Sermon for 8/12/18 John 6:35, 41-51

I am continuing our series today that focuses on being fed to feed using these bread of life discourses throughout John 6. I’ve been calling it “carb loading” since Jesus seems to be talking a lot about bread. No worries, this will continue for a few more weeks. As an extension of what we’ve been talking about I am going to focus a bit more on relationships today. My friend Steffen and I have been friends since we were in 7th grade, so 12 or 13 or so. We have been through a lot together. He was in our wedding. He was one of the first people I told I was going to seminary. We share a wonderful sense of humor and both value not only this friendship, but friendships in general. He also likes to torture me by sending me screen shots of my sermon from Facebook with me making weird looking faces almost every single Sunday. And I do believe that God brings people in our lives for a moment, a season, or a lifetime. Steffen and I are lifetime friends.

I hope you all have lifetime friends in your life. These are the folks you know you can count on no matter what. These are the people who have seen you at your best and at your worst. These are people who (as I jokingly tell Steffen) aren’t getting rid of you now because they know too much. We cover a variety of topics in church but one thing we may not talk about a lot is relationships. We talk about the bible, communion, baptisms, even bathrooms (at least around here) but we don’t talk a lot about relationships. I think this comes from the relationships we have being easy and not that we don’t have any relationships. In fact, maybe you don’t even think of the relationships you have at church as relationships and perhaps that’s because there are so many of you that are related. We’ve got the Petersen’s, the Petersen’s, and the Petersen’s, unless, that is, you’re a Peterson. Don’t ask me “Howe” they’re all related, Mommsen’s the word.

But,I think because we have so many families in the congregation, that is what makes our congregation so unique. The friendships made are real, and people are friends because of biological connections and maybe in spite of biological connections. People have often referred to these relationships as church family. If you have a wonderful, life-giving, biological family, seeing church as a family can be comforting. If your biological family or family of origin wasn’t that great, church as a family can be troubling. One of the biggest components of being a Christian and being a disciple is being willing to be in relationship with one another. We are fed by our relationships that are grounded in Christ and then, in joy, we feed others (and are fed by others) so that our relationships grow and the kingdom of God grows.

Three times in this text, Jesus refers to himself as bread. He says “I am the bread of life” twice (6:35, 48) and the “living bread that came down from heaven” (6:51). The people that would have heard Jesus speaking of himself like this at this time would have had a bit of historical context. When Jesus spoke of himself as manna, that should have set off little light bulbs for those gathered. Manna isn’t just a meal. Manna wasn’t a snack that got the Israelites through a tough time in the desert. Manna was literally a life saving meal. Had the Israelites not gotten manna in the form of food or drink directly from God, they would have died. But, God offered the Israelites manna in the wilderness despite the fact that the Israelites did not trust God to provide for them. God provided anyway. In the same way, Jesus provided for 5000 people with plenty to eat with leftovers. And why? Because God so loved the world (see John 3:16-17).

Both the Israelites who received manna from heaven and the Jews who received bread and fish for days were saved by God, literal salvation from God, but neither group has learned to trust in God. Well thank goodness we’re not like the Israelites or the Jews! Oh wait…. When Jesus says that those who believe will have eternal life what he could be saying (or what it could be translated as) is those who trust will have eternal life. God, through the actions, words, and movements of Jesus Christ keeps showing us over and over and over again that we should trust that God is who God says and that Jesus is who he says he is. In short, God desires a relationship with us. And the kind of relationship desires with us is a lifetime one, not a relationship for a moment or a season. Jesus is the living bread. Those that believe in Jesus are promised an eternal life. Again, in short, those who believe are promised a relationship.

If we are going to take seriously what Jesus says (and we should) then we believe that he really is the bread of life that is sent from God. Because God so loved the world. God didn’t send us Jesus, the bread of life, the living bread, so that we simply can get by and be okay. God sent us Jesus so that we may thrive and truly live. Because “God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God loved Jesus and sent us Jesus. And then Jesus loved us, all the way to the cross and beyond. This means that God loves us as well. This is a relationship.

Unlike our human relationships, the one that God has with us never ends. It may have its moments where it is reciprocal. But often, it is God that has a hold of us and not the other way around. Many Christian denominations will encourage (almost borderline demand) that you have a personal relationship with Jesus or with God. Here’s the problem with that: many times it sounds like we are doing all the work. “I’m reading my bible to get closer to God” or “praying makes me feel like I’m one with Jesus” even “serving others makes my faith grow and my relationship with God becomes stronger.” While all of these are fine in theory, the relationship is mainly on us when we use that kind of language. Then, when life goes wrong, as it can, will, and does, we blame ourselves and our lack of faith. God does not look for opportunities to punish us. For God so loved the world includes us.

Rather, the relationship God has with us is all about God. God will always be holding us, reaching out to us, comforting us, loving us, providing for us, no matter what we do. This bread of life, this bread that came down from heaven is for us, and it is given to us, and the only thing we have to do is believe. And if we struggle with belief, God will find another way to help us understand. Why in the world do you think we’re spending 5 weeks hearing all the different ways that Jesus talked about himself being bread. He was going to keep doing it until the disciples, the Jews, and all gathered believed it. Jesus is going to keep telling and showing us who he is until we believe it. It is a relationship of a lifetime that feeding us so that we can feed other people. This bread of life stuff isn’t just literal life saving bread and drink in the middle of a desert journey. It isn’t just wheat, water, and a little of this and that to get us through the day.

Jesus, the true bread of life sustains our souls. It is the thing that reminds us at the end of the day that we still belong to someone even if we think we have no one. When Jesus declares that he is the bread of life he is speaking of more than food that feeds our bellies, he is speaking of more than food that feeds our souls, he is also speaking about food that feeds our hearts with the gift of relationship. And this relationship of God to Jesus and then Jesus to us has the ability to keep us fed for life so that we can feed others. Because again, God so loved the world. We are in relationship with the Triune God and we are in relationship with one another; bread for the world and bread for one another.

Advertisements

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 6/24/18 Mark 4:35-41

So I will admit that I struggled and have continued to struggle with scripture this week. Did you know that Pastors do that? Knowing what to say to you week after week isn’t always easy. I pray a lot and listen to the Holy Spirit. But, sometimes like Job, I wrestle with God and with scripture. Many times, it is personal. I know what I need to say, but I don’t want to say it (mainly because I don’t want to hear it). Or I have a lot of people telling me what I should say, but they don’t know you like I know you. Sometimes I even know what I want to say but I just can’t find the right words to say it. Often, it is a combination of all of those things. This week, I wrestled a lot with faith versus fear. I didn’t like that they seemed to be pitted up against one another. Why can I not be faithful and have fear? Just because I am afraid doesn’t mean I’m don’t have faith. Does it?

I was always taught that a healthy amount of fear was good. It’s good to fear a lake you can’t see the bottom of. It’s good to fear going to a new country, new place, or when meeting new friends. I think fear keeps us aware of who we are and whose we are. But, lately, I think that fear is causing us to build walls and keep people away. Thanks to the news, social media, and pretty much everything that surrounds us, we have been drowning in messages of the “other” being dangerous. We are sinking in messages that we need to fear not being loved, not being enough, not measuring up, and being left out or left behind. It doesn’t have to be anything major, either. There’s the fear that our teeth aren’t white enough, our hair thick enough, that we don’t drive the right car, and that we don’t smell the right way. If we let it, fear can control our lives.

The disciples were in a group of boats sailing across the sea of Galilee when a storm blew up out of nowhere. The sea does that on occasion. It is nothing if not unpredictable. It’s easy to forget that this wouldn’t have been strange for the disciples. After all, most of them were fishermen, remember? They knew the power of the sea. But let’s talk about the setting for a moment. It was night. Their boats were more like fishing boats than luxurious cruise liners. A great storm had blown up. The winds were fierce. There would have been tremendous waves that ebbed and flowed. The sailors must have known that they might have to literally abandon ship in order to be saved. This was a serious storm. So when the disciples woke Jesus, it wasn’t a timid, reserved, or even polite “teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” It was probably more of a “TEACHER!! DO YOU NOT CARE THAT WE ARE PERISHING?!?” And, as Jesus has done thus far in the stories that we have heard from Mark’s gospel, he doesn’t follow the rules.

Jesus doesn’t start throwing buckets of water out of the boat. He doesn’t console the disciples. He doesn’t prepare to abandon ship. Instead, he rebuked the wind and demanded peace of the sea. And it happened. The disciples went from “holy mackerel we’re gonna die” to “holy mackerel who is this guy?” in a matter of moments. Jesus didn’t calm the storm as much as he showed dominion over it. This leaves the disciples, and us, perhaps, to struggle not so much with the question of what Jesus is or what he can do to who Jesus is (and what does that mean for us). I also have to wonder if part of the disciples awe was a disbelief that someone with Jesus’ powers would be associated with such a ragtag group of guys. “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” And if he is capable of such things, what in the world is he doing with us?

Perhaps Jesus says what he says to the disciples because they had seen proof of his identity several times before. They had seen what he was capable of. This wasn’t his first miracle with the disciples as witnesses. After all, this group of 12 was to be his “insiders.” Perhaps they even thought they fully understood Jesus and who he was. But, fear won over and they forgot everything that they had learned up to this point. The disciples have been front-row witnesses to everything that Jesus had done up to now. If they can’t figure out who Jesus is, what hope do we have?I wonder, then, if the lesson that Jesus is trying to teach us, and the disciples, is to never get too comfortable.

We should never rest to assured on our “Christian” laurels. We may assume we know and/or understand how Jesus would react to a certain situation, but we would most likely find ourselves in the wrong. I think the real fear in our lives should be any confidence we have in answering with vigor “I know what Jesus would do.” Because often our idea of what Jesus would do is colored by our own biases and misconceptions. I also wrestle with this idea: do we fear Jesus because we don’t know what he will do or do we fear Jesus because we think he would do the same as we would do? I don’t know that I have a clear cut answer to that one. As soon as Jesus exercises dominion over the storm, the disciples realized that he wasn’t as much of a what as he was a who. And once again, Jesus reminds us that he is all about relationships.

I’ve come to realize I fear the most when I don’t trust. It’s not as much of a faith issue as it is a trust issue. And the only way we learn to trust is in relationship. And this includes relationships even with things we may not think we can have a relationship with. You might have seen we got a new camper. I am going to learn to trust that camper by spending time with it, learning its noises (and what they mean), finding out all the ins and outs of it. We do the same with one another. We learn to trust one another as we spend time with one another. Trust and faith then slowly go hand in hand. We often say “I have faith in you” when really what we mean is “I trust you.” So I have to wonder if when Jesus asked about the disciples faith if he was really asking them “don’t you trust me?”

Jesus is the model for accompaniment. He has shown the disciples (and us) more than once already that he is going to be by their side and by our side no matter what. Here’s the thing, faith moves us from “what if” to “even if.” Perhaps the good news in all of this is that even if we do have fear, even if our trust is wavering, even if our faith isn’t as strong as perhaps we’d like it to be, Jesus will never leave us. Jesus always has a hold of us. In the greatest storms and in times of dead calm, Jesus will not only be with us, but will also provide for us and care for us. This is the Jesus that is relentless in caring for all of creation, and that includes us. This is the Jesus that may question our faith, but still goes to the cross willingingly. When we gather here every Sunday, we are reminded and remind others that we are loved. When we gather around the table, we are reminded that Jesus loves us. When we gather around the font and are splashed in grace, we are reminded of a relationship that lasts a lifetime and even through death. Jesus, who has the powers to calm even the stormiest of seas, will provide for us always and never leave us abandoned. Christ calls on us to have even the slightest bit of faith to believe it. Let us worship love and life, not fear and mistrust.

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.  

 

Sermon for 5/6/18 John 15:9-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon for 4/22/18 John 10:11-18

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! My best friend and I have been friends since second grade. So, about since we were 7 or so. That would be about 32 years. I’ve talked about her before. I call her one of my 3am gals. Meaning I could call her at 3am and she’d pick up the phone, no questions asked. Most everyone calls her Kristin except for me and a few others. I get to call her Krissi. One of the things that I appreciate the most about Kristin is that she knows me. She knows my deepest darkest secrets and loves me anyway. Kristin has the ability to see me as I truly am. She doesn’t see me as a Pastor, or a sister, or a daughter, or a wife. She sees me as me. And, I think at the core of all of us we all desire that: to truly be known. To truly be seen.

Sometimes I feel like I say the same thing to you multiple times. But there’s a reason for that. I need to hear it multiple times. Therefore, you get to hear it multiple times. We were created to be in relationship; to be in relationship with one another and to be in relationship with Christ. There is no part of you that Christ does not love. Maybe you haven’t heard me say that before. But, Jesus and thus God, loves every single part of you: mind, body, and soul. If Jesus is the good shepherd, which he says he is, and he wants to care for the sheep, which we are, then Jesus desires to and actually does care for us. It is a nurturing and intimate relationship. The shepherd and the sheep know one another.

We trust in the shepherd, and in a weird way, we trust in the other sheep. Think about this from the standpoint of actual sheep. Sheep prefer to be led from the front. You cannot lead sheep from the back as you do with cattle. So, the sheep follow the shepherd. If a sheep cannot see the shepherd, the follow the sheep in front of them. A community is built. The sheep trust one another and we trust one another as well. Sometimes I think that trust is what makes it hard to enter into a worshipping community like this one. We have built trust with one another and we know one another’s stories. We have that intimacy. When someone new comes into the flock we can be guarded. After all, not everyone knows our history. That has been one of the biggest challenges as your pastor. There are a lot of assumptions. People say “well the reason why we haven’t seen the so and so family at church was because of that fight they had. Remember?” No. That fight happened in 1986 when I was still in the third grade. It takes time to build up trust, I understand that. In seminary, we were taught that it takes almost 7 years before a congregation fully trusts the pastor.

Jesus is the good shepherd. He knows his own and his own know him. And the thing is this: being disciples together is really hard work. I’m not one to pretend it isn’t. If being the church was easy, everyone would do it. But we all know people that, for whatever reason, stay home Sunday after Sunday. We are anything but perfect. So, when you try and put a bunch of imperfect people together, it can get messy. But what makes us different than any other social or civic organization is Jesus. We gather around the one thing that makes us equal and that is Christ. It is difficult work. But, the work is worth it. If you have gone through a time of personal crisis and you have seen the way the church gathers around a fellow sheep, you understand why the work to be disciples together is hard and yet so rewarding.

At the root of the desire to be known as only Christ knows us is a longing for comfort and security. When we are truly known, we can let our guard down, put away our masks, and settle into who God really created us to be. When we are truly known, life feels easy. There isn’t the pressure to perform or the exhaustion that comes with being someone we aren’t. I think too often we assume that we must present Christ with a masked version of ourselves. We think that our true, genuine selves isn’t good enough for Christ. Instead, we have to pretend to be someone or something we most definitely aren’t. Of course, this makes no sense at all. If there is any place we can truly be ourselves, it should be and is at the foot of the cross. If there is any time we can truly be ourselves, it should be and is when we are in the presence of the risen Lord. In the waters of baptism, we are claimed as God’s own, just as we are. In the breaking of the bread, we are fed with the body and blood of Christ, just as we are. Christ offers us security that nothing else in this world can match. But with that comes great expectations.

If Christ offers us security, protection, and comfort but with that is the knowledge that nothing else in this world can do that the same way Christ can. Being a disciple isn’t a one way street. Christ has prepared us to be his hands and feet in the world. The expectation of discipleship is that we feel so filled and grateful for God’s love and protection that we can’t but help ourselves, we must serve our neighbors. Christ doesn’t love us and protect us because he expects anything in return. But, the love of God through Jesus is so powerful that we do it anyway. So this means that the security and comfort we receive from God through Jesus also doesn’t look like anything else that this world can offer.

We are a people who have been ushered from an empty grave into the world declaring that Alleluia! Christ is risen! For us, this means that because our security is found in Christ, we are free to serve others that the world has forgotten about. Because our identity is in Christ, we need not fear the judgement of others. Because the good shepherd keeps us secure, we can enter into the places in the world that others have forgotten and shine the light of Christ. The security we receive from Christ isn’t locked doors and shuddered windows, but instead is open hearts, minds, and ears and we anxiously look to encounter the risen Christ through others in the world. You are known. You are loved. You are genuinely cherished by the risen Christ. There is no part of you that Christ does not love. In that love comes the security and knowledge that the love of Christ has no expiration date. You are safe and secure in the risen Christ. The powers of evil in this world may fight for you, but they will not win. Have no fear, little flock. You are genuinely known and genuinely loved by a God who would and did die for you.

Sermon for 3/11/18 John 3:14-21; Lent 4

We all have those tasks that allow us to go through the motions. These are the things we do every single day without thinking about them. Sometimes it’s as mundane as making toast. Other times, it’s something where we should be paying attention, but we’re not, like driving. Whatever it is, routine can be a comfort. Going through the motions isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And then, something happens. Something throws our world into chaos. Something disrupts this routine and it’s as if we must even be deliberate about telling ourselves to breathe in and breathe out.

           Chaos came into my world on Monday morning. I got news that a dear friend and fellow pastor had died. I met Ben Ahles-Iverson when we were both at seminary although he was a few years ahead of me. We became good friends. I set him up with his wife Mara and I preached at their wedding. He was a fraternity brother to Chris. And, until I knew otherwise, he was fighting cancer. That is, until Sunday night when it all got to be too much and Ben died. The cancer was too much for his body to handle. I forgot to breathe. I thought of his wife. And his daughter. And his family. When I finally gasped, my first emotions were not pretty. I’ve spent most of the week either ignoring God, avoiding God, or being angry with God.

           We all compartmentalize. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it. It’s what allows me to do what I do. But, I can’t keep my friendship part of my brain and my pastor side of my brain compartmentalized this time. Chaos will do that to you. And the last thing that I want to do is stand up here and be fake and pretend to be some thing or someone I’m not. I am grieving deeply, my beloved. I miss my friend already and I want to cry out to God about how unfair this is. And there are few things comforting right now. One of the things that has comforted me over this past week is knowing that most of you have been here before. You’ve been in the midst of a chaos storm. And in the midst of a chaos storm when you literally have to remind yourself to breathe, I know the last thing we really want is to hear that God loves us.

           The age old argument is “if God really loves us then why does death happen? Why does cancer happen? Why do people have to suffer?” I have been with too many of you as you mourn your loved ones. Maybe you didn’t ask these questions out loud. Maybe you kept them to yourself. Maybe you were scared to ask them out loud because what would that say about your faith? Are we doubting God and God’s plans? Does our questioning mean we don’t believe in God? If we question God will God stop loving us? These are all very common questions with which we wrestle when we are thrown into chaos. Fear and shame keep us from voicing them out loud. Instead of lamenting out loud, we keep these doubts to ourselves and instead withdraw further from community and further from God.

           We don’t want to hear the promise of “God so loved the world” because in the midst of chaos, God’s love feels far away. We don’t want to hear “God so loved the world” when our world is taken from us. We don’t want to hear “God so loved the world” when the world is full of hurt, sorrow, and pain. And maybe it’s not that we don’t want to hear it, but we can’t hear it. We can’t hear it because we can’t feel it. This is why it is so important, my beloveds, to continue being disciples together as I’ve talked about so much lately.

           I’m not ready to deal with God. But, I got to feel God’s love through a hug from a friend. I am not ready to be on talking terms with God, but I got to feel God’s love through a phone call from another friend. I can’t hear about God’s love quite yet, but I was able to see God’s love in action as I watched my fellow pastors and classmates console one another on social media. When God feels far away, we need one another to be, as Luther called it “little Christ’s” to one another. Sometimes God’s love looks like a casserole. Sometimes God’s love looks like delivering some coffee and paper goods to someone who is mourning. Sometimes God’s love just looks like two friends sitting with one another, not saying a word but just being there. That is enough of God’s love when God’s love feels far away.

           Scripture makes us the promise of “God so loved the world” and I suppose the good news for all of us is that it doesn’t depend on us. God is going to continue loving you and me no matter what. I doubt God cares much that I’m not real happy with God right now. It’s not because God is uncaring but because nothing can ever stop God from loving me or you. God loved the world into being. God breathed life into every living creature. God wove together every mountain and valley and did so with love. God has guided us for generations with love. Nothing has been able to stop God’s love now and nothing will. I believe in the resurrection promise. I believe that the tomb will be empty on the third day. I believe that what God says is true. I believe it in my head. But, until I can feel it in my heart, I take solace in knowing that nothing can stop God from loving me.

           “God so loved the world” isn’t just a saying. It’s a way of life. It’s a way that we operate. Because if we truly believe that “God so loved the world” then we comfort one another in our grief. We celebrate with one another. We speak promises of accompaniment to one another. “God so loved the world” is why we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, and care for the sick. “God so loved the world” is why we get so excited when we baptize because we see proof of that love. “God so loved the world” is why we come to this table with hands outstretched because we get to taste proof of this love and we can’t wait another minute to taste that it’s true. “God so loved the world” is why we wish one another peace. “God so loved the world” doesn’t promise us a life without chaos. “God so loved the world” promises us that chaos, death, and evil never have the final word.