Sermon for 4/7/19 John 12:1-8

**nb: part of this sermon was visual. The congregation saw pictures of things that cost around $54,000. This included farm equipment, a boat, 5th wheel camper, jewelry, shoes, and a handbag. **

This is a gospel story about extravagant love. It’s hard for us to understand how much the perfume that Mary rubbed on Jesus’ feet was actually worth. After all, we don’t use denarii anymore. So, to say that she used 300 denarii doesn’t actually mean that much to us. So how about this? Mary rubbed approximately $54,000 on Jesus’ feet. That was extravagant love. Now, I don’t know about you, but even to say $54,000 doesn’t necessarily mean I understand it. I  don’t know what $54,000 looks like. So, I thought I would help us to understand this extravagant love. Let’s take a look at what I found you could get for around $54,000.

Now that we’ve seen examples of that, maybe we have a better idea of how extravagant and obnoxious (in the best way) this act of love really was. We don’t know how much of a sacrifice this was for Mary, financially. After all, we’re never told that Mary is poor. I think we often assume that the followers and disciples of Jesus were poor. And while that may have been the case for some, we aren’t told about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ financial situation. How did Mary manage to get such expensive perfume? We don’t know. But what we do know is that it was about a year’s worth of wages poured on Jesus feet in an act of anointing and love.

Jesus doesn’t say much during this very intricate and very intimate ritual. We don’t hear from him until he tries to quiet Judas. Mary didn’t say anything. Jesus didn’t say anything. But they both knew what was going on. Her actions spoke very loudly. Mary doesn’t talk about how much she loves Jesus. She doesn’t talk about how she is preparing him for death. Mary doesn’t talk about the significance of using pure nard, which, traditionally was used to prepare bodies in ritual cleansing after death. The fact that this nard probably came from India to Palestine made it even more valuable. Mary doesn’t know that in a few days following her washing Jesus’ feet with this perfume, Jesus will show his love to his disciples by kneeling and washing their feet. This was not a thank you gift to Jesus for raising Lazarus. But none of that was said. It was all action. Isn’t that how love is or at least should be?

How might you have reacted? After all, to receive a gift worth $54,000 isn’t something most of us have experienced. Can you even wrap your mind around that idea? And what if the person giving you this gift did it out of love and with no intentions of getting anything in return? I don’t know about you, but I certainly couldn’t have been as calm and quiet about a gift like that as Jesus was. But then again, that is what makes Jesus Jesus. I don’t know that a lot of us know what to do with that kind of abundance. At the beginning of the gospel of John, we are told that Jesus has come so that we may experience “grace upon grace” (1.16). An abundance of grace. An abundance of love. So much so that it may make us uncomfortable. So much so that we may not know how to react. So much love and grace that we may actually be rendered speechless. Jesus loves us in a way that cannot be reciprocated. It’s just not possible. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t love Jesus and Jesus’ world and Jesus’ people. But Jesus loves us in such a way and with such an abundance that we can never love Jesus in the same way.

What happens in these short few little verses is actually quite huge. Mary is preparing Jesus for his death. That is an abundant sign of love. Mary recognizes the humanity of Jesus and recognizes his inherent need for love. It isn’t very often that people are able to see Jesus as the human he really is. Jesus is so often in his role as the divine that we can forget that he is human and has actual human needs. And one of those needs is love. We all need it. It is so powerful when we receive it without having to ask for it. It’s so powerful when we receive it without any expectations. Mary isn’t just loving Jesus for who he is but for who he will become. Mary is loving Jesus into his future. Mary is loving him towards his death.

Jesus knows what he has to do. He is turning his heart, mind, and physical body towards Jerusalem. He will enter the week with the waving of palms and then quickly tried and executed. But, it was Mary’s extravagant love that allowed Jesus to show extravagant love to us. Whether you know it or not, we have all been recipients of someone loving us into the next stage of our lives. This is what Mary did for Jesus. In her love, Mary was basically telling Jesus “yes you can do this. You can go to Jerusalem. And I love you.” But remember, none of that was said, it was all felt through action. Mary loved Jesus into his future. And there has been someone in your life who has loved you into yours. There is someone who has loved you $54,000 worth, or maybe even more.

We have all had a Mary in our lives. That person who loves us beyond what we can imagine. That person who loves us in such a way that the “what’s next” seems a bit more manageable. Maybe it was a parent, a spouse, or partner. Maybe it was a teacher. Maybe it was a friend. But I have no doubt that we have all had that person who has empowered us to believe that we are worthy of love and made us feel love. This is just a small taste of how Jesus loves us. Jesus always loves us into the “what’s next.” We may not know it’s Jesus. But it is. Sometimes, Jesus sends familiar people to love us into the “what’s next.” And when someone loves us into our “what’s next” we are actually empowered to be who God created us to be. Again, when someone comes alongside us to love us into the next part of our lives, it is more than just lip service.

Mary didn’t tell Jesus she loved him, she showed him. There is something really powerful about being shown love. Much like I said last week, when someone shows you love in a physical, healthy way, you are recognized. And there is power in recognition. There is power in being seen. There is power in gaining confidence to move boldly into our futures knowing that we are loved. Who is loving you into your “what’s next”? Are you loving someone into their “what’s next”? Jesus is always loving us into our next thing. Even when we don’t recognize it, Jesus is loving us with more than just lip service. Everything we have in our lives is proof of Jesus loving us into the disciples he knows we can be.

Jesus took all the love given to him by Mary and all of his other disciples with him as he went into Jerusalem. And in his final breaths, in his death on the cross, in his blood poured out, Jesus took that love and gave it back to us. The blood poured out was loved poured out. Jesus has been loving us into our what’s next since his death. And in the empty tomb he showed us once again that we are loved. Because the empty tomb couldn’t hold all of that love. Love ushered Jesus into the resurrection. And, some day, may it be the same for us. You are loved, my beloveds. You are loved with love greater than $54,000. You are loved beyond what you can even imagine. You are loved into your “what’s next” which means you are loved into the person God created you to be. That is some powerful love! Thanks be to God!

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Sermon for 2/10/19 Luke 5:1-11

I want to talk briefly this morning about what I believe is a universal experience. I am going to call it the Murphy’s Law of stuff. This is what happens (and I think we’ve all been there which is why I think this is a universal experience): something isn’t working the way it should be or the way you want it to. My guess is, the majority of the time it’s something electronic. Let’s say it’s the remote to your television. You’ve tried flipping the batteries around. You’ve tried actual new batteries. You’ve tried hitting it on your hand, which then you decided to use the table instead. Nothing is working. Finally, someone else asks “what in the world are you doing?” You explain that something that should be working isn’t. And doesn’t it figure that the other person walks over, grabs the remote, and it automatically starts working like it should? Oh my goodness! That’s so annoying.

Simon had that happen to him in this reading from today. Jesus has once again been followed by a crowd of people and he escapes them, or creates a little space, by going out onto Simon’s boat. He encourages Simon to let his nets down again. Now, Simon was probably a master fisherman. He was most likely in the middle of cleaning his tools, wrapping up his net, frustrated over the lack of fish which meant the lack of income. And he tells Jesus (quite respectfully, I might add. He did call him “Master”) that they had already been fishing all night long and didn’t catch a thing. “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” And they caught so many fish that they needed helping pulling in the haul and the nets started to break. In that moment where Simon witnesses the miraculous goodness of God’s mercy, grace, love, and provision, he answers the call that God has placed on his life. He transforms from Simon the fisherman to Simon the disciple. He got out of the boat.

Call has consequences. Following Jesus has a price. When Simon got out of the boat to follow Christ, he was literally leaving everything behind that he had always known. He was leaving behind an identity that he thought he was for an identity he was being called to (but knew nothing about). He had just witnessed what Jesus was capable of, and it’s as if Simon couldn’t wait another minute to be a part of it. And without hesitation, he got out of the boat. I don’t know about you, but I highly doubt that I could have done what Simon did. But, Jesus has called Simon into a new life. He has almost transformed Simon right in front of us, a resurrection of sorts, and Simon cannot not be a disciple. Simon will now be an active participant in God’s ministry with Jesus and for Jesus. He leaves behind his livelihood, his income, and perhaps he leaves behind what is easy. Sure, on this particular day, fishing wasn’t the best (or maybe even easy). But Simon knew he could come back tomorrow or maybe try another watering hole and probably catch some fish. There might have been peace in that routine. But Simon has been changed and there’s no going back.

Once we witness the life-changing ways of Jesus, are we ever the same? We shouldn’t be the same. We should be so astonished by what we witness Jesus doing in our lives that we can’t help ourselves and we too get out of our own boats. Now, of course, I’m not talking about physical boats here, no pontoons or fishing boats. I am talking about getting out of whatever comfortable spot we reside in and wading into unchartered, unclear, rocky, shaky waters to follow and serve the one who calls us, the one who is always making us new, the one who redeems us day after day. This is an act of obedience so astonishing that it may make our loved ones around us wonder what has gotten into us. Because, again, once we witness the life-changing ways of Jesus, we aren’t the same. We can’t be the same. We know too much! Once we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell the life changing ways of Jesus, we have a new definition of love. We have a new definition of grace. We have a new definition of mercy. We have a new definition of life! And we are so filled with the Holy Spirit and the promise of accompaniment and abundance that we practically leap out of our boats and run to follow Jesus, right? Or not.

Following Jesus and answering his call is risky. From a practical standpoint, it makes no sense whatsoever. It’s not like we all have the luxury of dropping everything to answer God’s call. I mean, there are bills to be paid. But to leave everything and follow Jesus is at the heart of discipleship. And Jesus calls all of us to be disciples. And it can be scary, and unknown, and risky, and so incredibly worth it. God calls us out of our life of comfort because for so many of us, being comfortable has quickly morphed into being complacent. We don’t dare get out of our boat or even rock the boat because we’ve got it good. It’s unfortunate that there are problems in the world or that people are suffering. But, it doesn’t directly affect me and so we mind our own business. But my beloved, if we think God is just going to call us once and then give up, we’re sorely mistaken. God is constantly calling us, challenging us, maybe even daring us to get out of our places of comfort, get out of our places of complacency, and enter into the places of Christ.

When we don’t answer God’s call, we declare that we aren’t interested in worshipping God, we’re only invested in our own interests; we’d rather worship ourselves. We should know by now that that kind of life isn’t a life at all. It’s merely an existence. And again, I don’t know about you. But, I don’t want to just exist, I want to really live. And discipleship is a life that is unpredictable and yet rewarding at the same time. We don’t do it alone, that’s for sure. God has a plan for our lives. Whether we get out of our comfort places or not, eventually God will steer us in the direction we need to go. When we see what God through Jesus Christ can do, we are changed. The cost of discipleship is great; it involves putting God in Jesus Christ at the center of our lives even if that involves changes in our lives. But we do this not because we are forced to do this. We do this because, like Simon, we have experienced grace upon grace. We put God at the center of our lives and follow because, like Simon, we can’t go back to what we once knew. We do this because we can’t do anything else.

Sermon for 1/27/19 Luke 4:14-21

One of the aspects of this reading that I enjoy so much is that it is very descriptive. Can’t you just see this scene as it unfolds? Jesus is a bit older by the time this story takes place. He’s a good Jewish boy who has returned home for the sabbath. And, as he probably had done so often, he went to services at the synagogue (maybe even with his mom and dad). This was pretty exciting. Word had already started to get around that Jesus, the hometown boy, was starting to make a name for himself. He stood up to read from the scroll. This wasn’t something just anyone did or could do. Remember, not a lot of people during Jesus’ time could actually read. So, he opens up the scroll and sees it is from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, after all. And he could have read anything he wanted to from the prophet Isaiah. Anything at all. But instead he chooses this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Here’s what’s interesting about what Jesus read: it doesn’t read like that. It isn’t written in that order. In fact, if you looked up in Isaiah what Jesus said in this Luke reading for today, you would find it in this order: Isaiah 61:1, Isaiah 58:6, and Isaiah 61:2. Then, Jesus rolls the scroll back up, sits down, gives the shortest sermon ever by saying “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” and then we’re done. I think it was Jesus’ version of a mic drop.

I have to think that the people in the synagogue probably just continued to stare at Jesus. They were probably giving him that “what in the world are you talking about stare.” We all have a version of that stare. Maybe it was a mix of confusion, anger, joy, and anticipation. Do those that were gathered understand what just took place? Do we? And here’s the thing, what Jesus said in his synagogue all those years ago, it still matters. And when we hear it today, it matters. What Jesus said is crucial “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And that today that Jesus speaks of is a never ending today. So (and stick with me here) when Jesus first said it, it was that day. And when it was said again some 300 years later (or something) it mattered on that day. When you first heard this scripture, it was that day and it mattered. And now, we’re here, in today, and it matters still. I know that can be kind of confusing. But Jesus is just trying to emphasize that his good news, his prophecy and his promise is never ending.

At the same time, one might wonder if this is good news. If you are rich, and trust me, most of us in this room are rich, and the Jesus is bringing good news to the poor, what does that mean for us? And if Jesus is proclaiming release to the captive, then what does that mean for those people who have imprisoned those in mind, body, or spirit? Letting the oppressed go free changes power structure and people always struggle with that. And then Jesus says this is all happening because today, we heard it as such. Everything that Jesus said should actually give pause to those in power, including us. Because what Jesus is saying is that everything we’ve known, everything we are, everything we thought was right has been turned upside down. Power will come from weakness. The poor will be rich. The oppressed and blind will now become fully integrated members of society. Maybe this doesn’t leave you unsettled. Because maybe you don’t think of yourself as rich, or an oppressor, or a someone who enslaves someone else.

But, Jesus is all about justice, righteousness, and mercy. So, if we were to put this writing from Isaiah, the words that Jesus spoke, into current context Jesus might say something like this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has called me to bring good news to the poor and those who are told they are poor and those who are made to feel poor. I will bring good news to those who receive welfare, food stamps, and government assistance. You are valued.” Or what about this: “The Spirit of the Lord has sent me to proclaim that there is no such thing as illegal or undocumented. Everyone is valued in my sight.” Well now! That’s a little different, isn’t it? I know what you’re thinking “stay in your own lane, Pastor. Don’t get too political.” But, when are we going to realize that Jesus was political? We will hear more from this scripture next week, but as soon as Jesus said all of this, the townspeople (reminder, from his own hometown) wanted to throw him off a cliff. And they tried. Sure, justice and righteousness should anger us. But injustice and corruption should vault us into action. In the hearing of these words today, we too should be so filled with the Spirit that we act on Jesus’ words.

I’ve said this before, but being a Christian and ultimately, being a disciple isn’t just in name only. This is a way of life; a call to action. Injustice should anger us. Corruption should anger us. Poverty, hunger, people dying from preventable disease, dirty drinking water, and on and on, it should all anger us. Because this is not the world that Christ desires. We cannot rest on our laurels and hope that someone else will do the work of Christ for us. We cannot tell people “I’m a Christian” and then do nothing to act on that. Because we love Christ and Christ loves us, the hurts of the world might and should hurt us too. But it’s too easy to sit back and do nothing. Because if we sit back and do nothing, our status in life isn’t challenged. Our long held beliefs aren’t challenged. We aren’t forced to look at our choices and justify them. But, if God sees us all as equals, and if all is equal in God’s kingdom, then what does it matter? There is no first class heaven. That’s not how it works.

Scripture has been fulfilled today in your hearing. This means that Christ is calling you to listen and answer the world’s cries. And I get it. The pain of the world is almost too much to bear. We cannot solve all the world’s problems by ourselves. But we don’t need to. The world isn’t looking for a new savior, we already have one of those. Instead, the world is looking for and needing disciples who take seriously the sacrifice the savior made for all people. You don’t have to make a difference for the whole world, but just the world around you. We all know that one small ripple can make a huge effect. I don’t want to assume that Jesus forgot anything or that Isaiah forgot anything. But, I wonder if we need to add a little asterisk or something to this reading. Perhaps Jesus should have said “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing and in your doing.” The only Bible some people ever read may be you. The only glimpse of God people ever see may be you. The only love of Christ that people experience may be from you. Challenge yourself such that your words, tasks, and actions answer the call. God’s grace, and the Holy Spirit are upon you to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to ensure freedom to the oppressed. It’s no small task. But our God is no small God!

Sermon for 11/25/18 John 18:33-37 Christ the King

One thing I have noticed in the last few years is a decline and almost loss of civility. And maybe it is not the loss of civility that I am noticing, but perhaps just the polarization of society around us. The areas of black and white thinking our growing on the areas of gray keep shrinking day after day. Which is unfortunate, because so much of Christianity is a gray area. We must be citizens of the law while living by grace. We wrestle with the call of social justice while at the same time continuing to come face-to-face with dwindling resources. We hear Jesus  call us to move in the world as disciples, but at times, if we are honest, that task alone feel very overwhelming. And so, here we are on Christ the King Sunday. In years past, I’ve preached on what it means to confess that Jesus is King. I wrestle with that confession because if Jesus is king then that means so many other things in my life are not. But let’s take all of this one step further. If we believe that Jesus is King, and we do, then that means we are also confessing to kingdom living. This, my beloved, is where I really struggle.

I believe there is a difference between confessing that Jesus is king and kingdom living. We do one with our lips, however we do the other with her whole being. If we’re going to be honest, it is difficult living in a black and white society while also trying to be kingdom dwellers. There is something to be said about black and white living. Opinions are cut and dry, you know where everyone stands, and it is very easy to tell who your friends and enemies are. In this time of great divide and tumult, the attitude seems to be “if you are not with me, you are against me.” We have all but lost the ability to be in disagreement with one another and still live together.

The challenge of kingdom living is this: it is kingdom living. And Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Which also means that if our eyes, hearts, and minds are focused on God’s kingdom and living as if we are serious about bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth then we will constantly bump up against the ways of this world. While we can live in two worlds: this one and God’s, it is ultimately the the grace, mercy, and love of God’s kingdom that will dominate. This may all sound fine and good, but it really is a challenge, this kingdom living stuff. On the surface, it may not seem like it. After all, we’re Christians. If our hearts are pure and true and we put Jesus as first in our lives, how hard can kingdom living be? I propose, my beloveds, that kingdom living is risky, challenging, and can lead to great loneliness. Because once again, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, and so kingdom living isn’t of this world either.

What makes it so challenging? Let me give you some examples of living in this world versus living in God’s kingdom. Living in this world, the message is protect at all costs. Build a wall. Kingdom living says all are welcome, no exceptions. This worlds message is that we should fear the unknown no matter if the unknown is circumstances or people. Kingdom living encourages us to welcomes the unknown because we know the Holy Spirit specializes in the unknown. This world says that you must take care of yourself, be concerned about what is best for you, and if you’re having a difficult time, well then, pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Kingdom living expectations state that when my neighbor is well, I am well. Kingdom living says that if my neighbor struggles, I struggle. And if our neighbor(s) are struggling or having a difficult time, kingdom living encourages accompaniment and tending for those around us with less.

Perhaps you can see, my beloved, how kingdom living would be challenging. Honestly it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It is opposite of everything we usually know. Kingdom living is difficult. Kingdom living should be a comfort. Instead, most times, it convicts us. Kingdom living is full of grace. However, we often interpret it as nothing but the law. Kingdom living is full of promise. However, we often interpret it as constraining and inhibiting. Because kingdom living may lose us relationships; people may not understand why we do what we do when we’re trying to bring God’s kingdom here on earth. And instead of attempting to comprehend what we’re doing, it’s easier to just leave us behind and live by the rules of this world. What are we willing to lose in order to be kingdom dwellers?

Maybe the question shouldn’t be what are we willing to lose, but are we willing to lose in order to be citizens of the kingdom? That question should cause us to pause and really evaluate if we actually want to be citizens of the kingdom. We quickly forget that Jesus was a citizen of the kingdom and he was crucified for it. Are we willing to usher in the kingdom even when that means following Jesus all the way to the cross? Remember, Jesus came so that everyone who believes in him may never perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Part of kingdom living is that promise of eternal life. It would seem almost foolish to not be kingdom dwellers. But our old friend, sin, gets the best of us every single time. Are we willing to let go of what we think makes and builds a kingdom and instead focus on the truth of what builds a kingdom: Christ and Christ alone. And despite our best intentions, we end up desiring to live in God’s kingdom while fully living in this kingdom. We may think we’re being successful, claiming to be kingdom dwellers while all the while, living by the rules, laws, and expectations of this world. But Christ knows.

Christ knows and grants us citizenship in God’s kingdom anyway. Our place in God’s kingdom is secure despite ourselves. This has nothing to do with us and everything to do with God and the love of God given to us through Jesus Christ. God is loving. God is merciful. God is full of grace. God is everything this world is not. Our bodies, our minds, maybe even our actions may belong to this world. But, God laid claim on our hearts and souls before we were even born. God granted us kingdom citizenship while we were still in the womb. The promise of God’s kingdom is this: it is not of this world. That, my beloved, is certainly good news. To be freed from the troubles of this world is most certainly a gift from God and of God. Kingdom living is freedom living. And one day, by God’s grace alone, we will all be freed.

Sermon for 10/7/18 Mark 10:2-16

I don’t do this very often, but I think I’d like to start this sermon out by inviting all of you to take a good, deep, cleansing breath. And as you breathe in and out, let me assure you that God loves all of you. And at the same time remind you that absolutely nothing comes between you and the love of God. So breathe deep and relax. This sermon is not going to be about marriage or divorce. I invited you to breathe because when the topic of divorce comes up at church, walls are almost immediately constructed. I am going to guess that all of us have been touched by divorce in one way or another. You have either been divorced, had a family member divorce, maybe your parents divorced, or you have a good friend that has gone through a divorce. For many of us, it’s several of those. My sister is divorced, my uncle is divorced, and a good friend of mine from seminary is in the middle of a divorce right now. And sadly, all too often, a place that should be a place of refuge: the church, often becomes a place of judgement. So hear this now, my beloved, if the church, any church, has made you feel unloved, unwelcome, or unworthy simply because your marital status changed, please accept my apologies. Life is hard enough. The church should be a place of love and welcome. And if that was not the case for you, I am so terribly sorry that you were hurt in that way.

No one ever gets married with the intentions of getting divorced. Sometimes it is for the best. And we have to remember that new life comes from death. But, with today’s reading it is especially important to remember that divorce as we know it was nothing like divorce during Jesus’ time. Marriage as we know it was nothing like marriage during Jesus’ time. It might be helpful for us to remember that marriage during Jesus’ time was usually an agreement between families (more than likely the patriarch of the family) with the woman having little to no say in whom she would be married to. It was often a decision of economics and not love. A woman could not divorce her husband. Even in the case of abuse or infidelity, a woman had no power (and most likely, no money) in order to divorce her husband. A man, however, could divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever.

In Jesus’ time there was a hierarchy of people. Men, of course, were at the top. At the bottom of the pecking order were divorced women and children. Even widowed women were a bit higher up than divorced women. During Jesus’ time, divorced women were often divorced for one main reason: they were barren. If a woman could not conceive a child she was viewed as broken or damaged goods. Of course, as a woman who had a terrible time conceiving a child, I really hate this explanation and I know I am far from damaged goods. So a divorced woman along with children was the lowest thing you could be in society. Little did society know that Jesus preferred the lowly. Little did they know, Jesus preferred justice for those that are forgotten. Little did they know that Jesus had no use of power and prestige. Little did they know that the women and children were just the kind of people that Jesus preferred.

While the majority of this conversation in today’s reading takes place between a Pharisee and Jesus, the disciples must have been nearby, listening intently. As they and Jesus continue to make their way to Jerusalem, Jesus is always looking for ways and opportunities to teach and show the disciples what he expects of them as disciples. And he continues to encourage them to use their gifts for the benefit of those that society often forgets: the children, the poor, and those with no status. Basically, Jesus encourages them to remember the vulnerable.

But too often the Pharisees and the disciples were too concerned about what the law says. The law is important. It gives us order. I’m not saying that we should completely ignore the law. In fact, knowing and obeying (or at least attempting to obey) the law gives us a greater appreciation of grace. The law enforces our need for grace. The law has had and will always have a place in our society. However, when we live our lives only by the law, we miss out on that grace. When we live our lives only by the law, it is very black and white and we live in a gray world. Jesus knew the law. But his concern is and always was for the least of these in society.

The way that divorce worked in Jesus’ time (and often still does) there are people that are left unfairly treated and disproportionately forgotten and abandoned. That was Jesus’ concern. It is always his concern: those who society would rather cast out, forget about, and leave abandoned. And why? Because society doesn’t want to deal with those that we only view as broken and a problem. But see, that’s Jesus’ specialty. Jesus favors those that society views as broken and a problem. He sees them, really sees them, and desires to bless them. And when Jesus blesses them, he not only verbally gives them a blessing, but actually lays hands on them proving that no one is unreachable.

You don’t have to be divorced or be a child to understand this feeling. Society always has ways of telling us that we should be forgotten. Perhaps it is divorce. But there are other ways society gives the message of “you’re not important.” Sometimes it’s because of our job or income (or maybe lackthereof) and sometimes it’s because of our physical status, abilities, or even our visual beauty. Our modern day Pharisees always find a way of getting the message across that we are untouchable, unloveable, and should be cast out for not living perfect lives. And Jesus doesn’t have any of that. Not then, not now, not ever. God favors the forgotten. God favors those whose powers, abilities, and class have been stripped of them. God favors those that society throws away.

It is important for us to remember, my beloved, that it is exactly when you feel forgotten that Christ remembers and is with you the most. God sent Jesus into the world to upturn the world. Jesus came so that the powerful may be humbled, so that the weak may be made strong, so that the lowly would be lifted up. This has not changed. God’s favor for the weak may not always be evident in this world; it may only be evident in God’s kingdom that is to come. But, Gospel says it will come. And this should either make us very relieved or very worried. The good news today, my beloved, is that if you feel forgotten, abandoned, untouchable, or even like you are damaged goods, you are Christ’s people. You are the people that Christ preferred. God sees you as beautifully and wonderfully made. And all of us have a bit of brokenness in us. In God’s kingdom we will be made whole. In God’s kingdom we will receive the love we so deeply desire and so deeply deserve. Thanks be to God!   

Sermon for 9/30/18 Mark 9:38-50

This reading from Mark makes me nervous. I don’t think that Jesus speaks in hyperbole lightly. When he spoke about cutting off limbs, it was to speak to the severity, the seriousness of what it means to follow him. Jesus wasn’t joking. This reading also makes me nervous because I feel like I recently followed Jesus’ command to cut things off by limiting my stomach. After all, it did cause me to stumble many times. Might Jesus expect me to follow suit with the rest of my limbs? This wasn’t a hyperbole. Jesus was speaking truth. It is harsh. It is difficult to hear. It is even more difficult to follow. Perhaps the truth is so important that Jesus felt it necessary to speak the way he did, as in cutting off limbs, gouging out eyes, and he did so in order to get our attention. Can you imagine the reaction of the crowd? “Whoa Jesus. That’s a little harsh don’t you think? You certainly don’t mean all of that. Cut it out.”

So it is not hyperbole. It is a consequence of truth telling. Jesus says that if we are the ones to get in the way of others discipleship, we must face consequences. And that, my beloved, is difficult medicine to swallow. We don’t want to think of ourselves as stumbling blocks. It is much easier to point to the people in our own lives that are stumbling blocks instead of the other way around. But we cause others to stumble. And if you stumble and fall enough, you may just give up. A stumble can quickly turn into a fall that someone cannot recover from. The disciples were stumbling blocks.

The disciples were upset that other people were casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Now, the disciples tell Jesus that they tried to stop this man because “he was not following us.” Jesus, we tried to stop him because he wasn’t one of us. Jesus, we tried to stop him because he wasn’t part of our group. Jesus, we tried to stop him because he’s an outsider. Jesus, we tried to stop him because he’s not part of the establishment. Jesus, we tried to stop him because he’s not part of the ol’ boys (or ol’ gals) club. Jesus, we tried to stop him because we’re the best at this casting out demon business. Because discipleship is a competition or something.

And Jesus loses it. If someone is casting out demons, why not let them? So what if he’s not an official disciple? So what if he hasn’t been following Jesus. So what if he isn’t familiar with Jesus’ teachings? By casting out demons he has been more of a disciple than the actual disciples. But no! The disciples weren’t going to have any of that. And like that, they became stumbling blocks. But we would never do that, would we? We would never get in the way of someone trying to follow Jesus, would we? Oh but my beloved, we do.

Being Christian is not a competition. But we do try and out-Christian one another. Sometimes we even try and out-Lutheran one another. It’s as if Jesus were giving away trophies or ribbons and we aren’t going to settle for anything but first place. A disciple is a disciple and it doesn’t matter how you go about it. But we put stumbling blocks in the way of others. I’ve heard the phrase “stay in your own lane” used quite a bit. I think it’s a nice way of saying mind your own business as well as speak only to your knowledge. Like if I told someone how to perform brain surgery, I would most definitely not be staying in my own lane. Anyway, we often just need to stay in our own lane.

We, or maybe it’s just me, throw stumbling blocks by discouraging or bad mouthing other denominations, churches, or even church leaders. “They have a praise band that just sing the same three songs over and over…that’s not worship.” Or “I went to a funeral there once and the pastor said this one thing and I swore to myself I’d never step foot in that church again.” Maybe “I just don’t understand their fascination with Mary. I just can’t get behind that.” It’s as if we believe that our version of Christianity is the best and everyone should worship, sing, and do liturgy just like we do. But instead of doing whatever we may think we’re doing with these words, people get discouraged and don’t return to church at all. When we put stumbling blocks out, we are not building the kingdom of God.

Perhaps we, maybe it’s just me, even throw stumbling blocks when we are within these four walls. When a new disciple enters our midst, do we look for opportunities to learn, grow, and travel with this disciple, or do we throw stumbling blocks? Did you see what they wore? They didn’t even know how communion works! Those kids were so misbehaved. I knew her mom and she was a mess! Stumbling block after stumbling block after stumbling block. We are not perfect Lutherans and we are not perfect Christians. It’s amazing we all have any limbs or eyes left.

Discipleship is a team effort. God did not design us to do this alone. We cannot build the kingdom of God all by ourselves. We aren’t expected to. This is why it is so important to be church together. It is important that we are the people of Elvira Zion, that we are the people of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and that we are people of the cross: Christians. Washed, claimed, loved, forgiven, and set free to serve others. Will every disciple do things the way we do? Nope. And how great is that! Can you imagine! The kingdom is going to be full of the most amazing and wonderful people because we are all so different! How glorious!

Once again, my beloved, Christianity is not a competition. When a disciple comes along, trying to further the kingdom and they don’t do things like you would, watch and learn. You don’t have to like how they’re doing it, or even what they’re doing. But as long as all disciples, including us, reach out and attempt to do Christ’s work in this world, then what does it matter? Under the shadow of the cross, we are all equal. At the table, we are all equal. At the font, we are all equal. God doesn’t hand out ribbons and trophies for best Christian. However, God does shower us with love. And when God showers us with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, it is done evenly.

None of us are forgotten. None of us are forsaken. There are no stumbling blocks between us and God’s love. Perhaps this is where the good news lies, my beloved. The stumbling blocks thrown in our path and even the stumbling blocks we throw in the paths of others will never be a stopping point for God. Perhaps Jesus isn’t asking us to cut off our limbs or take out our eyes. Maybe we’d be better off in exposing our hearts: opening our hearts to love that knows no limits. Maybe we’d be better off removing our fear and exposing our courage.Perhaps Jesus is challenging us to remove our pride and expose our humility. Christianity isn’t a competition, my beloved. In God’s kingdom, we are all God’s favorite.  

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.