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Quit Going to Church (April 6, 2014)

Acts 10:44-48; Acts 17:32-33

I’ve decided I’m going to quit going to church. Let me explain that:

If I “go” to church, that means church is a place separated from the rest of my life—contrary to God’s call in baptism.

If I “go” to church, that means I have activities that are part of God’s work and some that aren’t —contrary to God’s call in baptism.

If I “go” to church, that separates what happens inside this building from what happens outside–again, contrary to the life we’ve been called to in baptism.

Any time we separate church from other part of our lives, we’ve missed the point of church.

So, yes, I’m going to quit “going” to church; and instead, I’m going to recognize that I “am” church. Every day. In every situation. Anything that compartmentalizes faith, baptismal life, God, or church into some separate place or activities pulls me away from my life as church.

That’s the point Peter and Paul are making in these texts in Acts today. Peter in Acts 10 is among the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house. These are people who Peter had always been taught were separated from God, separated from righteousness, separated from belief. And yet, God was among them and including them.

Paul knew from his own experience that there is no separation between people that love God and people that God loves. So he’s revealing God’s creative and redeeming work to those who asked him about it in Athens. OK, they aren’t so receptive to it. Not the point. The point is that Paul knows they are loved by God and that Jesus embodies that love for them.

No, God’s love never separates us. God’s love unites us. As Peter and Paul both recognize, in God’s love the sacred is no longer separated from the secular; believers are no longer separated from non-believers; church life is no longer separated from Monday-Saturday life. God is the God of all of it, all of us. Jesus came among us to remove any separation between us and God, between us and each other. So the work of the church has to do the same thing – live beyond those things that we falsely believe separate us from one another.

If God loves in Christ is for all people, we now recognize Christ in others.

Therefore, If God loves in Christ is for all people, we acknowledge that we are united in Christ with others, whether they are Christian or not, believing or not.

There are lots of people we’ll come across this week. Most of them will never step foot inside this building. We are the body of Christ for them. God put us in their lives to show them what God’s love for them looks like, because they, too, are united by Christ into God’s love. God has sent us, the church, to them to reveal that Christ has removed all separations between us and them. We are all loved by God and forgiven in Christ, all of us the same.

The work of Jesus, lived out by Peter and Paul, is the removal of those things that separate us. That is our purpose in the world. Showing all people what God’s love for them looks like. Because the separations are gone. Christ died for all. To live as if we are more righteous, closer to heaven, or less in need of forgiveness is to stand against the mission of Jesus Christ. You are forgiven today through the cross of Jesus Christ. And so is your co-worker who will never step foot into a church building. We are united in our need of that forgiveness, and because of Jesus we are no longer separated because of it.

That is true as we live as church in the world. But it is also true as we live as church in this building. We have to admit that we live as if we were a separated congregation. The most recent manifestation of that in recent years is worship style and music. But those are just container for our idolatry. Many of us would rather reject the work of Christ, clinging to separated lives as a congregation than recognize we already are one in him.

And if you’re thinking, “I hope he says/said that at the other worship service,” I would say that that thinking is what we have to move past. Whenever we dwell on those things that we believe are more important than our unity in Christ, we are rejecting the work of Christ. All of us have been brought together in a common purpose. All of us are forgiven in Jesus’ name. All of us are loved desperately by a God of mercy. And all of us are called to live that each day as church. And whenever we live as if that isn’t the most important thing, we are in the way not only God’s mission, but the work of the very congregation we all so dearly love.

In Christ you are all deeply loved. In Christ you are thoroughly forgiven. In Jesus Christ you are one. And you are also church.

Let’s quit “going” to church. Instead, let’s simply “be” the church. Let’s remind each other that forgiveness and mercy and love that we receive in Christ are most important.  Let’s recognize that we are no longer separated from the world, and that new life without separations is practiced here among us. Because as we do it here, we also do it there. Because of Jesus, we are no longer separated from God, and we are no longer separated from one another.

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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Perspective and Action (March 23, 2014)

3rd Sunday of Lent

Acts 10:23-33; Acts 17:19-21

Do you remember the first time, as an adult, you went into an elementary school bathroom? When you were little, everything normal sized, but now everything is so small? When did the porcelain shrink? You gain a new perspective as an adult.

When I moved from Salt Lake City to St. Paul, MN, I was warned about the cold there. “I have a coat, ” I said. “How cold can it be?” I gained a new perspective very quickly.

When my children were small, I’d talk with parents of teenagers and think, “Just tell them what they should do. Reward them if they do it, and punish them if they don’t. How hard can that be?” Then my kids became teenagers. Teenagers are wonderful, just not the same as young kids. It’s an experience that will gain you a new perspective.

There are experiences that simply change our perspective. And when our perspective changes, we do things differently.

Peter in Acts 10 understood God’s love and God’s law. He knew who was in and who was out. It made sense. And then this whole thing sheet thing happened with clean and unclean animals and God telling him that profane and holy aren’t as clear-cut as he thought. It was an experience that changed his perspective. And with a new perspective that God loves people who shouldn’t be loved, he is doing things differently.

So when three men sent by the Roman centurion Cornelius (obviously not a Jew) come to him, he goes to Joppa with them “without objection.” Only after he gets to Cornelius’ house does he ask, “Why did you send for me?”

The Athenians in Acts 17 recognize that what Paul is teaching is new. They don’t have a frame of reference for this information about someone named Jesus being raised from the dead. So wanting a new perspective, they ask to know more.

There are experiences that simply change our perspective. And when our perspective changes, we do things differently.

So, I’m wondering what new perspectives have we gained from God? As a result of an spiritual experience, how do we do something differently? What has God shown us that would cause us to “get and go without objection?”

Let me give you some examples:

As a result of spending time with these chapters in Acts as well as some others, passages like “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean,” my perspective on our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers changed. Those who God has made clean I can’t call unclean. My perspective on immigration was clarified so that it doesn’t matter to me whether someone has proper documentation or not. These are just more people that God loves and should be treated exactly that way.

As  result of new perspectives, I do things differently surrounding those two issues, and many others. When God shows us something that changes our perspective, we do things differently.

One more perspective that may be changing as a result of an experience with God. What if holy communion wasn’t for the baptized, but was the responsibility of  the baptized to provide it to the world? If we trust Jesus comes to us in bread and wine, bringing forgiveness and life, why aren’t we taking this meal, as a church, to the park, the shopping center, the coffee shop?

And what about LCM? How has our congregational perspective been changed by an encounter with God that has caused us to do things differently?

I believe God is speaking to us, showing us that God is active in our neighborhood outside the church building. And that we are most fully the church not when we’re in here, but when we’re out there–with God. That’s why we have embraced ministries like Hope, Green Mountain Elementary Homework Helpers, Abrazos a Molholm. That’s why we have so many people from here who are joining God at The Action Center, with Habitat for Humanity, and all the others that we’ll be able to see and celebrate on April 27th right here on our Celebration Sunday.

God shows us God’s work, and our perspective changes. And we end up considering possibilities like mentoring Green Mountain and Bear Creek High School students in career possibilities.

Peter’s perspective was changed by a vision from God. As a result, a Gentile and his household were baptized into Christ.

God comes to you now in love, grace, mercy, forgiveness. Let that sink in. As forgiven people, experiencing unconditional love, how might you see the world differently? With these new eyes touched by grace, new ears touched by forgiveness, a new perspective from God, how will you do things differently now?

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Fear, Trust, and Response (4 Pentecost B)

4th Sunday After Pentecost (B)

Job 38:1-11; 2 Cor 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

What are you afraid of? Really afraid of? What makes that panicky feeling rise up inside you to where you aren’t sure you can fully control your response? Spiders, snakes? Heights, close spaces? You won’t measure up, aren’t good enough? Failure, death?

Regardless of what terrifies us, our fears are real and our response to fear is powerful. When you are beginning to panic, your response to your situation is entirely different than when you are calm and rational.

Jesus’ disciples are panicking. They don’t think about the fact that they really are being rather rude. They don’t think about the fact that this is Jesus in the boat with them—the man who casts our demons and heals sick people. The strength of this storm is so violent that these professional fishermen, who spend their life on this sea, are terrified because they are beginning to drown right now. They are staring death in the eye, and the darkness and chaos of the sea are about to engulf them and take them down under the waves forever.

Sometimes you can’t control what you’re afraid of. When you are experiencing fear, you are experiencing fear. So I think we can cut the disciples a little bit of slack here. I mean, I saw George Clooney in “The Perfect Storm.” I think they probably have reason to be terrified.

We can’t always control those things that terrify us. We don’t have the capability of keeping every situation in our world calm and smooth. Sometimes the chaos comes. Sometimes our lives are out of our control. Sometimes we are just afraid. That is something we cannot control.

But we don’t have to respond out of our fear.

These disciples are terrified, and with good reason. But their response to the storm and the waves comes from their fear. “Don’t you care that we’re perishing?” they cry out. It’s a cry of fear, of terror. And they expect Jesus to be terrified with them. “We’re dying! Didn’t you notice? Don’t you care?” They are panicking, losing control. Their fear is dictating their words and their actions.

But it doesn’t have to be so. Jesus is in the boat with them. Their fear is stronger than their trust in him right now. The presence of the storm is more significant to them than the presence of Christ. Their response shows it.

Now Jesus stills the storm anyway. He commands the sea to be still; he rebukes the wind into calm. Immediately the storm is over and the sea gentle. Whether the disciples trusted him in this situation or not doesn’t seem to matter. Jesus is present and takes care of the situation, regardless of how the disciples panic, regardless of their lack of faith, regardless of the fact that they are more afraid of the storm than they are the one who has power over the storm. Jesus is there. He can always calm the waves.

Do you think the disciples’ response would have been different if they trusted Jesus regardless of their fear? The storm would have been the same, they’d still be in the middle of the waves and the wind. They’d still be terrified. The presence of Jesus would have been the same. The outcome would probably have been the same. But what could the disciples’ response to their fear of the storm have been?

Not that trusting Jesus means avoiding storms—absolutely not! Jesus is the one who had them get into the boat to go across to the other side of the sea. He led them into the terror of the storm! Following Jesus may lead us right into chaos and fear! But he goes with us. Trusting that he goes with us can make all the difference.

Since the storms and our fear are out of our control, perhaps our response when terrified might make a difference as to how we handle our fear. When we do face the waves that threaten to drown us, the wind that capsizes us, the fear that paralyses us, what difference might it make to trust in the presence of Jesus in the midst of that storm? How could trusting Jesus change how we approach those things that terrify us? How might our response be different?

Instead of a fearful “God, I’m dying. Don’t you care?” what might be a more trusting response? Not to get Jesus to do what they want, but an expression of their trust in the presence of Jesus in the midst of the waves and the wind and the fear. What would have been better for the disciples to shout? Really. What would have been a response coming from trust rather than from fear? . . .

Think of one for yourself. Say it to yourself. Say it again. Write it down. Say it over and over.

This is your storm prayer. This is your wind and waves prayer. This is what you can now pray when you’re frightened. This is your trusting response.

Everyone’s is going to be a little different, but everyone say their trusting response at the same time. Ready? Together!

Again!

Keep this prayer with you. Every time the waves come, pray it! Jesus is with you in the boat, now we can respond that way. What are you afraid of? Really afraid of? What makes that panicky feeling rise up inside you to where you aren’t sure you can fully control your response? Fear may be there, and the storms and the wind and the waves. But so is Jesus. Now we can respond to him when we’re afraid.

When we pray the prayers of the people later in the service, everyone use this as your response to each prayer petition.

Lord, in your mercy. . .

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2012 in Sermon

 

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