Sermon for 10/13/19 Luke 17:11-19

I spent some time at a conference in Denver last week called “Evolving Faith.” Many of the attendees of the conference might classify themselves as “exvangelicals.” They came from various faith denominations. Many, however, have been hurt by the church and her people. Something happened in their lives and the church that they loved was no longer a safe place. I heard a story of a woman who was heavily involved with her church and then her brother came out as gay and she and her family were no longer welcome in church. Another story of a cancer diagnosis and no one from the church bothered to call. At the end of the conference, we misfits, all 2,000 plus attendees gathered around the table to have a humble meal of bread and wine. For some, it had been years since they had communion. For others, like me, it had just been a few weeks. But for so many in attendance, it was the first time in a very long time that they felt seen. They didn’t need to put on airs, pretend to be okay or well, have it altogether, or even be confident in what they believed. We were welcomed at the table, just as we were, and so we went. There is power in being seen. 

The lepers in our story today were seen. I think this is a story about healing. I think this is a story about what it means to be grateful. I also think this is a story about what it means to give praise to God. I also think this could be a story about what it means to give thanks. But, it all starts with being seen, and there is power in that. The lepers were probably used to not being seen. After all, they weren’t the most aesthetically pleasing crowd. Jesus met them on their turf, so to speak. Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. This was dangerous territory. It probably wasn’t a well traveled road. It wasn’t safe for the average Judean. But, it was safe for the lepers. In this region, they could just be. They could be in community with other lepers without the stares, without the gossip, without the looks of pity, without people crossing over to the other side of the street. They could live without having to justify even the breath in their own lungs. And then Jesus came along. And I think it’s important for us to once again hear and see what happens before healing and rejoicing happens. Listen again. 

Verses 12 starts “as he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,” because remember, that’s what they were used to, society had trained them to do that, “they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them,” and I want to stop right there. Jesus saw them. He saw the lepers. He saw their full humanity. He saw them and then healed them. And his immediate command was “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” What Jesus said basically was “go and make yourself seen by someone else as well!” The priest was the person that could bring the lepers back into community fully. The priest was one of the people that would insure that the lepers would be seen fully. There is power in being seen. 

I believe that the lepers praised God because they were healed, yes, (I can’t blame them) but because of what the healing means. See, during this time, there was much expected of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. If someone had an illness that could be visually observed (such as boils or leprosy), or if someone had been seized by a evil spirit then they were outcast by all of society. Their family, their town and community, even their church didn’t want anything to do with them. After all, what if it is contagious. Thank goodness we don’t operate like that anymore. (eyeroll) For the lepers, healing meant that they can now be seen as members of the community again, as members of their families again, as participants in worshiping communities again. There is power in being seen. When you feel seen, how can you not but praise God? After all, it is often only God that truly sees you. 

When was the last time you felt seen? And I mean truly seen? I had to ask myself this question and I don’t know that I have a good answer. I am seen a lot as my roles, which isn’t a bad thing. I am seen as Ellen’s mom, or Chris’ wife, or Pastor, or sister, or whatever. But, when was the last time I felt seen as Jealaine, child of God? Because, as I’ve said over the last few weeks, if that is our core identity, which it is, then when was the last time you felt really seen in your core identity? And I also had to wonder what what prevents me from being seen. The answer really stung, my beloved. I prevent me from being seen. There is power in being seen and there is healing in being seen and I am getting in my own way, maybe you can relate. 

Maybe I don’t want to be seen because then if I am seen, I will be fully seen. This means I will be seen with all my flaws. I will be seen with all my shortcomings. I will be seen with all my sins. I don’t want people to see that. I don’t want to be shunned from the community. I don’t want to be a leper. But did you notice something about the lepers that Jesus healed? There was more than one. Even within the leper community, there was more than one. This was a group of people that managed to look at one another’s brokenness and said, “hey, me too! Let’s travel together.” Maybe church should be more like that. I am broken. You are too. And together we aren’t whole. But we are a whole lot. That is because God sees us. All of us. Just as we are. 

Soon, we misfits in this place will gather around this table to be seen once again. Sure, I will hand you bread and wine, but it is God that is meeting you in this meal and is seeing you. The body of Christ given for you who is working long hours for little pay. The blood of Christ shed for you who feels guilty for letting those dishes sit in the sink another day. The body of Christ given for you whose marriage is falling apart. The blood of Christ shed for you who just needs a break, is that too much to ask? The body of Christ given for you whose own body is starting to fail you. The blood of Christ given to you who doesn’t quite know what to think about this God and Jesus stuff. The body of Christ given to you who fight demons every day. The blood of Christ given to you who have a child that breaks your heart daily. You are seen. You are called. You are claimed. And you are seen. You are loved right where you are, no matter where you are. And you are seen. All thanks and praise be to God, you are seen. 


Sermon for 9/29/19 Luke 16:19-31

With all of the other news going on in the world, you might have missed that there has also been a college admissions scandal happening. And maybe this wouldn’t be such big news if it didn’t involve Hollywood celebrities, big dollar amounts, recognizable college names, and acts that to me are honestly so ridiculous that I just shake my head. For example, there was a family that bought a swimsuit with their high school logo on it, had him put it on, and staged him in their backyard pool just so they could Photoshop him into water polo pictures to justify him getting a water polo scholarship.Now, he didn’t even play water polo, but he got a scholarship! Then there were the celebrities that paid bribes between $250,000 and $500,000 to get their kids into USC. Or paying $15,000 to have someone cheat on the SAT for their child. Of course, all of this is coming to light now and people are starting to pay fines and serve jail time. They are getting what is coming to them! It has been very hard to find anyone that feels sorry for these folks. 

I mean,if we’re honest, it’s hard to find a better feeling than schadenfreude. Schadenfreude is a nice German word that means taking pleasure in other people’s pain. In other words, celebrating when people finally get what is coming to them. These hoity toity rich people tried to circumvent the system and now they’re going to pay. The rich man in our story today flaunted his wealth in life and now in death he is begging for relief and it just isn’t happening. It’s hard not to have a schadenfreude moment. Now, it is not a sin to be rich. The man isn’t in Hades being tormented because he was rich. It was what he did with his riches and how he treated those with less that sealed his fate. We don’t know why he flaunted his wealth. Maybe it was a lack of confidence in who God created him to be. We never really find out. 

Now Jesus is talking to the Pharisees… oh good, “them” again. No, we are the Pharisees. They had that opinion that if you did what needed to be done then you would get the goodies. The rich man was rich so obviously he was doing what God wanted. The rich man ate and Lazarus picked up the crumbs. Only the dogs ministered to him. (Side note, this just goes to show what amazing creatures dogs really are. Do you think a cat would have done that?) Did you notice something unique about this text? Whose name do we know?  We know Lazarus’ name. He has an identity. The rich man doesn’t have a name. He’s anonymous. One might think that it would be the other way around. After all, in previous stories, and with other people that Christ deals with, the forgotten are hardly named. The woman at the well, the lepper, the Syrophoenician woman, and on and on. But this poor beggar named Lazarus. His is not to be confused with Jesus’ dear friend to be raised later, also named Lazarus. 

Now, the rich man has a theology that says if “I do what God wants me to do my investments will do well, I’ll do good and everyone will know how good I am.” While we may not admit it, many of us dare think the same way. The Pharisees, in many ways, are American popular religion. If we just get our act together, God will love us, country, people, individuals,  we just have to do what’s right, God will check it off so we can get what’s coming to us and if we don’t get what’s coming to us we can just complain to God that God’s not playing fair. We should know by now that these conversations rarely go well. This is often sold as the “American Dream.” If you work hard and trust the system, you should be able to live at (or maybe even a little above) your means and provide for your family. When the system fails us we look for people and places to blame and sometimes that means blaming God. After all, we think we’re following the rules, whatever they may be.  

But Lazarus lives by trusting God. Eating what falls into his lap. Receiving the gift from those others would call the dogs, the unclean. That’s really a challenge for us. More and more we are ignoring those on the side of the road. We are interested in being right, successful, powerful, like no one else. We are becoming anonymous because we’re just like everyone else. But Jesus speaks of Lazarus. But right now he’s an identified poor man. Someone who trusts in Jesus has an identity. A name. A name that Jesus can speak. A name that you can I can speak. Don’t you realize that when you and I were baptized that we were given a name? We were introduced to God. I baptize “the name.” That name is important. That name contains the promise that we have been given. That name says that we have what we need to be the people of God. And that’s far more important than this other stuff. If you’re unsure of what God thinks of you, dip your hands in the waters. If you’re unsure of what God thinks of you, come to the table and be fed.

But then we get to the story of the bosom of Abraham and Hades. Don’t try and figure it out. We’re so interested in trying to figure out the “what is to come” that we miss the here and now. The challenge is trying to live as God’s people–now. Eternal life has already begun–now. Let’s live that way rather than wring hands. Will we (the church) exist in 30, 40, 70 years? Who cares? The challenge for us is to be the people of God in 30, 40, 70 years not the institution.

If we get it right, we get the goodies. We get it wrong. We’re not always sure the baptismal promises are for us. We don’t hear our names which is all we need. God is alive and active. 

The church is God’s church for God’s people for God’s world. Somewhere along the way we got it wrong in thinking it belongs to us. This isn’t a comfortable text. It names our lack of faith because we really desire credit for what we put into the account. But it’s already ours. We are called to trust. And in trusting we shall live. Whether it is crumbs from the table or the feast at the table, we shall live in our identity as the people of God. Trust in who God created you to be. Trust in who God has called you to be. Trust that when God calls you, it is not because you are wealthy, but because you are already rich.

Sermon for 9/22/19 Luke 16:1-13

This is one of the most difficult parables of Jesus’ to understand. If you are hoping that I will make sense of it for you today, I am sorry to say that I will disappoint you terribly. There’s a lot going on in this passage today. There is a dishonest manager who is commended by his master for acting shrewdly. Honestly, if you’ve been listening to Jesus for a while, that seems to be a strange turn of events. But then we are told that “whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much” and the same with dishonesty. But, what most people know and remember from this scripture is that last verse. “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13). While I dare not try to improve on scripture nor suggest revisions to anything that Jesus says, I’d like to propose that we cannot serve God and anything else that isn’t god, but we darn sure do try. 

Things might get confusing today, because I will be talking about worshipping God with a capital “G.” I hope you know that means I speak of the trinitarian God we confess. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This is the God that is present in baptism and at Holy Communion. This is the God that I pray to and that I pray you pray to. I am also going to speak about god with a lower case “g.” This is the god of sin. This is the god that we pretend is our God. This is the thing (or even people) that we put before God (capital G). This is whatever we attempt to serve in addition to serving our Lord and savior. Sadly, too many times, a lowercase g god is where our loyalties lay. 

Now, I am going to call on some confirmation learning. Does anyone recall what the first commandment is? It is “You shall have no other gods.” (Pastor Hoppenworth, Pastor Sondrol and the others would be proud of you!) Now, as Martin Luther would ask, “what does this mean?” It means “we are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.” It sounds easy enough until we put it into practice. Because as I said, we often attempt to serve God and other things. And we can’t. And the truth is, that is so frustrating. And so often, our frustrations lay with God. That can feel like an uncomfortable place to be. 

See, many of the other gods (lowercase g) we attempt to serve are good things that enhance our lives. But when put in context, it seems cruel. Rather, God seems cruel. See, we cannot serve God and family. We cannot serve God and our jobs. We cannot serve God and country. We cannot serve God and church. We cannot serve God and our friends. We cannot serve God and our communities. We cannot serve God and our hobbies. We cannot serve God and ourselves. When you lay it out like that, it does seem cruel, doesn’t it? After all, God gives us most of, if not all of those things. God gave me my family. Doesn’t God expect me to care for them, take care of them, nurture them? After all,we prayed for a baby for years and thought we would experience nothing but heartbreak and then we had Ellen. God called me to a life of ministry. This is my job. This is my calling.Why can’t I serve God and this calling equally? To say that we cannot serve God and country seems to disrespect every active duty personnel and veteran in this country. Would we dare say such a thing standing in Arlington National Cemetery or even at the 9/11 memorial? When we seem to pit these things against each other, it almost makes God sound like a jealous lover. 

But we are told over and over that we cannot nor should we serve other gods. And why is this? I mean, I hate to ask what may sound like an elementary question here, but “why not!?” Why can’t I serve my family and God? Why can’t I serve God and my calling? Why can’t I serve God and my friends? I want to. No, I’m not sorry that I sound like a toddler right now. God made me. God knows this is how I can be sometimes. I want to stomp my feet, shake my fists, and cry until I get my way. I want to do both. Except I know that I am dealing with God and God doesn’t work like that. So, when I calm down long enough for my little tantrum to be over, I am in a better place to realize the answer I’ve known all along. I cannot serve two masters because whatever master isn’t God will ultimately let me down. Let me say that again. We cannot serve two masters, God and whatever, because whatever is not God will ultimately let us down. This is because whatever isn’t God is of human nature. And whatever is of human nature, no matter how good it may seem, will at some time, become tainted with sin. 

The other reason we cannot serve God and anything else is because nothing else, no matter how much we may love it or how much it may love us can save us. And that can be maddening. Because there are so many things and people we surround ourselves with that are amazing and loving and full of life, but at the end of the day, those things and people cannot save us. Now, please understand, I am not telling you to go live life as a hermit. Bury yourself under a rock, cancel your social media accounts, and keep all your money under your mattress. No. This is more of an invitation to inventory. Perhaps this is an invitation for self  confession. What do try to serve along with God? For me, I try to serve God and money, family, my calling, my friends, and self care, just to name a few. I fail every time. 

And I know that there will be times when, whether we like it or not, there will be things that come before God. I am especially reminded of that as we get closer to harvest. I know there will be Sundays that I don’t see many of you, and that’s just the way it is. But please, whatever it is, don’t dwell in guilt too long. Jesus did not sacrifice himself so that we could make martyrs of ourselves. You have been forgiven, so start acting like it. What gods (lowercase g) are you attempting to serve? How has that been serving you? Jesus tells us that we cannot serve God and wealth. And this is true. But maybe it is possible to serve God (capital G) and be rich. This is the currency that means nothing in the here and now, but will in the kingdom that it is to come. This is also the richness that comes when our debts are forgiven the way that only the cross is able to forgive. Being rich and being forgiven, truly forgiven, isn’t something that serving a god (little g) will ever be able to accomplish. As tempted as we may be to serve more than one God, only one God leads to eternal life. 

Sermon for 9/15/19 Luke 15:1-10

Going after one lost sheep out of the 99 you already have or one lost coin out of the 9 you already have doesn’t make a lot of sense; that is, until you are the one lost sheep or one lost coin. I want to let that sit for just a moment. Looking for a lost anything may not make much sense until you are the thing that is lost and would love nothing more than to be found. The desperation that comes with the desire to be found is great. I’m not necessarily talking about being physically lost. These days with the advancements in technology and the fact that practically everyone carries a GPS in their pockets, being physically lost isn’t as common as it once was. No, I’m talking about a metaphorical sense of lost. This is the kind of loss that usually accompanies spiritual, emotional, and mental health struggles. This is the kind of loss that dares to ask spiritually draining questions like “doesn’t God know I’m suffering” and “doesn’t anyone care.” Deep stuff for today and we’re only a paragraph in! 

Going after one lost sheep out of the 99 you already have or one lost coin out of the 9 you already have doesn’t make that much sense; that is, until you are the lost sheep or lost coin. What might be lost that you would stop at nothing to find? I posed this question to council this past week at our monthly meeting. Universally, the answer was the same: people. The answers varied, but it was always people: a spouse, a child, or even just family overall. No one could think of a material item that would be worth searching to the ends of the earth to find. I loved the answers. We would stop at nothing to find those most precious to us. But, what if you were the one that was lost. Would you want people to put up a fight, search the very last corners of the earth, turn over ever last shadow to find you, or would you rather just not cause any trouble?

Going after one lost sheep out of the 99 you already have or one lost coin out of the 9 you already have doesn’t make that much sense; that is, until you are the lost sheep or lost coin. Let’s talk about these lost sheep and lost coin, shall we? My colleague, Rev. Emmy Kegler has written a book called “One Coin Found” which, of course, references this scripture a lot. She says “You know what’s funny about sheep? They wander. That’s what they do. That’s why, when humans domesticated animals, there arose a new role: the shepherd. Someone’s got to keep the herd together. It isn’t some rebellion against intrinsic sheep-ness’ it’s not malicious or sinful or particularly stubborn, really. Sheep wander. It’s what they do. They wander because they’re hungry. The shepherd didn’t bring them to a fertile enough field. Or they are sick, or injured, or old. And sometimes sheep run. A hundred sheep are a hundred potential meals for the wolves that wander the same wilderness. If you don’t have a shepherd watching for the wolves, the sheep can end up missing– or a meal. We’ve all known shepherds like that. Shepherds unable to see that we’re hungry or hurting or hounded by wolves that seek to tear us apart. Leaders and friends who, through passive or active indifference, see our hunger and our hurts and write them off as inconsequential. And so, we go wandering. We try to find fields that will feed us, a place safe to rest, protection from a world that wants to devour us. Calling wanderers from the faith ‘lost sheep’ fundamentally misses what a sheep is: a herd animal, gently wandering hillsides with its family in search of food and shelter. They don’t just run off. There would need to be a a cause: a rockslide, a wolf, bad grass, no water. If someone is a ‘lost sheep’ drawn away from the ‘fold’ of the church, perhaps Christians should wonder what they aren’t tending to in that sheep. Did you notice they were hungry? Did you see when the other sheep shut them out? Did you let them fall behind when they got hurt? This is additionally highlighted for me in the story of the lost coin, because coins can’t lose themselves. They are inanimate. Someone else had to be careless with a coin, if it is lost. Seeing Jesus’ parables as only about repentant sinners neglects how ⅔ of the ‘lost’ things aren’t intentionally sinning against their owners. Sheep get hungry if untended and coins stay where they’re put until someone else loses them. 

Is it possible that [this scripture] is as much about the failure of those in leadership and authority? Is God’s rejoicing just as much for the ‘lost’ who find their way despite institutional neglect?” It can be a dangerous thing to sit in this place week after week. You may leave feeling angry at God (why must Jesus challenge us so). You may leave mad at me (doesn’t she know I’m going through a difficult time. Why didn’t she call?). Or you may just leave and not come back. The church is a difficult place to be when your unbelief is greater than your belief. We don’t always leave place for doubt. We don’t leave place for anger, grief, or disappointment. This is because the church universal seems to be built on a model that encourages the church to be a place only for people that have it all together. The church is built on a model that celebrates the nuclear heterosexual family with 2.5 children, working father, stay at home mom, and Spot the dog. 

The church isn’t necessarily built for lost coins and lost sheep. Well, as Christians we may not be built for that. We can’t celebrate the grace given for all because we don’t believe that God gives grace to sinners like us. We can’t celebrate the love given by God through Jesus to all because we don’t believe that God loves sinners like us. We don’t want to come to the table every single day given the opportunity because then it wouldn’t be special. But for hungry sinners, I promise you that the body and blood of Jesus is special and a life line we so desperately desire. Instead of admitting that we are the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost disciple, we put on our church clothes, slap on a smile, and sit with empty platitudes and hungry souls. 

Going after the one lost sheep when you already have 99 or one lost coin when you already have 9 doesn’t make a lot of sense, that is, unless you are the lost sheep or lost coin. Hear me now, my beloved, God will stop at nothing to find you. Nothing. There is nothing that separates us from the love of God, not even death. Let’s stop pretending. If you have felt abandoned by the church, I’m sorry. If you’ve felt abandoned by me, I’m sorry. Neither the church nor I am perfect. But thanks be to God, we serve a shepherd that is. We serve a servant that will stop at nothing to find us. God stops at nothing to find us because we are worth finding. No matter how lost you might feel, you are worth finding. You are worth finding and you are worth celebrating. Going after the one lost sheep when you already have 99 or one lost coin when you already have 9 doesn’t make a lot of sense, that is, until you are the lost sheep or lost coin. 


Sermon for 9/8/19 Luke 14:25-33

Look, I’m not super excited that this text fell on this Sunday. Like, of all Sundays, why this one? All of the kids have returned for Sunday school, which I love. Some of you are back (even without kids) after a summer hiatus. And then we get to do one of my most favorite things today and that is baptize beautiful Palmer. So,you can imagine how thrilled I was when I read the scripture for today and saw that Jesus says that if we don’t hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters,and yes, even life itself, then we cannot be his disciples. Thanks a lot, Jesus! It feels like Jesus has been on a roll lately with these stories, parables, and sayings he’s just throwing out there. What do we say to Jesus when he says things like this?

A quick survey: how many of you have either said or heard this phrase “If you don’t stop, I will turn this car around!” I think this is Jesus’ version of that. (“I will turn this donkey around!”) There are times when you have to kind of go to extremes in order for people to listen or start to comprehend the point you are trying to make. Yes, for Jesus to say that we need to “hate” is perhaps a hyperbole. But that doesn’t change the fact that what he is saying is serious and that what it will take to be a disciple is serious. We should not forget that for Jesus, this is a matter of life and death. His death is our life. From the beginning of Luke we are told that the infant that Mary carries in her womb is not just another baby. As I referenced a few weeks ago, Mary sings of Jesus’ ministry before he even enters the world. We are told that the powerful will be brought down from their thrones. The hungry will be filled with good things and the rich will be sent away empty. Are we really to think that this all will happen because discipleship means the easy way?

Even though we are physically in September and even though today is our first day of Sunday school, we have to remember that what we are reading in scripture in current day didn’t happen at the same time that we read it. So, today’s reading didn’t happen in September during Jesus’ time. In fact, it probably didn’t. Jesus has already turned his face and his mind to Jerusalem. He has already started to think about the thing that we normally think about during Lent: his death. Up until now, Jesus has tried to have a few “now or never” moments with the disciples. But this is serious. It’s almost as if Jesus has reached his breaking point. Here is the message the disciples need to hear today. Here is the message we need to hear today, my beloved. Discipleship is not a part-time, when I get to it, if I have enough time and it’s convenient to me, or a what will I get out of it kind of job. Discipleship is a call. Last week I talked about our baptismal identity being not what we are but who we are. Discipleship is the same way: it is not about what we are but who we are.

I don’t know if you knew this but most of  you are already disciples. The moment you were splashed and proclaimed, you became a card-carrying disciple. Did you know that? Do you think of yourself as a disciple? That’s a good question, isn’t it? Let me ask you again: do you think of yourself as a disciple? Now, let me push you a bit more (because I try to be more like Jesus, ya know). When do you claim that discipleship citizenship? Because even though we’re all disciples and God desires for us to live into that called and claimed identity 100% of the time, we tend to only do it when it feels good. Or maybe that’s just me. Help to feed the hungry? Sign me up! I’m a disciple! Teach at Vacation Bible School? Sign me up! I’m a disciple! Build a habitat house? Sign me up! I’m a disciple. If we’re honest, doing these things are great. They need to be done. But, they also make us feel good. But what about discipleship that doesn’t cause warm fuzzies?

Sit at tables with people that are completely opposed to everything I support? Sorry. Super busy. Attend a protest where I will literally have to put my body on the line and maybe get arrested? Doesn’t Jesus know I have a reputation to maintain? Listen to stories of how broken systems and broken churches hurt people over and over again and not be able to do a darn thing about it? That sounds terrible. Count me out. But Jesus is giving us this “are you in or are you out” kind of mentality. He lays it all out there for everyone to see and hear. Being his disciple means that you may be put in situations and predicaments that put you at complete odds with the people that you love the most. Being a disciple means that those who love you learn of your discipleship card-carrying status and immediately shun you. After all, who wants to be associated with people who love and serve a man that allows himself to get arrested, flogged, and crucified? What kind of leader does that?

I know I say this often, but I’ll say it again. Discipleship is not easy. It is not for the faint of heart. I know. I speak from experience. I am sure there are several ways that I fail at discipleship daily if not hourly. I so desire the easy way out and that is not what is asked of us as disciples. Discipleship is a life-long commitment to kingdom building in an environment that believes only in the building up of self. We are called to build community in environments that care only about building the bottom line. We are called to care for justice while living in communities that support unjust systems. We are called to die daily to ourselves and rise to new life in Christ when we are surrounded by informercials that guarantee us that we can be better for only $19.95. Discipleship isn’t about what we are, but who we are. And we are card carrying disciples. 

Today, all of you are literally becoming card carrying disciples. I have passed out these cards in the hopes that you will keep them someplace handy. Maybe you’ll tuck it away in your wallet, in the visor of your car, or in the corner of the mirror in your bathroom. Written on these cards are the promises we make in baptism. We make these promises today to Palmer, but we also affirm them to ourselves and to the people around us. It’s important to remember that we don’t do this discipleship work alone. I wanted to have these available for you (and me) because when it feels like the world is against us, I wanted something to reference. What does my baptismal identity call me to do? What does Christ call me to do? We are called to live among God’s faithful people. We are called to proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace. This is our job description. 

Sometimes as the church, we get bogged down in the small things that seem like big things. When in reality, we need to step back, remind ourselves of what our call really is. I hear horror stories of churches experiencing splits because they want to replace the old pews that are falling apart. And I think to myself “Jesus didn’t die for this.” But what Jesus did die for doesn’t even seem to be on our radar unless it’s convenient for us. Jesus has demanded a lot of his disciples. It’s a now or never moment. We are washed in water, claimed by God, marked with the cross of Christ, fed with body and blood, and then sent out into the mission field. We will be rejected. We will be ignored. We will be shunned. But so was Jesus. And for me, I’d rather serve and follow the one who loves, who dwells in mercy and grace, than follow anyone or anything that doesn’t care about my eternal life. 

Sermon for 9/1/19 Luke 14: 1, 7-14

If I somehow had the ability to transport you back to my childhood home on Tudor Lane in Liberty, Missouri, the first place I’d probably take you was the kitchen. Like so many other homes, our kitchen was the hub of the household. We had a large bar that served as the collection site of the mail,notes to one another (or to ourselves), lunch making prep, and on occasion, it was a sitting place (although my parents weren’t huge fans of us sitting on counter tops). Not too far from the bar was the heart of the kitchen: our family table. It was a solid wood oval piece with an optional leaf. For the longest time it had only 5 chairs. Dad sat at the head of the table to his left was mom, then my sister Jayna (opposite my dad), my brother Jon, then me to dad’s right. Even when someone was missing from the table (which was rare) we always sat in the same seats. It was rare for someone to sit in Dad’s seat. A lot of learning took place around that table. We learned a lot from one another but it also was the homework hub of the house. It wasn’t uncommon for the table to be cleared from dinner and everyone took their place to study. That table was a place where our identities were formed and shaped. It was where we processed bad news and celebrated good news. It was the place where we planned for weddings and babies. While this may sound strange, my parents don’t use that table any more; their new table is just as big and nice, but it’s not the same. 

I thought about that table a lot this past week as I reflected on this Gospel reading. Jesus does a lot of his teaching in Luke around a table and around food. In fact, he does more of his teaching, fellowship, and discourse around the table and food more in Luke than in any other Gospel. Are you like me? Were you formed and taught around a table? How many of your core identities are tied to a table? I think about who I am and how that part of me was formed and shaped around a table. I am a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, an aunt, a niece, and a wife. All of those roles were formed and shaped around our table. I learned a lot by watching, listening, learning, and the fellowship, hospitality, and lessons shared around tables taught me how to be who I am today. But, I am also a Pastor, a mom, a friend, and a lot more. Many of those roles were formed around tables that I had the honor of being invited to. What tables shaped you? What identities do you have?

It helps to know a bit about Jesus’ context that he speaks from this week. He is at a dinner on the sabbath. He has just come from healing someone on the sabbath, again. This is a dinner of a captive audience of the Pharisees and their leader. These are people who would be very well versed in what proper table and party etiquette would be. At a wedding banquet during Jesus’ time, the place of honor would be held for someone important, perhaps someone high up. Usually this seat was saved for some government official. Jesus is cautioning his listeners to not sit in the place of honor. Perhaps he is trying to save them all from embarrassment and shame. The thing is, however, a lot of these people he’s surrounded by in this story would be people sitting close to the seat of honor. That’s how it went in Jesus’ time. If you weren’t in the seat of honor, you were seated almost by rank. 

Instead, Jesus encourages his listeners to take a posture of humility and sit in the lowest place, wherever that may be. Jesus, as usual, is challenging the status quo and what tradition looks like. What his listeners may not understand or just may not hear is that a banquet, at least a banquet during Jesus’ time, isn’t a true banquet unless everyone is invited. The banquet that awaits us all in God’s kingdom isn’t a true banquet unless everyone is invited. At a kingdom banquet, we are shaped and formed by those around us in ways that may be unexpected and yet also in ways that are most rewarding. 

Think back (again) on your identities. Take a moment to make a mental list of the identities you have. Do any of these come with honor and prestige? Are you given a seat of honor at the table because of this title? Or are you given the seat of honor out of fear of retaliation. Do any of you have a title or identity that perhaps once gave you honor and/or prestige but societal expectations have diminished that? Here’s an example: being a teacher (in my opinion) is a position of power, prestige, and honor. I was raised by teachers and I married a teacher. I was taught to respect my teachers. If one of my child’s teachers brought up a concern over her attitude or behavior, I wouldn’t first jump to believing that the teacher was lying. “Oh goodness! Not my angel of a child.” Doctors and nurses have to deal with this too (I’m guessing). It used to be that whatever doctors and nurses said went. It was the truth. Doctors and nurses could be trusted (in my opinion, they still are to be trusted). But, then came Doctor Google. And suddenly, an identity of honor and prestige is no longer. 

Society also places expectations on our titles and identities. The titles and identities so carefully formed around tables of comfort, safety, security,and learning are challenged externally all the time. I am guessing there are millions of articles out in the world about how to be a better mother. How to be more involved, how to better discipline, how to make the perfect nutritious lunch, how to raise children to not be addicted to electronics and on and on. And make no mistake, there are similar articles for men. There are articles out there for any identity you may have. For me, it’s the articles on increasing attendance and increasing the bottom line that give me impostor syndrome. I mean, after all, what kind of Pastor am I if I am not leading 6 services a weekend to a congregation of 5000 with a $3-5 million dollar budget? Our identities are important. But they are what we are, not who we are. 

Jesus wants to shake up the status quo. He’s not trying to be a jerk about this. 

But he desires for the Pharisees, his disciples, and all of us to start living into the idea that hierarchy is a human construct. Places of importance based on status and human given identities is just an easy way for us to persecute one another. It is important that we are aware of our identities. It certainly is important that we celebrate our identities. It is crucial that we grow in our identities and nourish the relationships that form from them. But in God’s kingdom, at the ultimate banquet, around the most lavish table, none of that will matter. There is no place of honor at that table other than Jesus. 

Today, Kami receives her most important identity. This is the identity that will matter more than anything else. This is the identity that should mean more to all of us than anything else. Because nothing else matters more than being a called and claimed child of God.  This is the identity that will shape all others as she gathers around tables in the future. Because her place in the kingdom is secure, as is ours, that is what allows us to look at tables and not celebrate who is gathered but instead make room for the forgotten. Our identity as children of God is what encourages us to build more tables and chairs when we have more than enough food. Our baptismal identity is what allows us to look into the eyes of the stranger, the forgotten, the downtrodden, even our neighbor and say “here, have my seat.” 

Sermon for 8/25/19 Luke 13:10-17

Not to long ago, I started watching a new series on Netflix called “Diagnosis.” It is a documentary series that features real people dealing with real physical ailments. These people usually have been suffering for years but with no relief and no diagnosis. With the help of a doctor and The New York Times, these people and their stories are shared world wide in the hopes of finding a diagnosis. And it happens and it’s so amazing. I wondered if the internet or The New York Times would have existed at the same time as Jesus if the woman in today’s gospel would have suffered for 18 years. 

Think about this, she was bent over for 18 years. There was the physical pain, I’m sure, that accompanies being bent over for that long. I mean, I think many of us take for granted all of the ways we are able to bend and stretch. It’s only usually when we are unable to do those things that we learn how important they are. But, there also had to be an emotional, mental, psychological, and maybe even spiritual component to her ailment. Think about this: she was literally hunched over. Her world view consisted only of what her eyes could see. For 18 years, she hadn’t been able to see the sun or the stars. She may have struggled to look into the eyes of her loved ones. Because of her ailment, she was most likely shunned by those around her in the community. She was avoided, ignored, or maybe even shunned. While the text does not say as much, I can only imagine the kind of toll that took on her mental health. 

Enter Jesus, of course. He was in the synagogue teaching. The woman shows up. Now, we are not told if this is her first time at the synagogue or if she is a regular attendee. What I do know is that no matter if she’s a visitor or a regular, it takes a lot of courage to show up. I commend her. And Jesus, of course, sees her. And Jesus, of course, does what Jesus does, and heals her. But he goes a step further and lays hands on her. Her healing takes place immediately. All of her 18 years of trouble are gone in an instant. The woman’s response is to praise God. This is where our language lacks (once again). The idea behind this praising verb is that it is continual. This praising is not a one time thing. She praises God and praises God and praises God and on and on. 

But there are the naysayers. There are always the naysayers, aren’t there? We so badly want to side with Jesus on this one, don’t we? Well, at least I do. Of course he’s going to heal on the sabbath. Jesus sees someone in need and responds to that need. That’s what Jesus does. But, I have also sounded like or at least thought like the leader of the synagogue too often. Sunday is the day of sabbath. Scripture tells us we are to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. There are very few places any more that are actually closed on Sunday. Sunday has become the day when we grocery shop, do the laundry, catch up on that yard work, participate in the club sports, prepare for the week ahead and on and on. I even engage in a lot of these things once my work here is done many Sunday’s. 

At the same time, it’s not unheard of for me or any of my other colleagues to lament the attendance at church. Maybe you’ve done it yourself. People say “church just doesn’t seem to  be the priority of families any more.” Or “the only time available to have youth group is Tuesday nights at 10pm or Thursday morning at 530 because these kids are so busy.” By saying or thinking these things, we are just like the leader of the synagogue. So, I am actually understanding the lament of the synagogue leader here a bit. I understand why Jesus did what he did but I also understand why the leader feels the way he did. It’s a bit of a conundrum really. 

For Jesus, it wasn’t a matter of obeying the sabbath, it was a matter of life and death. The fact that he brings up obtaining water for the animals is his way of trying to convey this message. Remember, his audience were people that live in a very hot and humid climate. Having water for your animals (animals, I might add, that will provide sustenance for your family) is a matter of life and death. If the animals die, the families might not have food or a way to monetarily support their family. Others might argue though that keeping the sabbath is a matter of life and death. Luther says that following the sabbath means that “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” There are many who believe that attending church, listening to God’s word, feasting at the table, and being in Christian community with one another is a matter of life and death.

What are we to do then with this conundrum? Well, it should be no surprise to any of you that I am going to preach and encourage us to look on the side of grace. I say it shouldn’t surprise you because if you’ve been here longer than a minute you know that my sermons,my life, my “brand” so to speak is all about grace. While Jesus gives the crowd and the synagogue leader what sounds like a lecture, it really is an invitation to grace. Jesus highlights the ways that they are not living into a sabbath by feeding and watering their animals. Although it may not sound like it, this really is grace. Jesus is inviting them to continue living into grace instead of  always trying to live by the law. The law is great. God’s laws are there to protect us and guide us. But trying to live our lives by the law can be exhausting because it is practically impossible. I know many of you would love a true sabbath day; a day when literally nothing has to be done other than the spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental feeding of your body. That sounds amazing. But, I also know that it is impossible. There is always something that has to be done. 

So, we can either beat ourselves up knowing that we’re not obeying and keeping the sabbath holy or we can live into the grace God through Jesus Christ invites us to. While we may not be physically impaired like the woman in our story, our focus can tend to be like hers prior to healing. We are only able to see so much. It is only when Jesus heals us and lays hands on us that our perspective opens up. Sometimes we are so focused on the law, the must-dos, and, unfortunately, shaming those who do not live by the law (including ourselves) that our focus gets to be like tunnel-vision. Jesus invites us to open our eyes and our minds. When we engage in confession of the things we have done and the things we have left undone, we confess in the ways we have lived by the law, or not, and the ways we might have demanded others live by the law. And through the saving and redemptive power of the cross, we are forgiven. When we are splashed with those baptismal waters, we are reminded that even when we desire to live by the law and fail, God will be there, naming and claiming us each time. When we are fed at the table, we are reminded of God’s grace that is for us, despite us, every single time. 

If trying to be a perfect Christian (whatever that is) and trying to live perfectly under God’s law has you bent over, my beloved, I invite you to live into grace. It is a gift from God. It is given to you freely. We need not ask for it (the woman didn’t ask for healing, Jesus just did it). But here’s the thing about grace: it will mess you up. In the best way. Grace allows us to be free to love ourselves and our neighbors. Grace is what allows us to stand upright, praise God continually, and rejoice at all the wonderful things Jesus has done, is doing, and will continue to do.