Sermon for 3/15/20 John 4:5-42

What a strange week it’s been, hasn’t it? I feel like January was 7 years ago already. It feels like 57 days have passed since we last gathered for worship. I made no less than what feels like 26 different decisions regarding worship in the span of 72 hours. And, as the Holy Spirit does, I found myself relating a lot to our reading this week. I sat for long hours at the wells of television, radio, and internet longing for information. I sat at the well of the grocery store and Wal-Mart, longing for goods. I sat at the well of my family and friends, longing for relationship and love. So, like the Samaritan woman, I came to the well. Over the next few weeks, my beloved, I think we will all come to our metaphorical wells a lot. 

What we don’t hear in the first few verses of chapter 4 is that Jesus left Judea and headed back to Galilee. And in verse 4 it says “But he had to go through Samaria.” No he didn’t. Geographically going to Samaria didn’t make any sense. It would be like going to Iowa City through Cedar Rapids. It doesn’t make sense geographically. But Jesus needed to go to Samaria to have this encounter with this woman. 

Jesus didn’t meet this woman just anywhere. He met her at a well. For us, the reaction may be “so what??” A well was a crucial meeting place in the Old Testament. Listeners would have known this. It’s where Isaac first met Rebekah; Moses’ daughter, Zipporah met her husband at a well. The well was what we now know as match.com. The well equaled relationship. The Gospel of John is all about relationships and abiding! But a relationship for this woman? First things first, she was a Samaritan. At the time, that was the worst kind of person. Samaritans were undesirable in every way. And this was a woman, so she was automatically less than. And to top off her level of undesiring, she had been married 5 times. This means she was either widowed or divorced. And if she was divorced it was because she was barren. This woman at the well (we never get her name, by the way) is a Samaritan, a woman, and someone who has been cast aside more than once. 

Then along comes Jesus. And Jesus sees her. This is really important. She was hoping she wouldn’t be seen. She went to the well at noon, the heat of the day. The water collecting had already been done for the day. The well wouldn’t be busy. The woman could go, collect her water, and leave without being harassed or without being reminded that she was, for all purposes, broken and damaged goods. Not only does Jesus see her, he sees her. He asks for a drink of water. This may seem strange to us. Didn’t Jesus bring his own cup? He’s Jesus, couldn’t he get his own water? But instead, he asks this woman for a drink. He is starting to establish a relationship. He is also giving her power. Jesus, a man is giving a woman, a Samaritan woman married 5 times at that, he is giving her power. He is starting to see her as the human being that she is. 

What is interesting is that she doesn’t give him a drink and then leave. She continues the conversation. She continues with questions and a bit of a theological discussion. And so the relationship grows. See, conversations are built on relationships. You enter into conversation with the expectation that you will listen and be listened to. There is an unstated trust and at times, even an unspoken vulnerability. And the more the woman and Jesus talk, the more we find out about the both of them. The woman quickly starts to pick up on the fact that this man isn’t any normal wanderer. And Jesus lets on that he knows her on a very intimate level. He knows that she has been married 5 times. For her, that has to be one of the most painful truths of her life. And so the relationship deepens. 

Then, then, THEN! Despite the fact that this is a woman, despite the fact that this is a Samaritan woman, despite the fact that this is a Samaritan woman who has been married 5 times (by no fault of her own, by the way), Jesus offers her what she really needs and wants: she wants to be in relationship and she wants to belong. And Jesus offers her a relationship with him and with God and offers to bring her into this community of believers. Jesus knows the ugly truth of her life and still gives her what she needs and desires: to be seen, to belong, and to be loved. And really, isn’t that what all of us want?

As I said, I anticipate we’ll all go to the well several times over the next few weeks. If we are not able to physically gather for worship, what well will you draw from? If you are not able to work (and that’s your main source of social interaction), what well will you draw from? If your kids are forced to stay home from school, what well will they draw from? Faith over fear is important, my beloved. It will be tempting in the weeks ahead to draw from wells that are full of fear, misinformation, hoarding, xenophobia, and anxiety. Satan alone fills those wells. It is important to stay informed, yes, but it’s also important to stay faithful. Know that Jesus is the living water. Jesus will always provide us with what we need. Notice I said that Jesus will give us what we need, not what we want. No matter what happens to you, Jesus sees you. Jesus sees your value, after all, Jesus named you and claimed you as his own. So, as you thirst in the coming weeks ahead, practice caution when gathering around the well. Not all wells offer the the water of life that Jesus does. Jesus is the life giving water. May we drink and splash often and be fed, refreshed, and reminded. 

Sermon for 10/27/19 John 8:31-36; Reformation

On the campus of the greatest university in the land, Northwest Missouri State University, sits its administration building. In 1979, a year after I was born, it was almost lost in a devastating fire. My parents still talk about it. But in 2010, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of my favorite buildings that stands on one of my favorite  places on earth. As you walk up to the doors and the building starts to impose her enormous height on you, if you were to look up, you would see etched in stone between two turrets, “and the truth shall set you free.” Now not being a Bible expert in college (I know, some of you may be surprised) I honestly thought it was more of like a honor code situation. Like the building was reminding us not to lie and cheat our way through college. Which also was good. Had I known the real truth, perhaps the stress of college might have been a little less. 

What is the truth?That’s a loaded question, isn’t it?  We live in a time when it seems to be harder and harder to tell truth from fiction. A lie seems to spread faster than the truth on social media these days. And I try, believe it or not, I really try to not talk politics from the pulpit. But our administration makes it challenging to believe truth from fiction as well. Should we dare criticize the administration, even if it is fair, even if it is true, there is a risk it will be called “fake news.” So what is the truth? At the risk of sounding like a basic children’s sermon answer, the truth is Jesus. Jesus even tells us that himself later in the gospel of John. He says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (14:6) 

Jesus is reminding all who believe in him, including us, that as long as we abide in him, as long as we are in relationship with him, we will know freedom. Knowing Jesus is knowing the truth. This is such a hard concept for us to grasp in western culture because we already live in a free society. Now, no matter what party you side with, you may not think that country is perfect, but we do have our freedoms which is what makes our country amazing and targeted. At the same time, it can be hard for Christians to understand the concept of freedom if we are already governmentally free people. 

But the freedom that Jesus spoke of wasn’t the freedom many of us think about when we pledge allegiance to the flag, stand for the national anthem, or honor our veterans. The freedom that Jesus was speaking of was the freedom that only he can bring: the freedom from sin and the freedom for relationship. The freedom for relationships with one another and the freedom for relationship with God. The freedoms that most of us know as United States citizens are wonderful and glorious and they are what allow us to gather in this place week after week and worship the way we do. We should not take them for granted. But at the same time, these freedoms cannot save us. It is only the cross and the actions of Jesus on the cross that can save us. If God forbid all of our constitutional freedoms were taken away tomorrow, we would still be free citizens of God’s kingdom because of the cross. 

We also shouldn’t miss the importance of this day. It is, after all, the day we mark the Reformation. We shouldn’t just think about this as a day in history but an invitation to constantly be re-forming. After all, scripture reminds us this day once again that we are justified by faith apart from works. Meaning, we are justified by our faith in God and by God’s saving actions on the cross and not by anything we ourselves can do. Because as amazing as we are (and let’s be honest, we’re all pretty amazing) we cannot save ourselves. We also cannot do anything to save ourselves. We cannot work ourselves into salvation. We cannot earn our way into salvation. We cannot even hope or love our way into salvation. Salvation is a gift. Knowing this alone is freedom. We are justified by God’s grace as a gift. A gift.  

God’s grace is a gift that will mess you up, like I said last week. Because really, God’s grace is the only thing that frees you really. Grace is what frees you from sin. God’s grace is what frees you from death. God’s grace is what frees you from yourself. God’s grace is that ladder that pulls you out from the pit. Grace is what picks you up, brushes you off, and dares you to start all over again. At the same time, grace is what gives us the freedom to serve our neighbor. We serve our neighbor not because we need to. We don’t need to earn points with God.That’s not how it works. No, we serve our neighbor because we are freed from our sin. Our burdens have been lifted. Our joy in the Lord is so great we just can’t help ourselves. This is the good news that our world is hungering for. This is the truth. 

I believe the world is longing for another reformation, my beloveds. History tells us that is happens around every 500 years or so and that means we’re overdue. In a time where people are having trouble understanding what is truth and what isn’t, wouldn’t be refreshing to know for certain, without a doubt that truth is as simple as Jesus. And he meets us here in bread and wine. The truth is as simple as Jesus and grace is for you too and you don’t need to do anything to earn it. We could be the new reformers the world is looking for. We could be the Martin Luthers the world is waiting on. We don’t need need doors or 95 thesis or even the dark of night to do our work. We just need to be brave enough, bold enough, grace filled enough to proclaim what really is the truth and that THAT truth, Jesus, can set us all free. 

Sermon for 8/19/18 John 6:51-58

So, let’s address the elephant in the reading first and foremost, shall we? This reading is a bit graphic. If someone were to hear this for the first time, they might run away from Christianity and never come back. In fact, some do. They hear this scripture and think Christians are cannibals. In fact, years and years of church doctrine and arguments between church fathers (sorry ladies, but it was always the guys in these meetings) have focused on this one issue: what really is communion? Are we really eating the actual flesh of Jesus? Is it the true presence or just a symbol? What do we believe as Lutherans? Oh my goodness?!? Have I been a Lutheran all my life and had no idea that I’m actually a cannibal?? Relax, friends. We believe that Jesus is truly present in, with, and under the elements of communion. That is, the bread and the wine. But, how he is truly present is a mystery. We believe that when the Word of God is combined with the Holy Spirit, the simple gifts of bread and wine become the true presence of Jesus. But, how that happens is a mystery. And no, we are not eating the actual flesh of Jesus. But there’s also a pretty good reason why the words from today’s reading are NOT the words we hear at communion.

However, Jesus does call himself “living bread.” In fact, in these 7 verses, some form of “life” is referred to 9 times. Jesus uses life, living, and live interchangeably. He also talks about abiding, which for me is another way of talking about life. Because when Jesus abides with us, he is offering us a relationship, a dwelling place, and for me, that is life-giving. Why in the world does Jesus do this for us? Why does he offer us his body and blood? Because “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). And because Jesus came so that we may “have life and have it abundantly” (10.10). Additionally, Jesus is out to save us from ourselves so that we may have eternal life (3.17). When we are fed by Christ and filled to the point that we are overflowing and we start feeding others, our lives look much different than those times when we are spiritually starving.

Through Jesus Christ, God offers us life. And I don’t know that we know what to do with that quite honestly. We often get bogged down in the details that we have life in our bodies, but we’re not living. Many of us certainly aren’t dying, but we aren’t really living either, does that make sense? We may have happiness in our life, but we are lacking joy. Some of us may be surviving, but we certainly aren’t thriving. I don’t know if any of this sounds familiar. Jesus is offering us life. Not just a going through the motions, kind of getting by, life is just okay, barely keeping our heads above water, kind of life. No, what Jesus offers us is life and life abundant. Jesus is offering us life that looks like living into the promises given to us in baptism. I want to make it clear that what Jesus is offering us isn’t a life of sunshine and rainbows 24/7/365. Rather, Jesus offers us abundant life and a relationship of him abiding in us and we in him.

I don’t know if you realize this, but we are constantly being told that we are not enough. Do you realize that literally every single commercial on tv is meant to make you feel like you don’t have enough, you aren’t enough, or that you can be better? And most commercials on the radio do the same thing. What Jesus offers is something different. We are currently living in an empire. Just like Jesus was alive during the time of the Roman empire and ultimately put to death because he was a threat to the empire, we too are living in an empire. Our current empire is that of “not enough.” The Not Enough Empire. Every company, every corporation, even some of the people around us participate in one way or another in telling us we are not enough. Now, this isn’t always done with malicious intent. Sometimes it really is done out of concern or love. But, once you strip away the intent, the flashy colors and jingles, and the really tempting discounts, the message remains the same: you are not enough. Jesus offers us a “right here-right now” life. Meaning, we are complete in Christ just the way we are. We don’t need any product, any procedure, any drug, any vehicle, or pair of jeans to be any better for Jesus. We are enough in him, for him, and because of him.

This life that Christ offers us in body and blood is life abundant. And that is completely contrary to what society desires to give us. In our baptism, we were claimed by God and we continue to be claimed by God every single day. Baptism brings about the “forgiveness of sins, redeems [us] from death and the devil, and give eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promise of God declare” (explanation of baptism in Luther’s Small Catechism). In baptism, we are given and total permission to die to the expectations of this world. We die to the broken record of “not enough.” In baptism and again at communion we are reminded who we are and the message is “you are enough.”

“The words ‘given for you’ and ‘shed for you for the forgiveness of sin’ show us that forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are given to us in the sacrament through these words, because where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (explanation of communion in Luther’s Small Catechism). When God declares to you the forgiveness of your sins through communion, God is declaring you free from all this world desires to label you with, saddle you with, or brand you with. This world wants to point out your scars, your wounds, your faults, your shortcomings, the ways you have failed the world and yourself over and over. Jesus looks at that empire, the one that wants to take us down, and says it is wrong. In communion, the empire of “not enough” is destroyed and we are given and promised new life in three simple words: “given for you.”

Jesus is the living bread. Living bread for living people. Living waters for living people. The bread of life for the life of the people. The waters of life for the life of the people. In a world that constantly tells us we aren’t enough and that we need more in order to be happy, our call as disciples is to smash that empire by declaring that we actually have all we need in water, bread, and wine. And the world will never understand that. The world may think it’s offering us life, but it is only temporary. Eternal life comes through and from one place only and that is in Jesus Christ. We get to see Ryder receive eternal life today. And why? Because “God so loved the world.” And that includes Ryder and that includes us. Thanks be to God!

Sermon for 5/6/18 John 15:9-17

Very rarely do we receive anything without a catch or strings attached. Sometimes we receive things with strings attached we didn’t even want (“call now and receive a second set of knives absolutely free!”) But there are very few things in life that come without any expectations at all. If you have a child or have children in your life and they are on a kick of being extra nice or sweet, what is our first reaction? “What do you want?” If you’ve ever been in love or if you recall that time when you were falling in love, there might have been an anxiety surrounding actually saying “I love you.” The anxiety of saying it was bad; the uncertainty of having it said in return was almost worse! The expectation is that if you say “I love you” that someone else will say “I love you too.” When you’re newly in love, that’s a challenging barrier to cross. It’s unfortunate that sometimes when we hear someone say “I love you” that we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. As in “I love you… can you loan me $20.” Or “I love you…please let me drive.”

So maybe it is because of that, we have a difficult time with the idea of abiding in Christ’s love. Perhaps we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe we’re waiting for the catch. We may even resist abiding in Christ’s love because we honestly don’t have anything to give in return. But isn’t that how our relationship with Christ sometimes works? Maybe you’ve never thought of it that way. But it may just be possible that Christ gives us what we need when we need it. All things on God’s time. So when we are invited to abide in Christ, it is most likely because that is exactly what we need.

I’ve talked about the use of “abide” before and what that may mean. But, it essentially means that we are to live or to dwell. Christ invites us to live in his love; to dwell in his love. If we think about this from a practical standpoint, what does living in something usually mean? It means we have safety, security, comfort, peace, and stability. When Christ invites us to abide in his love, we are being offered safety, security, comfort, peace, and stability. The expectation is that we do it. That’s it. We aren’t ask to make a donation. We aren’t ask to only stay for a few minutes. We aren’t asked to convert (x) number of people so that Christ has more people to love. Sometimes, as cruel and strange as this sounds, it really is about us as individuals.

While it is important to be the community of Christ together, it is equally as important to know that you, as an individual, is loved by Christ. Sometimes we need that reminder. We need that safety and security that can only be offered by dwelling and abiding in Christ. We need that reminder that nothing can come between us and the love that Christ has to offer. I preach a lot about being a disciple and what that looks like. It is so important that we follow where Christ has to lead us. It is crucial that for the sake of God’s kingdom we do what we can to spread the word of God to others. Our own faith grows when we share it with others. At the same time, being a disciple is hard, thankless work. We need a soft place to land. What better place is there than in the safety and security of Christ’s love?

We may forget that God is a parent like figure. If you didn’t have a good relationship with your parent or parents, maybe thinking of God like a parent isn’t comforting. Or maybe God serves as the parent you wish you had. But, when I think about what it may mean to abide in the love of Christ, I think about the relationship with a parent. I think about that comfort. I also don’t care how old you are, sometimes you just need the comfort of your mom or dad. If that image doesn’t work for you, maybe imagine how a mother bird gathers her babies under her wings to protect them. Abiding in Christ brings us comfort that nothing Earthly can compare. It is the comfort of knowing you can be you. You don’t have to be someone or something you aren’t. You can let your guard down and be who Christ truly created you to be. Which means that you are going to allow yourself to be loved without feeling guilty about it.

Our human brains have an issue processing grace. We may understand it on a scientific or even theological level. We understand how grace works. We may know (as the good Lutherans we are) that we are saved by grace alone. We are not saved by our works or deeds. We may understand amazing grace or we may be the wretch the song speaks of. But when the rubber hits the road, the biggest thing stopping us from abiding in Christ is ourselves. We don’t think we are worthy of such things. We don’t think we deserve it. And you know what? We aren’t worthy and we don’t deserve it. And that is what makes the love of Christ different from the love we can receive from one another. Christ’s love doesn’t come with a catch. Christ’s love doesn’t come with strings. Christ’s love has no expectations other than we just receive it. This love is so powerful and strong that we may want to fight it, but Christ will win.

We are able to do a lot of things of our own power. We can recharge our batteries with a good night’s rest. We can answer the call of hunger with a great meal. Our thirst can be quenched in a number of ways. We can soothe a lonely spirit with friends or family. But there is nothing that can fulfill our body and spirit’s need of Christ’s love other than abiding in Christ himself. There is no amount of rest, food, liquid or social gatherings that can fill the space that is meant for Christ. We were created by God. So yes, sometimes we just need to return to our creator to be fed and loved. What does that look like from a practical sense?

In order to abide and dwell in Christ and the love Christ has for us there may be a few things worth doing. First, get yourself in the mental head space to fully accept the love of Christ. Maybe you need quiet or even silence. Turn off the phone, television, or whatever. Maybe you enter into a time of prayer. Then, just be. Ask God to fill you with the love of Christ. That’s it. There’s no catch. Maybe prayer time for you is time in the boat, or on a jog, or in the planter, or whatever. Just opening yourself up to receive the love of Christ makes you more aware that it’s been there all along. Don’t fight it. It is all too easy for us to fight Christ’s love because we don’t think we’re worthy or deserving. But it’s easier if we don’t fight it. Lastly, take a posture of thankfulness. Listen to your souls and your spirits, my beloved. Christ may just be calling you to take a break. You cannot save the world. You may not even be able to save yourself. You cannot fill others from a dry well. Come, abide in Christ. Dwell there for a while. Rest and be fed.