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Unity in Diversity: A Case Study: Roman Catholic-Lutheran Christians, Philippians 2:1-13
October 5, 2017, 9:33 am
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Philippians 2:1-13  

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Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

Paul writes to the church at Philippi, “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

“Be of the same mind, in full accord and of one mind.”

What is that? Certainly not the world we live in today.

In our home, we avoid the 24-hour news cycle. I take a deep breath before opening Facebook. I know not to bring up certain subjects around specific people.

As a whole American public, we are a people of division. Media amplifies the shouting of one side against another. We group together with our people- people who have the same experiences and opinions as us. By having our ideas always affirmed, we become even more sure that we’re right about everything. It’s us versus them. I’m right, you’re wrong. Fingers in my ears, I can’t hear you- when someone tries to challenge us.

When we read Paul’s encouragement to the early church, we discover that our situation today isn’t anything new. These very first converts, people who are hearing directly from those who actually met Jesus, full of the energy of the Spirit and zeal of new faith, even they struggle to be a unified community.

The early church was located at the crossroads of cultures. It was a place much like our nation today, where ideas from all over the world were shared along trade routes, people worshipped in many different ways and sought wisdom from varied philosophies, and class, gender, and citizenship divided people into drastically different lives.

The early church was an experiment in creating radically different community. It attempted unity in diversity. In faith it proclaimed that because of Jesus all are welcome- divisions are broken down. There is no more men here, women there, Greeks there, Jews here, slaves way over there, rich up close here. Christian community recognizes that we are all different, and yet the most powerful thing is that which holds us together: Jesus Christ, dying and rising to make us God’s own people.

Proclaiming community and living it are two very different things. The Church has struggled with unity for millennia.

At the end of October, we commemorate the Reformation. We mark October 31st as Reformation Day because 500 years ago, Martin Luther put forward 95 Theses, or points of debate, for religious scholars to explore. He hoped to see a renewal in his church, centered in returning to what is most central, Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection for us. This movement was coopted. Reformation became a banner under which political powers sought to realign, and so what might have been a renewal movement was fanned into a schism- breaking the unified Western church into factions.

Reading what was written during that period, it’s pretty clear that the whole people of God were not “of the same mind.” They told lies about each other and exaggerated differences. They killed each other while believing they were doing God’s work. Over the centuries, the violence quieted down, but still divisions remain. Some of you here remember being taught that good Lutherans couldn’t befriend- and certainly should never marry- a Catholic.

What you may not have heard much about is what’s been going on in more recent years. The Church is moving towards living in to Paul’s vision of Christian community. I spent the beginning of last week learning about God’s work to draw together Roman Catholic and Lutheran Christians towards greater unity after 500 years of division. The Lutheran-Catholic story is a case study from which we might learn to heal divisions in our own lives and communities.

How do people of different opinion and experience, caked with the mud slung by generations, come together towards community?

Paul writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…”

Reconciliation starts with setting aside being right.

A way to understand the Reformation might be to say that Martin Luther was looking for a dialog partner and the Roman Catholic Church of his day wasn’t ready for a conversation. A conversation requires people to suspend their own need to be right and respect their dialog partner enough to believe they might have something to offer. It’s necessary to believe the other might possess some kernel of the truth. This openness helps us to listen to the experience of the other, to be curious as to how ideas came to be.

 

 

We look to Jesus to learn how to enter conversation and build community. Paul calls us to reflect the mind of Jesus. In order to be united with us, to bring us into his community, Jesus left his home, his place of glory, to come into our human experience. He so entered in to what it is to be us that he even experienced our suffering and death. He did everything to bridge the gap between Creator and created. He set aside all privilege in order to raise us up.

Maybe you’ve heard that you should walk a mile in another’s shoes before making judgements about their life?

Jesus is the ultimate embodiment of walking in someone else’s shoes. Jesus spent his life walking with and alongside those he was determined to know and love. Jesus came in order to know you and love you.

It wasn’t enough for God to know us from a distance. It wasn’t enough to know us from the perspective of creator, subject of worship, recipient of prayer. Through Jesus, God knows us from our perspective. Jesus had a family, grieved at a friend’s death, was confronted with his own prejudice, struggled to be faithful to God’s purpose, was betrayed, abandoned, and killed. It would have been more comfortable to stay distant, but God wants to be in community with us, so in love, God has done everything to know us.

We would do well to listen deeply enough to stand in another’s shoes- or at least next to them- and look around through their description, attempting to see the world as they see it, acknowledging that they might see and experience things differently than we do. In order to do that, we have to be willing to know that our assumptions might be wrong, we have to be open to being changed by that encounter.

Can you imagine the Church saying it was wrong? As an institution guarding the Truth- to be open to critique takes a lot.

Yet transformed by Jesus, the Church has been at work to discover the faithfulness in fellow Christians once declared heretics. Roman Catholic and Lutheran Christians have been engaged in dialogue for the past 50 years. We have come to recognize each other as faithful Christians, people Jesus loves, feeds, and forgives. In 1990s, a joint theological document, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine Justification was signed and accepted by both churches. Recently, From Conflict to Communion and Declaration on the Way focus on our shared effort to remember the Reformation together, repent of the division, and give thanks for those things on which we have come to understand each other better.

In some cases, differences in words and practices clouded us from seeing that we both celebrate the same truth, and deep, respectful listening helped clear away the clouds so we could recognize Christ in each other. There are 32 statements of agreement, points on which there is no longer church-dividing disagreement. This work of reforming community was celebrated in a joint commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation last year. Catholics- including the Pope- and Lutherans worshipped side by side. At the same time, the relief and service organizations of each church, Lutheran World Federation World Service and Caritas Internationalis, declared that they would work together in a more coordinated effort, letting the needs of others break down their need for recognition of their own work, under their denominational brand name.

I give thanks that we have this example of working towards unity in the midst of so much division in our world.

One phrase from this work translates to all of our community restoring work: “The Holy Spirit bends the inflexible.” With God all things are possible- Catholics and Lutherans can worship together. We can be one congregation with many passions. Our neighborhood and city can be united around a common goal. Our nation can reclaim civility and grow in understanding.

Jesus humbled himself, sacrificed himself, for the sake of creating community. Where might Jesus be calling you to do the same? Is there a relationship you might be able to restore by saying those difficult words- “I was wrong?” Might there be an opportunity for you to set aside all your experiences that prove your opinion is correct and listen deeply enough to another to hear how their experiences have led them to their own opinions? Can you recognize something valid in another so that you can have real dialogue rather than calling each other names?

If we can be a church that’s about celebrating unity in the midst of diversity, we might have something the world would be interested in. If the gospel empowers us to care enough for others that we suspend our beliefs enough to honor them by listening- if knowing Jesus truly makes us people who love even those who aren’t just like us- we might just live into our dream of seeing this church grow.

Paul writes, “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.” We can’t create unity on our own. Thankfully, God isn’t leaving it all up to us. God is at work in you- giving you the desire and the ability to do God’s work of community building and reconciliation.

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Sermon Sept 24 Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost Matthew 20:1-16
October 5, 2017, 9:30 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Read the Bible  Focus on: Matthew 20:1-16

 

Grace and peace to you siblings in Christ,

It’s a joy to be worshipping with you this morning. If you’ll indulge your new pastor, please have a peek at the back of your bulletin.

Who are the lucky people who have a star sticker on the back of the bulletin?

Which of you have green stars? Excellent. God loves you- God has a special meal of love prepared for you right here today a little bit later.

Red stars? Great. God loves you- you’re invited to join this meal, too.

Anyone have a gold star? You are the winner! God loves you- you have a very special spot right down here- you’ll be right next to everyone else in the congregation-

Because God loves all of you- and has prepared a place for each one of you at this meal.

You are each special and beloved and valued- but I’m sorry to say, those of you with stars aren’t really getting anything more than God is giving to everyone else.

 

God loves all people because of who God is. God is a loving God, a merciful God, a God who comes to earth as a person, Jesus, to share our life and death so that nothing we experience would be outside of God. God chooses to judge the worth of each person by swapping out that person’s action with Jesus’ and weighing Jesus’ worth instead. God gifts us with Jesus’ worthiness- so we are each worthy of love, not because of our own doing or not doing, but simply because God chooses to make us worthy.

That’s grace. God’s free gift. I’ve always celebrated that free-ness. Thank God- I don’t have to worry- I may have totally messed up- but God chooses to love this mess anyway.

It wasn’t until about eight years ago that I discovered how terrifying this grace is.

 

I was serving a Lutheran church in rural North Dakota. To serve our town of fewer than 200 people, we had two churches. Right next door to our church was the United Methodist Church. In an effort to strengthen partnerships between the churches, we accepted an invitation to participate in their Bible study.

We opened Ephesians and began reading that God freely chose us to be beloved and holy- before the world was even created. It was all God’s choice- God’s grace- to love us before we could do anything to earn that love. I started gushing about how beautiful the passage was- how amazing that God’s love is so wide-

Only to be interrupted by, “You’re scaring me!”

My jaw hung in surprise. What on earth would be scary about God’s love?

God’s love is out of our control.

When everything else in our world is about earning and deserving- when we have so many ways of judging if someone is good enough- it is terrifying to think that on the scale of the big cosmic judgement, we don’t have any weight to throw around. God has already measured out God’s mercy. It’s overflowing. God has made you and me more than enough.

That flies in the face of our sense of justice. It undermines our American dream of earning our way to the top. It doesn’t make sense. That’s the feeling we get from Jesus’ parable in our Gospel today:

The landowner goes out to hire workers throughout the day, agreeing with the earliest workers that they would receive the usual wage, and simply telling the others they’d receive what was right. He chooses to pay them backwards, starting with those who worked the least amount of time, but giving all of them the same amount- the standard daily wage. When they are all given the same amount, those who had worked all day complain and resent those who came lately, because even though they worked harder and longer, they received nothing more.

We all but hear the workers shouting- that’s not fair!

Jesus teaches this parable to show us something about the kingdom of God. When Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven- Jesus is talking about the reign of God right here and now. This parable is about how God’s vision of how life is supposed to work collides with our vision of how life is supposed to work.

Right here and now there are two competing realities: the kingdom of this world, in which merit and work and being in the right group all count for something; and the kingdom of heaven, in which God’s surprising generosity is the only thing that matters. The parable is about our reaction to God and an invitation to learn from that reaction so that we can more closely imitate God’s intentions for us.

We learn that we like to categorize people. We want to judge our worth by measuring up against each other. When God decides to destroy our meritocracy and simply love each person the same- totally and abundantly- it makes us mad! At the very least, it’s confusing.

We’re here at church to learn to live into this alternative reality- the kingdom of heaven. In word and song, sacrament and service, bread broken and plates shared, we live into the kind of community God intends, in which all people are welcomed and valued, their various stories and experiences honored, but never used as the basis for their worth. Church is meant to be a place of practicing the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s not always so easy. Too often church has been a place we want to act just like the kingdom of this world.

I’ve seen it especially when I talk about confirmation class requirements. Elders tell me stories of their confirmation, when the pastor would grill them with questions in front of the whole congregation. They’d tell me it made them so nervous that they’d be sick the night before. As soon as I open my mouth to say- wow, what a horrible experience- I’m so glad we do things differently today- I’m cut off by them saying- we need to make kids today work harder. They need to suffer like we did. Prove their worth like we did.

Here in this place, we don’t have to prove our worth. God’s already determined it.

 

If the stickers some people received didn’t win them a prize, what good are they? If it doesn’t make you any more special, then maybe it’s worthless.

The Bible study interrupter was scandalized by grace because she heard it making all her sacrifices, service, and church participation worthless. Why had she given up all the fun she could have had? If God’s acceptance isn’t based on what we do- why be good? It made her feel a fool, doing things for nothing.

No. Grace is only a disappointment when we are trapped by the need to prove ourselves. Your stickers are pretty and they served a point- and if anyone wants their own sticker, I’ll have more after worship. The works of faith the woman did served the community and encouraged others, they may not have changed her worth, but they helped others recognize their own.

The fear behind all this scrambling for recognition of our work centers on the question: “how do we know we are valued?”

We know we are valued because we hear and trust God’s promises. God spoke creation into being and spoke its blessing: it is good. We hold God to the commitment God has made to love us- to claim us. As a worshipping community, we amplify God’s promises, helping each other hear God speaking love to us. God makes a place for each one of us at this table and God provides the meal for you. We hear and taste and feel God’s valuing each one of us- and we learn to trust God’s judgement over all else.

 

 

The more we live into the Kingdom of Heaven, with its strange lack of scales for measuring each person’s worth, the more it will become normal and the world’s scales strange. This sanctuary is a place where everyone is welcome and everyone is most especially loved. When you leave this place, you don’t leave the Kingdom of Heaven, you carry it with you.

As you go about your life this week, go about the work of freeing people from the burden of living up to standards of value. Help them to see that no matter what, God loves them. And when your life get hard, when you can’t do it all, when no prizes have been coming and the grades aren’t that great- remember that God loves you, too. You’ve been declared worthy and forgiven and a child of God- and even though you haven’t earned it, nothing’s going to take away this gift God has given to you. Thanks be to God.



Who will be saved? A Sermon on Romans 10:5-15
August 28, 2017, 12:21 pm
Filed under: Sermons

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Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

 

Are you worried about the future of the church? Or maybe its current state? It’s great if you’re not. But if you are, you’re not alone.

 

If you browse through listings of church conferences or skim some of the latest church leadership books, you’ll get the idea that plenty of people are afraid about the decline of the Church.  Attendance is down! Offering is down! The Church is down! There’s lots of fear and lots of blame. There are plenty of people trying to sell solutions and strategies. Fear sells books.

 

At one of my first call events, where the synod office gets together the newest pastors, we were told that us younger new pastors probably wouldn’t spend our ministries in full time calls. There wouldn’t be enough churches with resources to pay salaries, so we’d better think now about what additional job we might be able to have. After eight years of school and the debt to prove it, that certainly gave me reason to fear about the future of the church.

 

So, fear’s out there. But I don’t think that’s what I hear most expressed from people in my congregations. I hear sadness. Maybe that’s mixed with fear, and it certainly can be expressed in many destructive ways, but I think that sadness is more personal. People are sad because they see others missing out on the faith.

 

I’ve sat with grandparents angry about the way Sunday School is being taught and after listening to them, we’ve discovered that they’re really just sad that their own children aren’t involved in church and certainly aren’t passing on the faith to their children in the way that they had once tried to do for them.

 

If there’s failure there, who’s is it? Did the grandparents do something wrong in their raising of their children? Are their children failing at teaching faith to the grandchildren? Has the church failed to reach out? Is it all the pastor’s fault?

 

Or is it that one behind it all, the One we’re hesitant to blame aloud… Is it God’s fault that our churches are getting smaller, the younger generations- and frankly, even the older- aren’t coming to worship, and so many people say they aren’t religious?

 

At it’s root, this isn’t a new question. The old question is “why are some people faithful – some believers- and others not?”

 

 

 

The Apostle Paul tackles this question in the book of Romans. There’s some debate over whether Paul is writing to the community of Christ followers in Rome who are Jewish, or the community of Christ followers in Rome who are non-Jewish, Gentiles. Paul is Jewish, and after an experience of the risen Jesus became a passionate follower of Jesus. He pushes the boundaries and goes outside of the Jewish community to witness to God’s work through Jesus to the Gentiles. Paul goes to those who had never worshipped God in the first place. Paul believes that in Jesus, God is reaching out to a wider group of people. God is doing a new thing in welcoming in those who were outside the promise.

 

We’ve been reading from Romans for a while now. Paul is confusing to follow, especially when his argument os all broken up like it is for our worship readings. Lately, we’ve heard Paul say “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ” and -I’d cut myself off from Christ if it meant I could get my own people to be a part of what God is doing in Christ.

 

Last week, we heard Paul cry out his sadness. Paul is writing that his own people are missing out on the joy and freedom found in Jesus Christ. They are trying to make themselves right with God by following the law God gave. Paul points his audience towards Christ. Jesus brings God’s word into believers in a way that changes what is inside hearts and what comes out of mouths.

 

Jesus has come for all people. Paul wants both his Jewish people and more people to come to see the gifts God gives through Jesus so they are not satisfied until they all rejoice in God’s love shown to us through Jesus.

 

Paul writes that he is having a hard time figuring out why people aren’t believers. He’s especially struggling with the question of why people who were raised in the faith- why his fellow Jews who studied the Torah (the first Bible) aren’t recognizing that their God has acted in Jesus Christ. How can they be missing out?

 

As Paul tries to figure this out, he explores the concept of election. Election means that God chooses. As Paul describes it, God chooses some people to have faith; God hardens the hearts of others. It has nothing to do with anything that person does or doesn’t do. It’s just because God is powerful and God gets to choose and so God does.

 

Election’s a concept religious people have argued about for centuries- millennia. Is it how God works? How do we know if someone is elected for salvation? How can that possibly be fair or merciful? Is the hardened heart a temporary state that God will change into faith? In the end, we simply don’t know.

 

I think Paul’s trying to work things out for himself as he writes. He tries out ideas he may not settle on. By the end, he comes to express what I find most compelling – a sense that God chooses to be gracious. God chooses to be expansive in welcoming people, in saving people.

 

As Lutherans, we confess with Luther’s Small Catechism that it’s the work of the Holy Spirit to create faith. We can’t come to God on our own. We can’t choose God. We’re always only going to choose ourselves. It’s God working within us that draws us to God.

 

I know that’s not really satisfactory when you’re worried about your children who tell you they no longer believe. It’s not really enough when you’re feeling like God’s not here and wonder why you are.

 

If this question of why some are faithful and others not has ever kept you up at night, especially as you pray over loved ones, rest in God’s steadfast love and mercy. Part of the reason we’ve spent so much time reading through Genesis this summer is so that we can hear again those first promises God made to God’s people. Over and over, God repeats the promise of blessing, land, descendants, and relationship to people who are both faithful and not trusting. We’ve read psalms of God’s steadfast love that doesn’t fail us even when we have failed. We hear of Jesus’ compassion, giving abundantly to crowds who have disturbed his time away, immediately saving those who have such little faith. When we are not faithful, God is. God acts with grace, welcoming in those we would think unacceptable.

 

This election stuff is hard to wrap our minds around, and I’m not sure that Paul himself was convinced that’s really how God works anyway. But it does remind us that God’s action is beyond our control. We can’t really change what God is choosing to do in giving or withholding salvation. That doesn’t mean we should just give up and figure there’s nothing we can do to affect the faith lives of those around us. God has called us to a mission. We’re called to be disciples who share the good news of God’s love through Jesus with all the world.

 

We’re workers, but not saviors. It’s up to God to create faith. We can have a part in giving that faith a foothold. We can help create spaces in which faith is wanted and nourished.

Paul gets in to our role in verse 12 and following:

12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 14But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?

 

Paul wants all people to want more of God. But, before they can want more, they have to know there is something more to want.

 

Our pantry door is in the process of being fixed. It’s been a month since I took it off its hinges so I could replace the track. For that month, every time I walk through the kitchen I can see what’s on the shelf. On the top shelf, supposedly a little more difficult to reach, is a box of brownies. With the door closed, it’s out of sight, out of mind. With no door, they’re in my line of sight… I want them and I want them now!

 

Paul wants us to be people who take off the door and show what’s there to want from God. Paul calls us to be the people who show such joy in our Christian lives that others wonder what it is we have- and they want it for themselves.

 

We have a job to do so that we can have the joy of being a part of what is ultimately God’s job alone.

 

We can look the church in America and feel sad that it doesn’t look like it did in the 1950s. We can feel like we’ve failed or God’s failed because the Sunday School isn’t full and money isn’t more.

 

When we read Paul’s letter to the Romans, we find hope. Paul’s own struggle is with his perception that his own people have failed in their faithfulness. But then Paul realizes that God’s not finished yet. As Paul continues in Romans, he claims salvation for more and more people. He’s paying attention to God’s long game, not the momentary losses. At the moment in which he lives, his own people might be missing out, but God is not done with them yet. God’s taking God’s time in order to expand the community.

 

Listen to his progression, from chapter 10

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” 10:13

 

Then in chapter 11, he considers the Jewish people, named Israel, who aren’t worshipping Jesus:

“So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” 11:11-12

 

Paul says God’s doing more than expected in order to be more gracious to all people. At Paul’s time, God is bringing in those who were outside. When those outside are brought in, then those who were inside and then walked away will be met as they walk away with God’s lovingkindness- God’s grace.

 

By 11:26, he writes “and so all Israel will be saved.” There is a past, present, and future in God’s plan of salvation. God’s coming back around for everyone.

 

At the end of his long, exploring argument, Paul places this matter back into God’s hands. That’s where we also find an end to our fears. God is lovingkindness and God’s the one who holds all people.

 

Romans 11:36 “For from God and through God and to God are all things. To God be glory forever. Amen.



Scripture of the Week: Losing Our Lives
August 28, 2017, 10:21 am
Filed under: Devotions

Matthew 16:24-26
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.
This Sunday we’ll hear some challenging words from Jesus, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Jesus is going to the cross. It’s the last place anyone would expect to find a god. Yet there he goes, and there we are called to follow. We know that the cross meant Jesus’ death, his unity with those who suffer, and led to his resurrection. But what does it mean for us to take up our cross and to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake?
I spent a lot of time in the car these past few weeks. I didn’t get to listen to as many podcasts as I had expected, but I did listen to one that has helped me reframe this passage from Matthew. It was an episode of “On Being,” hosted by Krista Tippet from Dec 2014. Look below for the link so you can listen or read through the part of this episode that especially connects.
Ms. Tippet’s guest was Father James Martin, who spoke about being a Jesuit – Catholic. He explained a part of Ignatian spirituality:
Ignatius wanted us to be free of anything that kept us from following God. He called them disordered attachments. And the idea is that if anything keeps you from being more open to God’s will in your life, get rid of it, basically.
When I read Jesus declaring, “those who lose their life for my sake will find it” I hear where Ignatius’ encouragement helps us follow Jesus. We look at our lives, see what we avoid and what we move towards, and consider if we’re following or missing out on God’s intention for us.
Ignatius- and Jesus- invite us to look at our expectations for our lives and let them go- or at least, not be so attached to them. Do you have a 5-year, 10-year, 20-year plan? Things you expect to do? A track you’ve laid out for yourself? How tightly is your identity bound to your work or to a relationship? Are you so tied to your plans and your vision of yourself that you might be missing what God has in mind for you? So set on your own way that you might be closing yourself off to the new opportunities God is giving you to follow and serve? I encourage you to take that to prayer this week. God is the source of life and meaning.
Jesus loves you so much that he didn’t avoid the hard work God called him to. In Jesus, God has done all things so that you would be well and have life abundantly.
God is with you! -Pastor Liz

https://onbeing.org/programs/james-martin-finding-god-in-all-things/

(EXCERPT)…
FR. MARTIN: Well, Ignatius wanted us to be free of anything that kept us from following God. He called them disordered attachments. And the idea is that if anything keeps you from being more open to God’s will in your life, get rid of it, basically. A simple example. When I was a Jesuit novice, the first part of the Jesuit training, I went into my novice director and we were supposed to assigned to different ministries working with the poor the first year of our Novitiate. And I said, well, you know what?
The last thing I want to do [laughs] I said, is work in a hospital. I don’t think I could stand that. The smells, and the sights, and the sounds. And he said, well, good, then you’ll be working in a hospital. [laughs] And why’s he doing that? It wasn’t to punish me. It was to kind of free me up from that. So, his insight was, which is a very classic Jesuit insight, if that is something that’s going to be preventing you meeting people, and from doing your ministry, you need to let go of it. And the way to let go of it, in this case, was to kind of experience it. And now I can go into hospitals, and imagine a priest who was so unfree that he couldn’t set foot in a hospital. You know, or a Jesuit who couldn’t…
MS. TIPPETT: So is that this concept…
FR. MARTIN: …do that.
MS. TIPPETT: …of agere contra?
FR. MARTIN: Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: To act against, which…
FR. MARTIN: Mm-hmm.
MS. TIPPETT: At the end of your book, The Jesuit Guide to Nearly Everything, you said in this interview you wished you’d written more about that. And I think that’s what you just described, isn’t it, that sometimes, in fact, we have to act against our instincts to do what we actually really want to do. Right?
FR. MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah. So, agere contra, to act against is exactly that, and it’s a way of freeing yourself up. And it can sound kind of masochistic but it’s basically — it’s confronting those fears, not simply for the sake of confronting them, to kind of show how strong you are, master them, but to let go of it.



Scripture’s Silencing: A Sermon for Lectionary 17 Genesis 29:15-28
August 2, 2017, 9:33 am
Filed under: Sermons

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Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

When I started at St. Olaf College, I was an uncertain religion major with a complicated view of Christianity. I’d had the joy of a loving, active congregation and also stood on the frontline of church division and saw the ranks defecting their post and their pastor. I’d found comfort and hope in the pages of the Bible, and also felt the pain of those holy words turned against me. So there I was, at one of our ELCA colleges, trying to work out my faith in the pages of my first assignments.

I titled it, “Between Eve and Mary,” (or something like that) spending my word count fumbling into my first feminist criticism. I asked what was there for me as I tried to sort out my identity and purpose in a Bible that boiled down two possibilities for women- either the cause of men’s fall as the temptress or the bearer of men’s salvation as the impossible virgin mother.

My philosophy professor had once considered a call into ministry himself, so it was with a pastor’s heart that he steered me back into grace. Where I had angrily written Genesis 1: “In the image of God, he created them, male and female he created them,” my professor emphasized “and female,” calling me to reclaim my sex’s place as part of the original blessing. That helped me move forward into discovering new voices and other ways of being Christian than what I had felt trapped into.

When we open up to Genesis today, and read the next chapter of life for the chosen family, I find myself sinking down again.

Jacob has come to find a wife and falls for Rachel. He strikes a deal with her father Laban, buying her in exchange for seven years of labor. When Laban switches daughters in the marriage bed, Jacob is stuck with older sister Leah as he wife. Leah’s like a prom dress you can’t return because you took off the tags and wore it.

We may have started this story out with a romantic scene at the local watering hole, as Jacob first sets eyes on Rachel, but it quickly spirals into women being sold for profit. The literal exchange is, Laban- “I don’t want you to work for free. Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Jacob, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”

We don’t hear the women’s voices. Unlike other women in scripture, they do have the honor of being named. Keeping them straight will be important as they become the mothers of the 12 tribes of Israel.

At this point in Jacob’s story, we see a fascinating shift as Jacob moves from his upbringing in his mother’s tent to “being a man.” I’ve been reading a book on Genesis by Dr. Miguel De La Torre in which he has a discussion of Jacob being raised outside the world of men. When he meets Rachel, he serves her, uncovering the well, watering her sheep. He speaks to her and listens. But then when he comes to Laban’s house, he steps into another realm and slips into the power given to him. He becomes a willing participant in a system that uses women as currency and incubators of the sons of the promise.

So what do we do with a text like this when we find something distasteful in its sanctified treatment of the characters? Do we chalk it up to a different culture with a foreign way of entering marriages? Focus on the romance and ignore the other parts? Use it as another reason religion has no relevance today?

I could get on my soapbox and rage against the patriarchy, maybe I’ve already done that, or I could press on to feel a bit more of the power of this text. Noticing how much I identify with the women who have been forced to be voiceless and powerless, I could wonder when I have silenced others. When have I been as Jacob and Laban, authors and readers of scripture, who simply didn’t notice or care that they were undermining half of humanity. I could roll my eyes at this text, or I could turn my sight inward.

Looking through this text into our lives, we see our own complicity in systems of power that benefit us at the expense of seeing others as less than fully human. We have sinned, by what we have done and what we have left undone. A text like this calls for repentance.

It’s time to confess that we have lived benefiting from having some named group of outsiders to blame or exclude. We’ve called ourselves holy and in the right while pointing at other who are doing it wrong, and that’s helped us feel better about ourselves and be drawn closer together as a community.

We’ve done ministry in a way that requires passive recipients of our good news and good works without first listening to people identify needs and strengths and giving them the agency to decide how- if at all- we might be invited to minister alongside them.

We’ve mouthed Biblical platitudes thoughtlessly, without bringing the whole witness to bear on a situation. This happens when an abused spouse is told staying in the marriage with its hurt is a cross to bear. Not helpful, and not true to God’s intention for us.

We repent from our silence, our ducked heads, our going with the flow so as to not create any waves, when something didn’t threaten us directly enough to merit action. We’ve done nothing so as not to offend, to keep the peace, and keep ourselves safe.

We need God’s forgiveness for those times when we judge others as less than human. For when we keeps costs down by devaluing the well-being of others. When we’ve gambled with other’s safety and spent the resources our children will need.

Church, we’re a community whose worship begins with confession. That may be one of the greatest gifts we offer our culture. We practice saying we’ve been in the wrong, and that we don’t have the power within ourselves to do it right. We need help to live with love and justice. God forgives us and empowers us to continue to work towards God’s kingdom.

We’re not only the ones stepping on others to get ahead, we’re also the ones being ground down. We need God’s assurance that God sees us as people with worth and value, especially when the world tells us we are not enough- because of our bank accounts, or the way we look, our education, or our jobs, our skin color, abilities, struggles, nationality, language, culture, gender identity, or the family we love.

God makes that assurance to you through Jesus. Jesus proves the depth of God’s love for you, the great worth in which God values you. Our Romans text declares “neither death nor life, nor rulers, nor powers… nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus”- there is no cost that would outweigh your value, nothing that would be too great to pay, in God’s loving work of claiming you as God’s own beloved, good, valued creation.

Jesus’ actions make us reevaluate the value of other persons and of all creation. Jesus was challenged and changed by his encounters with people outside his community. He moved from preaching exclusively to the people of Israel to healing foreign women and sending his disciples to the ends of the earth. He welcomed little children, who were seen as prehuman, and named them models of faith. He willingly choose the experience of the blamed outsider and carried the rage and guilt of the community. The good news of his resurrection was first entrusted to the women among his disciples. Jesus’ life and death resets the scales of value, replacing our miserliness with his abundance. The kingdom Jesus is ushering in has room for all to be especially precious to God, and no one less so than another.

God’s resurrecting Jesus is God’s affirmation of his work. The one whose radical welcome led to his being killed is the one who is raised from the dead. Jesus’ way of being is validated in the resurrection. Our “no” is met with God’s “yes.”

Jesus’ coming to us, dying and rising, changes how we know God, how we read the Bible, and how we seek to live in response. Scripture is not a once and done event, but the unfolding witness of a creation encountering God and being inspired as they compile, edit, and record that witness. We are not a once and done church, but a community that is continually in the process of being reborn as we sin, are forgiven, reformed, and sent out into the world to witness to our encounter with God and join God at work.

God is using us, works in progress, to reclaim the value of each person God has so lovingly made. We’re going to mess it up sometimes, but we can’t let that scare us away from trying. At the end of the day, God’s going to restore this whole creation. In the new day God is bringing, we will be one community of beloved people, finally able to look at ourselves and each other as beings of worth.



Show me the way: Scripture of the Week Reflections July 3
July 3, 2017, 12:01 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Genesis 24: 42“I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! Jesus,Savior,Pilot Me


Read more of the text here: http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=366095659 or read all of Genesis 24.

In this passage, we hear Abraham’s servant speaking. He’s been sent back to the homeland to find a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac. He doesn’t spare any details as he explains how he was sent, prayed for God to show him a sign, and came across Rebekah, who fulfilled the sign he had asked for. Even as Rebekah offered water as the servant had prayed, he continues to pray, asking God to show him if this is the right woman to be Isaac’s wife.

I can almost hear his heart nervously beating to his prayer: “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going!”

How often has my own prayer been a frazzled plea, “help me, God!” as I try to do something I’m  not sure I can, or try to make the right decision when a choice is before me.

(Maybe don’t) Ask my husband, and he’ll tell you that I’m the worst at making decisions. I get overwhelmed by all the choices at a restaurant. I would buy 4 dresses for a high school formal, and then return them all before settling on my final pick.

So, I’d love it if I could say God always make the big decisions easy- with a booming voice or an obvious sign. Too bad for me, I don’t really think God always works like that. I think God meets us in whatever path we take, rather than having set one right path that we had better not miss. But if there’s no one right path, how do we know which way to take?

There are prayer practices I find helpful in discernment. I talk to God about the choices before me. I journal. I talk to friends or my spiritual director. I live a day or longer as if I had made one selection, and notice how I am feeling and living. Then, I spend the same amount of time as if I had made the other selection. After considering in which commitment I felt most alive, I choose. Ignatian’s daily examen has been helpful. In this prayer, you replay your day, noticing where there was joy and wholeness, where there was struggle and you felt distant from God. It’s about noticing in order to align your life more fully to God’s purpose for all of creation. After giving thanks and asking for forgiveness, I place all of the past into God’s hands, and entrust my future to God as well.

I share this as an invitation for you to explore how you connect to God during times of transition, choices, and daily life. If you’d like some resources for prayer, I’d love to chat with you.

I’m not much for clichés, but “when one door closes, another door opens” makes sense to me in that God continues to open doors for us. God gives many opportunities to recognize God is with us and to follow God’s call into loving service for the sake of the world. There’s no one-time-you-missed-it-too-bad-so-sad with God. I have faith that there are many paths that can take us towards God’s desire for us. God is always at work to come to us and bring us into the Kingdom and the work of the Kingdom here and now.

 



Welcoming Jesus: Matthew 10: 40-42 A Sermon for Lectionary 13, 4th Sunday after Pentecost
July 3, 2017, 7:50 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ,

I’ve been focusing on Genesis for my preaching these past weeks, but you may have noticed that we’ve been reading through the same section of Matthew. Jesus is teaching his disciples as he prepares to send them out.

He’s reminded them

of their mission field- the lost sheep of Israel,

the work they will be doing- proclaim the good news, heal the sick, raise the dead,

their packing list- not enough to last without help from others.

He’s prepared them for the fact that not everyone will welcome them and listen to what they say. Their family and friends might think they’re crazy and pull away.

He’s warned them that they might even be in danger because of their work.

 

Now the warnings are over, and the blessing is proclaimed.

Jesus finishes his instruction with the passage we read today beginning, “whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

 

What Jesus is saying is really amazing. The disciple is the teacher. The Son is the Father. When someone opens to the door to you, disciples, that person is opening the door to me, Jesus. A person will know Jesus by knowing a disciple.

 

The disciples carry Jesus’ presence to the world. They’re not trailing behind Jesus, they are bringing him forward.

 

What a responsibility! And yet- it makes sense, what else would they- would we be doing? Disciples carry Jesus, bring Jesus, show Jesus, enact Jesus for the sake of the world- and that’s how the world will know Jesus.

 

In this chapter, Jesus is preparing his disciples, but he’s also preparing us. We, too, are called to be little Christs for the world. As baptized Christians, you are united with Jesus Christ, so that you can carry on his mission and bring him into all the places you go.

 

When I was a junior in high school, I travelled with my dad and a group of local Lutherans to Puerto Rico. We went down to join the work of Lutheran Disaster Response, working to repair homes after hurricane damage.

 

One hot, sunny morning, we were assigned to walk through the neighborhood and pick up trash. The neighborhood was a squatter’s village, none of the homes were legal, and there was no garbage service. Some houses were basically corrugated metal connected together. I had never seen anything like it.

 

It was hard to tell what was damaged from the storms and what was a result of poverty. You can imagine the hurricane did nothing to help the living conditions. After the hurricane, FEMA had drilled down tarps to cover roofs. It had been a quick fix, but didn’t take into account the long-term needs of the people. Lutheran Disaster Response stayed longer than any other agency, attempting to make a lasting impact for good. We had come at the end of their service, so that day, we weren’t needed for building and were sent through the neighborhood.

 

I remember walking down the dirt road in a haze of heat, and this man came running up to us. I had taken years of French… so it took a while to grasp what he was saying. We’re walking past his house and he wanted us to wait a moment. Not long after, he ran back out to us, carrying Styrofoam take out containers overflowing with freshly scrambled eggs and toasted bread.

 

Here was this man, who had what looked to me like so very little, but who recognized that the abundance of his life was found in sharing and gratitude. I may have thought I was there to serve. But he also had something to offer.

 

Sometimes Jesus looks like a man in a forgotten village with a big smile, a talent for cooking, and a gift for hospitality.

 

Hospitality is of central importance in Jesus’ culture, and its importance goes back for centuries. That’s why we read two weeks ago that Abraham welcomed in those three strangers and fed them the best food. By entertaining strangers, you might just be entertaining angels. In a culture in which there was no Super 8, people depended on the hospitality of others.

 

Hospitality is feeding and housing people. It’s helping them feel comfortable, making space that was yours also theirs. At its center, it’s an act of recognizing the worth of the other. It’s recognizing myself in the other- as if to say, “yes, you also are a human being” —and— it’s recognizing Jesus in the other.

 

We meet Jesus in other people.

 

I wonder if we might treat others differently if we saw them as beings who carry Jesus within them. When we look into a cashier’s eyes, we see Jesus. When we are cared for by a nurse, we are cared for by Jesus. When we hold the hand of someone telling their story of struggle, we hold the hand of Jesus. They are people Jesus has created, loved, forgiven, and chosen to dwell with and in.

 

I’ve travelled and been to enough yoga classes to know this sentiment is not unique. Namaste – the greeting at the end of class- is a blessing meaning I bow to the sacred in you.

 

It’s not unique to us Christians, but it’s important enough to be reclaimed. As a whole, I think Christianity has lost sight of the central tenet that we have an incarnate God. We have a God who created and then chose to land right in creation and dwell here among us. Throughout the Old Testament, we get a vision of a God who tents with God’s own people. When we get to the New Testament, we meet a God who leaves behind all the privileges of divinity in order to become one of us, so that we might be brought in to God.

 

Jesus chose to be among those the world saw as less than. He invited into his inner circle people others avoided. So, now, as we look for Jesus present and at work in the world, we need to look among those Jesus chooses to especially be among- the poor, the outcast, the judged, and the afraid.

 

Instead of having Christians known as judgmental, holier than thou, what if we were known as the people who saw the worth of every person? What if we gave people dignity?

 

So many churches advertise themselves as “welcoming,” but then have unadvertised qualifiers as to who exactly gets to be welcomed. It’s important that we welcome as Jesus welcome us- as we are, right now, with all our goodness and all our struggle. We’re called to give a class of water, to give love to others before they meet all our expectations. God has created us as diverse, fascinating people, with differences that are meant to be known and honored.

 

When you welcome another, you welcome Jesus. When you go out, you bring Jesus with you. Wherever you are, Jesus is with you, at work to restore the world.