Sermon for 7/24/16 Luke 11:1-13

I don’t remember how I learned to pray. I really don’t. I don’t remember anyone ever teaching me how to pray, when to pray, or even the “right” words to say. Confirmation was a blur that I don’t remember very well. I only went to class because of a boy (my confirmation students now know that). I always had what I thought was a good prayer life. But I always felt like I wasn’t doing it “right.” By the way, I am going to keep using the word “right” when it comes to prayer knowing full well (now) that there is no “right” way to pray. In seminary we used to pray before almost every class. Sometimes the professor would pray and sometimes we would be called on to pray. Now, as a pastor, I get called on to pray at a lot of situations. But it always makes me laugh that people assume I am some kind of “prayer expert.” And, it is especially hilarious to see a bunch of pastors sit around a table before a meal and just stare at one another. It’s like “who ever blinks first has to pray!!”

Now, right off with today’s reading you may notice that this is not the “traditional” Lord’s prayer. It starts off familiar enough but then veers off a little. That’s okay. The Lord’s prayer appears in several different places in the bible; these verses from Luke are some of them. The other thing that caused me to pause in this reading today was where it is located. The disciples, by this point, had already been out in the world doing the work that Jesus had asked of them. I am guessing that the disciples had already done some kind of praying before this point. But now they’ve asked Jesus to teach them. It makes me wonder if the disciples were feeling inadequate in their prayer skills or maybe they realized that this is one of those skills they should have probably learned early on and are now finally getting around to it.

The disciples may not have realized it (and maybe we didn’t recognize it upon first reading) but Jesus is teaching them the prayer as three components: relationship, feeding, and forgiveness. Notice what Jesus didn’t say. Jesus didn’t say that there is a “proper time” to pray. Jesus didn’t say there is a “proper way” to pray. Jesus didn’t say that there are “proper words” to say when you pray. Jesus didn’t lay it out like a 5 step process. And he certainly didn’t say “this is the only way to pray otherwise God won’t hear you.” But what Jesus starts with is relationship: “Father, hallowed be your name.” Our prayer life is first and foremost about relationship. Think about your prayer time as a chance to check in with God and for God to check in with you. And that relationship of “Father” is an important one. The idea is that we look at God as a parent figure. And if you didn’t have the world’s best parents (if they were abusive, absent, or otherwise didn’t meet your expectations) God wants to be that parent to you. So, our prayer life is first and foremost about relationship. And prayer is just one way to foster that relationship.

The next component of prayer that Jesus speaks of is feeding. He says “give us each day our daily bread.” Now when Jesus speaks of feeding, it’s usually more than just the physical act of taking food and putting it in our mouth. Jesus speaks of feeding in metaphorical terms as well. During this time, people really did have such a thing as “daily bread.” The bread was baked fresh and usually there was only enough supplies to go around that each member of a family would get just one or 2 chunks for the day. But many of us don’t have that any more. This petition is more about providing us with what we will need (notice I didn’t say what we want). Notice that the petition is for our “daily bread” not weekly, monthly, or even yearly bread. Please God, just provide us with what we need for today.

The third component is forgiveness. The most difficult of this prayer for me falls right about here. I don’t have an issue with asking God to forgive me (I do it daily). But what I struggle with is the idea that I ask God to forgive me like I forgive others. And by that logic, God is going to be super good at holding a grudge. Nonetheless, I still pray to God everyday for forgiveness. And I don’t pray for forgiveness daily because I think I’m some kind of super sinner. I pray for this daily because I need the practice of daily forgiveness.

Then Jesus goes on to tell a parable about having a friend and needing a loaf of bread from that friend at midnight. The reason Jesus told this parable was to highlight (once again) the idea that God is your friend. God is that person you can turn to at midnight, or 8am, or 3 in the afternoon, or whenever, and ask for what you need. With all of this: the idea that we should see God as a parent, that we should ask for God what we need on a daily basis, that we should beseech God for forgiveness, and that we should think of God as a friend, what keeps us from praying? Are you scared to pray because you may not do it right? Maybe you don’t want to pray because you don’t want to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Maybe, like me, you don’t want to pray this prayer specifically because you don’t want to forgive those who have sinned against you. Maybe you think you’re just too busy to pray.

If you think you’re too busy to pray, I’m going to call you on that excuse right now. All of us have 3 minutes in our day to give to God. I’ve said it before, but there is no right way or right place to pray. Pray in the shower, pray while you exercise, pray on your daily drive, pray while you’re doing the dishes, pray when you fold the laundry, pray when you wake up, pray when you lay down, pray when you eat, pray when you drink…I think you get the point. If you’re using the excuse of being too busy to pray then that’s not it. That’s not why you’re not praying. It’s something else entirely, most likely fear.

Brothers and sisters, we all have everything we may ever need to pray to God. We have the words, we have the actions, we have the time, and we have the heart. I want to challenge all of you today. Here is your challenge: I want you to find time every single day this week to pray for someone or something. You don’t have to tell me if you did it or who you prayed for. But, just try it. I want you to take time to turn off all the noise around you to talk with your pappa God. I am challenging you to tune out the voices that say “you can’t pray…you’re not a pastor” or “you can’t pray, you don’t have the right words” or even “why are you praying, you need the prayers, you sinner!!” and just pray. And if you don’t know where to start with your prayers, start with the Lord’s prayer and go from there. We’re going to start this challenge right now. I want you to center yourselves, however that looks, and lift whatever is on your mind and heart to God. Pray for yourself, pray for those around you, pray for me, pray for this congregation, pray for this country, pray for this world. There’s no wrong way, just pray.

Sermon for 7/17/16 Luke 10:38-42

If you have a sibling or if you’ve ever had to work with someone who doesn’t always seem to pull their weight, you can understand how Martha feels. Can’t you just hear Martha? She’s loudly exhaling, banging pots and pans around, maybe even saying passive aggressive things like “I’ll be out in a minute Jesus. I want to visit with you, it’s just that it’s so hard for me to do everything in the kitchen by myself.” And Mary would stare up at Jesus, waiting for him to bestow even more wisdom upon her without a care in the world. Eventually, Martha lost it. “Lord, do you not care…” You can just hear the frustration in her voice. Of all people she expected to care, it was Jesus. I can imagine her surprise and her outright gobsmack when Jesus didn’t give her the answer she wanted to hear.

Now, before we dive too deep into this text for today I want to get a few misconceptions out of the way. First off, Martha isn’t a bad person. This text is not about shaming Martha for doing what would have been the anticipated task at that time: hospitality. Martha was trying to prepare for a guest. Second, this text is not about a woman’s rightful place. This text should not be read as women should be in two places: in the kitchen or at the feet of men, listening. If you’ve come here for that sermon, you are certainly in the wrong place. And lastly, this text isn’t about affirming one kind of lifestyle (a contemplative lifestyle) over another (an active lifestyle). Instead, today I want to talk about missing Jesus even when he is in our midsts, glorification of busy, and the invitation that Jesus gives to us all.

Martha had Jesus in her house. The expectation at the time was that she provide hospitality. Hospitality was a huge part of daily life in the time of Jesus. It still is a large part of middle eastern culture. I remember traveling to the Holy Land; we were told beforehand that if we were offered any kind of hospitality (food or drink) we take it, whether we like it or not. It would be seen as rude and inconsiderate to turn away hospitality.  But Martha was doing what was expected of her. Yet at the same time, Jesus told her that she was distracted and worried. It’s not that she wasn’t doing great work, she was. But I wonder if Jesus was inviting her to come and rest.

How often does Jesus come among us, begging us to rest, to sit at his feet and learn, to soak in knowledge, to have a sabbath of sorts, and we either miss it or we’re just too busy? I find it interesting that when God created the world, everything was called “good” except for one thing, and that is sabbath. Sabbath is the only thing that, when created, was called “holy.” What a relief it must have been to Martha, perhaps, to take a rest from society’s expectations. And Jesus calls us to rest, calls us to recenter ourselves on that which is life-giving, calls us to just be, and we’re too damned busy to actually do it.

Now, please understand that I am not telling you all to quit your jobs and go lay on the beach (although if you can afford to do that and want to do that then more power to you). But what do you do that is life giving? I’m not saying that being busy is a bad thing. But, we’ve made busy almost a status of statement in life. We often try and “out busy” one another. “You think you’re busy? Listen to this….” I know I’ve jokingly said that I often need vacations from my vacations. Yet US employees in general leave 170 million vacation days unused every year. Like Martha, our work is good work. It is work that may even leave us really satisfied. But, at the end of the day, we are called to rest. We are called to step away from society’s expectations, and sit at the one who loves us unconditionally.

So why don’t we do it? Why don’t we take the time to rest? Why don’t we take the time for sabbath? Why don’t we stop for a while and rest at the feet of Jesus? Could it be that we’re missing Jesus? It’s possible. Jesus longs to be in relationship with us. And yet we treat him like anything else on our “to-do” list. As if Jesus is a light bulb we’ve been meaning to replace. We don’t take the time out for a few reasons (at least as I see it). One, we feel guilty when we do take time off to just rest and be. Two, we have a little bit of martyr in us. Perhaps people will feel sorry for us that we’ve been working 6 or 7 days a week straight for the last 18 years. And three, if we take the time to slow down, that means we just might have to listen for Christ and to Christ and do we really want to hear what he has to say to us?

Martha isn’t trying to avoid Christ. She’s not making herself a martyr. She might be dealing with guilt (especially again, because hospitality was expected). But it is as if Jesus is saying to her “Martha, I don’t care about any of that. Just put that stuff down and come and relax. Listen to me.” What keeps you from sitting at the feet of Jesus. Are you afraid of what Jesus might say to you? Are you afraid that you’re going to hear a message of love that you’ve convinced yourself you don’t deserve? Are you afraid that you’re going to hear a word of forgiveness that you’ve craved but keep denying? Are you afraid that instead of hearing judgement and condemnation, that you might hear mercy, peace, and the desire to love you? That is scary, my friends. If we keep ourselves busy enough we don’t have to be vulnerable.

It goes against everything this culture stands for to stop what you’re doing and sit at the feet of the one who gives life. It goes against everything that society says we should want to bask in the knowledge and love of the one who gives us love. And it is most certainly counter-cultural to not be busy. Perhaps it’s time that we start to “busy” ourselves with just being. Maybe we should busy ourselves being in the presence of the one who calls us to be. Nothing else in this life matters, my brothers and sisters, if we have nothing and no one to call on. Nothing else in this life matters if we are counting on ourselves or our own actions to ensure our salvation. Maybe if you won’t hear Jesus, you’ll hear me: I am giving you permission to rest. I am giving you permission to no longer cower and cave under what society expects of you. I am giving you permission to sit at the feet of the one who loves you and be reminded what it means to be loved, be washed, be fed, and be freed. I am giving you permission to be Mary and Martha in a world that expects you to be either one or the other.  

Sermon for 7/10/16 Luke 10:25-37

I don’t know if you’ve ever done this, but I often wonder what I would have done had I been born during a different time in history. I wonder what I might have done had I been born even in a different country in a different time in history. Would I have been one of the women on the front line, protesting, contacting the powers that be to encourage passage of the 19th Amendment (the one, by the way, that gave women the right to vote). Would I have been the kind of person that would have hidden Jewish people from the Nazi’s in Germany? Would I have been the kind of person sitting on a bridge in Selma? Would I have been the kind of person to sit at a lunch counter that was only meant for “colored people” as a sign of solidarity? Would I have been the kind of person to go to the Stonewall Inn in New York City, the birthplace of the gay rights movement?

And I wonder what the events of our time will be that might make Ellen think the same thing. Or maybe your kids or grandkids will look back on a particular time in history and wonder “would I have been the one?” Often when we read the parable of the “good Samaritan” we want to place ourselves in the shoes of the Samaritan. We think we would have stopped. Certainly, we would have been the ones to stop and help a hurting man on the side of the road. We would have been the ones to find him help. We might even been the one to advocate for men like the one in our gospel story so that this doesn’t happen again in the future. But, more likely, we’re the lawyer asking “who is my neighbor.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I am lost. I am hurting. I know many of you came here today hoping that I would have words of wisdom or words of comfort, and I don’t. I am tired of watching the news and seeing fellow members of the body of Christ being killed. I am tired of the rhetoric that accompanies these shootings. I am tired of the debate that if you believe that black lives matter that you automatically believe that blue lives don’t. I am tired of the assumptions that say if you value African American lives you must not value the lives of law enforcement officers or vice versa.

I am tired of people assuming that just because I don’t own a gun that I must be anti-gun. I want to tell you this: I’m not anti gun. My brother, father, uncles, and brother in law all own guns. I support your right and even your desire to own a gun. I won’t ever own one. Ever. It’s a personal choice. But, I’d fight for your right to own one. However, I don’t understand why any average American citizen needs an assault rifle. We are killing one another. Our neighbor is the African American man shot dead while his 6 year old watched the entire thing take place. Our neighbor is a Dallas police officer just showing up to do his job. Our neighbor is a Muslim woman who just wants to get to her mosque without being harassed. Our neighbor is a lesbian who feels the only sanctuary she can turn to is a bar in Orlando. Our neighbor is documented immigrant who just wants to be able to support his family. Our neighbor is Jesus and lately our neighbor has been covered in the blood of hate, judgement, and unwilling blindness.

We are at a time in our history when we have the opportunity to stand with the other. We have the opportunity to be a Samaritan instead of the lawyer. We have the opportunity to accompany those on the road to Jerusalem. It is easier, much much easier, to pass by, I get that. It is easier, much much easier to say that “it’s not our problem” and in many ways it’s not. We don’t have any members of this church who are people of color. We live in a town where there is, however, a very clear cut distinction from the haves and have-nots. From my perspective, it’s a financial and class distinction, not a race distinction. And we have the chance to tell our children, our grandchildren, maybe even our great grandchildren that when our country was in a time of great civil unrest we made the choice to not ask “who is my neighbor” but to demand that others start to see Jesus in the eyes and skin of everyone around us.

Friends, we have entered a time of great blindness. We refuse to see one another, we refuse to see those we label as “other”, we refuse to see injustice, we refuse to see that anyone or anything but Jesus can help us to see. We have gone blind out of fear. We’re afraid of change that comes with no longer being a majority. We’re afraid of change that has accompanied the mass amounts of political rhetoric these last few months. We’re afraid that the America we’ve always known is no longer the America we will love and we’ve gone blind because of it all and that blindness has caused us to completely miss Jesus.

We’re so busy asking “who is my neighbor” that we’ve missed the fact that our neighbor is lying on the side of the road, dying. We’ve missed the fact that our neighbor is covered in blood that’s not his. We’ve missed the fact that our neighbor is the subject of daily harassment. We’ve missed the fact that our neighbor is feared. We’ve missed it all because we’d rather be safe than risk being hurt or judged and in the meantime, with every life lost, Jesus is killed over and over and over again. Because if we are made in Christ’s image, each time a bullet takes a life, no matter the color of skin, Jesus is crucified all over again. We are going blind and I don’t know that we want to do what it’s going to take to see.

We have to be willing to admit that we are scared, that we are wrong, that we are privileged, that we have certain unspoken rights that others just don’t, and we have to be willing to listen. We have to be willing to listen without correcting the thoughts and feelings of the people who have been hurt. Notice that when the Samaritan stopped he didn’t ask how the man who was left for dead was feeling, what he did to deserve this, why he was there, what he was wearing, what his past criminal history was, any of that. No, he just helped him, no questions asked.

I don’t have easy answers for you. I am just as lost as to what to do as you are. I am scared. But we serve a God who helps the blind to see. We serve a God who doesn’t give up on us. We serve a God who, in times of great darkness, continues to be the light we need. We have a God who loves all lives. We have a God who mourns when we mourn. We have a God who comforts us in sorrow. We have a God who provides us with rest when the world gets to be too much. We have a God who loves us enough to allow us to rest in our comfort but then disturbs us out of comfort saying “go and do likewise.”

 

Sermon for 7/3/16 Galatians 6: [1-6], 7-16

Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m a skeptic. I roll my eyes all too often when pro-athletes are interviewed after a game and they thank God for allowing them to win. My sarcastic skeptical side says “yes….because God had time to spare between caring for the hungry and homeless to care about your stupid game.” I don’t think God really cares about what athlete wins and which one loses. It’s not like he’s got some kind of checklist he looks over as the week goes on and says “well, Rogers won last time, so I guess I’ll let Manning win this time.” Or “Since Arrietta threw a no-hitter, I guess I’ll let the Royals win the World Series.”

Then I saw a video this week that kind of changed my mind on the whole thing. Let’s take a watch. (To watch this video, check out http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/david-boudia-steele-johnson-win-10m-synchro-trials)  What I like about that video is that both divers pointed to Christ. Not their skills, not the fact that they’ve been chosen for the Olympics, not the fact that they beat other divers, not even the amazing and phenomenal dives they performed, they used the opportunity they had to point to Christ.

“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” In a day in age where people get ribbons just for showing up, it’s hard to think about boasting only for Christ. But it’s easy to forget that everything we have and everything we are comes from God. And that we are who we are because Christ died for us. But it’s hard to remember when it’s all about me me me. It’s my car, and my house, and my money. I say it almost every Sunday as we prepare to take up our offering. And maybe you know it by heart now. But I say “with all thanks and praise to God, we …” what? “We return to God what God first gave us.”

Boasting about the cross, about Christ, about our faith, about God isn’t always popular. But it is only because of God and God’s action on the cross through Jesus Christ that we are who we are. We cannot possibly be who we are without Christ. I can’t speak for any of you, but my life would be miserable without my faith in Christ. That faith, by the way, that is a gift. That faith which allows me live and breathe day after day after day. The faith which reminds me of my sinful nature but doesn’t let me stay there and set up camp. That cross says to me “the sin of the world hung on a cross and we are eternally forgiven.” There is nothing, absolutely nothing in this world that can even come close to making me feel like I feel when I’ve been forgiven.

There is no amount of money, no job, no clothes, no car, no boat, no diamonds, no whatever that will help me feel like I do when I know I’ve been forgiven. And I’m horrible at remembering to boast of Jesus Christ. You’d think that of all people, I (a pastor) would remember to do this daily. But, I fall into old habits. I forget that everything I am is because of Christ. I forget that without baptismal waters I will just drown in sin. I forget that without the body and blood of Christ, I will starve. I forget that without being in community and gathering around these elements and being with one another, I will start to worship myself which is a dangerous dangerous thing to do.

And so Christ calls me back to the waters, Christ calls me back to the table, and Christ calls me back to this place to be with you to remind me to point to Christ. We gather in this place to boast. We don’t come to church because we’re perfect. I think we all know that. We come to church to boast to the world that we have survived another week of evil trying to get us down. We come to boast to the world that the cross is what defines us, not the world. We come to boast to the world that in a world filled with hate we declare that the love poured out in blood on the cross is for everyone. We come to boast. And we boast. And we boast. And we boast. Because if we couldn’t boast, we’d be begging for mercy.