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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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Signs of Light (Advent 4)

4 ADVENT – A
Isaiah 7:10-16

Just a quick check-in on the context of this part of Isaiah. Sitting in the capital city of Jerusalem, Ahaz, the King of Judah, has just found out that two of his enemies have formed an alliance in order to destroy him.
God tells Isaiah the prophet to go talk to the king and give him a message from God to reassure him. Stay faithful, trust God, and all will be well. Ahaz isn’t so sure, so in our text this morning, God speaks to Ahaz and tells the king ask for any sign that would convince him of God’s presence and faithfulness. Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign.
So, what do you think? Is it a good idea or a bad one that the King of Judah, Ahaz, refuses a sign from God? On the one hand, Jesus himself says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” On the other hand, God is the one making the offer. . .

What would you do? . . .

What would be a legitimate sign from God for you? . . .

In Isaiah 7, the sign given to Ahaz (even though he says he doesn’t want one) is that a young woman will get pregnant. That doesn’t seem to be very strong; we’re talking about invading armies forming coalitions against Jerusalem, and the sign not to worry is a young woman getting pregnant? Really?

There’s a little more to it: the baby she’ll give birth to will be a boy, and she’ll name him “Immanuel,” or, God with us. And by the time he’s eating solid food, these two kings won’t be a threat any more.

Now, what do you do with that?

Would that be sufficient for you?

Should he trust that this is a sign from God, or shouldn’t he?

In the gospel of Matthew this text is re-translated to talk about the birth of Jesus as the sign of God’s presence and faithfulness. In that gospel no one believes it except Mary, Joseph, and three foreign atheists.

The signs given here seem to be things most people wouldn’t consider to be signs. Easily overlooked. Almost normal if you didn’t know better. A young woman is pregnant, gives birth to a boy, names him, and within a couple of years he’s eating solid food.

And yet, we take it as a sign. Through this we trust that God is present in the world. God is faithful – not only to Ahaz, but even to us. And more than that, our purpose now is to BE signs of God’s presence for the rest of the world.

I think we spend too much time trying to convince people about the signs of God’s presence instead of being signs of God’s presence.

What we know from this text in Isaiah, and in Matthew’s interpretation of it, is that signs of God’s presence aren’t necessarily neon signs in the sky. They’re not always big and grand and convincing. They can just as easily –and much more frequently – be simple, normal, overlooked – but still visible.

When you volunteer at The Action Center or are involved in a build for Habitat for Humanity, you’re a sign of God’s presence.

When you donate money to World Hunger, bring food for Molholm Elementary, drop off toys for the Christmas Cheer project, you’re a sign of God’s presence.

When you are kind to someone who doesn’t deserve it, when you show compassion to someone who may take advantage of it, you’re a sign of God’s presence.

When you write your congressperson to support legislation benefiting the poor, you’re a sign of God’s presence.

When you trust the gift of forgiveness you’ve received enough to give it away, you’re a sign of God’s presence.

When you combine our small, what sometimes feels like insignificant signs, it becomes a beacon of light for the world. God is here. You are loved. You do matter. There is hope.

God is present. God is faithful. We are now among the Advent signs for the world.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Signs of a New Reality (2 Epiphany C)

2nd Sunday of Epiphany

Isaiah 62:1-5; John 2:1-11

Signs are an important part of our culture. They tell us all kinds of things. Take a look at these signs, and think about what each of them means.

Start PowerPoint slides “signs.” They’ll advance on their own.

The purpose of a sign is to make you aware of a reality you may not otherwise know: sharp curve, wildlife that may jump in front of your car, train coming, where the airport is compared to where you are, etc.

LCM Building. Leave on screen.

Once you understand the reality a sign is revealing, you usually don’t pay attention to the sign. If a sign draws attention to just itself, it has not fulfilled its purpose. A sign always points to something else.

Notice that John deliberately refers to Jesus changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana as “a sign.” It points to something else, a reality that those present may not otherwise be aware of. The point of this sign wasn’t the miracle itself, it revealed something else entirely. Be thinking about what that is.

The steward totally missed the sign. After tasting the wine, he went to the bridegroom and made an assumption based on what he already knew. Different wine, good wine; obviously it must have been stashed away by the groom until now. Nothing  new, nothing different. Because he doesn’t recognize the sign, he doesn’t get what the sign is pointing out.

Who knows what the other guests thought. But this sign revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him. Every time John writes of “signs” (17 times), it always has to do with the reign of God breaking into the world, present in Jesus. God has come to do something new and different. Not just change water into wine, not just heal the sick and cast out demons; but in Christ, God comes to make the world new. The sign points to a new reality. Sin and evil and death will no longer have the last word. They no longer reign supreme. God is doing something new. And it is happening in the person of Jesus.

This sign at the wedding of Cana points to God’s presence in the world in a new way; a reality that this broken world can’t contain and can’t explain.

This sign points to a new and present reality that turns our normal world upside down – a new reality where death leads to life, where forgiveness is a done deal, where the meek inherit the earth, where enemies are loved. How often do we miss the signs that reveal these new things God is doing, the overcoming of our brokenness and the brokenness of the world? God is forgiving and showing mercy all around us, but because we don’t always see the signs, we don’t always see it.

There are signs pointing to God’s new reality right here in front of us, around us right now: the Word of God read and proclaimed, Jesus’ presence in bread and wine, a community of people created in his name. Every time you show mercy, it is a sign of God’s new reign. Every time you give away money or material things to the point that it actually affects your lifestyle, God’s new reign is shown. Every time the words “I forgive you” are experienced, it is a sign of God’s presence in the world.

If that’s not amazing enough, think about this: most of our neighbors don’t see the signs so aren’t looking for it. They don’t know about the power and depth of forgiveness and love. They’re missing out on God’s new reality because like the steward, they don’t know they are seeing signs.

So God has planted this community of faith right in their midst. We are the sign for them. You point to a new reality that your neighbors may not otherwise see. You reveal God’s forgiveness in ways that are so startling that it demands attention; you make known God’s love to those who have simply missed the signs; you expose God’s peace amongst those who hate you; you show mercy where the stewards of the world never expect it. Want a sign? You are giving away more of your money, more of your time, more of your resources than you ever have before.

You are a sign of the presence of God’s new reality. You are revealing to your neighbors something other than the normal self-serving existence. Some will see the sign revealing Christ’s glory and believe in him. Some will see and experience the love that you point toward, the forgiveness you reveal.

God provides signs for us, and sends us as signs to those around us. This is a new reality. God is doing something new. And it is happening in the person of Jesus. May we be looking for the signs. May we be signs that are impossible to miss.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Sermon

 

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