Lutheranlady's Weblog


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.

 

 

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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.



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

read the Bible

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.