Sermon for 11/18/18 Mark 13:1-8

As many of you know, my mother was a teacher as I was growing up. So, she had her summers free, or as free as teachers normally have (I know you all work hard during the summer). When she wasn’t planning, writing, testing, and on and on, she would prepare to do her favorite thing with us kids: camping. We tent camped all around Missouri. We spent the days fishing, swimming, or doing local touristy stuff and spent the evenings sitting around a fire. We even once learned how to call owls. One thing we knew we could always count on was a comfy and safe place to lay our heads at the end of the night. One summer evening the air was just right for some adventure. The park ranger came around and over his loud speaker was announcing that we were under a “tornado watch/warning.” To this day we still talk about how confused we were. So, we decided to get out of the tent and head to safer shelter. When you’re from the Midwest, you can just feel a storm in your bones and we felt it! Mom was out of the tent, followed by Jon, then it was Jayna’s turn. Now, Jayna has a great fear of storms. As she was trying to get out of the tent, a huge clap of thunder and lightning struck. She practically jumped out of her skin and tried to fall back into the tent. Except she couldn’t. Her hair, a huge chunk of it, was stuck in the tent zipper. Another huge clap of thunder and lightning struck and she practically pulled her hair out herself. We joked that we found hair in the zipper for many camping trips to follow. We made it to the shelter (which was just a bathroom) in time for the tornado to touchdown. Our Chevy Astro van rocked in the wind. When it was all over, the rain guard on our tent was gone along with other odds and ends, but the tent was okay. So much for feeling safe and secure.

However, I find that we humans do this a lot. We put a lot of hope in structures that, with the right forces, can be destroyed. After all, most of us have lived in the Midwest for a good portion of our lives. We know how quickly tornadoes or flood waters can take over what we might have thought was untouchable. Our siblings in California are seeing all too well the destructive power of fire. Those in the paths of hurricanes know the force of water and wind. We don’t necessarily need these reminders of the power of Mother Nature and the realization that nothing is permanent, but it is humbling when we get these reminders. We don’t have to be betrayed by Mother Nature to realize this. So many are betrayed by their bodies. It could be a new cancer diagnosis, a life-long battle with an illness, or maybe the darkness of dementia; our bodies have a way of reminding us that nothing is permanent.

This isn’t a new struggle. We hear the disciples today marveling at the temple structure. What large stones and what large buildings. It’s almost as if you can hear the disciples say “nothing could ever happen to this!” The disciples were putting their faith, giving too much credit to a man-made structure. Jesus quickly let them in on a little secret. Not only will the temple fall, but the world is going to experience apocalyptic like occurrences. I mean, I don’t know that there is a different (or better) way to talk about wars, nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes, and famines. Then, Jesus said, this is but the beginning! The beginning! Rough stuff, Jesus. But we’re not all that different from the disciples, you and I. There is something to be said about the power that lies behind bigger, stronger, larger. And when the things around us fail, we turn to confrontational language to describe it. Have you ever noticed that?

When your body starts to betray you, you fight cancer. When an illness has wracked your body for years, you’re in a battle. We go to war against those weeds. When we’ve been hit, we talk about rebuilding bigger and stronger than before. Even when other people betray us, we may be tempted to say they don’t exist to me anymore or the darker they’re dead to me. There is one underlying tie that all of these ideas have in common: power. We want to be more powerful than the forces and situations that surround us. And when we’re reminded that we aren’t (thanks to a storm, illness, or broken relationship) we retaliate and use language of power and domination. This cycle goes on and on.

But the powerful will fall. This goes for buildings, structures, governmental systems, and people. The question is, will we notice? We have a lot of forces of nature and forces of power competing for our attention. Perhaps we’ll be too worried about large bodies of power failing to notice small moments of might: the widow giving her last few coins or a Jewish teacher being crucified. But how in the world can these small acts measure up to the rest of the world’s greatness? We’re so busy admiring false power and fearing false power that we may miss true power. We’re so busy and preoccupied with trying to be better and stronger and bigger that we may miss small acts of love, mercy, and kindness. We should know by now that anything we give power to and any of the powerful structures and forces we admire will fail us. Every time.

Despite our temptation to give space and time to power, Jesus comes for us and to us anyway. Jesus was surrounded by power in all shapes, sizes, and forms, and yet he still offered up his humble body as a sacrifice for me and for you. And the world may not have noticed this powerful testament of love, but we have. That alone should and does make a difference for all of us. There is nothing that God will not do to make sure we are not out of reach of the love that God has for each and every one of us. God is relentless. This love, this is what will be the thing that is stronger, bigger, bolder, better. This is the force that is stronger than nature. This is the antidote to so many of the world’s hurts. The love of God is more powerful than any storm, earthquake, fire, diagnosis, illness, or human relationship. This love is powerful, unforgiving, and comforting. God has not given up on us. Even in the times it may feel like it thanks to whatever powers may be, God will not abandon us. Even in the moments where our admiration may get the best of us and we say “look…what large stones” God, through Jesus Christ, still comes to us, always, in love to free us from ourselves.


Sermon for 4/15/18 Luke 24:36b-48

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) Growing up, we, for a while, had a scare-off happening in the house. There were four of us involved in this. We would hide behind doors, in closets, and on and on and try our best to scare one another. Jon, Jayna (my brother and sister), myself, and my dad all tried to scare one another. My mom sat back and probably just rolled her eyes. This hit a peak one night after we had all sat and watched the movie Cape Fear with Robert DeNiro. My sister hid under my parents bed. And she waited. My dad came home, took off his tie, emptied his pockets, and then sat down to take off his socks and shoes. He took off one shoe and one sock. Then the other. And just when his feet were on the floor, my sister reached out from underneath the bed and grabbed his ankles. I don’t want to make my dad sound weak, but he screamed like a little girl.

In today’s reading, the disciples, we are told, were startled and terrified. They looked as if they had seen a ghost. Then Jesus asks them “why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” This is the first time Jesus had showed himself to all of the disciples since his resurrection. So perhaps the disciples had a right to be afraid. They had not experienced the resurrected Christ for themselves. I think it’s only natural for them to have been afraid. As I said at Easter, I think fear and being startled is a predicted reaction to seeing the deceased now raised. It may be easy for us to shake our heads in disbelief, but we are at an advantage. We know more about Jesus now than the disciples did at that time.

The way that I think about this is that the disciples could have experienced one of two kinds of Jesus in this situation. They could have experienced the “flipping tables” Jesus. The one who gets angry and starts to flip tables. As if he was gonna say “I told you I would be raised on the third day! And you don’t believe me!?!” (flip tables) Or, they could have experienced the Jesus they actually did encounter: the loving, understanding Jesus. The Jesus who understood that despite telling them that he would be raised, that showing them his hands and feet is what it was going to take for them to believe. Jesus was willing to do whatever it was he needed to do so that the disciples would not be afraid.

Fear is such a powerful motivator in our current culture. It keeps us behind locked doors, much like the disciples. Or, it keeps figurative locks on our doors. Fear keeps a lock on our thoughts so that we do not have open minds. Fear keeps a lock on our hearts so that love is not allowed out or in. Fear keeps a lock on our arms so that we are not freed to serve. Fear keeps a lock on our feet so that we are not free to follow Christ. Fear keeps us from living fully into the disciples that God created us to be. Fear keeps us from accepting grace. Fear is the voice inside our heads that constantly teases us with the refrain of “you’re not good enough.” Fear keeps us from full faith.

Because here’s the thing, when we resist the actions that Christ calls us to because of fear then we aren’t worshipping God, we are worshipping fear. We are a people who declare that Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed!) And when we declare that, we are declaring that not even death can stop Christ. Christ has defeated death. Christ can defeat our fears. Jesus sees what the disciples need and he meets them where they are. He offers them his hands and feet, and then, after eating, encourages them to keep going. There is nothing to fear. Jesus reminds us of his promises by using scripture. Jesus frees them from their fear and Jesus frees us from our fears.

And here’s the thing: we cannot escape fear. We can, on a basic level, understand that fear has no power over us. We can understand that Christ can triumph over fear. But that doesn’t mean that fear will no longer exist. It’s like when we were trying to one up each other in our scaring, we kept looking behind doors for one another. Our fears can be personal: “Will I keep my job? Will they find a cure? Will the markets go up? Will our yield be what it needs to be?” Our fears can also be communal: “How safe are those nuclear weapons? What will the President tweet today? Will our school be next?” Fear is a joy killer. Part of our job as disciples is that we are witnesses of the resurrection. We are witnesses to the fact that Christ has triumphed over death. We are witnesses that cry out “Alleluia! Christ is risen.” But as long as fear lingers, even behind closed doors, even in the nooks and crannies in our minds, we are not completely secure. Only Christ can save us. Our fears certainly can’t do that.

Jesus did not come to bring us security. He did not come to bring the disciples security. He came to issue the disciples, and us a call. He came to remind us that our call is to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. All nations, all people, all genders, all races, all places. And there is no way that anyone is going to believe us when we tell them that Christ defeats all enemies, including death, when we ourselves are worshipping fear. Jesus has conquered the ultimate foe: death. Our fears have no basis. Our job now is to challenge our idea of what it means to be secure. For so many of us, being secure means that we need to be in fear. We need to fear the what ifs, the unknown, and sadly, we need to fear our neighbor. But Christ shows us that hope is stronger than fear. Christ shows us that an empty tomb is stronger than a cross. Christ shows us that locked doors cannot keep him out.

Christ has called us to be a witness to his presence among us: in our words, in our deeds, and in our presence in the world. Our faith is stronger than our fear. Fear keeps us at the empty tomb. Faith moves us on, into the world, proclaiming Christ’s love and forgiveness to all people. Fear will keep us in this place, in the protection and security of these four walls. But, faith will allow us to leave this place, fed by Christ, forgiven by Christ, and declaring to all that Alleluia! Christ is Risen! (Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!)

Sermon for 7/23/17 “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.”

Finally, finally finally! In this fourth week of the sermon series I finally found a hymn writer that feels like a normal human being. Edward Mote wrote today’s hymn focus “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.” And unlike the other hymn writers we’ve talked about so far, he was an average guy. He wasn’t a genius; he didn’t write thousands of hymns; he doesn’t have a super tragic back story. Edward Mote: solid normal guy. But, he still wrote one of the best loved hymns and so I guess that makes him a little above average. Edward Mote was born in 1797 in England. His parents were people I probably would enjoy hanging out with; they owned a pub. They were working parents before there were such a thing. Because of their work schedules and busy lives keeping up with the business, Edward was often left to his own devices.

In his home, there wasn’t a scriptural or church upbringing of any kind. Edward was even quoted once as saying “so ignorant was I that I did not know that there was a God.” His parents connected him with a local cabinetmaker. And so, he became an apprentice to the senior cabinetmaker. It was the senior cabinetmaker that took Edward to a service with a preacher by the name of John Hyatt; and at age 15, Edward took an interest in Christianity. He spent the majority of his time in cabinet making but tried to stay involved in ministry in various ways. At age 55, Edward finally entered into full time ministry. (This is a wonderful example that you’re never too old.) He became the pastor of a Baptist church where he served for 20 years.

Edward said “One morning it came into my mind as I went to labour, to write a hymn on the ‘Gracious Experience of a Christian.’ As I went up to Holburn I had the chorus…” The story continues that Edward went to see some church members. The wife of a particular couple was very ill. The husband informed Pastor Mote that it was customary in their home to mark Sunday with prayer, Bible reading, and hymn singing. When it was time for the hymn singing, Edward pulled the lyrics out of his pocket and it was there that our hymn was sung for the first time. The verses of the hymn were a comfort to the ill woman and her grieving husband. From that experience, Edward was inspired to write additional verses.

The chorus most likely is inspired by Matthew 7:25-27 “The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” It also could have been inspired by Luke 6:47-49 “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.* But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’”

This hymn doesn’t mess around at all. Right from the first few words, we get the sense of what the hymn will be about. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” If that’s not a bold statement of faith, I don’t know what is. We do attempt to build our hope on other things, though, don’t we? We place our hope in things that cannot and will not ever give life. Hebrews 11:1-3 says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” Or, we could refer to Romans 5: 2b-5 “and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

But, sin, that tricky evil familiar force, tempts us to place our trust in anything and everything that isn’t Christ. We may call it other things, but at the end of the day, it’s sin. Instead of placing our hope in Christ, we place it in stability in our jobs, in our lives, in our families, and sometimes we even try to place our hope in the stability of our country. But despite calling it stability, it is sinking sand. We place our hope in ourselves (which is always dangerous). We worry about number one or may believe that we are invincible. Then something happens that shakes us to our core and we find that placing hope in ourselves is sinking sand.

We place our hope in our family and friends. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I would hope that you place hope in the ones you love. But, they can’t be the foundation of your hope and faith. Because as much as we love our family and friends, they will, someday, eventually, let us down. And we are reminded once again that those relationships, though fruitful, are still built on sinking sand. There are so many things that surround us daily that we put all of our chips behind, we go “all in” on that particular relationship, job, even material good that we think we can hope in. Eventually, the sinking sand kicks in and we are left disappointed.

God, the source of our life, the source of our hope, the source of our salvation, the source of love, mercy, justice, and peace, will never disappoint us. God is anything but sinking sand. As I said last week, God is always faithful. Even when we try and put our hope into other things, God is always faithful. Now, we may not always understand God’s ways (and I know that can be maddening for some of you). But, we trust that God’s ways are higher than our ways; God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).  Even in the moments when we can’t see God or feel God, we “rest on his unchanging grace.” Our anchor is safely secured into God. God has a hold of us and not the other way around. God never lets go.

I’ve spoke of this before, but it needs to be repeated. I think so many of us are hungry for something certain. We desire something we know to be 100% true. In an era of “fake news” we need something that we know, without a doubt, is a certain thing. We need that certainty for the times when we don’t know if anything is certain. We need a solid foundation. And no matter how much we go searching for it, it’s already here. We don’t have to buy it. We don’t have to earn it. We don’t even deserve it. The certainty, of course, is Jesus Christ. “On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” Christ is our foundation. Christ is what we can be certain of. Christ is the force that will never fail us and never disappoint us. Christ is the force that will never give way to something else. And Christ will never yield to sin. Christ already looked sin in the face and responded with a cross. Build your hope on Christ, brothers and sisters. Everything else is sinking sand.