Sermon for 4/18/19 John 13:1-17, 31b-35; Maundy Thursday

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? We should love one another. And for Jesus, this isn’t a suggestion. It’s isn’t a passing thought. He says exactly what it is right there: a new commandment. What that means is that it’s not optional. However, we make it optional; perhaps a little more often than we should. I’ve been thinking about this commandment off and on for the last few weeks, honestly. Knowing that Maundy Thursday was coming up, that’s just how my pastor brain works. And I’ve come up with a theory that I haven’t quite fleshed out all the way yet, but I’m going to share it with you anyway. If we actually, truly, really loved one another the way Jesus commands in this gospel, it would be an act of civil disobedience.

Let’s first start by talking about what civil disobedience is and how I’m using it in the context of this message. So, a common definition is “the active, professed refusal of a citizen to obey certain laws, demands, orders or commands of a government or occupying international power. … it is a non-violent action” (wikipedia). Martin Luther King Jr is probably one of the best and well known faces and voices of civil disobedience. But he was also known to say that it should be “a display and practice of reverence to the law” (ibid). Since Dr King, there have been several attempts and demonstrations of civil disobedience including women’s marches, Black Lives Matter marches, and marches and demonstrations against school violence, just to name a few. I don’t necessarily think that these protests, marches, and acts of civil disobedience are always a response and distrust of our government, although many may feel that way. But, I really believe that it is the citizens of this country that know our government can do better and so we demand that it does.

Jesus was probably the original example of what civil disobedience looked like. After all, we have example after example of how Jesus didn’t live by the rules of the Roman empire. He also didn’t live by the hard and fast rules of religion though either. If you are able to think back on different Bible stories, we can cite many examples of this: healing people on the sabbath, hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes, flipping tables, and then facing Pontius Pilate head on, with no reservations, no lies, no excuses Jesus enters Jerusalem. And in what was probably one of his final acts of ministry, Jesus engages in civil disobedience. He does so in a super mundane way (at least for us): he shares a meal with his friends and then washes their feet. Who knew that this act of love could be an act of disobedience, but that’s exactly what it was and that is exactly what it continues to be.

Up to this point, Jesus had more than enough opportunities to turn his back on his disciples or just plain leave them behind. But we know that’s not how Jesus worked. The love and grace that Jesus showed his disciples and us is really disobedient. How? Because since the inception of time, we have been told to fear “the other,” put ourselves first, watch out for number one, and only surround ourselves with people who are good for us and to us. Jesus kind of ignored all of that and surrounded himself with a group of good-enoughs that, even in the end, would abandon him. Despite this, Jesus took the form of a servant and got on his knees and washed the feet of those around him, even Judas, the one who would betray him. I doubt I could have been so brave and so loving.

Let’s look at who is at the table again and maybe the idea of loving these people will start to sound more like an act of disobedience. “Judas, who he knows will betray him; Peter, who will deny him; James and John, who will be unable to keep watch and pray with him; and the others who will forsake him in his hour of darkest need. We will watch in wonder as Jesus’ response to this inner circle that has disappointed him over and over and over again is not to chastise or scold or punish, but to take a towel and a basin of water and gently was the ugliness of each one in turn” (Tisdale, “Feasting on the Word” p279). Society tells us we shouldn’t love the people that surrounded Jesus. But, Jesus does.

Society, the news media, social media, and our government spends a lot of time trying to scare us. Have you noticed that? Fear is a hot commodity in this nation. If I could buy stock in fear, I would be very very rich. But, I’d rather buy stock in love and live in poverty. We are to fear people who have brown skin. We are to fear people who have accents. We are to fear people who even dress a certain way. We are to fear people based on who they love. We are to fear people based on how they vote. We are even to fear people based on their favorite news source. Don’t believe me? If you watch Fox News, you probably have heard that the people who watch MSNBC or CNN are stupid or don’t know what is going on in the world; maybe that they’re even anti-American. If you watch MSNBC or CNN you may have heard that the people who watch Fox News are stupid or don’t know what is going on in the world; maybe that they’re even anti-American. See, it can be said of everyone. This is why, my beloved, when Jesus tells us that we should love one another, it is an act of civil disobedience.

Now, I know that some of you have never engaged in civil disobedience or for some of you, maybe it’s been quite some time since you’ve done that. You may be wondering where to get started. I think Jesus has the ultimate answer in this scripture: sit down with people, have a meal, listen to their story, and then, wash their feet. I mean, “the fact that Jesus spends his last meal with his friends, pleading that they love one another in spite of their own difference and disagreements, is compelling, to say the least” (ibid). I have found that it is almost impossible to hate someone once you are able to see their humanity. When you share a meal with someone and you are able to look one another in the eyes and listen to one another’s stories, it is harder to wish ill upon that person. I understand that we may not be able to literally wash feet, but perhaps we can ask ourselves how we can be in service to one another. Being in service to one another may be another act of disobedience.

Soon, we will all come to this table. We come not because we are worthy or holy, but because God, through Jesus Christ invites us, warts and all. It is a place where we come and Jesus washes us clean, washes all the ugliness out of hearts, and feeds us time and time again. No one is turned away. No one is told no. No one is fed with stipulation. Because bread broken and wine poured is what love looks like. Believing that we are fed with the body and blood of Jesus is disobedient because the world doesn’t want to believe that such a grandiose meal exists! And while this body was given “for you” and this blood was shed “for you” let us remember that is also a plural “you” as in “all y’all.” The same people we are told we should fear get fed too. The same people we are told we should hate get fed too. Allowing yourself to be loved by God is a disobedient act. Who knew disobedience could look like and feel like redemptive love?

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Sermon for 12/24/18 Luke 2:1-20; Christmas Eve

The two sermons I struggle with the most are Christmas Eve and Easter morning. The pressure is on to say something amazing, magnificent, outstanding, and yet keep it short, maybe a funny or two thrown in, and also, not too political but yet make it applicable to what is going on in the world, in our nation, and also your own lives. But it must also be profound! And if I am judged by only 2 of the sermons I give throughout the year (out of 60 or so) then I really feel the pressure. Then I read the scripture, listen carefully to what it has to say, and I want to stand up and say “did you hear that?? Great. Sermon ended.” I know some of you may not mind.

This text can be so familiar to many of us. It’s easy to tune out and miss some of the finer details. At the core of this story is God becoming human. God, taking on human form and living, working, breathing like any other human. But, first, that human was a baby. This was a baby brought into this world by someone who was forgotten; even worse, she was most likely cast out from society. Were there really no rooms available or had word spread and no one wanted to be associated with an unwed pregnant teenager? And if this baby was to be so important, shouldn’t the word of his birth first be told to those in power? To Quirinius, Emperor Augustus, or others in the houses of power?

But the first to know about this birth (other than Mary and Joseph) were any animals finding refuge in the barn. And they can’t necessarily spread the good news. So logically, the next to be told were the shepherds. Now, despite any pictures you may have in your head about these shepherds, they actually were pretty low in society. They were frowned upon and shamed a lot. Because being a shepherd required you to be with your flock almost 24/7, the shepherds were not afforded time to go to worship. They also could not keep the sabbath. So, they were considered unclean. Society often stereotyped shepherds as being thieves, liars, and just a general drain on society. Had they told the news of this birth, they most likely wouldn’t have been listened to anyway.

I would have to imagine that being a shepherd was a lonely life. Long working hours, often in deserted places, shunned by society, your friends, and potentially your family, living life as an outsider; all of that would make me wonder about God. It might be enough for me to give up on God. Then, in a flash of light (literally, brilliant light) and angel of the Lord comes. An angel brings good news to the most unlikely of people. This is the second time in this story that God has shown up to and through the most unlikely of people; the most forgotten of people; the most shamed and marginalized group of people. Just when the shepherds might have given up on God, just when Joseph thought he had been abandoned by God, God shows up. And God has continued to do that ever since.

Jesus’ birth was a hint of what was to come in Jesus’ life. God makes Jesus known in the most unlikely of places to the most unlikely of people. Jesus showed up to people who had been forgotten. Jesus showed up to people who were kicked out, downtrodden, and maybe even spat upon. Jesus showed up to the unclean, the unkept, the unwelcomed, and the unchurched and did nothing but love. Jesus didn’t come and say “I’ve come for you but only on these conditions.” Nope. Jesus did exactly what Jesus does, he met the people right where they were. And Jesus continues to do that today. He meets us right where we are.

Of course it feels like God really is Emmanuel tonight, God with us. I mean, we’ve got the carols, we’ll have candles later, we’ll taste God in bread and wine, and you’re probably sitting near or around some of your favorite people. It’s easy to feel like God is in this place tonight. But what happens after tonight? What happens when you reflect back on your year as we so often tend to do during this season? For many people, maybe even some of you gathered here tonight, God may feel very far away. You may start to relate more to the shepherds than you thought. Maybe you’ve been wondering all about this God stuff. Maybe you’ve even begged God to show up in your life only to be left in the silence.

This time of year can be challenging anyway. The nights are longer, the days are colder. We see the sun less. You start to pass that same cold around to your family and friends only to get it back 3 weeks later. Maybe this is your first Christmas without a loved one that has passed since last Christmas. Or maybe it’s your 15th Christmas without them. Either way, grief seems to be felt deeper around this time. And while I love being reminded of love incarnate in the form of a newborn baby Jesus, I’m also not naive enough to think that all of your problems (or mine for that matter) magically disappeared when you walked through these doors. I’m also not going to assume that your problems will stay gone until after the new year.

But the birth we celebrate tonight is more than just a birth. It is an inclusion of those who have long been left behind by us, by the church, by society, for far too long. Tonight while we are in here celebrating, rejoicing, and generally being merry, God is showing up for and to the people who have all but given up on God. And for me, my beloved, this is good news. Because I have no doubt all of us have been through a time when we just about or actually did give up on God. Maybe you’ve had problems in your marriage. Maybe your kids are struggling. Perhaps you’re without a job or without meaningful employment. I know several of you watch the market reports daily and wonder if this is the last year you will tend to your fields. Or maybe you just observe the state of the world and genuinely ask and wonder “where is God?” So many of us have maybe several reasons to feel like God isn’t going to show up, isn’t real, and most certainly doesn’t listen to us.

In those first cries, in that report from the angels, in the hurriedness of the shepherds, we see once again that God came, did come, and will continue to come to those who need it the most. If you’re just not feeling merry this year for whatever reason, then hear this good news: you are not forgotten. God will and does show up first and foremost to you. If you’re feeling like a phoney sitting in these pews tonight, you’re a shepherd. God will show up to you. If you’re feeling like God hasn’t shown up in your life all year, you’re a shepherd. God is showing up to you. If you’re feeling like shame, regret, remorse, grief, anger, or general apathy rules in your life instead of God, you’re a shepherd. God is showing up to you. And when you come forward tonight to receive body and blood, please hear the words “for you.” There is nothing you have to do for God to come to you. God will always come to and for you. And God does not expect you to check your baggage at the door.

So come in your anger. Come in your joy. Come in your faith and come in your questioning. Come with your doubts and fears. For some of you being here is an act of courage. Thank you for being so brave. God is here. God is with you. God will go with you. And God will continue to love you beyond your wildest imaginations. Especially (and maybe essentially) on the days when you can’t feel it, don’t want to feel it, or can’t even love yourself. Christ the babe was born for you!

Sermon for 9/2/18 Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

I wonder how many of you are of a certain age to answer this question: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” (“The Shadow knows!”) The Shadow was a night time vigilante, fighting for justice, and terrifying criminals. This type of character isn’t a strange concept. Batman operates in a similar way, after all. But, I kept thinking about evil hearts and the Shadow off and on this week as I’ve thought about this scripture from Mark. It’s almost enough for me to want to go back to teaching and preaching about bread. What Jesus is asking the Pharisees, his disciples, the crowd gathered, and us to do in this scripture is have a nice, long, hard look at our own hearts.

The Pharisees weren’t trying to keep the law as a way of earning salvation. In fact, they were attempting to keep the law (that is, the supposed law around hand washing) because they understood the law to be a gift. It provided order. They hoped that following the letter of the law would bring glory to God. However, the Pharisees were so focused on keeping the law and on external faithfulness, that they didn’t make time to examine the darkness of their own hearts. This question of clean versus unclean hands was just a way of dividing the followers of Christ and further fracture the kingdom of God. Of course, that was not the Pharisees intent. It’s probably never our intent either.

The church of this country has undergone several reformations since its founding. And in that time, I am guessing there were heated debates over what people believed to be God’s law. However, the obedience of the law did nothing but put up walls. The question of how we honor God with our hearts must have come up time and time again. But, time and time again, people who, most likely, called themselves “good Christians” defiled God with the thoughts of their hearts and words of their lips. How did slave owners reconcile their actions with what Jesus teaches? How did men justify keeping silent while women protested the right to vote? How did whites sit in church praising God on Sunday and then go spit on blacks Monday afternoon during the civil rights movement? Lest we think we’re immune, how have we, in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America reconciled and wrestled with the fact that we are one of the whitest denominations in America and we are responsible for raising and educating in our own Sunday school rooms the murderer of the Charleston 9? How do “good Christians” still protest women preachers when women were some of first at the empty tomb to proclaim the good news? Without women preachers, we would have never known the tomb was empty.

It’s not fun to examine our hearts. It’s not fun to reconcile the thoughts of our inner darkness. But being honest with ourselves and with God is an important step in reconciliation. This is one of the reasons we start our service every single Sunday with confession. But, can you imagine having to confess the darkest parts of your heart out loud? Imagine hearing “let us confess our sins before God and one another” and then hearing your neighbor confess, out loud, every short coming they have had in this past week. Would you listen in or would you focus on your own heart? It would be tempting to listen in, wouldn’t it? I confess to you, my beloved, I’d listen. Because I would rather focus on your sins, then face the darkness of my own. And if I started to confess my sins out loud, wouldn’t you listen in? We’d rather point on a little bit of dirt on the hands of others rather than see the mud that is coating ours.

What might it look like if we took the time to examine our own hearts? Can you imagine if we held ourselves to the standards we hold others to? Could you survive the judgement you yourself place on others? Would your soul survive the tongue lashings you give others? Is it possible that the gossip we spread has the power to crush us? Would our constant desire to have more, be more, demand more, and take at all cost bury us? I cannot speak for you, my beloved, but I would not be able to withstand the judgement I place on others. My soul and spirit would be crushed by my mouth that is too cruel, my heart that is to hard, and my actions that are too selfish. Perhaps that is why I don’t want to examine my heart. I would be forced to my knees, crumbled, broken, destroyed by the truth of my own darkness. What comes out of my heart, what comes out of my mouth, I would finally realize, does nothing but defecate all over the body of Christ. I would be forced to examine my heart and wonder “is this any place for God? Is there any room for God?”

The answer, of course, is yes. We are a fallen and broken humanity. All of us. Whether you want to examine your hearts or not, we are broken. And when things are broken, when things are cracked, then there is room for other things to sneak in. And in the cracks of our hearts, in the brokenness, God fills us up with God’s love. What we see as broken, God looks at as another opportunity to infiltrate with love. What we see as irreparable, God sees as mercy worthy. When we are holding the pieces of our lives in our hands, God gets out the grace duct-tape and makes something even better than we ever could. When we start to encounter the darkness of our hearts, God sheds a light. When we come face to face with the darkness of our sin, God shows us the cross. When all hope is lost, we encounter Jesus and his amazing grace.  When we seem to encounter dead end after dead end, God opens a pathway we didn’t even know existed. When we are knocked to our knees by the hardness of our hearts, we’re in the perfect position to pray for forgiveness. Are you willing to give up the ideas of right and wrong for the idea of loving your neighbor? Are you willing to respect human law but live and die by God’s law? At this table, God offers forgiveness. In these waters, God showers us with mercy. Even when our attempts to cleanse our hearts fail, God remains steadfast. That’s the amazingness of our Lord: love despite all our failings.

Sermon for 7/15/18 Mark 6:14-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon for 2/18/18 Mark 1:9-15 Lent 1

Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness isn’t exactly an unfamiliar story to many. You may have heard variations of it over the years. But it is in Mark’s telling of the Gospel that we get today that has the least amount of details. Here’s what we know: Jesus had been baptized and immediately driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Here’s what you need to know about the wilderness. This isn’t wilderness like Denali National Park or someplace in the Colorado Rockies. This is wilderness like a desert. Like the area between Lincoln, Nebraska and the Colorado border (if you’ve made that drive). The wilderness in this story is stark, barren, full of uncertainty, and temptations. We don’t get a lot of details in this story. We know Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days, he was tempted by Satan, he was with wild beasts, and angels waited on him. That’s it. That’s all we know. We don’t know the ways that Jesus handled Satan. We can assume he did handle Satan because we hear more of the Gospel story.

But, often when we are in the wilderness, we may not know how to handle it. We may not know what to do or say. When Satan tempts us in the wilderness, we may cave to those temptations. And the wilderness looks like a lot of different things to a lot of different people. And when you’re in the midst of your own wilderness, directions seem few and far between. Christ has called me this moment and this time to speak truth. I am called to speak truth even if it isn’t popular and even if my voice shakes. My beloved, we are in a time of wilderness. And Satan has taken on the form of the powers in this country refusing to do anything about gun control.

Before you turn off your ears, I am begging you to hear me. I am not anti-gun. I know many of you in these pews own guns. I fully support your right to do that. I have made the decision that I will never own one. But, that doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t. I am not anti-gun. However, it is time for us to get serious about how someone can own a gun and who can own a gun. How many of our children must die before we get serious about this? We will be in a wilderness until we repent. We will be in the wilderness until we can turn our hearts from worshipping guns to worshipping God.

We don’t know how Jesus handled the wilderness in Mark’s Gospel. But we know that Satan was nothing to be messed with. After all, when Peter attempted to rebuke Jesus when Jesus spoke of his own death, Jesus looked at his disciple and said “get behind me Satan!” (Mk 8:33) The trouble with not knowing the details of how Jesus handled the wilderness is that we are left to our own devices to fill in the blanks. And the temptation may be to give ourselves more credit and abilities when it comes to fighting Satan or the wilderness. We now find ourselves in the wilderness. We’ve been in this wilderness since April 20, 1999 when we first heard of a place called “Columbine High School.” And it seems no matter what we do, nothing changes and we stay in the wilderness.

We certainly aren’t Jesus, we know that. But, and I don’t know about you, I know I don’t want to stay in the wilderness for the rest of my life. Jesus didn’t even stay in the wilderness. The wilderness is not a life-giving place. Part of what can help us start to escape the wilderness is what we talk about a lot during Lent: repentance. But, repentance cannot happen without confession. We can’t hurry this process. Sometimes confession is less about us speaking of the ways we failed and more about listening to the ways we failed through the words from other people. Confession is about being honest. Confession is about exposing our failures not only to other people but to God as well.

Too often when tragedies like this happen, we talk around one another. We talk over one another. But we rarely engage in conversation with one another. Instead of having difficult conversations, we just hop online and try to one up one another with articles, statistics, and engage in “I’m right, let me tell you why you’re wrong” conversations. And instead of throwing our hands up in the air, what might it look like for us, for the church to model hard conversations? We can model these conversations because Jesus in the midst of these conversations promising that relationship built on accompaniment. What would it look like to have a cup of coffee with one another and talk about those difficult topics and find the places where we can agree. Talking together and trying to find a solution has to be much more productive than “thoughts and prayers.”

What might change if we engaged in these conversations looking to learn from one another rather than prove one another wrong? I want to hear your story, what you’re passionate about, and why you believe what you believe. And, in exchange, I want you to hear my story, what I’m passionate about, and why I believe what I believe. And then, together, we can confess the ways we have failed to see one another as full and amazing creations of God. And together we can repent from our previous ways and work towards finding common ground centered in Christ. We don’t have to stay in the wilderness. Christ is our key out of the wilderness. Worship centered on Christ, living surrounded and centered on Christ, and conversations centered on Christ are our keys. Thoughts and prayers will not help us escape the wilderness. Looking Satan and all of his lies right in the eyes and repenting, turning to Christ is the only thing that can help us escape.

We may think we can’t change anything. The government seems so big and we are just but one person. But we have something that seems to be forgotten about at times: we’ve got Jesus. Jesus’ baptism shows us things can change. Jesus’ temptation shows us things can change. Jesus’ ministry shows us things can change. And most importantly, the resurrection shows us that things can and do change. If we truly believe that God’s kingdom is also God’s kin-dom, then yes, things can change. Thoughts and prayers are fantastic. Prayer and action is what we’re called to as disciples. Yes, these acts of violence are terrible and seem almost too big to take on. Let’s show that big problem our big God. Satan will tempt us not to leave the wilderness. Well, get behind me, Satan. I’m ready to answer the call God has on my life, the call God has had on all our lives since baptism. Let’s start these hard conversations here and now. Conversations are much easier to have than prayer vigils. It starts today.

Sermon for 10/22/17 Matthew 22:15-22

I think we’ve all had those moments where we know we are either stuck between a rock and a hard place or we know we’ve been had or found out. When my brother, Jon, was in high school, he snuck out of the house while grounded. His girlfriend (who was older than him) had been drinking and needed a way home. Jon knew how to get out of the house without being detected. He went and retrieved his girlfriend, safely delivered her back to her house and got back into bed, all while thinking he had gotten away with it. The next day my father woke my brother by yelling that he knew he had snuck out of the house. Jon, trying to not be in more trouble, over and over again said “no I didn’t!” My dad said “Jon. I know you are lying, I’m not going to tell you how, but I know.” And Jon got grounded for like 2 more weeks and lost driving privileges I think.

For the longest time, Jon had no idea how my dad knew he had snuck out that evening. It’s only been in the last 10 years or so that the truth had come to light. The night that Jon snuck out to go get Mel, his girlfriend, it was raining. It hadn’t rained that day but we had a small rainstorm creep up on us that night. Jon returned home, after taking all the precautions to not be caught, he had forgotten one important detail: when he turned off the car, the windshield wipers were halfway up. Dad took one look at the windshield and knew something was up. Jon had been caught, he had been had. I think in one way or another, we’ve all been there.

Jesus wasn’t trying to sneak out of his house in today’s Gospel. He was doing simple Jesus things: teaching in the temple. And up come two groups who were strange bedfellows: the Pharisees and the Herodians. These groups working together make about as much sense working together as Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer working together. But they had one thing in common: they wanted Jesus dead. They wanted to get enough evidence to get Jesus arrested. They are in the temple (so, in the church) when they approach Jesus and ask him if it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not. Jesus, being amazing, knows what is going on and knows that they are trying to trap him. What the question comes down to is essentially this: Jesus do you believe we should be loyal to God or loyal to the government? No matter what way Jesus answers, he gets himself into trouble. Unless, that is, he answers like as only Jesus can, in riddle like responses.

Jesus asked them to show him the coin they used for paying taxes. Now, they were in the temple, which means they should have traded in all of their denarii for scheckles. But, they pull out the coin to show Jesus the head of the emperor on the coin. Jesus responds “give therefor to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus managed to answer the question without getting himself into trouble. Jesus is really good at this. And as much as we would like to think that this was a problem for Jesus’ time only, we find ourselves in this same predicament quite a bit, whether we know it or not.

The government isn’t trying to catch us, so to speak, but we can be found struggling to distinguish between our loyalties to the government and our loyalties to God. And much like Jesus’ time, it isn’t cut and dry. We can’t not pay taxes (as much as we would like). We do have to obey the law. Trust me on this, if you tell the police officer that you only obey God instead of the speed limit, you are still getting a ticket. But in other ways it gets messy. Last week I talked about claiming “Christian” as a verb. Being a Christian isn’t something we do just for one day a week for one hour a week. It should be something that consumes us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In practical ways, what does being torn between our government and God look like? How about this one: kneeling for the National Anthem. (I’m not messing around this week). Now, I am not going to get into the “why” of people kneeling. But, believe me, it has nothing to do with a flag or disrespecting those who served. But, and what I’m about to say may strike you as controversial or it might even make you mad, our allegiance first and foremost is to God, not a flag or a country. This is why Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t stand for the pledge. They refuse to pledge allegiance to anything but God. It might even be said that kneeling for the National Anthem isn’t disrespectful to God, but standing is.

Being a Christian may make it hard to know how to feel when our government participates in capital punishment or war. What about when the taxes we pay to our government go to support issues that we either support or disagree with, such as Planned Parenthood? We want to receive our mail (something our taxes pay for) but we’d rather not see our taxes go to fund sexual offender rehabilitation, because those guys shouldn’t be allowed out of prison in the first place, right?? How do we navigate the waters when our loyalties to God and government disagree? We often get stuck. And we don’t get stuck between God and government necessarily, but we get stuck between God and society. We might decide to yield to what God is calling us to do, but we fear it would cause judgement from our peers, co-workers, or family. And so, we go along with the crowd. Being Christian, standing for what you believe in can cost a lot. It cost Collin Kapernick his job. Remember my beloved, any time we put something, anything, between us and God it is considered sin, no matter how “good” we may think it is.

The good news in all of this is that God and God’s loyalty never wavers. God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy will always and does always surpass and trump even our best intentions. Even when we enter into situations that call us to act boldly and we do anything but, God’s mercy is bigger than that. When our loyalty lies anywhere but with God, God still loves us and gives us multiple chances to get it right. See, because the cross on which Jesus died for you and for me frees us from governmental expectations while simultaneously calling us to have great expectations of our government and ourselves. This means that as Christians if we observe, know, see, etc…our government acting in a way that is counter to Christ and what Christ would have us do, we have an baptismal obligation to do something about it. This means we have to become public theologians and public Christians. When we call our representatives, we declare, “as a Christian I must beseech you to fight for a health care program, or housing, or laws, etc…that are the most beneficial for the least in our society.” Because you know what, that is what Christ would do. Christ wants us to advocate for the least among us, the most vulnerable, the forgotten and downtrodden. And it’s not always easy, and it’s not always popular, and surprise surprise, it’s not always as cut and dry as party lines.

Next time you’re feeling stuck between God and government and you start wondering what is God’s and what is Uncle Sam’s, remember that everything we have and everything we are belongs to God. And it is God, and God alone that can save us. The government, with all of the money, resources, and power on earth, as wonderful as it may be, can never and will never save us. We may live under the rule of law, but we are saved by a king; and not the kind with a crown, the kind with a cross.