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#MeToo, Discipleship, Service, and the Gospel (February 4, 2018)

Mark 1:29-39

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

There’s one phrase in this gospel text that, unfortunately, needs to be lifted up and delved into. One phrase that, even now, will be misused to counter the gospel of freedom, the message and purpose of Christ.

That phrase is, “Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

You know, in this congregation, I normally wouldn’t feel a need to preach on this particular phrase. Yet in the context of our culture right now, I am compelled to do so. To not do so would be unfaithful to the nature of the gospel and of Christ himself as it applies to our culture.

Simon’s mother-in-law was healed, and she began to serve them.  It’s necessary to be reminded, yet again, that this text has nothing to do with the place of women or the role of women as lesser people who are there to serve the men. In the Christ-like empowering of women to claim their place as full human beings, and with the work of the Holy Spirit in things like the #MeToo movement against harassment and abuse, we need to hear again that the wording of this text cannot be used to counter what God is doing.

170 brave girls-now-young-women, stood up and testified against Larry Nassar, a man who took advantage of power he had over them as young gymnasts in order to sexually abuse them. Many of these young women are also calling out those who, by doing nothing, are complicit in this horrific abuse.

Many governmental leaders in our country are being called to account for their actions as sexual predators, harassers, abusers of women.

Men in all walks of life who have exploited their power at the expense of women are finally being stopped.

This is what the gospel is about. Lifting up those who are exploited. Empowering those who have less power. We are seeing, right now in our culture as these things are happening, the power of Christ’s gospel to restore us and set us free. Make no mistake about it. Jesus is disrupting a culture that is abusing power and taking advantage of the other.

This isn’t about political feminism. This is about all people being created in the image of God and all people being recognized as fully human. That’s the point of the gospel. That’s what Jesus came to do.

That’s what’s happening in this text.

Simon’s mother-in-law isn’t healed so she can be relegated to her appropriate female role as one who serves men. No, she is healed because that’s what the kingdom of God is about. She serves because that’s what disciples of Jesus do. All disciples. Never, ever, is the gospel about giving more power to those who already have it. Never, ever, is the gospel about keeping power away from those who don’t have it. It’s always about seeking out those who are abused, who are harassed, who are pushed down and restoring them to dignity and the fullness of their humanity as people created in the full image of God.

Perhaps you are hearing this and thinking, “Really, Pastor Rob? Here in this congregation we already know this. We already understand that in Christ all people are to be loved, valued, and respected. We get that this is the freedom proclaimed in the gospel and made real in Jesus. We know this already. Do you really need to go into for a whole sermon?”

Yup, I do. Because just like every week at communion, whether there are first-time visitors or not, it’s important that all of us hear again that Christ’s table is for all. That God’s grace is unconditional. That rich and poor, black and white, female and male, young and old, gay and straight, believer and non-believer all have an equal place at this table. We need to hear it again and again so that we not only experience it, but so that we can live it in service to others.

With this text too. We need to hear over and over that any kind of exploitation is sinful. Any taking advantage of power is evil. Any actions that are oppressive, abusive, or aren’t grounded in dignity and respect run counter to the gospel of Christ. We need to hear it again and again so that we not only experience it, but so that can live it in service to others.

And live it we must. When the evil of misogyny is still excused by many.

Live it we must. When there are still those who, even in the name of Jesus, continue to be complicit in oppressing women.

Live it we must. When power is idolized in order to take advantage of others.

Live it we must. When the resurrected Christ is already paving the way through the empowering of women in our society.

Live it we must. As disciples of Jesus, we’ve got to live this gospel that reveals that all people are created in the image of God and need to be treated that way.

Live it we must. Because Simon’s mother-in-law is healed and restored.

Live it we must. When she serves, she’s living as a disciple of Jesus, who said of himself, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”

I think in this congregation we pretty well get this. But many in our world do not. And so, as people who have been healed in all kinds of ways by Jesus, we leave here to serve. We uplift. We empower. We respect. We see the dignity of Jesus Christ in each person, regardless of sexual or gender identity.

That’s the power of the gospel. It disrupts our culture of sexism and misogyny. And it restores us as people created in the image of God.

Healed by Jesus, we go and we serve. All people. In the name of Jesus. Jesus heals us, and we begin to serve. Amen.

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Posted by on February 4, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Las Vegas and a Broken Church (October 8, 2017)

I was going to write an inspiring stewardship sermon for today. One that would move every person who hears it to increase their giving and joyfully re-write their 2018 Estimate of Giving cards with a much higher dollar amount. Everyone would discover the joy of generous giving, and would put that into practice today.

That was my intention. But it’s not what I’m going to do.

Some part of me is tearing open. And the violence last Sunday in Las Vegas, and especially our responses since then, have ripped open that tear in ways that are proving difficult. I’m recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit there. That, combined with my own awareness of the gospel of Christ makes a sermon about increased financial giving seem out of whack. At least today.

Something is broken in Christ’s church. It’s being torn open. Are you aware that (as of Oct 5, according to www.massshootingtracker.com) there have been 3 mass shootings in our country since Las Vegas? Two in FL and one in CA. They are the 340th and 341st mass shootings in the United States this year. This year. 341 mass shootings, which comes out to 12 mass shootings every 10 days. 12 every 10 days. More than one every day. All year.

Somehow, I don’t think Jesus is very happy about that. And I don’t think he’s very impressed with how we are responding to them. These are beloved, precious, holy children of God that are being gunned down every day. And as a country, our response is anything from weak to non-existent. That’s unacceptable. That’s incomprehensible.

But I’m more concerned about the attitude of Christ’s church, people who represent Jesus here on earth. Something is broken in the church. It’s being torn open.

I’m not talking about gun legislation or the 2nd Amendment. I’m talking about the fact that the disciples of Christ seem to be ignoring the teachings of Christ. Ignoring scripture. Ignoring our faith, our discipleship, our baptismal promise to be lights in the world.

Something is broken in the church. Deeply, systemically broken. It’s being torn open. We have become complacent about this kind of thing. We have accepted it as inevitable. We chalk it up to “evil,” which puts the blame “out there” somewhere and excuses us from dealing with it. Daily mass shootings are a symptom that the American church has lost its way. The church is people who are disciples of Jesus Christ, the one who said things like,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God”

“And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”

“So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”

We are disciples of Jesus Christ, who, for saying things like these, himself became a victim of violence—he was killed for it. That’s the Christ into whom we are baptized. That’s the light we are to shine in the world. Many Christians seem to have stopped. Something is broken in Christ’s church. It’s being torn open.

Maybe we’ve made it too easy to be a Christian. Maybe we’ve sold our collective soul for the sake of increasing our numbers. Maybe we’re more into power than into walking with the vulnerable. Maybe we have become so focused on believing in Jesus that we forget to follow him. Maybe we just don’t care anymore.

But whatever we’re doing as the whole body of Christ in the name of Christ isn’t cutting it. Something is broken in the church. It’s being torn open.

That also includes the Lutherans. According to the Dean of Students at Luther Seminary, of the six most heinous domestic terrorists in recent years, three of them were Lutheran. One half. Something is broken in our church. It’s being torn open.

That also includes us in this room. When we tell our kids that sports and homework and jobs are more important than following Jesus, something is broken in this church. And let us not fool ourselves—we are telling them that. When we care more about the convenience of worship than we do about Jesus in worship, something is broken in this church. It’s being torn open.

And that also includes me. I’ve spent way too much time avoiding criticism. I’ve kept too quiet about the things that matter to Jesus, putting energy into things that don’t matter nearly as much, because it makes my life easier. I’ve tried so hard to receive congregational approval that I forgot about Jesus’ approval—and these not always the same things. Something is broken in my church.  And I’m being torn open.

A man I respect said recently about the church, “Our diagnosis doesn’t go deep enough, so our prescriptions aren’t strong enough.” That rings true for me. There’s a deep brokenness in the church. A tear that is deeper than we are diagnosing. But it’s a tear that is making room for Christ, which is more than we’re prescribing. The depth of this breaking is painful and hard—we recognize that we are being torn open, because we talk about it in terms of “the decline of the church.” We know we are being torn open, because it feels like the church is dying. But it’s only when we are torn open that we are healed in Christ. Healing that is our resurrection.

There’s something broken in the church. It’s being torn open. But we must be broken open in order to be healed in Christ. And until the mass shootings are stopped, we will continue to be torn open and more deeply healed in Christ. It’s the people who are torn open and healed who follow Christ into the world’s brokenness. You see, something’s broken in the world—it’s being torn open. And its healing is why we are here. Our hope is in Christ. Amen.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2017 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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