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“Jesus is Too Divisive” (August 18, 2019)

Luke 12:49-56

[Jesus said to his disciples,] “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

There’s a lot in this brief text this morning. There’s fire, baptism, stress, weather reports, accusations of hypocrisy, and seeing signs of the times. But my guess is that what most of us hear today in this text isn’t any of those things. It’s probably Jesus saying, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

I heard someone say recently that they are part of a Christian Bluegrass band, and they had a gig at a local bar one night. After playing a few songs, the manager asked if all their songs were about Jesus. “Well, yeah, it’s kind of a beer-and-hymns sort of idea.” They were then asked to pack up and leave the bar because, as the manager said, “Jesus is too divisive.”

Now, understand that Jesus isn’t saying it’s his goal to be divisive. Just that that’s sometimes the reality when the Reign of God is shown. Jesus isn’t saying it’s his goal to oppose peace. Just that people’s reaction to the presence of the Reign of God isn’t always peaceful.

See if that isn’t true. The Reign of God is present anytime and anyplace where the character of God is evident. Any time someone exhibits God’s over-the-top compassion, anytime someone gives with God’s extravagant generosity, any place where someone grants God’s never-ending forgiveness, anywhere that someone is loved with God’s unconditional love. Try doing that and see how divisive it can be.

What would happen if someone tried to exhibit God’s generosity with our tax dollars, or God’s compassion with our immigration laws? I’m not talking about agreement; I’m talking about the division that would result.

Or what happened right here in Lakewood when the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless tried to build housing on Federal land? Again, put aside whether it was a good idea or not, I’m just talking about the divisive way people responded. It largely wasn’t a conversation about whether this was the best way to provide housing for people who are homeless. It was just met with division. Those meeting certainly weren’t peaceful.

Even when the church reveals the Reign of God, it can be divisive. The ELCA in assembly last week voted to become a “sanctuary church body.” Even though this stance doesn’t call anyone to do anything illegal, just that we are publicly declaring that for us as Lutherans, walking alongside immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers is a matter of faith—a matter of following Jesus; a matter of the Reign of God. And the response by some media outlets was quite divisive.

So Jesus is stating reality here—that the response to the Reign of God can be divisive. Here’s why he says it. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is not meandering like an itinerant preacher, he is intentionally travelling to Jerusalem for almost half the gospel. Because that is where the Reign of God—God’s compassion, love, and forgiveness—will be most prominently revealed. On a cross. In Jerusalem the ultimate division will take place. A very un-peaceful fate awaits him.

So for ten chapters, almost half of Luke’s gospel, Jesus is heading to Jerusalem where he’ll be killed. And all along the way, he’s trying to get his disciples ready to take over this Reign of God work. He is sometimes rude, sometimes abrupt, sometimes extreme. Because this work of God is that important. All the teaching, all the healings, all the signs are to help prepare these disciples for the difficult work that awaits them. Showing God’s kindness and mercy will not always be met with peace. And people will be divided when some of them begin to follow these ways of Jesus. Division is not the goal, but it is the reality. These disciples need to be ready.

This text today is part of that travel narrative where Jesus becomes very direct. Recognizing the Reign of God present in the world is that important. That’s why he turns to the crowds—not just the disciples now, but everyone—and says all that stuff about seeing clouds and knowing it will rain, seeing the wind and knowing it’ll be hot. They’ve got to recognize God’s compassion when they see it, to know God’s all-inclusive love, to be looking for the presence of God’s justice so they can continue the work of revealing it. That’s the hope of the world.

I wonder whenever Luke describes Jesus turning toward the crowds—toward everyone—if he means for that to include us.

So I would ask, do we see the Reign of God? Do we recognize God’s compassion? Are we looking for God’s mercy and love being shown? It’s around us all the time. Right now I can point to 116 incidents of the Reign of God being present. Look at the timeline on the back wall. There are so far, to my count, 116 LCM “Glory Moments,” when some kind of compassion, love, forgiveness, grace, inclusivity were recognized by you in this congregation. Because you experienced them. And what a difference that has made!

That, to me, is astounding. Right here, among us, the Reign of God is revealed in ways that Jesus describes and points to. God’s compassion and love make us new, and for Jesus, that is the highest priority. And in order to provide those things to you, Jesus is willing to risk division. For your sake. To change your life. To make you new.

How can that not give hope to the world? How can we, who are the recipients of the Reign of God, not be part of revealing this to change the world? Even though it won’t be smooth, easy, or even harmonious, there’s nothing more important. It is the hope of the world.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2019 in Sermon

 

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“‘You Should Start Spreading Peace Around the Neighborhood,’ She Encouraged” (July 7, 2019)

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ . . .
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” 17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Jesus has gathered these 70 followers, equipped them in his teaching and healing, and now is sending them into the neighborhoods where he himself has plans.

That’s still what Jesus is doing: gathering, equipping, and sending. It happens every Sunday. He gathers us together in God’s presence, he equips us by meeting us in word and sacrament, and then he sends us out into the neighborhood where Jesus himself has plans. Us. Each of us. All of us. We talk a lot as Lutherans about being a word and sacrament church, but we are just as much a gathered and sent church. Those four parts make up the entirety of our Sunday worship experience: we’re gathered, we’re equipped through word and sacrament, and then we are sent. Every week. Every time.

Now, we tend to think of being part of this “gather, word, sacrament, sent” church community as an extra thing we add into our real, regular lives. Sometimes it’s a struggle to create time for church apart from all the necessary things we’re already committed to. But Jesus seems to be saying it’s the other way around. What we generally think of as our “real life” is actually just the places where he is sending us as his followers.

Have you thought about it that way? Your job is where Jesus sends you as his follower. School, soccer, community involvement are the places you are sent by Jesus.

And in this text there are just a few things he is sending us to do there: Bring peace, cure the sick, and let them know that the kingdom of God is right there. That close. Those things: peace, care, a glimpse of God’s love and compassion.

The thing is, again according to Jesus, we’re already fully equipped to do these things. We don’t have to bring purse, bag, sandals. All the stuff where we think we’re inadequate. We are enough. Just as we are. We don’t have to bring vast biblical knowledge, impeccable theology, debating skills, or even the perception that we have everything in our lives all put together. No. Right now, Jesus has already equipped us with peace, care, and with God’s own love and compassion. Bring that. Do that. That’s why we’re gathered here. That’s why we’re equipped in the presence of Christ, so we can be sent. It’s like this.

Peace.Walk_Rochester.NYMay 30, 2019 08:21 AM ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — After violence forced kids to stay inside and off the playground, the children decided to fight back with messages of peace. . . .

“We’ll be walking, holding signs up we’re making now, saying we want peace,” explained 8-year-old De’Shawn Isidore.

It’s a simple message: keep kids safe, let them play. 

After a string of shootings in 2013 kept the kids indoors and unable to play safely in their own neighborhood, the Peace Walk was formed. 

The walk will take place Thursday, May 30 at 4:30 p.m. along Lyell Avenue, a neighborhood that has one of the highest rates of crime in the City of Rochester. . . .

Addison Washington, 10, hopes everyone in the city pays attention.

“You should start spreading peace around the neighborhood,” she encouraged.

Kaylee Vo, 11, agreed, saying, “no more violence, no more kids getting hurt, no more kids dying.”

Their little voices want to make a big difference.[1]

That’s what being sent by Jesus looks like. They felt sent to bring peace to their neighborhood. They showed their neighbors a glimpse of the love of God, it was so close the neighborhood could almost taste it that day.

What would that look like in our neighborhood?

Congregationally, one way we do it in this neighborhood is with the free use of our building by our neighbors. Over 400 people utilized this building just in June (which begins a summer slump!). Literally tons of food, clothing, school and household items to TheActionCenter. We’ve begun a ministry of accompaniment with GMES Refugee and Asylee families.

We do things that make a difference. But what would it look like if together, the entirety of this congregation poured our whole hearts into bringing peace, care, and a glimpse of God’s love and compassion in some specific way to Green Mountain? Those children in Rochester changed a neighborhood in one fell swoop. How would the neighborhood around this property be different if we took seriously that we as LCM are sent here?

For example, here’s an idea: The Samaritan Ministry has encouraged us to read Helen Thorpe’s book, “The Newcomers,” about the challenges faced by young refugees adjusting to life in the US. We also have a ministry that provides support to refugee families at GMES. So we have a beginning. But have we considered the possibility that we are sent by Jesus to bring peace, care, and God’s love/compassion to every refugee household around us? What if we took that on for a year? Partnering with LIRS and with IRC and making sure every refugee household in Green Mountain (or beyond?) is held by us in authentic peace, love, and compassion.

How could each of us be part of this being sent to local refugees? That whole relationship thing from Jesus about being sent to their homes and eating what they eat takes on new meaning!

We have been gathered, we are being equipped, and at the end of this service we’ll be sent—by Jesus—to bring peace, care, and a glimpse of God’s love and compassion into the neighborhood. Are you ready?

[1] https://www.whec.com/news/peace-walk-local-kids-march-for-peace-right-to-play-in-safe-neighborhood/5371452/

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Today You Are Held in Christ’s Peace (May 26, 2019)

John 14:23-29

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. 25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

Peace is something everyone wants, right? So how do you define it? . . .

In the midst of a lot of other stuff, one of the things Jesus promises his disciples in this text during the Last Supper is the gift of peace. What got my attention is that he says that the peace he gives is different than the peace the world gives.

Right away I want to know the difference. Why is Christ’s peace better?

When everything is going well, it’s easy to be at peace. When there is no fear, no anxiety, and you’re feeling loved by the people around us, we feel peaceful.

But really, how much of our lives are actually spent with no fear, no anxiety, or no alienation?

That points to the difference between Christ’s peace and the world’s peace.  The best peace this world can offer us is the temptation of a life without any fear, anxiety, or alienation. When you think about that, it’s an obvious lie. It can never happen.

Think about how we’re tempted into striving for a life without any fear, any anxiety, or any alienation or loneliness. A couple of basic examples:

It would start with more money. If you have enough money you don’t have to worry about your job, or your retirement, your housing, or (if you have way more money) even medical expenses. That’s a lot less stress and worry. So the peace this world does take care of some things, to be sure! But when do we have enough? Is there a point where we give up generosity in order to keep more for ourselves? Why is it that the more I put into my retirement fund, the more anxious I am about it?

The richest person in the world can still be terrified at the prospect of getting Alzheimer’s disease.  More money does not bring peace.

It also includes more power and strength. If you can impose your will or your opinions on others, you can avoid conflicts because everyone winds up agreeing with you. If you can convince people that you are right, you can dictate the terms of peace. If you have the power to impose your views, you have the power to intimidate people into backing down. Conflict avoided.

This goes beyond individual power. It’s why virtually every country in the world has a military—to impose peace in terms that are most beneficial to them. But they have to have the power to do so. So the peace this world offers means gaining power over others.

The most powerful person in the world can still be hit by a drunk driver. More power does not bring peace.

So why is it that we think about peace and security as the peace the world around us offers us? No matter how hard we strive, our lives will always be inflicted with chaos that brings fear, anxiety, and alienation.

It’s worth listening when Jesus says his peace is different. Rather than trying to remove the causes of our fear and anxiety, his is a peace that removes the fear and anxiety no matter the cause. Rather than changing our circumstances to attain peace, his is a peace that comes no matter the circumstances. Rather than working to get more to defeat the chaos, his is a peace that is a gift no matter what our abilities or our resources.

Even though it is present, it is real, and it actually is peace, this peace of Christ isn’t always easy to live. It is already here with us and for us, but we generally hesitate to relax into it. Because it involves giving up our attempts to create and control our own peace. We can only let go of that if we trust Christ to hold us in his deeper, more authentic peace. We grow in our trust of Christ as we experience Christ. This peace doesn’t come by believing doctrines or creeds, it comes in the presence of the living, risen Christ—as he and the Father “come to us and make their home with us.”

Christ’s peace grows in us as we grow in our awareness of Christ’s presence. So we need to keep reminding each other of Christ’s presence, Christ’s love, Christ’s promises. We need to remind each other that we are already held in the comfort of Christ’s peace.

So that’s what we’re going to do right now. Take a minute in silence and consider the things in our lives that are causing us fear or anxiety. At the same time, know that everyone else is doing the same thing. After that, I will remind you that “The peace of the Lord is with you always.” You’ll reply, “and also with you.” Then we will turn to those around us, and, knowing they too are experiencing fear and anxiety in their lives, we will remind each other with a handshake or a hug, saying something like, “God’s peace is with you,” or “You are held today in the peace of Christ.” But first, let us take a minute and consider our own fear, anxiety, and alienation. . .

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2019 in Sermon

 

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In Peace There Is No Fear (April 28, 2019)

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin ), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Ah, yes. Doubting Thomas. We’re not messing too much with him today, other than to say he doesn’t react any differently than anyone else did upon hearing of the resurrection.

Then there’s that whole “if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.” Nah. We’re not going there this year either other than to say forgiveness is preferable.

If you are really disappointed that I’m not getting into either of those, then I gotta say I’m a little impressed you’re paying attention! You can go to my sermon blog (Pastor Rob Moss Sermons) and find a whole bunch of sermons I’ve done on both of those. And not just me, but pretty much every pastor whose ever preached a sermon ever has done that. Because they’re good and important topics.

I’m struck this year with Jesus’ repeating the phrase “peace be with you” three times in these few verses. The resurrected Jesus comes where disciples are gathered and says first thing, “Peace be with you.” Shows them hands and feet, and says again, “Peace be with you.” Later, when Thomas is with them too, he comes and says (guess what?), “Peace be with you.”

Apparently, they’re not at peace. This is evident, because they were meeting behind locked doors huddled in fear. When we’re afraid, it’s hard to feel at peace, right?

One night this week the dog had to out. Because of coyotes, we go outside with her because she’s so small. So at 3:00 in the morning I was startled in the dark to discover a tent that had been pitched in my back yard. Someone has set up camp my back yard! I don’t know if they’re dangerous—but they shouldn’t be in my back yard. At 3:00 in the morning fear has a lot of power. I swear that part of the tent was moving; obviously someone was in there. Let me tell you, peace is the last thing I was feeling right then.

While I’m waiting the few seconds for the dog to finish her business, I began to realize this wasn’t a normal looking tent. As I kept looking at it, I realized it was actually the patio umbrella that had somehow been blown up from the patio table out into the yard.

Whew! No uninvited campers behind my house.

But at 3:00 in the morning I was mostly reacting out of fear. If I had made a decision right then as to how to respond, it likely wouldn’t have been the best one. And certainly not one based on the peace of Christ. We can’t help feeling afraid, but we aren’t likely to make good discipleship decisions from fear.

In the midst of fear, peace is not present. I can only imagine the lack of peace these disciples are experiencing. The Jewish authorities who, in John’s gospel, were responsible for killing Jesus are looking for his followers. Plus, dead Jesus is standing in front of them. So it makes sense that Jesus has to offer peace to them three times.

More than just words of peace, Jesus offers the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of peace, comfort, and assurance. He gives that to them to replace the fear.

That would make a great ending to the story. The disciples are afraid, Jesus comes, wishes them peace, gives them the Holy Spirit as a comforter and advocate, and they now live happily ever after, never being afraid again.

But that’s not exactly how this goes. There are a couple of things that happen. First, Thomas isn’t there when Jesus gives the Holy Spirit, so Jesus has to do this over again a week later. And notice, the other disciples who were there the first time and received the Holy Spirit are still hiding behind locked doors a week later when Jesus is present the second time. So, apparently putting away fear isn’t necessarily instantaneous. Not a once-and-done thing.

Second, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit not to eliminate fear for its own sake, but to eliminate fear so they can continue what he had come to do, i.e., forgiveness. To do that, they need peace, they need the Spirit, they need to move past fear.

So Jesus comes and gives the Holy Spirit to remove fear so that they can continue this work of forgiveness—moving past any offense and calling out the image of God in all people.

And, this apparently isn’t a quick thing, but takes some time.

I think we make too many decisions based on our fears. We’re afraid of failing, so we decide not to try. We’re afraid of looking stupid, so we don’t take risks. We’re afraid of being hurt, so we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We’re afraid of certain groups of people, so we find different ways to keep them separated from us by avoiding them, making generalized statements about what a threat they are, building walls in front of them, or blaming them for our woes.

But whenever we are making decisions out of fear, we’re not making good discipleship decisions. In the midst of fear, peace isn’t present. And peace is what Jesus offers three times to these disciples; and backs it up by giving the Holy Spirit. Peace casting out fear matters to Jesus. Not only for our own life, but for our ability to follow him as disciples. Consider how different our own decisions would be if made from a peaceful place of trusting Jesus rather than our own fears.

If someone had pitched a tent in my back yard, my fearful decision wouldn’t have been good—for them or for me. But who knows, as a disciple of the one who brings peace, the risen Christ, a different decision could have shown compassion, mercy, forgiveness. Maybe not. I won’t know, because it was only an umbrella. In the meantime, may the peace of Christ continue to grow in each of us so we can trust Christ rather than fear when a tent is pitched in our backyards.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Longing for God’s Vision (Dec 3, 2017)

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Is it even possible for the nations of our world to ever live in peace? Is there any hope at all of alleviating hunger and poverty in our world? Do we stand a chance of overcoming our cultural obsession with violence? Will we ever see an end to hate, racism, homophobia, or oppression? Is any of this remotely possible, or is it all just pie-in-the-sky and we are wasting our time longing for these things?

Advent is a season of longing. As we begin this season, we need to take time to acknowledge those deep longings of our souls. Because those deep longings are our spirit connecting to God’s Spirit. These longings are real. Where do God’s priorities for the world resonate within us? What are the possibilities of God’s vision that touch you spiritually?

In the first reading today, the prophet Isaiah believes that the unrighteous behavior of Israel has been in the way of God’s justice. Now that that unrighteousness has been dealt with, God’s long hoped-for vision can now be revealed. There is one coming, Isaiah cries, who will prepare the way for God’s peace to enter in. One who will point out the rough places in the world that will be smoothed, the low places in our culture that will be raised up.

The promise of a coming one who would prepare the way for God’s vision is made in Isaiah, and is kept in the coming of John the Baptist. John’s message is that God’s vision for the world is coming; what we long for in our spirits is in fact on its way.

So John points out the rough places, the low places, the crooked places. He calls people to help smooth, to lift up, to straighten. John makes clear that God’s vision, God’s justice, God’s peace is on the way. “There is one,” he says, “there is one coming through whom God’s vision will be realized.”

All that we’ve hoped for, says John, all the injustices and the wars and the violence and the hatred that our world has endured for so long will finally be resolved. In the coming of the Christ, we will see God’s reign at last. The possibilities we’ve longed for will finally begin.

So let’s prepare the way for God’s possibilities. Let’s smooth, let’s lift up, let’s straighten out.

In other words, John says, let’s repent.

John means something different by that word than we usually do. We hear “repentance,” and we go straight to how bad we each are and that each of us needs to be sorry for our sins. Usually there’s a hint of punishment involved if we don’t: either hell or God’s disfavor or some other bad thing will happen to the one who doesn’t repent of their sins.

That’s not really John’s emphasis. He uses the word “repentance” and “forgiveness of sins,” but his reasoning is significantly different than ours. Whereas we are more concerned with our individual salvation and personal righteousness— getting into heaven when we die, John’s concern is with God’s vision of peace and justice restoring all of creation.

For us, confession of sins usually means each person acknowledging their personal list of disobedient behaviors, trusting that God will forgive those who do confess.

But for John, confession of sins means acknowledging the obstacles in the way of God’s vision of justice for the world.

For us, repentance usually means each one of us feeling sorry for those bad things we’ve done and promising not to do them any more.

But for John, repentance means turning our life, our focus, our energy toward God’s vision of peace for the world.

So when John cries for repentance, he’s calling for us to turn away from hopelessness, that the world will never be better. Turn away from giving up on our longings and turn instead toward the realization that in Christ, God’s vision is actually becoming real. Make those paths straight.

He’s calling us to turn away from passively waiting for peace and turn toward making peace happen. Smooth out those rough places.

He’s calling us to turn away from seeking our own personal righteousness and turn toward God’s justice happening in the world. Lift up those low places.

One of the promises of Advent is that God’s justice is coming. God’s vision for peace and the renewal of creation is actually possible. In Christ we can see it. We can again turn our efforts toward being part of God’s vision for the world because Christ is coming. In him it is real.

Those deepest longings of our souls, those parts of God’s vision that are within us, are now possible. So prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight. God’s vision for us and our whole world is happening. Turn toward that. Christ is coming. In him there will be peace. And life. And wholeness. And justice.

As Isaiah reminds us today, “[the Lord] will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” This is God’s vision for the world. Prepare for that. Turn toward that. Work for that. It’s closer now than ever before.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Preparing for Non-Violence (November 12, 2017)

(Amos 5:18-24); Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

“Repent! Jesus is coming soon!” is the cry of some Christians. Their point is that you better be ready when Jesus shows up, because your eternity hangs in the balance. Texts like this one in Matthew are used to prove their point. The five foolish bridesmaids are locked out of the wedding banquet (heaven) when the bridegroom (Jesus) comes, because they didn’t have oil for their lamps (weren’t ready).  And “readiness” means whatever.

Although there is an accurate element of being ready for Jesus to come at the end of time, there is, on the part of many of these kinds of Christians, a misunderstanding of what that means.

This parable isn’t just about being ready for the end of the world, it’s about being ready when the end of the world is delayed.

The only difference between the five wise and the five foolish bridesmaids is preparation for the wait. All of them are invited to be part of the wedding procession. All of them bring their lamps. All of them wait. All of them get tired when the bridegroom is later than expected and fall asleep. All of them, when awakened, trim their lamps. The only difference is that five were ready for the delay, and five weren’t.

In the gospel of Matthew, there are lots of these “judgment” scenes—what Amos today refers to as “the day of the Lord.” Some call it the final judgment, others the 2nd coming of Christ. There are all kinds of bad theologies (movies?) around all that, but it is a recurring theme in Matthew. So we need to deal with it.

Because we usually just don’t deal with it. We don’t often talk about Christ’s return or the end of time or the day of judgment or the “day of the Lord.” Usually we say something like, “well, it hasn’t happened in 2000 years, it’s not likely going to happen today.”

That may be true, but what does that say about our preparation? And, for that matter, what does it mean to be prepared, as this text says?

What “the day of the Lord,” and all the other terms, usually refer to is God finally making things right. God’s vision, God’s justice, God’s ultimate peace become the full reality, especially regarding the poor. Every time God’s people begin to act in ways contrary to God’s vision of justice, the prophets cry out that “the day of the Lord” is coming. Where will those who ignore the poor be then? Look out, they cry! It is coming!

That’s picked up in the New Testament, too. Jesus is expected to return somehow at the end of time and bring about God’s ultimate justice and righteousness, establishing once and for all God’s peace where everyone has enough, everyone is fed, everyone is loved, everyone is forgiven.

Matthew gets pretty dramatic about it, the only gospel that really gets into the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” thing. But like so many other places in Matthew, it’s done to get our attention, to be seen as important. Jesus tells his disciples at the end of this parable to be ready, because though delayed, that day of God’s reign of peace is gonna come.

The question for the bridesmaids, then, is “are we preparing for the day of the Lord—for peace?” Are we preparing to live in God’s reign where everyone is being cared for, where everyone lives without fear of violence? Seriously, are we preparing ourselves and our world to live in God’s peace, to live without violence?

It’s one thing to wish the world was less violent. But it’s another thing to actually prepare to live in non-violence—to have the oil. Speaking for myself, I relate well to the foolish bridesmaids, who, because I’ve been waiting so long for some slowing down of violence, have grown tired. I admit that in some ways I’ve abandoned hope that our culture can ever give up our obsession with violence. I hardly blinked after the latest mass shooting in a Texas church a week ago. I knew, before the body count, before the motive of the shooter was known, before we were told whether there was racism or terrorism or mental illness or domestic violence what the responses would be. The same responses over and over. “Don’t politicize this tragedy!” “We need better gun laws!” “If more people had more guns this would stop.” “If we closed the loopholes on gun sales to the mentally ill we could solve this.” On and on. Again and again. Over and over. The same rhetoric having the same results. Which are: none. So we lose hope as we wait for the next inevitable shooting, the next attack, the next act of mass violence. Couple of days, then we’ll start the useless rhetoric all over again.

I would say that qualifies as not preparing to live in a world of God’s peace. I’ll tell you now, if suddenly God’s peace broke out in the world, no one would be more surprised than me. My oil has run out in my waiting. God’s non-violence and justice haven’t arrived, and I’m no longer ready. I’ve discovered that I’ve even quit preparing for it. It seems beyond hope now.

So this parable is for me. Maybe it’s for you, too. The bridegroom is coming, though he’s quite delayed. The day of peace will arrive, though it seems beyond hope today. Violence will end, though I can’t even imagine it now. Call it whatever you want: the day of the Lord, the 2nd coming of Christ, the end of time, whatever. We are called to prepare to live in a world of God’s peace and justice, a world without violence.

Which means practicing non-violence. Paying attention to the movies we watch, the games we play, the way we speak, the politics we heed. Even when confronted with violence in our world, we practice what non-violence would look like. The day is coming. The peace of Christ will eventually rule in our hearts and minds. God’s day of justice will arrive. We can be ready. We can prepare to live in real peace. There’s plenty of oil for our lamps to light the way for the presence of Christ. Let us fill up our lamps today, and prepare for Christ’s peace.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2017 in Sermon

 

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What’s in Our Way this Advent? (Nov 27, 2016)

Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

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.

Advent: Season of preparation, getting ready for Christ to come. We get ready for Jesus because the coming of Christ means something different for the world. It is good news for the world right now. The coming of Christ is not merely hope for heaven after you die, but hope for all people in our world right now. A hope that Christ’s presence in the world will include everyone living in love, joy, grace, and peace.

If that hope for each person to live in peace and love is to be realized, there are some things that will change in the world with the coming of Christ. Some things do have to change because not all people are experiencing hope, forgiveness, compassion, and absolute love. Christ’s job, then, is to be changing the world according to God’s character and God’s vision. Christ comes to change the world, to reveal the power of God’s love, to bring peace and wholeness, to expose life coming out of death. He comes to embody that hope for each one of us.2016-advent

If the coming of Christ means hope and love and peace and grace for all of creation, then as the church, we are called in baptism to be part of that presence of Christ in the world. We are called to be part of the hope of grace and peace being realized. “God’s Work, Our Hands” in the ELCA. Whatever God is doing, that’s what we are to be about. We know it will always be based in love, in compassion, in peace, forgiveness. That’s the nature of God, and therefore, the nature of Christ’s church.

So for us as church, our call is to reveal the presence and the hope of Christ to the rest of the world. To show what God’s forgiveness, love, compassion, grace look like. To be part of that being made real in the world—to put flesh on it. To be the presence of Christ for the world and in the world.

As we look at this gospel text at the beginning of Advent, there are two things we need to come up with answers for:

  1. If the coming of Christ means love, compassion, and peace, where might God be getting ready to reveal those things in our lives/world?
  2. What’s in the way of us revealing this presence of Christ?

Take a look at Joseph in this text.

  1. If the coming of Christ means love, compassion, and peace, where might God be getting ready to reveal those things in his life/world?

Joseph is recognizing God is moving toward what prophets had spoken of for centuries. God will be with us, God will save us.

  1. What’s in the way of his revealing this presence of Christ? Limiting God to customs/laws of his religion. Once opened to that possibility, Joseph could trust a dream that was crazy.

LCM:

  1. If the coming of Christ means love, compassion, and peace, where might God be getting ready to reveal those things in our lives/world?

I believe God is attempting to make this congregation a community where all can be safe, express vulnerability, experience trust. We haven’t always done that well in our congregational history, and it has limited us. Only in a trusting environment can God’s love be experienced and growth in God’s mission occur.

  1. What’s in the way of us revealing this presence of Christ?

This Advent as we wait for the presence of Christ and the love for one another that he brings, we can consider changing the things that are in the way. That is our preparation. So this Advent, we can give the benefit of the doubt, quit talking “about” people and instead “to” talk them, listen for the voice of God in those with whom we disagree, show support and encouragement for those who approach church differently in this place.

Each of us:

  1. If the coming of Christ means love, compassion, and peace, where might God be getting ready to reveal those things in our lives/world?
  2. What’s in the way of us revealing this presence of Christ?

That is what we can be doing this Advent. The presence of Christ will be changing something in our lives and the world in which we operate. Can we use this Advent season of preparation to see one thing that that might be? And then, can we spend this Advent time being opened to the presence of Christ changing something in us so that we can better reveal Christ to the world?

Blessings this Advent. As God opened Joseph’s heart to see God’s presence in a new way, may God open us to what God is doing in our world today. Amen.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2016 in Sermon

 

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