Sermon for 8/30/15 Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

In the (approximately) 5.6 seconds I’ve had to watch the news this week, I am sorry to say that I have learned entirely too much about the website “Ashley Madison” and the recent information breach they experienced. Now, if you don’t know about this, I am going to attempt to make this as “PG” as possible. Ashley Madison is a website that exists solely for the purpose of helping married people have affairs. The website, according to sources, had 30 million users. These were people paying to have affairs. And, as reliable as technology can be, it can also be very unreliable. And in the last few weeks, the names, addresses, email addresses, and other personal information for users of this website were released to the public. These “John and Jane Doe” types had been outed. And the public and media ate it up.

This was especially true when some of the names of those involved in the website were made public and it turned out to be several people heavily involved in Evangelical Christian movements. Those types preaching and talking about the sanctity of marriage all while going online to find a special friend. What is it about us that loves to see the mighty and powerful fall? And it’s when people say “see…they’re not any better than the rest of us” that I wonder what that is saying about the “rest of us.” So, I want to share something with you all that I’m not necessarily proud of, but I trust that you’ll still love me still the same. I have a weakness for reality television. I don’t know what it is about reality television that sucks me in time after time, but I fall for it. And I know it’s not actually reality but a “reality” that a director and editor have constructed.

I think I watch reality television as much as I do because I get to see someone else having problems in their life. When we can watch someone else’s life fall apart, we have the luxury of not observing our own lives falling apart. The art of distraction is something we all probably have mastered without realizing we have mastered it. “Look over here at something shiny so that you don’t look over here at the thing I don’t want you to look at!” I’ll watch reality tv and think “well, at least I’m not as crazy as that person.” Or when I hear a piece of juicy gossip I may think “I have it more together than that person!” There is just something in us that wants to watch other people fail or at least watch other people screw up a little. Because really, as long as we can hear about other people’s lives not being perfect, or we can watch them actually be not perfect, we don’t have to admit that we’re not perfect either.

This Gospel text from Mark this week is so interesting because it actually starts in the middle of a conversation. Well, it actually starts in the middle of an argument to be a little bit more precise. This is probably an argument that you’ve had more than once in your house (especially if you have children or younger ones that visit you often) “did you wash your hands?” We kind of live in a germ-a-phobe society, so the idea of not washing your hands before eating (like the argument in our Gospel for today) grosses some people out. A lot of times, I find that there are two kinds of folks when it comes to germs: 1) scrub yourself with bleach type people or 2) a few germs won’t hurt you kind of people. Maybe instead of arguing about whether or not the disciples washed their hands before eating, the Pharisees should have perhaps checked their own hands. Perhaps the Pharisees were practicing the art of distraction.

Now, before I go on, it’s probably good for me to tell you that I’m not giving this sermon because of one particular thing or one particular person. So, before you get all nervous or worried that I’m talking about something specific, just know I’m not. As I’ve said before, I often write the sermon first and foremost for myself and then I pray that someone else needs to hear it as well. See, my brothers and sisters, I speak too quickly and too harshly sometimes. The evil that lives in my heart and spills across my lips is not attractive and does not bring praise to God in the least. I think it was Gandhi that was quoted as saying “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Well, ouch. That hurts. But he was right.

How often do we stand in this church, decorate our homes and ourselves with Christian artwork, have our Bibles out so people can see them, put those little fish on our bumpers, and yet our actions and words speak louder than anything that we are not who we say we are. And it’s not like I set out to say hurtful things, or act in sinful ways, but my ego gets the best of me and sin always gets in the way. And then there I am, setting a horrible example for Christians everywhere. All it takes is one interaction for someone to decide that a church or even an entire religion is for them or not. Remember, people who don’t know Christ, or don’t know what he’s all about, look to us to get to know Christ. What are we showing people through our words and actions? With the way I act on occasion or with the things I say I know I am not helping people get to know Christ.

As I said last week, you have to think of Satan almost like a jealous lover. Satan wants all of us. And each and every time we engage in theft, murder, slander, pride, all that list of things that is at the end of our reading today, Satan steals a little bit more of our heart. The more we engage in sin, sinful thoughts, sinful actions, and sinful words, the more evil has a presence in our heart and in our world. It doesn’t matter if you are living what you believe to be the holiest of lives;  you and God know what is in your heart and what comes from your lips.

I’m not telling you anything I myself don’t struggle with. I love a piece of juicy gossip just as much as the next person. I murder someone’s self esteem with back handed remarks. I steal time away from Ellen by spending too much time on my phone. I engage in avarice by wanting and desiring the next big thing (even though I know it won’t ultimately bring me happiness). In one way or another, I am sure I have engaged in that list of things that defile God. I am no better than those people I watch on reality television. I am a sinner in need, in dire need, of God’s redeeming.

And the great thing is this: I receive it. And so do you. We receive God’s forgiveness and redemption despite the fact that we are very very far from deserving it. That is what makes our God so hard to understand. We live in a world that says you must do something in order to receive something. But, God gives us grace despite the fact that we do nothing to earn it. Crazier than that, we actually can’t do anything to earn it. This forgiveness isn’t just given to us once. It’s not bestowed upon us at the end of our lives as we draw close to death. No. This forgiveness is showered on us day after day, minute after minute, without exception.

I got to thinking about this scripture as yet another political candidate called the parsonage sometime this week. Here’s what I would love this election season: a candidate that refuses to speak negatively about their opponents; a candidate that would fully admit to their shortcomings; a candidate that manages to live within their means and give back to the community; a candidate that instead of focusing on the dirty hands of those around them, celebrates the work that got those hands dirty. A girl can dream, right? But, really, isn’t that how Jesus ended up on the cross? Jesus refused to engage in slander. Now remember, the truth was sometimes harsh, but it was still the truth and not slander. Jesus refused to engage in pettiness, bickering, arguing, pride, or deceit. He refused it all. Instead, he fed the hungry, clothed the poor, healed the sick, taught those eager to learn, and hung out with a bunch of rag-tag fishermen. And because of that, he hung on a cross so that when we engage in those sins, we are forgiven. It seems like a pretty uneven trade, but it was a trade he willingingly made. And so how can we bring him glory? What will come out of your mouth that brings him glory? What can your hands and feet do that point to him? Will we continue to engage in the art of deception or will we instead engage in the art of discipleship? The cross will be there no matter what. Let it not be in vain.

Sermon for Allen Petersen

I could use some of that bounce right about now.

I love being a Pastor. I didn’t know growing up that I was going to be a pastor, but I suppose God did. One of the joys of being a pastor is loving my congregation members so much; and I do love them a lot. One of the greatest heartaches of being a pastor is loving my congregation members and knowing some day they will die. I loved Allen, I still do. And I know I’m not the only one who does. So, forgive me for saying so, but I don’t want to be here today. I’m honored that I am, but I’d rather not. As I’ve talked to many people over the last few days about Allen, the consensus seemed to be that he was immortal; Allen was never going to die. But, here we are. And the truth is this: even if we were granted 100 years more with Allen, it would have never been enough. But, that was the kind of person Allen was. Whether you knew him for his 76 short years on this earth or if you only knew him for 76 seconds, your life is better because Allen was part of it. There are several holes left on earth because Allen is no longer here.

The Petersen family is left with a huge hole, this church is left with a huge hole, the Low Moor Lions are left with a huge hole, and many acres of Clinton county are left with huge holes. Allen was, in many ways, a gentle giant, finding his way into our hearts in a very unassuming yet enduring way. And our hearts are broken, our hearts are empty, and maybe even a bit confused. So, we come to this place today, to be with one another in our grief, to be with one another in our sorrows, to remember Allen, to laugh, to cry, to rejoice in the hope of the resurrection, and to dine at a heavenly banquet which is the foretaste of a feast that is to come.

Allen had a gift for hospitality. He probably didn’t call it that, but what he did was hospitality: he made people feel welcome. He didn’t know a stranger. He could and would strike up a conversation with anyone at any time at any place. He felt most at ease in the boat, in the field, with his family, or at the c-store. Allen loved to have his morning coffee at the c-store with friends. The crazy thing is, Allen didn’t drink coffee. But far be it from Allen to miss out on a good time. And he loved to have fun. He didn’t necessarily set out to be the life of the party, but he often was. There was just something about Allen that made you want to be around him. One of my very first and most memorable interactions with Allen was not too long into my time here. We had a funeral on a horribly icy day and someone slipped and fell on the ice (not Allen). The next Sunday, Allen came into church and I hollered out my window in my office to him “how are your buns?” Apparently he got such a kick out of that he even regaled that story to Dale.

Allen had a “Las Vegas” philosophy long before “Las Vegas did.” Because what ever happened in Canada, or the fishing boat, or in hot pursuit of a coyote, stayed there. And there are far too many stories that I’ve heard that included the line “we’re not telling Mom (or LaVonne) about this!” And, as I’ve found out in talking with many of you, there are several instances and stories where Allen came to your rescue. Perhaps it was getting a snake off a water pipe, gunning through snow drifts that were just a tad bit smaller than a mountain, or finding just the right fishing hole, Allen came to the rescue of many.

He had many roles in life. Of course he was a son and a brother. He was an integral part of our church family. And he was a driving force within the Lions Club. He had the life long curse of being a Cubs fan. But his most loved role in life, the things that gave him the most pride were being a husband to LaVonne, dad to Laurie, JoEllen, and Kristi, and of course, being grandpa and great grandpa. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anything that Allen loved doing more than spending time with family. Allen spent countless hours playing cards, picking raspberries, in the combine, and listening to Canadian geese jokes, all while being surrounded by his most prized possessions: his family.

“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” This scripture was chosen because of Allen’s love of fishing, obviously. But, what I love about this scripture is that both times when Jesus called the disciples, they followed immediately. Without hesitation, they followed. Allen was called and claimed by Christ in his baptism. Allen did something strange for Allen, he put down his net and followed. Allen wasn’t an outspoken Christian, trying to convert you or anything. But, he lived his life with his faith as the cornerstone and base for everything he did. And if you were a friend or family member that spent the night with Allen and LaVonne, going to church was part of the deal (even if that meant wearing grandma’s shoes). He sang the hymns with gusto, he participated in Bible study, and his was my go-to guy at funerals. So many of Allen’s actions pointed to Christ. Even in the way he was a good steward of God’s land was a form of praise for Allen.

Most importantly, Allen was forgiven and loved. The same God that forgave and loved Allen loves you. The same Jesus that Allen knew died on the cross for him also died on the cross for you. One of the last visits I had with Allen, we took communion together. We surrounded his hospital bed and heard the promise in the words “this is the body of Christ, given for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.” In these words we hear the promise of a Christ who died so that we may have life. We hear the words of forgiveness for any shortfalls we may have. We hear love. And in that moment, surrounded by Allen’s family, with the faint beeps of hospital machines in the background, we were at a holy feast. In that moment, in the eating of the bread and drinking of the wine, we were reminded that nothing, absolutely nothing, including death, can or will ever separate us from the love of God.

Think for a moment about the love that you had for Allen, or maybe about the love that Allen had for you. That love radiated from Christ through Allen and was only a small fraction of the love that God has for you. You, my brothers and sisters, are also loved by God. You have been called, claimed, and forgiven. No matter what you have done or not done, God will never ever stop loving you. Our God that we serve is a radical God. The God that we serve makes no sense because the God we serve loves without limits, forgives without consequences, and found you, me, Allen, all of us worthy of dying for. I know it’s hard to fathom this kind of love, but it really is the way that God feels about you. We are going to gather shortly around this table. And while it seems like a meager meal of bread and wine, it really will be a regal feast. It doesn’t matter if you’ve come to this table every week for years, or if you’ve been away for a while. This table and the promises of this table are for you.

Allen was one of the most selfless people I know. Even in death, he gave the gift of life through sight to others with his eye donation. I will miss you dearly, Allen. You helped me to be a better person. You helped me to be a better pastor. You helped me to be a better Christian. If I can be just a fraction of the person you were, I will live a good life. The hole you have left here will not easily be filled. I am selfish and want you here and I know I’m not the only one. What gives me comfort is leaning on the same God that loves you. What brings me relief is knowing your baptismal journey is complete and your heavenly home probably has the best fishing hole around. What brings me hope is knowing we will meet again; in the meal to come and in the promise of the resurrection. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Sermon for 8/23/15 Ephesians 6:10-20

In a continuing effort to answer questions you have been struggling with, I want to talk a little bit about praying today. I’m going to do this in reference to our second lesson from Paul to the Ephesians. But first, let me tell you a little bit about my week. Honestly, I am very tired. My week started with a jolt as I visited the ER. It was not, a visit for myself, which was a welcome surprise. Instead, I was there with Allen and his family. The visit, and his health, has worn on me all week. One of the joys of being your Pastor, is the honor of loving you as much as I do. And I hope you know how much I love you. Perhaps you have heard me say either to you or someone else that I love you an obnoxious amount. And this is most certainly true. So the joy of being a pastor, is loving all of you. The heartache of being a pastor, is loving you so much, and yet hurting when you hurt or are struggling. And that has been part of my battle this week. I hurt because so many of you are also hurting.

After I left the hospital on Tuesday, I got in the car. The weight of everything that has been going on finally hit me. And I sat in the parking lot of Mercy Hospital, crying. I felt really helpless. And so, I did the only thing I thought I could do, I started talking to God. I will save you a lot of the details, because honestly, some of the language I used is not appropriate for church. Yes, believe it or not, God will listen to you no matter how you speak.  I was mad and I was angry so, of course, my language reflected that. It’s not something I’m necessarily proud of but I suppose it was a coping mechanism. So in my anger and through my tears I talked with God. Perhaps some people would call it a prayer. I called it a conversation. And that’s exactly what praying is. It is a conversation with God. I’ve often said that you should speak to God as if you are speaking to your best friend. Picture having coffee or maybe even a beer with God and telling God of all your joys, troubles, concerns, or thanksgivings. So as I stared blankly at my steering wheel, feeling helpless, I actually spoke out loud to God. “God,” I said, “what can I do? I’m feeling really helpless. And I feel like you are really far away. And honestly God it’s really ticking me off.” And, as God does, God spoke in a way that I would listen. And this text from the Ephesians today popped back into my head.

There is a lot of imagery in this reading today. Some people may hear it and think of a battle or a war. When you think of suiting up, you probably think so in regards to some kind of battle. But really, isn’t that what life is? Life is a battle. We are always battling sin. The sin we battle takes on so many different forms and it looks like many different things. But at the root of the cause of sin, is whatever comes between us and God. And as I have said before, if you look at the actual word sin, the middle letter is normally the main cause. So, I started to wonder, how do we arm ourselves against sin? This imagery of the breastplate of righteousness conjures up battle gear. How are we to arm ourselves against our battles? My battle this week was feeling helpless against an illness. I understand that I am not going to be the one to cure everyone’s ills. But, like many of you, when someone I love is not well, I feel helpless. And while that we should call on God during all times of the day and no matter what our situation, it seems that we normally call on God in times of trouble. This isn’t wrong by any means, but, in my experience, the most common.

In our baptism, we were called and claimed by Christ. We were promised a love that is everlasting. We however we’re not promised that nothing bad will ever happen to us. I talked about this a few weeks ago when we wondered together why good things happen to bad people. And the answer continues to be I don’t know. But, as baptized and called children of God, we can always always fall back on what is almost demanded of us, we can pray. Prayer is going to be our first and foremost and really our best defense against the forces of evil in this world.

If you have been in my office, or the parsonage, you may have noticed I have a collection of things from the Wizard of Oz. I love this movie. However, I think sometimes people think that speaking to God is like speaking to the great and powerful Oz. We should be intimidated and scared; maybe even bashful, not asking for what we really desire or need.  But, if you have seen the Wizard of Oz, you know that the wizard turns out not to be so scary after all. By the way, spoiler alert. And while I think we should have respect for God, there is no need to be afraid of God. Remember, God loves you more than you can ever possibly imagine. There is no reason to be scared or intimidated by a force so strong and powerful that even death cannot overcome it.

I have said this before, but I think sometimes we believe that we have to approach God as perfect. Like we cannot approach God until we get ourselves in order. I have heard people say this before. I would come to church, but I need to work on my own stuff before I come there. I equated to trying to lose weight before you actually join weight watchers or cleaning before the maid comes. There is something in us, that feels like we must be perfect in order to approach God. Really friends, that’s not possible. We are incapable of being perfect. We are incapable of being perfect because sin always always has a place in our life. If you feel you need to be perfect before you can have a relationship with God, you will never have a relationship with God. And remember, God does not care. You were made in God’s image. You were saved by the waters of baptism, and you were worth dying for. The idea of perfection is whatever sin has a hold of us in our own heads. So let me challenge you today by saying this; you do not have to be perfect to approach God. You only need to be a sinner. So I am pretty sure all of us apply.

There is no need to use fancy language when speaking to God. When you pray, there is no reason to sound like you are reading out of the King James version of the Bible. Unless that is how you actually speak. Feel free to speak to God like you speak to your best friend or your spouse or your children. When I speak to God, I like to picture God looking at me with nothing but love. I used to think that God looked at me with pity. But I know now there is no reason for that. God loves me and God loves you. So that is the way that God looks on us. God is so desperate to love you. If God were the one going back to school this week, it would be your initials with a heart drawn around it on the outside of God’s notebook.

The forces of sin are all around us. And sometimes, it is easy to name that sin. We hear about it on the news every day. Murder, racism, hunger, wealth, injustice, and the list could go on and on. We know sin in our own lives. It looks different for each and everyone of us but we all know sin very well. The force of sin is strong enough that it might knock us over. For some people, the force of send is so strong, death may seem like a logical answer. So, how do we stand firm against sin? How can we possibly fight the forces of sin when it is all around us? We put on the armor of God.

The armor of God, first and foremost, starts with a cross on your forehead. This should serve as a constant reminder of who you are and whose you are. And then, my brothers and sisters, we pray. Because when we pray, sin loses its power. See, Satan does not want us to have a relationship with God. So, if we choose not to speak to God or listen to God, there is more and more room for Satan to do his work. You almost have to think of Satan as a jealous lover. Satan wants all of our time. Satan wants all of our energy. Satan wants all of us. Satan, definitely does not want us talking to God. And we protect ourselves by putting on the armor of God. And it is as simple as a conversation and prayer with God.

All of you can find a way to pray that makes sense for you and your life. I pray a lot in the car because I spend a lot of time in the car. If you like to exercise, perhaps that is when you have your conversations with God. For those of you who spend a lot of time in the combine or grain cart, perhaps that is where you hear God. No matter what, there is no wrong way to talk to God. There is also no wrong way to listen to God and for God. Prayer is the most powerful weapon we have against sin and evil in this world. Prayer, is sometimes the only logical answer. In a time when the world wants us to feel helpless against the troubles of this world, it is very powerful to be able to respond to the troubles of this world by saying I will pray about this. It seems so illogical and yet so simple to a world that responds to troubles with huge plans, huge weapons, and huge issues. But, that is what makes God and our relationship with God so amazing. Prayer is such a simple response that it almost makes no sense. And yet, it is the most powerful thing that we as disciples can do.

Sermon for 8/9/15 John 6:35; 41-51

As most of (if not all) you know that I was raised in the Catholic church. Because of my family’s attendance history, I didn’t take my first communion until the day I was also confirmed. I remember being really embarrassed by this. In my mind, I was way behind the game. The church I attended also was attended by many of my classmates and teachers. Being of a very vulnerable age (14 or so) I remember thinking that they thought “what took her so long.” Of course, before taking first communion, my brother, sister, and myself, all had to have a meeting with our priest. I am sorry to say I don’t remember his name but the only thing I remember he taught me about communion. As he was talking about the wafer, which was the body of Christ, he said “we eat it right away. We don’t put Jesus in our pocket for a snack for later.” Now, I’m not a small gal. I’ve never really been small. So I think my logic at the time was “who would eat that for a snack and be satisfied??” It really wasn’t until seminary that I really started to understand what an amazing meal communion really is and how important it would become to my daily life.

I want to talk about communion today. But first I want to take a quick survey. Please trust me here. I would like for all of you to close your eyes (but don’t fall asleep yet) and by a show of hands, how many of you really understand what happens during communion. That is what I thought. The Lord’s Supper is one of 2 sacraments that we celebrate in the Lutheran church. The other one being?? (Baptism). We partake of this sacrament (here at least) every other week. The “formula” so to speak, for a sacrament is this: element plus Word plus Holy Spirit equals sacrament. For communion, it’s bread and wine, plus the Word of God, plus the Holy Spirit equals sacrament. Baptism it’s water plus Word plus Holy Spirit equals sacrament. You’ll notice some things about that formula.

Not once does that formula mention the pastor. That’s because I don’t do anything. Yes, I say the words, but they were words that Jesus first spoke. Not once does the formula say “how” you should partake of the sacraments. It’s not like the words Jesus spoke said “take this bread that is only flat, in the same shape as a quarter or so, fairly tasteless, and then dip it in a shallow cup prone to spillage.” There is a lot of debate around communion about the “proper” way to partake in communion. I think the first question a lot of people ask is “how often should I take communion?” My answer is always this: as often as you are able. If someone were to come and offer me communion every single day, I’d take it. And why? Communion is a tangible sign of God’s grace and forgiveness.

Hear what Luther says in the Large Catechism about communion: “Therefore, it is appropriately called food of the soul, for it nourishes and strengthens the new creature. For in the first instance, we are born anew through baptism. However, our human flesh and blood, as I have said, have not lost their old skin. There are so many hindrances and attacks of the devil and the world that we often grow weary and faith and at times even stumble. Therefore the Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may be refreshed and strengthened and that it may not succumb in the struggle but become stronger and stronger.” So when people argue or debate that we shouldn’t have communion every Sunday because then it “wouldn’t be special” I always respond that it is always special and why wouldn’t you want forgiveness of sins every single day? (BOC p 469.23-25)

Listen to the words that come from Jesus that are spoken during communion. “Take and eat; this is my body, given for you.” And again “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.” See, communion isn’t just bread and wine. It is the forgiveness of sins. It is the sharing of burdens. Think about how powerful this is. How often do you get to see someone actually be forgiven of their sins. Every time a piece of bread is placed in someone’s hands as they come up here, they are receiving forgiveness. That is amazing! Look at some examples and lessons from our readings today. In the 1 Kings reading we heard first, we learn that bread is food for the journey. Elijah had only gone one day into his journey when he had to rest and actually wanted to die. He was forced to eat by (apparently) the world’s most hospitable angel, and he was able to go for 40 days.

Our psalm today tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” And the Lord is good because through this meal we are offered forgiveness of our sins. The Ephesians text tells us that “we are members of one another” and that we should “be kind to one another.” So that brings me to the passing of the peace. There is a reason why we pass the peace before communion. It’s not a stretch break. When we pass the peace, we really are wishing peace to another person. We are participating in the forgiveness of sins of one another. If we are going to partake in this meal together, let us be of one accord. And yes, I have seen situations where former friends or even family members can be in the same church and at the same service and refuse to pass the peace to one another. When we eat the Lord’s body and drink of the Lord’s blood we receive forgiveness whether we deserve it or not and whether we are quick to offer it to others or not.

And because we are “members of one another” another a really amazing thing happens in communion that goes unsaid. We come up here, we lay down our burdens, and then we offer help carrying the burdens of someone else. Because no matter how much you have sinned in this life, no matter what your job or title is, no matter how much money you have in your bank account, and no matter what labels you or society put on yourself, this is a table of equality. We are all hungry sinners waiting for crumbs and instead are surprised and joyfully treated to a feast. We experience the real presence of Christ’s body and blood. And when we partake of this meal, we are freed. This is not a meal that is somber, but a meal of celebration. This is a meal that gives life. If you think about it, when you take communion during a service, you will have received forgiveness twice: once during the confession and forgiveness at the beginning of the service and then once again at communion.

Eating and drinking are so central to who we are as people of Christ that we even pray for daily bread, right? “Give us this day our daily bread;” not “give us every other week and really special holy days our bread.” As you can tell, communion is something about which I am passionate. If you are being offered forgiveness, why wouldn’t you take it? It is everything that the world does not understand. It is a holy meal for the most unholiest of people. And this table doesn’t have velvet ropes. Much like my sermon last week, I hope that this week is the start of a conversation. I hope that you share your experience in taking communion. Have you had a really powerful moment in taking communion? Maybe over coffee this morning you can talk about your first communion and what that experience was like for you. But, all of you, here is your assignment, if you’re so willing to accept it.

I want you to pray this week about communion and more specifically, the place of communion in this particular church. I want you to pray for God to direct us in God’s way as to whether or not we should move to having communion weekly. And I want you to listen, because maybe God is calling you to help with that ministry if we so choose to go that way. It’s a powerful moment, brothers and sisters, when I get to look all of you in the eye and say to you “the body of Christ given for you.” Because what I’m really telling you is this “you’re forgiven and Jesus loves you.”

Sermon for 8/2/15 John 6:24-35

** a quick note: the congregation had submitted questions to me about theological quandaries. Thus starts a sermon series attempting to answer**

If we took the time for all of you to share, I have no doubt all of you would have a story. But the underlying theme of all of our stories could be “when bad things happen to good people.” We all have a story that falls into that category–no doubt. Maybe it was the story of a young married couple excited at the arrival of their first child but had to make plans to bury their stillborn instead. Perhaps it was a friend or family member who was driving home and was the victim of a drunk driver. We could have hundreds of examples. We could also talk about why illnesses like cancer even is allowed to affect children. Most likely we don’t struggle with these questions daily, but when we do, it can almost be all-encompassing. When we engage in debates, questions, conversations around the topic of “why do bad things happen to good people” it’s called theodicy; basically, why does a good God not prevent evil things?

It’s interesting because we never ask why good things happen to bad people. If we do ask these questions, it’s usually out of judgement. Why does that criminal get 3 meals a day and cable tv while they’re in jail? But I digress. I am sure more than once you’ve heard me talk about a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness. I hope you’ve heard me talk about a God that loves you beyond your wildest imaginations. I pray you’ve heard me talk about a God that will never abandon you or leave you forsaken. I think that’s part of the reason why we struggle with God, and life, when difficult things come along. The temptation may even be there to say “ok God, if you’re so good, what are you thinking when this happens? Or when that happens?”

We humans, especially westerners, are a strange species sometimes. We want definite answers for everything. We like the idea that if you take 2 plus 1 you will get 3 every time. We know that you stop on red and go on green. We know that if you add yellow plus blue you will get green (does anyone else remember that Ziploc commercial?). We like to deal in definites. We like to be right. We like to win. I actually once heard a comedian joke that the reason Americans don’t like soccer is because at the end of 60 minutes, the score can still be 0-0 and the game will be over. That’s not how we work. We like a winner and we like a loser. Again, we like definite things.

And here’s where it gets messy. Our God is anything but definite. None of us know what God will or won’t do. Our faith is what keeps us holding on; and our faith is a gift. Here is what I can say without any doubt are definites about God: God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and nothing can separate us from God’s love. How do I know this? (sing) The Bible tells me so. But, I am going to let you in on a few things that I’ve been thinking about and praying about in regards to this topic, and I hope it’s just the start of an ongoing conversation.

Let me get the big question out of the way first. Why does God let bad things happen to good people? I don’t know. But, I do believe that God is not some benevolent overlord that just waits for us to screw up so that God can laugh. I don’t believe that God has some kind of massive switchboard up there and says “you know, things have been going a little too well for little Jane or little John, I’m going to change things up a bit” and then throws a switch. I just refuse to believe that happens. But I also am going to respond with this: we are the body of Christ. We are God’s hands, feet, arms, heart, and ears in this hurting world. So why do we allow bad things to happen to good people?

I know we can’t stop every drunk driver, or every stillbirth, or every suicide, or every whatever tragic events we encounter. But we can advocate for justice, peace, understanding, and reconciliation. We can’t stop cancer. But, we can work to find cures through walks, bake sales, and encouraging our representatives in congress to pass medical laws that make drugs for such diseases easier to afford. We can’t stop stillbirth, but we can choose to share our stories if it happens to us, or do the Lutheran thing–show up with a casserole. We can’t stop suicides. But what we can do is have real conversations about mental illness and treat mental illness just like any other illness and not like something of which to be ashamed. I talked last week about making ripples, and things like this are the perfect example.

I think that one of the best things we can do for someone who is speak promises to them. Speak the truth in love (as it says in Ephesians). Sometimes speaking the truth in love means that you have to be willing to say “you know what, this sucks.” Being a disciple doesn’t mean sugar coating everything all the time. I think the most helpful thing you as a disciple can do is say “I know this is horrible, and I know it doesn’t feel like it, but God has not abandoned you. I know it may not feel like it, but God does not abandon us. And if it feels that way, I am just going to pray that it doesn’t last long.” Be a friend that listens, not attempting to fix anything but just listen. And be a friend that is present. Long after a really crappy thing happens (like a death) there are times when the crowds leave, the casseroles are long gone, and more coffee has been consumed than humanly possible that the stillness and silence are deafening. That’s when disciples, like you and I, need to be present. That is when we are the body.

I get it. This is not an easy topic. It’s one of the things I struggle with the most. I get angry with God. I get frustrated with God. I yell at God a lot. But in the end, I find that it is God who comforts me the most. In our Gospel reading today Jesus says “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus isn’t talking about literal hunger but metaphorical hunger. I am giving you permission right now to be angry with Jesus, to be ticked with God, and to yell at the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t mean that your faith has failed you. That means your faith is strong. When you argue with your spouse, kids, best friend, or whomever, it doesn’t mean that you don’t love them, but only that they’ve done something that displeases you. So it is with God. God is big enough for us to be angry with God. So instead of offering Hallmark style sentiments (just trust me when I tell you not to tell a parent who has lost a child that God must have needed another angel–it’s horrible theology) offer this: God loves you enough that you can yell at God and God will still love you.

We come to God in many ways, and anger is one of them; but, we’re still coming. And we will still be fed. Bad things will always happen. Bad things happen because sin is very real and very present. But, we have a God who died so that in the end all of our pain will be removed and we will find ourselves in our heavenly home at a feast unlike any we’ve ever seen. We are the body and we love because we were first loved by God. Being disciples doesn’t mean that we are immune to bad things happening to us. It means that when the bad things do happen, we have a safety net in which to land. We will be fed. And we will be comforted, even when we’re angry.