About jealaine

ELCA Pastor. Mom. Wife. Dog mom. Sister. Daughter. Rookie theologian. Avid fan of: NWMSU Bearcats, KC Royals, KC Chiefs. Just trying to live faithfully among God's people in the rural landscape of Iowa (without saying too many 4-letter words). All opinions/views expressed are my own and do not reflect my denomination or the church I currently serve as pastor.

Sermon for 8/12/18 John 6:35, 41-51

I am continuing our series today that focuses on being fed to feed using these bread of life discourses throughout John 6. I’ve been calling it “carb loading” since Jesus seems to be talking a lot about bread. No worries, this will continue for a few more weeks. As an extension of what we’ve been talking about I am going to focus a bit more on relationships today. My friend Steffen and I have been friends since we were in 7th grade, so 12 or 13 or so. We have been through a lot together. He was in our wedding. He was one of the first people I told I was going to seminary. We share a wonderful sense of humor and both value not only this friendship, but friendships in general. He also likes to torture me by sending me screen shots of my sermon from Facebook with me making weird looking faces almost every single Sunday. And I do believe that God brings people in our lives for a moment, a season, or a lifetime. Steffen and I are lifetime friends.

I hope you all have lifetime friends in your life. These are the folks you know you can count on no matter what. These are the people who have seen you at your best and at your worst. These are people who (as I jokingly tell Steffen) aren’t getting rid of you now because they know too much. We cover a variety of topics in church but one thing we may not talk about a lot is relationships. We talk about the bible, communion, baptisms, even bathrooms (at least around here) but we don’t talk a lot about relationships. I think this comes from the relationships we have being easy and not that we don’t have any relationships. In fact, maybe you don’t even think of the relationships you have at church as relationships and perhaps that’s because there are so many of you that are related. We’ve got the Petersen’s, the Petersen’s, and the Petersen’s, unless, that is, you’re a Peterson. Don’t ask me “Howe” they’re all related, Mommsen’s the word.

But,I think because we have so many families in the congregation, that is what makes our congregation so unique. The friendships made are real, and people are friends because of biological connections and maybe in spite of biological connections. People have often referred to these relationships as church family. If you have a wonderful, life-giving, biological family, seeing church as a family can be comforting. If your biological family or family of origin wasn’t that great, church as a family can be troubling. One of the biggest components of being a Christian and being a disciple is being willing to be in relationship with one another. We are fed by our relationships that are grounded in Christ and then, in joy, we feed others (and are fed by others) so that our relationships grow and the kingdom of God grows.

Three times in this text, Jesus refers to himself as bread. He says “I am the bread of life” twice (6:35, 48) and the “living bread that came down from heaven” (6:51). The people that would have heard Jesus speaking of himself like this at this time would have had a bit of historical context. When Jesus spoke of himself as manna, that should have set off little light bulbs for those gathered. Manna isn’t just a meal. Manna wasn’t a snack that got the Israelites through a tough time in the desert. Manna was literally a life saving meal. Had the Israelites not gotten manna in the form of food or drink directly from God, they would have died. But, God offered the Israelites manna in the wilderness despite the fact that the Israelites did not trust God to provide for them. God provided anyway. In the same way, Jesus provided for 5000 people with plenty to eat with leftovers. And why? Because God so loved the world (see John 3:16-17).

Both the Israelites who received manna from heaven and the Jews who received bread and fish for days were saved by God, literal salvation from God, but neither group has learned to trust in God. Well thank goodness we’re not like the Israelites or the Jews! Oh wait…. When Jesus says that those who believe will have eternal life what he could be saying (or what it could be translated as) is those who trust will have eternal life. God, through the actions, words, and movements of Jesus Christ keeps showing us over and over and over again that we should trust that God is who God says and that Jesus is who he says he is. In short, God desires a relationship with us. And the kind of relationship desires with us is a lifetime one, not a relationship for a moment or a season. Jesus is the living bread. Those that believe in Jesus are promised an eternal life. Again, in short, those who believe are promised a relationship.

If we are going to take seriously what Jesus says (and we should) then we believe that he really is the bread of life that is sent from God. Because God so loved the world. God didn’t send us Jesus, the bread of life, the living bread, so that we simply can get by and be okay. God sent us Jesus so that we may thrive and truly live. Because “God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God loved Jesus and sent us Jesus. And then Jesus loved us, all the way to the cross and beyond. This means that God loves us as well. This is a relationship.

Unlike our human relationships, the one that God has with us never ends. It may have its moments where it is reciprocal. But often, it is God that has a hold of us and not the other way around. Many Christian denominations will encourage (almost borderline demand) that you have a personal relationship with Jesus or with God. Here’s the problem with that: many times it sounds like we are doing all the work. “I’m reading my bible to get closer to God” or “praying makes me feel like I’m one with Jesus” even “serving others makes my faith grow and my relationship with God becomes stronger.” While all of these are fine in theory, the relationship is mainly on us when we use that kind of language. Then, when life goes wrong, as it can, will, and does, we blame ourselves and our lack of faith. God does not look for opportunities to punish us. For God so loved the world includes us.

Rather, the relationship God has with us is all about God. God will always be holding us, reaching out to us, comforting us, loving us, providing for us, no matter what we do. This bread of life, this bread that came down from heaven is for us, and it is given to us, and the only thing we have to do is believe. And if we struggle with belief, God will find another way to help us understand. Why in the world do you think we’re spending 5 weeks hearing all the different ways that Jesus talked about himself being bread. He was going to keep doing it until the disciples, the Jews, and all gathered believed it. Jesus is going to keep telling and showing us who he is until we believe it. It is a relationship of a lifetime that feeding us so that we can feed other people. This bread of life stuff isn’t just literal life saving bread and drink in the middle of a desert journey. It isn’t just wheat, water, and a little of this and that to get us through the day.

Jesus, the true bread of life sustains our souls. It is the thing that reminds us at the end of the day that we still belong to someone even if we think we have no one. When Jesus declares that he is the bread of life he is speaking of more than food that feeds our bellies, he is speaking of more than food that feeds our souls, he is also speaking about food that feeds our hearts with the gift of relationship. And this relationship of God to Jesus and then Jesus to us has the ability to keep us fed for life so that we can feed others. Because again, God so loved the world. We are in relationship with the Triune God and we are in relationship with one another; bread for the world and bread for one another.

Advertisements

Sermon for 8/5/18 John 6:24-35

Welcome to week 2 of what I jokingly call our “carb loading” series. I say this because last week, this week, and the next 3 weeks all speak about bread. Last week, I laid a little bit of groundwork for the rest of the weeks. If you missed it, you won’t be far behind. What I hope you remember, or what I want you to remember, is that we are fed to feed. We are fed by God through Jesus Christ in order to feed other people. This feeding is done with food, yes, but with other things as well: a phone call, a visit, a quick text, a letter, a card, a casserole, and on and on. And the great thing is that while we are being fed by Jesus to feed others, others are being fed by Jesus to feed us. This is what the body of Christ looks like. I also invited you to remember or have the verses of John 3:16-17 going through your head as well because I am going to continue referring back to those verses. Luckily for you, I have made this handy-dandy poster cheat-sheet so that you can remember those verses.

Our text for today comes right after the feeding of the 5000 where we had a feast of loaves and fish and enough left over to fill how many baskets? (12) A crowd continues to follow Jesus and when they finally catch up with him, he asks them a question. He says (basically) “are you looking for me and following me because I gave you something to eat and now you want more? Or… are you looking for me because you finally understand I am the son of God and I offer more than bread?” Jesus tells the crowd gathered who he is. He tells the crowd that they must “believe in him whom [God] has sent.” It seems simple enough. But the crowd isn’t pleased with that answer. They say Moses gave us bread in the wilderness. What are you going to do to prove you are who you say you are? The nerve of these people, right? I always believed that when someone shows you who you are, you believe them; or when someone tells you who you are, you believe them.

Then Jesus, meaning no disrespect to Moses, tells them it wasn’t Moses that fed you, it was God! And continues to say “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Because remember, “God so loved the world… Indeed” God sent the Son into the world in “order that the world might be saved through him.” And I love the crowd’s reaction. They say “Sir, give us this bread always.” But, I often hear it more like this “sounds good! Where can we get us some of this bread??” And I have to also imagine Jesus rolling his eyes and wanting to say “guys!! I’m right here!” But instead, we have the very first instant in John where Jesus identifies himself as the “I am.” And what an incredible statement he makes following that “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

So! Wait! Wait! WAIT! The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. AND THEN! Jesus says he is the bread of life! Whoa! We should probably believe Jesus when he says who he is. God, the all knowing, all powerful, all loving, all encompassing being that we profess our faith to week after week, is the same God that sent us Jesus. God is the source of the bread from heaven. And the bread of heaven is Jesus. And God gives us Jesus why? Because God so loved the world. I know this sounds like some kind of crazy circular argument, but I just think that when we see the relationship of God to Jesus and then Jesus to us and this relationship is all because God loves us, then I am going to figure out all the different ways that I can say this until you start to believe it. I am going to keep saying it until I believe it.

Jesus Christ is God’s love letter to the world. Let’s take a brief step back and remember last week’s reading. Jesus fed the 5000, right? If Jesus fed the 5000, and Jesus is from God then wouldn’t the feeding of the 5000 just be another sign of God’s tangible abundant love? God so loved the world that God loved the world and then kept loving the world and then kept loving the world and then…. But there must be a catch, right? There is no way that God can love us that much. I mean, God created us, right? So God must know all of the things we try and hide. God knows our deepest darkest secrets. God knows all of the times we’ve messed up. God knows the depths of our sin. So there’s no way God can love us. There’s no way God should love us. There must be a catch. We feel like there has to be a catch because that is the way we humans love one another.

People have to work to earn our love. You love me and then I’ll love you. Do x,y, and z for me and then I’ll love you. And if we screw it up, we write one another out of each other’s lives. Just like that. But that’s another reason why God is God and we are not. God doesn’t just stop loving us. We may think that God can, should, or even does stop loving us. But it just doesn’t happen. Last week I talked about the idea that we are fed to feed. This is another one of the ways that we are fed: we are fed by the love of God through Jesus Christ. We are so filled up with this love that we then love others. Sometimes that looks like actual love: a hug, a light touch on the hand, the promise of accompaniment. Love can look like forgiveness and reconciliation. Sometimes love sounds like this “I don’t know the answers, but I’ll stick with you until we figure it out.”

God fed us with abundance through Jesus Christ. God fed us with baskets of love. Enough love that there is left overs. We can never have too much love. Then, just when we think we’re full, God, through Jesus Christ, reminds us that Jesus is the bread of life and that we will never hunger or thirst. We will never hunger or thirst for actual food or the food that fills our souls. When we are told God so loved the world, there is no catch. God feeds us with abundance. We do nothing to earn it. We believe in the one who sent us Jesus who continues to offer us love until we really do believe that it is for us and that it really never will run out. When everything around us is chaos, when it feels like the world is coming to an end around us, when we don’t even know right from left, the one thing we can know for sure is the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sermon for 7/29/18 John 6:1-21

This Sunday starts the first of five Sundays that we will spend in John, chapter six. The first of five Sundays that will talk about bread. Or, as I like to think of it, carb loading. I am telling you this now because if you start to think that the scriptures are sounding a lot alike its because they do. But, I am hoping to run a few themes through my sermons over the next five weeks. I want to invite us all into thinking about and conversation surrounding what it means to be fed so that we can feed. I also want us to have the refrain of John 3:16-17 in the back of our heads as we discuss these readings each week. Just in case you forgot, let’s refresh our memories on the verses of John 3:16-17, which I believe to be the heart of the Gospel of John. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” I am going to be referencing this a lot over the next few weeks.

This feeding of the 5000 is probably one of the best known Biblical stories, in my opinion. It is one of the only stories that appears in all four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, AND John. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus tells the disciples “you give them something to eat.” And then Jesus does the greatest party trick ever since turning water into wine: he takes 5 loaves and 2 fish and makes them a feast. There was more than enough for everyone. There was so much in fact, there were how many baskets left over? (12). An abundance of bread and fish. More than those gathered could even eat. In fact we are told that Jesus told the disciples to gather up the fragments left over after everyone was satisfied. Jesus didn’t let everyone have just a few bites and then declare the party to be over. Nope. Those 5000 gathered were satisfied. Can you imagine 5000 people being satisfied with something? I find it hard to please one tiny person…let alone 5000.

Another interesting detail in this story is the setting. In all of the other gospels, we are told that those gathered are in a grassy area. In the Gospel of Luke we’re told that they are gathered in a desolate area (Luke 9:12). But, as we look at verse 10 in this reading we are told that there is a “great deal of grass.” Once again, this is an abundance. Remember last week’s psalm reading? Psalm 23. He makes me lie down in what? Green pastures. Additionally, if Jesus is the good shepherd and we are his sheep, the abundance of grass provides for plenty to eat in a very literal sense, right? Because what do sheep eat? Grass! (Thanks to Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis for inspiring this line of thinking.)

But now I want to turn to the piece of this scripture that I think really makes it different. It’s a small detail and it can easily be missed, but it is crucial, so I don’t want you to miss it. Look at verse 11. Let’s read it again. “Then Jesus took the loaves, and when HE [emphasis mine] had given thanks, HE [emphasis mine] distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.” Who fed those gathered? Jesus! This is the only version of this story where Jesus himself feeds those gathered. The other gospels have the disciples doing the feeding. The crowd is receiving the bread of life from the bread of life himself. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son….”

Before we get too wrapped up in additional details, maybe we just need to step back and call a thing what it is. This is called being a theologian of the cross. Luther said that sometimes we just need to call a thing what it is. And while it’s all too easy for us to say “look! This reading talks about communion. This reading is like what happens at the last supper. This reading is about this or that or whatever. What if this reading is as simple this: people were hungry and Jesus fed them. That’s it. Sometimes we make mountains out of molehills (as my dad would say). Sometimes a reading really is just about something as basic as feeding people. And is there anything more Jesus like than this? People were hungry and he fed them. Not only did he feed them, but he fed them until they were satisfied and fed them with abundant amounts left over. “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world…”

This was not a one time deal. In our lives, Jesus is the one who feeds us with abundance. And we are fed so that we ourselves can feed. That’s what grace does. Maybe you don’t realize it, or maybe you don’t call it that. But, God, through Jesus Christ, fills us up with grace. And there is always an abundance of it. More than we could ever need. Jesus is always feeding us. It’s not always food, either. We are fed with mercy, love, grace, forgiveness. We are fed with opportunities, time, relationships, and second chances. We are fed with words, music, cards, emails, and phone calls. We are fed by visits, casseroles, and shared tears. We are fed. We are fed. We are fed. And what do we do with the abundance that Jesus gives us? We are fed to feed.

We feed others, literally. We feed others through our food pantry and our backpack program. We feed others with our generosity of finances. Our current level of mission support is 15%. This helps programs like Lutheran camps, colleges, seminaries, missionaries, Lutheran Services in Iowa, Lutheran World Relief, and on and on. We feed others with prayers. We feed in hospitality. I pray that part of the reason why people keep finding us and keep coming back here is because they feel welcome. That is Jesus Christ just spilling out of us. When we take seriously “for God so loved the world” then we can’t help ourselves. We do the same. And do we always get it right? No. Sometimes we are fed and then keep to ourselves versus fed to feed. The idea of scarcity of abundance enters our hearts and minds and we want to keep all we have for ourselves. So thank God the scripture is “for God so loved the world” instead of “for we so loved the world.” It is God through Christ alone that feeds the world. And feeds us.

I know that today may have felt a bit more like a Bible study verses a sermon. But, I wanted to lay the groundwork for the next 5 weeks. We are going to hear more about the bread of life. We are going to hear more about abundance. We are going to hear more about being fed. I hope your takeaways for today are that Jesus is the one who feeds us and feeds us with abundance. And that we are fed in order to feed. I challenge you, my beloved, to keep your eyes open for the ways that God, through Jesus Christ is feeding you. Be prepared, even expect to be fed to an abundance. Then, keep your eyes open for the ways we feed others through the power of God. “For God so loved the world” and the world is so hungry.

Sermon for 7/22/18 Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

I have a complicated relationship with food. I know I am not alone in this. I enjoy food when I am happy. I enjoy food when I am sad. I use food in celebration. I use food in sorrow. I also know that food is a resource that many don’t have the luxury of enjoying to the extent that maybe they would like. I don’t know if any of you have done this. But, it’s not uncommon for me to open our fridge or pantry, see it full of food, and yet declare “we have nothing to eat.” If you have kids in your house or remember having kids in your house, I am sure that this idea is nothing new. But, what do I want? Hmmm… good question. A friend of mine used to joke that he wanted to open a restaurant called “I don’t know. What do you want?” I often forget that my hunger cannot always be fixed by food. Sometimes my body is physically hungry, yes. But, there are times when I am hungering for something else. Something I don’t always know how to get or something I don’t always know how to label.

You may not have heard it on first read, but eating and being fed is mentioned a few times in today’s reading. We are told of the disciples ministry. They have been healing, teaching, feeding, preaching. They have been giving a lot of themselves. They have been so busy, we’ve been told, that they haven’t even had time to eat. Jesus invites them, even encourages them to go off to a deserted place and rest. Jesus knows, and it’s a good lesson for us to learn as well, that we cannot pour from empty pitchers.

Even though they attempt to go get some rest, the disciples, along with Jesus were literally running to catch up with them. I kind of pictured those scenes that I have seen on documentaries of people (mainly young girls) trying to run and catch up with the Beatles tour bus. People trying their hardest to run and catch up with John, Paul, … Jesus. (Did you think I was going to say George and Ringo?) And Jesus saw the crowd. Do you remember what he compares the crowd to? A sheep without a shepherd.

Let’s think about this for a moment. A sheep without a shepherd. Now, let’s think in the actual sense, not the metaphorical sense. Do sheep without a shepherd necessarily know where they are going? So, do they know where to find places to sleep, eat, or drink? No. Sheep without a shepherd could literally die. Of course, Jesus felt compassion for them. This is Jesus after all. Now, let’s think in a metaphorical sense about what Jesus is doing for those people, what the shepherd is doing for those sheep. In turn, what Jesus is doing for us.

All we need to do is look at that familiar psalm from today to remind us of what the shepherd does for his sheep. He provides for all of our needs. He leads us to still waters, where we may rest and get nourishment. He calls us to rest in green pastures. A sabbath of sorts. The shepherd offers us protection, comfort, and peace. He prepares a table, which harkens images of a feast. He feeds us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. The shepherd provides the sheep with more than they could ever possibly need. And, maybe most importantly, the shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ, offers us a life long relationship. “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long” is the promise of accompaniment and a relationship where Christ will never let go of us.

So, when the crowd gathers around Jesus and he looks at them like they are lost sheep, he yearns to be their shepherd, offering them all they could ever need and want and more. Obnoxious abundance, really. The sheep may not know what they want, but they know they are hungry. They are physically hungry and perhaps hungry for more than what the world can give them. They are hungry for spiritual food that only Christ can provide. Maybe you can relate.

Is your soul feeling unsettled? Maybe it’s been feeling that way for a while. Do you feel like you’ve been running, trying to catch up with Christ? Are you longing for a rest but the demands of this world keep finding you? Do you feel like you are hungry but have no idea for what you hunger or even how to be fed? Do tears, anger, frustration, or just general unsettledness come a little too easy these days? Perhaps it’s time for us to go off to a deserted place. A place where all of the distractions of this life disappear and we are left to rely only on God because that is all there is. Perhaps we’re being called to a deserted place where there will be green pastures, still waters, and cups that overflow. Perhaps we’re being called to a place where rest isn’t a suggestion, but a requirement. Maybe we’re being called to a place where we will finally be fed whatever it is that we are hungering.

And while all this sounds great in theory, life still happens. We all still have things that demand our attention. Work, the field, our kids, the laundry, dishes, groceries, our health, and on and on. I am sure there are many who would either love a spiritual retreat if it weren’t for the time away, the cost, and the logistics. Others may think the idea of a spiritual retreat actually sounds like torture. Whatever the case may be, we actually engage in a spiritual retreat each time we gather here. You are able to be fed every time you come to this table. You are fed physically, yes, but spiritually as well. And while Kiersten will be splashed in the promises of a lifelong relationship with Christ today, we can all do this on our own. After all, Luther believes that we should all participate in a daily remembrance of baptism. Perhaps that is the food for which your soul hungers. Maybe you just need to be reminded that you belong to someone. You are loved. You are beloved. You are worthy of being fed, being nourished, and you are most certainly worthy of rest.

This is what I am going to do for you today, my beloveds. I am going to leave the cover off the font here. As you leave today, maybe you will want to dip your hands in and splash yourself. Maybe you will play with the joy of a child. Maybe you will drink like a thirsty athlete. Maybe you will just be satisfied with one drip. Maybe you will stay at the font and linger for a while or maybe you will just dip and run. While what is in this font looks like water, it is food for a thirsty soul. God gives us all that we may need. Maybe what you need today is to remember who you are. Who you are is a child of God. Maybe what you need today is to remember whose you are. You are a child of God who belongs to God. So come and drink, come and splash, come and rest my fellow sheep. The shepherd is calling.

 

Sermon for 7/15/18 Mark 6:14-29

Mark is the shortest of our Gospels. It moves quickly and doesn’t spend a lot of time on details. Much of what happens in Mark happens “immediately.” So I find it interesting that a Gospel that is so short and not very detail oriented spends around 16 verses talking about the beheading of John the Baptist. People who say that the Bible is boring or confusing may need to read this story. It has everything that a good soap opera has: sex, adultery, lust, violence, imprisonment, power, and a party. Riveting stuff.

So, let me make sure we’re all clear on what is going on before we get too deep here because this story can be a bit confusing. There’s King Herod (his father was known as Herod the Great. So, good luck measuring up to that). King Herod married Herodias who was actually his brother Philip’s wife. Now, Herod’s daughter in this story is also referred to as Herodias. However, in other gospels, she is referred to as Salome. Then, of course, there’s John the Baptist. Do you know who is only mentioned in this story once? Jesus! But, John the Baptist is a disciple. He was on the outreach committee of Jesus’ posse.

Now, this story comes right after the text we heard last week. In last week’s text, Jesus sent the disciples out two by two to proclaim repentance, to cast out demons, and anoint those who were sick and cure them. Our scripture today picks right back up where we left off. “King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known.” King Herod had heard what the disciples had been doing. What Jesus had the disciples doing. John was sent out to encourage people to repent, King Herod included. Herod wasn’t really supposed to be married to Herodias. Philip wasn’t dead yet! Herodias didn’t like John and wanted to kill him. Herod feared John because John was righteous and holy. The plot thickens. Here’s what this story comes down to: power is one heck of an intoxicating drug.

John the Baptist wasn’t killed because Herodias asked for it. John the Baptist was killed because he represented a new kind of power. And that was a threat to Herod. He was power hungry. He would do anything to prove he had power and so he had John the Baptist killed. The crazy thing was is that John the Baptist didn’t have the same kind of power that Herod had. John the Baptist didn’t have money, or palaces, or armies, or servants. However, he did have Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit behind him. That made Herod fearful. And instead of trying to understand John the Baptist or Jesus’ message and the power of the Holy Spirit, Herod had him killed. This is the same reason that Jesus was killed. His version of power was somehow a threat to the Roman empire. They observed Jesus’ power of healing, feeding, and teaching and that was a threat to their piles of money, thousands of soldiers, and acres of land.

The quest for power wasn’t a problem just during the time when Jesus walked the earth. It continues to be a problem every single day. In fact, so many of the problems of this world come down to one central issue: power. The issue of illegal immigration is one of power. What if an immigrant comes into this country undocumented, takes my job, and takes my wages. That means they are taking my power. The issue of gun control is one of power. If you take away my guns, I won’t be able to protect myself or my family and you’re taking away my power. Our current administration, whether you like him or not, is very concerned about power. He speaks of the press the way he does, he speaks of other world leaders as he does, and he tweets as he does as a way of maintaining power. Power, my beloved, is one of the most intoxicating drugs in the world.

But Jesus wasn’t sent into this world to have the power of a dictating ruler like Caesar or Herod. Jesus came to turn the idea of power upside down. Jesus spent much of his ministry noticing the unnoticed and just by doing that, gave them power. When Jesus cured the hemorrhaging woman, he gave her the power to interact with society again. When Jesus met the woman at the well, he offered her forgiveness and reestablished her place in society and her power. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he showed that not even death had power any more. And for those in governmental power, that was a threat. If you can conquer death what kind of ruler are you? And those in power were scared and threatened. And when our power is threatened we do stupid illogical things.

What people didn’t realize is that the power that Jesus had wasn’t the power that the world was used to. His power actually benefited the powerless. Jesus wasn’t of any threat except to those who were afraid their power would be taken away. For those who didn’t have any power to begin with, Jesus was and still is good news. When we are brought to these waters and splashed with grace, just as Timothy will be today, we are washing away the powers of this world and replacing them with the powers that come from Christ alone. These powers that come from Christ give us the ability to see injustice, work towards reconciliation, fight for those on the margins, and be in service with and to one another. Most importantly, those waters allow us to be bathed in grace when we forget it’s all about Jesus and instead work for the powers being all about us.

I shared this with council last week, but it deserves to be said again. There is a rhythm to our worship. We gather, we heard the Word, we are fed with the meal, and then we are sent out into the world to share the good news. One of the last things we say before worship ends is one of the boldest and most daring proclamations we say all service. I usually say something like “go in peace to love and serve the Lord” or “Go in peace, Christ is with you” and you all say? (“Thanks be to God.”) When really, the world has us trained, maybe even encourages us to say instead “Go in power to love and serve yourself.” Or “go in power! You’re in this alone.” We know as Christians and as disciples that’s just not true. We also know that the powers this world gives and promises will always fail us. The powers given to us in baptism are the only ones that can sustain our lives. When you are able to use your Christ-given powers to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, then you are truly powerful. The powers of this world are nothing compared to the powers of Christ. Show me a power in this world that can defeat death. Show me a power in this world that can give hope to the hopeless. Show me a power in this world that can raise up the lowly and give status to the marginalized. There is nothing in this world that can compare to Christ. Because Christ’s love is the most powerful weapon on Earth. And that alone is enough to make others scared. So go out there, my beloved, and love the hell out of this world.

Sermon for 7/8/17 Mark 6:1-13

**NB: the sermon is shorter this week as those of us who attended the ELCA Youth Gathering shared about our experiences. For a full recap, check out our Facebook page: Elvira Zion Lutheran Church. **

 

Last week, 31,000 Lutherans gathered in Houston for the ELCA Youth Gathering under the theme of “This Changes Everything.” The guiding verse for the Gathering was Ephesians 2:8 “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” I assumed that the “this” in “This Changes Everything” was grace. And while that’s not wrong, we also learned that God’s hope, God’s love, God’s grace, and, of course, Jesus changes everything. We heard stories from people that had been changed by God’s hope, grace, and love. We heard of people learning about Jesus and it changed their lives. We were swept away by the infectious music that praised Jesus. And all of us, in one way or another, were changed.

In Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus sends the disciples out to villages to teach. He also gave them “authority over the unclean spirits.” He sent them out very specifically and with specific instructions. They went out in pairs and took nothing with them except a staff, the shoes on their feet, and maybe a tunic (but not two). They were to heal, teach, preach, feed. Basically, they were to be the eyes, hands, and mouth of Jesus. However, the disciples were told that if they did not receive a welcome, to shake the dust off their feet and go on their way. And we may think that is rude, but it is possible that we have all turned away Christ on occasion. Maybe it’s been in the ignoring of the immigration crisis at our borders, thinking poorly of the single parent using a food assistance program, or, sadly, we often ignore Christ when he comes through the voice of our youth.

“What can you possibly know” we say “you’re still so young and have so much to learn.” And we ignore Christ. The dust settles long before we realize our mistakes. So today, my beloved, you will hear from four of your youth. These four were Jesus to me while we were in Houston. I learned with them and from them and I am better because of them and Kristi. And our stories are not just limited to today. What we experienced in Houston will go with us for the rest of our lives. And sometimes our stories will be welcomed. We’ll be offered a seat at the table, something to eat, and space to tell how we encounter Jesus. And other times, we will be shooed away and will have to shake the dust off our feet. That won’t detour us. When Jesus changes you, as he has for the 6 of us, and, I hope, all of you, you will go to any lengths to share the good news that God’s love, hope, and grace, and most importantly, God’s son, Jesus, does, in fact, change everything.

Sermon for 6/24/18 Mark 4:35-41

So I will admit that I struggled and have continued to struggle with scripture this week. Did you know that Pastors do that? Knowing what to say to you week after week isn’t always easy. I pray a lot and listen to the Holy Spirit. But, sometimes like Job, I wrestle with God and with scripture. Many times, it is personal. I know what I need to say, but I don’t want to say it (mainly because I don’t want to hear it). Or I have a lot of people telling me what I should say, but they don’t know you like I know you. Sometimes I even know what I want to say but I just can’t find the right words to say it. Often, it is a combination of all of those things. This week, I wrestled a lot with faith versus fear. I didn’t like that they seemed to be pitted up against one another. Why can I not be faithful and have fear? Just because I am afraid doesn’t mean I’m don’t have faith. Does it?

I was always taught that a healthy amount of fear was good. It’s good to fear a lake you can’t see the bottom of. It’s good to fear going to a new country, new place, or when meeting new friends. I think fear keeps us aware of who we are and whose we are. But, lately, I think that fear is causing us to build walls and keep people away. Thanks to the news, social media, and pretty much everything that surrounds us, we have been drowning in messages of the “other” being dangerous. We are sinking in messages that we need to fear not being loved, not being enough, not measuring up, and being left out or left behind. It doesn’t have to be anything major, either. There’s the fear that our teeth aren’t white enough, our hair thick enough, that we don’t drive the right car, and that we don’t smell the right way. If we let it, fear can control our lives.

The disciples were in a group of boats sailing across the sea of Galilee when a storm blew up out of nowhere. The sea does that on occasion. It is nothing if not unpredictable. It’s easy to forget that this wouldn’t have been strange for the disciples. After all, most of them were fishermen, remember? They knew the power of the sea. But let’s talk about the setting for a moment. It was night. Their boats were more like fishing boats than luxurious cruise liners. A great storm had blown up. The winds were fierce. There would have been tremendous waves that ebbed and flowed. The sailors must have known that they might have to literally abandon ship in order to be saved. This was a serious storm. So when the disciples woke Jesus, it wasn’t a timid, reserved, or even polite “teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” It was probably more of a “TEACHER!! DO YOU NOT CARE THAT WE ARE PERISHING?!?” And, as Jesus has done thus far in the stories that we have heard from Mark’s gospel, he doesn’t follow the rules.

Jesus doesn’t start throwing buckets of water out of the boat. He doesn’t console the disciples. He doesn’t prepare to abandon ship. Instead, he rebuked the wind and demanded peace of the sea. And it happened. The disciples went from “holy mackerel we’re gonna die” to “holy mackerel who is this guy?” in a matter of moments. Jesus didn’t calm the storm as much as he showed dominion over it. This leaves the disciples, and us, perhaps, to struggle not so much with the question of what Jesus is or what he can do to who Jesus is (and what does that mean for us). I also have to wonder if part of the disciples awe was a disbelief that someone with Jesus’ powers would be associated with such a ragtag group of guys. “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” And if he is capable of such things, what in the world is he doing with us?

Perhaps Jesus says what he says to the disciples because they had seen proof of his identity several times before. They had seen what he was capable of. This wasn’t his first miracle with the disciples as witnesses. After all, this group of 12 was to be his “insiders.” Perhaps they even thought they fully understood Jesus and who he was. But, fear won over and they forgot everything that they had learned up to this point. The disciples have been front-row witnesses to everything that Jesus had done up to now. If they can’t figure out who Jesus is, what hope do we have?I wonder, then, if the lesson that Jesus is trying to teach us, and the disciples, is to never get too comfortable.

We should never rest to assured on our “Christian” laurels. We may assume we know and/or understand how Jesus would react to a certain situation, but we would most likely find ourselves in the wrong. I think the real fear in our lives should be any confidence we have in answering with vigor “I know what Jesus would do.” Because often our idea of what Jesus would do is colored by our own biases and misconceptions. I also wrestle with this idea: do we fear Jesus because we don’t know what he will do or do we fear Jesus because we think he would do the same as we would do? I don’t know that I have a clear cut answer to that one. As soon as Jesus exercises dominion over the storm, the disciples realized that he wasn’t as much of a what as he was a who. And once again, Jesus reminds us that he is all about relationships.

I’ve come to realize I fear the most when I don’t trust. It’s not as much of a faith issue as it is a trust issue. And the only way we learn to trust is in relationship. And this includes relationships even with things we may not think we can have a relationship with. You might have seen we got a new camper. I am going to learn to trust that camper by spending time with it, learning its noises (and what they mean), finding out all the ins and outs of it. We do the same with one another. We learn to trust one another as we spend time with one another. Trust and faith then slowly go hand in hand. We often say “I have faith in you” when really what we mean is “I trust you.” So I have to wonder if when Jesus asked about the disciples faith if he was really asking them “don’t you trust me?”

Jesus is the model for accompaniment. He has shown the disciples (and us) more than once already that he is going to be by their side and by our side no matter what. Here’s the thing, faith moves us from “what if” to “even if.” Perhaps the good news in all of this is that even if we do have fear, even if our trust is wavering, even if our faith isn’t as strong as perhaps we’d like it to be, Jesus will never leave us. Jesus always has a hold of us. In the greatest storms and in times of dead calm, Jesus will not only be with us, but will also provide for us and care for us. This is the Jesus that is relentless in caring for all of creation, and that includes us. This is the Jesus that may question our faith, but still goes to the cross willingingly. When we gather here every Sunday, we are reminded and remind others that we are loved. When we gather around the table, we are reminded that Jesus loves us. When we gather around the font and are splashed in grace, we are reminded of a relationship that lasts a lifetime and even through death. Jesus, who has the powers to calm even the stormiest of seas, will provide for us always and never leave us abandoned. Christ calls on us to have even the slightest bit of faith to believe it. Let us worship love and life, not fear and mistrust.