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“Sparkly Things in the Sky” (September 15, 2019)

Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

I have a great nephew who developed cataracts as a little tiny kid. When he was five or six, he had surgery to remove them. After some healing time, he was outside with his parents as the sun set. When it got dark, he looked up at the sky and said, “What are all those sparkly things in the sky?” He had never seen stars before. Suddenly, he was looking at the world in a completely new way. Keep that in mind, because we’ll come back to that.

In this text there are some themes and parallels. Two parables include “lost, found, and rejoicing.” Jesus connects this to repentance:

Lost            =          Needing repentance

Found         =          Connected to repentance

Rejoicing    =          Result of repentance

Repentance seems to be a pretty central idea in these parables. So it would be worth figuring out exactly what is meant here by “repentance” instead of just assuming we know. Because I think you may be surprised.

The word “repentance” in Greek is actually a combination of two words. The first means with, together, or toward. So there’s movement involved. The second word means intellect, understanding, heart, purpose. So that has to do with the core of who you are and how you interpret the world. Combine these two words and you get something like changing the way you think about the world. And when you put that in the context of Jesus talking about God, repentance really means our thinking moving toward alignment with God’s thinking. Our view of the world moving toward God’s view of the world. Notice there really isn’t anything in there about feeling sorry for your sins and promising to do better. Biblical repentance, at least the way Luke records it coming out of Jesus’ mouth here, might include acknowledging sins and maybe even feeling bad. But more basically it has to do with seeing the world differently, more like God sees it. Having a heart that more closely resembles God’s heart. Living with a purpose that is moving toward God’s purpose.

With that understanding of repentance, can you think of a biblical example of someone who repents—whose worldview is changed because they are now seeing more with God’s eyes than they did before? Moses, Jonah, Zacchaeus, the Apostles after Pentecost, Saul/Paul, etc.

Now look back at these two parables. The lost sheep and the lost coin are found, and there is rejoicing and celebrating about that. Jesus compares that lost/found/celebration to a sinner who repents. There’s rejoicing over that. Celebration because of someone whose vision, whose purpose, wasn’t in keeping with God’s vision and purpose before, but now it is.

By the way, the word used for “sinner” here means someone who has deviated from the path. So a sinner who repents is someone who is off God’s way of thinking and has been brought back to God’s way of thinking. Jesus says that this is what God celebrates. Seeing the poor the way God sees them. Feeling about the vulnerable the way God feels about them. Including people the way God includes people.

That’s our journey as people who follow the risen Christ. It’s this being changed, this being moved closer to God’s worldview. It’s this being brought into closer alignment with God’s purposes in the world. It’s having our hearts being brought closer to God’s heart.

So what repentance really means is openness to being changed by God. Openness to seeing the world differently. Openness to having the cataracts removed and seeing the stars for the first time. Openness to grabbing hold of God’s vision in new ways.

Some of you are feeling that now. A little bit of “ahh-h-h!” because there’s a shift here that’s almost tangible. God is moving us still closer to God’s own heart. That is what’s happening in this congregation right now! Repentance in this biblical, Jesus-speak, sort of way. Let me tell you what I believe this means for us.

Jesus talks in these parables about having 100 sheep and 10 coins and losing one, and then searching to find that one until it is found. Seeking that one is the heart of God. God calls us to join God in seeking that one, finding that one, showing them the heart, the vision, the newness of God present right in front of their eyes.

100 sheep and one is lost. 10 coins and one is lost. Church membership across the country is declining. In Denver metro, it’s about 10%. Though that’s not the same thing as being lost, it does mean something.  Generally, there is a declining percentage of people who are not even aware of God’s vision and heart and compassion. So they would be much less willing to be changed and be moved toward that. They can’t see the stars because they don’t even know they’re there. Lost people.

Yet, almost every church is competing for that 10% that are already open to church. Repentance, our hearts aligning with God’s heart, means we search for those that God is searching for. We see the 90% as God sees them. As people don’t recognize God’s love present in their lives and who don’t realize they can be transformed by that. As people who don’t see the value of forgiveness and compassion. As people whose purpose in life doesn’t have much to do with God’s purpose of living in peace, unlimited compassion, unconditional love, unmerited mercy.

It’s like 90% of the people around us don’t even know they can’t see the stars. Our future as church lies in finding them, showing love and compassion and mercy to them, and sharing the wonder of the stars they’ve been missing. They’ll never see the world in the same way again. That is God’s heart and God’s vision. That’s who we are called to seek and to find. Being moved to that is what repentance means. That is what’s happening among us now. We see the stars. Our future lies in finding those who can’t.

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Posted by on September 13, 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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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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Getting off our track to get on God’s (December 4, 2016)

Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ” 4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

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.

In Advent, we as the church take time to ponder what God is about to do to make the world new. We get ready to join God in whatever that is. We know that God has already come into the world in the person of Jesus, and even as we prepare to celebrate his birth at Christmas, we also prepare to join whatever it is that God is getting ready to do now.

We know that whatever God does it will definitely involve the things of God: love and grace and peace and compassion. It will also involve people revealing those aspects of God in the world as they commit to living in love and grace and peace and compassion. This is Advent—watching for God and preparing to join God in the world.

John the Baptist is truly the prototypical Advent character. His whole message is exactly what Advent is all about. Get ready, he says. Watch, he cries out. God is doing something big, here, he says. You need to get on board with this. It’s major. This is the stuff that the prophet Isaiah talked about centuries ago, he tells people. It’s starting to happen now.

And John has arepentance word that he uses to describe all this getting ready, preparation, joining with God, getting on board stuff. That word is “repent.”

We’ve always assumed that word means feeling sorry for your sins and promising never do them again. It kind of does include that, but it actually takes a little different turn than that—at least as John the Baptist uses the word. “Repent” is John’s big word, and he uses it in a bold and all-encompassing way. When John tells people to “repent,” he means more than feeling bad, but actually letting go of something in order to grab hold of something else. It’s a major change, To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.

Since God is about to turn the world upside down, John tells us, and everything will be different. It’s imperative that we drop those things that have worked for us in the world and embrace what God is doing now. Do it now, for your own sakes, and for the sake of the world. If you aren’t clinging to God’s activity, you’re clinging to the wrong thing. Period. It’s that simple for John. To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.

Repent, Pharisees. Let go of any notion that God owes you something because of your obedience to religious law. In God’s coming reign, everyone is loved equally regardless of their morality, their effort, or their own righteousness. Everyone will be treated with equal—and absolute—grace. Grab hold of this way that God is working. Make it part of your life. To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.

Repent, Sadducees. Abandon the idea that you are righteous because of your parents or your ancestry or the faith in which you were raised. Just stop. Because God’s compassion will be shown to those with devout faith just as much as to those with weak. God’s will is for all people to live in peace, without fear. So judging others based on your standards means you’re traveling down a road to destruction. God’s love and grace are entering the world and are about to roll over you like a locomotive. And as of now, you’re on the wrong track. To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.

The Advent message of John the Baptist still needs to be heard by us in our world. The character of God is often on a different track than the one we’re traveling on. We’re often looking to get ahead, while God is looking for others to catch up. We’re looking to prove ourselves right, while God is looking to prove that others are loved. We’re looking to protect ourselves from enemies with force if necessary, while God is looking to include those enemies in God’s reign.

And John the Baptist’s cry to us is that we’ve got to abandon the track we’re on and switch over to the track on which God is traveling. Because these two different tracks go to two very different places. To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.

It’s no longer enough to sit quietly in our church chairs on a Sunday and think that believing in God is all God wants of us. In the reign of God that John the Baptist calls out, love, care, compassion, grace, generosity aren’t quiet, and certainly not private. Advent calls us to let go of being irritated by xenophobia, and lovingly stand up for immigrants.

Advent calls us to abandon the thought that taking advantage of the poor as distasteful, and graciously stand up for those who are economically challenged.

Advent calls us to get off the track of being annoyed by homophobia or persecution of Muslims or sexism, and desperately cling to God’s track of actively loving our neighbors, in a way that they actually know it.

That’s John’s call to repentance. To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.

So here’s one small way I’m repenting this Advent. One way I’m changing tracks. Here’s what I’m planning to do to reveal God present in the world. Anything I post on social media, at least during Advent, will only reveal the things of God: love, compassion, inclusion, peace. I will be trying to abandon anything that isn’t revealing God and only recognize Jesus, the presence of God.

I’ll be letting go of my agenda so that I can grab hold of God’s. Getting off my track so I can get on God’s track. Check in with me on Facebook, and see how I’m doing. If you’re on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, or whatever, I invite you to join me. Maybe even consider your own version of repentance as well. The coming of Christ changes everything. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Admitting There’s Room for Growth (Ash Wednesday, 2/10/16)

ash-wednesdayAsh Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. . . . 16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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.

We talk a good talk as Christians. We confess our faith, we believe in God, we come to church, we pray for things. Does our belief in Jesus actually reveal itself in ways that look compassionate and merciful? Are our lives different as our relationship with God grows? Is God’s vision of compassion and love in the world more realized by us than it was a year ago?

In other words, are we actually growing in our discipleship? Are we discovering more about Jesus and God’s vision for the world? Have there been any changes in our lives, our attitudes, our activities to reflect that growth?

Today, Ash Wednesday, we have the opportunity to begin a deliberate journey of growth in our faith and our discipleship. Today, Ash Wednesday, we will be marked with the sign of the cross in ashes on our foreheads. A sign of our commitment to change, to grow, to more fully join the journey. In other words, a sign of repentance.

This is more than just being sorry for our sins so God will love us and we can go to heaven when we die. No, repentance literally means “to change direction.” Repentance is actually more about changing our minds, changing our lives, changing our direction as people committed to God’s ways revealed in Christ.

The gospel text makes clear to us that we don’t show this sign of repentance—of change—to impress anyone. We don’t wear this ashen cross proudly, but in honest humility. This is a sign to ourselves, to one another, and to the world that LCM is committing ourselves to God’s compassion and justice in the world. So much so that we are willing to begin a journey of change in our our lives in order to follow Jesus more closely.

Jesus was so committed to God’s vision of life and peace that he was willing to be killed for it. Just as the cross is a symbol of that commitment by Jesus to love and mercy and grace, the crosses on our foreheads are a symbol of our commitment to that same vision for the world.

So our first step in this Lenten journey tonight centers on the real, biblical meaning of repentance. That first step is committing to a change in our lives. This is repentance, a willingness to change and to grow.

We enter into Lent tonight. A journey of the cross. A time to deliberately grow in our discipleship. And we begin by using language and symbols of repentance. We begin with a commitment to change.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Taking Advent Seriously (Mark 1:1-8)

John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance.
• Repentance = ??  Turning around, changing direction, thinking differently. In other words, change from one way to another way. In this case, from sinfulness to the way of God.
John is dressed in camel’s hair with a leather belt, eating locusts and wild honey.
• Why in the world does Mark take the time to describe John’s dress-code and eating habits? He’s described this way not to question his sanity, but to connect him to the Old Testament prophets–who called people to do much the same thing.
The difference is that Jesus, who will show us God’s way, is right there behind him, waiting in line for this baptism. Rather than just tell people what God’s way is, rather than just warn them to follow it, John points to Jesus, who brings God’s way right into our midst. In Jesus, we know most fully what God’s way is, what God’s intentions are, what followers of Jesus are made to be and to do.

2nd Week of Advent:
Review of last week–huge gap between what the world is like now and what God’s final vision is. There is suffering, pain, unfairness, selfishness, violence, and mourning today. The promise from God is that on the last day that will be no more. Moving toward that day is God’s path. That is what Jesus comes to bring among us. That’s what God created the church for: to make clear to the world by our presence that Jesus brings God’s way of peace, forgiveness, love, and mercy right into the midst of a suffering and dark world. God’s grace and hope come into the midst of our own pain.

Repentance:
Since it means turning from sinfulness to God, as John prescribes, that means turning from things that are not part of God’s mission to things that are part of God’s mission. We’re not talking about a moral imperative to say you’re sorry. Mark’s gospel talks about repentance meaning things like turning from self-centeredness to mercy toward others.
What else might turning from our paths to God’s path look like?
• From hoarding money to generosity.
• From resentment to forgiveness.
• From violence to peace.
• From asking “what’s in it for me?” to “how can I show love to you?”

Advent:
Advent is the season to prepare the way of the Lord. John’s call in this gospel is to do that by repenting, by turning from our own paths to God’s path, shown to us in Jesus. We prepare for God’s presence by being part of God’s way, God’s path, God’s mission. That’s what Jesus does. That’s who Jesus is. That’s why Jesus comes: to bring God’s presence and hope and direction and mission—God’s straight path—into our world. Into us. That’s what our baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is about: God brings that path of love, peace, generosity, compassion into us, and invites us and empowers us to be on that path.
What do you think about taking that part of Advent seriously? How about we use this season for repentance? Why don’t we figure out one or two ways that our own attitudes and preferences are off God’s path of compassion, generosity, and forgiveness?  Use the colored sheets in the chair pockets for our repentance. On one side, list a couple of ways you are off God’s path. On the other side, list what you’ll do instead, ways that make God’s path straight.
Then, all during Advent, let’s commit to turning those ways back to God’s path. Together, let’s spend Advent preparing the way of the Lord, making God’s path straight! Let’s see how that changes the way we celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Ash Wednesday: Tangible, Real, Visible Discipleship

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ash Wednesday—official beginning of Lent. Season of deliberation, repentance, deepening discipleship. This is a season when we focus very intentionally on our spiritual lives, spiritual disciplines, our relationship with God. Sometimes that means we need to put aside other things during Lent in order to focus on this aspect of our lives.

We talk a good talk as Christians. We confess our faith, we believe in God, we come to church, we might even tell people we are Christians. But does that discipleship cause us to do anything that’s actually different? Does our belief in Jesus actually reveal itself in tangible ways?

Actually, it does. But we can become complacent about it. So it seems the question this year would be: Are our lives different this year as our relationship with God grows? Are the lives of the people around us different this year as our faith deepens? Are we able to share God’s story of love and grace and forgiveness more boldly this year? Are we more clearly seeing God’s story as our own? Are we recognizing God’s story intersecting with the life-story of the people in our neighborhoods?

Today, Ash Wednesday, we have the opportunity to express our faith, our trust, our repentance, our commitment in a different kind of way. Today, Ash Wednesday, we will be marked with the sign of the cross in a way that can be seen by everyone. With ashes.

Ashes were a Hebrew sign of repentance and cleansing. The cross is a sign of God entering our world, our very lives, in Christ. We will look at one another and see, with clarity, the reality of our faith and our commitment to Jesus as his disciples in the world.

The gospel text reminds us that we don’t do this for show. It’s not to impress anyone. But it is a tangible expression, a physical reminder, a different way of declaring the source of our life, our breath, our forgiveness, our salvation. We don’t wear this mark proudly, but in honest humility. We are dust, God is our life. Jesus entered into our world, into our life, even into our death on the cross. Because of him we are different than we were before. The difference in our life is real, tangible, evident. We will respond to Jesus tonight in a real, tangible, evident way. We wear God’s story on our foreheads. God’s story of forgiveness and life touches us even in the dirt and grime and ashes of our lives.

The ashes are real. God’s story is real. The cross is real. So our story in this Lenten journey is just as real because God’s promise of forgiveness and life are the most real of all. The cross of Jesus makes a tangible difference in the world. May these crosses on our foreheads remind us to recognize God’s story in our own life story and be part of that story in the world too.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2014 in Sermon

 

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