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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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Authentic Relationships: Confronting Each Other When Necessary (March 24, 2019)

2 Samuel 12:1-13;

Galatians 2:11-14

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13 And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 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.

This area of confrontation as part of discipleship isn’t my “go-to.” I recognize the need for it, the benefit of it, but still kind of resist it—actually I pretty much avoid it if possible. I don’t always confront very well for some reason. On those occasions when I get past my avoidance and actually confront someone when I think it’s necessary, I usually come off like a bulldozer—very little tact or sensitivity. And I usually end up causing resentment, anger, and an injured relationship, which is the opposite of what I hope will happen. That, then, reinforces my avoidance of confrontation and the cycle starts all over.

On the other hand, I’ve seen confrontation as harassment or abuse. It can be used by people to judge, to condemn, and to self-justify. Sometimes people who are really good at confrontation use it to intimidate others in an effort to prop themselves up above someone they feel to be weaker. They use confrontation as a weapon, as nothing more than a bully tactic.

But why is this really hard topic an issue of discipleship? We need to take a look at the texts today for help with that.

The setting for the 2 Samuel text is King David’s attempt to cover up a murder for which he was responsible. He ordered the husband of his mistress into the heat of a battle in order to get him killed. It worked. He got away with it. No one’s the wiser.

Except for the prophet Nathan who knew what had happened. In this text he confronts David using a parable of a poor man whose beloved lamb is stolen by a rich man—the injustice of this. “What should happen to that rich man?” asks Nathan. “He deserves to die,” answers the king. “You are that man!” Nathan exclaims.

The result is that David acknowledges his sin and provides one of the greatest repentance stories in all of scripture. Read Psalm 51.

Confronting David led him to repentance, which made him a better king—both in God’s eyes and in the eyes of Israel.

The other text from Galatians is a bit different. Fairly recently some parts of the Church have begun including—even baptizing—Gentiles. For the first time non-Jews are being welcomed as equal disciples of Jesus. For us no big deal. For them, this was a seismic shift in thinking. It was incredibly controversial. As is often still the case, some of the outlying congregations were adopting this practice of equal inclusivity more readily than the orthodox “mother church” in Jerusalem. So the church was divided over this issue.

Now Peter had had this dream (cf. Acts 10) about eating unclean food because God had said that if God makes it clean, it’s clean. So when Peter (Cephas) came to Antioch, he participated in these inclusive meals and worship times with Jews and Gentiles together. He even ate at Gentile tables with Gentile food, which was forbidden by the orthodox Jewish church in Jerusalem. So the church in Jerusalem sent some people up to Antioch to check, and Peter backed down.

Now, a lot of scholars believe Peter removed himself from the Gentile meals to help keep peace in the church. He didn’t want to promote a division over a small issue like meals, so he sided with Jerusalem.

Keeping peace isn’t bad, is it? Keeping the church from splitting isn’t bad, is it? It’s easier to back out of these common meals and keep the churches happier, right? Especially those who are in power.

There was more at stake that keeping people happy. An issue of the gospel was actually at stake here. If Peter sides with the powerful church in Jerusalem, he is in essence saying that the Gentiles—whom Peter acknowledges that God was including—didn’t matter. They were essentially second-class citizens whose inclusion wasn’t as important as the approval of the Jerusalem church. Peter sold out the gospel because it was easier. He ignored God’s inclusion to keep more powerful people happy. His actions revealed that he felt God’s inclusion of the Gentiles wasn’t worth a conflict.

Can you imagine if someone of Peter’s importance said you weren’t worth standing up for?

So Paul confronts Peter, and does so publicly. This was an act of discipleship on Paul’s part because God’s vision for the church was at stake. If God includes people as Peter had argued before, then they are worth standing up for. They are worth including. They are worth risking a conflict. They are worth confronting the orthodox powers that be.

In the case of Nathan, confronting David made him a better king—thus helping Israel to better reveal the ethical nature of God to the nations.

In the case of Paul, confronting Peter helped the church to better reveal the inclusive nature of God to the nations.

Jesus certainly confronted people—but always regarding their opposition to the reign of God. Confrontation is discipleship when it points out a barrier to something God is doing. Confrontation is discipleship when it can pave the way for God’s reign of love and compassion and inclusion to be revealed more fully.

It’s worth thinking about: what is God doing here and now in our lives, in our church, in our culture? What’s in the way of that happening? Disciples of Jesus are called to point out those obstacles and confront those who support those obstacles. For the sake of the reign of God.

What are those hindrances, those obstacles, those things and people that need to be confronted for God’s sake? How can we best do that? Come back Wednesday and we’ll talk about that.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2019 in Sermon

 

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The Shape of the Inside Determines the Appearance on the Outside (February 24, 2019)

Luke 6:27-38

 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

pottery

As a potter creates a pot, the idea around the purpose of the vessel comes first. The purpose determines how the inside of the pot needs to be shaped; the inside of a vase needs to be shaped differently than the inside of bowl. Then, the shape of the inside of a pot determines the shape of the outside. As the potter shapes the inside, the outside—the visible part of the pot—changes because it matches the inside.

Keep that image in mind as we go through this text. The shape of the inside determines the appearance of the outside.

This text in Luke is a direct continuation from last week, the Sermon on the Plain. So, much of what we talked about last week come into play here. It started with Jesus beginning this major teaching session with some Beatitude-like sayings, similar to what’s recorded in Matthew’s gospel. But unlike Matthew’s version, where the Beatitudes are the beginning of the famous “Sermon on the Mount,” in Luke Jesus teaches from a level place. And this is in keeping with Luke’s major theme of bringing up the lowest in the world and lowering those most exalted in the world. Because, as Luke makes clear, God has no favorites, everyone is loved, valued, and included by God equally. Everything and everyone is level with God.

The implication being that this is what the church, as the body of Christ, is to reveal. God’s priorities, God’s lack of favoritism, God’s equality. That means we are to be deliberate about calling for justice from the rich and powerful while lifting up, including, and advocating for the poor and excluded. Lift up those who are at the bottom of the world’s order while calling to account those at the top of the world’s order.

And this text today continues where it left off last week. Jesus teaching about God’s level playing field while revealing God’s level playing field.

But a word of caution about this text, because it is often distorted into one more reason to feel guilty and inadequate as disciples. This isn’t a text about what we need to try harder to do and then need to repent of when we can’t do it. Because as soon as we hear it that way, it becomes a means to judge one another, or even ourselves. “I’m much more successful at loving my enemies than you. I am obviously a real Christian. You, therefore, need to listen to me and follow Jesus like I do.” Do you see how that kind of self-righteousness could be a problem?

Or, “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t turn the other cheek. I guess I’m not a very faithful person. If I can’t do that, I may as well forget the whole thing, because obviously I can’t follow Jesus.”

This teaching by Jesus isn’t a competition to see who’s the best disciple. It’s not a measuring stick to compare ourselves to anyone else. It’s not a weapon to use against those who aren’t followers of Christ because they don’t use the language of blessing those who curse you.

No, this is a vision, not a moral imperative. This is what the Reign of God looks like. This is what would happen if the playing field actually was level. It’s how people would live if the world—like God—actually did have no favorites. This is a description of what we would begin to look like on the outside if on inside we were shaped like Christ. Remember the pottery image? The shape of the inside of a pot determines what it looks like on the outside.

As we continue to allow God to shape us from the inside—as we are stretched and molded and changed—the way we live in the world begins to be shaped differently too. God, whose nature as Luke describes today, is to be “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked,” creates us in that image, and continues to recreate us and shape us in that image. This text reveals some signs of what that Christ-shaped life looks like.

So rather than beating up someone else because they don’t turn the other cheek, or rather than condemning yourself because you don’t give to everyone who begs from you, consider this text from a different point of view. As you look around your world, where do you see strange, almost extreme acts of compassion like Jesus talks about here? Where do you see this kind of mercy and generosity and striving for justice being lived out? When you see those kinds of things, you are seeing how someone is being shaped by God from the inside.

More than that, pay attention to your own signs of compassion, mercy, love. You, too, are being shaped to be like Christ from the inside. The way you live on the outside shows that happening. God at work in you. Re-shaping you as Christ from the inside. The shape of the inside of a pot determines what it looks like on the outside.

How is God shaping you into Christ-like compassion today? How is God revealing to you new ways to be merciful? How is God giving you new opportunities to love people who might seem unlovable or include people who are usually ignored? God is shaping you from the inside into the image of Christ. And it will begin to look different from the outside. It starts to look like doing what’s in the best interests even of people who hate you. It starts to look like facing violence with non-violent resistance. It starts to look like careless generosity toward those who will never be able to repay you.

As God continues re-shaping us from the inside, we are able to catch for ourselves, and give glimpses to the world, what life in Christ looks like on the outside. It will begin to look like God’s vision. It will begin to look like the Reign of God. It will begin to look like Jesus.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Power, Strength, and Might vs. forgiveness, compassion, and humility (Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018)

Mark 11:1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Adults have those familiar formulas too. How many of you have ever watched a Hallmark movie? I hesitantly admit that I’ve watched more than my share. But in watching, there are certain things that are consistent: the main character is engaged but to the wrong person; the main character meets the right person but just doesn’t get along with them; the main character’s best friend is black; there is a straight-talking wise elder who advises the main character to follow her/his heart. It doesn’t matter how many story lines follow that pattern, people keep watching them.

This isn’t new. Every good little Jewish girl and boy knew how the story went. The Hebrew army, against incredible odds, pulls off an amazing victory against a godless nation. In recognition that God has given the victory, the commander—often a king—leads the victorious army into Jerusalem and, riding upon his mighty war stallion, is met with adoring crowds who throw their coats onto the road ahead of him and shout “All hail the king! Thanks be to God for this great ruler!”

Then the victorious king rides directly to the temple and offers sacrifices of thanks to the faithful God who has, once again, shown the might of his arm and saved the good people of God from defeat! Just read 1 and 2 Maccabees in the Apocrypha and various parts of the Hebrew scriptures to hear it for yourself.

It was a familiar formula. And it taught kids a lesson: God is mightier than our enemies and stronger than other gods. And as long as you are faithful to this God you too can be granted mighty victories.

Don’t we still kind of like the formula for that story and expect life to work that way? As long as we love God and confess Jesus, we are supposed to be granted victories in health, in wealth, in power. There are preachers on TV who swear by this. And they attempt to prove it with huge houses and luxurious cars. If you give them money—because you love God, of course—you can receive these same rewards. A mighty victory for the faithful!

Unfortunately, there’s Jesus. Including Palm Sunday. The way gospel-writer Mark tells it, this same beloved formula is followed, but opposite. Jesus is really kind of making fun of it here. It’s satire. Instead of a mighty military victory over godless foes, Jesus has been merciful to beggars, the sick, the demon-possessed, and the blind.

Instead of coming into Jerusalem on a mighty war stallion, Jesus comes in on a young donkey. Greeted with shouts reminiscent of hailing a mighty and victorious king, here the poor cut branches from the fields in the countryside to throw down before him. And instead of offering a sacrifice of thanks in the temple to the God of might, Jesus, kind of irreverently, walks into the temple, looks around, and leaves.

A familiar formula, but a completely different message. The kingdom of God isn’t like that. It isn’t about might and strength and power and victory in war. No, God’s reign is pretty much the opposite of that. It’s about humility and generosity and compassion and mercy. Rather than overcoming enemies, Jesus loves them. Rather than intimidating your foes, Jesus forgives them. Rather than being more righteous than those who believe differently, Jesus cares for them. Rather than putting sinners to death, Jesus dies standing up for them.

Make no mistake, Jesus shows us on Palm Sunday, these two kingdoms are not the same. These two world views are not complementary. They are opposites. One based on overpowering, intimidating, ruthlessly beating your opponents. The other based on mercy, compassion, even loving those who oppose you. As we will find out a week from now, one of these ways leads to death, the other overcomes it.

This is all well and good, and certainly fascinating! But as Christ’s church, the body of Christ, it’s more than that. The kingdom that Jesus reveals so clearly on Palm Sunday is the way of Christ. To follow Jesus includes embracing what he shows us about God’s way. A show of force and intimidating power only leads to death. It opposes God’s way. Jesus mocks it, ridicules these displays of strength.

To the very end, Jesus stands firm in forgiveness, grace, compassion, humility as the way that overcomes death. It is love that leads to life, and Jesus stakes everything on that.

To the very end, Jesus brushes aside our versions of power. Even though that power put him to death, he faced it with forgiveness and compassion, and he was vindicated on the third day.

The worst that our world’s power could throw at him, execution and death, was not enough to overcome the power of love and mercy. It is what Jesus shows us on Palm Sunday and the week following. It is the way of life.

How do we, as a congregation bearing Christ’s name, deal with our world’s versions of power which leads to death? It’s tempting to buy into it, to trust the might, the show of force, the power. It’s easier to follow the old formula of God’s might overcoming evil. But as Jesus shows us, it is God’s grace that does that. It is God’s love that saves us. It is God’s mercy that gives us life. And the power of this world can never touch that. We follow Jesus into compassion, mercy, and love. Because that is the reign of God, it is what Jesus shows us on Palm Sunday, and it is the way to life.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Now is the Time (February 18, 2018)

Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

I love the gospel of Mark. The author writes in a fast-paced style, leaving out things that aren’t necessary to his/her main point, with a literary style that ties everything together. The author pulls the reader into the story and continues to make us part of it. We are included as participants all through this gospel.

The first Sunday in Lent is always Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, but Mark’s gospel cuts to the chase. The temptation is two verses, no fluff, “And the Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”

That’s it. No description of the temptations. No conversation with the tempter. Not even a mention of whether or not he actually resisted the temptations (though we have to think he probably did). Sparse. Few details. Spirit drove him, 40 days, tempted, wild beasts, angels. That’s it. Then he starts his ministry with another two verses, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” Again, not a lot of fanfare.

Now, I guess we could compare Mark’s version to Matthew and Luke, then fill in some of Mark’s missing details from there. Because the other gospels include what the specific temptations were—there were three, apparently. They also have Jesus outwitting the devil with his vast knowledge of scripture and divine wisdom. We could spend our time doing that, emphasizing what isn’t in Mark. But then we miss out on what the author of Mark actually does do in this temptation text.

You see, Mark doesn’t care how many temptations there were or how Jesus overcame them. For Mark, the Reign of God begins today. Get on board, because now is the time. God’s reign has come, and nothing will be the same. It’s like an old B Western. “There’s a new sheriff in town. Things are gonna be differ’nt. You better get used to it.”

OK, bad metaphor. But in Mark, Jesus brings this sense of urgency, that time for opposition to God is up, that God’s reign of peace and compassion and justice have truly arrived and will be taking over.

And Mark has this way of inviting us to be part of that narrative. If Jesus is the one in whom all this comes, then now is the time to get on board. The time is fulfilled, Mark writes. The time is now.

So Mark only includes elements of the temptation that make those points. Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Spirit. The implication and vocabulary implies that Jesus is possessed by the Holy Spirit. This is entirely God’s doing.

Cast out into the wilderness, Jesus confronts Satan, the personification of all things opposed to God. Get used to it, Satan, your 15 minutes of fame are up. And now is the time.

Jesus is with the wild animals, where he’s vulnerable. But nothing happens to him because this is a new day. In the reign of God those who are powerless will be vulnerable no longer. And now is the time.

John is arrested, Mark includes that. John’s ministry was the one that was calling for God’s justice. Now that ministry has been stopped by those threatened by it. Immediately, then, Jesus begins to proclaim that God’s justice has arrived. Those who been able to silence the voice of God’s justice are now done. And now is the time.

The author of Mark proclaims this as real, and present here and now.

And that’s where he/she invites us into the story. The time is fulfilled. These things are happening today. Jesus brings all that God envisions, and we are called to be part of it.

Mark would have us ask, where is Satan today? Think a minute and ask, “What are the forces, the powers, the institutions that are opposed to God today?” Mark invites us to confront them with Jesus, let them know their 15 minutes are up. God’s peace and compassion are going to be lived in this world—right now. By us.

Mark would have us ask, what are the wild beasts today? Think a minute and ask, “Who is preying on the poor, the weak, the vulnerable today?” Mark invites us to stand up to them with Jesus because in the reign of God those who are powerless will be vulnerable no longer.

Mark would have us ask, How is John the Baptist arrested today? Think a minute and ask, “What voices for God’s justice and peace are being silenced today?” Mark invites us to take up that cause and, with Jesus, proclaim God’s justice for all people. Those who silence the voice of God’s justice are now done.

The time is now, Mark writes to us.

I’m well aware that there has already been yet another school shooting in 2018. 17 more children have been killed. The time is now, Mark writes to us.

There is a war on the vulnerable poor right now. A budget proposal for 2019 includes drastic cuts to food stamps, grants for education, healthcare supplements for the poor, housing subsidies for the poor, among others. The time is now, Mark writes to us. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2018 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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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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