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Flapping Your Arms Isn’t Flying (May 28, 2017)

Acts 1:6-14

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

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.

These apostles have given up a lot to follow Jesus around for these last three or so years. They left their livelihoods, their families, their security, and their whole way of life in order to live and learn from Jesus. Where he went, they wanted to go. What he did, they tried to do. What he taught, they attempted to learn.

They were shocked when he was arrested, and devastated when he was killed. But they were then filled with new hope when he was raised from death 40 days ago. So when he gathered them on a mountain outside Jerusalem, they eagerly went. After all they’d been through with him, surely now he must be getting ready to close this deal, to make all things right. If persecution, trial, and even death can’t stop Jesus, nothing could stand in his way now. So this must be God’s time: To end their poverty and their oppression. To put Rome back in its place. To reward the righteous and condemn the wicked. Yes, surely now would be that time.

And when they were gathered on the mountain with Jesus, they pose their big question to him one more time. “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Is this when we are vindicated, when you will show the world that we are God’s people, with all the rights and privileges that accompany it? We’ve followed you all this time, we’re ready to follow you across the finish line. Whatever it takes, Jesus, we’re with you.

Jesus’ answer has to be disappointing to say the least. “None of your business,” he tells them. God takes care of all that end-of-time justice. No, your job is going to be quite different. Ultimately, your job is to share what I’ve been teaching you in your neighborhoods, across your country, and throughout the world. The Holy Spirit will show you.

This isn’t really what they were expecting, and way different than they were hoping for. They are still thinking Jesus to bring power and strength and overthrowing those who stand in our way. But his very last words to them, ever, are to share his message of peace, of love, forgiveness, and compassion to everyone.

Then, before they could ask for more clarification, Jesus is gone in a cloud. Just gone. They stand there staring with their mouths hanging open, confused and unsure what to do.

So they return to Jerusalem, back to their room—and do nothing.

That’s where I have a problem.

All twelve of them, plus all the faithful women, just sat down and did nothing. The last thing Jesus said was to be witnesses, to share his message. He said it will start here in Jerusalem, then spread. It seems pretty clear that since Jerusalem is where they are to start, someone can come up with a plan of some sort. Someone. Something. After following Jesus around, listening to his teaching, watching how he did everything, surely someone would have picked up some idea of how to begin. At least begin doing something along the lines of what this man who has been raised from the dead told you to do. His last words to you.

Ideas? Anyone? Hello? Peter, you’re never at a loss for words. Anything? John, you were his favorite. Nothing? Mary, his own mother? No? No one?

And they sat. And waited. Like lazy, helpless people. Do something! What are you waiting for?!

Sometimes, when the disciples are most incompetent, that’s when God speaks the loudest. Go back and take another look at what Jesus actually did tell them. After he told them to mind their own business about the end of time, Luke records Jesus as saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” Then he describes what that looks like, sharing his teaching of peace with the world. Not yet empowered by the Holy Spirit, they weren’t equipped to do what Jesus had told them.

There’s a huge difference between doing something and doing something empowered by God’s Spirit. One is just flapping your arms, the other is actually flying.

I’ve been trained by our surrounding culture to get busy, to accomplish stuff, get moving. The early bird gets the worm, and all that. That’s good, actually. But apparently, there’s more to it than that. There’s  the reason for working hard, the motivation for being busy, the purpose for trying to accomplish something. It’s not just our effort, but it’s our effort in keeping with God’s agenda. And waiting for God’s agenda isn’t what our culture supports us doing. Yet that’s what these clumsy, ignorant apostles did. And it was one time they got it right. Not just doing, but doing with God.

For example, I’m coming to believe that there’s a reason why Sunday Schools all over the country are transforming. Not because the agenda isn’t good, but because the Holy Spirit isn’t behind the agendas. We teach morals and good stories, and there’s nothing wrong with that; but we neglect what God’s purpose in all of it is. We memorize Bible verses, which is fine; but fail to teach how kids can recognize when the Spirit is empowering them to act.

And we don’t teach our kids because I don’t think we adults know it ourselves.

In his last words to his apostles, Jesus paints a great image of the change they will make in the world. And, yes, they will be required to sacrifice greatly in order to move toward it. It will take everything they’ve got—all their ambition, all their effort, and all their lives to make any of it happen. Once they are empowered by the Spirit. These apostles who never did anything right finally got it. It’s never about our agenda or our effort. It’s about having our agenda, our effort lined up with what God is doing. That’s discipleship. That’s the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. That’s following Jesus. And that’s what we’re all about.

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Posted by on May 30, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Pentecost: We’ve Been Doing it Backwards (Pentecost Day, May 15, 2016)

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

At the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly a couple of weeks ago, I went to a workshop on “Being a Neighborhood Church.” The agenda was to help congregations develop relationships in their communities.

About 20 people gathered for this workshop, and one of the presenters shared an example of a beautiful relationship they have with the school across the street from them where both church and school have benefited. The other presented how God is already active in the neighborhood. As we enter into relationships within our neighborhoods, we are actually reflecting the image of God there.

“How do we do that?” someone asked.

“By discovering what God might be doing in the neighborhood and becoming part of that.

“That sounds hard.”

“Yes, it does take time to develop those relationships in your community where you can begin to see—”

“So, do we meet with the school administration before we meet with the faculty?”

“I don’t know. First you need to see whether or not God is even calling you into a relationship with—”

“How much money do we need to budget for this school thing?”

“You really need to see what God is doing in your neighborh—”

“How many families from the school program thing will join our church?”

They couldn’t seem to get past a program. They couldn’t see God as actually active in their communities. This presenter was speaking a foreign language, he was filled with new wine. You can’t program God into your neighborhood. You can’t impose God on people. You can’t.

Well, you can. But it would be the opposite of what happens in the book of Acts, especially in this text on the day of Pentecost.

You see, on that Pentecost day in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit just blew through in some rather obvious ways—fire, wind, languages, bold proclamations of God’s mighty deeds of power. Obvious to some, at least. Not obvious to everyone. There were those who simply thought these Galileans were drunk and just wrote off the whole event.

Here’s the order of events—and this order matters.

  • Jews gathering in Jerusalem for the Pentecost festival, like they’d been doing every year for centuries. Normal activity.
  • Then, the Holy Spirit gets active with the fire and the wind.
  • After that, the disciples responded with all the languages and Peter gives his sermon.
  • Finally, after this text today, 3000 people were baptized; some disciples were jailed, others beaten, and some killed.

Normal life, Holy Spirit, response, consequences (some good, some not so good). That’s the way the church began. Life is going on, Holy Spirit disrupts, disciples respond to that, and who-knows-what-happens as a result.

I think the church has tried to reverse that order. At least the institutional church of the last 17 centuries or so. We start at the end, with what we want the consequences to be (usually because it benefits us), and then we back up and try to figure out a way to make that happen. We back up further and ask God to bless our work. Then we package it and impose it on people’s lives.

For instance: the 3000 baptisms in one day sound really good. And there were more day by day too. So let’s start there, we say. Let’s make that happen. How can we get that result?

So we back up and make the church buildings attractive, we create magnificent programs that people want to come to, we preach entertaining sermons that people want to hear, we promise people heaven and threaten them with hell, we sing songs we’re sure they want to hear because we like them, and we put on a really good pot of coffee.

Then we back up further and assure ourselves that this is what God wants and ask God to bless it.

And we present this church with all its programming to the public, expecting the results we want. When it falls short, we bump up the programs, add more jokes to the sermons, make the bulletins slicker and add projection. And we tell people how to make their lives easier. Then we advertise this new and revised church to the public, hoping for the results we planned.

Over and over and over we do this, never noticing that we’ve actually got the whole thing backwards, which pretty much leaves God until last. But we’ve been doing it this way for so long that it seems normal, right, good, and even Godly. That’s what we’ve been telling ourselves for centuries.

All the while, the Holy Spirit continues moving, interrupting people’s lives. Sometimes we as the church are kind of busy with our own agenda so we don’t always see it. We can convince ourselves that the Holy Spirit can’t move without the church, forgetting that on that first Pentecost day, there was no church. Just a bunch of Jesus followers sitting in a room without programs, educational systems, choirs or bands, or even coffee. But the Holy Spirit came anyway. And not all, but some people noticed. And they responded. And some things happened.

With us or without us, the Holy Spirit will get all up in people’s lives. It’s our job to notice, to respond, and to take the consequences whether we like them or not.

It’s the same Holy Spirit today as in Acts 2. Where is the Holy Spirit intervening now? Look for where mercy being proclaimed, or compassion being shown. Those things that are definitely of God. It sometimes comes from unexpected people in unexpected ways. Even Galileans who appear drunk.

Have you seen the Holy Spirit moving? Have you recognized compassion being proclaimed? Have you noticed those who are normally pushed to the edges brought in and told they matter?

Here’s one instance I’ve seen this week. On Monday, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch included this statement in a speech to the legislators of her home state of North Carolina, “Let me speak to directly to the transgender community. No matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice . . . wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you moving forward.”

That is nothing but people being shown compassion. That is care and love being proclaimed to some who are pushed away in North Carolina. That’s the Holy Spirit at work. And someone responded. And who knows what the results will be.

Some of us hear this speech from Loretta Lynch and will say to one another, “What does this mean?” Others will sneer, “She is filled with new wine.” Others will say, “How is it that we hear these things coming from the government?”

No one expects to experience the Holy Spirit through the U.S. government. Just like no one expected to experience the Holy Spirit through a bunch of Galilean yokels. But it doesn’t who responds to the Spirit, it’s that the Spirit is moving.

In the midst of life, the Holy Spirit blows in and disrupts, some notice and respond, and things happen.

On this Pentecost Day, may we take time to notice the Holy Spirit’s interruptions. May we discover anew God’s compassion and grace being revealed in people’s lives. And may we respond to the Holy Spirit’s love as it blows all around us.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Less Fire and Wind, More Dreams and Visions (Pentecost)

     All 120 disciples all gathered in one place, doing church business. Basically they were holding a congregational meeting in order to fill a vacated council position left open when Judas left. Two names were on the ballot, and they elected Matthias. With business done, they were sitting around drinking coffee. This is where our text picks it up.
     Violent wind filling the whole room, tongues of fire on everyone, people talking but foreign languages were coming out of their mouths. This was causing such a great confusion that the Jews from all over the world who had traveled to Jerusalem for Pentecost festival gathered outside the door to find out what the commotion was about.
     They hear these Jewish disciples of Jesus speaking about God’s work in the world—mighty deeds of power. But they hear all this in their own native languages. Rather than understanding the confusion, they now are added to it.
     “What is going on? What does this mean?” they ask. What’s with the wind and the fire and the languages? Some just thought these disciples had gotten into the sacramental wine a bit early. But clearly everyone was confused about it.
     Peter steps out in front and begins to speak to all of them.
     Why does this surprise you? he asks. OK, we weren’t expecting wind and fire and different languages. But the prophet Joel in our own scriptures talks about this very thing! When God pours out God’s Spirit, Joel says, everyone will prophesy, and vision, and dream. Old, young, male, female, slave, free, new to the faith, lifelong believers. All people.
     That’s what’s going on here today. Do you see it?
     The way it’s happening, Peter says, caught us all off guard, but since it was in your own languages, did you hear what we were actually saying? We were talking about all that God is doing! We were speaking about God’s power, and God’s presence in the world. We were sharing dreams and visions and prophecies.
     As many times as I’ve preached and studied this text in the second chapter of Acts, I’ve never noticed that Peter’s sermon on this amazing day didn’t start out about how the Spirit comes, just that the Spirit would come. We would know it was the Holy Spirit, not by the wind and the fire and the languages, but by the prophecies, the dreams, and the visions. And that these prophecies, dreams, and visions would come through all kinds of people. All ages, all levels of experience with God, all economic backgrounds. To emphasize the fire and the wind and the languages is to miss the point of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is poured out however she’s poured out. But when she moves among us, we have dreams and visions of God at work in the world.
     The problem we have with Pentecost, I think, is that we keep waiting for the wind and fire. And then we’re disappointed when we find we’re still not speaking Malagasy or Farsi. So we figure Pentecost was a one-time event, the Holy Spirit doesn’t work that way anymore, and we quit watching for the Holy Spirit to move.
     What that means is that when the Holy Spirit does move, when Pentecost does happen, when we dream dreams and have visions about God’s power and presence in the world, we ignore them. We discount them so quickly that we don’t give ourselves the chance to see if we might be experiencing Pentecost and the Holy Spirit. We make excuses as to why our dreams and our visions couldn’t really be from God. We’re too young, too old, haven’t been part of the church long enough, been part of the church too long, faith isn’t deep enough, not spiritual enough.
     But the same Holy Spirit that’s described in Acts 2 is the same Holy Spirit among us today. The church that started that first Pentecost day is still the church. With those first disciples, we are followers of the same Jesus, we have been baptized into the same death and resurrection, we are part of the same mission of the same God. Wind and fire and languages aren’t the thing. The thing is dreaming dreams and having visions of God’s work in the world because the Holy Spirit has already been poured out on us.
     What dreams do you dream about what God’s power can do among us? What visions do you have about what God’s work in our world can look like? What do you imagine God’s mission is all about here? Those dreams and visions, that imagination is what the Holy Spirit poured out among us is about. Pentecost is still happening. The Holy Spirit is still moving. Among us. Through you.
     Take a minute to consider your dreams of what God’s power is doing and what God’s presence can do. We want to share those, to proclaim the reality of Pentecost, to acknowledge the Holy Spirit at work, to recognize  Acts 2 as the story of the church—then and now. To inspire others to move with the Spirit dreaming dreams and having visions about where God is moving in the world in this time.
     In the back are four computers set up and open to LCM’s Facebook page. Like the first disciples, we are going to speak about God’s deeds of power to all the world. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia will hear visions of God’s presence in the world. Visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs, will be amazed at the public outpouring of the Holy Spirit as we dream dreams of God’s mission.
     This is Pentecost. The Spirit has been poured out. We dream dreams.
     #holyspiritnow

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2014 in Sermon

 

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The Spirit of Truth? No Thanks.

Have you ever had the awkward experience of someone offering you forgiveness for something you didn’t do? When I was in seminary someone “forgave” me for dropping an air conditioner out of a third floor window. It did happen; it’s just that I was several hundred miles away on my internship when it occurred.  So of course I felt it necessary to justify myself and explain that I had nothing do with the dropped air conditioner, and therefore don’t need your forgiveness. How dare you forgive me when I don’t need it!
I think that sense of justification is usually how we feel about Jesus’ forgiveness too. We often look for reasons to avoid the need for forgiveness first. We convince ourselves we aren’t that bad, I’m basically a good person, I was justified in my actions, lots of other people are worse, I didn’t intend any harm, I was trying to do the right thing, it’s not my fault, I had good reason. Or we just can’t think of ourselves as broken enough to really need forgiveness. Stay close, Jesus, and if I need you, I’ll let you know. But unless you hear from me, you can just be on call. Because I really don’t need THAT much forgiveness.
The fact of the matter is that we really don’t want forgiveness. We want to not need forgiveness. We don’t want Jesus to forgive us; we want Jesus to tell us we’re doing OK without him.
So Jesus has to send his parclete, counselor, helper, advocate, the Holy Spirit: to remind us of what Jesus said and did, that Jesus is about the forgiveness of sin, calling to our attention the fact that we need forgiveness. Jesus calls this the Spirit of Truth.
Truth isn’t always easy, isn’t always refreshing. Truth can be harsh, even devastating. Alcoholics and addicts being told the “truth” about their condition is anything but fun. Having the oncologist tell you the “truth” about terminal cancer is hardly easy. Have you ever had a loved one tell you the “truth” about what a jerk you’ve been? Truth can be hard to hear. Which is why we so often resort to justifying ourselves instead. Then, we don’t need to hear the truth.
So whether we like it or not, Jesus has sent to us the Spirit of Truth, to point out, again and again, exactly what it is we need to be forgiven for; to reveal to us, again and again, how broken and far from God we actually are; to speak to us, again and again, how shallow and cheap our self-justification is. No wonder we try to ignore the Spirit of Truth when she speaks.
It seems we’ll do anything to avoid hearing the truth of our situation, to make ourselves feel better about our need for forgiveness. We claim that we have a good prayer life, we raise good kids, we give money to charity, we serve the church, we’ve spent minimal time in prison, we’ve even made a decision to make Jesus our personal Lord and Savior. So what? What we’re really saying is, “Thanks for dying and everything, Jesus, but I’m doing OK. I’m sure there are some people that really need you, but why don’t we just be friends? I’ll do you favors by going to church and pretending to be spiritually superior, and if I really need it, you can return the favor by forgiving me. Deal?”
That’s kind of like getting a cancer diagnosis and telling the oncologist, “I’ll do you a favor by eating whole grains when I want to, and you do me a favor by curing my cancer if I ever need it. Deal? I’m sure I don’t really have cancer. It’s just not that bad. I’ll let you know.”
We need to hear the truth: We need forgiveness. Desperately. Continuously. Immediately. We need forgiveness because we worship our own gods of personal preference and comfort. We use Jesus’ name to justify ourselves. We tear apart relationships if it makes us look better. We hold resentments against people who’ve hurt us. We hoard our money. We justify violence. We do just enough religious stuff to ease our consciences. We quit when following Jesus gets hard. We look for enemies so we have someone to hate and someone to blame.
Jesus has sent the Spirit of Truth to tell us the truth. The truth is that we really need his forgiveness. We need to know that on our own we are hopeless. His forgiveness is our only hope.
And, Jesus has sent the Spirit of Truth to tell us the truth. And the truth is that we already are forgiven. Jesus will never abandon us or ignore us. His forgiveness has already brought us to God. We are set free from the power of our own brokenness. Christ’s forgiveness comes to us unconditionally, continuously, right now. It is for us. It is for you.
The Spirit of Truth is with us forever. We need Jesus’ forgiveness. And he has given it to you. It is already done for you. It will continue for you. Forever. Amen

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2014 in Sermon

 

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The Trinity Means that Jesus Shows Us What God is Like

John 16:12-15

12‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

______________________________________________

This is the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. God as Three. God as One. God as three-in-one. Father, Son, Spirit. Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. This is probably my least favorite Sunday of the church year. There’s no miraculous story to dig into, no exciting historical events to unpack, no drama or humor to tag onto. It’s a doctrine. And, quite honestly, not our best one. Someone once said that whoever has come up with an explanation of the Trinity that satisfies them has just dishonored the Trinity. The Holy Trinity is a doctrine that is simply our best effort at explaining that which cannot be explained. Try as we might, we just aren’t going to really understand it. God is, by definition, beyond our understanding.

But here’s what we do know. The Holy Trinity is the uniquely Christian way of describing God. We trust that God is truly Father, Son, and Spirit. The Father, the Creator, is God. The Son, the Redeemer, is God. The Spirit, the Sanctifier, is God. Not three gods, but One God.These three persons, who are the One God, relate, support, interdwell together. The relationship they share reveals the image of God in which we are made.

I want to think about the implications of the Trinity as a uniquely Christian explanation of God, for what that means in the world and to the world. How often have you heard someone say they think Jesus is fine, but aren’t sold on church? Pretty much everyone likes Jesus, right? Why do you suppose that is? What is it about Jesus that people seem to appreciate? What do you know about Jesus that is meaningful for you?________, ___________, __________, ___________.

If we take the doctrine of the Trinity seriously, we are saying that these things we described about Jesus are what we know God to be like. That’s a uniquely Christian thing to say. Because we know Jesus to be (______), we know that God is (________).

My sister and brother-in-law were in town last week. We took them into Denver to see where our daughter’s wedding reception will be next April. It’s actually an art gallery, which makes it rather unique for a wedding reception. While we were there, I was walking through the gallery and happened on a set of paintings that captured my attention. They were intriguing.

As we kept moving through the gallery, I kept coming back to these paintings, and bringing people with me to look at them. Don’t you find these interesting? Don’t you think they’re beautiful? Don’t you think they are worth $2000 apiece? Wouldn’t you love some of these hanging in your house (I asked Lois that one. Her answer was something about the $2000 apiece, which I think meant “no”)?

After about the fourth time back visiting this set of paintings, one of the gallery employees came up to me and said that the artist was in the gallery and was right then sitting about 8 feet away. Would you like me to introduce you? Yes!

So I had a chance to chat for several minutes with the artist of these paintings that I had found so intriguing. She explained her ideas and her inspiration which came from the emotions she experienced when seeing the morning sun completely change the appearance of the Rocky Mountains. She told me how long she’d worked on them and why this particular style was important to her. I thanked her and asked for one of her business cards.

Next time I walked by these paintings, of course I looked at them again. But this time, they were more than intriguing, more than interesting. There was a depth and a significance that wasn’t there before. I wasn’t just looking at a style of painting that I appreciated, I was seeing the artist too. What I knew about the artist was then part of what I knew about the paintings.

What we know about Jesus is part of what we know about God.

Think about what that means for the next conversation you have with someone who admires Jesus, but doesn’t necessarily go any further. What do they admire about Jesus? Perhaps they know more about God then, than they think. The Trinity means that Jesus shows us what God is like. If Jesus loves sinners, God does too. If Jesus forgave those who hate him, God does too. If Jesus welcomed those who were outcast, God does too. If Jesus showed mercy to those who were poor, God does too. The Trinity means that Jesus shows us what God is like.

This is the image of God in which we are created. This is the God we show to the world. One who loves the world—and loves us. One who forgives the world—and forgives us. One who welcomes the world—and welcomes us. One who shows mercy to the world—and shows mercy to us.

If we believe Jesus died and rose again, the doctrine of the Trinity means that we believe in a God who enters into the darkest parts of our lives and brings forth life. Not because we believe it, but because that’s the nature of God—the Trinity means that Jesus shows us what God is like.

The Trinity is the good news we bring to the world. Not a doctrine that you have to buy into, but an experience of what the God we trust is like. Jesus shows us. Amen.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Sermon

 

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Enduring the Holy Spirit

The Day of Pentecost
Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17; Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

I have a new respect for what these disciples experienced on that Pentecost Day. They endured the chaos of the Holy Spirit. They hung in there despite their uncertainty and confusion. Instead of trying to keep things the same–safe, orderly, and predictable hidden away in their room–they kept their heads down and went with whatever the Holy Spirit was doing, however they got dragged along. The Holy Spirit comes, chaos often ensues.

Think about their life now that Jesus was ascended and they couldn’t see him anymore. They were unsure. They felt like they were kind of on their own, even though they weren’t exactly sure what to do or how God was calling them. But they could have meetings and prayer sessions and conversations about it. Sounds like some of us here.

On the other hand, now that he was no longer with them, things had finally calmed down a bit. There was some order and predictability. They had time to think, to pray, to consider their next moves. They were still disciples of Jesus. They had followed him, listened to his teachings, believed him Son of God, believed he was raised from the dead. Sounds like some of us here.

So they met together, prayed, read some scripture, shared meals, and tried to figure out God’s direction. Sounds like some of us here.

They were trying, but just weren’t sure what all this meant for the world–what their part in God’s redeeming work actually was. So they kept talking and meeting and asking and trying to figure it all out. Sounds like some of us here.

I’m pretty certain that prior to Pentecost these disciples had spoken to others about Jesus. I’m sure they had shared news of his death and resurrection with any number of people. They were there; they saw it all; he was their good friend and teacher. Wasn’t that enough? There was no blueprint for what this whole discipleship thing was supposed to look like.

But suddenly something happened. I’m not sure they were fully aware of it, and I’m not sure they liked it very much. At least not at first. These verses in Acts are the only mention in scripture of the tongues of fire and the violent wind at the coming of the Spirit. In John, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on them. In Paul’s writings, the coming of the Holy Spirit is evident through one’s faith. Only Luke describes it this way, this radically. That leads me to believe that these disciples weren’t thinking, “Tongues of fire? Alright! Now the Spirit of God has filled me! Sound of a violent wind? OK, now I am equipped to proclaim Jesus! Hey, everyone, I’m speakin Japanese! And French! And Mesopotamian! If only my Spanish teacher were grading me today! Finally the Holy Spirit has come. Watch what happens when I preach now!”

No, I’m convinced they didn’t know what was going on. This was just chaos. All they could do was what they had been doing, trying to be faithful, trying to figure this out, sharing their story. Because when you read this account, the disciples aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary. The Holy Spirit, however, is.
Thousands of people didn’t gather outside of the house because of the disciples’ newfound language skills. They certainly didn’t gather because of what the disciples were saying about Jesus. No, the crowd gathered because of the noise of this wind that was coming from the house. Even then they weren’t listening to what the disciples were actually saying; they were only hearing that their own native languages were being spoken. They aren’t believing in Jesus. No, just like the disciples, the crowds are trying to figure out what’s happening, too. The scene is simply chaotic. Wind and fire and languages. No one has the first clue as to what’s going on.
“Aren’t these Galileans? How can we be hearing them in our own languages?” The crowds are just as confused as the disciples. The best explanation those outside can come up with for these uneducated fishermen speaking fluently in foreign languages is that these disciples are drunk. Really? That’s the best they’ve got? Apparently they don’t have much experience listening to drunk people.

It wasn’t anything the disciples were doing, it’s what the Holy Spirit was doing. On her own. The Holy Spirit blows where she wants to blow, and accomplishes what she wants to accomplish. Not because of our efforts, but sometimes through them. It’s not explainable, not orderly, not according to our priorities or expectations. Wind and fire and languages. The Holy Spirit makes noise, and chaos ensues. Whether we like it or not. Whether we put forth effort or not.

We are a congregation that puts forth a tremendous amount of effort. We are healthy, creative, adventurous, caring, diverse, focused, authentic, involved. We are, in a lot of  ways, what many congregations strive to be. We’ve had things pretty good here for quite a number of years. I kinda like that. It’s calm and rational. We can take time to evaluate, to ponder, to discuss, to gather input before we make a decision and move forward. That’s what we do. That’s the way we operatate. That’s LCM going about our business of being God’s church in the world.

But sometimes the Holy Spirit shows up. Things can feel chaotic. Not everything goes in an orderly, calm kind of way. It’s not that we’re doing anything differently, necessarily, but the Holy Spirit begins to blow and burn and speak. We try to figure out what’s happeninging, why things are different, why things aren’t going the way we had planned. Why suddenly what we had been doing that was so sucessful now seems to have shifted out from underneath us. I have a newfound appreciation for the disciples on that first Pentecost Day.

I think, sometimes, that we long for the orderly, predictable way of our past. The chaos and uncertainlty of Pentecost is unsettling. What will happen? What is God up to around us? What has God called us into now? I’m not sure I know the answer.

I have a new respect for what these disciples experienced on that Pentecost Day. The Holy Spirit comes, chaos often ensues. The Holy Spirit will do what she does on her own. She blows where she wants to blow, and accomplishes what she wants to accomplish. Not because of our efforts, but sometimes through them. It’s not explainable, not orderly, not according to our priorities or expectations. Wind and fire and languages. The Holy Spirit makes noise, and chaos ensues. Whether we like it or not. Whether we cooperate or not. Blow, Spirit, blow. We can deal with chaos. Light a holy fire. We will put up with whatever you’ve got in mind. Speak through us. We are here. Come, Holy Spirit.
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Posted by on May 22, 2013 in Sermon

 

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A God for Weaklings

Luke 4:1-13

Have you ever bargained with God? Have you ever been in one of those situations where you  say, “Get me out of this just this one time, God, and I promise I’ll never eat anything left out overnight again”? “Just do this one thing, God, and I swear I’ll go to the gym every day from now on.” You ever done that?

Yes, you have. . . Have you ever followed through with it? Those of you who say you have followed through, have you ever lied about anything else?

We’ve all tried to bargain with God. We’ve all tried to persuade God to show mercy, to use divine power, to perform a miracle, persuade someone to see things our way, to rescue us from this situation where we feel incredibly vulnerable and helpless. Sometimes it’s as trivial as a speeding ticket (just get me a warning and I’ll never speed again!); sometimes as agonizing as the death of someone you love. But we’ve all experienced that helplessness, that vulnerability, where there’s nothing else we can do but hope God or someone intervenes. Because whatever it is, is beyond what we have any control or power over.

When we are that powerless, that weak, that helpless, that alone, it’s like we’ll grasp at any straw to change it. When we are so overwhelmed with the situation, we’ll say anything, do anything, just to get through it.

I gotta think that’s where Jesus is in this gospel text. Absolutely overwhelmed, helpless, vulnerable. He’s just been baptized by John and his mission as Savior of all creation has just been declared from the Father. He heads out into the wilderness to regroup, think this through. And at the height of his vulnerability, the text says that’s when the devil came to visit him. Of course that’s when that would happen! If Jesus is feeling all pumped up and strong, excited about what’s coming, nothing could tempt him away from that. But when we’re weak and confused and desperate and defenseless, we all know how quickly we’re tempted to cave in and cry out.

Here’s what I’m noticing in this gospel reading, though. Look at the first six words. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit.” Before he ever went into the wilderness. Before he began his 40-day fast. Before the devil came to him. Before there was any temptation. Before any of it, he was full of the Holy Spirit. Fresh from the baptismal waters of the Jordan River, he was Spirit-filled, and ready for the wilderness.

The point here isn’t that Jesus resisted temptation, therefore you really ought to try harder. It’s that when facing temptation because we are in a situation where we are weak and vulnerable, the Holy Spirit is there and we are filled.

The point is not that if you were stronger you wouldn’t cave in. It’s that at those times when we cannot try harder, the Holy Spirit sustains us.

The point is not that weak people should feel guilty. It’s that because we are weak, the Holy Spirit comes to us in our weakness.

The point isn’t that you better resist temptation in order to be closer to God. It’s that because we cannot always resist temptation, God comes closer to us.

The Holy Spirit is the presence of God. She is the love of God with you. She fills you with forgiveness, comfort, and hope. Not because you are strong enough to resist temptation, but because you are not.

When you are in a situation where you are powerless and vulnerable, the Holy Spirit has filled you up—with God’s love, with God’s tender mercy, with God’s forgiveness.

When you are overwhelmed and helpless, the Holy Spirit is present with you—bringing grace and compassion.

When you cave in, when you are confused, when you are too weak to resist, the Holy Spirit is there for you—in hope and with a new start.

This isn’t a “become more like Jesus” text. It’s a “know the comfort of the Holy Spirit” text. It’s a “receive God’s forgiveness” text. The Holy Spirit fills you with mercy and forgiveness, not because you are as strong as Jesus, but because you are not.

So guess what? Next time we’re in a situation where we find ourselves bargaining with God, where we are helpless to change our circumstances, the Holy Spirit is, at that moment, already filling you to overflowing with the forgiveness and mercy of a loving God. Not because we are free from brokenness, but precisely because we are not.

Know the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Live in the forgiveness of the Holy Spirit. For you are filled with the mercy of the Holy Spirit. When you resist temptation, and especially when you do not.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2013 in Sermon

 

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