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 5/6/18 John 15:9-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon for 4/1/18 Easter Sunday 2018; Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!) Did you notice what was missing from our reading today? On today, of all days, when we anticipate seeing the resurrected Jesus, he is nowhere to be found. The tomb is empty. He’s not here because Christ is risen (he is risen indeed, alleluia!) And the women, who throughout the entire Gospel of Mark have been told “don’t tell anyone what they’ve just seen” now are told to go tell everyone what they’ve just seen and they do what? The exact opposite. And then, Mark ends. Just like that. What a weird, jolting, almost uncomfortable ending. Now, we know that eventually the women must have gotten over their fear because, well, we’re here. So, the story of Jesus and the empty tomb must have made its way eventually. Ironic that we come to this place, on this day, to experience Jesus and he does not show himself. Nice April Fools joke, Jesus.

As the women were on their way to the tomb, their biggest worry was who was going to roll away the stone. Despite hearing that Jesus would rise again, they were prepared to continue with their mourning. They were going to anoint the body of Jesus as was custom. But, foolish love greeted them as the stone was already rolled away. And just in case there was any question about what was going on, the man in white confirmed that “he has been raised.” And sure, we can shake our heads at the women’s reactions. But, really, what would you have done? Shock is a perfectly acceptable response to finding out that someone you believed to have been dead has been risen.

This may sound silly to say as this is a story we’ve been hearing for 2000-plus years. But, the resurrection wasn’t the end of the story. Yes, it’s okay to be in shock but just like the women, we cannot stay at the empty tomb. The empty tomb is exactly that, empty. The empty tomb is like this invitation that Jesus leaves us to journey further. In fact, the man that appears in our story today tells the women and us “he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” We can’t stand at the empty tomb and gawk because we’ve got work to do. The resurrection wasn’t the end of the story.

We don’t cry out “the tomb was empty” we instead declare that alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed, alleluia). Then, with that declaration, we must figure out what that even means for us and the way we engage with the world. Seeing the empty tomb and everything is great today, but what in the world does the resurrection even mean tomorrow, or Thursday, or next week, next month, or even 10 years from now? The man at the tomb didn’t just verify that Jesus was resurrected, but pointed the way to what was next. This whole time Jesus has been preparing us for what it means to be his disciples. And now, all of the preparation, all of the lessons, all of the parables, and he’s back in Galilee. This can only mean one thing: it’s time. It is time for us to move from death into life and declare that the resurrection is real and that death doesn’t have the final word.

It’s time for us to show extravagant, foolish love to the world following the example of Jesus. Jesus is waiting for the women, for Peter, and for us in Galilee. We’ve still got work to do. People didn’t stop being sick because of the crucifixion. People didn’t stop being hungry because Jesus was laid in a tomb. People didn’t stop desiring love just because the stone was rolled away. The resurrection was great. It’s not the end of our story. Part of our call as disciples is to understand and live out what it means in a practical way to declare that alleluia Christ is risen. Why does that even matter? Core to our Christian identity is the belief in the resurrection. But the resurrection wasn’t a one time deal. And it certainly wasn’t the end of the story.

See, the resurrection doesn’t mean anything if we don’t believe it and live like it makes a difference in our daily lives. Resurrection means the promise of new life. And if you believe in a new life, in new chances, and in new opportunities for yourself but not for those around you then do you really believe in the resurrection? Because when we declare “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” (he is risen indeed) we don’t ever add the caveat of “for everyone except you.” In the resurrection, God is making all things new. And this is amazing and life giving news! Because as long as we believe that the resurrection makes a difference and isn’t the end of our story then that means we all get a second chance. We all get a third chance. We all get a fourth chance. And on and on. Ya’ll hearing me out there?

The resurrection also insures that what passed for justice before Jesus’ death will stand no more. The powerful will be humbled. The poor will be made rich and the rich will finally come face to face with the reality that money is not their god. The hungry will be fed. The forgotten will be treated like royalty. The marginalized will be brought into communities and welcomed with open arms. The resurrection turns our world upside down; as well it should. Because as long as we know that Jesus is a man of his word, then we know we have nothing to fear. Not even death. And because we know that the resurrection isn’t the end of our stories, we have absolute and total freedom to operate in this world as the disciples he’s trained us to be.

Might we fail or mess up? Sure! We’re human. But, we’re also still learning every day. We will be humbled by our failures and rely on grace to pick us back up and keep going. We are not disciples because it makes us popular. We are disciples because we can’t help ourselves. That is what Christ has called us to do. We are disciples because we don’t worship an empty tomb, we worship the risen Lord. We are disciples because 2000 years later the world still needs to hear this story because love is in short supply. We are disciples because we have been challenged and changed by this resurrection. We may be like the women, scared and wanting to hide. But Christ is waiting for us. In Galilee. In Clinton. In DeWitt. In Goose Lake. In the areas we travel. In the world. And on this day, we cannot just stand at the empty tomb and wait. Christ has called us back into service in the world. The world needs to hear that Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!)

Sermon for 2/4/18 Mark 1:29-39

Many of you may recall that in my first year or so here, I had a few hospital stays. I was quite sick. Thanks to a super-bug that will not die, I caught something called “clostridium difficile” also known as c-diff. It is basically an overabundance of bad bacteria in your gut and colon. I will spare you all the symptoms, but if someone who is older or who already has a weakened immune system catches c-diff, they could die. It is very common after antibiotic use and among those who have been hospitalized or in a long term care facility. My best guess is that I caught it by doing nursing home and hospital visits. It can live on elevator buttons, bed rails, door knobs, and on and on. And the awesome (sarcastic) news is that plain old hand sanitizer does not kill it. So, I got c-diff not once, not twice, but three times within an 18 month period. And it was awful.

I had an appointment with a specialist in Iowa City (a GI) to see about an operation that could maybe get rid of it. It’s a transplant of sorts. Although again, I will spare you the details. The doctor looked at me, looked at my chart and said “you’re not a good candidate for this.” And I immediately broke down crying. If I wasn’t a good candidate, who was? The other awful thing about c-diff is that immediately I was made to feel like a leper. People coming to visit me had to wear a gown, gloves, and a mask. The nurse had a disposable stethoscope that was kept in my room for only use on me; same with a blood pressure cuff. I was also made to feel incredibly dirty. I got asked multiple times if I washed my hands after using the restroom and on and on. I desperately wanted healing.

When I finally did get better, all I wanted to do was make sure no one else would have to go through what I went through. In many ways, I became a c-diff evangelist. Maybe you can relate to this, but with healing comes power. If you have been healed from anything: the flu, a broken bone, no signs of cancer, and on and on, you know the power that can come from healing. You know the power that can come with feeling like you have your life back. And if you have experienced this kind of healing, you also know that you may see life a little differently.

I think that is what happened with Simon’s mother-in-law. There are so many jokes that a  reader might be tempted to make with this. There are mother-in-law or father-in-law jokes and/or horror stories. On top of that, we are told that upon being healed, Simon’s mother-in-law began to serve Jesus and all of the disciples that were present. Ha-ha. How funny, a woman started serving all the men. Ha-ha. Yeah…nope. Her serving them had nothing to do with her status in life or her gender. Although we are not told so explicitly, it is very likely that Simon’s mother-in-law was widowed. So she is a single woman who, up until now, had been very sick. She had been, according to Jewish law and customs, most likely unclean. Simon’s mother-in-law serving those around her is not the present day equivalent of “get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich, woman.”  Simon’s mother-in-law does not serve because she has to. She serves because the love of God that she has experienced through her healing is too much to keep to herself. She serves because this is what it looks like to be a disciple. Simon’s mother-in-law is a beautiful example of what it looks like to follow Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t heal people just to heal them. It’s not like he’s a traveling magician going from town to town leaving healed people in his midst with no reaction. No. The Gospel of Mark starts with this phrase “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” And it ends with Jesus sending out all of his disciples to share the good news. And the good news is that the Kingdom of God is here. It’s not some far off idea. It’s not some concept that will happen “someday.” The Kingdom of God is in the here and now. And we, my beloved, we all have a roll in the Kingdom of God. Simon’s mother-in-law didn’t get up and serve as a way of thanking Jesus. We know better than that. Jesus heals people that have no way of paying him. Jesus walks with people who will only go so far. Jesus paid the price without any expectation of being paid back. Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law as yet more proof that the Kingdom of God is in the here and now and. And her response looks a lot like what Jesus himself does: she serves just as he did.

When you have been a recipient of God’s healing or God’s grace, it’s hard not to want to serve others, or at least tell others what you have experienced. And before you tell me “oh Pastor, I don’t know. I haven’t had that kind of healing or that kind of grace” I am going to tell you to stop right there. Because you have experienced it. Maybe you didn’t know you experienced it, but you did. You experience it all the time when you come to this table, arms outstretched, hands hungering to be filled. You experience it when you either are baptized or remember your own baptism. We get to see God’s grace in action when water and the Holy Spirit come together. And how can we not leave this place and serve others and tell them the good news.

“Disciple” isn’t just a term for 12 guys who served Jesus. We are all disciples. Part of being part of the body of Christ is being a disciple. Our call is to look for stories of the resurrection in everyday living. I don’t mean actual resurrection from the dead, but stories of people getting another chance at life. And then, THEN, when we do hear those stories or experience those stories, we tell others about it as proof of the continuation of the Kingdom of God in the here and now. Is it easy? Not always. We don’t like people’s judgement that comes with proclaiming our discipleship title with pride. We may get nervous we don’t have the right words. We may wonder if what we really saw was a resurrection story or just dumb luck. But none of that mattered to Simon’s mother-in-law and it shouldn’t matter to us. She was healed and she started serving.

We have been healed. And so we start serving. We serve by caring for one another, by caring for the least of these around us, by caring for our world, and what is going on around us. And there are some, I know, who long for healing. Who have been begging God to be healed and nothing comes of it. Christ still heals in death, y’all. And then the promise of the resurrection becomes real for those who have died. In our baptisms and in this meal, we have been healed, if only a little bit. The Kingdom of God is in the here and now and God needs disciples. We have been healed and now it’s our turn to start serving or continue serving. The good news isn’t spread by itself, my beloved. God is calling us and has created us to serve. We live in a hurting and broken world. Now that we have been healed, it is on us to serve as Christ did. It is on us to declare hope for all. It is on us to start serving our neighbor, our friends, and everyone in need. The Kingdom of God is here and now and God’s grace is flowing through us and out of us. We’ve got plenty to share, so let’s get started.

Sermon for 10/1/17 Matthew 21:23-32

I have found that when times are difficult either globally or nationally, there seems to be an uptick in evangelism. It’s not always the most healthy evangelism, but evangelism nonetheless. This usually presents itself in the form of well meaning pictures of flags waving, bald eagles flying, kids with their hands over their hearts, and other types of photo stock images with the words “bring Jesus back into our schools” or “make Christ the cornerstone of your lives.” It can also be presented by well meaning (or maybe not so well meaning) well known evangelical pastors being interviewed on television (they never interview pastors like me) saying things like “now is the time for people to let Jesus into their hearts” and other such things. Part of me agrees. I wonder how this country and world would look if we actually took to heart the things that Jesus spoke about, taught about, and preached about. But, part of me disagrees. We humans are so full of ourselves to think we even have the slightest bit of power that would be able to keep Jesus out of any place.

Today’s reading in Matthew asks some questions directly of Jesus. The authorities are, as usual, trying to set up Jesus to fail. They are already trying to catch him in the act, so to speak, so that they can start to build the case against him. These questions they are asking is what ultimately leads to his crucifixion. And this little game of cat and mouse goes on and on for chapters upon chapters in all of our gospel stories. Jesus always gives the authority just enough to confuse them and just enough to encourage them to come back and ask more questions. So the questions asked of Jesus in today’s readings are “by what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority?” And really what the chief priests and elders are asking is “Jesus, who are you?” and “by what authority do you preach, teach, and lead?” I want to argue that when the elders and chief priests ask these questions, what they are also asking (its implied) is “so what does that mean for me?”

As Christians, we often claim Jesus when Jesus looks, thinks, speaks, or acts like us. We are comfortable when the messiah does things or says things that can benefit us and/or the people we love. Yet too often we mess this up and get this wrong. We like to decide who is in and who is out and when we start to draw lines in the sand, we often place ourselves on the side of the persecuted instead of the one doing the persecution. Author Anne Lamott says “you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” The questions of “who are you” and “by what authority” weren’t just questions that the chief priests and elders asked, they are questions we still should be asking of Jesus and ourselves today.

And as we ask those questions, it naturally leads to another question (or, at least it does in my opinion) of “why does that matter?” When we speak of who Jesus is for us and why we believe what we believe, the question that seems to get us stuck is that “why does it matter?” When we proclaim that Jesus is Lord, what does that mean for us and our lives? For me, to proclaim that Jesus is Lord means trusting in God completely and totally and if I am going to be honest, that is really frightening. If we are going to proclaim that Jesus is Lord then that means nothing else, absolutely nothing else, can serve in that capacity. This means that power, money, time, status, nothing else is Lord. But, oh how often do we make those things our lord. How often do we bow to the pressures of money, power, time, status, and what not? How often are we pledging our allegiance to the things that during Jesus’ time would be considered the empire?

When was the last time you thought about what Jesus means for you? And I don’t mean that in a hypothetical, passing thought kind of way. I mean when you think about the role that Jesus plays in your life, how does that shape every single thing in your life? And are you projecting your own expectations onto Jesus, or are you gladly taking on Jesus’ expectations of you? Those are two very different questions, my beloved. Why or how is your life different because of Jesus? Jesus is the embodiment of God’s grace. That grace is a gift and it changes our lives. Yet we do everything in our power to deny that because we don’t think we’re worthy of God’s grace or love. Maybe we are scared to think about who we are and what it means for us to declare that Jesus is the embodiment of God’s grace.

So maybe what you need to hear today is this, my beloved. To declare that Jesus is Lord and that Jesus is the embodiment of God’s grace means that nothing and no one has ever or will ever be forgotten. This includes you. If you feel abandoned, forgotten, lonely, forsaken, that is simply evil trying its best to whisper unworthiness in your ear. Because God’s grace doesn’t forget anyone. To declare that Jesus is Lord and that Jesus is the embodiment of God’s grace means that love is a lavish commodity that never runs out. This means that you can be, will be, and are a recipient of God’s obnoxious love. It doesn’t matter how you feel about yourself, or what society tells you that you should feel about yourself, God loves you, all of you, more than you can ever know. Jesus showed us that love by emptying himself on the cross. When the empire wanted Jesus to prove who he was, he did exactly that by loving the world with no exceptions.

Maybe what you need to hear today, my friends, is that declaring Jesus is Lord and that Jesus is the embodiment of God’s grace means that your suffering has not gone unnoticed. Your times of hardship have not been spent alone. Your darkness has not been without a small amount of light from Christ. Your tears have been counted. Your sleepless nights have been tallied. When it feels like the world has given up on you, Jesus is still there, right by your side, because there is no place that is too dark or too desolate for God.

When we are clear about who Jesus is for us, we can also be clear about who Jesus is for the world. Because if we declare that Jesus is Lord of all, we must mean all. If we declare that Jesus is love, we must mean that all are loved. If we declare that Jesus is forgiveness incarnate, then that forgiveness is for all people. And that kind of love and forgiveness is messy and it isn’t easy and thank God, it’s not up to us. In a time when governments show authority with money, military power, and, God forbid, nuclear power, it is strange and even counter-cultural to proclaim that we love and serve a God whose power comes in the form of a cross. We love and serve a God who instead of stockpiling love and forgiveness, passes it out like candy at a parade. We love and serve a God whose power comes from death and resurrection. So sure, we always need more Jesus in this world. But we need Jesus that denied the empire, not bowed down to it. We need the Jesus that shows preferential treatment to the poor, not the Jesus we’ve created in our minds that favors the rich. We need the Jesus who opens the doors of heaven to tax collectors and prostitutes first before any of us self-proclaimed self-righteous are allowed to enter. Most importantly, we need the Jesus with love for everyone; a love that is wholly unfair and yet, a holy relief.