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Image of God: One Reason I Need the Church

Genesis 1:26-27

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness . . .’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Growing up, I was the nerdy smart kid with few social skills, even fewer friends, and the one who could disappear into the woodwork and become invisible to avoid getting beat up. I always felt I didn’t measure up, wasn’t good enough, always fell just short of what was expected.

I believed my self-worth came from what I couldn’t do, which far outweighed what I could do.

I believed my value as a person came from what others said was valuable, which didn’t happen to coincide with my gifts.

I believed my identity was grounded in failure and weakness, which my peers would continuously point out.

I didn’t like myself very much as a kid, because I believed there wasn’t much about me worth liking.

It was all a lie, but the lie had power and I believed it. I believed that those around me knew better than me. I believed that if some people didn’t think I was worthwhile, then I wasn’t worthwhile. I believed it, and in buying into this lie I was depriving the world of a unique glimpse of the image of God. A glimpse that only I could give.

Because the truth is that I am created in the image of God. Not the complete image–certainly not everything about me is Godly. But the deepest, most significant, most authentic part of me is. Because I am created by God, I reveal God. Part of God’s character is part of me. As someone created by God, it cannot be any other way.

If God is good, there is goodness that is authentically part of who I am.

If God is merciful, there is mercy that is authentically me.

If God is forgiving, there is forgiveness that is authentically me.

Do I believe that this is the truth about who I am? Sometimes, sort of. The lies continue to swirl around me, however, and I can’t seem to block them out all the time. Certainly not by myself.

That’s where I need you. Other people who know that they, too, are created in the image of God and so can recognize that. I need people to remind me of who I really am, people who can recognize the lies and point them out, people who know the image of God and can see that in me–expecially at those times when I cannot see it in myself.

That’s what we do for each other. We look for the image of God in one another. We point it out to each other. We expose the lies about our identity and celebrate together God revealed in one another.

We’ve all been lied to. Each of us has believed at one time or another that we are somehow less, that we don’t really matter, that our value is directly connected to others’ opinions, that our weaknesses define who we are. It’s not true. We are all created in the image of God. We all shine forth with God’s love and grace in wonderful and dazzling ways–not because we work up to it, but because it’s at the very core of who we are. Strip away the lies, the self-doubts, the insecurities, and the inadequacies, and the central, authentic identity we all have is people who reflect the holy, generous, gracious image of God.

That’s something we need to be reminded of. It’s something we need to hear. It’s something we need to point out to those around us.

What are the lies about yourself that you’ve believed? Lies that maybe you’ve even lived into? Have you ever believed the lie that you are farther away from God that others? Have you ever believed the lie that you have nothing to contribute? Have you ever believed the lie that you don’t make a difference in the world?

We all fall prey to the lies about who we are. And we all need to see and remind each other of the image of God shining forth. That’s why we will love each other, forgive each other, show compassion to each other; because it’s God’s image among us. And that’s why we point out to those around us how we see God in them: how we see God’s goodness, mercy, love, kindness, compassion shining forth from them. Because they may not be seeing it. We owe each other the truth about who we are. We are people who, no matter what else, are created in the image of a loving, gracious, forgiving, generous God.

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Grace and Love are Messy; They Just Keep Spilling Out (Pent 3)

Matthew 10:40-42

A visitor mentioned to the pastor of the church that the congregation was cold and unfriendly. So at the next service the pastor told the people that starting next week they would take a moment to greet the people around them. Immediately an enthusiastic woman turned and reached out her hand to a man behind her. He was shocked, and quickly told her that sort of thing didn’t begin until next week.

Hospitality is a huge biblical issue. Hebrew culture was assumed it. It was a culture that was aware of strangers, travelers, the lost, the poor, the grieving. Jesus understands his culture, and he’s sending his disciples out into that culture as missionaries. At the beginning of Chapter 10, Jesus say to not only tell culture about kingdom, but show them. Last week in the middle of chapter 10 he point out that there are consequences to doing this that may be difficult.

Today, Jesus talks to his disciples about being guests in the culture. Jesus understands that as these disciples go into towns and villages, the people of that culture will be the ones providing a welcome. The disciples are told by Jesus that they (the disciples) are the guests and the culture is hosting them.

Get to the particulars in a minute, but for now notice how opposite of that concept we are in the church today. We have come to believe the kingdom has come to us, and that we are the hosts for those who want to join us. Reverse of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples. He never told them to go build churches and wait for people to come to you (or even to invite one or two). He told them they are the guests in whatever culture they find themselves. As they welcome you, they will experience Christ who is present in you. You go to them and meet them on their turf. They’ve got home field advantage. You have to give them the chance to welcome you, not the other way around.

We’ll discover what that means once we get the whole context.

Look at this reward business. Welcome a prophet, receive the reward of a prophet. Welcome a righteous one, receive the reward of a righteous one. That word “reward” means to get what’s appropriate. Work in the field, you get what a landowner would pay. So, really, as the culture welcomes a prophet, they get what a prophet would give them. As they welcome a righteous person (one of Jesus’ disciples), they get what a righteous person would bring. So as they welcome you, they get to know and experience God’s vision that you bring—that’s part of who you are. It simply spills out of you.

If that isn’t good enough, we get this cup of cold water. Whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple . . .  “Whoever” is still the culture. “One of these little ones”—Matthew only uses the word one other time in reference to people, and he’s referring to the least significant. The unimportant. The ones he sent his disciples to be among– the sick, the lame, the possessed.

“In the name of a disciple” = in the character of, or in the nature of one who bears the name of Christ.

So if the culture shows grace and mercy (cup of cold water) to those who are in need (the least significant) because of you, they’ll get what happens as a result – see the kingdom, the reign of God. Be sharing in that.

 

That’s the covenant into which the church is baptized. The church is the yeast in the cultural loaf. We are sent into the culture with the authority to be present in the culture in Jesus’ name.

And we begin by experiencing that right here. We experience mercy and compassion with one another right here, and are then reminded that we are filled to overflowing with mercy and compassion.

We experience forgiveness with one another right here, and are then reminded that we are filled to overflowing with forgiveness.

We experience love, warmth, and generosity in this place, and are then reminded that we are filled to overflowing with love, warmth, and generosity.

As we experience the vision of God among ourselves, we are reminded that we are filled to overflowing with the vision of God and therefore it spills out of us in our culture.

At the beginning of each worship time, we ask you to introduce yourselves. Not just to be nice, but to remind ourselves that the hospitality of God is shown to all: prophets, disciples, and those who others consider least important. We are filled with forgiveness and love, and sent out with that spilling out in a culture that needs to experience it. And we begin by experiencing all this with one another right here.

Others may or may not welcome us. That’s not the point. As people who are filled with God’s love, forgiveness, and grace, we simply spill out into the culture that which has filled us as we gather around God’s Word and sacrament.

When you go, love as you’ve been loved here. Forgive as you’ve been forgiven here. Show mercy as you’ve been shown it here. Because whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.

Go be yeast; go spill Christ in the neighborhood by your presence. Spill God’s mercy, kindness, love when you leave this place. Be mindful of the first person you meet after leaving this time of worship. You are sent to them. Trust that they catch a glimpse of the vision of God because of you. You are called by God, and marked with the cross, you are filled with the Spirit. You can’t help it. It’s spilling out of you.

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2014 in Sermon

 

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God’s Mission: It’s That Big a Deal (June 22, 2014)

Pentecost 2

Matthew 10:24-39

Whatgoes through your head when you get a phone call and the person on the other end greets you with, “Don’t worry. Everything is OK”? That the cue to start worrying?

Or the dentist says, “You might feel a little discomfort”?  I think dentists and I have two different definitions of the word “discomfort.”

Or Jesus says to us, “Follow me, but don’t be afraid”? Uh oh. That makes me a bit apprehensive. If you follow me, people will say hateful things about you. If you follow me, people will want to physically hurt you. If you follow me, some people you thought you could count on will abandon you. If you follow me, you will lose your life. Rather than peace, it’s swords and division.

Why would Jesus say things like this? Why is his language so harsh? There are, I think, a couple of reasons:

–Because he’s making it very clear that what he’s asking his followers to do actually is that difficult, and,

–Because God’s vision for the world is that big a deal.

The U.S. Soccer team is playing in the World Cup in Brazil. They continue to endure grueling physical workouts, a horrible travel schedule that keeps them away from home for weeks at a time, a lack of support from many of the citizens of their own country, and the knowledge that in spite of all their work and effort and talent, they probably aren’t good enough to win the World Cup. Why do they do it?

Because the opportunity to play in this world tournament is that big a deal. The hope that they might have a chance to do well—with the opportunity to possibly win it—is worth all of the effort and more. It’s that big a deal.

Those who were part of the Civil Rights protests in the 1960s endured threats, beatings, arrests, even death. Yet they continued. Why would they do this?

Because a culture where they could have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else is worth all that and more. It’s that big a deal.

God is accomplishing something in creation that is that big a deal.

–Imagine a world where you are so valued that you are recognized as worth everything. For God that’s a big deal.

–Imagine a world where you can live every day free from any threat of any violence, where you live free from worry, free from fear. For God that’s a big deal.

–Imagine a world where we all are willing to share so generously with anyone else that every person has enough of everything. For God that’s a big deal.

–Imagine a world where you are encouraged, loved, accepted just as you are right now without any conditions whatsoever. For God that’s a big deal.

Can you begin to envision a world like that? Because God can. That’s God’s vision. And it is God’s intention and mission to make that happen. Bringing the reality of that vision into this world is what Jesus is about. IT’s that vision that he lives for, that he died for, that we can see in the resurrection.  It’s that vision he gives to his disciples. And it’s that vision he sends us into the world to make real. No one ever said that would be easy.

That is why the church exists. That is why we are here. LCM exists because God has a vision for the world, and we have been called to reveal it.

This mission into which we’re baptized is hard. It is costly. It is inconvenient. It is uncomfortable. Because this mission is not about us, or what we like, or what’s comfortable for us. IT is only about God’s mercy, forgiveness, peace, and love being made real in the world. So we do things to embody God’s vision:

–we practice forgiving each other, taking that into the world,

–we love those who are different than us; even our enemies,

–we show the world what real peace looks like,

–we reveal unselfishness to them,

–we live generously, giving away more of our money than makes sense for the sake of others.

–we publicly stand with those who, because of nationality, economic status, or sexual orientation, have been made to feel worthless in our culture.

We do all this not because it’s easy or comfortable, but because in our baptism God’s mission becomes our mission.

At our council meeting last Tuesday our council president, Roger Johnson, used this gospel text as our opening devotion. We spent 45 minutes talking about the cost of discipleship, and what it means today to follow Jesus.

Pastor Brigette. As pastoral leaders called to this congregation we want to be very clear that God’s mission is what we believe to be the freedom, joy, and heart of the gospel. Our calls here as ministers of Word and sacrament revolve entirely around proclamation and equipping for God’s mission.

Council. We talked about this at our meeting, and we decided that we are affirming here this morning that we are disciples of Jesus. As such, our call as elected leaders is to set a direction for LCM that is deeply rooted in our purpose within God’s mission in the world. We are assuring you publicly that we are committed to that.

Jesus tells us it will be hard, that the consequences of following him can be severe and even painful. And yet, he says, don’t be afraid. It is in God’s vision that you find your life. It’s that big a deal.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2014 in Sermon

 

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I’m Chunky and Unrefined — Thanks be to God! (Matthew 5:13-20)

“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus tells the crowds who are gathered to hear his Sermon on the Mount. “You are the light of the world,” he tells them.

These are just regular people he’s telling this to. These aren’t the super-saints or the supremely-pious. Just the crowds, the people, you and me.

He’s telling us tha we are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world That’s nice; I like that. He doesn’t tell us we should try to be salt or that if we work hard we can achieve light. No, he says, we already are.

But then he keeps going. A light under a basket isn’t doing any good. Salt that has lost its saltiness is thrown out with the trash and gets run over.

And then I wonder, “Is that us too? Is that me too?”

I don’t know many people who don’t try to shine, or who don’t try to add positive seasoning to the world. And yet, in spite of our attempts to shine and to season, the world can be dark and taste bitter.

  • Children still go to bed hungry.
  • Women are still abused and made to feel it’s their own fault.
  • Our young people still fall victim to the atrocities of war.
  • Our friends still suffer from physical and mental illness.
  • We continue to grieve and cry and wail in the wake of death as it claims those we love.

Within LCM, most of us love this congregation deeply, and shine here and season this ministry, participating in God’s mission. But we have fewer people than we did 10 years ago, and fewer dollars than we did three years ago. That can feel dark and it can taste bitter. Do you ever wonder if we’ve lost our saltiness? If there’s a big basket covering our light?

Even individually, we each know our own personal inadequacies and failings. We know where we’re not good enough, not smart enough, not gifted enough. There’s darkness, there’s bitterness, in the fear that someone’s going to find out how inadequate I really am. Have I lost my saltiness? Have you? Is that what Jesus means?

We have this tendency to compare our saltiness to other people’s. Some people seem to season up a room by walking into it. They have the love of Jesus just oozing out of their pores. They forgive, they show mercy, they shine brightly even when their lives seem dark. Do you know those people? Do you ever feel like they are more salty than you? That compared to them, you’ve lost your saltiness, just like Jesus warns about?

But here’s the thing. Salt is salt. It doesn’t lose its saltiness. So it’s not that we’ve lost our saltiness, it’s just that there are different kinds of salt. Table salt is completely different than Himalayan salt, which is nothing like Kosher salt, which is used in situations different than Smoked salt. Maybe you’re Grey salt, or Sea salt, or Flaked salt. Some of us are really fine grained, refined, ground down to smooth crystals. Others of us are chunky and coarse, with sharp edges and a rough texture.

One isn’t better than another, just different.

When life is hard, when things are tough, when your gifts and abilities aren’t enough, when you’re in over your head, that’s when Jesus reminds you, “You are the salt of the earth.” You don’t have to try to be, you don’t have to pretend your a different kind of salt — salt like someone else. You are, right now, the salt of the earth. “You are the light of the world.”  Not just when you’re feeling particularly shiny, because it’s your God-given nature to shine. Just as you are. Right now.

In the back are several kinds of salt. I invite you to go look at them, feels them, taste them. Maybe one kind of salt will appeal to you. Maybe you will find yourself drawn to one kind of salt over the others.

Take a pinch of some salt with you when you leave. Know that as someone created in God’s image, you are the salt of the earth. Pay attention this week. When you catch yourself seasoning the world, when you find yourself adding God’s flavor in someone’s life, leave your salt there or give it to someone. Recognize that through you, God’s saltiness has added yet more seasoning in the world. Through you, the world is brighter.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Reasonable Discipleship

Luke 9:51-62

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

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. 

This is now Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. It’s getting urgent, and he is not going to be deterred.

The Samaritans, predictably, don’t receive him well. He is Jewish, and Samaritans and Jews don’t get along at all. Not only is Jesus Jewish, he’s making it clear that he is going to Jerusalem–the heart and the symbol of Judaism.

But other people, who apparently are with Jesus–or want to be–aren’t getting the urgency of Jesus’ intentions. For him, everything depends on getting to Jerusalem. His very purpose for being born comes down to this journey and the events that will unfold in this city. He is going to Jerusalem to face the powers of this world, to expose them as false in the face of the reign of God, and to accept the consequences of doing such a thing. When you expose false powers for what they are–contrary to God–those who place their trust in those powers push back, and bad things can happen. Jesus is well aware of this; he understands that this journey to Jerusalem will likely lead to his death.

But he is undeterred. He will not be side-tracked. Nothing is more important than this. There are various responses to his urgency:

Samaritans not welcoming him? So what? Nothing new or unexpected there. From their perspective, this is a reasonable response to a Jewish man in their territory heading to Jerusalem.

James and John wanting to call down fire on the Samaritans for their rudeness? I understand their attempted defense of their Lord. That certainly is reasonable. But after all this time, they think that a violent, vengeful response is what Jesus is looking for? Not going to happen.

In another village as they travel along the way, someone offers to follow Jesus anywhere (not knowing, of course, that Jesus is heading to his death), Jesus is hardly encouraging. If you follow me, he says, you’ll have no worldly security; nowhere, even, to lay your head. Not a very enthusiastic response to someone who wants to follow!

A second person doesn’t offer, but is actually asked by Jesus to follow. And this person makes the very reasonable request to bury their father first. Jesus brushes this one off–let the dead bury their own dead.

Does this response by Jesus strike anyone else as completely unreasonable? Isn’t Jesus all about compassion and love for one another? He won’t even allow a poor grieving son or daughter to bury their father before following him? Apparently, his journey to Jerusalem, with all that is at stake there, is that urgent.

Then a third person offers to follow Jesus, just as soon as she says goodbye to her family. Did you hear that? She wants to follow, and is willing to leave for family, her town, and her life for Jesus’ sake. A quick good-bye seems entirely reasonable. Jesus tells her she isn’t fit for the kingdom because she’s looking backwards.

Oh, c’mon, Jesus! It’ll take a minute for this potential follower to write a quick note and leave it on the kitchen table. “Gone with Jesus. Back later.”

When we get past the rudeness and the strangeness of his responses, we can begin to see how important this journey to Jerusalem is for Jesus. More important than etiquette, manners, or people’s feelings. Nothing, absolutely nothing will get in his way. He will go to Jerusalem and he will accomplish that which he came to do. He will face the rulers and the powers of this world. He will bring the reign of God–compassion, forgiveness, and peace, right under their noses. In doing so he will expose the powers of the world as contrary to God’s mission. And he will be killed for it.

Everything hinges on this. The reign of God–of peace, of forgiveness, of standing with the poor and powerless–will come face-to-face with the best this world has to offer. Winner take all. The fate of all creation hangs in the balance. Either the power we know and crave for ourselves will win, or forgiveness and grace will win. All or nothing. No compromise or bargaining. Either God is god or something else is. Either God’s way of grace, mercy, and forgiveness rules, or something else does.

So these prospective followers of Jesus, with their reasonable conditions, are in the way. James and John, these disciples of Jesus, who have given up everything to follow him, and who are reasonable wanting to defend Jesus, are in the way. And we, who call ourselves reasonable followers of Christ, are also in the way.

Do you know why we find their requests reasonable? Because we do the same thing. We find reasonable ways to be disciples. Which can mean we bargain, we compromise, we try to follow on our terms. We place our convenience and comfort and security ahead of our discipleship. We follow Jesus when it suits us, and find reasonable ways to avoid it when it doesn’t. So we say reasonable things, like:

–It would be silly to give more money away. I need to provide for my children after I’m gone. God doesn’t want us to be foolish, right? That’s reasonable.

–I already volunteer. My life is so busy I just don’t have time to do any more. God wants our lives to be in balance, right? That’s reasonable.

–I’m raising children and that takes all my time and energy. God doesn’t want us to neglect our kids, right? That’s reasonable.

–I try really hard. I’m doing my best to follow Jesus as closely as I can. What else does God expect? That’s reasonable.

Don’t all those statements sound reasonable? Of course they do, because they are! And yet, either God’s way of absolute grace and forgiveness reigns, or our very reasonable compromises do.

And yet, Jesus is undeterred. Jesus will go to Jerusalem. Jesus will not be stopped from facing the power behind our reasonable discipleship. Jesus will go. And he will die. And he will be raised. And the reign of God happens. Forgiveness wins. Grace triumphs. Mercy is not put aside. Jesus is that determined. In spite of us. And, in fact, he is that determined for us.

You see? If Jesus goes to Jerusalem, then you are forgiven. If God’s way wins, you are assured of unconditional love. If God’s kingdom overcomes the powers of this world, you are shown mercy.

Jesus will not be swayed; he loves you. Forgiveness will not be deterred; Jesus gives it to you. Mercy will not be stopped; Jesus brings it to you. God’s mission is that urgent. You are that urgent. Jesus is not hindered by our very reasonable discipleship. God’s way wins. Jesus is going to Jerusalem. Amen.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2013 in Sermon

 

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What to Do When God Isn’t Listening

1 Kings 17:17-24

 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18She then said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” 19But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. 20He cried out to the Lord, “OLord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” 21Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.23Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” 24So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

Be careful when you are faithful to the voice of God. It gets you in trouble.

Elijah has been listening to God and following God’s leading already several times just in this chapter. He heard “the word of the Lord” telling him where to hide from the wrath of a king, that there would be a drought and where he could find food, that there would be shelter in a town called Zarephath, and how he could provide ongoing food for himself and his host–a widow there.

Be careful, Elijah. You’re being pretty faithful. You’re about to get into trouble.

Sure enough, after Elijah had done all this, including feeding this woman and her son for eight days, her son dies. She blames Elijah for it.  In the middle of a drought where there is no food, Elijah–by being faithful to God–has fed this little family for 8 days, now is being blamed for this trajedy.

Have you had that Elijah experience? Being nothing but faithful, he’s being blamed for this poor woman’s grief and loss: “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” Sometimes, when we’re frightened or lost or grieving, we just need to blame someone. For this woman, Elijah is the scapegoat for her pain and misery.

Elijah gets that too. After being unjustly blamed for the boy’s death, he turns around and does the same thing. He takes the boy upstairs  and cries out to God, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” Then he demands that God do something about it, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” Have you ever blamed God for your misery and then asked God to do something about it?

So far, I’m tracking with Elijah pretty well. I’ve been blamed when I’ve tried only to be faithful. I’ve blamed others–often God–when things are difficult. And I’ve begged God to intervene somehow to change the situation.

But then comes the part that causes a little problem for me. Vs. 22, “The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.”

I’m fine with the child being revived. I think God uses uses all kinds of things, including hospitals and skilled medical people of all kinds to do this sort of thing with some regularity. Some of you have had personal experience with that and have amazing stories to tell of God giving you a new chance, a new life; sometimes physically, sometimes spiritually, sometimes relationally.

No, that’s not where I get stumped. I find myself a little annoyed at the phrase, “The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah.” I don’t know about you, but it seems that God doesn’t always listen. Sometimes, it seems like God isn’t listening at all. Perhaps we can understand that if we haven’t been listening to God, if we’ve been neglecting our relationship a bit. But how about when we’re in a stretch where we’re feeling tight with God, like we’re being pretty faithful, like we’re all about God’s will, and God and us are on the same page. And then, like Elijah, all that faithfulness gets us in trouble. Someone’s experiencing a loss and they’re blaming you for it; one of your kids does something stupid and your spouse assures you that it’s your fault; a friend misunderstands an innocent statement and the relationship is seriously damaged. Then there are those days when all this and more happens all at once. Have you had a day like that? It all just piles up, snowballs, and gets overwhelming?

What do you do? Many will cry out to God, “O Lord my God, do something!” Do something. Anything. Please. . . Hello? . . . Are you there?

And then we hear vs. 22 in 1Kings 17, “The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah” and intervened. The Lord did exactly what Elijah asked and restored the boy’s life. Well, isn’t that special? What about us, God? What about our pain, our loss, our grief, our despair? Why aren’t you listening to our voice? When we cry out for help, for you to make things better, where are you then?

Here’s what happens. God hears your cries. And God answers and points to the cross and says, “That’s how committed to you I am. That’s how willing I am to go into your pain with you. I’m not leaving. Nothing can keep me away from you; not even death. I’m with you–right with you–in your struggle. I’m holding you in your fear. I’m comforting you in your pain. I’m at your side in your suffering. I know you feel overwhelmed, but I’m here to sustain you. Life is coming. There will be an easing of your pain and loss. Watch for it. I’m here. I’m here. Whether you are faithful or not, doing my will or not, listening to my voice or not, I am the God of life. For the son of the widow of Zarephath. For you. And nothing will keep me from coming to you. Today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Sermon

 

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A Safe Place to be Vulnerable–Lent 5

5th Lent

Isaiah 43:16-21; John 12:1-8

 So, what do you think of Mary of Bethany in this gospel text? She takes perfume that’s worth almost a full year’s salary, ad pours it on Jesus’ feet—the work of a slave. Then she wipes it with her hair—a scandalous act for a woman. What are one or two words you might use to describe her? Free spirit? Grateful? Overly dramatic? Devoted? Wasteful?

The word I think I would use is “authentic.” She is being herself in a very unique situation. Her brother, Lazarus, has just been raised from the dead by Jesus and she is responding to that. And she’s doing it in her own, unique, genuine, and authentic way. John writes that her anointing of Jesus’ feet with this expensive perfume is a preview of his being anointed for burial. Of course gospel-writer John would find deep meaning in this act and relate it to the cross. That’s what he does. But I’m not sure in this story that Mary of Bethany had that in mind at all. Her actions are her own, with her own motives of gratitude and devotion. She is being, well, Mary. And she’s not trying to impress Jesus, Judas, or anyone else. She is responding to her brother’s restored life in an authentically “Mary” kind of way: by breaking open an extravagantly expensive jar of perfume and anointing Jesus’ feet with it, then wiping his feet with her hair.

Her response doesn’t meet Judas’ approval—even though many would say that Judas has a point. Judas is one of the twelve insiders whom Jesus picked, but his criticism doesn’t stop her at all. It doesn’t even matter to her. Her response to Jesus compassion isn’t influenced at all by what others think. Not only is that authentic, but it’s courageous. Because by acting in an authentic way, she’s opening herself up for public ridicule. She’s quite vulnerable to that right now.

Jesus, however, loves her response with the perfume. Not because it’s the right one or one that he approves of, but because it’s authentic for her. Her response to Jesus’ compassion comes from the core of her identity. It’s not meant to gain approval, not for anyone else, but just a response that comes from deep within her heart.

And that’s why we usually don’t behave authentically.

When you respond to Jesus (or anyone) in an authentic way, it leaves you vulnerable. Look at the criticism Judas levels at Mary. It’s harsh. He’s not just criticizing her actions, because her actions are coming from the depths of who she is. He’s criticizing her as a person. And if it wasn’t Judas saying it, how many of us would agree with him (because if he says it, it must be wrong)? How many of us would look at each other, roll our eyes, sigh, and whisper to one another, “There she goes again. She is just so strange.” And then we’d avoid her, gravitate toward others who also think she’s strange, and end up excluding her.

Mary is taking a tremendous risk by being authentic. Authenticity makes you vulnerable because it opens us up to pain that is so easily inflicted by those around us.

We live in a culture that doesn’t want us to recognize—much less admit—our vulnerability. To be vulnerable is to be weak. It is considered wimpy. Buck up, we say. Be strong, we say. Tough it out, we say. Our heroes are people of strength and power. They aren’t vulnerable, they never back down, they never give in, they are never weak.

Mary has the courage to be authentic in the face of what others think about her. She does this extravagant thing because she has been touched by Jesus’ compassion and grace. When you are most vulnerable and you are met with compassion; when you are most vulnerable and are met with love, you are given new life.

I think that’s the church at its best. A place where you are met with compassion and love when you are most vulnerable. You see, that’s how Jesus continuously meet us—when we are weakest and most vulnerable, he comes to us in love, compassion, and grace.

At our Lenten devotion time last Wednesday, those at our table were talking about this text. The question we were dealing with had to do with Mary of Bethany’s extravagant gratitude. What were we grateful for, the question was asked? Many said that this congregation was pretty close to the top of the list. Several people shared that when they were living their lives in hard places, this was a safe community for them. They were welcomed, cared for, and held without any expectations or assumptions. They could be authentic in their pain, in their weakness, and in their vulnerability without much fear of reprisal or criticism. A safe place to be vulnerable—a safe place to be authentic.

I have a friend who experienced the death of a family member a while ago. She has spent the last several months being very vulnerable with a group of friends who’ve held her, walked alongside her, prayed with her during her journey of grief. She has cried, anguished, lamented, and shared her journey—trusting that no one would tell her to be strong, or to quit being so tearful, to get on with her life. Her grief is authentic, and her journey through it is just as authentic. Not looking for approval, just a safe place to be vulnerable—a safe place to be authentic.

Can you imagine the freedom that would come with that kind of safety? To know that you can express what truly in your heart, knowing that you will only be loved in return? That’s who we are in Christ. That’s what it looks like when the church is authentic.

I pray you would find this to be an authentic community here at LCM. I pray you would feel free to be authentic here. Jesus has touched us with compassion and love, we are free to respond in an authentic way. We are free to live in an authentic way. We are forgiven; we are loved; we are free. In that, we are given new life.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2013 in Sermon

 

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