Sermon for 6/4/17 John 20:19-23 Pentecost

And so it came to be, that on the fourth day of the six month in the year of our Lord, twenty seventeen; when Donald Trump was president, when we were represented by Joni Ernst and Charles Grassley, along with David Loebsack; when the town of Clinton of Iowa (founded in 1857, only ten short years after the founding of Iowa) was mayored by Mark Vulich, the Holy Spirit entered into the most unlikely of places: the people of Elvira Zion. The nerve of the Holy Spirit. How dare she with her flittering and fluttering about like a wild butterfly with no cares in the world?

She came at first like an itch. Some tired to scratch but that proved futile. The more she was ignored, the more she moved. The Holy Spirit, they found out, does not like to be ignored. So she moved even more. She became energized and tried to once again stir among the people. She was swatted away like a pesky fly. She was greeted with negative blocks of “not right now” and “you certainly don’t want me, Lord.” The Holy Spirit is persistent, they would learn. She continued to swirl and now some started to feel her presence. Some called it “the winds of change” others called it “something new.” She blew into the littlest in the place, knowing they would welcome her as a friend. The Holy Spirit had long ago learned that the younger the disciple, the more willing they were to listen and believe. The Holy Spirit was seen in the youngest through their eyes, how they sparkled; through their voices singing even if off key; even through their dancing in the pews despite parents attempts to make them sit and behave. The Holy Spirit knew, the only way to behave was to respond to her. So the littlest among them danced, sang, twinkled, twirled, and dared to ask hard questions, sometimes the kinds of hard questions with no answers. The littlest among them held out their hands, hungry for bread and wine, knowing it had the power to change their lives, the Holy Spirit had told them so. They longed to splash in the baptismal waters, gobble up every last crumb of bread like it was their last, and then hold hands with other disciples singing joyfully while departing this place. And as hard as she tried, Holy Spirit could not stop the discouraging looks from parents or even those who thought children should be seen and not heard.

But, the Holy Spirit was determined. So she continued to swirl, stir, and breathe into the most unlikely of people, these country people, these farmers, these rural people, these people of big hearts and steady minds. The Holy Spirit continued to breathe into their leader: a strange one of sorts. She was quite unlikely. Not a country girl at all. Troubled with mental health, busy with a family, balancing motherhood, marriage, and a pastorate, the Holy Spirit dare not pass her over. What did it mean that the Holy Spirit stuck around this place? This place of all places? It breathed into one who normally remained quiet, sitting in the back pew, minding his or her own business, and inspired them to speak up and say “what if…” She breathed into a new one, desiring to be more involved so the Holy Spirit gave her an itch that just wouldn’t go away. The Spirit breathed into the one, normally shy and recluse, and opened his mouth to sing the praises of the one who makes us one. She breathed into the one that always blocked out God. “No time” they would say or “I can’t do that” they would cry. And yet…yet, the Holy Spirit chose her to be council president, or run a food pantry, or sit on a committee, or volunteer.

The Holy Spirit saw what was happening in this place and God was quite pleased. So, the Holy Spirit thought “perhaps I should stir and blow some more?” And the Holy Spirit started stirring more. And the Holy Spirit starting blowing more. And people started feeling that itch of change. People started feeling the need to answer God but had no idea how. People started to question this change. And instead of setting up their sails to go wherever the wind of the Spirit might blow, the people set up firm foundations, and boarded up their hearts, like those preparing for a hurricane might do to windows.

The Holy Spirit blew with one idea and encountered a boarded up heart and painted on that board were the words “no time.” And so she moved on and blew into someone else. But their heart was boarded up with words scribbled hastily that said “no money.” She picked up force, blew and stirred even more and encountered another heart, once again boarded up with denial and the words “not me.” The Holy Spirit knew she was in the right place. After all, it was God that sent her. God had a purpose and a reason for this place. Spirit just had to find the right person that would welcome her and engage in a playful, life-giving dance. Spirit was eager. So, the community offered up one of the typical people. That person who always volunteers. That reliable person. The person who wasn’t necessarily excited about the opportunity to dance, but was willing to do so anyway.

As the Holy Spirit started her waltz, it was unfamiliar to the reliable person. The steps seemed faster, or Spirit seemed to be a stronger leader. Either way, Spirit swirled like a tornado and the reliable person held on for dear life. “Maybe” thought Mr or Mrs Reliable, “the Spirit didn’t want me. Maybe it is time for someone else to listen to the Spirit.” In prayer, love, and understanding, reliable gratefully got their dance card stamped and moved aside for someone else.

The community listened and prayed, prayed and listened. They wanted Spirit to stay, desperately. They wanted Spirit to move, change, and mold them. They kept offering up reliable person after reliable person only for Spirit to swirl, twist, and turn them out. She was waiting for anything but the status quo. Finally, a voice spoke up. It was an unfamilar voice to some. It didn’t have the same cadence as all the others. The voice was from someone unlike the rest of them. The language they spoke was the same, but somehow different. Those who had already danced with the Spirit said “maybe this one, the unfamiliar one, the strange one, the new one, the one whose voice we haven’t heard, is the one Spirit is waiting for.” Spirit whirled and smiled because the unfamiliar one had been speaking all along, but the community had chosen not to listen.

And with confidence that came only from God, the unfamiliar one stepped forward, took Spirit’s hand and entered into a careful dance. After a few twists, turns, and twirls, the Spirit finally calmed and settled into the place. The Spirit settled into this place because that is what she does. And she calmed and settled when the community stopped and listened. It wasn’t what they were expecting, but it was something better. It wasn’t what they wanted, but it most certainly is what they needed. The Holy Spirit stayed, calm and settled, because that is what the Holy Spirit does when people start to listen and follow her lead. It is in that calm that we, all of us, can start the hard work of loving one another and being one in community.

 

Sermon for 9/18/16 Luke 16:1-13

If you thought to yourself “well….that sounds like a confusing story, I don’t quite understand it all, thank goodness Pastor is here to explain it to me” have I got some good news for you! I don’t understand it either. I thought about the various things I could say to you off and on all week long. I knew I didn’t want to talk about money. It’s not because I’m afraid to talk about money. And it certainly isn’t because this text doesn’t talk about money, it does obviously. I didn’t necessarily want to focus solely on money this week because it’s not as easy as saying “worship God, don’t worship your money.” Money is a complex issue and means something different for everyone. Instead what I want to talk about today is self care. Stick with me, I promise it’ll all come together. I also want to talk about self care because I’m horrible with self care.

There are endless magazine articles, books, webinars, etc…on how to have the perfect balance in your life. Maybe it’s the work-home balance, the friends and family balance, whatever 2 forces you want to pit against one another, it’s always about balance. There is a misnomer that indeed, we can have it all! While at the same time we look at others around us, look at how they live their lives, and wonder “how do they do it all?” Really, can we all just agree to give up on the idea that we all have balance in our lives? Can we just give up the facade that we all have our shit together and just be honest with one another? Because the truth is this: the idea of balance exists to make us feel horrible.

There is no way that balance can exist in our lives because the focus of our attention changes day to day, maybe even minute by minute. Think about it like this: if you have 3 buckets that you are trying to fill with water and one springs a leak, are you going to keep trying to fill the other 2 up or are you going to stop and fix the leak? So let’s just stop pretending we have it all together or that balance is a good thing. There are people, tasks, and events in our lives that are just going to get more attention to others, that’s as simple as it is. Can we all just agree that we are going to stop trying to attain the unattainable goal of balance in our lives?

Now, please understand, I’m not advocating for chaos in our lives, but be willing to be flexible to have a little give and take. See, in today’s Gospel, Jesus isn’t chastizing the wealthy, although I can understand how it sounds like that. Instead, Jesus is calling our attentions to our loyalities. Jesus is calling attention, yes, to God, but also to whatever loyalties we have that draw us away from God and turn our attention elsewhere. Jesus is calling our attention to the ways that we spend our time, efforts, energy, and yes, money being creatures that God did NOT create us to be. When we’re not fully living into who God created us to be, we’re not being good to ourselves. And when we’re not being good to ourselves, we’re not being good to God. Let me be clear, being good to yourself, engaging in self care, is not a sacrifice or self serving; it does not make you a martyr. As strange as it sounds, being good to yourself points to the saving work of God and it may even give others hope of salvation.

Stick with me here, and follow closely, okay. When you take time to care for yourself, to feed yourself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, you are, in an essence, stating that you actually cannot do it all. When you rest or care for yourself, you allow others to see that they don’t need you. People are able to accomplish things without you because they are relying on God (instead of you). I once was asked a very simple question: “why Jesus?” The question basically was “why do you need/want Jesus in your life?” And the best answer I could come up with at the time (and I still believe it) is “because I cannot save myself.” When you take the time to care for yourself, you are a living, breathing example of God’s salvation. If we could save ourselves, we wouldn’t need Jesus, that’s for sure.

Jesus tells us that we cannot serve two masters. So, we cannot serve God and money. We cannot serve our job and our family. We cannot serve our boss and our hobbies. We cannot serve the desire to sleep and technology. Balance is a fallacy of human desires. When you try to serve anything but God, you will feel empty. And so God calls us to rest; to partipate in self-care. God calls us to sabbath. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with taking a break. Perhaps when we start to feel “off kilter” (so to speak) it’s because we’ve been working so hard to balance everything and that’s impossible. Brothers and sisters, there is only one savior and we are not him. There is only one who gives life, and we’re not him. There is only way to salvation, and it’s not through us.

And here’s the amazing thing, when we finally give in to God’s call to rest, the thing that God does is hospitality and comfort. God feeds us, washes us, clothes us (with mercy), allows us to rest, and ultimately, loves us. Don’t be afraid to say “no” every once in a while. And if someone says “why can’t you….” do whatever it is. Speak about God. Speak to God. Tell others “I’m going to rest. God is calling me to do that and that is what I am going to do because my salvation, and yours, is not up to me.” Will this be easy? Nope. Being busy and trying to balance everything is the American way. Will it be worth it? Totally. Think about the 23rd psalm: “he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.” It’s not “he leads me beside chaos and ball-juggling, he challenges me to keep going….” No. God invites us to a life of calm and rest. Let’s do away with the myth of balance and just serve the one who found that balance meant two arms outstretched and feed crudely balanced and nailed. We can’t save ourselves, friends. Let the scales tip in favor of God.

Sermon for 8/28/16 Luke 14:1, 7-14

One of the years that I was a student at Northwest Missouri State University (the finest division 2 college in all the land) I invited a friend home for Thanksgiving break. Angel and I lived on the same floor of our dormitory and she was from the east coast. Thanksgiving break was short and Angel would have just stayed around had she not come home with me. I was nervous for her to come home with me because she is African American and my grandma was, well….raised during a different time. But, Angel and I were close friends, involved in a lot of the same things. We even had cute nicknames for one another: she was Pepper and I was Salt. The nicknames weren’t because what you think. It’s because she’s black and I’m white (oh….that’s what you thought, huh)? We sat down to a wonderful thanksgiving feast and my Nannie says “someone please pass me some more turkey.” And someone asked her “do you want white meat or dark meat?” And she responded (I think without even thinking) “I don’t care. I’m not prejudiced.”

Today’s gospel reading focuses on two themes: hospitality and humility. One of the things that might help you to understand this reading a bit more is to understand weddings during the time of Jesus. As you may know, they lasted for days. The most important person invited (usually it was a government official) sat in the middle of the table. And this person didn’t necessarily sit, but they were lounging. It helped with digestion. Seating at a wedding was a show of status and wealth. The poorer you were or the less status you had, the more likely you were to be sat far far away from the center of the room. Jesus observes that those invited to a dinner assumed the place of honor. Jesus, being Jesus, challenges these ideas. “What if” he says “those of you who normally sit at the head of the table instead sit at the end of the table and save the head for someone who wouldn’t normally have such an honor?” That kind of thinking is what got Jesus a one way ticket to crucifixion.

I think when we hear this gospel, we often put ourselves in the place of the one offering hospitality. We may think of ourselves as the party thrower, the “inviter” instead of the “invitee.” In many ways, it can be helpful to think of ourselves that way on occasion. It’s good to be reminded that hospitality is a form of ministry. It’s important that people feel welcomed. Hospitality is more than opening a door for someone. Hospitality, when it comes down to it, is helping others to fully live into who God created them to be. Let me give you an example or two.

I said at our semi-annual meeting that I feel like we’re inching closer and closer to an interesting time as church. I’m excited but also scared to death (in a good way, if that’s possible). Because of God, and thanks to the Holy Spirit, we are experiencing an influx of new members, visitors, and maybe just curious passer-bys. Whatever the case may be, if you’ve started coming to church here since I became the pastor (and that means you’re “new”) I want to thank you. You make us better. At the same time, we might be coming close to experiencing growing pains. We might be inching closer and closer to that moment where, if you’ve been here for a long period of time, you may think “this growth thing is great, but these new people are coming, they’re sitting in my pew, things are changing, Pastor is changing things, everything is changing and this isn’t my church anymore.” While I can understand, appreciate, and sympathize with you if that’s how you feel, I also feel it’s my duty to remind all of us that this isn’t “our church.” It’s God’s church. This is where the humility part of today’s Gospel comes in.

Hospitality in this place might look like offering your bulletin to someone who doesn’t have one. Offering to either sit with someone you may not recognize or inviting them to sit with you. Explaining how communion is taken. So many times in church we use “church” language that doesn’t mean anything to anyone outside of these doors. If you used the words “intinction or narthex” outside the church, you’d get strange glances. Offer your hymnal (if there’s not one near by). Introduce yourself. I know this is a tricky subject for some of you. I often hear you worry that if you introduce yourself to someone who’s been coming here for a while then embarrassment and maybe even shame might follow. Take the risk. Blame me if you want. Show people to the bathroom, invite them to coffee, and show them the 43 ways to get downstairs. All of these small things may seem insignificant to you. But to someone else, it takes the pressure off worrying about “doing things right” and instead, being able to be fully present in worship. God created us to be in community; help one another to be a part of this community.

But where this text trips us up is that we’re not the “inviters” to any party, to any table, to anything where God is present and the guest of honor; this is especially true in church. This isn’t your church, our church, or my church; it’s God’s church. It’s not your table, our table, or even my table, this is God’s table. And the thing is, we shouldn’t be sitting at the head of this table, we shouldn’t be sitting at the end where we barely get crumbs, heck, we don’t even deserve to be invited to the table. And yet…yet, because of, and only because of God’s grace do we get an invitation. I don’t invite you to this table, you’re not drug to this table by your parents or spouse, you don’t come to this table out of a sense of guilt or duty. You come because God has invited you.

God invites us, despite ourselves, and not because of who we are, but because of whose we are, to a table and a feast unlike any we could ever have. God invites us, despite everything we have done. God invites us, despite what the world may say about us. God invites us, despite what we may say about ourselves. God invites us when everything else says “you’re not worthy.” God invites us even when we have no clue why we were invited. And God invites us over and over and over again because there’s no such thing as too much grace. One of my favorite hymns is “Chief of Sinners Though I Be.” The words are “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed his blood for me, died that I might live on high, lives that I might never die. As the branch is to the vine, I am his, and he is mine.” Chief of sinners. Not “captain” or “sergeant” or anything else. Chief, the biggest one there is. But, God, who knows that because of our sins we are: poor in spirit, crippled by our sins, lame thanks to constant temptations, and blind to the hurting world around us, invites us to a feast. In that moment, it is about you. The body of Christ, hung on a cross, beaten, bruised, mocked, stabbed, and stripped bare: given, for you. The blood of Christ, poured out, spilled, wasted, drained out: shed, for you. In that moment, there’s nothing more humbling, nothing that can knock a full grown man (or woman) to their knees more than “for you.” None of us deserve it. And we sit at the head of the table because that’s where God puts us.

 

Sermon for 8/7/16 Luke 12:32-40

“Do not be afraid,” and I stopped right there. Sure, Jesus. Whatever. Maybe you haven’t watched the news lately, God, but there’s plenty to be afraid of. Where do we even start? If you’re voting one way, you’re afraid of Hillary, if you’re voting another, you’re afraid of Donald. Maybe you’re afraid of both. There’s wars, black unarmed Americans dying at a staggering rate, police officers being killed in the line of duty, the zika virus, dirty drinking water in Flint, terrorism in general, hate, xenophobia, and not to mention stories on the news every single night over what I should and should not be eating. There is plenty to fear.

In the time of fear, there is a tendency to hold on to what we know is true, to what we know is pure, to what we know is maybe even permanent. When someone is having an anxiety attack, there is a practice called grounding to help that person feel in control again. Remember that sometimes anxiety is just fear rearing its ugly head. So the practice is that you have the person look around and name 5 things they can see, 4 things they can touch, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell, and 1 thing they can taste. The idea is that this might help someone feel in more control. When fear sets in, we want things that seem steadfast. And if we’re going to be honest, there is a lot of fear in our rhetoric these days.

I don’t know how many of you have seen this bumper sticker (“Jesus is coming. Look busy!”) but it always makes me laugh. The idea is that we should be prepared for Jesus’ return by not slacking off, by looking busy, by being busy. As if we aren’t busy we’re going to be doomed to a lifetime of eternal damnation. What if, instead of talking about Jesus’ return as dreadful and a time of judgement, we spoke of it as a time of anticipation, joy, and spoke of readiness in terms of being ready for blessings? And so, as we prepare to be ready, we are told “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Many preachers may use this text to guilt you into opening up your wallet. That’s not me. I want to take a different look at this verse today. What is it that you hold close to your heart? Most of us, if push came to shove, wouldn’t name the obvious material things. These are the things, that on the outside, look like nothing to someone else. But to us, they mean the world. For me, it’s my Grandmother’s bible, my grandfather’s bible (that he got at his own confirmation and carried through Korea), and a birthday card from my nannie that she signed in her own hand long after she could no longer see. And what you hold close to your heart says a lot about how you describe those possessions. My grandmother’s bible means so much to me because her notes are in it, she took it to Bible study every Sunday. It was the passages she underlined that got her through the death of my grandfather. When I see that Bible, I think of her strength. My grandfather’s Bible means so much to me because he hung onto it from confirmation, through a war, through adulthood. When you open it, you get the smell of must and mold, and I love it. When I see that Bible, I think of my grandfather’s gentleness and commitment to everything he did. That birthday card from my nannie means so much to me because she was at an age when she was having aids and family members do all of her writing for her: checks, letters, other correspondence, etc… She did this because at this time and until her death, she had lost the majority of her sight. But this birthday card she signed herself. I can picture her tracing the outline of the card and placing the pen carefully as she wrote “love, nannie.” This card reminds me of her perseverance in the face of challenges.

These possessions remind me more of my grandparents than anything else, it is a snapshot of all three of them. What is it then, Jesus asks us, that might be your treasure? What might it be that is a snapshot of the kingdom of God for you? What material possession could you point to that would be an outward sign of your faith? Something you received for your confirmation? That picture of Jesus that hung in Grandma’s house until she passed? The Bible that belonged to a trusted neighbor that taught you about faith and Jesus? “What is the one thing that if someone asked you about it, you would be able to give witness to your faith in God, your belief in the work of Jesus, your confidence in the presence of the Spirit?” (Karoline Lewis)

This thing, whatever it is, is a reminder of our own personal interpretation of the kingdom of God. It shapes the way we speak about God, about Jesus, the work of the Spirit, and the coming kingdom. And when it comes down to it, would you be able to put into words what your own personal spiritual vocabulary is? Because here’s the thing, when Jesus comes again (and he will come again) nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter how “good” you were, how many “holy” acts you think you’ve done, how much money you’ve put in the offering plate, not even how many cute little old ladies you helped to cross the street. What matters is this: what do you believe about God and can you articulate that?

The fear, of course, may not be that we can’t do it, but that we’ll get it wrong. We don’t want to articulate our faith because then that opens us up for criticism and critique. What if what I believe about Jesus and God isn’t the same as what my friends, spouse, family, or even pastor believes? What does that say about my faith? What if what I say is wrong? What if what I say isn’t really “Lutheran”? What if what I say is heretical? This is not a test over whether you know your catechism, whether you have memorized the ten commandments, or even if you know books of the bible. But what is it, what are the words that are on your heart, that express your faith? When I was getting ready to head to seminary, my home pastor, Pastor Ernie, said “if all else fails, remember this ‘Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.’” That carried me through many rough times in seminary.

In seminary we had to articulate our faith many many times. We had to state, out loud, what it is we believe about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. And then, more than once, we were questioned about that faith. We were questioned, not because we were wrong, but because this is our faith, and the words we use are important. I don’t know about you, brothers and sisters, but I am finding that we are living in an age where words are getting to be more and more important. Every single word we say is weighed with great importance. So when Jesus comes again, the treasure of your faith is all you will have. So, what do you have?

Here is my current working statement of faith. I say current and working because I realize that as I grow older, gain more experiences, and interact with more people, all of those things shape my faith and the way I see God acting in the world. My statement of faith is simple, I think. I believe that God loves all of God’s people with no exception. I believe that God’s grace is for everyone (whether you want it or not) and that the promise and hope of the resurrection is for all people who believe. That’s it. We are called to be disciples; to be witnesses to God’s redeeming work in this world for all people. The way we talk about that matters. God doesn’t expect us to have all the answers. God expects us to be a witness. That’s it (again).

Our faith is a treasure in and of itself. Our heart is in that treasure. We normally talk about Christ coming during Advent, but the truth is we should be prepared at any time. We should be prepared to welcome the King who will expect not to be waited on, but expect, maybe even demand, to wait on us. The master is coming to serve the servants. The way you think about your faith and the way you articulate your faith will directly affect the way you speak of Christ’s return. It will either be (fear) “CHRIST IS COMING!!!” or (joy) “Christ is coming!!”

Sermon for 7/17/16 Luke 10:38-42

If you have a sibling or if you’ve ever had to work with someone who doesn’t always seem to pull their weight, you can understand how Martha feels. Can’t you just hear Martha? She’s loudly exhaling, banging pots and pans around, maybe even saying passive aggressive things like “I’ll be out in a minute Jesus. I want to visit with you, it’s just that it’s so hard for me to do everything in the kitchen by myself.” And Mary would stare up at Jesus, waiting for him to bestow even more wisdom upon her without a care in the world. Eventually, Martha lost it. “Lord, do you not care…” You can just hear the frustration in her voice. Of all people she expected to care, it was Jesus. I can imagine her surprise and her outright gobsmack when Jesus didn’t give her the answer she wanted to hear.

Now, before we dive too deep into this text for today I want to get a few misconceptions out of the way. First off, Martha isn’t a bad person. This text is not about shaming Martha for doing what would have been the anticipated task at that time: hospitality. Martha was trying to prepare for a guest. Second, this text is not about a woman’s rightful place. This text should not be read as women should be in two places: in the kitchen or at the feet of men, listening. If you’ve come here for that sermon, you are certainly in the wrong place. And lastly, this text isn’t about affirming one kind of lifestyle (a contemplative lifestyle) over another (an active lifestyle). Instead, today I want to talk about missing Jesus even when he is in our midsts, glorification of busy, and the invitation that Jesus gives to us all.

Martha had Jesus in her house. The expectation at the time was that she provide hospitality. Hospitality was a huge part of daily life in the time of Jesus. It still is a large part of middle eastern culture. I remember traveling to the Holy Land; we were told beforehand that if we were offered any kind of hospitality (food or drink) we take it, whether we like it or not. It would be seen as rude and inconsiderate to turn away hospitality.  But Martha was doing what was expected of her. Yet at the same time, Jesus told her that she was distracted and worried. It’s not that she wasn’t doing great work, she was. But I wonder if Jesus was inviting her to come and rest.

How often does Jesus come among us, begging us to rest, to sit at his feet and learn, to soak in knowledge, to have a sabbath of sorts, and we either miss it or we’re just too busy? I find it interesting that when God created the world, everything was called “good” except for one thing, and that is sabbath. Sabbath is the only thing that, when created, was called “holy.” What a relief it must have been to Martha, perhaps, to take a rest from society’s expectations. And Jesus calls us to rest, calls us to recenter ourselves on that which is life-giving, calls us to just be, and we’re too damned busy to actually do it.

Now, please understand that I am not telling you all to quit your jobs and go lay on the beach (although if you can afford to do that and want to do that then more power to you). But what do you do that is life giving? I’m not saying that being busy is a bad thing. But, we’ve made busy almost a status of statement in life. We often try and “out busy” one another. “You think you’re busy? Listen to this….” I know I’ve jokingly said that I often need vacations from my vacations. Yet US employees in general leave 170 million vacation days unused every year. Like Martha, our work is good work. It is work that may even leave us really satisfied. But, at the end of the day, we are called to rest. We are called to step away from society’s expectations, and sit at the one who loves us unconditionally.

So why don’t we do it? Why don’t we take the time to rest? Why don’t we take the time for sabbath? Why don’t we stop for a while and rest at the feet of Jesus? Could it be that we’re missing Jesus? It’s possible. Jesus longs to be in relationship with us. And yet we treat him like anything else on our “to-do” list. As if Jesus is a light bulb we’ve been meaning to replace. We don’t take the time out for a few reasons (at least as I see it). One, we feel guilty when we do take time off to just rest and be. Two, we have a little bit of martyr in us. Perhaps people will feel sorry for us that we’ve been working 6 or 7 days a week straight for the last 18 years. And three, if we take the time to slow down, that means we just might have to listen for Christ and to Christ and do we really want to hear what he has to say to us?

Martha isn’t trying to avoid Christ. She’s not making herself a martyr. She might be dealing with guilt (especially again, because hospitality was expected). But it is as if Jesus is saying to her “Martha, I don’t care about any of that. Just put that stuff down and come and relax. Listen to me.” What keeps you from sitting at the feet of Jesus. Are you afraid of what Jesus might say to you? Are you afraid that you’re going to hear a message of love that you’ve convinced yourself you don’t deserve? Are you afraid that you’re going to hear a word of forgiveness that you’ve craved but keep denying? Are you afraid that instead of hearing judgement and condemnation, that you might hear mercy, peace, and the desire to love you? That is scary, my friends. If we keep ourselves busy enough we don’t have to be vulnerable.

It goes against everything this culture stands for to stop what you’re doing and sit at the feet of the one who gives life. It goes against everything that society says we should want to bask in the knowledge and love of the one who gives us love. And it is most certainly counter-cultural to not be busy. Perhaps it’s time that we start to “busy” ourselves with just being. Maybe we should busy ourselves being in the presence of the one who calls us to be. Nothing else in this life matters, my brothers and sisters, if we have nothing and no one to call on. Nothing else in this life matters if we are counting on ourselves or our own actions to ensure our salvation. Maybe if you won’t hear Jesus, you’ll hear me: I am giving you permission to rest. I am giving you permission to no longer cower and cave under what society expects of you. I am giving you permission to sit at the feet of the one who loves you and be reminded what it means to be loved, be washed, be fed, and be freed. I am giving you permission to be Mary and Martha in a world that expects you to be either one or the other.  

Sermon for 7/10/16 Luke 10:25-37

I don’t know if you’ve ever done this, but I often wonder what I would have done had I been born during a different time in history. I wonder what I might have done had I been born even in a different country in a different time in history. Would I have been one of the women on the front line, protesting, contacting the powers that be to encourage passage of the 19th Amendment (the one, by the way, that gave women the right to vote). Would I have been the kind of person that would have hidden Jewish people from the Nazi’s in Germany? Would I have been the kind of person sitting on a bridge in Selma? Would I have been the kind of person to sit at a lunch counter that was only meant for “colored people” as a sign of solidarity? Would I have been the kind of person to go to the Stonewall Inn in New York City, the birthplace of the gay rights movement?

And I wonder what the events of our time will be that might make Ellen think the same thing. Or maybe your kids or grandkids will look back on a particular time in history and wonder “would I have been the one?” Often when we read the parable of the “good Samaritan” we want to place ourselves in the shoes of the Samaritan. We think we would have stopped. Certainly, we would have been the ones to stop and help a hurting man on the side of the road. We would have been the ones to find him help. We might even been the one to advocate for men like the one in our gospel story so that this doesn’t happen again in the future. But, more likely, we’re the lawyer asking “who is my neighbor.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I am lost. I am hurting. I know many of you came here today hoping that I would have words of wisdom or words of comfort, and I don’t. I am tired of watching the news and seeing fellow members of the body of Christ being killed. I am tired of the rhetoric that accompanies these shootings. I am tired of the debate that if you believe that black lives matter that you automatically believe that blue lives don’t. I am tired of the assumptions that say if you value African American lives you must not value the lives of law enforcement officers or vice versa.

I am tired of people assuming that just because I don’t own a gun that I must be anti-gun. I want to tell you this: I’m not anti gun. My brother, father, uncles, and brother in law all own guns. I support your right and even your desire to own a gun. I won’t ever own one. Ever. It’s a personal choice. But, I’d fight for your right to own one. However, I don’t understand why any average American citizen needs an assault rifle. We are killing one another. Our neighbor is the African American man shot dead while his 6 year old watched the entire thing take place. Our neighbor is a Dallas police officer just showing up to do his job. Our neighbor is a Muslim woman who just wants to get to her mosque without being harassed. Our neighbor is a lesbian who feels the only sanctuary she can turn to is a bar in Orlando. Our neighbor is documented immigrant who just wants to be able to support his family. Our neighbor is Jesus and lately our neighbor has been covered in the blood of hate, judgement, and unwilling blindness.

We are at a time in our history when we have the opportunity to stand with the other. We have the opportunity to be a Samaritan instead of the lawyer. We have the opportunity to accompany those on the road to Jerusalem. It is easier, much much easier, to pass by, I get that. It is easier, much much easier to say that “it’s not our problem” and in many ways it’s not. We don’t have any members of this church who are people of color. We live in a town where there is, however, a very clear cut distinction from the haves and have-nots. From my perspective, it’s a financial and class distinction, not a race distinction. And we have the chance to tell our children, our grandchildren, maybe even our great grandchildren that when our country was in a time of great civil unrest we made the choice to not ask “who is my neighbor” but to demand that others start to see Jesus in the eyes and skin of everyone around us.

Friends, we have entered a time of great blindness. We refuse to see one another, we refuse to see those we label as “other”, we refuse to see injustice, we refuse to see that anyone or anything but Jesus can help us to see. We have gone blind out of fear. We’re afraid of change that comes with no longer being a majority. We’re afraid of change that has accompanied the mass amounts of political rhetoric these last few months. We’re afraid that the America we’ve always known is no longer the America we will love and we’ve gone blind because of it all and that blindness has caused us to completely miss Jesus.

We’re so busy asking “who is my neighbor” that we’ve missed the fact that our neighbor is lying on the side of the road, dying. We’ve missed the fact that our neighbor is covered in blood that’s not his. We’ve missed the fact that our neighbor is the subject of daily harassment. We’ve missed the fact that our neighbor is feared. We’ve missed it all because we’d rather be safe than risk being hurt or judged and in the meantime, with every life lost, Jesus is killed over and over and over again. Because if we are made in Christ’s image, each time a bullet takes a life, no matter the color of skin, Jesus is crucified all over again. We are going blind and I don’t know that we want to do what it’s going to take to see.

We have to be willing to admit that we are scared, that we are wrong, that we are privileged, that we have certain unspoken rights that others just don’t, and we have to be willing to listen. We have to be willing to listen without correcting the thoughts and feelings of the people who have been hurt. Notice that when the Samaritan stopped he didn’t ask how the man who was left for dead was feeling, what he did to deserve this, why he was there, what he was wearing, what his past criminal history was, any of that. No, he just helped him, no questions asked.

I don’t have easy answers for you. I am just as lost as to what to do as you are. I am scared. But we serve a God who helps the blind to see. We serve a God who doesn’t give up on us. We serve a God who, in times of great darkness, continues to be the light we need. We have a God who loves all lives. We have a God who mourns when we mourn. We have a God who comforts us in sorrow. We have a God who provides us with rest when the world gets to be too much. We have a God who loves us enough to allow us to rest in our comfort but then disturbs us out of comfort saying “go and do likewise.”

 

Sermon for 5/22/16 John 16:12-15

This past week I was in Atlanta for the annual Festival of Homiletics. Homiletics is just a fancy word for preaching. I was at a festival and celebration of preaching. It is jokingly called “Woodstock for preachers.” It is wonderful to sit in a pew and worship at a service I didn’t plan, sing hymns I didn’t pick out, and hear sermons I didn’t write. At the same time, it’s like drinking out of a firehose. Or to put it even better, it’s like eating at a buffet and you keep eating despite the fact that you’ve had to let out your pants, made more room at the table, and call for a wheelbarrow to take you out…but the food is so good!!! That’s what it was like for me. I heard voices I don’t normally get to hear. I got to hear voices from various denominations, people of various races, preachers of varied sexualities, and even a preacher that was differently abled. I heard familiar texts preached in new ways. I heard unfamiliar texts actually preached, inspiring me to maybe someday tackle those same texts. Most importantly, I was reminded (multiple times) of a God who forgives me and loves me. This was, in all ways possible, continuing education.

I don’t know how many of you have to do continuing education for your jobs, but as a Pastor it is expected that I engage in ongoing continuing education. Continuing education is important to me because despite what you may believe (or, even better, what I may believe) I actually do not know it all. I need to always be willing to listen to new voices, read new voices, engage in conversations that are difficult, and be willing to change my mind. None of this happens without God’s urging and the Holy Spirit interpreting and intervening. Today’s reading, to me at least, sounds like Jesus is encouraging the disciples to engage in some continuing education.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” I have to believe that there was one disciple present that either said or thought “what does he mean?!? I can handle it! Come on….tell me!” And when Jesus speaks to the disciples and says “I still have many things to say to you” what he is also saying is “you’ve got a lot still left to learn.” Let us not forget that the messages given to the disciples weren’t just for the disciples of Jesus’ time, they were for the disciples of all times, in all places, in all ages. So, this means you and me, brothers and sisters. Jesus is telling us “you’ve got a lot still left to learn.” Now, depending on our lot in life, we may interpret that statement with enthusiasm or with skepticism. It could be “YES! I get to learn more!” or it could be (sarcasm) “joy! I get to learn more.” And sure, Jesus could have told the disciples (and us) everything all at one time, but would we have listened? We hear it, but do we listen? I think we have all had times in our lives where we’ve heard someone say something, including God, and we don’t listen. We get that proverbial “in one ear and out the other” thing going on. So perhaps, just perhaps Jesus actually knew what he was talking about when he said that there is more for us to hear and learn, but we just can’t bear them right now. Jesus knew the disciples (and us) needed to be “primed” for learning.

When God speaks to us, God doesn’t always come as a booming voice from the sky. God’s voice isn’t always surrounded by claps of thunder, flashing neon lights, or even an introduction. When God speaks to us, it’s usually in ways we don’t expect, through people we don’t expect, and in times we don’t expect. Even more, when God speaks to us, it’s usually in ways we don’t like, through people we don’t like, and in times we don’t like. God often does God’s best work through the most unexpected ways; and often those ways can make us uncomfortable. This is usually because we’ve placed our own expectations onto God, and so we expect God or maybe even anticipate God acting one way. And instead, God acts whatever way God so chooses. God refuses to be placed in a box.

And so it is that when we finally do hear and listen to the word of God, it comes in many forms through many people. What do we do when God speaks to us through people we may not want to listen to? What happens when God speaks to us in ways we don’t like? What do we do when God speaks to us at a time that isn’t real convenient for us? Now, don’t get me wrong, God loves us, dearly. But do you really think God cares about our expectations? Do you really think that when God starts to move and send the Holy Spirit down on us that it’s going to stop just because it’s not a real convenient time for us? Friends, the Bible is full of stories of people who fought with God, tried to deny God, tried to redirect God, even those who ran from God. I’m going to ruin the end of all of those stories for you: God won.

When God speaks to us (notice I didn’t say “if,” but “when”) it is because God believes we are prepared to listen, learn, digest, and bear the news that God has for us. And trust me when I tell you that should you choose not to listen the first time, God will keep repeating the message until you do. I jokingly tell people that God telling me to go to seminary was like being hit over the head with the Holy Spirit 2×4. God will get out the 2×4 for you if that’s what it takes. But again, God sometimes chooses to speak to us in ways and through people we’d rather not listen to. And we’re missing out on hearing from God just because we firmly believe that the people we don’t like, God must not like them either. Listen friends, if the God that you have constructed in your own mind hates the same people that you do, then you can go ahead and safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image and not the other way around. (loosely based on Anne Lamott quote) How many of you have heard the story of Baalam and his talking donkey? If not, look it up, it’s Numbers 22:21-39.

Baalam and his donkey are on their way Moab, God was upset about this but Baalam was going anyway. Since Baalam wasn’t listening to God, the Lord sent down the Holy Spirit, opened the mouth of the donkey and out came the voice of the Lord. And trust me when I tell you this, if God can speak through a donkey to Baalam, God can certainly use someone you would label as an ass to speak to you. Including me. We need to hear other voices than our own. We need to hear other voices than the ones around us. Believe it or not, you need to hear other voices than mine! Read other pastor’s sermons or listen to them. Read books by authors you wouldn’t normally read so that you can maybe hear God in a new way.

God will speak to you. God will speak to you through God, through Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, through whatever ways are necessary. God will speak to you because God loves you. And because we have a God of second chances, God will continue to speak to you until you listen. You’re never too old to learn. The disciples needed some continuing education, and so do we. God has many things still to say to us. You never know who is going to be the one to be the voice of God to you. And the flip side is this: God just might use you to speak to someone else!  Continuing education starts at this table, and school is in session!