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The Power of Powerlessness (Ash Wednesday, Feb 14, 2018)

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near— 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. . . .
12 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16 gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, “Where is their God?’ “

As the people of Jerusalem try to rebuild the city after returning from a 70 year exile held captive in Babylon. They are experiencing the worst disaster that anyone can remember. For an agricultural society, a plague of locusts means starvation and death. But this plague tops anything that even the oldest people have ever heard about. It’s overwhelming. It’s hopeless.

I think that in some ways we share that experience of hopelessness. There are things in our world that we can’t even imagine fixing. Our country is more divided than ever before; greed, lies, obstruction  seem to grow unchecked; an all-out war on the most vulnerable among us seems to actually be deliberate, our national leaders seem more out of touch and uncaring than ever.  There are 2400 homeless children in Jefferson County, yet the obstacles and the anger around any address of the issue seem insurmountable.

It just seems like there’s nothing we can do. Sometimes, as if we’re experiencing a plague of locusts, we can feel powerless.

And that’s what the people of Israel were experiencing too.

Our tendency when we feel overwhelmed is to pull in, hunker down, and make sure our own little corner of the world is safe. If the world is falling apart, we’re going to do what we can to stay clear of that. We’re going to remain where it’s safe, put in a security system, buy a handgun, and do what we can to make sure we’re going to be OK.  If the situation is bigger than our ability to deal with, we take care of ourselves first.

But here’s what Joel’s people in Jerusalem did in the face of a hopeless situation. All of them together threw their lot in with God. They recognized that their situation was bigger than their ability to deal with, so they—all of them together—publicly turned to God for hope and help. Maybe God would do something, maybe not. That was up to God, not them. But they called everyone together to fast and pray and see what God would do. And they did it openly and publicly.

15Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 

For Joel and his people, the response to despair wasn’t “how can I survive this?” but “how can we help each other seek God in this?” And everyone participated.

As church, as the body of Christ, as followers of Jesus, this is what we can offer the world. A public, altogether, open, everyone involved, plea to God in the midst of things that seem impossible.

We say God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

We say God is our refuge and strength.

We say God is with us in the midst of difficulties.

We say Jesus brings among us the mercy, compassion, love, and forgiveness of God.

We say that this is unconditional.

We say we trust God in these things.

Here’s our chance to live those things we believe. Let us come together during this season of Lent. Let us, as the whole congregation of Lutheran Church of the Master—all of us—call upon God to spare our world, to end hatred, to stop terror, to put an end to poverty, to protect the vulnerable, to do those things that we ourselves can feel powerless to do.

15Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;  16gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 

This Lent, as we gather each week, both on Wednesdays and Sundays, across ages, ethnicities, genders, faith backgrounds, let us remind one another of God’s promise of hope and newness. Let us discover our own part in God’s promise. Let us, altogether, publicly and openly, call upon our God. Let us share with the world what we believe our God can do. Amen.

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Posted by on February 14, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Contrasting Views of Success (7 Pentecost B)

7th Sunday After Pentecost

Amos 7:7-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

What an interesting piece of scripture. Jesus isn’t even in it; neither are his disciples. It’s really about King Herod and John the Baptist—though John was killed way back in chapter 1. The story isn’t told until now. It’s placed here deliberately by Mark,.

John the Baptist was executed because he had confronted King Herod about his improper marriage to his younger brother’s wife, Herodias. Even though Herod liked to listen to John, and actually protected him, he has John locked up for being too outspoken about his marriage. But it was Herodias who was looking for a way to have John killed. She found it when Herod promised his step-daughter whatever she wanted as a reward for wowing dignitaries with her dancing at his royal party.

Why would John the Baptist open his big mouth to Herod over this issue? It was a political marriage meant only to increase this Herod’s power in the region. That was common practice. Why would John make such an issue of this—to the point of imprisonment and a pretty gory death? Yes, Herod married for the wrong reasons—so what? That’s Herod’s problem, isn’t it? Why is John so cranked up about it?

So I wonder, then, if the issue of improper marriage isn’t really the issue. I wonder if Mark is causing us to think about something else. His placement of this story here, right after the return of the apostles from their first missionary trip might indicate what this is really about. I think we are being invited to reconsider what it means to be successful. Mark does so by contrasting the worldly success of Herod with kingdom of God success in John and Jesus’ disciples.

Think about this: Herod has everything. He’s a powerful king with advisers to give him the best advice, an army to protect him, more money than he could spend in multiple lifetimes. He throws a dinner party for the most powerful people in Israel—others who are just as successful as he is. The CEOs, the Cherry Creek Country Club set, the people who wield power and authority, who are the movers and shakers. And they all come! Herod has what most of us work our entire lives to attain: he’s the poster child of success.

Especially when you compare him to John who sits alone and imprisoned and poor, helpless, unable even to save his own life.

Herod throws a party for the most powerful people in the country.

Jesus had just sent his disciples out with no bread, no bag, and no money.

If nothing else, this text causes us to step back and reconsider what success really is. Influence for our own sake or significance for the world’s sake.

Those of us who recognize Jesus as savior, or even those who merely follow his teachings, we are confronted with two views of success. And it seems that the measure of success is who benefits: the powerful or the poor, the movers-and-shakers or the helpless, ourselves or the world. Right now we at LCM give away 10% of our offerings to help those beyond the walls of this church. That’s good! How about we try for 15%? According to this text, that would be a better measure of success than simply how big our budget is.

Even as significant as it is to give away more money, that’s still a narrow view of this text. I think there’s good news for us when we’re feeling powerless. Success is still possible for us when we feel like we aren’t accomplishing anything or getting anywhere. When we feel like John, when we feel we’re helpless, alone, and imprisoned by things beyond our control, the good news is that that’s not the indicator of our worth or our significance.

John was armed with nothing more than truth. So he spoke it. Jesus sent his disciples out with nothing but his authority, and they made a significant difference to those they were sent to. When you’re feeling like you aren’t making a difference, Jesus indicates otherwise. Right now, think of one person you’ve touched with love or forgiveness or generosity. That’s the risen Jesus at work in you. That’s success.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2012 in Sermon

 

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