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Resurrection Life: No Longer Fighting for Scraps (Easter Day, April 1, 2018)

Mark 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

This is it! The big day! The day of resurrection! The day we celebrate with joy Jesus being raised from the dead! We sing, we shout Alleluia! We proclaim victory! Jesus has triumphed over the grave, he is vindicated, the powers of this world ultimately couldn’t hold him down!

This is great news. It is central to Christian faith. For those of us raised in the church, we have been taught about this from our very earliest days. The resurrection of Jesus is a cornerstone of our life in the church.

What’s interesting, though, is that as I listen to Christian people who are willing to be honest, not everyone agrees on all points of Jesus’s resurrection. There’s a rather wide spectrum of views about it. Like it or don’t, but it’s true. We’ve got this foundational pillar of faith, and, quite a bit of diversity as to what Christ’s resurrection from the dead actually means, what it’s actually about, and, quite honestly, what actually happened that first Easter morning. Right, wrong, or indifferent, that is the reality of faithful people in Christ’s church.

I’m actually grateful for the richness of interpretation on this. Because with each person I listen to who shares their perspective on resurrection, I gain a fuller awareness of God’s gift of new life that scripture describes. This is about what God does, and not so much about what we believe about it. It’s become clear to me that resurrection life isn’t just going to heaven after we die. The scriptural witness is that resurrection life is God’s gift to us here and now. It is the assurance through Christ that God has the last word for us. That word isn’t death, it is life. It is new life. And it begins now.

Resurrection life means we are no longer tied to our own self-serving attitudes. We are new in God’s gift of resurrection life to serve the other.

Resurrection life means we are no longer dominated by the powers that try to dictate who we ought to fear. We are new in God’s gift of resurrection life to love the other.

Resurrection life means we are no longer isolated, struggling to make sure we get ahead—even if it’s at the expense of another. We are new in God’s gift of resurrection life to reach down and lift up the lowest.

Jesus came to show us this new life. He came to reveal what God’s gift of new life looks like. And when he faced the powers of this world—that keep us oppressed in our fear, they arrested him.

And when he faced the forces that keep us separated from each other in mistrust, they tortured him.

And when he faced the violent tendencies of our world that keep us killing each other, they killed him.

And when he faced the powers of death itself, God’s gift of resurrection life still couldn’t be stopped.

That’s the gift that is for us today. Resurrection life isn’t a retooling of an old life of selfishness and isolation. It’s not just protection from things that cause us fear. It’s not just reducing violence to manageable level. Resurrection life is a completely new way of being in this world. It is freedom from the forces that keep us from loving and serving and showing compassion to all. We are made new, and this new resurrection life doesn’t look at all like the old life. It looks like Christ.

Take a look at these little scraps of material. You can do a lot of different things with each one, but they remain torn scraps. Wash each one, iron each one, dye each one a different color if you want. It’s still just a different version of an old scrap. You can use them to clean up a small mess, or to plug a hole in drywall. They can do some good things, make some adjustments, try harder. But no matter what, they are still small scraps of material.

Until they are given a new life.

Marilyn Karsten took a bunch of old worthless scraps like these that were not much good for anything and gave them a new life. Look at this beautiful quilt made from throwaway scraps of material!

These are no longer little scraps. They are now beautiful! They are no longer old, but completely new. No longer torn, but re-created. No longer separate, but whole.

This quilt is something new. This is God’s gift of resurrection life. It’s nothing like the old life that the powers of this world can offer. The best the forces of our culture can do for us are ways to be better scraps. As scraps, we can improve, try hard, we can even be useful and do good things. But we remain separate. And as individual pieces, we will always be ruled by fear: fear of not having enough, of not being good enough, of not being safe enough, of someone taking what belongs to me.

Resurrection life cannot even be compared with that. With this new life we are set free from fear, We recognize the value of every other scrap of material and know we are bound together with them. The beauty of this new life comes from giving away our identity as scraps because we are remade into the body of Christ. We are new, we are free to love and be loved, We live Christ’s compassion for others—not because we try harder, but because it is now who we are.

And the best thing of all is that this new, resurrected, whole life has already been given to us. We are already joined with Christ in a new life. Today is the day we get to let go of the scraps. Today is the day we get to see the beauty of what we now are. Today we get to love the unlovable because they are part of this new creation. Today we get to live Christ’s compassion because Christ lives in us. Today we get this new life. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

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Posted by on April 1, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Here, We Love One Another (September 24, 2017)

Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being. I’m going to be saying that a few more times today, and hopefully it will be clearer in 10 or 12 minutes. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being.

I’ve come to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this parable. On the one hand, Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven brings justice to those who are at the bottom. Justice and generosity. The ones who could only get one hour of work are still paid a full day’s wage. Those with nothing—the most vulnerable and the most powerless—are lifted up. The last shall be first! Yes! The kingdom of heaven is like this! Isn’t it?

However, there is no real justice here. Nothing is changed. All of these workers will be vulnerable again tomorrow—not just those hired last. They will all be in exactly the same situation tomorrow, hoping that someone will hire them so they can eat that day. The only difference the landowner made is that now there’s division among these laborers. Division and jealousy. Rather than celebrating the landowners generosity together, now those who were “first” are envious of those who were “last.” No! The kingdom of heaven is not like this! Is it?

What do we do with this parable? The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being.

If you remember from this whole year of Matthew’s gospel, for this author the “kingdom of heaven” is right here among us. It is any time and any place that God’s compassion and love are shown in the world. But that love and compassion aren’t always received well. God is generous, but we don’t always respond well to it. The kingdom of heaven isn’t just about being nice, its coming among us also signifies transformative change—and the conflict and self preservation that accompany that change. The proof is that Jesus came bringing the kingdom of heaven, and was killed for it. This parable isn’t just about how nice God is, but it is also about how our response to God’s goodness isn’t always as good.

The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being.

So here’s where we are. We are kingdom of heaven people, and therefore we recognize that we are recipients of God’s ongoing generosity. But when that ongoing generosity begins to change us, we can exhibit some bad behaviors and some envy. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being.

As the church, we no longer have to respond to God’s new way with envy because God is generous. We no longer have to live divided, suspicious of one another, watching to make sure no one else gets more than they deserve. As kingdom of heaven people, we are committed to loving one another. The church is the community where God’s love is practiced. As we talked about last week, we know that God loves each person here completely, and in the church, we are capable of treating each other that way too. The church community can be a safe place to practice the new ways of the kingdom of heaven. The church community can be the place where mistakes are forgiven, where truth is told, where all are welcomed, and valued, and respected for who they are.

God’s generosity is more than just me. It is about us. The kingdom of heaven shows us that each of us are a precious gift. And in the church community, we can show one another what a gift they really are. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being. And we do that together, with one another.

The kingdom of heaven blesses our new way of being community. We strive to live that out. Which is why our congregational budget includes so many ways we show love to one another. Over 40% of our annual budget is invested in various ways in expressing love that is part of this community.

$15,700 invested in making sure our kids are loved. For every $100 you give, more than $6.00 goes to our children. We do this because we love one another.

$10,500 invested in people who share time and energy to make sure others here are appreciated and encouraged. For every $100 you give, over $4.00 goes to fellowship and encouragement. We do this because we love one another.

$49,000 invested in our own discipleship growth through worship and education. For every $100 you give, almost $20 goes to worship supplies, salaries, music, copyrights, and education. We do this because we love one another.

$7000 invested in caring for one another when we’re sick or hurting. For every $100 you give, $2.70 goes to pastoral care. We do this because we love one another.

$24,000 invested in making sure we have a warm and safe place to gather for worship, for learning, for planning. For every $100 you give, $9.30 goes to using, cleaning, and maintaining our building. We do this because we love one another.

(Magnets connecting one to another)The kingdom of heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being. A way of loving each other. A way of taking care of each other. A way where envy and division have no place. A way that proclaims to the world, “We do things differently here. Here in this place, we love one another.”

 
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Posted by on September 24, 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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“Easter Isn’t About Belief. It’s About God” (April 16, 2017)

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

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.

You know the story. Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, was raised from the dead 2000 years ago. Good news! Because it’s good news, we can ask what difference it makes in our lives right now, today? That’s a fair question.

Maybe the resurrection of Christ comforts you so that you can trust that there is life after you die. That’s good.

Maybe this story in Matthew helps you believe that there is a God who is more powerful than death. Again, that can be great comfort for when we face death. That, too, is good.

Or maybe these biblical resurrection texts help you find solace in a God who can work amazing, supernatural miracles. That’s good too.

If your faith is somewhere along those lines, and this Easter Day helps you there, that is absolutely wonderful! Keep it up. Continue to grow in your faith. Keep on your spiritual journey of trusting and believing. Keep going.

But again, if that’s you, you need to understand that you’re now  a diminishing minority. Fewer and fewer people find that kind of spiritual significance in the stories of Jesus’ resurrection. Fewer and fewer people take this text in Matthew literally. Fewer and fewer people consider Jesus’ resurrection from the dead very meaningful to their lives today at all.

If that’s you, and you find yourself struggling with the meaning of this Easter day, know that you’re not alone. What’s more, wherever you find yourself right now on these issues of faith and God and resurrection is not only OK, it is good! You are among a growing number of people who are thinking deeply and personally about this cornerstone of Christian faith, who are facing legitimate doubt with honesty and asking appropriate questions about the relevance of a claimed event 2000 years ago. Your thoughts and opinions on this whole resurrection thing matter. And you are worth hearing. Whatever you think about Jesus’ resurrection, whatever you believe about it is actually important! And it needs to be part of the conversation.

We need to  listen to each other and be open to what another person thinks about all this—whether the other person is devout in their Christian faith, or whether the other person has never been inside a church.

As important as those conversations are, and as helpful and inclusive as they need to be, here’s the thing: Easter day isn’t about what we believe, it’s about who God is.

Easter day should never have been about correct beliefs or right doctrine or coercion into a particular set of religious values that you have to claim if you want to avoid eternal hellfire. This day isn’t about that at all. Easter day isn’t about what we believe, it’s about who God is.

Whatever you believe about God, Easter shows us is that God isn’t a far-off, distance entity watching over the world and occasionally intervening if we ask nicely. Easter shows us that God enters into, is fully present, in the very fabric of life. God is already there in all aspects of creation. Easter is a declaration that there is nothing, there is nowhere, that God isn’t already completely and totally present. Nothing can keep God away. Nothing can keep God out. Not so much because God is more powerful, but because God is, and has always been the very essence of creation.

Easter day isn’t about what we believe, it’s about who God is.

What this story in Matthew tells us is that nothing can stop God from being present. Not political authorities who bring death. Not religious authorities who self-righteously call for death. Military guards who, out of fear, are now “like dead men.” A gigantic stone rolled over the entrance of the grave. Death itself. With God who is the essence of creation, life is real, it is absolute, and it is unconditional. Life is what God is about.

The resurrection of Jesus is the declaration of just one more normal thing for God. It is a continuation of what God has always done, of who God actually is. And nothing can get in the way of God being present and therefore bringing life.

In Genesis, God who was already there, breathed life into dead clay and it became a living person. In Ezekiel, God who was already there, brought dry, dead bones lying in the desert sun back together, and they became living people. Just a couple of weeks ago we heard about Jesus being present, restoring life to Lazarus, calling him forth from the grave. Life is what happens because God is there. Life is the way of God, central to who God is. Life isn’t earned, bought, coerced, bargained for. Where God is, there is life. And nothing can keep God out. God is in all things and through all things.

Easter day isn’t about what we believe, it’s about who God is.

And like it or not, believe it or not, trust it or not, the God of Easter day is present in you and gives life. To everyone. Even you. Especially you. Isn’t that what we witness every day in creation? It’s what we witness in our own lives. The very presence of God. All creation sings with life because God is fully present there. We sing today of new life because God is fully present with us.

Easter day isn’t about what we believe, it’s about who God is.  

We celebrate today because we recognize the presence of God: the source, the essence, of life. Life that cannot be stopped by politics, military, graves, fear, or disbelief. This is the good news of Easter day. God is here. Fully and completely here. That means there is new life here. That means there is hope for creation here. Hope for us. Hope for you. God is here. God is life.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2017 in Sermon

 

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The Good Samaritan, Fear, and Transformation (July 10, 2016)

video of this sermon can be seen at: http://www.facebook.com/lcm.lakewood

Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

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.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty tired of the divisions that seem to be deepening around us and among us. The “us vs. them” mentality seems harsher then ever. The black and white thinking of “I’m right, you’re wrong” seems more entrenched. We seem to be less open to dialogue, moving instead to argument. We have come to believe that our opinions are facts, by virtue of them being our opinions,. We demonize and attack anyone who disagrees with us because, if they disagree, they are not only wrong, but evil, unpatriotic, ungodly, or just “one of those people” and can therefore be written off and disregarded.

That was apparently happening in Jesus’ day too. It’s what’s happening in the parable of the Good Samaritan. “A lawyer stood up to test Jesus,” we began. If he wants to test Jesus, he believe he knows the answer, right? He wants to see if Jesus knows what he knows, believes what he believes. He wants to know if Jesus is “one of us” or “one of them.” So he tests him to see if Jesus is right, which will be revealed if Jesus agrees with this lawyer’s interpretation of the law regarding eternal life. I don’t think the lawyer really cares about eternal life. I think he believes he has the right answer and wants to know if Jesus can be counted on to back him up.

We don’t ever find out what happened to this lawyer. But one thing we can be pretty confident about: Jesus didn’t pass his test right then. This man is not an attorney like we understand it. He’s a teacher of God’s law, a religious expert. And Jesus’ answer to “who is the neighbor?” wouldn’t be what a teacher of the law would believe. Jesus says that a heretic, a Samaritan, reveals God better than a priest or a Levite—both of which are religious experts too.

Samaritans had a falling out with Jews centuries before, when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was overthrown. Samaritans, from Samaria, were the Jews who were left behind and weren’t killed off. Left behind in Israel, they corrupted the Jewish faith by intermarrying other religions and incorporating some of those practices into their own. By Jesus’ day, Samaritans represented everything that was abhorrent and opposed to God.

Yet Jesus chooses in his parable to lift up a Samaritan as the one through whom God’s mercy is recognizable. A Samaritan! One of “them!”

Part of Jesus’ point, it seems to me, is that God is seen, revealed, can work through anyone. Even those we consider wrong, or evil, or “one of them.”

Have you ever recognized God in the words or actions of someone you disagree with?

I initiated several conversations with friends on Facebook about gun legislation. Yes, I did that. On Facebook. On purpose.

I started badly. I called out a government official with whom I disagreed and used the word “disgusting.” Not a great way to start a conversation. Like the lawyer in this parable, I was testing people on Facebook to see who agreed with me and who didn’t. When someone from this congregation took offense at my language, and called me out on not wanting to have a conversation, it eventually caused me to rethink my approach. After, of course, I said a few more argumentative statements. At least the lawyer had the good sense to shut up when Jesus called him out.

So I deleted that post and tried again with others. This time, actually listening and acknowledging the possibility that perhaps I needed some transformation too. Maybe I needed to see what God was doing beyond my own opinion. Perhaps I could recognize the voice of God in the words of those I disagree with.

And the conversations were civil, mostly. I respected the opinions of those I disagreed with and they respected mine. And I learned a few things, and I heard God’s voice.

It’s not that anyone’s mind was changed. It’s more that I saw and heard something we have in common that God was addressing. Gun rights advocates and gun legislation advocates are both afraid. We’re all looking for something to bring security in the midst of that fear. Fear causes us to test others and see who rallies to our position. Fear causes us to blame others for the things that are wrong. Fear causes us to label people, to jump to conclusions, to scapegoat, to draw lines of division. If we’re afraid, we seek the security of closing borders to “them,” to keep “them” away. Police shootings of two black men in Baton Rouge and in St. Paul bring out our fear. Snipers mowing down police at a peaceful march in Dallas bring out our fear. And it is our fear that separates us.

In scripture, whenever God is going to do something big, why do you think the first words God speaks are, “Do not be afraid”? Because fear separates us from each other—and from God. And the point of this parable of the Good Samaritan is that God works through “them” just as well as God works through “us.” And that is the part we need to pay attention to, to be open to.

But I’ll tell you, when we’re open to God’s activity, we will be changed, transformed. Isn’t that the heart of this whole Jesus thing anyway? New life? Death and resurrection? Dying to the old and being raised to the new? That can be uncomfortable, even frightening. We’re back into fear. So, to comfort us in our fear of being changed, we use Jesus to defend our opinions and positions. Too often we use our religion to prevent change instead of initiating it. We must be transformed, which is the work of God and the purpose of our faith. And transformation comes when we embrace God’s activity, even when it is revealed by those we disagree with. Even if it is done by those we hate. Even if God speaks to us through those we are afraid of.

The violence and division are eroding us, diminishing us, enslave us in fear. It must stop. God is in the midst of it doing something new. That’s what we need to watch for, what we need to pray for. “Do not be afraid.” We will be changed. God is at work. Even through our enemies. Even through those we fear. Even through those we disagree with. Even through us. The neighbor, Jesus says, is the one who shows us God. Go and do likewise.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2016 in Sermon

 

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What Are Your Resurrection Stories? (March 27, 2016)

Luke 24:1-12

 

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

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

 

There’s a saying in some of my circles which goes, “It doesn’t matter what the topic is, if you get three Christians in a room, you’ll have four opinions.”

That’s true for everything about our faith. We all have different experiences and backgrounds. Because we each have a different starting point, the Spirit of God leads each of us on a different path. This is also true for  the resurrection of Jesus. Believe it or not, there are lots of different opinions about and interpretations of this event.

We have a tendency to think of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as a right/wrong, black/white, yes/no, either/or dichotomy. But if being human teaches us anything, it’s that there are as many different ways to experience resurrection as there are people. We do a disservice to the resurrection of Christ if we don’t acknowledge the reality that we understand it differently and experience it differently. So no matter what your experience of resurrection is, it is valid and it is necessary in the conversation. Otherwise, this amazing experience we all have ends up nothing more than a happy ending to a nice 2000 year old story. Then we can forget about it and go find our Easter eggs and eat our chocolate bunnies. To know the power of Jesus’ resurrection, we need to listen to each other’s experiences of dying and rising.

What are your resurrection stories? You have them, you know. How has this Jesus event become real in your life? What does your new life look like, and how is it different?

Let me share one of my death and resurrection experiences. Many of you know that I’ve had a struggle in my life with depression. It’s a chemical imbalance that can affect my outlook and my energy. But it’s in depression that I’ve experienced resurrection. Let me explain—

My experiences with depression have made it very clear that I can’t handle everything alone. It’s not healthy to do so, and we aren’t built for that—no matter how much we may think we’re the exception to that rule. No one can be strong all the time. So I reach out for help now. I’m closer to my wife. I lean on trusted people when I need to. That’s a whole different way to live for me, connecting with people in a more authentic way. Not just me serving or helping, but a real relationship where there’s mutual give and take. I see the world with entirely new eyes. It’s a whole new life. I would never have experienced this newness without going through the difficulty of depression.

What are your resurrection stories? You have them, you know.

Where are you asking different questions than you’ve asked before? What’s changed that has brought about new questions? That’s a sign of something new going on. That’s a sign of a death and resurrection experience.

Where do you have a new understanding or new perspective? What are the experiences that have led to that new outlook? Chances are, there’s a death and resurrection story in there.

I’ve come to the realization that resurrection is normal for God, though no less miraculous. It’s part of who God is. And since we’re created in God’s image, it’s actually normal for us too. We experience little deaths and resurrections throughout our lives. What matters is that this is God at work in us. This is God’s gift of new life for each of us. This is who God is and how God comes to us. Resurrection from the dead. New way of living when an old way of living no longer makes sense. New perspective, when our previous views don’t hold water any more. More openness to love, when the things that have divided us become irrelevant. As God brings life from death, we get caught up in that movement and become part of God’s normal resurrection activity.

What are your resurrection stories? You have them, you know.

Still, we hesitate to acknowledge our resurrection stories, or see them as good. Because in order for there to be new life, something else has to give way. E.g., if you get married, you can no longer be single. If you move to the 3rd grade, you will never be in 2nd grade again. Resurrection involves death. Living a new life means part of an old life can no longer exist. Before Jesus could be raised from the dead, he had to die.

That can be frightening. Sometimes we cling to the old and familiar because that’s more comfortable. A new way of living is unknown and, well, new. We aren’t always sure what that will be like. So we don’t always jump into it with enthusiasm.

But resurrection, again, is normal for God. Therefore it’s going to happen—even to you.

Some of us here right now are in that process of resurrection and rebirth. Maybe you don’t see any new life yet. Maybe something old is still dying and you aren’t ready to give it up. But resurrection, again, is normal for God. Therefore it’s going to happen.

Perhaps you are longing for something new, yet it is slow in coming. You want to die to something old and move past it, but it won’t let go. But resurrection, again, is normal for God. Therefore it’s going to happen.

Regardless of where you are or how it happens, know that God is with you in the journey. The God who raised Jesus from the dead is the God who is raising you to new life too. We don’t have to be afraid of living a new life. This is the day of resurrection. For Jesus. For you.

What are your resurrection stories? You have them, you know.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Life Comes into the Midst of Death (All Saints Day, Isaiah 25:6-9)

I’m noticing more and more in our culture a denial of death. We usually don’t talk about people dying; instead we say they “passed,” or “left this life,” or “gone to heaven.” Even in the church we talk not about death but about someone having “completed their baptismal journey.”

Hospitals talk about people who “expired.”

In war we talk about “casualties.”

Mortuaries use make up artists and hair stylists to make the dead look more alive. And even when we bury bodies, we no longer lower the casket and place dirt on it. We leave the cemetery and other people fill in the grave alone and quietly.

But anyone who has lost a loved one knows these are just tricks, semantics. Death is real. And it is hard. And it is permanent. The more we love someone, the harder their death is on us.

The texts today recognize the reality of death. They talk about tears and about mourning, crying, and pain. They speak of a sheet and a shroud covering us up. The biblical authors knew about death. They suffered in the grief of losing loved ones.

No, death is all too real. The grief, the loss, the emptiness, the sadness, the loneliness, the sleepless nights, the tears that won’t stop, the despair are all very real. There’s no denying it. Not for anyone who has been affected by the death of someone they love.

Yes, these texts speak of death. But they also speak of life. God is the one who destroys death. In the Isaiah text, God gathers up all people for a feast beyond imagination, with the riches foods and best wines. While all are enjoying this amazing feast, did you notice what God is eating? God swallows death. God comes on that day and destroys the shroud covering all people. God eliminates the mourning, and the crying, and the pain. God comes and wipes the tears from our grieving faces and assures us that death is not the last word.

God takes care of all of God’s people, and not even death can get in the way of that. God comes to us here, on this All Saints Day, when we open up our grief and our sadness. God comes and gently wipes the tears from our eyes. And God promises again that those we love are in good hands. God, who created them and loved them and forgave them is even now taking care of them.

Death is not the last word, God says. We can trust this because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. God has the last word. And the last word is life.

And until that last word of life is spoken again, God comes and sits with us in our grief. God comforts us in our sadness. God doesn’t leave us alone in our mourning, but is present with us gently wiping our tears.

Today is All Saints Sunday, a day to open up our grief and sadness because of death. But it is also the day to hear again God’s promise of life, abundant life, joyful life.

All Saints Day is the day to claim those promises and entrust our loved ones into the hands of the God who has given them, and still promises them, life everlasting.

I invite you to light a candle for someone you’ve lost to death. Write their name on a card and place that card in the basket. We’ll take as long as we need to do that. And then we will read aloud the names of those we have lost to death and commend them all into God’s care, trusting in the power of resurrection.

Please make your way to the candles and the table.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2015 in Sermon

 

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