Lutheranlady's Weblog


The Party for the Lost: A Sermon on Luke 15:1-10 (Ord. 24)
September 13, 2016, 9:23 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Bible Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

I’m so glad you’re participating in worship today. When we gather here for worship, we’re joining the worship in heaven. Have you ever thought about that before?

Whenever we prepare for communion, as part of the Great Thanksgiving, I say a prayer that closes, “with all the choirs of angels, with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn” and you all jump in to sing “holy, holy, holy”- praise described in the book of Isaiah as the song being sung by the angels to God.

What we do here mirrors what’s going on up there.

What’s going on up there is joyful worship and celebration.

Today’s gospel helps us to see what’s got God celebrating.

There are two groups of people hanging out with Jesus. One group is those who think they have figured out how to live the way God wants. The other group is those that first religious group thinks aren’t living the way God wants. We might call them the righteous and the sinners. But if we do that we might be missing the point of Jesus’ stories.

Jesus tells them two stories, one for the men and one for the women, to be sure everyone can relate. A shepherd lost one of his sheep and then ran around looking for it. When he finally finds it, he calls together all his friends and family to celebrate with him. A woman lost one of her coins and sweeps the house looking for it. When she finally finds it, she calls together her friends and family to celebrate with her.

Jesus concludes by declaring there is more joy in heaven over the lost who are found than those who never needed to be found in the first place. That’s his answer to the religious grumbling, “this man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The religious people who are following Jesus are voicing their expectations that Jesus should allow only the right people to be with him. Especially in their time, with whom you spent time, with whom you ate, said a lot about who you were. Your company could put you to shame. In some way, their grumbling is a protective warning- “Jesus, if you want to be a respected leader, don’t go hanging out with the wrong people. That’s not what a good rabbi should do.”

We often reflect their concerns. We want to protect Jesus, to keep him holy. We come to think of ourselves as the ones who deserve to be in Jesus’ company, and bar the way for those we’ve decided are less deserving. We want everyone to prove themselves worthy of receiving Jesus. The thing is, Jesus doesn’t need our protecting. Worrying that too many people have been allowed into the party and focusing on all the reasons they don’t deserve to be there keeps us from enjoying the celebration. Can you imagine the dinners that must have happened- with Jesus sitting and laughing with the tax collectors and sinners while the Pharisees and scribes recline next to him, scowling the whole time because they are counting all the ways those other people aren’t worthy of Jesus? They’re closing themselves off to the celebration at hand!

So how do we move away from a mindset of righteous judgement and into an attitude of celebration? We realize that we actually need Jesus- we can’t be righteous on our own, and we give back to Jesus his job- to judge the living and the dead.

Ask yourself- Am I willing to admit that I’m the sheep that’s wandered off and the coin that’s found a cozy hiding spot with the dustbunnies in the darkness? Acknowledging my guilt reminds me I’m no better than anyone else.

Remember, the sheep and the coin aren’t things that have the power to make decisions to move themselves. The sheep is guided by instinct, try to eat enough to stay alive, and the coin has no mind of its own at all. Am I willing to admit I have no power on my own to choose God and keep from evil? Acknowledging my powerlessness turns me to rely on God.

That’s the key to the spirit of joy that makes celebration possible.  We have to let go of our need to be the righteous. We have to let go of our power to judge people and keep them out. We have to let God be God and let God do the work God intends. Only Jesus is good. Only Jesus gets to decide who he’s going to go seeking and bringing back and celebrating. Those are both the so called righteous and sinners.

Jesus has decided that we’re worthy of being found. Our being found is worth celebrating.

I’m exploring Brene Brown’s work in preparation for our synodical church leader’s fall theological conference. She researches shame and vulnerability. Shame is what keeps us from living whole lives. What defeats shame is a sense of worthiness. In her famous TEDTalk, she says, “you know what- you’re imperfect and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” Worthiness is an ability to say, “yes, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve done things wrong, but I am worthy – worthy of love.” If there was ever a brilliant secular explanation of the gospel- this is it.

You and I have messed up- we’ve chosen to be lost- we’ve chosen to judge- we’ve chosen to break apart community. Jesus knows that all, and acts in reckless love. Jesus has made us worthy. Jesus has acted because he’s decided you’re worthy. You’re worth his life!

I’ve read plenty of commentaries about why this coin is worth so much to this woman, but honestly, when I read the gospel, all I can think is- who cares about a dropped penny?! If you open your wallet and a bill flies out of it into the wind, how much does it have to be worth for you to go wildly chasing after it? (I suppose it depends how much is left in your wallet.)

When I was little, one of my jobs was to clean my dad’s car. It wasn’t a hard and fast command, but an opportunity. If I cleaned the car, I was allowed to keep any coins that I found.

I would carefully sort out the mess of papers, fast food bags, and clothes, digging down under the seats to remove those receipts trapped there, all in hopes of finding a few quarters. Every coin counted! By the end of my time, I would be very happy to have a baggie full of change and my dad would be very happy to have a clean car.

Today, when I vacuum my van, sometimes I realize that chunk of crystallized fruit snack I just sucked up was attached to a quarter. When it’s time to empty my shop vac, and I look down into that pile of dirt, I remember that there is some money down there. I’m less attached to each quarter than I used to be. (Ok, I’ll be honest, I really do still stick my hands in there and dig out the quarters – the only difference now is that I soak them in bleach before putting them in my wallet.)

The thing about the gospel is, sometimes you might feel like you’re about as worthwhile as a penny. Pennies pretty much cost more to make than their actual value as currency. You might be that fruit snack and goldfish coated penny that’s lived on the floor mats through the entire winter, but Jesus has still decided to scrape you off, clean you up, and make you his.

When Jesus tells his story, he’s talking to people who know their values- some of them know the world sees them as pennies and the others $100 bills. Jesus welcomes – and values- all of them. He’s going to get down and dirty on the cross to show just how much each of them is worth to him.

As Jesus’ followers, we’re called to reflect what Jesus has done in valuing all people, through our loving action for their well-being.

As we celebrate “God’s Work our Hands” Sunday along with ELCA congregations across the country, we celebrate that God has called us to join God’s work in this world. God works through our hands to reach out in love, welcome, and healing. Today also marks the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on our country. This morning the Sunday School thanked our Ixonia Fire and EMS Department. Every day these servants go into the community to help those in need, without weighing the worth of the ones calling for help. On that tragic day 15 years ago, servants and strangers entered collapsing buildings because they believed that others were worthy of their help- even to the point of giving up their lives. As then, today emergency responders continue to serve and not one of them stops to say- maybe you’re not worth saving, if you hadn’t been speeding, or you hadn’t been drinking, you wouldn’t be in this problem. Their job is to serve without hesitation or judgment.

We’re freed to be God’s hands, reaching out to others without judging their worth, because we know that Jesus has made us- and them- worthy. We’re freed to worship in great joy because we know ourselves to be those once lost and now found- who are continually becoming lost and being found over and over again.

There’s a party going on in heaven because of you. God is so happy to have found and claimed you that God’s throwing a party. We’re invited. The party is happening right here- right now. That’s why we gather as a church. We’re here to celebrate that Jesus has come in love to find you- and you- and you- and all the world.

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Is it Worth It? A Sermon on Luke 14:25-33
September 8, 2016, 4:30 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Bible Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.

When my college girlfriends and I got together this summer, we shared memories and swapped stories.

My roommate Ali has been hosting an event called “Beer and Hymns” for a number of years. On the last Sunday of every month, a group gathers together at the back of a pub with a hymnal next to their drinks. There are regulars who make it every month and new people who find their way.

This summer, a group of young men came in. One of them was wearing a St. Olaf t-shirt and Ali introduced herself as an alum. They chatted up all the usuals, comparing majors and dorms. Then one of them turned serious, and looking her in the eye, asked, “Was it worth it?”

The constantly rising tuition, the long hours of study and time locked away in a practice room— was the cost worth the reward? Did it all work out in the end?

Behind his question was the fear- have I made the right choice?

 

Halfway along the journey is a hard place to begin weighing the costs. Where we meet Jesus, he is coming close to the completion of his journey. He looks behind at the crowds. Do they have any idea where they are going as they follow him?

Jesus is going to his death. It’s going to get really ugly.

On this side of the resurrection, we know death will not be the end, but does Jesus? First there will be a complete experience of abandonment and failure. Jesus’ journey will cost him his life.

The text we read this morning doesn’t sound very uplifting. It’s hardly the motivational speech you’d expect a leader to use to rally the crowds onward. But maybe that’s because Jesus isn’t really interested in raising a crowd, he wants to form disciples who are ready to go all in with him for the gospel.

In the first churches where this gospel was read, the faithful would know what it is to hate father and mother, brother and sister, to leave everything behind to follow Jesus. This hating Jesus talks about isn’t about a feeling, but about priorities and actions. Jesus is saying that they can’t choose it all. They can’t choose their family which represents their old way of life if they want to choose Jesus. In the past, your family was your whole world, it was the source of all your connections- your social, economic, religious, and educational sphere were all contained within or grew out of the family. Your family identity decided who you could hang out with. Following Jesus means choosing loyalties. Will you live like your family, or live like Jesus? These Christians can’t be loyal to their families and live in segregated communities when Jesus calls them to be loyal to him and live in a new community in which rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, men and women were all welcomed. It’s one way or another- it can’t be both.

So for those first Christians, it’s not a shock to hear Jesus say they will have to hate their family and choose him first, because they’ve done that and they know the cost of following Jesus.

For us, this text is quite a shock.

I don’t think we ever talk about there being a cost to Christianity.

Often people tell me they want raise their children Christian so that they will learn to be good people. But being good, respectable citizens is not the call of Jesus. Jesus is turning the way things are, the way the world is supposed to work, the order and the rules, upside down. That’s the kind of dismantling that will make you lose your friends- and your life.

But if that’s really true, why don’t we ever think about it? Why don’t we ever calculate the costs of our faith? Why do we think there won’t be a cost?

Sometimes I think we’re the blind ones in the back of the crowd, who don’t really know where Jesus is going and are going to check out when he’s being crucified. Or we’re just so focused on getting into heaven to be with Jesus that we forget to be with him at the cross.

The cross is where Jesus shows us who he is. There Jesus experiences rejection, humility, suffering, and death. Jesus is the God who chooses to suffer for the sake of healing those who suffer. Jesus is the God who chooses to be rejected for the sake of welcoming into community those who are outcast. Jesus is the God who chooses to die so that death would be defeated. Jesus is found in the experiences and people we often try to avoid. What a strange God, to choose suffering rather than glory. Jesus gave up everything for us.

The challenge of this text is the question- will you give up everything for Jesus? Will your life choices reflect that the only thing that is important is Jesus? With his final comment, So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. Jesus cuts to the chase. In effect, Jesus says, “in order to be mine, you can’t look to your money, or your house, or your family, or your calendar- and say mine.”

To be Jesus’ disciple, we have to give up power and control over everything. We in the church don’t like doing that. While I was on Synod Council in ND, we had to deal with churches attempting to use their offering as a tool of power. Even as they said this was their act of faith, returning to God what is God’s, they restricted their money to certain projects to put pressure on the church to do what they wanted. It was a sad reminder that even in our following Jesus, we want to take the lead.

Jesus calls us to follow. When this challenge is too hard, then rest in the gospel. Jesus knew the cost of his faithfulness to us. Jesus chose twelve disciples to be his closest followers, and when the cost of following Jesus became clear, as he was arrested and led to death, they ran away and hid in fear for their lives. Still, after his resurrection, Jesus came to them and spoke peace. Jesus sent his Spirit to guide them and empower them to continue to be his disciples and disciple others.

We might never live up to the challenge Jesus puts before us. Our lack of faithfulness does not take away Jesus’ faithfulness to us. Jesus is always coming to us, picking us up, bringing us close, giving us strength and forgiveness to continue in his path. God gives us everything we need, even after we’ve given up all we have. A new family, a new identity, and new life; these are the gift of God.

My friend Ali wasn’t quite sure how to answer that St. Olaf student’s question. Had she ended up with the life she expected out of her investment in college? Maybe not. But as she told the story, she was surrounded by the community that had been formed out of that experience. Maybe that was the reward that made it all worth it.

 

Those early Christians looked around and saw the new brothers and sisters Jesus gave them and believed Jesus would give them even more. How will you weigh the costs and wait for the outcome?

 

 



Winning the big one: A Sermon on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
September 8, 2016, 4:26 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Bible Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

Do you ever buy a lottery ticket?

Gambling isn’t a big part of my life, but when that jackpot reaches ridiculous amounts- $500 million dollars- sometimes I buy a ticket.

Then I start to dream. If I suddenly had $500 million, what would I do with it?

The dreaming is the really fun part. I imagine all the amazing things I could do. Take my whole family to Norway and Germany, tracing our family heritage. Take my girlfriends and their families on a cruise- or better yet- buy us our own resort! Make sure my kids and my niece and nephew have college paid for. Buy land on Lake Superior and build a retreat center with a special focus on clergy renewal.

I dream of never having to worry about money again, or struggle with that tricky dance between my ministry as a call and work that pays the bills.

So once in a while I buy a ticket so I can surround myself with the joy of dreaming. I know I’ll never win- sometimes I don’t even check the numbers. It’s mostly about the chance to hope- to imagine living the way you can only dream about.

When I get caught up into all this, I get caught up into a lie. Of course, the primary lie is that I have any chance of actually winning all that cash- the odds are never in your favor. But there’s a more dangerous lie. That lie is that I can’t live a life that reflects my dreams right now.

I could live today as if I had won the lottery.

Before you think I’ve really gone off the deep end and am about to explain my get rich scheme, hang on with me—-

it’s about looking again at my dreams and seeing the values at the root of them. Family, travel, time with loved ones, being a part of bringing renewal to others, living with integrity and without stress. I might need to reframe from a vacation on a private island with a chef to one at a state park, around a campfire, but I can still make time to be with family and friends.

I don’t have to wait for the day my lucky numbers are pulled for it to be possible for me to live with the same joy as if I was a winner.

In an even greater way than simply limiting our expectations so that we can live out of our joy, our faith changes the kind of life it’s possible for us to live now.

When we read in Hebrews, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” we hear an option for a new way of life that is grounded in confidence in God’s work for us. Through faith, we see our life today changed by the promises God has made to us.

Faith gives hope content. Faith describes what we hope for.

One of the church Fathers wrote this beautiful description of what our hope is: “Faith depicts for us in advance the resurrection of those still lying dead in their tombs and causes the immortality of the dust of our bodies to become evident” (Theodoret)

 

This means that when you walk across the street to the cemetery, in faith, you don’t imagine the dead bodies in the ground, but you see your loved ones rejoicing alive in Jesus’ presence. It also means that you don’t see your own life fading away, bitterly living into what you thought would be golden years- you see in your fragile body the new body of the resurrection you will receive through Jesus.

The central promise is that God alone gives life, and God gives life abundantly and eternally. This life is not all there is. God’s promises extend beyond the grave, into a new creation that God is preparing.

To have faith is to live as if you have today everything you’ve hoped God would provide. It means that your decisions about what’s important today are shaped by your having received what God has promised. The tricky thing about this is that you haven’t fully received what God has promised yet.

Living in faith does not mean you will win the lottery because that’s what you’ve been hoping for. God is not going to reward you with lots of money just because you pray today. So often we think prayer is about asking for what we want and hoping that we get it. Even Abraham, in our reading from Genesis, is wondering along these lines. God’s promised descendents and Abraham doesn’t have any kids. He asks God, “What will you give me?”

Abraham asks because he’s not seeing any results of God’s promise. How long is he supposed to keep trusting that God will do what God’s said when there aren’t any signs that his hope will come true? Why would we uproot our families, change our jobs, rearrange our budgets, spend time at church, and pray if we aren’t going to see any results in return?

Most people might think you’re nuts. Even faithful people might laugh at you.

 

 

Our great matriarch of the faith, Sarah, Abraham’s wife, doesn’t get much attention in the Bible while God is talking to Abraham about moving to a new land and having lots of kids. We get the idea that she’s heard these promises, and obviously she’s followed along, uprooting her life to travel along with Abraham. Of course she’s wanted kids, but they just haven’t come and now the time for having babies has passed.

So when angels come to tell Abraham that he really is finally going to have a child that year, Sarah, overhearing in the kitchen, snorts out her laughter. It’s pretty ridiculous. I like the way Hebrews puts it- she’s so old she’s as good as dead- how’s she going to have a baby now?

I think her laughter is one of those I’d rather laugh than cry type of moments, but when her child is born, her laughter is full of joy. Her son is named laughter, a reminder of our reaction to God’s ridiculous promises.

God promises things that seem impossible. Life today and after death. Forgiveness. Peace. Reconciliation. Healing. Unified community out of diverse individuals.

When we look at the reality of our lives, all these promises seem far, far out of reach. But when we look with eyes of faith, we see what God is making possible.

People who work in remodeling are good at this sort of thing. They see a house that is in disrepair. I would see a huge mess of a broken house that is good for nothing else but to be bulldozed away. But fixers would see the gross parts stripped away and beautiful new walls and counters and bathtubs put in. They could see the way the remodeled house would become a welcoming place of refuge, where family and friends would gather. They can look at the brokenness and see what will be. That vision gives them hope, makes it possible for them to do all the hard work that needs to be done to get from the current state of destruction to the future state of beauty.

In faith, we are called to be people who see the future state of beauty overlaid on the current state of destruction. This is meant to give us hope for what God will do, and strength to be God’s workers in bringing that future into the present. Knowing God’s promises, we can see what God is doing, and we can join God’s work with courage even when we never see the completion of God’s work.

We are a people who need measurable results. We are outcome driven. That kind of mindset just doesn’t work well with faith. It doesn’t work because it’s centered on the individual person as the judge of what has been achieved. God’s timeline is different than ours. God’s promises are for a whole creation, not just one people or one generation. Each of us might receive a glimpse of a promise being fulfilled, or be a part of one small way the beautiful future is coming into today. Or, we might sacrifice, pray, work hard, and see nothing for our life of faith.

If that’s the case, we would be in good company. We read in Hebrews, “All of these (ancestors) died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.” It can be a struggle to keep trust in God’s promises when you can’t see God making them come true. We need the community’s vision, and not just the vision of the people of Cross, but the vision of all the faithful around the world and through the ages. Then we are strengthened in our hope, because sometimes a promise made to one person is more fully made real to the next generation.

St Augustine wrote, “When you hope, you do not yet have what you are hoping for, but, by believing it, you resemble someone who does possess it.” In other words, fake it ‘til you make it. Act like you’ve won the lottery and can live the way you’ve only dreamed. Be confident that God will do all God has promised- living into those promises today by being people who create peace, increase love, and bring reconciliation. Then keep on with that work even when it doesn’t seem to be making any difference. In the end, it’s not going to be you who heals the creation, but God.

God has already achieved that healing through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Jesus, our hope has been fulfilled. Now we wait for all its effects to soak through our world.

As you go into your week, be confident in living into God’s promises. We gather here at Cross to live as if the kingdom of God has already come down to us. Church is our practice ground for living as if God has already fully transformed the world. We confess and receive forgiveness to live as if we have finally reached a place where sin has power no more. We share the peace to live as if all our relationships were healed. We gather at the communion table to live as if all people were brought into God’s celebration. We eat shoulder to shoulder to live as if we were already at God’s eternal banquet. We are sent into the week ready to practice God’s kingdom in this world, knowing that we’re not totally there yet, but God will make a good future happen.

 

Along with Hebrews 11:1, think of this quote: “Faith is the courage to move forward rather than retreat in cowardice.” Move forward into the new future God is creating- in which God is at our center, all people are united, death is no more, forgiveness is accomplished, and joy is complete. This is the kingdom of God Jesus proclaimed is near.