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Just One Step (August 11, 2019)

Luke 12:32-40

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

You’re at the Dr’s office for some testing and you’re already nervous with all the needles and gadgets and probey things. Then you hear the technician say as she grabs something that looks amazingly like a circular saw, “You might feel a little pressure.” You know what’s coming. Or you’re at the dentist’s office and through your trembling you hear the dentist say, “You may experience slight discomfort.” Grab the arms of the chair and hold on.

That’s the same sense I sometimes get when I hear Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid,” which he does a bunch of times, including today. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Uh-oh. Look out for whatever is coming next. Sure enough, here it comes, “Sell your possessions, and give alms.” Which is specifically giving to the poor. Not just an offering in church. Really, Jesus?

Why would anyone voluntarily follow Jesus in doing things like this? If the whole world did that, that would be one thing, but I don’t know anyone who actually does that. Sure, we all give away some of our excess, but that isn’t the same thing. It seems we’re always holding back, not fully following Jesus. It’s like an old boss I used to have when I worked in a lamp store in Salt Lake City, who said she had enough faith to walk on water like Jesus, just as long as the water was shallow. You know, just in case.

Here we have a straightforward teaching by Jesus about our relationship with God. So why is it that we reject even this clear answer and keep trying other, safer ways—water that isn’t so deep? Why are we so hesitant to follow him when he’s quite clear what following him means and choose instead to stay in the shallow water? Just in case.

Lots of reasons, all of which we believe are very good, I’m sure. At least my reasons are—I don’t know about yours.

So, how about this. How about we each admit where we are, and that we’re still trying to stay away from the deep water of following Jesus all the way. And then, we commit to taking a step toward following Jesus into deeper water. Just one step. “Do not be afraid, little flock,” he says. God has already committed the whole kingdom to you.

What would that one step look like for you? Just a step into deeper water following Christ. What would be one step toward living Christ’s love in the world, especially toward those who are hard to love? One step closer. It could be as simple as an act of kindness toward someone you dislike. “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

What would be one step toward showing Christ’s compassion, especially to those who simply make you angry? One step closer. Maybe praying for God to move you to forgive someone who’s offended you. “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

What would be one step toward including those who Christ includes, especially those who are so different they make you uncomfortable? One step closer. How about learning a song by someone from a different ethnic background. “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

What would be one step toward expressing Christ’s generosity, especially if you have to change your lifestyle to do it? Just one step closer. With our “Building to Share” capital campaign coming up, consider how you can help to make this building more attractive and accessible for more ministry. “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

What would be one step toward establishing Christ’s justice, especially if you risk alienating some of your friends? One step closer. Listen to and believe the stories of Latino refugees or African Americans who are telling us hatred and racism are everyday realities. “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

“For it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God’s generosity, compassion, love, forgiveness, and justice are already yours. Gladly and fully. God eagerly wants to pour those things that are the kingdom over you, immersing you in them. God’s pleasure is to saturate you in love and compassion and grace. Nothing makes God happier than giving this kingdom to you.

We no longer have to be afraid to live as part of God’s kingdom right now. We can freely and joyfully live the same way in this world. One step today. One step into God’s joy. One step with Jesus into the deeper water of compassion and love.

“Do not be afraid, little flock. For it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Just one step closer. One step in discipleship. One step in widening the circle of who’s welcomed. One step in sharing love and compassion. One step toward justice. Have no fear, little flock.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Who are Your Favorites? (February 17, 2019)

Luke 6:17-26

[Jesus] came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

There is a major theme throughout the gospel of Luke. Everywhere in this gospel God is lifting up those who are low, revealing God’s loving intentions for the poor, the hungry, and the powerless. We can see God’s vision all through this gospel. We can really hear God compassion for those the world excludes and looks down on. In this gospel, the author is clear that the low are lifted up and those up high are brought down. Everyone is level, even. Those who think they are God’s favorites discover they aren’t, and those who think they are far from God discover they aren’t.

Unlike Matthew’s “sermon on the mount,” in today’s text Luke deliberately has Jesus doing this “Beatitude-like” teaching on a level place. Luke has everyone at the same level.

The author spells it out, making it very clear. Those who are poor, those who are hungry, those who are weeping, and those who are hated and excluded are blessed by God. Regardless of what others say, they aren’t lower. They aren’t despised. They are loved and included and welcomed and valued. Just as much as those whom everyone thinks are favored.

The playing field is level. Good news, right? Well, think about that, because the implications of a level playing field affect us more than we may believe. It goes in all kinds of different directions and extends into parts of our lives that we hadn’t considered before.

Not only is the man who stands at the intersection with a cardboard sign and a mental illness just as beloved by God as I am, but it goes beyond that. Beyond those who are socioeconomically low. It also means that those whose theology I despise, those who use the holy name of Jesus in abhorrent ways, those who abuse and twist and distort this life-giving gospel message for profit and their own agendas, those who give Christianity a black eye, are beloved to God. And that’s hard to hear.

That means God favors Pat Robertson, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Marilyn Hickey, Franklin Graham, T.D. Jakes, Beth Moore, Joel Osteen, and rest of them just as much as God favors Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, the apostles, Mary Magdalene, all those who are deliberate about revealing the living, resurrected Christ in our world.

This level field of God’s favor applies everywhere. Including political figures and parties, business and non-profit, race and ethnicity, gender identity and sexual identity, citizen status and documentation. Those who are low or ignored or hated or treated unfairly are favored by God.

It’s one thing to acknowledge that, but it also means they have to be favored by me, too. As a disciple of this Jesus who taught about levelling the field on a level place, I need to acknowledge the presence of Christ in each of these people. In all of these people. Those who are not favored by me are nonetheless blessed by God. And I need to deal with that. If not, then I’m included in the “woe to them” part of this gospel text.

This level, lack of favoritism by God extends beyond that even. It also means that those the world seems to favor, e.g., the rich, the powerful, the popular, the good-looking, the healthy are not favored by God over me. There are those people who just seem to have everything put together. They’re gifted, talented, intelligent, good incomes, have well-behaved children, they’re respected in their field, never sick, have yet to experience hardship—even the death of a loved one. And I know everyone has their issues and it’s not fair to generalize, but it does seem that a few people already have a leg up on life. We call them blessed, we think of them as favored—if not by God then certainly by everyone else.

Jesus’ teaching and example on the level place today says that as far as God’s compassion and love, they have no advantage at all. Luke uses the language of “woes,” meaning these who seem to have everything need to recognize, too, that none of that matters to God.

Those at the top, those we look up to, those who have all the luck, those who are constantly fortunate, those who are our heroes, they are not that way because they are closer to God.

And those at the bottom, who can’t catch a break, who fight and scratch every day to pay rent, who live in fear of the next catastrophe that will put them over the edge, who struggle to gain some kind of acknowledgment that they are present and valuable, they are not that way because they are further from God.

God’s care, God’s compassion, God’s grace all rain down equally on everyone—regardless of how much value the world places on them.

But like rain, God’s mercy and justice, though it falls on everyone, still flows down and pools in the lowest places. Some days that’s you. Some days it’s not.

This major theme of levelling in the gospel of Luke becomes real for us in the church. That which God does, we do also. Those who are at the bottom today, need us the most today. Those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and excluded today are to be cared for, fed, comforted, and welcomed today. Those who think they are God’s favorites discover they aren’t, and those who think they are far from God discover they aren’t. As Christ lives, may he live through us.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Wait. I Have to Wear that in Public? (October 15, 2017)

Matthew 22:1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

This parable today is a strange one. A king’s son is getting married—about the biggest event in the life of a kingdom. So the king hosts a huge wedding banquet. He’s already sent out a “save the date” card, and now he’s calling them to come. He calls them twice: the first time they wouldn’t come, the second time they simply went about their own business. To say that one’s own priorities are more important than the king’s is basically saying that the king isn’t the king. These invited guests make their sentiments very clear by killing the servants of the king who come to bring them to the banquet.

This is open rebellion, so the king has no real choice but to put down the rebellion—in this case by sacking the town. Then, since his agenda is the banquet for his son, he invites others to come—those on the fringe, on the edges, both “the good and the bad.”

This is God’s all-inclusive grace. It’s one of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago. God includes us by grace, not because we are good have done the right things or believe the right things. We are saved by God’s grace. Independent of anything else. That’ s who God is.

So, by the king’s grace, all these people have now been included in the wedding banquet for the king’s son. They’ve all been invited. They all get to come. That would be a wonderful ending to the story. In fact, Luke, in telling a similar parable, does end it there. Hooray! We’re in! Grace is neat, isn’t it?

But Matthew doesn’t stop. Because Mathew reminds us that there’s more to discipleship than just getting into heaven. There’s following Jesus now. There’s standing up with Jesus now. There’s living out God’s agenda now.

Which leads us to the guy in the parable who comes to the wedding banquet but won’t wear a wedding robe.

This person, who’s now included by the grace of the king, who has accepted the king’s invitation, who shows up at the king’s banquet, is still choosing to do things his own way. So he’s tossed out on his ear. He accepted the invitation and he showed up. So apparently accepting the invitation isn’t the point. Deciding to come to the banquet isn’t the point. The king has authority, and that authority takes precedence over the guest’s. When you come to the banquet, you give up your agenda for the king’s agenda. You wear the wedding robe.

You know what that means? Accepting the invitation to come to church is great, but is not what Jesus is asking. Saying “I believe in God” is great, but that’s not what Jesus is asking. Making a decision that Jesus is our personal Lord and Savior is great, but it’s not what Jesus is asking. As people who’ve been included in God’s banquet, what he is asking is that we give up our agenda for God’s agenda. In Lutheran language, we die to ourselves and are raised with Christ. It’s baptismal language. We wear the wedding robe.

What Matthew’s Jesus is telling his church members is that God’s will is to be done by those who are in Christ. Even if it’s in conflict with our priorities; even if we are uncomfortable with it. Many are called, Jesus says, but few are chosen. The invitation to come, to join in is for everyone. “I’ve been invited to the banquet!” “I’ve been saved by grace!” Great, so was everyone else. But not everyone will follow the call to re-order their lives according to God’s mission. As part of the church, we give up our agenda for God’s agenda. That’s wearing the wedding robe.

God’s agenda is to love unconditionally and show compassion to all and to forgive everyone and include those cast aside and to stand up for those who are pushed down.

More than accepting the invitation, that’s wearing the wedding robe.

Just this last week, Tiana, one of our high school students, wore this wedding robe at school. A kid in one of her classes made a horrible racist comment, using the “n” word. No one called it out. So she did. She stood up and in front of the whole class told the kid that this was not OK. That word has never been OK, and it’s not OK now. That kind of racism has to stop. Even though it meant taking the risk of speaking out in front of her peers, she stood up against racial discrimination. This is living out God’s agenda. This is wearing the wedding robe.

“For by grace we have been saved through faith, and this is not our own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast” writes Paul to the Ephesian church. This text is one of the key themes that clarified for Luther that God’s grace includes us. We are all invited. We are all included. We are all able to attend the banquet in the kingdom of heaven.

And we’re expected, as people who accept the invitation, to wear the wedding robe. It keeps slipping off, doesn’t it? God’s forgiveness is a centerpiece of God’s grace. It’s OK. We just pick up the wedding robe and put it on next time. We take a step.

Maybe we aren’t civil rights leaders. Maybe we cannot organize our neighborhood compassion drive for the homeless. But we can take a step in God’s agenda. With the confidence of God’s unconditional grace, we can encourage and support someone like Tiana, who took a bold stand with Christ. We can listen to people’s stories who tell us that justice doesn’t always include them in our culture.  We can learn from them and make adjustments in our own attitudes. We can let it be known that jokes that demean someone else are not appreciated. We can take a step. Surrounded and held in God’s grace, we can put the wedding robe of the king back on. And when it falls off we can put it back on again. And again. The invitation to the feast still stands. The banquet will go on. We’re still included. And, yes, the wedding robe is still there for us to wear.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2017 in Sermon

 

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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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