Sermon for 9/9/18 Mark 7:24-37

It seems to never fail that when religious nerds get together (these are my kind of people) and the group is made up of various denominations, the question eventually comes around. The question is “what kind are you?” This always makes me chuckle a bit. What kind of Baptist are you? What kind of Presbyterian are you? What kind of Lutheran are you? Sometimes you can tell how people feel about the denomination by the way they react to your answer. And honestly, I don’t know why it matters in the long run. Sure, we may not always agree with other denominations on things like baptism, communion, and even women clergy. But, I think we can agree on big worldly issues: feeding the hungry, working for justice, and caring for the environment. And I’ve said this before, but I really believe this: I doubt, or maybe more appropriately, I hope that God’s kingdom isn’t divided into denominations. There is no Lutheran heaven, no Methodist heaven, no Roman Catholic heaven. Today, I want to expand the question and idea of “what kind are you” from specific individual denominations and instead focus on just the general umbrella label of “Christian.” So, my beloved, what kind of Christian are you?

I wonder what is your first reaction to that question. What kind of Christian are you? As I was thinking about that this week, I thought of a few responses. What kind of Christian are you? What do you mean? What kind of Christian are you? Ummm…..Lutheran? What kind of Christian are you? Why do you want to know? And of course, doing the thing that our teachers always told us not to do: use a word to define a word. What kind of Christian are you? Well….I’m the Christian kind…you know. I want to pause and give you a moment to answer that question for yourselves. What kind of Christian are you? Now, tuck that answer away in a safe-keeping pocket in your brain.

We have two stories of healing this week. On the surface, that’s probably not surprising. After all, Jesus healed a lot of people. This was kind of his thing. If we just looked at these stories as stories of healing, we’d probably miss a lot. While the healing is important, the conversations and actions that lead up to the healings are almost more important. Everything we need to know about the first healing is told to us in some simple words. Verse 26 “now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin.” Those gathered listening to this story would immediately hear and know that this woman had three strikes against her. First, she was a woman, which meant she was less than. Additionally, she approaches Jesus without a husband or other male relative, which was a no-no. Second, she was a Gentile, which meant she’s not Jewish. She would have been viewed as impure. Lastly, she was Syrophoenician. She lives outside Israel, not under Jewish law. Then, there’s the reason why she’s approaching Jesus in the first place: her daughter has a demon. This fact also further drives a wedge between her and those gathered around Jesus. This woman was a Christian with nothing else to lose.

Because she has nothing else to lose, the woman does something that was quite rare: she went toe-to-toe with Jesus. She challenged Jesus. But why wouldn’t she? If Jesus had turned her away, denied her request for the healing of her daughter, she probably would have been no worse off. When is the last time you went toe-to-toe with Jesus? When was the last time you wondered and questioned God’s mission in this world? The Syrophoenician woman knew that there would be enough on that table that it would spill over and even those seated underneath the table, even the beggars would get crumbs. Do we truly believe that God’s grace is so great that even those that don’t deserve it receive God’s grace? Do we truly believe that God’s grace is so great that even we receive God’s grace?

I wonder if we would be brave enough to be this kind of Christian. It’s scary to think about challenging God, isn’t it? Our brains and hearts may immediately jump to consequences. Usually these consequences are self-centered. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s actually pretty natural. When I think about challenging God, I think “if I do that, God won’t love me anymore.” Or I think “if I challenge God, I may not get to heaven.” Sometimes I think “if I challenge God, God will punish me or someone I love for my disobedience.” And I wonder if our faith isn’t actually weakened when we don’t question God. After all, when you start to chalk up every bad thing as “God’s plan” eventually you might snap.

I mean, let’s say you had a relative die of cancer and said “it was God’s plan.” And then your dog died and “it was God’s plan.” Perhaps then your car got stolen and “it was God’s plan.” You went bankrupt, your house burned down, and your spouse left you and it was all “God’s plan.” Wouldn’t you be the slightest bit angry with God? Our God is big enough for us to be angry with God. Our God is loving enough for us to question God. What would happen if we were the kind of Christians this Syrophoenician woman is? What if instead of rolling over and accepting life the way it is, we challenged God? When was the last time you yelled at God? When was the last time you complained to God? Our fear of not being loved is so strong that we often keep our anger to ourselves and it effects our faith. That’s not a relationship with God. God loves us no matter what. God will love us even in the times we are angry with God or challenging God.

I wonder if this world actually needs us to be the kind of Christians that challenge God. I think this world is hungry for Christians who will question Jesus and say “but isn’t there enough for even those under the table?” Prayer changes the world, friends. I really believe that. What if we were the kind of Christians who, in love for our neighbors, cried in anger to God over hunger, war, and poverty? What if we were the kind of Christians, who, in love for our neighbors, yelled at God for injustice, racism, sexism, and classism? What if, we just were the kind of Christians, out of our love for our neighbors and our belief that our God is a God of love, that we were just to frustratingly say “nope. This isn’t fair, God.” But I must caution you. When we challenge God, which we should, God may then turn around and challenge us. There is a reason Jesus had the disciples. And there is a reason God created us. If we challenge God, God will, by grace alone, give us the resources and tools we need to answer the challenge. And even if we don’t, even if we fail in doing God’s work in the world, God still moves and acts. Jesus, despite being challenged, still cured the Syophoenican woman’s daughter. Nothing stops the love of God through Christ Jesus. We aren’t that important or that powerful to stop God’s love. Believe it or not, that is good news. So, my beloved, the next time you are asked “what kind of Christian are you?” will you be brave enough and bold enough to answer “the kind that will dare to go toe-to-toe with God. The kind that will yell at God, get angry with God, and beg of God. The kind that refuses to take ‘no’ for an answer. The kind that questions God’s will. The kind whose faith is stronger because of all those things.” What kind of Christian are you?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon for 8/26/18 John 6:56-71

Are you tired of talking about bread yet? These last 5 weeks in John 6 have actually been refreshing for me. As I have the theme “fed to feed” and the verses of John 3:16-17, I have been able to hear these verses in new ways. That doesn’t mean I am anywhere near an expert and that I still don’t have questions regarding these verses. Some of what Jesus has done in these last 71 verses has been amazing and some of it has left me uncomfortable. And it’s tempting for me to want to only hear what I like and ignore the other stuff. But then again, “Lord to whom shall [I] go? You have the words of eternal life!” Jesus asks his disciples an interesting question in this weeks reading. “Does this offend you” (v61)? This could also be translated as “does this scandalize you?” or “anger, offend, shock, to cause one to stumble, or cause one to sin.” Interesting, isn’t it? Jesus asking his disciples and us “does my teaching cause you to sin?”

Well, yeah, Jesus. We get it, you’ve talked about bread for 5 weeks straight. You’ve talked about the bread of life, the body and blood, you’ve fed people. You’ve talked about bread that gives life, not like the stuff  our ancestors got in the wilderness. You’ve talked about eating your flesh and drinking your blood as a way to eternal life. And maybe we’ve struggled with some of this. So does it cause us to sin? Yeah maybe. Because to be a disciple of Jesus, and not just the twelve, but us too means that we are in a relationship with Jesus. And being in relationship with Jesus means hearing him and listening to him. Often through these last 71 verses Jesus has said “whosoever…” and then the command finished with “will have eternal life.” That’s where it gets hard. We may hear those words, but we certainly don’t want to listen. It makes us uncomfortable. When Jesus doesn’t put parameters on his words, it makes us uncomfortable because it leaves room in God’s kingdom for those that we’d rather leave out.

“Whosoever” certainly doesn’t mean those that undocumented, does it? “Whosoever” doesn’t mean those who are undocumented, couldn’t take “no” for an answer, and then take the life of a young, talented, beautiful woman, does it? “Whosoever” doesn’t mean a Colorado father responsible for the deaths of his family, does it? “Whosoever” doesn’t mean those that open fire in school buildings full of students, does it? Come on, Jesus. Certainly you had some exceptions, right? Does this cause us to sin? YES! Because the thing is, we don’t want to share any single part of God’s kingdom with “those” kind of people. Our stumbling blocks, my beloved, to really listening are many and varied. But, what it comes down to is that our main stumbling block is our own sin. We are quick to judge. We are slow to forgive. We hold a grudge like its an olympic sport. So sure, we abide in Christ and he in us. But, we’ll be damned if “those” other people get a chance at this abiding stuff.

Does listening to Jesus cause us to sin? Well, not really. Our own disbelief causes us to not listen to Jesus and thus sin. Because Jesus can’t be who he says he is, right? Jesus, son of God, sent because God so loved the world couldn’t possibly love that much, could he? Jesus certainly couldn’t be the bread of life and cup of salvation, could he? He couldn’t be this bread and cup for the whole world, could he? Jesus couldn’t be God in the flesh, could he? That’s just not possible. We don’t want to believe that Christ is who he says he is because that means that the teachings of Jesus are the ones we should be following and believing. It means that the teachings that have fed us for so long we now must use to feed others, even those we’d rather leave starving in the streets.

We want Jesus to hate the same people we do. We want Jesus to look on the world like we do. We don’t want to proclaim love through word and deed, we don’t want to care for others and the world God made, and we certainly don’t want to work for justice and peace. So it would be great if Jesus could believe the same way. But he doesn’t. Our own expectations of Jesus, the ones we gladly and willfully placed on him haven’t measured up. And that’s not on Jesus. That’s on us. We expect Jesus to fulfil our expectations instead of the other way around. And it doesn’t happen and we are left disappointed. So are Jesus’ teachings difficult? Yes. Jesus’ teachings are so difficult because they are filled with love and grace. If we don’t believe that we are given these things by Christ through nothing that we do, then are we really going to believe that Christ gives his love and grace to those we’d rather not associate with?

And although these teachings are difficult, Lord, where else are we going to go? You, you alone, you are the one who gives us the words of eternal life. We may be tempted to look other places. But it is Christ alone who gives us the words of eternal life. While Christ always abides in us, thanks to sin, we may not always abide in him. Remember that sin is what comes between us and Christ. But the third day shows us it is never too late to abide in Christ. The empty tomb is an ongoing promise and invitation of abiding. The empty tomb invites us to drop our expectations and accept Christ for who he really is: the bread of life and cup of salvation. The bread of life that provides life for 5000 on a grassy hillside. Enough for everyone to get their fill and then have leftovers. The bread of life that promises a life eternal. The bread of life that is a promise of abiding.

Are these teachings difficult? Yes. But you know what isn’t difficult? God’s love through Jesus Christ. We are witnesses of this love through the waters of baptism. We are witnesses of this love through bread and wine. We are witnesses of this love when our expectations are crushed. When we see how God really loves the world, that is, with no exceptions, our expectations are crushed. And we are reminded that Jesus keeps his promises. Everything that Jesus has ever promised us will come to fruition, 5000 fold, abundant life. For you, for Emerie, for me. I think what makes these teachings so difficult is that love is maddening and so rewarding. We are freed from our expectations. We are filled and fed. We are fed to feed others. Even in the midst of knowing one of the disciples would betray him, Jesus promised a life to all, and a life abundant. Are these teachings difficult? Yes. But, thanks be to God we have the waters of baptism to wash away our expectations. Thanks be to God we have the third day and an empty tomb. Thanks be to God we have a God who so loved the world. A world that will be saved through Jesus. And that includes us. When Jesus says “whosoever believes this” I pray you include yourself in this, my beloved. And if you find these teachings hard, well, there’s grace for that. There’s always bread for the journey. And we are fed with an abundance. Grace upon grace is a real thing. Make that your expectation. Make Jesus  your expectation. You’ll never be disappointed.

Sermon for 8/19/18 John 6:51-58

So, let’s address the elephant in the reading first and foremost, shall we? This reading is a bit graphic. If someone were to hear this for the first time, they might run away from Christianity and never come back. In fact, some do. They hear this scripture and think Christians are cannibals. In fact, years and years of church doctrine and arguments between church fathers (sorry ladies, but it was always the guys in these meetings) have focused on this one issue: what really is communion? Are we really eating the actual flesh of Jesus? Is it the true presence or just a symbol? What do we believe as Lutherans? Oh my goodness?!? Have I been a Lutheran all my life and had no idea that I’m actually a cannibal?? Relax, friends. We believe that Jesus is truly present in, with, and under the elements of communion. That is, the bread and the wine. But, how he is truly present is a mystery. We believe that when the Word of God is combined with the Holy Spirit, the simple gifts of bread and wine become the true presence of Jesus. But, how that happens is a mystery. And no, we are not eating the actual flesh of Jesus. But there’s also a pretty good reason why the words from today’s reading are NOT the words we hear at communion.

However, Jesus does call himself “living bread.” In fact, in these 7 verses, some form of “life” is referred to 9 times. Jesus uses life, living, and live interchangeably. He also talks about abiding, which for me is another way of talking about life. Because when Jesus abides with us, he is offering us a relationship, a dwelling place, and for me, that is life-giving. Why in the world does Jesus do this for us? Why does he offer us his body and blood? Because “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). And because Jesus came so that we may “have life and have it abundantly” (10.10). Additionally, Jesus is out to save us from ourselves so that we may have eternal life (3.17). When we are fed by Christ and filled to the point that we are overflowing and we start feeding others, our lives look much different than those times when we are spiritually starving.

Through Jesus Christ, God offers us life. And I don’t know that we know what to do with that quite honestly. We often get bogged down in the details that we have life in our bodies, but we’re not living. Many of us certainly aren’t dying, but we aren’t really living either, does that make sense? We may have happiness in our life, but we are lacking joy. Some of us may be surviving, but we certainly aren’t thriving. I don’t know if any of this sounds familiar. Jesus is offering us life. Not just a going through the motions, kind of getting by, life is just okay, barely keeping our heads above water, kind of life. No, what Jesus offers us is life and life abundant. Jesus is offering us life that looks like living into the promises given to us in baptism. I want to make it clear that what Jesus is offering us isn’t a life of sunshine and rainbows 24/7/365. Rather, Jesus offers us abundant life and a relationship of him abiding in us and we in him.

I don’t know if you realize this, but we are constantly being told that we are not enough. Do you realize that literally every single commercial on tv is meant to make you feel like you don’t have enough, you aren’t enough, or that you can be better? And most commercials on the radio do the same thing. What Jesus offers is something different. We are currently living in an empire. Just like Jesus was alive during the time of the Roman empire and ultimately put to death because he was a threat to the empire, we too are living in an empire. Our current empire is that of “not enough.” The Not Enough Empire. Every company, every corporation, even some of the people around us participate in one way or another in telling us we are not enough. Now, this isn’t always done with malicious intent. Sometimes it really is done out of concern or love. But, once you strip away the intent, the flashy colors and jingles, and the really tempting discounts, the message remains the same: you are not enough. Jesus offers us a “right here-right now” life. Meaning, we are complete in Christ just the way we are. We don’t need any product, any procedure, any drug, any vehicle, or pair of jeans to be any better for Jesus. We are enough in him, for him, and because of him.

This life that Christ offers us in body and blood is life abundant. And that is completely contrary to what society desires to give us. In our baptism, we were claimed by God and we continue to be claimed by God every single day. Baptism brings about the “forgiveness of sins, redeems [us] from death and the devil, and give eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promise of God declare” (explanation of baptism in Luther’s Small Catechism). In baptism, we are given and total permission to die to the expectations of this world. We die to the broken record of “not enough.” In baptism and again at communion we are reminded who we are and the message is “you are enough.”

“The words ‘given for you’ and ‘shed for you for the forgiveness of sin’ show us that forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are given to us in the sacrament through these words, because where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (explanation of communion in Luther’s Small Catechism). When God declares to you the forgiveness of your sins through communion, God is declaring you free from all this world desires to label you with, saddle you with, or brand you with. This world wants to point out your scars, your wounds, your faults, your shortcomings, the ways you have failed the world and yourself over and over. Jesus looks at that empire, the one that wants to take us down, and says it is wrong. In communion, the empire of “not enough” is destroyed and we are given and promised new life in three simple words: “given for you.”

Jesus is the living bread. Living bread for living people. Living waters for living people. The bread of life for the life of the people. The waters of life for the life of the people. In a world that constantly tells us we aren’t enough and that we need more in order to be happy, our call as disciples is to smash that empire by declaring that we actually have all we need in water, bread, and wine. And the world will never understand that. The world may think it’s offering us life, but it is only temporary. Eternal life comes through and from one place only and that is in Jesus Christ. We get to see Ryder receive eternal life today. And why? Because “God so loved the world.” And that includes Ryder and that includes us. Thanks be to God!

Sermon for 8/5/18 John 6:24-35

Welcome to week 2 of what I jokingly call our “carb loading” series. I say this because last week, this week, and the next 3 weeks all speak about bread. Last week, I laid a little bit of groundwork for the rest of the weeks. If you missed it, you won’t be far behind. What I hope you remember, or what I want you to remember, is that we are fed to feed. We are fed by God through Jesus Christ in order to feed other people. This feeding is done with food, yes, but with other things as well: a phone call, a visit, a quick text, a letter, a card, a casserole, and on and on. And the great thing is that while we are being fed by Jesus to feed others, others are being fed by Jesus to feed us. This is what the body of Christ looks like. I also invited you to remember or have the verses of John 3:16-17 going through your head as well because I am going to continue referring back to those verses. Luckily for you, I have made this handy-dandy poster cheat-sheet so that you can remember those verses.

Our text for today comes right after the feeding of the 5000 where we had a feast of loaves and fish and enough left over to fill how many baskets? (12) A crowd continues to follow Jesus and when they finally catch up with him, he asks them a question. He says (basically) “are you looking for me and following me because I gave you something to eat and now you want more? Or… are you looking for me because you finally understand I am the son of God and I offer more than bread?” Jesus tells the crowd gathered who he is. He tells the crowd that they must “believe in him whom [God] has sent.” It seems simple enough. But the crowd isn’t pleased with that answer. They say Moses gave us bread in the wilderness. What are you going to do to prove you are who you say you are? The nerve of these people, right? I always believed that when someone shows you who you are, you believe them; or when someone tells you who you are, you believe them.

Then Jesus, meaning no disrespect to Moses, tells them it wasn’t Moses that fed you, it was God! And continues to say “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Because remember, “God so loved the world… Indeed” God sent the Son into the world in “order that the world might be saved through him.” And I love the crowd’s reaction. They say “Sir, give us this bread always.” But, I often hear it more like this “sounds good! Where can we get us some of this bread??” And I have to also imagine Jesus rolling his eyes and wanting to say “guys!! I’m right here!” But instead, we have the very first instant in John where Jesus identifies himself as the “I am.” And what an incredible statement he makes following that “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

So! Wait! Wait! WAIT! The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. AND THEN! Jesus says he is the bread of life! Whoa! We should probably believe Jesus when he says who he is. God, the all knowing, all powerful, all loving, all encompassing being that we profess our faith to week after week, is the same God that sent us Jesus. God is the source of the bread from heaven. And the bread of heaven is Jesus. And God gives us Jesus why? Because God so loved the world. I know this sounds like some kind of crazy circular argument, but I just think that when we see the relationship of God to Jesus and then Jesus to us and this relationship is all because God loves us, then I am going to figure out all the different ways that I can say this until you start to believe it. I am going to keep saying it until I believe it.

Jesus Christ is God’s love letter to the world. Let’s take a brief step back and remember last week’s reading. Jesus fed the 5000, right? If Jesus fed the 5000, and Jesus is from God then wouldn’t the feeding of the 5000 just be another sign of God’s tangible abundant love? God so loved the world that God loved the world and then kept loving the world and then kept loving the world and then…. But there must be a catch, right? There is no way that God can love us that much. I mean, God created us, right? So God must know all of the things we try and hide. God knows our deepest darkest secrets. God knows all of the times we’ve messed up. God knows the depths of our sin. So there’s no way God can love us. There’s no way God should love us. There must be a catch. We feel like there has to be a catch because that is the way we humans love one another.

People have to work to earn our love. You love me and then I’ll love you. Do x,y, and z for me and then I’ll love you. And if we screw it up, we write one another out of each other’s lives. Just like that. But that’s another reason why God is God and we are not. God doesn’t just stop loving us. We may think that God can, should, or even does stop loving us. But it just doesn’t happen. Last week I talked about the idea that we are fed to feed. This is another one of the ways that we are fed: we are fed by the love of God through Jesus Christ. We are so filled up with this love that we then love others. Sometimes that looks like actual love: a hug, a light touch on the hand, the promise of accompaniment. Love can look like forgiveness and reconciliation. Sometimes love sounds like this “I don’t know the answers, but I’ll stick with you until we figure it out.”

God fed us with abundance through Jesus Christ. God fed us with baskets of love. Enough love that there is left overs. We can never have too much love. Then, just when we think we’re full, God, through Jesus Christ, reminds us that Jesus is the bread of life and that we will never hunger or thirst. We will never hunger or thirst for actual food or the food that fills our souls. When we are told God so loved the world, there is no catch. God feeds us with abundance. We do nothing to earn it. We believe in the one who sent us Jesus who continues to offer us love until we really do believe that it is for us and that it really never will run out. When everything around us is chaos, when it feels like the world is coming to an end around us, when we don’t even know right from left, the one thing we can know for sure is the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sermon for 7/8/17 Mark 6:1-13

**NB: the sermon is shorter this week as those of us who attended the ELCA Youth Gathering shared about our experiences. For a full recap, check out our Facebook page: Elvira Zion Lutheran Church. **

 

Last week, 31,000 Lutherans gathered in Houston for the ELCA Youth Gathering under the theme of “This Changes Everything.” The guiding verse for the Gathering was Ephesians 2:8 “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” I assumed that the “this” in “This Changes Everything” was grace. And while that’s not wrong, we also learned that God’s hope, God’s love, God’s grace, and, of course, Jesus changes everything. We heard stories from people that had been changed by God’s hope, grace, and love. We heard of people learning about Jesus and it changed their lives. We were swept away by the infectious music that praised Jesus. And all of us, in one way or another, were changed.

In Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus sends the disciples out to villages to teach. He also gave them “authority over the unclean spirits.” He sent them out very specifically and with specific instructions. They went out in pairs and took nothing with them except a staff, the shoes on their feet, and maybe a tunic (but not two). They were to heal, teach, preach, feed. Basically, they were to be the eyes, hands, and mouth of Jesus. However, the disciples were told that if they did not receive a welcome, to shake the dust off their feet and go on their way. And we may think that is rude, but it is possible that we have all turned away Christ on occasion. Maybe it’s been in the ignoring of the immigration crisis at our borders, thinking poorly of the single parent using a food assistance program, or, sadly, we often ignore Christ when he comes through the voice of our youth.

“What can you possibly know” we say “you’re still so young and have so much to learn.” And we ignore Christ. The dust settles long before we realize our mistakes. So today, my beloved, you will hear from four of your youth. These four were Jesus to me while we were in Houston. I learned with them and from them and I am better because of them and Kristi. And our stories are not just limited to today. What we experienced in Houston will go with us for the rest of our lives. And sometimes our stories will be welcomed. We’ll be offered a seat at the table, something to eat, and space to tell how we encounter Jesus. And other times, we will be shooed away and will have to shake the dust off our feet. That won’t detour us. When Jesus changes you, as he has for the 6 of us, and, I hope, all of you, you will go to any lengths to share the good news that God’s love, hope, and grace, and most importantly, God’s son, Jesus, does, in fact, change everything.

Sermon for 5/27/18 John 3:1-17; Holy Trinity Sunday

As you know, I spent the last week in Washington DC on continuing education. It was a wonderful time that did a lot to feed my soul. One of the things I enjoy most about the conference is the little nuggets of wisdom I pick up here and there. New ways of thinking about scripture; new ways of singing an old familiar hymn; new words to traditional prayers. It helps me to not only be a better Pastor, but it strengthens my faith as well. But, what I really benefit from is the activities that don’t take place during the conference time. I met new friends walking from church to church. I got reconnected with old friends I only see at this conference. I got to have lunch with other young clergy women. I got to show off pictures of Ellen to my fellow pastor moms. I met 2 lovely Canadian women who told me they would adopt me. I told them they would have to take that up with you. But all of these encounters just affirmed what I feel is one of God’s greatest gifts: relationships.

I want to share a few quotes from the week with you as we start to think about scripture today, and the fact that we have yet another baptism, AND the fact that today we mark Holy Trinity Sunday. First, from Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, he said “we are not called to be religious, we are called to be faithful.” And then, we heard from Senator Cory Booker. He came to offer some brief remarks. Senator Booker is from New Jersey. He was speaking of his relationship with his former Governor, Chris Christie. He said that he and the Governor could be no further away in regards to politics and that they disagree on almost everything. But, said Senator Booker “I don’t look first at our disagreements. I look first at his divinity. I look at the divine in him to remind me that we are all made in the image of God.” And I wondered how our relationships might change if we were to look at the divine first instead of looking at our disagreements.

I love technology. I love technology almost to a fault. My love of technology is almost sinful in that it can take over and interfere with my relationship with God. But, technology has done nothing for us in regards to our relationships. When my grandmother died, my father lamented that not as many cards or phone calls came. Instead, people expressed condolences on Facebook. The same goes for birthdays. Social media and the internet allows us to be a part of one another’s lives without actually having to have face to face interactions. What kind of relationship is that? We are building relationships that keep one another at arm’s length. We keep others far enough to remain guarded and protected, and close enough to give the illusion of relationship and community. It is usually only when we experience a genuine crisis that we finally realize the gift of reciprocal relationships.

Today, the church marks Holy Trinity Sunday. And often, well meaning Pastors (like myself) try to explain the Holy Trinity and end up making nothing but a mess. It happens when trying to explain how God the Father is also God the Son is also God the Holy Spirit. Instead, what I want you to help me ponder today is how the Holy Trinity, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a fantastic example of what it means to be in relationship with one another. God cannot be the Father without the Son and Holy Spirit. God cannot be Son without the Father and Holy Spirit. God cannot be the Holy Spirit without the Father and the Son. And rest assured, my beloved, it’s okay if you don’t understand this Holy Trinity thing. Because remember, we are not called to be religious, we are called to be faithful. You don’t need to understand the Holy Trinity in order to be faithful. All that matters is that you know the three persons of the Trinity and that they are in relationship with one another.

The thing about the Holy Trinity is that it is a constant and ever changing relationship. Not one of the persons is always in charge. Sometimes it’s the Father, other times the Son, sometimes the Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity cannot be without one another. And leaving is not an option. Part of being in relationship with one another is seeing the Divine in one another. Any more, it is far too easy to walk away from relationships without a second thought. You post something on Facebook I don’t like? Unfriend. You tweet something I don’t agree with? Unfollow. Being in relationship with one another isn’t easy work, my beloved. And I feel that instead of putting in the time and effort to do the difficult work, we just walk away. We view fellow creations of God, fellow children of God, our fellow siblings of Christ and say “you’re not worth it” and walk away. Sometimes without even a second thought. We forget that we are bound together. We forget that the Kingdom of Heaven is for ALL believers, whether we like it or not. We forget that we need one another. I cannot be me without you and, sorry to say, you cannot be you without me.

And yes, being in relationship with one another can cause tension. It can cause heartache. It can also cause joy and great amounts of peace. Just like you cannot be you without me and I cannot be me without you, so we, the body of Christ, cannot be one without each other. It is to us, the body of Christ, to follow the example of the Holy Trinity, and continue the difficult, challenging, but rewarding work of being in relationship with one another. It is easy, ooooh too easy, to vilify the other when we have not taken the time to know the other. And when we don’t take time to know the other, we cannot and will not ever be able to see the Divine in the other. If we cannot see the Divine in one another, then people will not be able to see the Divine in us. And that, my beloved, should make us worry.

In baptism, we are tied to one another. Hunter joins us today as another member of this community. In the waters of baptism God will claim him as God’s own. And we, we as the community of Christ, will make a promise to never give up on him. There are plenty of other places in society quick to give up on one another. The church should not, cannot, and if possible, will not be one of these places. Re Engage. Get to know your neighbor. Learn people’s story. Look past the labels we place on one another and that society places on us and instead, look at the Divine. God doesn’t need another gatekeeper. God doesn’t need another person using the Bible as a weapon. God doesn’t need people who want to limit God’s love. God wants beloved children of God who believe in the redemptive, life-giving power of community and relationship. God wants workers in the vineyard who see everyone’s value instead of complaining. God wants those who will look to the margins and say “I see you. I value you. You are part of God’s creation.” God desires a relationship with us. In your heart, it doesn’t matter if you understand the 3 in 1 and 1 in 3. Do you have room in your heart, instead, for me? And her? And him? And the homeless? And the undocumented? And the deported?? And the advocate? And the black? And the blue? And the trans? Because if we’re going to pray thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven, we best be prepared usher in that kingdom arm in arm. We better practice loving one another now because in God’s kingdom there are no classes or velvet ropes. And we must start being in relationship with one another because the work of discipleship gets very lonely.