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Fear Doesn’t Make Our Decisions — Thank You! (October 13, 2019)

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

One of my deepest fears is public ridicule. The thought of people seeing some embarrassing flaw or insufficiency in me, judging me for that, and then pointing and laughing (because in my fearful heart, that’s what always happens) strikes terror in my soul. I don’t think anyone enjoys that, but for me this fear hits the level of irrational.

Which is why December of 2011 was terrible month for me. It was that month that someone nominated me for the office of bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod.

As it turned out, I was among the group of “pre-nominees.” In order to remain on the list of actual nominees, these “pre-nominees” were asked to submit information about why you’d make a good bishop in an online form. This information would then be publicized throughout the entire Rocky Mountain Synod.

It wasn’t official, and wouldn’t be until I filled out a 3-page form telling why I thought I’d make a good bishop. That form would be would go to every pastor, deacon, and voting member in the RMS. That caused flashbacks from when I tried out for my Middle School basketball team. “Hahaha! Moss thinks he can play basketball!” That public ridicule is my version of hell. It was in front of me again. I knew, however, that I could avoid it by simply not filling out that online form.

Up until now all this had been someone else’s doing. I hadn’t sought this out; someone else had given my name to the synod office. But if I submitted that form, I was saying in a very public way that I was open to being considered for the office of bishop. I could already hear the sneers and the laughter echoing from all corners of the four states and part of a fifth that make up this synod. Junior High basketball terror again, only now swelled to a multiple state level.

“I can’t do this,” I told my family after several sleepless nights. “This whole thing simply terrifies me. I can’t sleep, I can’t think, I have knots in my stomach. I stewed on this for a couple more weeks.

But finally, if for no other reason than avoiding accusations of hypocrisy from my three adult children (I always told them that “fear doesn’t make our decisions), I quickly filled out the form and, with trembling hand and churning stomach, I hit the enter button and submitted it the last day it could be accepted. Then I went and threw up.

My name, picture, and hastily drafted information were thrust out into uncontrolled internet space where I could already hear the mocking and laughter. “Hahaha! Moss thinks he can be a bishop!” Every molecule of self-doubt and inadequacy was rising up. There was, from this point on, no place to hide.

“As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.'”

Because of their illness, these lepers couldn’t come near to Jesus to ask for help privately. Culturally and legally. They had to stand far away and yell, hoping Jesus might have mercy and help them. Their illness was then public knowledge; and so they were seen by everyone as insufficient, lacking, unworthy, laughable. Shouting in public, they were vulnerable to ridicule.

These ten lepers have to live this way–separated, isolated, humiliated—but at least they could do that privately. They were considered broken and flawed people, and asking for help from Jesus pushed them out into the public view. The broadcasting of their embarrassing insufficiency had to be terrifying.

We all want to hide our frailties and our failures. We all want to keep them private. Lots of us have a fear of publicly exposing all the ways we don’t measure up. We want to keep our inadequacies private, thank you.

What the lepers longed to remain private was now public. But it was when their flaws became known to Jesus, they were made clean. They were restored. They were loved. This is what Jesus does. He meets us in those areas of our lives that we desperately want to remain hidden and shows us mercy there. It’s in those parts we desperately want to keep private that Jesus comes and loves us with unconditional love.

Jesus knows the deepest, most humiliating pieces of our lives, meets us there, and loves us. Day by day, Jesus continues to save us. That’s how love works. That’s how mercy works. Jesus does his most loving and gracious redemption in those parts of our lives that we desperately hope no one ever finds out about.

I didn’t win the bishop election. I didn’t make it past the first couple of rounds. But something changed for me. In the midst of my terror, the risen Christ met me. It was through that experience that I saw the presence of God as love, grace, mercy, redemption, and—yes—healing.

In the gospel reading, one leper–a Samaritan–returns and falls at Jesus’ feet giving thanks to God. One recognized the gift of salvation he had received. One saw the presence of God in love, grace, mercy, redemption, and—yes—healing.

Our response to the presence of Christ’s love and grace is up to us. Our response won’t change how God feels about us. It won’t change our forgiveness. It won’t change our worth as children of God. Regardless, Jesus is present for you. Even now he’s meeting you in the hidden and secret parts of your life. He is cleansing you. He is making you whole. He is saving you. We can recognize the risen Christ’s love and mercy that’s there. And we can give thanks to God. Amen.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Prayer, Shoes, and Humiliation (July 28, 2019)

Luke 11:1-13

[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

When I was a much younger pastor, I knew I didn’t have a lot of experience. So like a lot of young professionals, I tried to cover it up with presenting a sense of confidence. Totally false, but I thought this façade of wisdom and knowledge made me more credible. Even though it didn’t take much to break through the thin veneer of pretending to know what I was doing.

The church I was serving at the time had just completed a successful capital campaign and a building project, so I was feeling pretty arrogant. As a result, I had managed to coerce the members of a synod committee I served on to meet in my new church building. You know, show off a little. “Oh, this little thing? Why, yes, it is new. Yeah, we just doubled our square footage. No big deal.” I especially wanted the person from the bishop’s staff who was on this committee to be impressed. Not with the building and the new ministry plans that motivated my congregation, but with me.

So the day of the meeting, I dressed in my most impressive clerical collar and suit, and put on the shoes I had so carefully shined the night before. I opened up the new part of church building, made the coffee, and set up the tables and chairs just right. I’m competent, right? I was the picture of an experienced, wise, capable pastor. Certainly the assistant to the bishop would be impressed.

The members of the committee began to arrive, including the person from the bishop’s office. They were gracious in allowing me to show them through the new part of the building, and they oooh’d and aww’d appropriately. I noticed, however, that the assistant to the bishop and most of the rest of them kept looking down—like toward the ground, and many of them were smiling, especially the assistant to the bishop.

I took a little longer impressing them with my new building than I should. And they kept smiling and looking toward the ground. Even after we moved to the new meeting room with the new chairs and the new table. Wow! I’m so impressive that they can’t help but smile.

In my memory, the meeting went well, but to be honest I can’t remember much. Because right at the end I happened to lean back and glance down at the floor and noticed that I was wearing two completely different shoes. Not even the same color. Totally different.

I had been strutting around showing off this building, trying to impress everyone with my professionalism, all the while looking like a two-year old who can’t dress himself. It was mortifying.

The bishop’s assistant and I actually became friends later on. He never said a word to me about that day. I loved him for that. Because I knew he didn’t judge me or think less of me because of it. He and I went on to do some really creative and fun ministry throughout that synod. I knew I could trust him with anything, because he met me in my humiliation and still saw me as valuable.

Who do you share your most humiliating moments with? Who do you trust with your embarrassment? Who are you confident won’t judge you, or think less of you, or ridicule you, but instead will stand with you, maybe enough just laugh with you?

That’s the relationship that’s being described in this text. A friend goes to another friend in the middle of the night and asks for three loaves of bread to feed an unexpected guest. You need to understand that hospitality to travelers was a big deal culturally. It was also required by Jewish law. So to be caught with nothing to serve a guest was desperately humiliating.

Yet the relationship with this neighbor was strong enough and trustworthy enough that he could go and ask, even if that means he reveals his humiliation. He could wake up this friend and beg for bread in the middle of the night because the relationship could endure that.

Do you have someone like that in your life? Someone you can go to when you’re in a tough spot? Someone who you can call in the night, knowing they’ll be there for you even if you wake them from a sound sleep? If so, think about them for a minute. Think about that relationship. Think about the trust that’s been built up. Think about how, even if you disappoint that person, they’ll still always be there for you.

Jesus doesn’t tell this parable to teach us about neighbors. Not this time. This isn’t a parable about what person you can trust, but about the God you can trust.

This parable is an explanation to the prayer he teaches his disciples. It’s not about the words so much as it is about knowing you can trust God with anything. Because God will always be there for you. There’s such a trusting relationship that you can begin by praying to God as a child would come to a loving parent. You can ask anything because God holds you so closely you can trust God with any request, even if you’re embarrassed to ask.

This God is always there for you. Just ask, and it you’ll receive. Just knock in the middle of the night and the door will open. God knows just what to give, just what you need. And is always there for you. Even if you ask for a snake, God knows you need a fish because it’s better. Even if you ask for a scorpion, God will give you an egg because it’s better. Just ask. God is that kind of God. Nothing can change the love God has for you.

That’s how Jesus explains prayer to these disciples. Prayer isn’t just a wish list of things you want, like writing a letter to Santa. Prayer is an expression of the relationship with God that Jesus opens up for us. A relationship of trust, where we don’t have to be embarrassed or worry if we’re doing something wrong. God is already more than willing to pour out the Holy Spirit on you. And is doing that even now. Even if you aren’t sure. Even if you think it’s too good to be true. Even if you’re wearing two different shoes.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2019 in Sermon

 

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When Secrets Become Public (21 Pentecost — Oct 13, 2013)

Luke 17:11-19

 “As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.'”

Because of their illness, these lepers couldn’t come near to Jesus to ask for help privately. Culturally and legally. They had to stand far away and yell, hoping someone might have mercy and help them. To everyone their illness is public knowledge; and so by everyone they are judged as insufficient, lacking, unworthy, even sinful.

These ten lepers have to live this way–separated, isolated, humiliated–and have to do so publicly. They are considered broken and flawed people, and these inadequacies are revealed publicly every day.

Can you imagine if our brokenness and our inadequacies were made public? Can you imagine if your deepest flaws and failings were out in the open for everyone to see and judge? We all want to hide our frailites, keep them private, but we all have them. Make no mistake, everyone in this room has the fear that comes from knowing we don’t measure up. And we all live with the terror that our deep fractures will become known.

That which the lepers longed to be private has become public. However, when their flaws became known to Jesus, they are made clean. They are restored. They are shown mercy. This is what Jesus does. He makes us clean, restores us. Jesus meets us in those areas of our lives we desperately want to remain hidden and shows us mercy. It’s in the hidden parts of our lives–those parts we desperately want to keep private–that Jesus knows us most deeply. It’s there that his love for us makes the biggest difference.

I think many of us would agree to that in theory. Jesus knows the innermost, private pieces of our lives, meets us there, and redeems us. Day by day, Jesus continues to save us. That’s how forgiveness works. That’s how mercy works. That’s how all the gifts of God work. Jesus does his most loving and gracious redemption in the hidden, private aspects of our lives.

And, for the most part, we’re fine with that. As long as Jesus heals us, redeems us, saves us privately.

But we have a universal terror: that our private deficiencies will become public. Can you imagine how that which you never talk about became known to everyone? Take a simple example: can you imagine, for instance, if your checkbook became available for anyone to examine? Can you imagine if we were categorized according to our credit card debt? Can you imagine if we were judged according to the percentage of our income that we give away? Like the lepers, can you imagine keeping your distance from everyone because you made too many extravagant purchases?

If the private, hidden aspects of our lives–such as our finances–became public, it would be humiliating. Yet it’s in the secrecy of our finances that Jesus comes and makes us clean, makes us whole, saves us. Just like all our flaws, we keep our finances hidden. But Jesus comes among us to save our financial selves too. That doesn’t mean more money–it has nothing to do with amounts of money. Like every other part of who we are, Jesus meets us and cleanses us, save us, so that we can be part of God’s salvation in the world.

Imagine your hidden, secret money life being redeemed by Jesus. Imagine how differently we would live if we understood our money’s primary purpose as revealing mercy and grace in the world. The more secretive we are about our money, the more Jesus meets us there to heal us.

In the gospel reading, one leper–a Samaritan–returns and falls at Jesus’ feet giving thanks to God. But all ten are made clean. One recognized the gift of salvation he had received. But all ten were made new by Jesus.

Your response to Jesus’ salvation in up to you. Your response won’t change how Jesus feels about you. It won’t change your forgiveness. It won’t change your worth as a child of God. Regardless, Jesus is present for you. Even now he’s meeting you in the hidden and secret parts of your life–including your money. He is cleansing you. He is making you whole. He is saving you. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Sermon

 

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