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The Power of a Vulnerable God (March 19, 2017)

John 4:5-42

So [Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, “I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Here’s my current strategy with the gospel of John. I take a small piece—usually one I can’t understand—preach myself into a corner, and see if Jesus will get me out. For now, at least, it seems to work.  The small piece that caught me is Jesus asking the Samaritan woman at the well to give him a drink.

If you were here last week, I pointed out that Nicodemus had come to Jesus at night—in the dark. This is a metaphor in John for “not getting it,” for “being in the dark.” He is a male, a Jew, a leader in Jerusalem, well-versed and well-respected.

This woman is, obviously, female, is a Samaritan (enemies of the Jews). She’s had a difficult life and pretty much everything she knows about God and/or religion is, from the perspective of a Jewish rabbi, wrong.

But, she meets Jesus at noon—the brightest part of the day. She, unlike Nicodemus last week, is “in the light.” Right away, doesn’t that make you curious? What does she get that a religious leader and teacher of God’s law doesn’t? What is happening in this story?

“Give me a drink,” Jesus asks her. It is a request. He’s simply asking her for some water. It’s her well, after all. And she has the only bucket around.

And, there it is. He asks her for water.

This is Jesus, right? Son of the Almighty God. Second person of the Holy Trinity. Performer of miracles. Doer of signs and wonders. Why doesn’t he create a bucket of his own and draw his own water? Why doesn’t he just make the water come up out of the well by itself and hover right in front of him? Why doesn’t he just miraculously dig his own well with sparkling water? I mean, it’s Jesus, after all. I’m sure he’s share it with her. Or just miraculously hydrate himself.

He’s got all the power, right? Putting aside the Divine thing, from a human perspective he has the advantage too. He is Jewish, he’s male, and he’s respected as a rabbi, a teacher. He’s got every advantage. Why not just make this simple and use his advantage to quench his thirst?

But that’s not what he does. He is tired and he is thirsty. He’s not in his home territory. And so he gives up power, privilege, and advantage and gives it over to her. He becomes vulnerable to her. He submits himself to her and asks her if she would use her bucket and her well to help him. As tired and as thirsty as he is, he allows her to exercise her power over him.

And he has to cross some cultural boundaries to do so. He’s male, she’s female; he’s Jewish, she’s Samaritan. In both cases, he’s not supposed to even talk with her, much less establish a relationship and give her an advantage over him.

Why does he do this? For the same reason Jesus does everything—vulnerability and inclusivity reveal the character of God.

How different is Jesus’ understanding of God than mine! I want an almighty God of strength who uses that strength to help me out. I want a God who is will intervene when I am in need. A God who, because I believe, will give me an advantage over others—the unbelievers and the unrighteous.

The bottom line is that, if God isn’t powerful and giving the advantage to those of us on the inside, what good is that?

This is not exactly the way Jesus goes about it, though. Jesus reveals a God who gives up power. A God who’s more interested in relationship than advantage. A God who is vulnerable. A God who is thirsty and asks for a drink. What good is a God like that?

I had an experience this week that showed me. I was visiting someone in the hospital this week and the spouse of the sick person was there. The one who was sick couldn’t feed themselves or even talk. Completely vulnerable with no advantage whatsoever at that point. But the spouse lovingly fed their sick loved-one a mouthful at a time, talking and smiling and encouraging all the while in genuine love and openness.

I realized, at that moment, how powerfully God was present. This was a #HolyMoment. God was there in the connection between these two. A connection that can only happen when they are open and vulnerable to the other.

God doesn’t come in the power and the morality and the strength and the righteousness. No, God is present in the space created by vulnerability and openness to the other. God is present when we give up our advantage for the sake of an open connection to another person. God is present in that vulnerable space.

Like Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman.

There are four newly resettled refugee families in our church neighborhood. Without knowing it, certainly without choosing it, they are offering us an opportunity to experience the presence of God. They are, right now, quite vulnerable and powerless in a new country. We have every advantage.

Today, let’s give up our advantage. Let’s welcome them as people of dignity and worth. This is Jesus at the well. We have an amazing opportunity to include people with openness and grace. One way is spending time making welcome cards for each family. More than that, cards of gratitude.

In addition to providing material needs for these families that come out of our abundance (i.e., advantage), today let’s make ourselves vulnerable for their sake. Let’s pour out ourselves in love and gratitude. Let’s humble ourselves in their presence. Then, let’s see the presence of God in that space of openness.

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Posted by on March 19, 2017 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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Do not Make a Distinction Between Them and Us

Acts 11:1-18

I wonder if you share this thinking: I have this default setting that keeps telling me that God uses Godly people to make good things happen; and God also spends quite a bit of time trying to reform the ungodly people. Do you have that assumption—that God is better able to use Godly people because they are on the same page? And part of that assumption is that we know who the Godly people are. Right? You can name them.

Exactly what the church leaders in Jerusalem thought in this text from Acts. You see, they were Godly people, committed followers of Jesus. They were doing good things. They were organizing a new church in a culture that wasn’t exactly supportive of their efforts. They were so sure of their Godliness that they called Peter out on some of his behavior because it didn’t line up with that. They understood that God only works through the Godly people. Which, of course, was them.

Before we judge them too harshly, understand that they had some reason to think that. Up until then, all believers in Jesus were Jewish. Male circumcision was the sign of inclusion in God’s covenant with Abraham—and there’s no one more Godly than Abraham. Every believer—every Christian—was circumcised. It had always been God’s way. It was a covenant of trust, of relationship, of commitment, of a life given to God. It was Godly. You could tell who the Godly people were. Or at least you could tell who they weren’t.

So they called Peter out on his ungodly behavior, saying, “You had dinner with uncircumcised people? What were you thinking?! Those people know nothing of God. They aren’t Godly—they don’t even know what it means! Now, because of you, they will assume that they are Godly, and will have no reason to actually become Godly.”

But Peter had a different perspective because he was told by God what God was doing. He tells the church leaders exactly what happened. He had a vision of all the ungodly animals coming down in a large sheet. Every food animal that was forbidden, sinful, that separated one from God was lowered in front of him. God not only tolerated, this, God commanded Peter to eat them. Three times this happened, each time Peter refused, saying that he knew that no believer in Jesus could ever eat these things. And each time God answered telling Peter that God decides what is Godly and what isn’t.

While he’s puzzling about this some unbelievers came from Caesarea. “The Spirit told [Peter] to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.” Make no distinction between us as Godly people and them as unbelieving, ungodly, unrighteous people. So he ended up baptizing them.

What are our assumptions today about who is Godly and who isn’t? By what standard do we impose status of Godliness? Who do we assume God will bless? Those who pray a certain way? Who wear certain clothes? Whose children behave in particular ways? Who live a life-style we approve of? Think for a minute about who you believe to be “ungodly.” . . . “The Spirit told [Peter] to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.”

So you imagine Peter’s surprise when he was informed by God to go with these pagan unbelievers. You can imagine Peter’s shock when God said I’m coming to them, too, just the way they are. Even though they believe differently than you and understand differently than you. You see, Peter, God is powerfully at work well outside your standards.

Well, God is powerfully at work well outside our standards, too. God can and does reveal God’s reign through people with dirty clothes, through disruptive children, through people who don’t pray articulately, through those whose morals and ethics are different than mine.

Peter finally got that. God will do what God does, through those God calls to do it. God decides who is Godly and who isn’t. Not us. And God declared these people from Caesarea to be Godly. “The Spirit told [Peter] to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.”

So he told the leaders in Jerusalem. And (here’s the miracle) all those pastors in Jerusalem got it too. They came to understand that they weren’t any more Godly than anyone else. If they saw God at work somewhere, somehow, they were to get on board. If they understood God to be loving people different than them, they were to love them too. And so they did. They praised God for working in the lives of people they had previously considered ungodly.

The honest question for us is who do we consider to be ungodly? What if God is teaching us something about God through them? What if God is working in Godly ways through them? “The Spirit tells us to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.” That’s hard enough.

But here’s the really difficult thing. What if God is working in Godly ways through you, just the way you are right now? What if you have something to teach the world about who God is and how God works, today? What if, even if you think of yourself as not particularly Godly, God is showing love in the world through you right now? What if God has declared you Godly.

God will do what God does, through those God calls to do it. God decides who is Godly and who isn’t. Not us. And God declares you Godly people today, right now. “The Spirit tells us to go with each other and not to make a distinction between us.” God made you to reveal God to the world. Just the way you are.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 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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Continuing the Epiphany Story (at Well of Hope, ELCA, Castle Pines, CO) 1/6/13

The Epiphany of Our Lord – C

Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

 Greetings from the Office of the Bishop, Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA. I need, first of all, to express appreciation for the partnership we share, not only with the other 164 congregations of the RMS and the other 10,000 congregations of the ELCA, but additionally for the special witness you bring, that of using imagination in sharing the gospel. I hope you can teach the rest of the church how to think in new ways and walk on new ground, as you are being led by the Holy Spirit.

So today is the Day of Epiphany! The day of “aha,” of new insights, of revelation as to who Jesus is and what his purpose is in the world! And the gospel text for this important day is one most people are pretty familiar with—the coming of the magi. What do you do with a story most people already know? On the Day of Epiphany, hopefully you do something new, insightful, revealing.

Magi in Jesus’ day had no business visiting God’s Messiah. The shepherds were bad enough: smelly, rude, rejected outcasts who spent their time not with other people but with animals. But at least they know who God is. At least they have some sense of worship and God’s ways.

But these magi were about as far from pious Jews as you could get. Magi were not “wise men”. They were everything that a God-fearing person tried to avoid. They were pagan, chicken-bone reading, star-gazing magicians. Their faith was not in the God of Israel, it was in tea leaves or chicken gizzards. They knew nothing of God, nothing of the promised Messiah, nothing of worship.

So they come all this way in order to offer gifts to the young King of the Jews because God brought them by a star. That wouldn’t make sense to good Jewish folk; it might have even been abhorrent. But God reached out to these magi in a way that worked for them, made sense to them. God didn’t call them in a way Jews would respond. God didn’t reveal what God was doing through signs God-fearing people would understand. God didn’t even lead them in any way God had ever used before, in a way that would make pious Jews squirm, like a psychic hotline. It was new, it was different, it was for these foreign pagans, so they could experience the presence of God. That’s how far God is willing to go. That’s how radically inclusive this God is.

So that makes me wonder: is God still calling radically diverse people? Is God still reaching out to people in ways the traditionally religious wouldn’t get? Is God using new ways to reach new people with the good news of love, forgiveness, and grace in Jesus?

I believe that’s where you come in. There are hundreds of congregations in this part of the world that see God calling people in more traditional ways. Lots of churches that use evangelism programs, food banks, and social justice issues to reveal God at work in the world. And good! Those are necessary and wonderful!

But you are new. You are unique. You have ways to share the gospel news with people in this neighborhood that no one else can do. You can discover who the magi in Castle Pines are and be God’s sign to them.

Think about that. In the few years this ministry has been in existence, you’ve not really done anything the “normal,” “traditional” way. Your existence here is a living witness to a God who is willing to lead you in new ways. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that God would lead you to reach new people? If this story of the magi tells us anything, it’s that God is quite willing to do things differently, to break new ground in order to reveal the Christ to all people. You are God’s continuation of that.

And one of the most wonderful things about all this is that God has called a pastor to be among you who isn’t afraid of that. Pastor Michelle, you may have noticed, appreciates trying new things and doing things in different ways. Isn’t that what God seems to be about in this gospel story too?

Sometimes that isn’t easy, and sometimes it may be a bit frightening. This text says “all Jerusalem” was frightened by these strange, foreign pagans who came to pay homage to the king of the Jews. Whenever God does things in ways that are outside the experiences of traditional Christian people like me, it can be a bit unnerving or uncomfortable. But God is about calling all people, loving all people, revealing Christ to all people, forgiving all people. Even people who need to hear things differently. Even people who need different signs of God’s presence. Even people who aren’t the least bit interested in being part of what we would call a “normal Lutheran experience.” And God has called you to be the shining star for them; to be the sign of God’s loving, gracious presence for them. Probably in new ways. Because if the previous ways worked, they’d probably already be part of a Lutheran church, right?

So here’s what I encourage you to do:

  • Recognize God’s amazing presence in your own life and ministry.
  • Grow in your understanding of new ways God is at work around you.
  • Study scripture, paying special attention to ways God works and people God calls that are new or unusual.
  • Discover who the magi are in this neighborhood—the people God is calling but who aren’t likely to hear that call through normal church means.
  • Recognize your call as a star rising to lead them to Jesus.

This is the Day of Epiphany! The day of “aha,” of new insights, of revelation as to who Jesus is and what Jesus is about in the world. This is the Day of Epiphany, and God is revealing something new in the world. And you, here in Castle Pines, are called to be that sign in this community.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Sermon

 

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Sermon at “Peace in Christ Episcopal/Lutheran Ministry,” Elizabaeth, CO

Mark 9:30-37

Greetings from the Office of the Bishop, Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA. I need, first of all, to express appreciation for the partnership we share, not only with the other 164 congregations of the RMS and the 10,400 other congregations of the ELCA, but additionally for the special witness you bring to the unity we share as Episcopalians and Lutherans together. You reveal to the broader community the unity Christ brings which overcomes any differences we can create. Thank you for that very visible reminder.

And thank you for the support you provide to both the Colorado Episcopal Diocese and the RMS. By your generosity others are able to be fed, housed, treated, comforted, educated, and have good news proclaimed. You are a reminder than none of us are in this alone. We share this ministry, led by the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus.

I vowed up until a couple of months ago that if I ever spoke on behalf of the Office of the Bishop I wouldn’t bore a congregation with an introduction like that. But I’m seeing things differently these days. I see the difference you make in the wider church. I watch people’s eyes light up when I share your story—what you’re doing here in Elizabeth, how Christ is proclaimed to an entire community through the Holy Spirit active in this small Episcopal/Lutheran ministry. There’s cooperation with youth, food bank, homes built for veterans, community meals, and more.

All this from a very small congregation. Being sent from a very small building. In a very small town.

There are some in our world that would look at the size of this place and attempt to disregard what you do. Others may see your budget and immediately feel superior because they have a more dollars. Does it ever come up in conversation, when you tell people you’re affiliated with Peace in Christ, that the other person says, “Oh, and how many members do you have?” They’re ready to either apologize for their own smallness or brag about being larger.

In our culture, success is automatically measured in size of bank accounts, number of clients, higher income, more expansive acreage, increased sales, higher bushels per acre, and the like.

Even the size of people matters. Adults’ viewpoints often are taken more seriously than childrens’. We still live a little by the old dictum, “Children Should be Seen and not Heard.” They’re just too small to have a valid opinion. We’re better in our attitudes toward children today, but not fully there yet. We have a high school student that serves on the ELCA churchwide council. Because he is “only” in high school, he has voice, but no vote on that council. Hmmm. Really??

In Jesus’ day, children were almost completely disregarded because they were so small. They were weak, a liability, and had no rights. They had to be fed but couldn’t do enough work to compensate. They were completely vulnerable with no power at all. They were simply too little to matter to most people. Have you ever felt that way? Too insignificant to make a difference, to really matter?

Jesus sees things differently than the rest of the world. In God’s eyes, power isn’t revealed by size, but by the Savior of the World scooping up an impoverished child, holding her close, and telling everyone that when we welcome her, we are exhibiting real importance. When we love her, value her, respect her, walk with her get to know her, that’s power as God defines it. Not in spite of the fact that she doesn’t have a lot to offer, but because what this little one has to offer right now matter—it is important, it is significant, and—perhaps even more than big people—what she has to offer is what God values.

Peace in Christ will get bigger—you’re simply too compelling not to. But please never forget these day of being small. As a congregation will get larger, you will sooner or later need to do things differently as a result. Your budget will increase and an already effective ministry will expand. That won’t make Peace in Christ more important, more powerful, or more loved and respected by Jesus.

As a congregation, you are valuable right now. And in the same way, you reveal to the littlest, the weakest, the most vulnerable in Elizabeth and  Elbert County, that they too are valuable, loved, and respected right now. Not is spite of their vulnerability, but because they reveal God’s love and priorities right now. When you help build a home for a veteran, when you stock a food bank for someone who’s hit on hard times, when you have a spaghetti dinner and welcome those outside this congregation, you are Christ, taking a child in his arms. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

On behalf of the RMS, ELCA (and may I dare to speak for the Colorado Episcopal Diocese of the Episcopal Church), thank you, Peace in Christ. Thank you for your partnership, your witness, and your ministry. It is, in fact, beyond valuable. In Christ’s name. Amen.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Sermon

 

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The Struggle to Belong (5 Pent B)

5th Sunday After Pentecost (B)

Lamentations 3:22-33; 2 Cor 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

Jesus heals two people today. Apart from both being female, they are worlds apart. One is young, the 12 year old daughter of a prominent Jewish leader, whose family likely has prestige, respect, and money. Her father will use his position to advocate for her. The other is unnamed, alone, and likely impoverished. She’s had  to contend with a 12 year continuous menstrual flow. There is no one to speak for her, to advocate for her. Both come to Jesus seeking help. Both receive it, but again in bizarrely different ways.

But I’m fascinated by this unnamed woman. She is unique and intriguing. Bleeding, flowing, having a constant period for 12 years—probably her entire adult life. She’s seen every physician, every healer, every quack she could find. No one has been able to help her. She’s sought out and tried every treatment out there, and not only is she still suffering, but she’s become steadily worse. Not only that, but now she’s become destitute because she’s spent every cent she ever had on these treatments. So now not only is she still suffering more than ever, but she continues to feel alone and unclean in the sight of God and her community.

You see, for Jews in that day there were three types of uncleanness that made a person “untouchable,” that separated them from their family, their church, their whole community: leprosy, contact with the dead, and bodily discharges. Jesus deals with two of these today.

But this woman has been unclean, untouchable, and isolated for 12 years. It’s not just the flow of blood she wants fixed. It’s the cultural ramifications of that. She aches to belong, to be part of a community, to be touched by another person again, to have people she can care about and who care about her. Having a group of people that claim you, love you, and know you makes us human. Belonging isn’t a luxury, it is life.

This woman was so desperate to be restored to community that she broke several more laws. She’ not staying separate from the crowds but is in the thick of them, bumping into people, making everyone she contacts unclean. It might be considered an act of extreme selfishness, or it might be incredible desperation. If only I can touch his clothes, I will be made well. She believes that Jesus is her only hope, and she will do anything to be restored to a caring community that claims her as one of their own. She’s terrified and desperate. She, apparently, is willing to do anything to be healed, and therefore part of a community, again.

I’m not sure she’s that different from many of us. Look at the lengths we go to in order to be accepted, loved, part of some community. Gangs are often comprised of young people yearning for acceptance by a group where they feel they belong. The way we dress is a statement about who we identify with, who we want to accept us. Drug and alcohol use, sex partners, physical appearance, tattoos, hair styles have more to do with where we want to belong and who we want to identify with than with anything else.

Just like this unnamed woman with a period lasting 12 years, we yearn to belong. We ache to be part of a community that welcomes us, values us, appreciates us, cares about us.

And a mere touch of Jesus’ clothes will restore us.

Moving through the crowd, finally she gets close enough to Jesus to brush the edge of his outer robe. And immediately the flow of blood stops. She is healed. Now she thinks she can slip away unnoticed and start over with her life. Maybe she can prove to the priests she is clean and perhaps she’ll be accepted into her community again. But it doesn’t quite work out that way.

Jesus knows. He knows what she has done. And he’s searching for her. The jig is up. She’ll never get away with this. She’s made lots of people in the crowd unclean. She’s made Jesus unclean. She’s interrupted him from getting to the bedside of a powerful leader’s daughter who is at death’s door. If Jairus’ daughter dies, she’ll be blamed because she delayed Jesus.

So, trembling with fear, she falls down in front of him and confesses everything. What will Jesus do to her?

And here’s what he does. He calls her “daughter.” Not stranger, not thief, not “hey, you!” But “daughter.” Like they were related. Like they knew and loved each other. Like she belonged. It’s been 12 years since anyone has been close enough to speak to her like that. And rather than punish her or shame her or condemn her, Jesus commends her! “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” You are not only restored to your community, you are restored to God.

This unnamed woman, rejected by everyone else, is loved and valued by Jesus. All of us here today, all of us who can sometimes go to great lengths to be accepted, are loved and valued by Jesus. We belong here. You belong here. Because here we can touch Jesus’ clothes. Here he listens as we tell him our whole truth. Here he calls us “daughters and sons.” Here we are healed. Here we are valued.

So, daughters. So, sons. You are loved, right here, right now. You are welcomed, right here, right now. You are valued, right here, right now. You are healed of your isolation. You are not only restored to a community that cares about you, you are restored to God. Go in peace, your faith has made you well.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2012 in Sermon

 

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