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.

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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.

Sermon for 6/3/18; Mark 2:23-3:6

In Luther’s Small Catechism (which I know some of you had to memorize), we are told of the third commandment says that we “shalt sanctify the holy day.” And (as Luther would ask) “what does this mean?” It means that we are to “fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.” Great! What in the world does that mean? I think that the Pharisees in our story today are as confused about the third commandment as we may be after hearing Luther’s explanation. Well, bless their hearts, as we used to say in the south. Let’s get a little reoriented here first. We find ourselves back in the Gospel of Mark, which is where we will be for some time. It may also be good for us to remember that no matter what the Gospel message is, Jesus is always looking to stir things up, challenge the authorities, and challenge us in what we may think it means to be disciples.

I think the way we have marked the Sabbath has changed over the years. Technology has made it too easy for us to ignore the Sabbath. Devout Jews would literally not work on the Sabbath. There are some that are so religious that they may even tear toilet paper off the roll the day before so that they don’t have any work to do on the Sabbath. But, we now live in a world (at least in our western culture) that has us believing that unless you’re working 60, 70, 80 hours a week, you’re not really working. Unless you’re putting in as much time as the boss, you’re not really working. And for so many of you, taking Sabbath isn’t always an option. If it’s not raining, or if we’ve finally got a sunny day, or if the tractor is finally fixed…you work. Somewhere around 9 million of us take prescription sleep aids and 50-70 million of us struggle with sleep disorders. So to say that we struggle with rest is an understatement.

But why do we need a Sabbath in the first place? It’s not a reward for our hard work. I know sometimes it may feel like that, especially if you’re taking Sabbath on the beach. At the base of Sabbath is one central concept: “a reminder that we belong to God and not to our labor, or to the money generated by our labor, or to the money spent from our labor in consuming products that make us feel so much better” (Stroupe, 97). Sabbath is a reminder that we belong to God. It is a reminder that we all belong to God. Sabbath isn’t just for us Americans. Or us Lutherans. Or even us that have jobs or are retired. Sabbath is a reminder that we all belong to God despite any status in life.

And if we are going to observe the Sabbath (which we should) and we are going to take it seriously (again…which we should) then we should remember that all people are in need of Sabbath and deserving of Sabbath. This is completely contradictory to everything that has been ingrained in us. Even our language around Sabbath is completely contradictory to what Christ teaches. “I deserve a day off.” Or “this is a hard earned day off.” Or even “only 3 more days until a day off.” That language is what drives home the idea that Jesus was trying to teach. The Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath. Don’t you see? It’s a gift. When God was creating everything, Sabbath was the only thing that God created and called Holy. Everything else was called “good.” But no, God called the Sabbath “Holy.” And Sabbath is more than a break. Sabbath is rest. Rest, not for the sake of reward, but genuine rest. Rest that allows life to continue. We rest because the work must continue. God rested and continued to work. So must we.

Perhaps part of our discussion should be “just what difference the Sabbath makes in your life– and not just your personal, individual, and autonomous life, but how Sabbath-keeping creates a Sabbath perspective. A Sabbath perspective sees that observing the Sabbath is not optional. We keep the Sabbath so as to look around and ask who needs rest? Who is in need of life when no one else seems to notice? We keep the Sabbath to be reminded that without it, it becomes too easy to give up on fighting for those for whom life has been taken away. We keep the Sabbath for the sake of resilience and ongoing resistance, to fight the righteous fight” (K Lewis).

See, keeping Sabbath is what helps us to remain steadfast in our call as disciples. So, when Jesus lectured the Pharisees about eating on the Sabbath it is because that eating was literally saving a life. And he cured the man with a withered hand. Something he should not have done on the Sabbath, according to the law, but by healing the man, he gave him life. Keeping Sabbath helps us to reorient our lives to the lives of those around us. Sabbath allows us to have fresh eyes to see those who need help. Sabbath allows us to have fresh ears to hear the cries of the needy. Sabbath allows us to have fresh hands and feet so that we may work and move as the body of Christ in the world.

When we keep Sabbath, we keep it not just for the betterment of ourselves, but so that all of humanity may be better. If we are truly and genuinely going to keep the Sabbath, then we should not and cannot overlook those whose lives are threatened daily. We cannot and should not overlook those whose mere skin color or gender is a threat to their lives. If we are truly and genuinely going to keep the Sabbath, we cannot and should not limit who does or does not deserve abundant life. Because honestly, none of us deserve it. Abundant life and Sabbath both a gift from God. Keeping Sabbath is Holy work. But we cannot and should not keep the Sabbath at the risk of denigrating any of the rest of God’s creation. Sabbath is what allows us to continue doing the work of being a disciple. We cannot remain tireless in the work for the Gospel if we are just remaining tired. We cannot allow the call to discipleship to make us restless without rest. We cannot advocate for all of God’s creation to get Sabbath if we ourselves do not receive this gift. So you see, my beloved. Sabbath keeping isn’t just for us. It is for the good of the whole creation God calls us to abundant life. God calls us all to abundant life.

Sermon for 4/29/18 Acts 8:26-40

Alleluia! Christ is risen! One of my favorite theologians is the Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder. She is currently a pastor in the United Church of Christ, but was raised in the Southern Baptist and Pentecostal traditions. She’s a fiery woman with a heart and soul for social justice. On top of all of that, she’s an amazing preacher. She has taught me a lot about radical hospitality and inclusivity. She says that the goal of “radical inclusivity is to help the church become church.” It requires of us a new way of seeing and/or being. When I last heard her preach (almost a year ago) she encouraged us to exhibit radical hospitality as well. We, as the church, should know each other in flesh and in spirit. If we do not know each other in flesh and in spirit then how can we provide sanctuary for one another’s flesh and spirit. I love she said “you can never know me if I never bring me–if I have ‘church me’ and ‘me me’ then you don’t get the entire me.”

I find sometimes in the church that we categorize people in the “usta been” and “coulda been” categories. As in “he usta be a ….” or “she coulda been a ….” Last week I talked about knowing and being known. The peace that comes from being really known. That is peace that God can give us. Rarely are we just who we are. Instead, we are often “usta be’s” and “coulda been’s.” If you’ve ever reconnected with someone who knew you from “back in the day” then they might have known your “usta been” and may end up surprised with who you are on this day. Unfortunately, we tend to only think of those around us as “usta been’s” and “coulda been’s” and as ourselves as the real deal.

But, when the Holy Spirit nudges (as she often does) it is best for us to forget all about those “usta been’s” and “coulda beens” and follow Spirit. Now, I know this sounds a little crazy, but the chances might be pretty good that the Holy Spirit actually knows more than we do and knows better than we do. So, when the Holy Spirit nudged Philip to speak to the Ethiopian eunuch, Philip went. After all, this reading is from the book of Acts, not the book of Sits. When the Spirit leads, it may lead us to places we never thought of going and to interact with people we may have otherwise ignored. It may be easy to think that the eunuch is an outcast. He is dark skinned, from another land, and on top of that, he is a eunuch. Which means he is a castrated male. But, we aren’t told any of that. Instead, the eunuch is rich enough to ride in a chariot, he’s well educated (because he can read the Greek that the text was written), he’s very devout (reading Isaiah) and also humble enough to appreciate (and take) Philip’s help.

The Holy Spirit is the counter of our mental “usta been” and “coulda beens.” When the Holy Spirit leads us in a direction, our first instinct might be to fight it. We conjure up excuses. “Isn’t that the man who usta be…” or “what if these people are mighta beens” even worse “is this the kind of ministry we ought to be doing.” The oughtta been. Beloved, if the Holy Spirit is the one leading us, who are we to question. Because if the ministry we do in the name of Christ doesn’t reach those on the margins then we must ask ourselves if our ministry really is of Christ. When God calls us to do something, go somewhere, talk to someone, whatever the case may be, then we go. Excuses are the secrets that Satan himself has whispered to us and now we make verbal. Because evil doesn’t want to see Christ moving in the world. Evil doesn’t want us evangelizing. Evil doesn’t want us to point to even the smallest bit of water and proclaim that “nothing is to stop you from being baptized.” Instead, evil wants us to point out the usta been’s, shouldda beens, coulda beens, to make people feel less than, to make people feel like outcasts, to make people feel like they have been forgotten.

And instead of being forgotten, we are called to serve a God who sides with, who walks with, who dwells with the marginalized. We are called to learn from and with those whom society deems not worthy. We are the ones who have been called to say “I don’t care about your usta been, your shouldda been, your coulda been. Let me tell you about a guy you usta be a kid from Nazareth. He coulda been a carpenter. He shouldda minded his own business. But here we are.” Philip could have found out more about the Ethiopian eunuch and said “nah. Forget about it.” But instead, he sat with him, learned with him, learned from him, and then … just when things were getting really interesting, Philip told him the story of Jesus. This encounter wasn’t an accident. These two men didn’t just happen to run into one another. This conversation and this encounter has the Holy Spirit written all over it. There actually were a lot of things preventing the man from being baptized. But, in that moment, in that instant, when he asked “what is to prevent me from being baptized” the Holy Spirit responded “nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

How awesome is it that the man heard the story about Jesus and wanted to be part of that community as soon as possible. He didn’t wait until the next Sunday. He didn’t wait until this was done or that was done. He didn’t even wait for his momma. He saw a pool of water, commanded the chariot to stop, and demanded he be baptized right on the spot. He is no longer a usta been he’s now a gonna-be. So is Neela. She’s gonna-be a child of God. She’s gonna-be our newest evangelist. She’s gonna-be claimed by God. No matter what else happens in her life, she will always belong to God. And as we make promises to Neela and one another today, we are reminded that the same goes for us. It doesn’t matter who we usta-be, shouldda-been, or couldda-been. We’re all gonna-be’s. Which means we’re gonna-be open to moving when the Spirit tells us to move. We’re gonna be brave when the Spirit tells us to speak. We’re gonna be bold when the Spirit tells us to act. We’re going to shut down the negative voices and denounce the powers of the devil and all of the forces that defy God. Should the day come when someone, anyone asks us, followers of Christ, “what is to prevent me from being baptized?” how great will it be to respond “nothing. Absolutely nothing”?

Salvation is there for us all. Spirit sends us to teach and preach. Spirit sends us to wash away the usta-beens and declare the gonna-be in all people. We are not the keepers of the waters. We are not the landlords of heaven. The good news is this: alleluia! Christ is risen! We are not to keep that to ourselves. The Spirit is calling. She leads, we follow. Let’s go.

 

Nb: part of this sermon was inspired by a sermon and lecture given by Bishop Flunder at the Festival of Homiletics held in San Antonio in May 2017.  

 

Sermon for 4/22/18 John 10:11-18

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! My best friend and I have been friends since second grade. So, about since we were 7 or so. That would be about 32 years. I’ve talked about her before. I call her one of my 3am gals. Meaning I could call her at 3am and she’d pick up the phone, no questions asked. Most everyone calls her Kristin except for me and a few others. I get to call her Krissi. One of the things that I appreciate the most about Kristin is that she knows me. She knows my deepest darkest secrets and loves me anyway. Kristin has the ability to see me as I truly am. She doesn’t see me as a Pastor, or a sister, or a daughter, or a wife. She sees me as me. And, I think at the core of all of us we all desire that: to truly be known. To truly be seen.

Sometimes I feel like I say the same thing to you multiple times. But there’s a reason for that. I need to hear it multiple times. Therefore, you get to hear it multiple times. We were created to be in relationship; to be in relationship with one another and to be in relationship with Christ. There is no part of you that Christ does not love. Maybe you haven’t heard me say that before. But, Jesus and thus God, loves every single part of you: mind, body, and soul. If Jesus is the good shepherd, which he says he is, and he wants to care for the sheep, which we are, then Jesus desires to and actually does care for us. It is a nurturing and intimate relationship. The shepherd and the sheep know one another.

We trust in the shepherd, and in a weird way, we trust in the other sheep. Think about this from the standpoint of actual sheep. Sheep prefer to be led from the front. You cannot lead sheep from the back as you do with cattle. So, the sheep follow the shepherd. If a sheep cannot see the shepherd, the follow the sheep in front of them. A community is built. The sheep trust one another and we trust one another as well. Sometimes I think that trust is what makes it hard to enter into a worshipping community like this one. We have built trust with one another and we know one another’s stories. We have that intimacy. When someone new comes into the flock we can be guarded. After all, not everyone knows our history. That has been one of the biggest challenges as your pastor. There are a lot of assumptions. People say “well the reason why we haven’t seen the so and so family at church was because of that fight they had. Remember?” No. That fight happened in 1986 when I was still in the third grade. It takes time to build up trust, I understand that. In seminary, we were taught that it takes almost 7 years before a congregation fully trusts the pastor.

Jesus is the good shepherd. He knows his own and his own know him. And the thing is this: being disciples together is really hard work. I’m not one to pretend it isn’t. If being the church was easy, everyone would do it. But we all know people that, for whatever reason, stay home Sunday after Sunday. We are anything but perfect. So, when you try and put a bunch of imperfect people together, it can get messy. But what makes us different than any other social or civic organization is Jesus. We gather around the one thing that makes us equal and that is Christ. It is difficult work. But, the work is worth it. If you have gone through a time of personal crisis and you have seen the way the church gathers around a fellow sheep, you understand why the work to be disciples together is hard and yet so rewarding.

At the root of the desire to be known as only Christ knows us is a longing for comfort and security. When we are truly known, we can let our guard down, put away our masks, and settle into who God really created us to be. When we are truly known, life feels easy. There isn’t the pressure to perform or the exhaustion that comes with being someone we aren’t. I think too often we assume that we must present Christ with a masked version of ourselves. We think that our true, genuine selves isn’t good enough for Christ. Instead, we have to pretend to be someone or something we most definitely aren’t. Of course, this makes no sense at all. If there is any place we can truly be ourselves, it should be and is at the foot of the cross. If there is any time we can truly be ourselves, it should be and is when we are in the presence of the risen Lord. In the waters of baptism, we are claimed as God’s own, just as we are. In the breaking of the bread, we are fed with the body and blood of Christ, just as we are. Christ offers us security that nothing else in this world can match. But with that comes great expectations.

If Christ offers us security, protection, and comfort but with that is the knowledge that nothing else in this world can do that the same way Christ can. Being a disciple isn’t a one way street. Christ has prepared us to be his hands and feet in the world. The expectation of discipleship is that we feel so filled and grateful for God’s love and protection that we can’t but help ourselves, we must serve our neighbors. Christ doesn’t love us and protect us because he expects anything in return. But, the love of God through Jesus is so powerful that we do it anyway. So this means that the security and comfort we receive from God through Jesus also doesn’t look like anything else that this world can offer.

We are a people who have been ushered from an empty grave into the world declaring that Alleluia! Christ is risen! For us, this means that because our security is found in Christ, we are free to serve others that the world has forgotten about. Because our identity is in Christ, we need not fear the judgement of others. Because the good shepherd keeps us secure, we can enter into the places in the world that others have forgotten and shine the light of Christ. The security we receive from Christ isn’t locked doors and shuddered windows, but instead is open hearts, minds, and ears and we anxiously look to encounter the risen Christ through others in the world. You are known. You are loved. You are genuinely cherished by the risen Christ. There is no part of you that Christ does not love. In that love comes the security and knowledge that the love of Christ has no expiration date. You are safe and secure in the risen Christ. The powers of evil in this world may fight for you, but they will not win. Have no fear, little flock. You are genuinely known and genuinely loved by a God who would and did die for you.