Sermon for 12/20/15 Luke 1:39-55

an I have a moment of honesty with all of you? I am asking for permission to be honest and show you some of my scars; is that okay? I’ve had a difficult fall. The fall is always hard for our family. Chris is gone a lot for work; of course I support him 100%. But, this also means that many nights it’s just me and Ellen. And I love being a parent, I really do. She’s a complete and total joy. But, she’s also 2. The fall has been difficult. And as we’ve transitioned into winter, some of those difficulties have followed. As we get closer and closer to Christmas day, I can feel my anxiety starting to go higher and higher. It’s not fun. Just the other night I told Chris “I’m not right.” I will be right. I’m not sharing this with all of you so that you worry about me. I share these things with you because if you feel even just a little bit like I do, you’ll know you’re not alone. It has been hard for me to get into the Christmas spirit. Even as I was writing this sermon, the fact that my shopping isn’t done was still hanging over my head. The irony that in the season of Advent when we talk so much about waiting and anticipation that I seem to rush around more than normal is not lost on me. In a time that is touted as being “merry and bright” sometimes it is less than merry and bright for some people. My anxiety finally manifested itself the other night in the form of a nightmare where my sister got kidnapped. It was one of those dreams where I woke up exhausted because I had spent the entire time looking for her. Mercy!

While most of you have been busy shopping, purchasing, wrapping, preparing, checking and re-checking, cleaning, cooking, baking, and all the other activities that go into the holiday that you might have forgotten about yourselves. I know I have. Maybe you’ve come to church thinking that this is the one place you can escape all of that stuff. But, even that is exhausting for some of us. There’s the dressing up. There’s the pressure to appear perfect even though we’re anything but. We may hold hands with our spouse despite the fact that the last words we spoke to each other were filled with anything but love. We drag our children along and tell them “going to church is good for you” when many of us struggle with our own faith. And we settle into our pews (our own pews) slap on a fake smile, go through the motions, and hope no one notices the stress we’re carrying. Then we hear the story of Mary. Great, one more happy person I get to hear about during this holiday season. Of course Mary is happy, she’s pregnant with Jesus! She’s so damn happy she’s singing. When’s the last time I was so over-the-moon happy that I sang with joy?? Mercy!

But what if, seriously, what IF Mary’s song could also be our song too? (No, I’m not going to make you sing.) What if we look past the joy of her song and look at reality? It’s easy to first think that Mary is singing for joy, and she is. But, it’s not just joy that she is with child. Her joy comes from something deeper: change. I can’t believe that I’m talking to Lutherans about singing for joy over change. This seems contradictory and almost like an oxymoron. Mary is singing because by being chosen as the bearer of the redeemer of the world, her status has changed too. God has looked with favor on her even though she is a woman, even though she is a teenager, even though (in the eyes of her society) she didn’t matter before this moment. And it’s not just Mary that is being changed. The world around her is being changed by this too. Mercy!

The powerful are being humbled. The hungry are being fed. Those who are low are brought high. The rich who always cry “more more more” are sent away with empty hands and pockets. And this isn’t in a future time. Mary is singing in the present tense: God has already made these things happen. On top of all of this, God has shown to Mary and to us one very important and crucial thing: mercy. When is the last time you experienced mercy? Let us not confuse mercy with being blessed or a blessing. We use the idea of “blessed or blessing” almost judgmentally or as a statement of status. Many of the Christmas letters we get this time of year talk about being blessed with vacations, retirement, a visit from old friends, or even the blessing of new vehicles. This isn’t how God works! A blessing is forgiving sorry sinners like us over and over and over. Being blessed is being loved despite the amount of times we screw up on a daily basis. I digress…

When is the last time you experienced mercy? Would you know it if it happened to you? I don’t know about all of you, but the present I need the most this year is mercy. I guess moreover I need to remember that God’s mercy has already been given to me in the cross. I once heard this phrase “you’re forgiven. Start acting like it.” Maybe you will experience mercy when you screw up your mother in law’s cookie recipe and she later shares with you the story of screwing up the recipe of her own mother in law. Maybe you will experience mercy at work when instead of being chastised for something gone wrong, your boss takes the time to sit down and make sure you know how to do the job correctly next time. There are so many times in our lives that we experience mercy and we just need to recognize it.

God has handled us with mercy. God has handled us with great mercy. If I think of the number of times and number of ways I have messed up and strayed so far from God that I don’t think I’ll ever make it back to God it can get overwhelming. And then I remember mercy. God’s mercy is like a kiss from a parent on our boo-boos. That scar may still be there, but it no longer bleeds. God’s mercy is what allows us to sit in these pews week after week and finally get up the courage to turn to our friends, our family, and one another, and say “I’m not okay” and still know that we are loved. God’s mercy is what pushes us forward to this table and be fed even if we don’t believe we deserve it. God’s mercy is what encourages us to sing “alleluia” even at the grave.

Maybe you aren’t feeling it either this holiday season. Maybe the holiday spirit hasn’t found you yet. Maybe you’re even dreading all the celebrations and festivities. My brothers and sisters, be gentle on yourselves. God has found mercy with you. God has found mercy with you. Above everything else, thanks be to God, God has found mercy with you. With us. With all of us. In a world and a time where not a lot of other things make sense, God has found mercy with you. Wait for the Lord whose day is near. Wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart!

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Sermon for 12/6/15 Luke 3:1-6

I think we humans struggle to take compliments sometimes. Ladies, I’m sorry to say, we’re the worst at this. More than once I’ve heard someone say “thank you” only for the other person to respond “it was no big deal.” It was a big deal to me! If I said “thank you” it’s because you helped me and I am grateful. I have given someone a compliment on a nice top, piece of jewelry, or lip color only to have someone poo-poo the compliment by saying things like “oh this old thing?” or “I don’t wear it very often because I’m not a fan of this…” I think what you meant to say was “thank you for the compliment.” I think that at the root of this is the idea that in one way or another, we’re just not worthy.

We have convinced ourselves that we’re not worthy of a lot of things. We’re not worthy of that new position or raise at work. We don’t think we’re worthy of that gym membership, new outfit, or haircut. We don’t think we’re worthy of whatever fun shiny new object we’ve put on our Christmas list. We don’t think we’re worthy of love. And we may struggle with the idea that we’re even worthy of the grace that God gives us. Of course, maybe this is just me. But, I think we all at some point in time or another struggle with the idea that we are worthy of whatever we may be receiving.

While I understand this attitude, and heck, I actually know it all too well. It can actually be something that hampers us in the process of being Christians. I learned a lot of things in seminary, but one of the things that really stuck and continues to comfort me is this: God does not call the prepared. God prepares the called. So if for some reason you think that you are not worthy to go into this world spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to anyone who will hear it, you need to stand corrected. We are all called to do this. God prepares us for this task through the words of scripture and through this Holy meal. God calls all of us to be disciples. And before you’re too quick to say “nope, Pastor, not me!” allow me to tell you you’re wrong. Luther even talked about this concept (quite a bit) and called it the “priesthood of all believers.” We are all equipped, or become equipped, to be disciples.

And so why does it matter? What in the world does this have to do with our reading for today? The word of God came to John, son of Zachariah. So? Look at the list of people in our reading that the word of God could have come to. The Emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate (who was the governor), Herod (ruler of Galilee), his brother, Philip (who was also a ruler), Lysanias (also a ruler), and Annas and Caiaphas (both priests). The word of God could have come to any of those men. Any of them. They were men of power. People would have listened to them. In that time, if any of those men spoke, people listened. Who better to have the word of God come to than any of those men? But, instead, the word of God came to John.

Now, as a reminder, this was John the Baptist. He wasn’t the most popular person around. He lived in the wilderness, which was known as a place of darkness, danger, and uncertainty. He ate honey and locusts. He wore clothes made out of camel’s hair. To put it bluntly, if you saw John the Baptist on the street, you might divert your eyes or even cross over to the other side of the road. John the Baptist was the most unlikely person for the word of God to come to. But, God did as God does and God found John the Baptist in the wilderness (of all places) and turned him into a prophet. For the record, Herod later had John the Baptist beheaded. He was most likely intimidated by this new found power that John had. The point is, in the most unlikely of places and with the most unlikely of people, God acted.

What if we heard the start of this Gospel reading in a new way? What if we heard it for our current context. It would sound something like this. In the fifteenth (almost sixteenth) year of the twenty-first century, when Barack Obama was President of the United States of America, and Terry Brandstad was Governor of Iowa, and Mark Vulich was the mayor of Clinton, Don Thiltgen was the mayor of DeWitt, and Kenneth Fahlbeck was the mayor of Camanche, the word of the Lord came to the people of Elvira Zion Lutheran Church in rural Clinton County. Oh can you imagine!

How quickly would we try and shoo God away? “You don’t mean us, God. Certainly not us! Maybe you should choose someone else. Can we give you directions to that bigger church down the road?” And before you’re quick to say “yeah, but that’ll never happen” it actually already has, brothers and sisters. Many many times this has happened. God has come here, to this place, spoken to us many and various ways and what have we done with the message? Every time we witness a baptism, God is here. Every time we eat the body and blood of Christ, God is here. When we gather to celebrate the lives of our saints, God is most definitely here. God is in our tears and in our laughter. God is in our youngest member and God is in our oldest member. God doesn’t care if you think you’re capable or not, God’s word has come to you in one way or another. What have you done with it?

Have you invited someone to come with you on a Sunday? Have you offered to pray for or with someone? Have you visited someone that cannot be with us? Have you made a meal for someone who is sick or mourning? Have you written a note, letter, or card to someone letting them know you care? In these actions, brothers and sisters, you are being Christ to one another and to a hurting world. Now, before you say “oh, that’s just what I do…it’s nothing special.” Yes it is. And here’s the thing, once the word of God gets a hold of you, it doesn’t really let go. When we talk about preparing the way of the Lord, perhaps the best thing we can do is prepare ourselves. We are worthy of God coming to us and using us (yes, little ol’ us) to help prepare the way of the Lord. As baptized people of God, we’re incredibly suited to go from the wilderness, to go from the farmland, to go from the city, or to go from a metropolis and share God’s love with the world through service to one another. The Lord is coming. Don’t think he won’t come to you.

“Wait for the Lord, whose day is near. Wait for the Lord, be strong take heart.”