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Prayer, Shoes, and Humiliation (July 28, 2019)

Luke 11:1-13

[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

When I was a much younger pastor, I knew I didn’t have a lot of experience. So like a lot of young professionals, I tried to cover it up with presenting a sense of confidence. Totally false, but I thought this façade of wisdom and knowledge made me more credible. Even though it didn’t take much to break through the thin veneer of pretending to know what I was doing.

The church I was serving at the time had just completed a successful capital campaign and a building project, so I was feeling pretty arrogant. As a result, I had managed to coerce the members of a synod committee I served on to meet in my new church building. You know, show off a little. “Oh, this little thing? Why, yes, it is new. Yeah, we just doubled our square footage. No big deal.” I especially wanted the person from the bishop’s staff who was on this committee to be impressed. Not with the building and the new ministry plans that motivated my congregation, but with me.

So the day of the meeting, I dressed in my most impressive clerical collar and suit, and put on the shoes I had so carefully shined the night before. I opened up the new part of church building, made the coffee, and set up the tables and chairs just right. I’m competent, right? I was the picture of an experienced, wise, capable pastor. Certainly the assistant to the bishop would be impressed.

The members of the committee began to arrive, including the person from the bishop’s office. They were gracious in allowing me to show them through the new part of the building, and they oooh’d and aww’d appropriately. I noticed, however, that the assistant to the bishop and most of the rest of them kept looking down—like toward the ground, and many of them were smiling, especially the assistant to the bishop.

I took a little longer impressing them with my new building than I should. And they kept smiling and looking toward the ground. Even after we moved to the new meeting room with the new chairs and the new table. Wow! I’m so impressive that they can’t help but smile.

In my memory, the meeting went well, but to be honest I can’t remember much. Because right at the end I happened to lean back and glance down at the floor and noticed that I was wearing two completely different shoes. Not even the same color. Totally different.

I had been strutting around showing off this building, trying to impress everyone with my professionalism, all the while looking like a two-year old who can’t dress himself. It was mortifying.

The bishop’s assistant and I actually became friends later on. He never said a word to me about that day. I loved him for that. Because I knew he didn’t judge me or think less of me because of it. He and I went on to do some really creative and fun ministry throughout that synod. I knew I could trust him with anything, because he met me in my humiliation and still saw me as valuable.

Who do you share your most humiliating moments with? Who do you trust with your embarrassment? Who are you confident won’t judge you, or think less of you, or ridicule you, but instead will stand with you, maybe enough just laugh with you?

That’s the relationship that’s being described in this text. A friend goes to another friend in the middle of the night and asks for three loaves of bread to feed an unexpected guest. You need to understand that hospitality to travelers was a big deal culturally. It was also required by Jewish law. So to be caught with nothing to serve a guest was desperately humiliating.

Yet the relationship with this neighbor was strong enough and trustworthy enough that he could go and ask, even if that means he reveals his humiliation. He could wake up this friend and beg for bread in the middle of the night because the relationship could endure that.

Do you have someone like that in your life? Someone you can go to when you’re in a tough spot? Someone who you can call in the night, knowing they’ll be there for you even if you wake them from a sound sleep? If so, think about them for a minute. Think about that relationship. Think about the trust that’s been built up. Think about how, even if you disappoint that person, they’ll still always be there for you.

Jesus doesn’t tell this parable to teach us about neighbors. Not this time. This isn’t a parable about what person you can trust, but about the God you can trust.

This parable is an explanation to the prayer he teaches his disciples. It’s not about the words so much as it is about knowing you can trust God with anything. Because God will always be there for you. There’s such a trusting relationship that you can begin by praying to God as a child would come to a loving parent. You can ask anything because God holds you so closely you can trust God with any request, even if you’re embarrassed to ask.

This God is always there for you. Just ask, and it you’ll receive. Just knock in the middle of the night and the door will open. God knows just what to give, just what you need. And is always there for you. Even if you ask for a snake, God knows you need a fish because it’s better. Even if you ask for a scorpion, God will give you an egg because it’s better. Just ask. God is that kind of God. Nothing can change the love God has for you.

That’s how Jesus explains prayer to these disciples. Prayer isn’t just a wish list of things you want, like writing a letter to Santa. Prayer is an expression of the relationship with God that Jesus opens up for us. A relationship of trust, where we don’t have to be embarrassed or worry if we’re doing something wrong. God is already more than willing to pour out the Holy Spirit on you. And is doing that even now. Even if you aren’t sure. Even if you think it’s too good to be true. Even if you’re wearing two different shoes.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Listen with Your Heart (April 17, 2016)

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.”

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by 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.

Have you ever heard any of these things said to you? Or thought them yourself? Have you heard these voices?

“You’ll never be good enough.”

“This is all your fault.”

“No one likes you anyway, and no one ever has.”

“You can’t be trusted.”

“You’re too incompetent.”

“You’ll never make it.”

“You don’t have the abilities.”

“Everyone would be better off without you.”

“You’re incapable of making a difference.”

“Whatever it is you’re trying to do, you’ll never make it happen.”

“You’re just not worth the effort.”

These are among the words I have actually heard spoken to me. More often than not, it’s my own voice saying them. Sometimes these words are spoken so frequently that I begin to believe them. And when I start to believe them, I might even start to act as if they were true.

There are a lot of voices telling us different things. A lot of voices. They come from everywhere: social media, friends, family, the news media, public figures, commercials, even the church. Too many voices trying to convince us of too many things. Sometimes we arent sure which voices to trust.

Which is why this text from the gospel of John is so important.

“My sheep hear MY voice,” Jesus says. “I know them, and they follow me.”

That should come as a relief. In the midst of all the voices clamoring for our attention, Jesus knows his sheep and they do hear his voice. And hearing his voice, can follow him. A voice that we can hear through all the other noise. A voice we can to trust. A voice that will tell us the truth. A voice that leads to life.

Jesus knows us, calls us, leads us, gives us life, and we can’t be removed from his hand. Good news, right? This should be the end of this sermon.

Except . . . We just can’t let it go at that. We need to complicate it, find a way to make this good news into something else. We move this wonderful message of comfort from a deep, inner heart, faith place where the voice of Jesus resonates to a narrow, intellectual, head place where all the other voices are competing.

We work ourselves out of comfort into skepticism. We analyze until we find some wiggle room, like Jesus saying, “you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep” and we won’t let it go.

Now, you see, we can open a door into all kinds of anxiety. Like:

Who are his sheep?

Who aren’t his sheep?

I’m not sure I hear Jesus’ voice, does that mean I may not be one of his sheep?

Does that mean I’m not going to heaven?

What do I have to do to become one of his sheep?

How do I hear his voice?

And this beautiful assurance of life and belonging become an anxiety-ridden exercize in doubt.

So let’s put an end to the anxiety. Let’s hear this text the way it is meant to be heard. What is something you feel confident you know about God? . . .

How do you know that? . . . .

It’s because you’ve heard the voice of Jesus. You know it, you recognize it, and you, therefore, are one of his sheep, held lovingly in his hand where nothing can snatch you away.

Have you ever loved someone? Not just a partner or significant other, but a sibling, a parent, a friend. Someone you trust and would be willing to go out of your way to help, or ask help from. That’s the voice of Jesus. You know it, you recognize it, and you, therefore, are one of his sheep, held lovingly in his hand where nothing can snatch you away.

How many of you have ever had a moment when you’ve understood that you are actually OK, a glimpse of being worthwhile, a small recognition of your gifts, a little crack into the difference you have made in someone’s life? That’s the voice of Jesus. You know it, you recognize it, and you, therefore, are one of his sheep, held lovingly in his hand where nothing can snatch you away.

There’s a voice of truth calling you. One voice that says you are deeply and dearly loved. One voice that points out that you are good enough right now. One voice that reveals in your heart the truth about who you are. The voice of Jesus. You are his sheep.

So for just a few seconds, listen to the voice of Jesus. Listen with your deep inner being so your head won’t make excuses. LIsten and trust it. Listen as a sheep would hear the voice of their shepherd, whose voice they really do know. Listen and be comforted. Listen and be reassured.

Jesus says to you, “You are my sheep and you hear my voice. I know you, and you follow me. I give you eternal life, and you will never perish. No one will snatch you out of my hand.”

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Faith: When We Actually Need God (2 Corinthians 12:2-10)

 

One of the problems in this Corinthian congregation is that some of the people there are lifting themselves up as super-pastors who have all credentials and are super spiritual. They assert that their list of credentials make them trustworthy–superior to Paul.

Yet Paul has credentials of his own: a vision of Paradise, the third heaven; hearing and seeing things he can never speak of. If they want to get into a spiritual credentials battle, Paul can certainly compete. Since he is claiming to be an Apostle, shouldn’t his credentials be better than his opposition?

Paul writes of this vision, but says that as amazing as it was 14 years ago, that’s not what gives him credibility. What matters isn’t how many visions he’s had or how spiritual they’ve been; what matters is he sees God at work most clearly through his weaknesses—the things he can’t do.

“I will not boast, except of my weakness,” he writes. “Power is made perfect in weakness.” “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.” “I am content with weaknesses.” “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

Where does he get this stuff? Try going into a job interview and boasting about your weaknesses. See if you get called back. It’s one thing to acknowledge your weaknesses, to try to improve them. But to boast about them? To point them out publicly, putting them in the spotlight and saying, “take a look. This is what I’m proud of!”? Really? In a congregation where his authority is already questioned, how can he think this is a viable strategy?

Because weak is a good description of Jesus. Jesus was arrested without a struggle, wore a crown of thorns without a complaint, was crucified without one protest of his innocence. Jesus is the poster child for what we would call being weak.

A Jesus who is strong or powerful would be more like the movies: beating up everyone who comes to arrest him, spitting in the face of anyone who mocks him, and never allowing himself to be killed. A powerful Jesus would find a way out of that crucifixion situation. Look out, Roman oppressors. Look out, Pontius Pilate. Super Jesus is fighting back with the power of Almighty God! That’s the Jesus we want, but it isn’t reality.

No. Power isn’t the way of Christ. Therefore, power isn’t the way of God. Those things that we consider weak and frail are actually God’s ways. Unconditional love, mercy, forgiveness. Those are God’s strengths. Paul reminds us that these weak ways of Christ are more powerful than anything we would consider strengths.

So Paul boasts of his weaknesses. Not to give himself credibility, but to recognize Go at work. If the gospel is proclaimed through Paul’s credentials, Paul gets credit and Christ is ignored. But if the gospel of life is revealed in ways that Paul can’t take credit for, then it is the power of Christ that is known; the power of forgiveness, of love, of grace. God’s strengths.

Let’s make this personal. In my work I am often required to submit a brief biography.  I say something like, “The Rev. Dr. (gotta include the “Dr.”) Robert Moss, serving as Senior Pastor of a very innovative congregation in the ELCA, has previously served the ELCA as the Interim Director for Evangelical Mission for the Rocky Mountain Synod. He is a published author (they love that) and serves on the Rocky Mountain Synod’s Mission Strategy Table. He has had 20 consecutive years of congregational growth in members and finances, including eight consecutive years of double-digit percentage growth in his current congregation.” That kind of stuff. Credentials? I’ve got them.

Paul would say, “So what? That’s all about you. Christ isn’t revealed in any of that. There’s no love shown, no forgiveness there, no compassion.” The credentials are about me, not about Christ and the mission of God.

So Paul would have me write a new bio that would say something like, “Rob Moss is an aging, balding, nearsighted, hard-of-hearing person who deals with depression and self-doubt. He shares responsibility for a nine year numerical decline in the congregation he serves. Very introverted, Rob sometimes finds it hard to connect with people, and too often keeps to himself. Oh, and he doesn’t exercise enough.”

If, like Paul, I were to appeal to the Lord about these weaknesses, that I could be stronger, God would say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Trusting God means that where we are weak and cannot accomplish God’s mission, we believe that God can. It isn’t about our power, our credentials, or our personal strengths. It is about God’s love that has no strings attached, about reconciliation, about mercy, about forgiving those who hurt us. And when our credentials don’t include these things, we have faith in the power of Christ to do them anyway. Life is found not in our strength and our power, but in God’s love and mercy. Even if that is seen as weakness.

On this 4th of July weekend, we recognize the strengths of this country. The power we have in the world. The might of our military. The freedoms we have procured. And we celebrate all that, with good reason. We rejoice in that and are thankful every day for that.

But I wonder if our emphasis on national power and strength prevents us from recognizing God’s real power of forgiveness, of loving our enemies, of doing good to those who hurt us. I wonder on this weekend when we say “God bless America,” if that’s really what we mean. Are we asking God to affirm our power, or are we asking God for the real power of unconditional love and forgiveness?

“So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, . . . for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Step Out into Failure (Matthew 14:22-33)

There’s a lesson in this text for all who wish to be disciples of Jesus: If you are faithful and obedient to Jesus, sooner or later you’ll sink.

I’m not kidding. Jesus just told the disciples to feed the thousands with a little bread and few fish. Now he “makes” the disciples get into the boat and go to the other side of the sea. Then he dismisses the crowds and goes up a mountain to pray.

He’s the one who sends them out into a stormy sea while he is praying by himself. The disciples, who are only doing what they were told to do by Jesus, are fighting the wind and the waves all night long. They are exhausted, having been trying to stay alive. And in the dark, before the light of dawn, Jesus strolls out to them on top of the water. In their exhausted, frightened state, they believe him to be a ghost or a demon, and I can’t blame them. Jesus reassures them, but Peter is willing to check it out.

“If it’s you, command me to get out of the boat and come out into the storm with you.” Jesus tells him to come on out, and Peter does.

Nothing but faith, obedience, and trust in Jesus. Jesus sends them into the stormy sea, and they go. Jesus tells Peter to get out of the boat and step out into the waves, and he does. What does he get for his faithfulness and trust? He sinks. And the rest of us Christians all over the world shake our heads and say, “Yup, dumb ol’ Peter. Never shoulda taken his eyes of Jesus. That’s what he did wrong. Shows he just doesn’t have enough faith.”

Of course, that might mean a little more if we weren’t critiquing him from the relative safety of dry land. The disciples, only because they trust Jesus and do what he commands them, are in the fight of their lives in a storm that’s threatening to sink them. And Peter, only because he trusts Jesus and does what he commands him, gets out of he only protection he has–their boat–and steps right into the waves and the wind.

I hear people all the time saying things like, “If you give your life to Jesus all will be well.” “Trust in Jesus and prosper.” “Everything fell into place; it must be God’s will.”

Uhmm. . . Read this text again. Trusting Jesus, obeying Jesus means we will end up right in the heart of a storm. It means we’ll be fighting wind and waves in the darkness. It means we’ll sink. It means we will fail. The storms and the winds will get the better of us. Follow Jesus and we risk our lives. Trust Jesus and things will be hard. Obey Jesus and we will sink. Jesus doesn’t keep us free from the waves, he sends us into them. He doesn’t keep us from sinking, he reaches down under the water and pulls us up. He doesn’t help us to be successful, he commands us to come to him–even if it means stepping out of the boat and into the storm.

And there we will sink.

Think about it. Can you honestly say that following Jesus–really following Jesus–is safe and easy? Have you failed at forgiving someone whose deeply hurt you? Have you begun to sink in your guilt for not being generous enough? Have you ever passed a homeless person without helping them or a hungry person without feeding them? Have you ever avoided sacrifice for the sake of convenience?

We all have, right? We have all stepped out of the boat and sunk. We’ve all been battered by the waves and beaten by the wind. We try to be faithful. We try to trust Jesus. And we’ve all failed sometimes. We’ve all sunk under the surface sometimes. We’ve all had to cry out, “Lord, save me!” because the wind is too frightening. It’s one of the things we all have in common.

We know what these disciples are experiencing. Peter floundering is more familiar to us than we might think. But because the wind is so fierce, because the waves are so high, these disciples come to the point where they fall down in worship, “Truly you are the Son of God!”

The love, compassion, power, and identity of Jesus are most evident in the chaos of the storm, because that’s when he comes to us and lifts us out of the depths and gets into the boat with us.

Oh, yes, we’ll sink, we’ll fail, we’ll mess things up. Even when we’re trying our very best, we’ll still fall below the waves. Following Jesus pretty much guarantees that we’ll be stepping into the storm. And we will be frightened and we will sink, because the wind and the waves of this world are very, very real. And they are frightening. And who really wants to sink?

When have your failed in your discipleship? What about following Jesus makes you want to just stay on the shore where it’s safe? Where are you sinking?

When we’re sinking, we need to know two things: 1) It’s not because you’re a bad disciple. It’s entirely possible that, like Peter, you are experiencing failure because you ARE trusting Jesus! If you’re not following him, you’re not in the storm right?

And 2) It’s when you’re sinking that Jesus reaches out to save you. And it’s when Jesus does save you and brings you back into the boat, gets in it with you, and calms the waves, that’s when you really say with Peter and the other disciples, “Truly you are the Son of God!”

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Don’t Trust Your Faith (20 Pentecost — Oct 6, 2013 at St. James’ Episcopal Church, Fremont, CA)

Luke 17:5-10

 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ”

I bring you greetings from the new lakefront property in Colorado; from my own congregation—Lutheran Church of the Master of Lakewood, CO; and from your full communion denominational partner, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I am so pleased to be here with you this morning. Thank you for letting me be part of your life and your ministry this weekend. A bunch of us were here yesterday and had a great time in conversation around this amazing congregation and your ministry in the world. I’m grateful to you for your boldness, your partnership, and your faith.

Which happens to be the point of this gospel text in Luke. For those of you who’ve been here the last several weeks as we’ve journeyed through Luke’s gospel, Jesus seems to be a little bit cranky, demanding, impatient. We’ve lately just taken to calling him “Grumpy Jesus.” In recent weeks he’s told us that if we’re really his disciples we will hate our families, carry a cross, get serious about what it will cost, and we have to give up all our possessions.

I can’t blame the disciples for asking him to increase their faith! Frankly, I’m amazed they’re still hanging with him. But, in grumpy Jesus style, he doesn’t try to soothe their anxiety or assure them, he seems to just twist the knife a little bit more. They are trying, they ask him to increase their faith so they can do the crazy stuff he’s demanding, and his response is to tell them that if they had faith even the size of a tiny mustard seed they could tell a big old mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea.

Thanks, Jesus. Apparently we don’t even have that small amount of faith. Even though we’re asking you for it, you just keep telling us how inadequate we are.

I don’t know about you, but I’m with the disciples here. I know I’m not the greatest disciple. I see homeless people at intersections holding cardboard signs asking for food and ignore them. I have time to volunteer at our local food pantry but don’t do it that often. I sometimes hold grudges longer than I should. I’m not the most ardent pray-er.  When our 15 year old Bassett Hound would have to go out in the middle of the night, I’d accidentally nudge my wife awake while pretending I was still asleep, hoping she’d get up and do it.

But c’mon, Jesus, I’m trying. And if I need a little help, you gotta do better than slamming me for my lack of faith which I already know is less than perfect.

But here’s the thing about faith. Like pretty much everything else, we make it about us. We think of faith as a possession, a commodity, something we can work up and bolster in order to do more spiritual things. I don’t think we trust God, I think we trust our faith in God. That’s different.

A friend told me a story that makes sense of this for me. During a flood, a mother and her little boy were soon to be trapped by the rising river. The mother knew they had to get across the river now if they were to have a chance of surviving. So she said to her son, “Hold on to my hand while we go across.” The little boy answered, “No, mommy. You hold onto my hand.”

That’s the difference. We tend to think of faith as holding onto God’s hand. As long as we have the strength to hold on, we think we’re OK. But I think Jesus is telling us here that faith isn’t proportionate to the difficulties. It’s not like the more faith we have the greater things we can do. No. It seems Jesus is saying the amount of faith doesn’t matter, because it’s not about us. It’s not trusting our ability to hold onto God, it’s about trusting that God is holding onto us. That’s different, right?

If we trust God to hold our hand, we can go across a river that is stronger than our grip. Because it isn’t our strength, it’s God’s. So even a tiny bit of faith is more than enough, because all faith needs to do is recognize we are in God’s hands. God does the rest. God takes us where we need to go, even if it’s in places we wouldn’t trust ourselves to go. You don’t have to hang on to God when you go out of this place, just recognize that God is hanging on to you.

Think of the difference that makes. Yesterday we came up with lots of different ways to live as disciples in a public way–in the world around us. Does that scare you? Sometimes the thought of that simply exhausts me. What if I goof it up? What if I get laughed at? What if I get called a Bible thumper or say something wrong? I simply don’t have enough faith to do that. And Grumpy Jesus says, It’s not about how much faith you have or what you think you can do. It’s about God holding you, never letting you go, always with you. Even if you’re crossing a rising river. Even if you’re going to work, or to school, or to your weekly Bridge Club. Even just the tiniest bit of faith, a willingness to take a risk that God’s got a grip on you, is more than enough.

Don’t worry about whether or not you have enough faith. Instead, watch what God does around you, through you, and in you. God will not let go of St. James’. And God will not let go of you. If you’re willing to even begin testing the possibility that that might be true, you have more than enough faith. Amen.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Sermon

 

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Believing and Disbelieving: It’s the Norm (11 Pent B)

11th Sunday After Pentecost (B)

1 Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:25—5:2; John 6:35,41-51

 I’m going to be completely honest here—I think I’m with the crowd on this one. At least I am today. It changes. But today, I really wish John had recorded Jesus phrasing this a little bit differently. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. . . . and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

Not only is it graphic and kinda gross, but it’s hard to believe. I remember going through First Communion instruction in Mrs. Shaw’s 2nd grade class at St. Joseph’s Grade School. “Don’t chew the wafer,” she taught us. “If you do, you’re gnawing on the bones of Jesus.” Really?

I know Jesus is likely talking about his crucifixion, and giving up his life for the world. And I know it’s an easy jump—and probably appropriate—to use this text to talk about the real presence of Christ in Holy Communion (Jesus, bread, eating). But faced with mystical and rather disgusting doctrine like Jesus is sharing here, I find myself standing with the Jewish crowd. Uhmmm, no thanks, Jesus. Bread of life from heaven? Eat you and live? Your flesh is bread for us? I’m not sure I’m all the way there.

I think I want to take this nauseating speech and make it more comfortable. I think I want to make it acceptable. I think I want to scale it back to a point where I can believe it.

Which is just like the crowd who heard Jesus say it. “Don’t be messing with us, Jesus. We know who you really are: Mary and Joseph’s kid from Nazareth. That’s what we can believe. That’s as far as we’re going to go with this.”

Yes, I’m with the crowd on this one. Jesus sometimes goes too far. Farther than I’m comfortable with. Farther than I’m able to believe.

What about you? Does Jesus ever go too far for you? Does he ever say anything that you just can’t fully buy into?

  • Love your enemies. All of them. Even the guy outside of Milwaukee who went into a house of worship and started shooting. Even the young man who opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora. Even Republicans. And Democrats. Sorry, Jesus, that’s just beyond what I can believe.
  • Forgive everyone who as often as they ask for it.Everyone? The one who destroyed my marriage? The one who took advantage of my good nature? Perhaps I should, but honestly, Jesus, I don’t really believe I have to.
  • Sell everything you have and give the money to the poor. Do you know anyone who actually believes that one?

Those are more extreme examples that many of us have a hard time believing. But who knows what part of Jesus is just beyond someone’s ability to believe?

Some people find themselves unable to believe Jesus is actually God. Others that he truly rose from the dead. Some that he has anything to offer other than pretty good philosophy. In one way or another, in some aspect of Jesus, we all stand with the crowd not really buying what he’s selling. It’s different for each of us, but we all have some difficulty with Jesus. Where we get into trouble is, like the crowd, when we insist that what we believe about Jesus is the only correct thing to believe. If you don’t believe about Jesus what I believe about him, your faith is inferior. Or, if you don’t disbelieve about Jesus what I disbelieve about him, your faith is superficial.

So if we’re going to be completely honest—it’s really a matter of degree as to what any of us believe and what any of us don’t. And it can change day by day. Whether Christian or not. We all believe something about Jesus, and we all find ourselves unable to believe some things about him. We all stand with the crowd at some point.

But here’s where the church becomes so important. As this text shows us, we aren’t the first ones to struggle with something Jesus said. We aren’t the first ones who are simply unable to believe some things about him.

What we have in the church is the experience of thousands upon thousands of people through history who have been touched by Jesus, who’ve struggled with the same things we have, and who have been somehow changed by the reality of Jesus. Some of it believable and some of it not. But changed by him nonetheless. Their collective witness tells us that there’s something to the reality of who Jesus is, believe it or not. They tell us that believing aside, the reality of Jesus is worth trusting.

And what we have in this congregation is a community of people who stand with us in our beliefs and who stand with us in our unbeliefs.

And here’s where our Lutheran tradition really makes a difference. What we have as Lutherans is a particular way of being Christian that boldly names the reality of our experience: at the same time belief/disbelief;  saint/sinner; bread/body; human/divine.

And in the midst of all this is Jesus. Whatever we can believe and whatever we can’t believe about him, we still can place our trust in him. We proclaim him the crucified and risen Lord of all creation. We proclaim him the way, the truth, and the life. We proclaim him the fullest revelation of who God is. We proclaim him the One who comes among us and loves us in our belief and in our unbelief. And sometimes we might even believe it. But whether we believe everything about him or not, he still promises to be present with us in love, forgiveness, and grace. We can place our trust in that. And that’ good enough for today.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2012 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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