Sermon for 2/18/18 Mark 1:9-15 Lent 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ash Wednesday 2018; Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21

We come fully prepared, or so we think

Privately prepared for this public outing

Fasting on our mind, alms prepared, personal piety on lockdown

Oil is on our heads, our faces are washed. We are ready.

And then you meet us here, Lord

All of the preparations in the world can’t

Measure up to that face to face moment.

You see us. You see the real us, the real me.

The me you’ve loved from first splash to now.

You see what we’re trying to hide with all of these

Preparations

You see our secrets

You see our shame

We knew we couldn’t hide. But we tried.

You find us. You seek us out

Have mercy on us

We tremble in fear and are knocked to our knees

Humbled, but not humiliated

Thankful. Prayerful. Remorseful.

We thought we were prepared.

But in prayer, you find us.

In the meal, you find us.

In the darkness, you find us.

You always find us, Lord.

Sin is a disruption to our daily lives.

We can’t escape it by ourselves.

You are the only thing to set us free with your cross shaped key

We have failed in the ways you have called us.

We were silent in the face of injustice.

We were complacent in times of persecution

We were frozen when the moment needed movement.

We weren’t who you created us to be.

We desire to do good and fail.

We desire to love and instead judge.

We desire to serve and instead become self serving.

Forgive us. We beg of you, forgive us Lord.

We follow you from death to life

And our life now has meaning.

The only bags we need are the ones you fill with mercy

Grace

And love

The next 40 days we will hear of your travels,

Of your healing

Of your teaching, preaching, and learning.

And we will hear of your entry into Jerusalem

Shouts of “Hosanna in the highest!”

Will quickly escalate into

“Crucify him”

Our voices carry, but we’ll deny like Peter

We’ll say it wasn’t us but then the cock will crow

And yet

Yet

You meet us here.

In all of our brokenness

In all of our lost promises

In all of our failed attempts at love.

You meet us here.

And somehow. Some way

We are reminded

That we are yours.

That we’ve always been yours

That we will always be yours

You rescue us from ourselves

You save us from our sin

You remind us that we belong to you

You have marked us with the cross

And sealed us with the Holy Spirit

We are dust

And to dust we shall return

 

Sermon for 2/4/18 Mark 1:29-39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon for 1/28/18 Mark 1:21-28

I have not shied away in sharing with all of you my struggles with mental health or “brain health” as I like to call it. I don’t do this because I am hoping you will care for me, although I always welcome your prayers. I share my struggles with brain health in the hopes that if you struggle with your brain health, you will feel a little less alone. Whenever any of us battle anything, whether it’s the common cold, cancer, brain health issues, loneliness, or even financial troubles, there is something wonderful in knowing we are not alone. The wilderness is a lonely, scary place to be. To know that we are not there alone can help to keep us going. I have no doubt that we all have some kind of struggle. Some of you have shared your struggles with me or even the majority of the congregation. You know the power of prayer and the power of community. But, I also have no doubt that some of you in the pews this morning are struggling and you pray no one finds out. Maybe you are having marital issues. Maybe you justify that one more drink you take every night. Maybe you too are struggling with brain health issues. Whatever it may be, you’ve kept quiet.

Usually we have a lot of excuses for keeping quiet. We don’t want to bother people; we don’t want to be a burden on anyone. We don’t like the idea of people worrying about us. Maybe we’re just private people and prefer to keep struggles to ourselves. But, often, way too often in fact, we keep quiet because of one major issue: shame. Even though common sense will tell us otherwise, when you are the one in the middle of a struggle storm, the brain has the power to lie to you. You will hear lies like “no one will understand.” Or “you’re gonna lose friends over this one.” My brain through my depression and anxiety lies to me all the time. It tells me things like “you’re a terrible mother” or “that’s a dumb idea.” Let us not kid ourselves, friends. These voices are real for many of us and they are nothing but Satan trying to win us over.

The story that we hear in today’s Gospel reading is the first act of public ministry performed by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. Yes, he called the disciples (we heard that last week). But this is Jesus actually doing the things Jesus is known for while in the company of other people. This act is basically an exorcism. Jesus’ first act of public ministry is to engage with an unclean man. Jesus’ first act of public ministry is to go someplace where no one else will. I don’t know if you have ever thought about this, but our society, Americans especially, spend a lot of time and money trying to keep up the perception that we are clean. We have entire aisles filled with various kinds of soap. We have soap for our hair, bodies, clothes, dishes, floors, pets, furniture, cars, and on and on. To be called “dirty” is still considered an insult. We are obsessed with being clean. Many in our society still don’t want to engage with those that are “dirty.”

We may look at the homeless, the drug addicted, the prostitutes, the undocumented, or the working poor and only see their dirtiness. As if touching these people would cause us to catch homelessness or being poor or whatever. They are dirty and we’d rather ignore or brush them off. But Jesus saw the man who was in a synagogue with unclean spirits and instead of brushing him off, Jesus rebuked those spirits to leave the man. Let me review really quickly here: the man was in a synagogue, a church, and we hear of no one before Jesus attempting to help him. This wasn’t just an issue in Jesus’ time. People who we might classify as “dirty” often come to church and we as the church turn them away. We may not actually turn them away, but we turn them away with our actions (or inactions), unkind words, or judgemental looks. We don’t want “them” in our pews.

But, in his first act of public ministry, Jesus crosses boundaries. Jesus starts his ministry by showing us exactly who he is and exactly what he is willing to do. Christ goes to the places where no one else wants to go. In his ministry, Christ is going to encounter many battlefields. He is going to be challenged on the road, in synagogues, in Rome, in front of crowds, in front of Pharisees, and on and on. It is interesting to me that the first battlefield Christ engages in is the human body. Because no place is off limits to Christ. Before Christ takes on various kingdoms, God, through Jesus Christ, enters the body to go to battle for us. I don’t know about you, my beloved, but this is good news for me.

I need that word of hope desperately. I need that promise that Christ will save me from myself. I need to hear that Christ thinks I am worthy of going to battle for. Our salvation is nothing but a relationship with God. And it’s nothing we can do. It’s an ongoing relationship where we trust that God is already active in our lives and trust that God is working in our favor. It’s acknowledging that there are parts of us that are unclean, but that those parts have no hope against Jesus Christ. I need to hear that I am not alone, and maybe you do too. And by knowing that Christ will go to the ends of the earth for me and for you, that promise of accompaniment is real. Because, as far as Christ is concerned, there is no one that is unclean. There is no one that is lost that can’t be found. There is no one that is fighting something alone.

God starts fighting for you from the moment you are splashed. In her baptism today, Zara will receive a promise that no matter what she goes through, Jesus is going to fight for her. We all have received that promise in our own baptisms, but maybe we just need to hear it again. Maybe we need to hear that promise again for ourselves. So hear this, my beloved. You are not alone. There is nothing that you are enduring that you are enduring alone. No matter what terrible lies and evil thoughts Satan tries to whisper in your ear, you are not alone. You are never alone. Your battles are being fought by more than just you. And if you fight the evils of this world and it brings death, Christ still has won. I know that there are some whose demons make this earth feel more like hell. In death, Christ wins. In death, we are freed from anything anything that may have held us hostage on earth. The demons in this story today are the same many of us still fight today. And here’s the thing: the demons recognize Jesus. They know who he is, but they don’t worship him, trust him, obey him, or love him like we do. And our love for Christ has no bearing on whether or not he will go to battle for us because he always will.

Christ will cross any barrier, any border, any obstacle that comes between us and the ability to love Christ fully. And Christ does this because you’re worth fighting for. Do you hear me, my beloved? You are worth fighting for. No matter what demons you are fighting today, no matter what demons you may fight tomorrow, Christ is with you. Christ is with you through water and the Holy Spirit. Christ is with you through bread and wine. And Christ is with you no matter how strong the demons may try to be. Christ is with you because you are worth fighting for. If you were worth dying for, which you are, then you’re most definitely worth fighting for.

Sermon for 12/24/17 Luke 1:26-38; Advent 4

This is one of my secrets but is also not a secret: I love Broadway showtunes. I can be found often rocking out to Rogers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Weber, and most recently: Lin Manuel Miranda. So, there’s a popular little musical on Broadway right now, you may have heard of it. It’s called “Hamilton.” And yes, it’s the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of this country’s founding fathers and the guy on the $10. And of course, as I was listening to the soundtrack this week for the 1000th time, I heard something that made me think of today’s text. So, I want to share this with you. The song is called “History Has Its Eyes on You.” George Washington needs some help, finally after some convincing, he callson Alexander Hamilton. What follows is this song. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDeWJ0SiFCA)

I thought about Mary. Did she know? Did she know that history would have its eyes on her? Did she know that we would discuss her for years to come? She had no control, as the song said, of who would tell her story. And so, here we are, telling her story. Thousands of years later, we tell Mary’s story. And history still has its eyes on her. Did she have any idea? From the first time the angel greeted her with “greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” her life changed. Because really, up until then, she probably wasn’t considered a favored one. She was female. She was young. She wasn’t rich. She wasn’t extraordinary. She was ordinary. But in her ordinariness, she was found to be favored. She was like us: sinner and saint at the same time. And yet somehow, she was part of the work of God. And so are we.

While Mary is the mother of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, she was also a nobody. I don’t say that to be disrespectful. But until the angel Gabriel came to her, she was a nobody. And believe it or not, this is good news for us. Because if God can look upon Mary, who society would have looked at as a nobody, then God can look upon us. God chose Mary because she had nothing. God is going to become the incarnate Lord; Jesus will be fully human and fully divine. And out of all the people in the world, God chose Mary. Mary was, in her own words, poor and lowly. God’s coming reign which will consist of justice and mercy is embodied in Mary. The salvation of the whole world will be born by a nobody. And despite her confusion and a little bit of fear, Mary says “here I am….let it be.”

If we think that God is not going to find us, call us, come for us, or have expectations of us just because we try to keep a quiet lifestyle, we live in a quiet place, and try and live boring, unassuming lives, then we are terribly wrong. History has its eyes on us too. It’s exactly in the unexpected that God shows up. God shows up in the unexpected places. God shows up to unexpected people. God shows up at unexpected times. God shows up with unexpected reason. And every time God shows up, it takes us by surprise and we can’t but not respond. We may go through the same emotions as Mary: perplexed, confused, thoughtful, and/or afraid. But how amazing will our lives be after all those feelings, we finally settle into the incarnation promise and respond to God with “here I am….let it be.” We can try and fight God’s call on our lives, but remember, we have no control who tells our story.

We have every right to question God. Mary did. But there’s a difference in questioning God and doubting God. We have all had those but “how can this be” moments. But nothing is impossible with God. And yes, we try to get in God’s way and our own way time after time. We  put up our own blocks. We fight the call on our lives that God has for each and every single one of us. “Not me, God…you must mean someone else.” But no! Greatness lies in you. God is calling on each and every one of us for a purpose, for a time, and for a place. We can either remain scared and afraid, or listen and respond to God. But, what kind of a life do we end up living if we walk through life completely scared and afraid? God’s way is to call on a nobody and make their life a something and make them a somebody. We may have no control over who tells our stories, but God does. God already has our story written. God had Mary’s story written. When Gabriel came calling, Mary’s story took an unexpected turn and she rose to greatness. History still has their eyes on her.

God had a very large job and expectation of Mary. For her, it might have seemed unachievable. But, we’ve all been there. God might have called on us to do something, walk with someone, serve God’s people in some form and we may have said “ain’t no way.” But we are reminded, just as Mary was, that the Holy Spirit, who later is scripture is called “the advocate” is with us. God’s power will overshadow us. This should be a comfort to Mary and to us that when we encounter overwhelming expectations, God is already there to encourage us. And yes, you have no control who lives, who dies, or who tells your story. But, you do have control over you. You have the ability to say yes to God. You have the ability to respond to God’s call that may seem impossible to anyone else, but with God nothing is impossible. You have the power of the Holy Spirit behind you. You have Jesus Christ, God incarnate born into this world and crucified on the cross as proof of God’s love. Maybe the miracle we all need this Christmas, this fourth Sunday of Advent, my beloveds, is to be brave enough, bold enough, and courageous enough to say “here I am … let it be” and watch the Holy Spirit attain miracles through us. History has its eyes on us.

Sermon for 10/29/17 John 8:31-36 Confirmation

Today is a day that is 500 years in the making. Now, I say that not because Ciera, Emma, and Tristan feel like they participated in confirmation for what probably felt like 500 years. I say that because we finally are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. A then Catholic monk by the name of Martin Luther had diligently studied scripture and observed that what he read and how the church acted seemed to be in contradiction with one another. During Luther’s time, to go against the church was looked at like going against God directly. The church was more than the church. It served as local government, tax collector, sometimes a clothing or food source, and even a place to receive health care. To argue with the church was like arguing with the president, every member of congress, and your doctor all at the same time. And I’ve said this before, but Luther didn’t set out to start the reformation. He was trying to be true to who and what God called him to be. Through his prolific readings of the Bible he thought that what the word of God said was true, no questions asked. “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

As the students prepared to write their faith statements, what was essentially asked of them was for them to answer the question “what do you know to be truth about God?” So I ask you, my beloveds, what do you know to be the truth about God? I feel like I say this all the time, but what these three confirmands did by writing these statements of faith isn’t something that is remotely easy. It’s not something many of us could do. To sit down and literally write about what you know to be true about God is hard. But once you know what you believe to be true, that truth can set you free. Once you know your truth of God you are freed from expectations, freed from disappointment, and freed from the temptation to chase false gods.

And much like what we mark today, it is okay for your truth to be reformed. After all, we are creatures that benefit from experience, education, and our contexts. What you believed about God as a young child may not be what you believe now. God constantly reforms us. What you believe to be true about God doesn’t have to be complex. It doesn’t have to be a novel. It doesn’t even have to be 95 things you believe to be true about God. All it needs to be is the truth. The thing about your truth is it is just that: your truth. So, if I say “I believe that God is a sassy African-American female with rainbow colored hair” can you really point me to a verse in the Bible that would prove me wrong?

Here are some of the truths our students shared with us in their faith statements. “Without God nothing is possible…God’s love is always with me no matter what. … God must have a plan for me.” Another said [God] “will always love me, forgive me, and always be with me … God also helps me remember what is important in life … [God] is good and [God] has the power to help me. … God gives me hope to believe in myself.” This is good stuff, right? Our final faith statement shared what they believe to be true about God by saying “every day God’s love is with me. … I always have God’s love and forgiveness to look forward to. … I feel God’s love … God’s has a different plan than I may have expected … I know God will light the way … The biggest asset in life is God.” These truths for our three confirmands have done something amazing. It has set them free.

I find that many people want to deal in certainty. We enjoy knowing that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. We know that come April, the Cubs will start playing baseball again. We know for sure that on Christmas eve we will sing “Silent Night.” There is something comforting about certainty. So to know for certain what you believe is the truth about God can be comforting and it can set you free. As I said before, this truth doesn’t have to be rocket science. I often call it my “elevator speech” or my “tweet speech.” What I believe about God to be true can be said in an elevator ride or 1-2 tweets. I believe that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God promises God’s love to all people. End of story. That is what I believe to be true. And oh my goodness, what I believe to be true about God has reformed over the years. For the longest time, I didn’t believe that God did or could love me. I didn’t know about grace. I thought that God was angry and vengeful and that I would somehow pay dearly for every single sin, no matter how large or small.

But the truth, my truth about God, has led to freedom that only comes from God and comes from believing God to be loving and full of mercy. What will your truth about God do for you? What kind of truths will reform your thinking? What kind of truth might even reform your relationship with God? What kinds of truth will set you free? And even after we come to know the truth about God will we still mess it up? Absolutely! We will continue to put our trust in things and people that are not life giving. We will invest in time that will be wasted. We may even attempt to accomplish our goals and aspirations all by ourselves. And we will fail. Sin is tricky like that.

These young people today are making an affirmation of their faith and their baptismal promises. Their faith may be reformed over the next few years, but they are bold enough to stand in front of all of us today and declare what they know to be the truth about God. And their lives are changed for it. Ciera, Emma, and Tristan, I want to thank you. Thank you for trusting me with your questions and curiosities. Thank you for your amusing snap chat sermon notes. Thank you for being willing to try new things. Thank you for loving yourselves and God enough to go through this process. I pray that the truth you now know and believe about God has set you free.

Sermon for 10/8/17 Matthew 21:33-46

I’ve thought a lot about fences this week. Weird, I know. I keep thinking about the Robert Frost poem, “Mending Wall.” In it, he wrote “good fences make good neighbors.” I’ve also been thinking about borders and walls, all types of barriers we construct or that are constructed for us. This week has brought us some horrific violence once again. Much like the news reporters, I get so tired of addressing issues like this from the pulpit. And sure, it’d be easy to say “then don’t do it, Pastor.” Well, the fact is, the kingdom of God has been disrupted and hurt. I cannot simply ignore real, tangible pain in the world. For me, that would be like ignoring Christ himself. And it is during times like this that we may be tempted to build fences, either real or metaphorical, to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. We build fences out of fear, love, knowledge, anger, distrust, and reality among many other things.

So why all this talk about fences? Well, our gospel of course. Among many other things, the gospel story mentions a fence. And here’s the thing. When Jesus tells parables, he’s very specific and the details are for a reason, a purpose. Why did it matter that the vineyard had a fence around it? Why did Jesus include this really important detail? Maybe those hearing this parable wouldn’t have thought anything of it at the time. Maybe to have a fence during Jesus’ time was code for something else. But, as always, there was a method to Jesus’ madness. So let’s talk a little more about this, shall we?

I know many of you have fences on your property. Please hear me from the beginning here, I am not saying that actual fences are a bad thing. Many of you have fences for practical purposes: they keep your livestock where they belong. Without fences there might be more car versus cow accidents. Or maybe you have a fence to keep the critters out of your garden. Perhaps you have a fence to keep the dogs or kids in the yard where you can see them. Or maybe you’re lucky enough to have a pool and you need to have a fence for safety reasons. With the cost of a fence these days, the decision to put one up isn’t one that is willy-nilly. People usually think hard about it and do research before just putting up a fence. I know that a fence is also rarely maintenance free.

But, we also put up metaphorical fences and walls in our lives. We may not realize that is what we are doing because it often gets done in the name of safety and protection. These types of fences are more to keep people out than to keep things in. Maybe this looks like avoiding a certain area of town after dark. Maybe this looks like crossing the street when you see someone on the same sidewalk in the distance that you don’t like the looks of. Maybe this looks like double checking to make sure you still have your wallet or purse when you’re in the company of certain people. These are all metaphorical fences and when we do things like this in the name of safety and protection, the message that we send to other children of God is “I’m safe and okay… you however, need to be judged and vetted before I let you in.”

And the vineyard owner in today’s parable had a fence for whatever reason. But, in the end, the vineyard owner lost some of his slaves because they were murdered. He lost his own son to murder. In addition to that, he lost profit. He originally sent the slaves to collect some of the produce. This was very customary for that time. But the tenants weren’t having any of it. The vineyard owner had lost everything that was possible to lose. A fence didn’t make the difference. All the time and money to keep his investment safe did no good. Much like previous parables, we may want to see ourselves in the role of the landowner, or the slaves, maybe even the landowner’s son. We certainly don’t see ourselves like the tenants.

If we dive a little deeper into this parable, we may discover that this is more allegorical than a parable. The landowner is God. The slaves are the prophets. The landowner’s son is Jesus. The tenants is the established government. The vineyard is the kingdom of God. God trusts us to tend to the kingdom of God. And with the best intentions in our hearts, we build fences. We build fences by just flat out not being church. We build fences when we question someone’s ability to serve God based on gender alone (I get this a lot because I’m female). We build fences when we deny the validity of relationships because they are between two people of the same gender. We build fences when we give each other the “up and down” observing what one another is wearing. We build fences when we turn people away from this table for whatever reason. We build fences in the name of kingdom-keeping when really building fences destroys the kingdom of God.

I mean, if there is any place that should be without barriers, it would be the kingdom of God. We know, or at least I hope we know, that we serve a God who is all about breaking down barriers. And we build them up anyway. What do we think we’re protecting when we build walls in the kingdom of God? Who do we think we’re protecting? Do we really think that we know the kingdom better than God and so we build walls? How self centered are we? Our sin causes us to build walls and barriers in the name of safety, trust, and protection. But here’s the thing. The kingdom of God is open to all. Who are we protecting? God doesn’t need protecting. Which leads me to believe that the only people we’re protecting is ourselves. And when we start to build walls and barriers in the name of religion, we can quickly diminish from religion into cult.

I understand that the world is a scary place. 59 souls are no longer with us after that was confirmed once again this past week in Vegas. It’s tempting, and almost too easy to hold your loved ones close, lock the doors, build walls, keep to yourselves, all in the name of safety, protection, and privacy. But what ultimately keeps us safe is God. Sometimes the people we need protection from is ourselves; only God can do that. When we need the walls around our hearts broken so that we are able to fully experience the love and joy of this world, only God can do that. When we need the courage to break down the barriers that stop us from loving our neighbors and serving the world around us, only God can do that. And when we get weary from breaking down the barriers in this world that God has called us to break down and we need rest, only God can provide that.

Do “good fences make good neighbors?” Maybe. But, I’ve never been able to call on a fence for a cup of sugar or to watch my dog or water my flowers. God designed us to live and be in community. The more we fence ourselves in, the more we rob ourselves of those opportunities. There is a lot of evil in the world. That evil tempts us daily to block out everyone else, even those who wish to love us and help us. And yes, it’s smart to be on guard and be aware. But don’t do it at the cost of making yourself an island. We are called to be keepers of the kingdom, not build a fence around it. What I am proposing this day is what God has called us to do all along: take the risk of opening yourself up to love. Take the risk of loving someone else. Get to know other children of God. Break down walls of suspicion and build bridges of hope instead. Destroy walls of injustice, and help build systems of equality instead. Defeat fences made out of the “isms” of life and build life lines of love instead. This isn’t necessarily hard work, we just keep putting up walls. God will tear those down and show us our next steps.