Sermon for 10/30/16 John 8:31-36

** just a note that this is the Sunday in which the congregation I serve celebrates Confirmation**

What an exciting day! Ella, Paige, and Erica, you are to be commended and celebrated. You have worked hard over the last few years to get to this point. It has been my honor to walk with you through this particular season of your life. We have learned a lot, prayed a lot, laughed a lot, and, I hope, these three have increased their faith. Today will mark a new phase in your life. Many people think of confirmation as a graduation of sorts. We often joke that after confirmation, we don’t see our youth back at church until they need to be married or baptize their babies. And yes, while that can be true for some people, I pray that it is not the reality you hope to live into. Today is also when we mark the reformation. 499 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to a church door. Luther wasn’t trying to stir up trouble; he really was trying to be faithful to his call and to what he thought was God’s will for his life. But instead, he started a reformation and, as a church, we have been reforming ever since.

Ella, Paige, and Erica, I don’t want you to think about today as an end, but as a beginning. I want you to think about today as the start of your re-formation. Now that your “formal” church education is completed, what ways will you challenge yourself? What ways will you continue to re-form your faith? In what ways will you continue to grow in your faith? If you want a living example of the way the church is re-forming, all you need to do is look at these three ladies. First of all, to have a confirmation class of only women is a clear sign of some reformation. And, you’re being confirmed by a female pastor, and that’s a re-formation that is still fairly new.

But today isn’t just about these three ladies. It’s about all of us. Today is wonderful day to ask ourselves how we are being called into re-formation. How are we, as individuals being called and how are we as a church being called? It’s been almost 500 years since the Reformation. Where has church been and where are we going? Questions like that can be challenging to answer because most of us might think “I’m not even going to be around in 500 years!” But, I think that the key to any re-formation is found in our first line of scripture today. It reads “Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’” If you continue in my word….now that comes with the assumption that we have started in the word. The problem with dwelling in God’s word is that it will challenge us, change us, maybe even re-form us.

The second part of that first sentence is also convicting. It says “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” There’s a modern day translation of that verse that says “you will know the truth, and truth will make you free, but first it will piss you off.” The challenging part of living life centered in God and God’s word is that it may change the way you see the world; it may change the way you think about people and current events. We may have truths we believe but those are human constructed truths. As Christians, as claimed sons and daughters of God, our truth is Jesus. So when we center ourselves in the Word of God (which is not only the Bible, but Jesus himself) and look at the world through the lenses of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it might make us not only change our minds about certain things, but make us mad.

Sometimes when arguments get petty within the church (like the old example of what color the carpet will be) people might say “y’all, Jesus didn’t die for this.” The implication being, of course, that there are greater issues in the world we should focus on. See, we follow a man who looked for those on the margins, who fed the hungry, who forgave sinners, who cleansed lepers, who raised Lazarus, and who generally bucked the system. Jesus’ resurrection means a reformation for the world and we have to continue reforming.

But, what gets in the way of reformation is our own sin. We are so focused on what is best for us, for our world, for our lives that we lose sight of what Jesus not only did for us, but for the entire world. Jesus didn’t die so that a oil pipeline could pollute Native American lands and waters. Jesus didn’t die so that we could just shake our head in frustration at the killing of unarmed black men and the growing disrespect of law enforcement. Jesus didn’t die so that when we hear of someone without food or adequate shelter we can respond with “what problem is that of mine?” Jesus didn’t die so that our teenagers can hide behind computer screens and insult one another to the point that some are driven to suicide. Jesus didn’t die so that we can threaten the lives of fellow human beings if they don’t think, act, live, or even vote like we do. Y’all, Jesus didn’t die for this.

If you are centered in God’s word and trying to live in light of the salvific action of the cross, then it should aggravate you that the love of money wins out over the respect of life and living spaces, that social status wins out over love, that judgement wins out over respect, that assumptions win out over knowledge, that opinion wins out over fact, and that, more often than not, so many things win out over God and our relationship with God. All of this should aggravate us, but it so often doesn’t. Sure, we may pray for people. But often, all too often, prayer does not translate into action. When you see the world through the cross, it should drive you out into the world and into action in the name of Jesus. It should drive you to a re-formation of self and of your faith.

But it is because of the cross and what Jesus did for you and for me on the cross that we are forgiven for not being angered into action. However, I don’t know about you, but I would rather be angered into action in the name of Jesus and be wrong and forgiven than do nothing and pray God forgive me anyway. I want to risk almost everything I have so that the world knows about God and God’s grace. I want to risk being outcast and looked at in the hopes that one more person comes to know how much God loves them. I want to be reformed over and over and over again. And I hope and pray that all of you are willing to take those types of risks with me in the name of Christ, spreading God’s word, and in the hopes of reforming the world.

Paige, Erica, Ella, also known as Paige, Mrs. Theo James (or is it Mrs. Justin Bieber?) and Princess Tardy Pants, I am so proud of you. I love you all with a Christ like love. Your journey isn’t over, it is just beginning. The world is hungry for a word of love and forgiveness. You all have the knowledge, the spirit, and the drive to do it. You three have the power to continue reforming, not only yourselves, but the world around you. The world is hungry to know about grace, mercy, and to know that there is something better than this. You three have the can be the messengers the world needs. Even if your “world” is just three or four friends, you have the power of the Holy Spirit behind you helping. Keep yourself centered in God’s word, in God’s truth, Jesus Christ, and you, my friends, will be the reformers your family, friends, and history remembers.

Sermon for 10/9/16 Luke 17:11-19

I’m curious. By a show of hands, how many of you were made to write thank you notes growing up? Now, put your hands down if you only wrote them for the “big” occasions like graduation and weddings (meaning you were not expected to write them for your birthday or Christmas). Isn’t that interesting? I’ve thought about this off and on this week. I wonder if it is sending the thank you note that has gone out of fashion, or if saying “thank you” has gone out of fashion. I once had someone ask me about our parenting style with Ellen. “Do you make her say ‘thank you’?” They asked. I probably looked at them as if they had lost their mind. “Of course!” I said “she is taught please and thank you. We expect her to use her manners.” And the person who had asked me that went on to tell me about another set of parents they knew that didn’t require their children to say thank you. They wanted their children to be free-spirits and make their own decisions. I’m all about that. I want my daughter to be strong and independent. After all, I allowed her to come dressed as Batman to church on more than one occasion. But if there is something she will do is say thank you. When she is old enough I plan on being that mom who won’t allow her to play with her new toys or wear the new clothes until the thank you notes are written.

Whether we recognize it or not, thankfulness is part of our worship life together. We start with a hymn of praise where we sing “we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.” When we have communion we start the portion of the service in gratitude. Remember, the words go “The Lord be with you” [pause] “Lift up your hearts” [pause] “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” [pause]. And finally, we end the service by being sent in gratitude. I usually say something along the lines of “Go in peace, remember the poor” or “go in peace, to love and serve the Lord” and you all say [pause]? Even when we say “alleluia” it is a form of thanks and praise. And from the outside, people may wonder why we (as Christians) spend so much of our time in worship thanking God.

It’s a legitimate question, right? If you look around the world and the state that we are in, it’s no wonder those who aren’t Christian or who don’t believe in God wonder what in the world we are thankful for. A deadly hurricane swept through the Florida coast this past week. It caused much of its damage in Haiti; a rough estimate is that 900 people thus far in Haiti have died. This is a country still trying to recover from a deadly earthquake that happened 6 years ago. What in the world are the people of Haiti thanking God for this morning? Our friends in and around rivers lately haven’t had a lot to be thankful for lately either. Entire fields of crops have been damaged and even lost for the year. What in the world are they thanking God for?

As Jesus traveled from village to village, word started to spread about what kind of man this was. Word got around that he healed people, fed people, and forgave people. But lepers? Really? It’s hard to imagine anything that exists in our society now that we can compare to leprosy. The closest I can think of (in regards to people’s fear, confusion, and those affected being outcast) is how those first diagnosed with HIV/AIDS were treated. In those early days there was fear that even drinking out of the same glass as someone diagnosed could give you AIDS. We know now that thanks to modern medicine, HIV and AIDS is no longer the immediate death sentence it once was. But for a while, those that were diagnosed were outcasts.

The lepers may have thought “what do we have to lose?” If they weren’t cured, they still were in the state they were in. If they were cured, there would still be a lot of unanswered questions. But because he healed those that are outcast, it tells us a lot about the kind of person Jesus was. Even more, because he healed a Samaritan that tells us and all of those who surrounded Jesus at the time that this was going to be a Savior who didn’t care about boundaries. Because it was a Samaritan, the worst of the worst during Jesus’ time, who realized what Jesus had done for him. He was the only one to return to Jesus and thank him. And when Jesus tells him “your faith has made you well” he’s not just speaking of physical health. Jesus made the Samaritan whole. The healing allowed the Samaritan to go back to his family, back to his community, even back to work. Every part of the Samaritan was made clean again.

The Samaritan, who had no right to expect anything from Jesus realized what a gift he had been given. He didn’t need a priest to confirm that. He saw for himself what a miracle had occurred by Jesus making him whole in every single way. How could he not turn and thank Jesus. Not only a simple “thank you” but a full-throttle, top of his lungs, bowing and most likely crying thank you. The Samaritan didn’t feel entitled to anything.

I often wonder if the sense of entitlement is what prevents us from being thankful. It’s not completely our fault. We do live in a tit-for-tat society. I did this for you, so you do this for me. It’s logical for us to think that God works the same way. “I went to church on Sunday so of course God will forgive me.” Or “I served a meal at that homeless shelter so of course I will be healed.” But what does that say about our faith and our relationship with God? We cannot do anything without God. God doesn’t keep score or keep tabs. And what happens when life doesn’t turn out the way we want? What happens when we pray and pray and pray and God doesn’t answer prayers the way we expect? We can quickly spiral into a faith crisis. Often I have heard people say “I don’t know why this is happening to me. I’m a good person.” Or “I don’t know why God is punishing me like this.”

I get it, brothers and sisters, thanking God is tricky. Why would anyone thank God for a cancer diagnosis. Why would anyone thank God for a lost child? Why would anyone thank God for mental health issues? Why would anyone thank God for financial troubles? If you’re one of those people who are sitting here today wondering “yeah! Why should I thank God? Doesn’t God know what I’m going through?” I hear you. I understand you. I’m not going to try and convince you to just push those thoughts aside and thank God anyway.

But our thankfulness comes in one simple form: the cross. No matter if you feel like your life has been one crappy situation after another the cross guarantees us this: in death, there will be no more suffering. In our death, our sins no longer burden us. In death, our fears and failures are erased. In our death, our sicknesses will be healed. In death, we will be made whole. All of this because one man died on the cross for you and for me, for all of us. Maybe, just maybe, our challenge for today is to look at the cross and say “even if life isn’t good, God still is.”

Sermon for 10/2/16 2 Timothy 1:1-14

OK, before we get started, I want to give you a little heads up. We will be participating in some congregational participating in the sermon today. I know that might make some of you uncomfortable, so that is why I want to give you a heads up. Of course, you don’t have to, but it would be awesome if you considered participating. So let’s get started, shall we?

Find someone close to you that is not related to you to share in conversation. This may mean that you will have to get up and move around. Here’s the question I want you to discuss: “who in your life was a faith former?” What I mean by that is who is the person responsible in your life for helping to form your faith? Maybe it was someone who brought you to church. Maybe it was a pastor. Maybe it was a grandparent who make sure you got to Sunday school every week. So find someone close to you that is not related to discuss who that person in your life was and maybe who that person in your life is today.

OK, now that we’ve shared that question, Let’s move on. Here’s the next question I want you to discuss with one another. “Who do you hope to pass your faith onto?” Maybe it is your children, grandchildren, friends, or just other church members. Who would you love to have say in 20 or 30 or even 50 years from now that you were that person for them.

Y’all may return to your seats now. So I want to hear from you as much or as little as you would like to share. Who in your life helped to form your faith? Anyone like to share? And who do you want to pass your faith on to?

I want to introduce you to five of my faith formers. As most of you know I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. But, I did not have a great relationship with my spirituality or, I thought, with God growing up. But here are some people who are important to me in my faith life.

This is a picture of me and my Nannie. As you can see, she was ill in this picture. But, I treasure it anyway. My Nannie was a woman of great faith. She was often found praying the rosary. One of my favorite memories will be bringing her communion when she was in the hospital. She knew that even though I was not a priest, she wanted it anyway. She survived the death of my grandfather, which left her to raise six children on her own.

This is a picture of me at my ordination. The woman on the end is Althea Milton. Althea is what we would call a church pillar. She is still a very active member of my home congregation of Faith in Wichita Falls. Although she is aging, her faith has not wavered. When I told her that I was going to seminary she practically jumped up and down. She supported us in many ways throughout our seminary journey. I recently found out that she just bought a new Christ candle for our home church. She wanted to make sure the light of Christ continues to shine long after she is gone.

This picture is two more of my faith formers. This is Sandy and Stephanie. They have been married for well, forever. And they have been very supportive of our journey as well. They prayed for us, supported us, and showed me what it means to be church outside the four walls of the church.

This last picture, of course you recognize this guy. This is my Christopher. Most of you know him I am assuming. It is Chris’s fault that I started going to a Lutheran Church. Going to church was a very important part of his family’s life. It still is. Chris introduced me to the church, and help me fall in love all over again. He probably doesn’t know that he is one of my faith formers, but he is.

Why is any of this discussion important? Because in Paul’s letter to Timothy, he references Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother, Eunice. Paul points to the faith that those ladies had as an example for Timothy. And I’m wondering if we’ve lost a little bit of that. We are, after all, a church within the EVANGELICAL Lutheran Church in America. And that “E” word can scare us a little bit. I had a seminary professor joke that Lutherans would say “Pastor, around here we don’t praise the Lord until page 47.” But we all had or have those people in our lives that taught us about faith. People will not learn about faith from just picking up the Bible, or just coming to church, or (heaven forbid) just watching television. People learn about faith by observing others around them and learning from them.

We’re a little scared to be evangelical. We can be a little timid to step out and say “why don’t you come to church with me?” Or “have you prayed about this?” Maybe something even as daring as “have you been baptized? Would you like to be?” I think we have this misconception that being evangelical is just all about raising our hands, singing praise songs, and praying “Father, we just….” over and over. When really, the Greek root of the word “evangelist” means a good message, or good news. And really, is there anyone in this world who couldn’t do with a little good news now and then?

But we let our fear get in the way. The lure and intoxication of status, reputation, and maybe even self preservation often gets in our way of being evangelists. We don’t want people to think the wrong thing of us. We can become a little too like Peter in the courtyard as he prepares to deny Jesus three times before the cock crows. But someone, somewhere, at some time risked a lot to talk to you about faith. Someone, somewhere, at some time put everything that was important to them on the line and said “hey, I want you to know more about Jesus.” And if they didn’t say it, they showed it through their actions. This faith is passed on from generation to generation. 2 Timothy tells us that Jesus has “join[ed] with [us] in [our] suffering, saved us, called us” and this calling is a holy calling.

And how in the world can we do this? Where does the strength to do this come from? Again, scripture says “not…our works, but according to his own purpose and grace.” God gives us what we need when we need it to do what we need to do. The consequences are high, brothers and sisters. Think about the people in your life that have no faith, no belief, no knowledge even of God. What in the world does the afterlife hold for them? So, be brave. Be daring. Be bold. “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” Amen