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Messengers: A Sermon for Advent 2
December 11, 2017, 9:46 am
Filed under: Sermons

Mark 1:1-8

1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

Today we read of John the Baptist crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” The Gospel interprets John as fulfilling the promise written in Isaiah, that God would send a messenger to prepare the way for God’s coming into the world. Get ready! God is coming!

In this season of Advent, we are busy preparing for Christmas, when we will celebrate that God enters human creation in Jesus’ birth. We also look for Jesus to come into our lives and our world. We look forward to Jesus transforming the way things are today into the way God intends for them to be. Advent is a time to prepare for and celebrate God’s arrival, remember those times we’ve known God’s presence, and look forward to becoming more fully aware of God with us always.

John the Baptist is called a messenger of God. His message is that someone powerful is coming, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. His message is meant to encourage people to get ready for this new one who is coming. They get ready by repenting- by turning away from their old way of life and starting on a new path, a path that will more closely align with the way of this new one to come. This inward intention to live a new way starts with an outward ritual. John is washing the people in the river, a baptism for forgiveness. It’s a baptism of preparation, to open the people up for a new message, God’s word, embodied in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one for whom the people are being prepared.

The gospel describes John as something of a spectacle, with a strange uniform and diet. That might be part of the draw- his different way of life. He appears out in the wilderness, away from the confines of society, in the wild lands where people have traditionally met and been guided by God. Any of you who go hunting or hiking may have experienced the openness to greater spiritual awareness that can come out in the wild. He was something different to see, and some of those who came out to hear him were affected and changed by his message. His persona made him an effective messenger of God.

When I think of my own life, however, it’s not the flashy people who have been the most effective messengers of God, but most often, those who simply shared their lives and their love- and in the context of those relationships, have shared their faith.

I always think first of my Grams. For much of my childhood, we lived just a few blocks away from my grandmother. It’s her church present in my earliest memories: the stained glass praying Jesus, embossed ceiling tiles, friendly Pastor June, and basement poles to swing around. I can still picture letters on her kitchen table. She was the sunshine person at her church, sending birthday cards and God’s love through the mail. She sang hymns with me next to her on the piano bench and brought me with to deliver meals on wheels. In her 80s, she’d accompany the nursing home on outings and push the old people around in their wheelchairs. Hers was a lifelong relationship of influence, showing me the way of God’s love through her own living and loving.

There have also been almost angelic visits from strangers, chance encounters where grace was spoken to me. We were in the cities last fall, as my husband interviewed at a church. I had the girls at a neighborhood playground, checking out the community and trying to wear them out. Grandparents were there with a whole gaggle of little ones. The grandmother sat down next to me with the youngest, a little baby, and began to chat. In the midst of my own uncertainty about my future, and sharing very little about it, this woman simply reflected on the variety of vocations to which God calls us. She didn’t pry into my life or tell me what to do, but offered her perspective. She reflected that too often we feel like we have to do all the things- be everything- right now, at the same time, but perhaps it’s ok to have seasons in life, with a time for everything. She helped me lay aside the pressure I had been feeling in order to be more open to discovering God’s new way forward in my life.

As pastor, it’s been more often the case that people look to me to hear a message of good news than they’ve been eager to share God’s message for me. There was a time when my little church in North Dakota was struggling with simply being really nasty to each other. They were afraid, a lot of change had happened in their community, and they were taking it out on each other- and on me. One morning after I had served everyone communion, I was left standing at the table alone. Then Tom got up. He wasn’t he most steady on his feet anymore, but he took the body of Christ into his callused farmer hands, and he fed me God’s love and promise. He gave me the joy of knowing that God was there for me, too.

These three were messengers of grace- of God’s unending love for me.

Who are God’s messengers in your lives?

If there’s someone you’ve been picturing, who’s been a messenger to you, I hope you take time this season to tell them. Give them the joy of knowing that they’ve been able to do something for you- and for God. Some of our messengers are no longer with us, some have gone into death to be held in God’s promise of resurrection. Have you noticed that we pray in thanksgiving for them every Sunday? We give thanks for the saints who have inspired us and we ask for courage to wait to be reunited again with them. We remember that they have mattered in our lives.

You are God’s messengers today. As a congregation, we’re wondering what evangelism means for us and how we go about doing evangelism. Behind that sometimes scary word is the action of sharing the message- being God’s messengers of good news- within the relationships we already have and the new ones we are growing. It’s living our lives in a way that allows others to come alongside us and see what difference faith makes.

I wonder if you messengers have had the joy of knowing how your message was received? Have you been able to hear how your maybe powerful, maybe clumsy sharing of God’s good news mattered to someone else? Has anyone ever told you what you’ve meant to them, even when you weren’t trying to do anything different? I hope you have heard from those people you’ve affected. From my perspective, I see you making a difference. It’s not up to us to save people, Jesus has already done that, but I know that you are effective in strengthening people in their faith and being an encouraging example of living in the joy of faith. We spread the seeds of faith and trust in God to bring faith to flower.

The goods news we are sharing is that God has arrived and is arriving. God has come into the wilderness areas of our lives, where we have been lost, afraid, and uncertain of the path forward. God has come into the love and feast times of our lives, reveling in our joy. God is here, with a promised future of good for all peoples and all creation.

If calling yourself evangelist or even messenger seems a bit too daunting, you might consider yourself a mentor or a fellow sojourner. We walk the path together, sometimes able to help another along, and at others, needing the guidance of another. We’re not building the way, but we’re following it and helping each other live into it. It’s Jesus’ way, Jesus’ path that we are following.

God’s way is being established. This is the Kingdom of God- the new way of living that welcomes all people, ends violence, brings healing, and ensures that all have what they need to live in dignity and worth. I hear a vision of God’s way in Psalm 85, “Steadfast love and faithfulness have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Faithfulness shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” This is where the path we are following leads: love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace.

Pastor Michelle, who serves over in Superior at Concordia, shared the perfect image for this contemplation of following in God’s way as it’s being made straight and level. She grew up in North Dakota, where the winters are harsher. With no trees or hills to block the wind, it doesn’t take much snow to whip up a blizzard. She remembered walking to church one Christmas Eve, her parents in front, blocking the wind from pushing down the little ones. They followed behind, literally stepping into their parents footsteps. Little feet finding the way forward more easily because mom and dad had pressed down the snow in front of them.

That’s what we are all about. We’re called to make that path a little more easy to find, a little more easy to travel. We follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us. We keep our eyes raised to see the destination ahead. God will bring us to that promised land, where we will be welcomed as sheep into the fold, to live in peace and joy forever.

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Waiting: A Sermon for Advent 1
December 4, 2017, 4:33 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Isaiah 64:1-9

1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence– 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

 

The holiday season means a lot of driving for my family. Being up north this year makes things a little easier, but in past years we spent the week of Christmas criss-crossing our way throughout Wisconsin- south to north, east to west, north again, and back on south.

 

With two little kids in the back seat we hear quite often, “are we there yet?” “How much longer?” interspersed with “I’m hungry” and “Can we listen to princess music?” Then back to “I’m bored, when are we going to get there?”

 

Surely no one can sympathize?

 

Every time we get near my in-laws Jeff says to the girls, “Well, we’re still going to be driving for a while, you probably should try to go to sleep.” Then he pulls into the driveway and turns off the car and the girls giggle and shout- we’re here!

 

This season of Advent puts scripture to the sense of “are we there yet?!” we feel as we look around the world and look at our lives. We proclaim faith in a God who conquered death- and yet we see people suffering grief. We celebrate Jesus as Prince of peace- and yet we hear news of war and missile tests.

 

We’re almost there and yet feel so far away.

 

During this season, we express our longing for a change. We need God to do something! It’s a longing we share with generations of the faithful. Isaiah voices the peoples’ prayer, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence-“

 

God, do something! Come here, come now.

 

Isaiah uses this beautiful imagery-

 

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—”

 

(30 sec fire video) I want God to be that quick spark that blazes into a hot fire, transforming the state of the water in an instant. From lighting to steam- like that *snap.

 

But that’s not really the way things happen. Unless you’re making a video for youTube or trying to impress your friends and maybe burn down your home in the process, you don’t douse a tree with gasoline and light it up.

 

A spark lights the kindling and then fire catches on the bigger sticks and then the logs and then when the fire is going decently, you put the pot on and wait for it to boil. It’s a delicate process that takes time and attention.

 

God has answered Isaiah’s prayer. God has come down. For these next four weeks, we move towards a celebration of God’s arrival in the birth of a son. God is still arriving into our world.

 

In this season, we remind each other to stay awake, so we don’t miss the signs of God’s arrival. Sometimes God’s presence might be as obvious as that tree lighting up, and at others, it’s as if God is a spark smoldering underground, eager to pop up at any place, any time.

 

God will get this fire of justice and renewal burning. God will bring peace- healing- meaning. The transformation of the world not something God needs us for. But, it’s something God invites us in to.

 

I think of our role in bringing God’s kingdom like the holiday cooking in my kitchen.

 

I like to cook and I like things a certain way, so it’s usually better for everyone if they just give me a wide berth and let me do my thing. Then I can do it all and present the finished product to oohs and ahhs. Everyone can admire the finished product.

 

Things are changing in my kitchen. Little ones want to be involved. Friends and family want to be helpful. I’m becoming more open to sharing the work. Then all of us get to see the transformation first hand. We enjoy the completed masterpiece that much more for having been a part of moving from raw meat, bottles of spices, dirty vegetables, and cupboards of dishes to a set table with steaming dishes. With Lydia on the step stool next to me, our measurements aren’t always completely accurate, but it’s a joy for her to be a part of it and for me to share this work together.

 

I think it’s God’s joy to share with us space in the kitchen as God cooks up the Kingdom among us. God’s not The Little Red Hen, who asks her friends to help her bake a loaf of bread, and after they all deny her, she bakes it herself and shares with no one. God is willing to open to the new kingdom to all, not requiring them to gather the wheat or crack the kernels or knead the dough or keep the fire burning. God doesn’t need anything from us. Yet we have been created in God’s image with the impulse to create- to cook up God’s vision of a world in which all are loved and valued and sustained in life forever.

As novice chefs, we can make things a little more messy, but we get the joy of being awake to the Kingdom emerging around us. We’re not to the banquet yet, but we can smell the aromas and we are invited into the kitchen to learn the recipe.

 

We’ve come here because we want to be active participants in God’s kingdom cooking, God’s sparking into being a new world. We gather gifts and warm clothes because we hear God’s intention that all the world be clothed and cared for. We share communion and cookies at tables in sanctuary and fellowship hall because we know Jesus welcomes all people into one community. We name those places of brokenness and hurt with trust that Jesus, the God who came to be with us was crucified, remains with those who suffer, and will bring them into a resurrected way of life.

 

Last week, as we drove to Jeff’s folks for Thanksgiving, Lydia piped up from the back seat, “Daddy, do that thing you do when we go to Granny and Papa’s.” We were confused at first. “When we pretend to go to sleep,” she prompted. Ah. She’s learned a rhythm to how we prepare to arrive. She can’t quite understand how many miles, how many minutes remaining in the journey, but she understands the ritual that tells us we are close.

 

It helps us to wait, when we have something to encourage us that we are almost there. That’s the gift of the tradition in this season. Whether you light an Advent wreath, turn on the Christmas music, or wrap presents, may these rituals serve to strengthen you in your waiting. They point us towards the celebration of Christmas and the unfolding of what God is doing through Jesus’ birth. God is continuing to come down, to be found among us, and to pull us forward into a new kingdom of peace and joy and good will.

 

 

 

 



Advent Litany
November 29, 2017, 5:08 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

 

In this season of Advent

we wait for God-with-us arriving,

an answer to prayer.

A: Come, O Lord.

 

The world is broken

and bound by selfishness, disease, and violence.

We see its hurt on the news, among our families, and within our hearts.

A: Come, O Lord.

 

Jesus brings a new way of life that

values each person and all creation,

shows love in the face of hate,

and produces abundance from scarcity.

A: Come, O Lord.

 

We both wait and welcome

trusting that Jesus has come into the world,

is with us now, and

will be more fully in the time to come.

A: Come, O Lord.

 

Jesus’ way begins today.

We’re here to practice and prepare.

As the people of God

gathered at Our Savior’s

We commit to preparing the way

for God’s kingdom by

“Serving God,

God’s People,

and our Community”

 

 

We wait in hope. Sometimes our faith is fragile

as the light of a candle.

At others, it is strong and spreading

as a spark igniting brush.

We light the candles of our Advent wreath

as a sign of our hope:

one-

(one, then two)-

(one, then two, then three)-

(one, then two, then three, then four)-

growing, waiting, then complete.

Come, Lord Jesus.

A: Amen.

Free to use when attributed to Pr. Liz Foght Davis (probably want to change the church mission statement, though!):



Conflicting Systems: Resurrecting those in the Outer Darkness Matthew 25:14-30
November 21, 2017, 6:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Read the Bible  Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

Today’s gospel text has traditionally been interpreted as an encouragement for us to use what we have in God’s service. Everything we have comes from God and belongs to God. God cares what we do with it- whether that it is our money, time, or talents. (slide- sticker chart) If we like to stick to the happy side, this text forms an image of God as the master of the sticker chart, rewarding us for the good choices we make. If we’re sticking a bit more to the text, we might switch from carrot to stick and warn everyone that they’re going to end up punished if they don’t work hard for God.

This morning, I’m going to offer up an alternative understanding of this parable that’s really captivated me as I’ve been studying, praying, and talking with others about this text. It might not be the primary way you’ll continue to understand this text, but my intention is that it pushes you into greater thought and prayer as you meet Jesus challenging you and offering you hope through this text and preaching.

(slide- for it is..)

“For it is as if…”

Jesus has been preaching a series of parables that are meant both to confuse and reveal.  With a parable, there are no easy answers. They’re meant to be stories that stick in your head.

(slide- gobstopper)

Parables are like a gobstopper, with layers on layers of new meaning  that reveal themselves the longer you think on them.

The outer layer of this parable might bring a message that you’re supposed to make money for God. What other message might be revealed after more contemplation?

Let’s locate this parable within the gospel. Jesus tells this parable after his entrance into Jerusalem. When he turns towards Jerusalem, he turns towards his death. His teachings and his increasingly hostile encounters with the authorities are all moving towards his crucifixion. In the chapter of our parable and the one preceding, Jesus is talking about the end times and the coming kingdom of God. He doesn’t give straight answers. These teachings are apocalyptic, they pull back a curtain and reveal something about the disconnect between the way things are and the way God intends for things to be.

(slide re: apocalyptic)

God’s kingdom is an alternative reality that is being set up against the way things are. Jesus is bringing in this kingdom. His preaching and actions throughout the gospel give glimpses of what this kingdom is all about. Jesus is helping people rediscover their primary relationship to God as the one who created and sustains them- the one who has named us good and beloved. The kingdom of God has a transformed social structure centered in the remembered reality that each person is worthy, each person is a reflection of God and carries God’s spirit.

We also need to locate this parable in the setting in which it was first taught and written. Jesus preaches this parable to a people located in a specific place and time, and the gospel is written to a certain culture. For the sake of understanding this text, it’s important to know that in that culture, people thought of wealth as a limited sum. There’s only so much wealth out there to be divided among all the people. If one person has a lot of money, that necessarily means that another person has less.

(limited sum slide)

The master gives out money and sits back. When he returns he is pleased with those who have done whatever they could to get more money. We hear them say, “you gave me this much and I made this much,” but if we remember that there is only so much out there, we wonder who now has less because these slaves- well, really their master- has more. They aren’t “making money” as if it comes from nowhere- they’re taking money.

The parable ends, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (slide) In other words: “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Yikes. In that truism, we have a point at which the circumstances of this parable transcend time and hit home for us. We don’t live in the same economic system or with the same theories of economics, so maybe we don’t buy in to the idea that there’s only so much out there- we might be developing ways that there can be more for all.

But as a congregation of people who live and serve as and among those who have times when bills can’t get paid or there isn’t enough money to buy food- and yet can turn on the TV and see the wildly extravagant lives of others- well. Yes. We’ve seen those who have more get more, and those who have nothing lose it all.

But we can’t stop uncovering the layers there. This parable isn’t primarily about economic theory. It’s about the kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God inspires disruptive change.

The third slave refuses to take part in a system of economic exploitation. He does nothing with the master’s money.

The master calls him a “worthless slave.” Worthless- this one did not engage in the culture that says you’re only valuable if you make money.

The master casts him out, into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The Kingdom of God is rejected by the dominant culture. It results in its followers being thrown out of society.

Remember again the context of this parable. Jesus is proclaiming and living the Kingdom of God. People are offended. They are angry. They reject him. They will plot and carry out a plan to kill him. He will be hanged in the manner and place that symbolizes rejection, ridicule, suffering, and failure. Jesus will be cast into the outer darkness.

The community of the gospel writer will experience the cost of the offensive gospel. Even as some are transformed by their witness, others will be angry and reject them. They will lose friends, family, and stability. They, along with all the Jewish people, will be crushed under the power of the Roman empire. They will know weeping.

Jesus’ preaching and teaching uncovers the way our culture erases the dignity of each person. By proclaiming the positive: God loves you, God forgives you, God is with you, God intends for all to live in peace and for everyone to have what they need, Jesus shows us the kingdom of God as a radical alternative to the way things are today. That vision of the Kingdom of God inspires us to work towards its coming.

In more recent years, we have seen people inspired by God to be workers of disruptive change. These people uncovered the life-limiting systems of this world by refusing to participate in their death-dealing forces any longer. They declare that the way things are isn’t the only way it has to be.

(slide- Rosa)

Rosa Parks, the students at the Woolworth lunch counter, and the countless others of the 1960s civil rights movement refused to live in a system where  those with darker skin were seen as less than those with lighter skin.

(slide- counter) Through protests, lawsuits, and visionary preaching, they uncovered the brokenness of the way things were and walked forward into a world shaped by the promise of God’s kingdom, that each person is a being of worth and deserving of dignity.

In more recent weeks, we’ve seen increasing momentum against the way things are regarding sexual harassment and assault. Suddenly, there is a shift against power’s assumed right to demand access to bodies. The media has not picked up the religious grounding to this shift. Perhaps this is because the church has been a part of the problem. We’ve been afraid to proclaim the kingdom promise that God created us, bodies and all, and values us not only in a spiritual sense, but as embodied creatures.

Those who stand up to the systems of power in this world will be rejected and pushed out. If we are willing to risk everything for the kingdom, we might find ourselves suffering. But it is in suffering, in rejection, that we will be met by Jesus, because Jesus was also pushed out.

Jesus will not leave us in the outer darkness, but will carry us with him into resurrection. Jesus was raised from the dead, a sign of hope to us that the power of the systems of this world is not the ultimate power. God has ultimate power for life. God is using God’s power to fully bring in God’s kingdom. Today we live with hope for the kingdom. We get little visions of God’s kingdom and little moments of living into it. We work with God’s priorities in mind today and sometimes feel the sting of the world’s reaction. Those rejections are the labor pains through which God will bring new life. God will establish God’s kingdom. On that day, we will know the joy of living in community as people of value, worth, and dignity. We will know the triumph of victory over all the systems of today that limit life and deal death. God will give us life abundant and eternal. God will turn our weeping into laughter. We will have joy in Jesus’ presence forever.

 

 



Blessing: Beatitudes Matthew 5:1-12
November 6, 2017, 11:21 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

read the Bible

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

Aah, aaah, aaachooo!

(God bless you).

Thank you. Thank you for blessing me.

Huh. “Bless you.” What do you think that’s all about? We use the words bless and blessings to talk about a lot of different things.

We say “bless you” to be nice. We meet a new baby or land a new job and say, “what a blessing.” If we’re Southerners we might say “bless your heart” as nice words to cover a nasty attitude. Even in the church we can be a bit confused about what blessings are and who gets them. Some churches teach that your personal health and wealth are signs of God’s blessings, a reward for your good faith. Lutherans don’t teach that, but some of us might believe it anyway.

Jesus preaches a whole sermon on blessing. I think his audience had to be wondering what he meant by the word blessed. He doesn’t use the word the way they might expect. They- and we- might equate blessing with success, to be blessed is to be winning at life. But then we hear Jesus speak, and he calls people blessed that we wouldn’t think of being being happy or successful.

Blessed are the poor in spirit? Blessed are those who mourn? Blessed are those who are persecuted or rejected?

Not in any way I’ve thought of blessing!

So what might Jesus be meaning when he uses the word blessed?

One way would be to hear blessed as “God is there.” “God is there, with the poor in spirit.” “God is there, with those who mourn.” “God is there, with those who are persecuted.”

There is blessed space, holy ground, where these struggling, overlooked and pushed aside ones are because God is there. God chooses to value all people. God is with them- with us- whether our lives match society’s expectation of what blessed success looks like or not.

When Jesus preaches the beatitudes, he’s teaching the disciples to see with God’s eyes and priorities.  They will be continuing Jesus’ work when he’s gone. These words are part of their training. They need to know where God chooses to be so that they can be there, too.

Perhaps after Jesus’ death and resurrection, these words declaring the unexpected ones blessed will take on a new depth of meaning for the disciples.

Jesus’ death will invert expectations of where God is found. To be betrayed by a follower, abandoned by friends, rejected by the crowd, and hanged in humiliation is pretty much as far opposite from what you’d expect a god to experience as you can get. But we know Jesus was there. That was his experience.

God isn’t only where we expect to find God. Jesus’ suffering death shows without a doubt that God is willing to be found in complete powerlessness. Jesus enters ridicule, failure, and death so that even when we find ourselves in all that mess, we would not find ourselves alone. No matter the depth of the struggle, we are not alone, Jesus has chosen to be there with us, and so, we are blessed.

This has a huge effect on our work as the church. We are another generation in the long line of disciples following Jesus. As I get to know you, I have been continually amazed by the faithfulness of this congregation in looking for where God is at work and being there. You pray for each other in joy and struggle. You open this building for many other organizations to use to bring healing. You welcome people, you feed people, and you reflect to people the great value God has placed on them.

Jesus’ teaching, “blessed are they…” isn’t just about trying to make people content with their current state of life, as if saying, “God is with you” will solve all problems or ought to be enough to resign people to the way things are. When Jesus declares these blessed, Jesus pulls back the curtain on the next act. God has something new coming.

Jesus preaches, “”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Over and over, “bless are they… for they will…” God has a future in mind.

As we follow Jesus, we name people blessed by God’s presence and we look forward with hope. We recognize God is with those who suffer just as much as God is with those in the midst of joy. It’s even more important for us to name those who struggle as the blessed ones because we have to shout against the world’s insistence that they cannot be blessed- and that they ought to be ignored or shut out or at least not allowed to affect our own better lives. Our call is to declare God’s blessing- point out God at work- and to be doing God’s work of building the kingdom. We work towards the end of all suffering. We strive for a world of justice and peace. We proclaim hope even at the bitter end.

It’s this impossible and awesome call that makes me love being a pastor. I love this calling because I get to be in places God is blessing with God’s being there. Sometimes that is in hard and sad and overwhelming situations.

I’ve walked through a congregation of emergency responders to kneel at the body of a man I had just shared communion with in the congregation of that morning’s worshippers, and then gone on to hug his new widow.

I’ve placed a water filled shell in the hands of brand new parents so we could baptize their hour old son before he died.

Having hope gives me the power to really be present with those in the most awful of circumstances. Don’t hear me wrong. I don’t like that people suffer. I don’t want that for anyone. But because I have hope, I don’t have to pretend it doesn’t happen just to be able to keep living. My heart and my eyes and my ears can be open to really hear you in your pain and I know that I am so very powerless to change things and make them all better and that will hurt and it will haunt me- but- I can still be there because I know this is not the final end. That a child should die is not what God wants. That people go hungry or hurt each other or are broken by illness or addiction is not what God wants. God will make things better.

I could not keep going there if I did not know God was there also. I could not keep doing this if I did not also believe that God’s choice to show up was also a choice to do something. God does not abandon us, but will open a new future for us. God is in the process of building a new kingdom, pulling us forward to a new dawn, preparing the resurrection for all.

We declare that God is here now in the tears and the struggle and the shame- and that this moment is not the end.

“We are God’s children now, what we will be has not been revealed.” If now we are blessed, if now we are claimed, then the new thing God has coming can only be more wonderful and wholly good.

Revelation offers this vision of hope for us who wonder what could be beyond the joy and pain of this time: 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

It doesn’t take being a pastor to be someone who notices God showing up among us and proclaiming hope in God’s future.  It’s your job, too. You show up for people in a way that shows God showing up. You show up without judgment, without the power to change everything, but with hope that even in the most difficult of circumstances, God is there, and maybe now, but certainly later, God will fulfill our hopes, ease our burdens, fill our needs, and bring us into joy forever. You do that with your friends and family, coworkers and students. You do that as you greet and assist food pantry clients, pray for your pew neighbors, serve at funeral luncheons, and keep on working to solve problems that seem beyond our power to fix.

There’s a lot of fear out there in the world. And a lot of things to fear. But we believe in a God who conquered death itself. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by our powerlessness to effect positive change in the world. But even in his greatest powerlessness, Jesus achieved salvation for all. Maybe we don’t get to see immediate results in our work for the kingdom, but we can still trust that God is moving us all forward into a good future.

We celebrate All Saints’ Day today as a day of hope. We remember those who have died, we celebrate those whose lives are just beginning, and we look to God as the one who holds us all together for life now and in the future. Blessed are you, beloved of God, for you will see God restoring all things and your hope will be fulfilled.

 

 



Sermon Oct 22: Two Kingdom Strategies Matthew 22:15-22
November 6, 2017, 11:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Bible readings 

As we prepare to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I found myself preparing for you a sermon resembling more closely a lecture than I would typically preach. I won’t be reading the slides, but hope they provide a bit more for you to think about and focus on.

****

 

“I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the republic for which it stands… one nation, under God.”

 

(photo of kids and flag)

 

This oath sworn by school children around the country reflects a religious claim we hear in both our Isaiah and Matthew readings this morning. The nation is under God. The forces of this world- military, government, police, public institutions- are all below God in power. Their power comes from God alone, even though more often than not they wouldn’t recognize the Divine as the source of their authority.

 

(God ->

People in Charge)

 

Today we’ll explore this faith claim, that God is the one in charge, through our two Bible readings. Then we’ll remember what Martin Luther wrote about how God works in this world to consider our Lutheran heritage. Finally, we’ll ask what it means for our lives, lived as Christians, citizens of heaven and yet also citizens of the world.

 

(God= one in charge)

 

Isaiah offers a fascinating and bold claim of God’s sovereign power. The people Isaiah is writing to and about are the people of God in exile. God’s promised land has been conquered, God’s promised line of kings has been broken, and God’s chosen people are struggling to remain faithful when it seems that their God isn’t powerful enough to have kept God’s promises. Isaiah and other prophets have claimed God’s power by declaring the people’s suffering is a punishment from God, meant to bring them back into faithfulness.

 

(Isaiah’s claim: no gods exist besides God, God can work through anyone to accomplish God’s purposes)

 

The really big claim Isaiah makes is that God is working through a foreign ruler to free God’s people from captivity and restore them to their kingdom.

(art)

 

Cyrus is the Persian ruler who will defeat the Babylonians and let the Israelites return home. Cyrus doesn’t know God. He doesn’t worship God. Yet Isaiah claims that it is God who has chosen him to fight for and free God’s people. This shows God to be above all other powers. Isaiah declares there are no other gods – it’s not Cyrus’ god who makes Cyrus victorious and thereby saves God’s people. It is the one true God who uses a foreigner to save God’s people.

 

In the midst of God seeming to have been defeated, resulting in the defeat of God’s people, rises a claim that God is the only power, choosing to punish and save through the workings of foreign political forces.

 

(art for the Matt text)

 

When we turn to the Gospel of Matthew, we find Jesus continuing to be challenged by the religious and political establishment. We’re at the point in the gospel during which rejection and anger are rising, tipping us towards Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.

 

The Pharisees and Herodians have come to trap Jesus, angling to use his response to set the crowds or the political authorities against him. They ask him- should we have to pay taxes? Jesus pivots away from their trap, answering, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

 

The currency of the empire is wrapped up in the world’s focus on buying and selling, government and taxes. Yet above all is God’s power. Again we hear a recognition that there are political powers unaware of God and yet somehow these same powers are under God’s greater power. We will see Jesus crucified by the world’s powers, guarded in death by their armed forces, and yet rise victorious and powerful over all. God’s power is greater than all others.

 

(Martin Luther)

 

When we shift from the world of the scriptures to our own, we can look back at Christian tradition to see how others explained this claim that God is the greatest power, behind the powers governing our world.

 

Martin Luther and the reformers wrote about God’s relationship to the government of their time, bringing together the faith claim that God’s power and rule is supreme, the reality that there are many different powers in our world, and the role and place of the Christian.

 

 

Luther developed what we call the two kingdoms doctrine.

 

(two kingdoms slide)

 

This might be understood as two strategies through which God works to achieve God’s purposes of creating faith and creating a world order that sustains the well-being of all. There are two spheres of rule, the spiritual realm which deals with matters of salvation and belief, for which bishops, pastors, and church workers are authorities, and the temporal, or civic, realm or more simply called the state, which deals with matters of peace, justice, and protection, for which kings, government officials, military, lawyers, judges, and police are authorities.

 

(“The two kingdoms exist side by side,…)

 

 

The temporal realm is necessary only because there are forces of evil at work in the world. Sometimes the Bible and people of faith name these forces Satan or Devil. Additionally, we might simply recognize that even within us Christians, is both a saint and a sinner- both the Holy Spirit inspiring us to do good for our neighbor and our sinful desire to serve only ourselves, even to the point of taking advantage of our neighbor for our own gain.

 

(saint and sinner picture)

 

The civic realm, or state, with its workers, stops evil from acting. Laws are meant to curb behavior that would hurt others. It uses the threat of force to make people nicer to others than they otherwise would be.

 

Luther argues against a theocracy, or a Christian nation, because it would be impossible that all people within a nation would be what he calls truly Christian- someone who has completely expelled the sinner portion of themselves and would not have any need for an external force or law to keep themselves in check. True Christians have no need of law, because they do what is good for their neighbors at all times. However, they agree to live under the law for the sake of their neighbors so that they law would be supported and able to do its work of maintaining a society that is safe for all people.

 

(A true Christian wholly motivated by the Holy Spirit

1 in a million… doesn’t need the law to do what’s right)

 

(most of us do…)

 

Luther furthermore argues against a Christian nation in the way we might see people longing for one today. He was not for a nation that is based on a certain Christian understanding in which the government enforced not only civic safety but religious belief and compliance with that belief. Luther saw the horrible things that happen when rulers attempt to take on the work that belongs to the kingdom of God. In his time, princes declared their religious affiliation and decreed that all their citizens must believe as they do. Luther declares that faith can’t be created through the law. Faith can only be created- and corrected- through the gospel, when the Holy Spirit works in people through the Word and Sacrament. Rulers are not to take on God’s work of creating and directing belief. The work of the gospel doesn’t belong to the authorities of the state, but to the church.

 

 

(A true Christian lives and labors on earth not for himself, .…)

 

God uses the state and rulers for God’s purposes. That doesn’t mean the state is self-aware of God’s use. It means that the faithful see the value of the state within God’s vision for the world. It also means that the faithful are called to support the state, for example, by paying taxes. (pause)

 

 

Luther’s Two Kingdoms has been misunderstood to mean that people of faith should always obey their governments and should not affect the political systems under which they live. This had disastrous consequences in NAZI Germany as the church was coopted to support the regime.

 

(nazi photo)

 

Not all governments are good and used as God intends. Those in power do not always work for the well-being of all. Luther suggested that sometimes that will mean the Christian will have to suffer the consequences of making a stand in faith and endure that suffering with joy. In our system of government, we have greater opportunity to hold our political leaders to the goals God called them to accomplish: the protection of those who are in danger, the building up of the common good, and the establishment of laws for the development of peace and justice.

(A Christian asks…

 

 

 

There are times when I have heard people say there should be no politics in church. They want a separation of church and state. They don’t want preachers using their power to influence votes. The root of the word politics is polis, which means city- where people live. Polis refers to daily life. Our faith should influence how we live and our desire to act so that others may live. Through Luther’s Two Kingdoms, we see that Christians have a responsibility to engage in the polis in order that it might live up to God’s purposes.

 

(Jesus frees Christians…))

The church is called to be a community of moral deliberation. We look at the issues of our time, the work of the present government, and bring to those issues the guidance of the Bible, the history of tradition, and the voices of those who are most affected by decisions being made. We follow the Bible’s witness to God’s priorities and focus especially on those voices that have been pushed aside or made powerless. We act : as the church institution itself providing for the well being of others, as the community of faith who call the government to pay attention to those who are most in need, and as citizens who are affecting the government through our votes, voice, and participation.

 

((Christians also exercise their calling …

another slide…

 

The Church has one foot in the spiritual realm and the other in the civic realm. As stewards of the gospel, we proclaim God’s freeing grace that releases us from death and sin.

 

(Faith is active in love…)

 

We use the Word and Sacraments as our tools. As an institution within the civic realm, we work within the societal structures to ensure all people have their daily needs met. We use our material resources and communal voice as our tools. Here at Our Savior’s we participate in both realms through sacramental worship, prayer, and Bible study on the one hand, and food pantry, social services, and advocacy on the other.

 

 

(Roman coin)

When Jesus holds that Roman coin, he asks, “whose image is this?” Jesus declares that it belongs to the one who image is stamped on it. You likewise bear an image. You have been formed in the image of God. You have been marked with the cross of Christ.

 

(baptized with cross/ash cross)

You belong to God. All that you do and all that you are is meant to be in imitation of Jesus. Jesus was about the work of bringing people into relationship with God, healing the sick, welcoming the shunned, and bringing life where there is death.

 

(…love of neighbor seeks not its.…) – quote over apple picture

 

Luther compares a Christian to an apple tree. The apple tree does not need to be commanded to produce apples, it simply produces apples as a result of what it is. Likewise, Christians work for the good of their neighbors and for all of creation because they reflect the love of the Creator for all that God has made.

 

Our faith claim that God is all powerful over our lives calls into question all of our allegiances. We may join our fellow citizens in celebrating and supporting our nation, but we never forget that we belong to God alone. We are not blind to the ease in which our political leaders can lose focus on their calling, and we must not falter in our efforts to call them to their task of protecting the most vulnerable among us. When we know that God is over all – working both through spiritual and civic realms, we can reclaim our voice. We have the call and right to speak both Gospel, God’s saving love for all, and Law, God’s intention that all have access to justice and peace.

 

(peaceable kingdom picture

 

 

 

 

 



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

Philippians 2:1-13  

read the Bible

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.