested?” Which, of course, isn’t what they want to know.

Numbers are our default setting for how well something’s going. We cannot ignore numbers, but they don’t always tell the whole story, either. Albert Einstein is thought to have said, “Not everything that matters can be measured, and not everything we measure matters.”

Yet no matter how often I talk about the fact that numerical church growth can’t be our primary measure of success, and no matter how often people say they agree, we still kinda all look at the numbers, don’t we? If the church has more people, we feel good about it and think we must be doing some things right. If our worship numbers are down, we beat ourselves up trying to figure out what we’re doing wrong.

Then there’s the book of Acts. 3000 members were added in one day, Luke writes. Granted, he’s likely painting an optimistic picture of the earliest days of the church, but he still puts that out there. What a huge success story, we think! Why isn’t that happening now? Here? With us?

Since we usually end up talking about numbers, let’s talk about numbers. Why aren’t there enthusiastic people clamoring to be part of churches in the US? Probably because of the next 5 verses.

All the disciples, Luke writes—3000 plus—devoted themselves to learning, to being community, to living generously, to growing as disciples. Day after day after day. Devoted to the way of Jesus. Committed to revealing and living God’s priorities in the world.

I’m not sure how many of us today feel that way about the church. I asked a friend and colleague what she thought the purpose of the church was. She answered, “To make the world a better place.”

I think that’s basically true. I would add that we make the world a better place as defined by God. And God’s vision is shown to us in the person of Jesus. Through the life and ministry of Christ we have insight into God’s ways of making a better world.

And that, I believe, is what this earliest group of followers in the book of Acts was doing. Gaining greater clarity about what it is that God is doing, understanding more precisely God’s priorities, seeing more clearly God’s vision, and then committing themselves to being part of that in the world. And isn’t that exactly what the church is really about?

Knowing Bible stories matters, but why? Because we can gain insight into God’s vision for justice, forgiveness, and inclusivity.

Growing numerically is wonderful, but why? Because we then have more gifts with which to do God’s work of making the world a better place.

Sunday worship attendance is super, but why? Because as we gather in God’s name we are reminded of who we are and why we are here. It is here that we are nourished at Christ’s table and equipped with God’s Word. It’s from here that we are sent out to make the world a better place.

How are we doing with that?

In some ways, actually pretty well! We are committed to compassion, and virtually every opportunity that comes to our attention receives our generous compassion and mercy in some way. We actually do reveal the heart and the grace of God in ways that matter. E.g., I have recent letters of thanks from 2nd Wind, LIRS, Habitat for Humanity, Family Tree, World Hunger. Solar panels eliminated our carbon footprint. We generously support for our youth, and continuously offer our building to the community for scouts, support groups, community meetings. These things make a difference. To be honest, in some ways we really are amazing.

In other ways there’s room for growth. There are reasons why our compassion needs to continue to be poured out. There’s nothing we can do about natural disasters, for instance. But there are more effective things we can do about poverty, homelessness, disease, racism, homophobia, any form of intolerance or exclusion. Those things are on us. We’ve made the church more about convenience and comfort than devotion to Christ.

Most of us consider the church to be yet another volunteer organization in our culture. But I don’t think God sees it that way. I believe God considers the followers of Jesus to be the best hope for changing the world. If we aren’t on the leading edge of understanding, revealing, and living out the heart of God, who else can be?

As Frank Davis of Zion Baptist told me, changing the world won’t come from the white house, it won’t come from the state house, changing the world will come from the church house.

That takes devotion. It takes a commitment to learning, to being community, to living generously, to growing as disciples. Day after day after day. Devoted to the way of Jesus. Committed to revealing and living God’s priorities in the world.

We do that, and we’ll stop hearing, “Oh, I used to be Lutheran.” Instead we’ll begin hearing, “Wow! How do I become a Lutheran?” Church is meant to be important enough for them to stick around. Disciples of Jesus: we’ll change the world.

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2017 in Sermon

 

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God’s Mission: It’s That Big a Deal (June 22, 2014)

Pentecost 2

Matthew 10:24-39

Whatgoes through your head when you get a phone call and the person on the other end greets you with, “Don’t worry. Everything is OK”? That the cue to start worrying?

Or the dentist says, “You might feel a little discomfort”?  I think dentists and I have two different definitions of the word “discomfort.”

Or Jesus says to us, “Follow me, but don’t be afraid”? Uh oh. That makes me a bit apprehensive. If you follow me, people will say hateful things about you. If you follow me, people will want to physically hurt you. If you follow me, some people you thought you could count on will abandon you. If you follow me, you will lose your life. Rather than peace, it’s swords and division.

Why would Jesus say things like this? Why is his language so harsh? There are, I think, a couple of reasons:

–Because he’s making it very clear that what he’s asking his followers to do actually is that difficult, and,

–Because God’s vision for the world is that big a deal.

The U.S. Soccer team is playing in the World Cup in Brazil. They continue to endure grueling physical workouts, a horrible travel schedule that keeps them away from home for weeks at a time, a lack of support from many of the citizens of their own country, and the knowledge that in spite of all their work and effort and talent, they probably aren’t good enough to win the World Cup. Why do they do it?

Because the opportunity to play in this world tournament is that big a deal. The hope that they might have a chance to do well—with the opportunity to possibly win it—is worth all of the effort and more. It’s that big a deal.

Those who were part of the Civil Rights protests in the 1960s endured threats, beatings, arrests, even death. Yet they continued. Why would they do this?

Because a culture where they could have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else is worth all that and more. It’s that big a deal.

God is accomplishing something in creation that is that big a deal.

–Imagine a world where you are so valued that you are recognized as worth everything. For God that’s a big deal.

–Imagine a world where you can live every day free from any threat of any violence, where you live free from worry, free from fear. For God that’s a big deal.

–Imagine a world where we all are willing to share so generously with anyone else that every person has enough of everything. For God that’s a big deal.

–Imagine a world where you are encouraged, loved, accepted just as you are right now without any conditions whatsoever. For God that’s a big deal.

Can you begin to envision a world like that? Because God can. That’s God’s vision. And it is God’s intention and mission to make that happen. Bringing the reality of that vision into this world is what Jesus is about. IT’s that vision that he lives for, that he died for, that we can see in the resurrection.  It’s that vision he gives to his disciples. And it’s that vision he sends us into the world to make real. No one ever said that would be easy.

That is why the church exists. That is why we are here. LCM exists because God has a vision for the world, and we have been called to reveal it.

This mission into which we’re baptized is hard. It is costly. It is inconvenient. It is uncomfortable. Because this mission is not about us, or what we like, or what’s comfortable for us. IT is only about God’s mercy, forgiveness, peace, and love being made real in the world. So we do things to embody God’s vision:

–we practice forgiving each other, taking that into the world,

–we love those who are different than us; even our enemies,

–we show the world what real peace looks like,

–we reveal unselfishness to them,

–we live generously, giving away more of our money than makes sense for the sake of others.

–we publicly stand with those who, because of nationality, economic status, or sexual orientation, have been made to feel worthless in our culture.

We do all this not because it’s easy or comfortable, but because in our baptism God’s mission becomes our mission.

At our council meeting last Tuesday our council president, Roger Johnson, used this gospel text as our opening devotion. We spent 45 minutes talking about the cost of discipleship, and what it means today to follow Jesus.

Pastor Brigette. As pastoral leaders called to this congregation we want to be very clear that God’s mission is what we believe to be the freedom, joy, and heart of the gospel. Our calls here as ministers of Word and sacrament revolve entirely around proclamation and equipping for God’s mission.

Council. We talked about this at our meeting, and we decided that we are affirming here this morning that we are disciples of Jesus. As such, our call as elected leaders is to set a direction for LCM that is deeply rooted in our purpose within God’s mission in the world. We are assuring you publicly that we are committed to that.

Jesus tells us it will be hard, that the consequences of following him can be severe and even painful. And yet, he says, don’t be afraid. It is in God’s vision that you find your life. It’s that big a deal.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2014 in Sermon

 

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