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Not the Nature of the Soil, but of the Sower (July 16, 2017)

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

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Jesus talks in this parable about four different types of dirt: dirt that’s trodden down into a hard path, dirt that’s full of rocks, dirt that has thorns growing in it, and good soil. Each of the first three have problems growing seeds, but the fourth—the good soil—grows seeds like crazy. Yielding 30, 60 or even 100 times more than was planted. In those days, farmers would find that much yield unbelievable!

Then, later on, Jesus explains this parable to his disciples. The seed is the “word of the kingdom,” he says. We can talk later about what that means. The different soils are different responses from different people to that word of the kingdom being cast among them. Obviously, those who respond as good soil are those who understand the word of the kingdom and respond very well to it. But not everyone does, apparently. Only those who are good soil.

How do you know who the good soil is? How do we know if we are good soil? Is good soil the “good” Christians? Those who volunteer their time to feed the hungry and house the homeless? Is good soil limited to pastors? People who pray well? Those whose spiritual lives are beyond that of mere mortals? Whatever it is that makes people good soil, that’s what we want to be doing, don’t we?

I think that even with very little thought we can see that it isn’t that simple. None of us are just one soil type. We’re not divided into good people and bad ones. One of the most helpful things in our Lutheran theology is that we understand that each of us are, at the same time, both saint and sinner. Both good soil and not so good. Even if we feel like one kind of soil more than other kinds, we fluctuate during our lifetimes, sometimes we can be several different soils during a single day.

So, I’ll ask again, how do you know who the good soil is? I believe the point of the parable is that we don’t know.

Look at the main character, the sower, throwing seeds everywhere, indiscriminately, extravagantly, foolishly, wastefully. If the sower knows where the good soil is, wouldn’t he just sow his seeds there? Why waste seeds casting them where they aren’t likely to produce anything? Jesus, the one who casts the words of the kingdom, flings them everywhere without regard as to who will produce fruit and who won’t—because it’s not about the nature of the soil, it’s about the nature of the sower.

Think about where and with whom Jesus cast the words of the kingdom—which, by the way, are the things central to the nature of God: love, compassion, forgiveness, lifting up those that are pushed down, justice. Think about where Jesus showed those things, with whom he shared these kingdom experiences. Jesus spent much of his time casting the words of the kingdom—showing mercy and compassion—to sinners, tax collectors, the sick, those left out, even the twelve disciples who never seemed to get it. If ever there was bad soil, it was that group. It looked like a waste of time to those who thought they knew who the good soil was.

Jesus wasn’t picky. He showed compassion everywhere, to everyone. Some who received the seeds of compassion would yield the fruit of those seeds by showing even more compassion, and some wouldn’t. He showed forgiveness even to the worst people. Some who received the seeds of forgiveness would yield the fruit of those seeds by showing more forgiveness, and some wouldn’t. Jesus loved even the unlovable. Some who received the seeds of love would yield the fruit of those seeds by loving others, and some wouldn’t.

Jesus just threw the seeds of God’s grace, love, and compassion everywhere. All the time. To anyone. It didn’t matter if they were good soil or not. It didn’t matter if they were hardened or shallow or had bad priorities. Jesus doesn’t hold back, but keep sowing compassion, love, and grace with wild generosity. To all kinds of soils, no matter what.

Which is amazingly good news. If Jesus is sowing forgiveness and compassion everywhere, to everyone, whether they are good soil or not, that means he’s sowing forgiveness and compassion to me. To you. Right now. Whether you’re good soil or not. Christ’s compassion is being thrown at you. Christ’s love is raining down on you like so many seeds. Regardless of your soil condition today. And who knows, it just might take root.

But even if it doesn’t, the generous seeds of an extravagant sower continue to be cast in you. Again and again. Indiscriminately, extravagantly, foolishly, wastefully. Because it’s not about the nature of the soil, it’s about the nature of the sower. The word of the kingdom is flung everywhere. Who knows where it will take root and bear 30, 60, or even 100 fold? Who knows? Maybe in you.

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Arrogance Is Never the Gospel (May 21, 2017)

Acts 17:22-31

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For “In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.’ 29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

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.

Have you heard of this apostle Paul? He is the one who opened up this new Jesus movement to the Gentiles. He’s the greatest evangelist of all time. He is credited with writing most of the New Testament. In this text in Acts, we get to hear one of this great man’s sermons. This famous follower of Jesus, after being chased out of two towns because his speaking about Jesus is so powerful, is now brought to this incredible venue to explain his views. The Areopagus in Athens, world-famous for its speakers and its court hearings. This is the big time.

Our bishop, Jim Gonia, preached Easter morning at Red Rocks Amphitheater this year. But as big a deal as that is, it can’t hold a candle to the Areopagus in Athens Greece in Paul’s day.

So here he is, on the biggest stage of his life, in front of a whole lot of people eagerly awaiting his speaking.

With all that heightened anticipation, he begins. And the response from the crowd is, “Meh.” Oh, a few were moved to follow Jesus. But the vast majority just kind of went, “What’s the big deal?”

To be honest, that’s pretty much my reaction too. Really, Paul? That’s the best you’ve got? You Greeks have a Unkown God, but we know who that God is? God doesn’t really live in statues? That doesn’t do much for me.

To be fair, perhaps Paul was having an off day. After all, the Thessolonicans won’t leave him alone. They’ve run him out of two cities now, and if they knew he was in Athens, they’d probably try again.

And this sermon was rather impromptu. He had been talking in the synagogue and then in the marketplace, which was his usual pattern, and those people whisked him off to the Areopagus, put him up on the stage, and said, “Go.” He had no time to prepare.

So we can cut him a little bit of slack. Even on his best day, no single sermon of Paul’s could ever touch everyone. Even Jesus couldn’t reach every person who heard.

But that really is true. Each person has unique experiences and histories. We’re all wired just a bit differently so that what has deep meaning to me is hardly worth hearing to you. That which reaches inside and touches the depths of your very soul might just sound like dogs howling to me.

The context of our lives matters. That’s the amazing thing about this gospel—it is good news in every context because it is solely about love and grace.

If it’s not sounding like good news to you, you’re likely hearing it from the perspective of someone else’s context. And if they’re telling you that what moves them and connects with them is the only way this gospel is real, they don’t know the gospel of Christ. They are putting their faith not in the gospel, but in their own interpretation of it as it touched them. And trying to make their unique perspective universal for everyone has got to be the height of self-centeredness. I can’t tell you that my history is the only one that matters. I can’t tell you that my interpretation of the gospel is the ultimate interpretation. I can’t tell you that what excites me has to, by my definition, excite you. And that if it does not, then you are obviously less, inferior, not as godly as me.

I’m glad some aspect of God’s love was moving to people who think that way, but no one can demand everyone else twist their lives to fit into one person’s perpective. Your life experiences are different than mine, so what would ever make me think that what makes sense for my life would have to make sense for yours before your life can be legitimate? What kind of arrogance is that?

The bottom line—and that which makes the gospel so universal—is that God is love. Which means you are worthy of love. So the question we need to ask ourselves is, “How has  love made a difference for you? How has love touched you and made you new? What does love look like for you?” This is the gospel. This is what Jesus came to show us. This is what God is like. And your story about this love, which is God, which is what Jesus is about, makes a huge difference.

Your story of love, of God, of Christ, is likely different than other people’s. Which means some may not be as moved by your story as you are. That doesn’t mean don’t speak about God’s love in your life, quite the contrary! It means you need to speak it clearly and boldly! It will touch someone! Just don’t be discouraged or upset if it doesn’t resonate with everyone. It’s not supposed to. It will touch some people, but it won’t—it can’t—touch every other person. No one’s story can do that. Christ is too genuine for that. Christ will reach other people with other experiences. We must affirm and recognize the validity of others’ stories of being made new in love too. They are genuine and just as legitimate as yours.

Share your story of God’s love in Christ. And don’t let anyone tell you, no matter how famous they are, that because their story is different, it’s more legitimate than yours. Christ has come to you in love. Nothing is more legitimate than that. Recognize God’s love in your life. Claim it. Share it. And encourage others to do the same. Even if the way God’s love touched them is different than yours. Share your story with me. I’d love to hear it even if it’s different than mine. Who knows, I might learn more about Christ’s love from your experience. Wouldn’t that be great?

 
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Posted by on May 22, 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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“An Annoying God of Grace” Easter 6 (C)

John 5:1-9

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.

This guy who is healed by Jesus in this text really annoys me. What a lousy whiner. Thirty-eight years he’s been lying there by this pool waiting to be healed. That’s not patience, that’s a life-style.

When Jesus comes along and sees him there and asks him if he wants to be healed, you’d think this guy would be excited. But he doesn’t say yes, he just makes excuses for why he hasn’t been healed yet. The myth was that when the water get stirred up by an angel, the first one in supposedly gets healed. This guy just whines to Jesus that someone always gets there ahead of him. You mean to tell me that after 38 years he can’t figure out a way to get in the water faster? C’mon! Lie at the edge of the pool and just roll in. Do something!

But Jesus heals him anyway. And later, when the religious authorities get after this guy for carrying his mat on the Sabbath, which, according to the law, is considered breaking the Sabbath, he blames Jesus, “That guy told me to do it.”

“What guy?” They ask. “I don’t know.”

He’s sick for 38 years, someone has the compassion to heal him in an instant, and this guy doesn’t even find out who did it? Instead of standing up for Jesus, he blames him for getting caught working on the Sabbath.

A little after that, Jesus finds the guy again and introduces himself. Still no thanks or appreciation. No, this guy runs back to the Jewish authorities and throws Jesus under the bus. “Remember I told you about that guy to told me to carry my mat on the Sabbath? Well, I found out who he is. His name is Jesus.” And this is what gets the Jewish authorities beginning to plot against Jesus.

This guy is a whiny, spineless, ungrateful, faithless, weasel. And of all the people that were waiting for healing that day, Jesus picks this guy. Of all the people that were waiting by that pool, surely one of them had a bit more character than this guy. Probably any other person there would have at least said “Thank you.” Some might have been become disciples. But Jesus picks this guy. The most undeserving, ungrateful, slime ball of the day. And Jesus heals him.

Sometimes grace is really bothersome. Because that’s what this is. Grace. Regardless of whether he deserves it or not, Jesus shows compassion. Even though this guy sells Jesus out, Jesus shows him care. With grace, a person’s goodness, character, ethics, beliefs, or status aren’t part of the picture. Those things don’t enter into the equation at all. Grace is just grace. For anyone.

Grace has nothing to do with qualifications or deserving. If those enter in, it’s no longer grace.

I saw a video on facebook where a man taped money all over himself, and carried a sign that said, “Take what you need.” The man didn’t ask any questions or find out anyone’s story, he just let anyone take whatever amount of money off him that they wanted. Some admitted they didn’t need it, but just took more. Others grabbed handfuls and ran. A homeless man took a few bills but left most of it for other, he said, who needed it more.

A person walking around giving away money to anyone without question is a picture of grace.

Jesus healing an ungrateful whiner is a picture of grace.

It’ll drive you crazy if you let it. Because if you let any qualifications whatsoever enter into the picture at all, you’ll either get annoyed by grace or you’ll have to disavow it.

Yet this is the God we have. An annoying God of grace. A God who doesn’t care if we deserve it or not. A God for whom our gratitude or ingratitude isn’t influential in any way. A God for whom it doesn’t even register as to whether we’re good or bad, ethical or currupt, faithful or faithless. God who just showers grace. To all. Without question. Without judgement. Without reservation.

We can accept it or not. If we do, it opens our eyes to a pretty amazing God and helps us understand who we are as church. If we don’t , we’ll simply find reasons to reject it.

If we begin with our own worthiness, or even hint at that in the equation, we’ll never appreciate the depths of God’s grace. We’ll find ways to rationalize why we don’t deserve it (or just as bad, justify why we do!). We’ll continually berate ourselves for not being enough, for failing, for incurring God’s anger, for being less than we should be. Or, we’ll falsely prop ourselves up as better, holier, or more righteous than other people. We’ll deny the reality of grace and remain vulnerable to hopelessness or self-righteousness. And we’ll continue judging each other.

But as we learn to accept the reality of God’s unconditional grace, we not only realize that this grace includes the whiny slug at the pool at Bethzatha, it also includes us. It includes you. Without reservation, condition, or question. When we look for grace, we see God with new eyes, and When we look for grace, we see each other without judgement. When we look for grace, we care less about who deserves compassion and simply deliver it. When we look for grace, we’ll reflect less the conditional love of the world, and more of God’s unconditional love.

We can actually become part of God’s grace toward the world, toward each other, even toward the man by the pool at Bethzatha that Jesus chooses to heal. And maybe even toward ourselves.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Listen with Your Heart (April 17, 2016)

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.”

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by 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.

Have you ever heard any of these things said to you? Or thought them yourself? Have you heard these voices?

“You’ll never be good enough.”

“This is all your fault.”

“No one likes you anyway, and no one ever has.”

“You can’t be trusted.”

“You’re too incompetent.”

“You’ll never make it.”

“You don’t have the abilities.”

“Everyone would be better off without you.”

“You’re incapable of making a difference.”

“Whatever it is you’re trying to do, you’ll never make it happen.”

“You’re just not worth the effort.”

These are among the words I have actually heard spoken to me. More often than not, it’s my own voice saying them. Sometimes these words are spoken so frequently that I begin to believe them. And when I start to believe them, I might even start to act as if they were true.

There are a lot of voices telling us different things. A lot of voices. They come from everywhere: social media, friends, family, the news media, public figures, commercials, even the church. Too many voices trying to convince us of too many things. Sometimes we arent sure which voices to trust.

Which is why this text from the gospel of John is so important.

“My sheep hear MY voice,” Jesus says. “I know them, and they follow me.”

That should come as a relief. In the midst of all the voices clamoring for our attention, Jesus knows his sheep and they do hear his voice. And hearing his voice, can follow him. A voice that we can hear through all the other noise. A voice we can to trust. A voice that will tell us the truth. A voice that leads to life.

Jesus knows us, calls us, leads us, gives us life, and we can’t be removed from his hand. Good news, right? This should be the end of this sermon.

Except . . . We just can’t let it go at that. We need to complicate it, find a way to make this good news into something else. We move this wonderful message of comfort from a deep, inner heart, faith place where the voice of Jesus resonates to a narrow, intellectual, head place where all the other voices are competing.

We work ourselves out of comfort into skepticism. We analyze until we find some wiggle room, like Jesus saying, “you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep” and we won’t let it go.

Now, you see, we can open a door into all kinds of anxiety. Like:

Who are his sheep?

Who aren’t his sheep?

I’m not sure I hear Jesus’ voice, does that mean I may not be one of his sheep?

Does that mean I’m not going to heaven?

What do I have to do to become one of his sheep?

How do I hear his voice?

And this beautiful assurance of life and belonging become an anxiety-ridden exercize in doubt.

So let’s put an end to the anxiety. Let’s hear this text the way it is meant to be heard. What is something you feel confident you know about God? . . .

How do you know that? . . . .

It’s because you’ve heard the voice of Jesus. You know it, you recognize it, and you, therefore, are one of his sheep, held lovingly in his hand where nothing can snatch you away.

Have you ever loved someone? Not just a partner or significant other, but a sibling, a parent, a friend. Someone you trust and would be willing to go out of your way to help, or ask help from. That’s the voice of Jesus. You know it, you recognize it, and you, therefore, are one of his sheep, held lovingly in his hand where nothing can snatch you away.

How many of you have ever had a moment when you’ve understood that you are actually OK, a glimpse of being worthwhile, a small recognition of your gifts, a little crack into the difference you have made in someone’s life? That’s the voice of Jesus. You know it, you recognize it, and you, therefore, are one of his sheep, held lovingly in his hand where nothing can snatch you away.

There’s a voice of truth calling you. One voice that says you are deeply and dearly loved. One voice that points out that you are good enough right now. One voice that reveals in your heart the truth about who you are. The voice of Jesus. You are his sheep.

So for just a few seconds, listen to the voice of Jesus. Listen with your deep inner being so your head won’t make excuses. LIsten and trust it. Listen as a sheep would hear the voice of their shepherd, whose voice they really do know. Listen and be comforted. Listen and be reassured.

Jesus says to you, “You are my sheep and you hear my voice. I know you, and you follow me. I give you eternal life, and you will never perish. No one will snatch you out of my hand.”

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Grace, Not Fanfare (Jan. 17, 2016)

John 2:1-11

 

1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

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.

 

Jesus’ first miracle in the gospel of John is this one: turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Apparently he didn’t really want to do it, but his mom made him. She comes to him very concerned, saying, “They have no wine.”

Now running out of wine was a big deal. Weddings were major celebrations for the village, and lasted for several days. The family’s status was at stale. Can you imagine hosting a wedding reception and having to tell some of guests that you invited that there isn’t enough food, so they are among those that won’t be eating this evening?

As embarrassing as that would be for us, it would be absolutely devastating for the family in this text.

So Mary is concerned for the family’s reputation as well as concerned for the guests. So she comes to Jesus and tells him that there is no more wine.

Jesus’ response? That’s not our fault. They apparently didn’t plan this wedding very well, did they?

But his mother encourages him and leaves it in Jesus’ hands. That would be a sermon in and of itself, wouldn’t it? Tell Jesus your concerns and then leave it up to him. But that’s not what I think is most important here.

The author here makes a point of saying that this wedding took place in Cana of Galilee. He says it twice. That matters because Cana is such an insignificant village that no one is even sure where it is. Except that it’s in Galilee, which was known as a pretty rough region full of robbers, thieves, and Gentiles. Not exactly a savory, wholesome place.

So why does the author state the location at both the beginning and the end of this story, making sure we know that Jesus’ first sign took place in such a difficult place?

That IS the point. In John, Jesus performs “signs,” not “miracles.” Signs aren’t about themselves, but point out something else. The signs Jesus performs point out what grace is like, they show us what it’s like when God’s reign comes into the world.

So it matters that Jesus didn’t do his first sign in the temple in Jerusalem. It wasn’t at a prayer meeting of people seeking God. The first time Jesus revealed what God’s reign was like was at a wine-infused block party in a remote little village in the middle of a region so bad that Herod was said to have had to come and clean it out twice.

That’s God’s grace. Showing up where it has no business.

What’s more, Jesus makes more wine than they could possibly drink several weeks. Six stone jars each containing 20-30 gallons? That comes out to just shorty of 1000 bottles of wine. About 75 cases. We had over 100 people or so at Emily and Ross’ wedding reception, and with lots of people drinking, we only had five cases, with more than one left over.

That’s God’s grace. Way more than you can ever use!

And beyond that, Jesus changes water into the best wine. Not just big jugs of Gallo, but expensive, fine, snooty kind of wine. The kind reserved for special guests–even royalty.

That’s God’s grace. Way better than the situation calls for.

One more thing. Very few people even knew what had happened. Some of the servants knew, but not the steward, the person in charge of serving the wine. The bride and groom, the family, and none of the guests ever had a clue that this was going on. They simply continued to enjoy the wedding party. Other than noticing the wine was of really good quality, served later rather than earlier, everything continued as usual. And no one probably ever knew what Jesus had done among them.

That’s God’s grace. Quietly working right in our midst, and we often don’t even know it’s happening. Grace, present now, doing amazing things, more than we can use, where we don’t expect it to be.

This was the first sign Jesus did. No fanfare, no spotlights, no headlines. Just overflowing, abundant, more than you need, better than you think, life-changing grace that comes in the middle of everyday life, even when it has no business showing up.

God doesn’t just come to church. God doesn’t just come to Christians. God doesn’t just come to good people. God comes, bringing overabundant grace, wherever you are.

What parts of your life resemble Cana of Galilee, far from where you think God is, separated from God? That’s where grace shows up.

What’s going on in your life that feels shameful, embarrassing, needs to stay in the dark–like you’ve run out of wine? That’s where grace overflows for you; more than enough.

What parts of you seem to be bad, cheap, unworthy? That’s where the best God has to offer comes to you.

God’s grace doesn’t make headlines, but is simply present, working in your life, renewing, restoring, and filling you in ways you may not even know.

Even at a remote wedding in Cana of Galilee, the gracious reign of God shows up. God’s grace is for you. And there’s more than you will ever need.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2016 in Sermon

 

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