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One Truth: A Sermon for Reformation Day
October 26, 2015, 11:17 am
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Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.

Today we celebrate a festival called “Reformation.” We remember an event almost 500 years ago, in which the Catholic priest, monk, and professor Martin Luther brought his soul searching and Biblical study into a discussion within the religious and academic community. He challenged the way things were in the church of his place and time. Many others came after him. This led to the eventual breaking away from the one church of the West, the Roman Catholic Church, into a number of different churches.

All the religious conversations, theological writings, changes, political shuffling, and schisms of the 1500s are part of what we call The Reformation. It was a period of change and new developments that set the stage for the religious landscape in which we live today in which there are hundreds of different denominations.

While we talk about The Reformation as a period in history, reformation isn’t a once and done event.

Throughout every generation of the faithful, there is questioning and adapting in the process of meeting God at work in the world and the community. Scripture records drastic changes that force a reforming of the community’s understanding of God and God’s work.

Remember the Old Testament’s stories of the rise of the kingdom, which celebrated God’s promise to secure David’s line on the throne forever. This whole understanding of God at work was tested when the Israelites were conquered, the temple destroyed, and the leaders brought away into exile. The community had to reform into a new way of understanding God’s power and promises, as well as a new way to worship.

In the Gospels, Jesus pushes against expectations of how God is present, how God’s laws apply, for whom God acts, and how God saves. The community had to reform to accept Jesus the suffering one as the awaited triumphant messiah.

By the later New Testament, at the very beginning of the Church, Paul and Peter are confronted with God’s push towards including nonJews among the chosen people, and the community goes through a very difficult period of reformation as they figure out who is allowed in.

Reformation is the change that comes about in the community of believers when their images of God and their ways of worship are no longer sufficient to address their current reality. Reformation- change- can be difficult, as it’s a birthing process, a growing process, and sometimes the outcome isn’t so clear from the beginning. It can also be a destructive process, whenever people think they have arrived at the one answer, the one truth, and come to view others as enemies, who at best, are ignorant or deluded, and at worst, are agents of evil, spreading lies.

Our triumphant celebrations of the Reformation can fall into the destructive if we raise up Luther or our denomination as the only ones who have made it to the truth. As if we have gotten it all right and everyone else is lost and wrong.

Our bulletin celebrates today with a statue of Martin Luther and this powerful verse from the Gospel, “the truth will make you free.” Now, when Jesus stands before Pilate, Pilate asks, “what is truth?” I think we need to ask the same. The thing is, we all seem to think we know what the truth is.

The whole Reformation might be summed up by describing it as a search for the truth. The bloodly outcome of that search for truth points to the fact that we never got there.

Because you can’t claim the truth- you can’t contain it in a book, as if our Book of Concord held the truth, or even as if the Bible was the truth.

Jesus is the truth. We hear this explicitly in John 14:6, Jesus declares, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” The truth is the incarnate, crucified and resurrected one- and that God- that Jesus- isn’t going to be owned and pinned down by one sect or another.

Jesus is the truth that will set us free- free from internal struggles to attain holiness, free from the need to judge others, free from the interChristian fights to claim possession of the truth.

Today, as we near 500 years since the Reformation, the truth that sets us free from our Lutheran brand loyalty, free to witness to the world as the one Christian Church, is the crucified one.

When we look at Jesus on the cross, we are confronted by truth that clearly shows us ourselves. Our betrayal, power struggles, and need to direct hate and violence on to another – are all right there, pinning Jesus to the cross. Our need to make ourselves feel better by pouring hatred onto another, an outsider, an easy target is the truth Jesus shows us- the truth Jesus chooses to be crushed under and claimed by.
This crucified Jesus, with truth shining right on to us, is the salvation that will lead us out of the division of the Reformation. We can see clearly Martin Luther’s failure to grasp the fullness of God as he name calls the Pope or the Anabaptists. We can see clearly our failure when our differences in practice and belief form negative stereotypes or destroy our ability to work, worship, or pray together.

When Dave and I were talking about the upcoming 500 year commemoration of the Reformation, he reminded me that our language shapes our reality. It’s time to start talking about our shared identity as Christians first, and our tradition second, so that we can better work, learn, and worship together as Christians from the Roman Catholic background and Christians from the Lutheran background, Christians from the Baptist Tradition or the Methodist Tradition. We are one body, one Church, because the Truth to whom we cling is bigger than all the truths of our particular denomination’s teaching and practice.

Us Christians from the Lutheran tradition and from the Roman Catholic tradition have been working together in dialog since 1967 on a formal level through the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity. Together, we’ve published a number of documents that explore all those ideas and practices that once drove us apart, and have come to an increased appreciation for each other. We’ve had to listen deeply to each other, to discover how our different language points to the same truth. The latest document, “From Conflict to Communion,” helps us from these divided traditions to come together towards unity, with the possibility for a common commemoration of the Reformation that celebrates how God has been present within both churches, rather than trumpeting one or the other as the true church while the other is in error. We confess one holy apostolic catholic (little c, as in worldwide) church- and though we may never become one Church in shared organizational structure or practice, we remember that we are one in Jesus.
We are at the brink of a new Reformation, during which the unity of the Church is more necessary than ever. The Western and Northern spheres of the globe are expressing an increasing sense of the irrelevance of the Church. The world is staggering under violence committed by those claiming possession of the truth. Our culture seems intent on growing the church only by building a new worship center every time a disagreement ruptures a community. Will we show the world the face of a Christianity that is divided and consumed by arguments, or will Jesus hold us together as one, with the diversity of our practice contributing to the depth and richness of the face of Christ we show together?

Truth isn’t a set of facts to cling to. Faith isn’t about agreeing to a set of beliefs, as if you could tick off a list of ideas to which you assent, and you’d be good. Faith is about trust and relationship. Faith sometimes is the desperate reach of a floundering person drowning, hoping beyond hope that something might be there to catch him. The truth faith needs is a person. Jesus Christ is the embodied truth, the person who acts for you and in you to create faith, and to be the faithful one to whom you can cling, through change, through suffering, and into life and freedom.

Fuzzy Blankets or Steps to Glory: Mark 10:35-45 Isaiah 53:4-12
October 19, 2015, 9:46 am
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Read the texts
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.

It’s almost Halloween, and if you have a little one in your household, that means it’s time to pick out a costume. There’s always the classic ghost or witch, but I think the most fun is when kids dress up like someone they dream of being. Heroes from the Comics seem to be in. I’d choose Spiderman. Peter Parker gets this amazing power when his life is transformed by a spider bite. He’s been weak and scrawny, teased and picked on, and now he’s strong and powerful. He’s quick, and with the help of his sticky spiderweb, he can almost fly, soaring above regular people. That transformation into glory is something you don’t have to be a kid to dream about.
by bern 4e
What would it be like to have a taste of glory? To have fame and fortune just within your reach? To have what everyone else wants- to be the center of envy.

Is there something in you that makes you aspire to greater things? If so, you find yourself in the company of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples.

James and John, they were fishermen before Jesus called them. Now, maybe they had a good life, and enjoyed fishing with their father. They probably thought their lives were going to be pretty much as expected, staying in the village, working hard on their boats, worshipping and raising a family just as their father and his father and maybe even his father before him. But when Jesus came, and called them, they left that predictable life behind. Now they’ve travelled. They’ve had a taste of something bigger- watching miracles of power right in front of them. They’ve been invited to start doing some of those powerful things themselves- healing and preaching and casting out demons. They’ve come a long way from their days on the water. They know they could be more.

They see that Jesus is gaining in fame. Surely, he’s rising to the top. They might not know quite what that’s going to look like, but they’re picturing something like Jesus crowned, on a throne, above all the rabble, and they’re hoping to be at his side, sharing in his honor, being honored themselves by his looking to them for advice, or raising them to positions over others.

So they ask Jesus if he’ll promise to bring them with him as he rises to the top and enters his glory. Much to their disappointment, Jesus can’t make that promise.

The other disciples hear that James and John have been trying to secure their place in the future, and they are angry. They’re angry because all of them want the same thing: to be honored, to be powerful, to stand out and over everyone else. They all want the same thing, and they can’t all be at the top.

If we’re honest, maybe some of us can admit to those feelings of envy and bitterness- when we aren’t the ones with power, when we can’t control everything, when others seem to be getting what’s rightfully ours. Those feelings are all part of being taken in by our culture’s way of valuing life.

The disciples are living with their goals shaped by the world. They look around them and see everyone else wants to get to the top, have more honor, be treated as special, and have power over other people. So, they figure that’s what they should want, too.

Jesus says that the way the world works is not what the kingdom of God is like. All over the world, people are under the power of some ruler, CEO, or rich person, and in order to feel better about themselves, they squish some other people under them. So you end up suffering under one person’s power and pushing that frustration onto someone you can have power over. It’s like coming home from a bad day at work, when your boss yelled at you, and kicking your dog or screaming at your kid- and feeling better because you’re not at the way bottom- at least there’s someone under you.

Jesus is opening a different way. Jesus is bringing in God’s way. In God’s way of ordering, those who want to be great must be servants. Those who find themselves at the lowest rung, pushed around and pushed under, will be lifted up. Jesus goes ahead of us to establish this as God’s path.

The pinnacle of Jesus’ glory is when he is crowned with thorns and raised up on the cross. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life away as a ransom for many.”

Jesus takes the place of the lowest and most despised. Our most powerful and awesome God shifts the scales of value through Jesus. Jesus chooses not to take the throne of earthly glory, but instead aligns himself with the weakest.

Isaiah gives us language to hear that Jesus has taken our place: “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases.” We may each have our own spheres of worldly power, but we also have our moments when we face the limits of our power. Jesus invites us to recognize not only the limits to our power, but to abandon any attempt to build our power. Instead, we’re invited to embrace our weaknesses and confess our sin. We come together to acknowledge that we are not all powerful, we are not perfect, we are not better than anyone else- and to encourage each other to stop relying on our own power to rise to anything better. Instead, we rely on Jesus. We number ourselves among those who need to be carried, whose struggles are too heavy to manage alone.

When I was little, we lived just a few blocks away from my grandmother. Once in a while, I’d be over at her house while my parents went out. Sometimes, I’d fall asleep there, even though my parents would be picking me up to bring me home to my own bed. My strongest memories of those nights is when it would be time to leave and I’d be half asleep. My dad would scoop me up and they would tuck this fuzzy pink blanket around me, and I would feel safe and warm and utterly loved as I was brought back home.

It is that sense of complete trust and safety that you can have in abandoning your own power and relying on Jesus. Jesus picks us up and carries us, taking the weight of all the burdens we bear.

Jesus does this because he completely and freely loves us. It’s not because our lives are so pretty, and it’s not only for those who have the most potential to turn their lives around. Jesus chooses to enter the experience of the most forsaken among us, to call the cross his place of glory, so that we would know that there is absolutely no one who is so messed up that God would give up on her.

When my own kids are sick, I scoop them up and cuddle them. Now, part of me is always repulsed, my fear of getting sick myself pushing against my love for them. My love is stronger. I can’t make them all better, but I can be sure they don’t feel alone. This is what our God does for us.

I just finished re-reading the Lord of the Rings for something like the 10th time. I’ve been thinking about the ending in relation to Isaiah’s description of Jesus bearing our suffering. Two characters are nearing the end of their journey, Frodo carries the ring of power towards Mount Doom to destroy it and destroy the power of evil, and Sam travels with him as his faithful companion and servant. The weight of the ring, its evil power and the temptation to use it, grows on Frodo. When he can go no further, Sam picks him up and carries him up the mountain. Sam can’t carry the ring itself, but he can carry Frodo. The sin that comes with being in the world, the power of death and sickness weigh us down. Jesus doesn’t wave a hand and make it all disappear, but Jesus carries us, lifts us up under the weight of all we carry, and will bring us into a place of life and healing.

Being freed from the power struggle to appear perfect and to control others, we can acknowledge our own brokenness and the weight of suffering that we carry. Then Jesus can carry us. Jesus carries us through life, never abandoning us, no matter how messy things get. At the end, he will lift us up to the glory of new life.

Jesus shows us the foolishness of our grasping for power over each other and offers a different path, one that is grounded in servanthood. When we serve others, we rise up together. Through the power of God, no one has to be our stepping stool to get to a better place. Jesus brings us up by being with us through suffering, through death, through service and sacrifice, into new life and a new way of being in community. We will not be heroes alone, but in following Jesus’ sacrifice, we will share in his glory.

A Match Made in Heaven: A Sermon on Genesis 2 and Mark 10
October 5, 2015, 9:17 am
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Read the Bible passages.
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.

One of the growing ways to find a romantic partner is to use an online dating service. The point of these services is to help you connect with someone you’d have a good chance of being compatible with. One of the big ones, describes itself with this ad, Looking for someone who loves sushi, the Mets, or runs marathons? We provide a variety of powerful search tools to help you find people based on their interests, background, age, location, and more—and it’s free…
An easy way towards love, right? Sounds like an obvious way to weed out all the options that won’t match. But in the days before computers, it was a little harder. And in the days before dating was ever invented… well, even God wasn’t so great at the matchmaking business.

When we open Genesis 2, we find God trying to make a match for the human God has created.

If Genesis 1 is perfectly measured by the refrain, “it was good,” then Genesis 2 is a cacophony of discord that moves out from, “it was not good.”

This second creation story describes a God who gets down and dirty in the mud, fashioning and forming like a child on the lakeshore. God’s created, but as God pauses to look at creation, God cannot say, “it is good.”

This earthling is alone within creation, and God sees this aloneness is not good. The earthling needs a partner.

But there haven’t been compatibility studies, there aren’t personality tests, and no time to decide favorite pastimes, so God doesn’t really have a whole lot to go on. The way the story’s told, God pokes around in the dirt some more, thinking a good partner might be strong, with a trunk to help clear and pull as the earthling worked the garden. But, while the elephant might be really helpful, it just doesn’t work out between the two of them. God tries again. This time, God fashions a partner with a better emotional intelligence, loyal, and cuddly. What emerges may become man’s best friend, but the dog still isn’t everything the earthling is looking for.

So, God does something new. God pulls out from the human another person. Now there are two, and the first recognizes in the other the connection that’s been missing.
After this division, the one is not alone, is in relationship.

Genesis is an origin story, meant to answer the question of why we live in relationship, in community. There are days when I might wish Adam would have called it good when God showed up with the cat or the dog. Human relationships can get so messy!
They are not all that the Match.coms of the world would have us believe, with a kiss and a ring and a happily ever after.
Living in relationship, living in community with other people, is not easy work.

As we move forward into Mark, we’re met with the reality that human community hasn’t lived up to the “it was good” standard. The glaringly obvious example in this passage is divorce, but there’s more to the text than that.

This scene is introduced, “Now the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus.” Their entrance is a sign of discord in community. Already we see that community is pulled apart by those who want to use their power against others.

They’ve come up with a question they hope will stump teacher Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

For those of us who think things have all gone bad in the last generation, this text reminds us that divorce was just as much a given back in Jesus’ day, and even in Moses’ day, that it is today.

The answer to the Pharisees questions is, yes, it is lawful- because as Jesus says, Moses, the teacher of the law, said it was lawful. But Jesus doesn’t start describing when it’s ok, or what conditions must be met. Jesus pushes back against the law. He says that allowing divorce was a result of their hardness of heart, their inability to live in relationship. Divorce is a symptom of the greater problem: brokenness and selfishness at the heart of all people, which is carried into all relationships and strains them.

Now, just as much as we might be surprised to learn that divorce was a thing way back then, it’s also important to keep in mind that marriage and divorce were also very different in Jesus’ time than they are today. Marriage was primarily an economic arrangement, one in which the woman was completely dependent on the man. If a man chose to divorce, he could cast his wife off, and thereby would cut her off from any economic security she might have had. She would be impoverished. It wasn’t an opportunity for people to go their own ways and lead full lives after the end of their marriage, but would destroy the wellbeing of the one most vulnerable in the relationship- the wife. So when Jesus speaks against divorce so strongly, it’s important to remember that he’s speaking against something that would severely injure one party more than the other.

I can’t imagine there are any of us who have not been affected by divorce. It’s not an end anyone plans when they enter a marriage. It’s not something any of us hopes for as we send our congratulations in a wedding card. I wonder if we, as a community, might not do more to prevent divorces from happening. As a church, we need to do more to walk with each other to support the promises and commitment of marriage,
especially in a world that tells us we should always be fulfilled, always get what we want. But we cannot fall into the trap of the Pharisees, and be so concerned with judgment that we lose sight of the real needs of people. Sometimes, divorce is the right, if painful, choice. Today, those who are being hurt by their partners are more free to leave, more able to be ok on their own. We are called to walk with those whose marriages are dissolved, so that they can work towards healing by being grounded in God’s unconditional and unending love for them. We can look out for those most affected by divorce, especially the children who cannot know all of what is going on around them.

When Jesus responds to the Pharisee’s question, Jesus is most concerned for the vulnerable. For Jesus, relationship is about community- and in God’s community, the least powerful, the most vulnerable, are the ones who must be cared for first. Remember, this whole section of Mark opened with Jesus talking about his death for others contrasted with the disciples’ arguing for greatness as they jostled for status. Jesus closed that conversation by putting a child in their midst. Now he turns from questions about divorce to another scene with children. He has to yell at the disciples because they are still pushing children away. They are still looking at community as a stratified hierarchy in which some are valued more than others. In Jesus’ community, even the snot nosed kids throwing a fit on the floor have a valued place next to Jesus.

Relationship in community is about more than marriage, much more than one man and one woman facing the world alone together. We are not whole unless we are all together- arranged in a matrix of many different types of relationships, with the most vulnerable embedded within as valued members. We’re created to be in relationship with each other- and not just spousal relationships, but as children, friend, neighbor, prayer partner, fellow resident of this beautiful earth.

Jesus is the base for that kind of relational community. Here at church we practice the kingdom of God, living into the community Jesus founds. This is why it is so necessary for us to be a place where all people are welcomed and valued, old and young, rich and poor, differently abled, and differently gifted. Whenever we push someone out, for whatever reason, we destroy our purpose as the community of Christ. This community is not whole without you. Here at Cross, we can never be completely whole, except when we recognize ourselves as members in the greater community of God, with brothers and sisters worshipping down the street and around the world, through the ages past and future.

We are humans because we were created out of the humus, the dirt, but we are persons because we are beings in relationship. Being in relationship is our birthright, as those created in the image of the Triune God. God comes to us, drawing us into relationship, pouring love on us, so that we can be in relationship with all the others God loves.