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Wastelands becoming Gardens: A Sermon for Advent 3, Isaiah 35:1-10
December 12, 2016, 5:16 pm
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Bible Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

 

Have you ever gone into a place after a disaster? A fire, flood, or tornado?

Maybe you were there to help, or to visit friends, or maybe it was home- before.

What was once familiar becomes a strange wasteland.

(Something that looks like this…)

I’ve been lucky to not have my own home destroyed. I’ve seen pictures on the news, driven through areas after the storm. When I see a neighborhood filled with flood waters, I have a hard time imagining toddlers on their trikes and kids zooming on their bikes, up and down streets that are now a lake. When I see a house demolished- exploded- by a tornado, I can’t imagine sitting down at the dinner table.

 

But for the families who called those places home, what might be hardest to imagine is how the memory and the present reality could be one and the same place. How could it be that sacred, safe home is no more?

Once the shock wears off, and the fact that this is what it is hits, then how can one go forward?

 

You can look back into your memories and remember what once was- you can stand in the midst of the present destruction and see that it is so horribly different- but can you possibly believe there could be something good again?

 

That’s the place the people of God were at, when they heard these words of God through Isaiah, and when they came back in later generations to listen to them again. These texts give a vision forward. For the people of God who have been conquered by the Babylonian Empire, who lived in exile, everything they knew had been destroyed. Their homes, their government, even God’s temple– all destroyed.

 

How could they hope for a change for the better?

 

God gives them hope. God gives them an image to hold on to – and a promise that this image is a sign of their future:

“the desert shall rejoice and blossom”

“the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water”

Isaiah’s images are of a creation restored, brought to greater life.

 

These images challenge the resignation of “it is what it is,” they don’t leave room for, “nothing’s going to change.” They promise, “God’s going to change it all!”

 

 

The defining feature of a desert is that it doesn’t rain much, and so it doesn’t blossom often. The energy is only put forth when there’s enough water, when it’s safe. A blossoming desert is a land trusting God will continue to provide in abundance what was once scarce, life.

 

Imagine – if we have a God who can turn the desert into a lake- what else might God be able to do? What could possibly be too big for our God?

 

Our God makes the lame to leap, the blind to see, the deaf to hear. Those who are resigned to life as it is will be surprised in joy. That’s the promise God has for us.

 

The question is- are we ready to be open to hope? Will we look to God, trusting that God will fulfill our longing for healing and life? Have we found the one worthy of our trust?

 

That’s the question John the Baptist had of Jesus. “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for, or should we look for another?” Jesus’ answer is to direct his attention to the signs around- just as promised through Isaiah, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

 

In their time, people living with different abilities weren’t completely allowed in to society, so these “healings” really meant being brought to greater life when it certainly seemed impossible that their lives could change.

Jesus himself is the final sign – the final proof- that we can trust in God. There’s nothing our God can’t do. God raises the dead. Jesus is alive.

 

Since God can make the desolate places become gardens, the pushed aside brought back into community, the dead man come to life, we have hope that the brokenness in and around us can be restored to life.

 

We can look back and remember the way things were, look now and see it isn’t as we need it to be, and look ahead through God’s promise to the good future that will be.

 

We live in the middle times. Where are you in the midst of desolation? Where do you look back and remember the way things were- and feel pain at the way things are today? Maybe you can’t even remember a time when things were good.

 

Look out ahead. Listen to God’s promise. Can you see the new future God intends?

 

We’re here to help each other see. When we feel like the path forward is a wall of fog, we gather here to hear God fill in the details of that path forward. We gather together to rely on each other’s strength. We can be like John’s disciples, bringing news of the signs that God is at work to restore all things.

 

The wasteland will become a garden, the devastation a welcome home, the broken whole. May God grant you hope in the meantime.

 

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Blooming Out of Season Sermon: Advent 2 Isaiah 11:1-10
December 5, 2016, 12:33 pm
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bibleGrace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

 

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking around the church. Sometimes, when the weather is nice, I walk around this place in which we gather, and I pray. I found my way out to the prayer garden and sat down on the swing.

 

I was praying for this community, for the hurt that’s been a part of recent conversations, and for each of you, for the joys and struggles I know about and those that I do not.

There are times in my prayers when I am really sad. I hurt in the love I have for you and this community, I hurt as I know your hurt. So I give it to the only one who can do anything about it. I place you, and me, and the world, into God’s hands.

 

That’s not as easy as it sounds. I’m not a person who likes to give up or give over things I think I should be able to fix. It’s easy to say slogans like, “let go and let God,” but a lot harder to do.

 

After all, what do we really imagine God’s going to do with all the pain of the world?

 

I sat out there, challenging God to answer all that I had thrown over for God to catch. Gazing around the garden, I noticed all the flower and plants that had died back for the winter. All that was once green was brown, drooped. The perennials pull back their life, their energy and let go of all that isn’t necessary, waiting for the warmth to return, for it to be safe to bloom again.

 

The whole garden looked dead. Except for one plant. An Easter lily was in full bloom. Its delicate trumpets stood ready to proclaim: “life will come again!”

 

(Monty Python- “I’m not dead yet.” )

 

I’m not really a God sent me a sign type of person, but that lily was a reminder to me of God’s power for life. On Easter, we celebrate that God transforms a situation of grief into a cause for joy. Where there was death, there is life. New life comes out of suffering and death. This present moment isn’t all there is, but a new and better future is coming. Alleluia, Christ is Risen… and we shall arise.

 

But wow, it’s hard to trust that there will be new life when it feels like death. Or to look forward to healing when you’re sick. Or to think of planting a garden in peace when your land is trampled by armies.

 

 

 

Isaiah speaks of a shoot coming up out of the stump of Jesse. A tree cut down, and yet, somehow, coming back to life. This little twig of life holds the promise of a strong trunk supporting thick limbs. In due time.

 

The people of God have had plenty of times in which everything looked hopeless. They were a tiny nation, constantly conquered by neighboring nations who were stronger than them: Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia… there were even wars between factions within the community. Through Isaiah, God promises that there will be life springing out of what was once cut down. The remnant will not be wiped out, but will grow.

 

This shoot from a stump, like my blooming lily, is a sign that life is not done yet. There’s reason to hope. God is here.

 

The lily’s blooming was out of season. Its trumpet didn’t wake all the other slumbering plants. It was a herald of things to come. There will be a full bloom in the garden this spring.

 

Jesus’ resurrection is a sign of what is to come. God will restore all things. God will bring all creation to life. This new life will be like Isaiah’s vision of the holy mountain, where even the natural need of predators to kill will be fulfilled with peace, and all creatures will be safe.

 

This season of Advent isn’t just about counting down to Christmas. We’re preparing not only for the baby in the manger, but for the Savior who will come again. We’re waiting and expecting Jesus to come and finalize his work.

 

What do we imagine God is going to do with all the pain of the world?

 

First, God feels it. God doesn’t just look down on us from some heavenly realm and feel bad for us. God comes into creation to share all of human life, including its pain. More than that, as Jesus dies on the cross, Jesus pulls onto himself all the pain of the world. Betrayed, rejected, cursed, banished, and tortured, Jesus- God in the flesh- feels all the worst. No matter what we experience, we are not alone, Jesus is there, not afraid to come near to our suffering, because he’s been there, too.

 

Today, God continues to carry our pain. Jesus walks with us, through whatever comes in life. We experience God’s support for us through prayer, worship, the sacraments, and our community. God puts people in our lives who embody God’s love and support for us. That’s part of the work we do here in this congregation for each other. As we care for each other, being there in both difficult and joyful times, Jesus loves through us.

 

 

One day, God will wipe all pain away. The world will be transformed. We will be transformed. There will be wholeness of life that will never end. The bloom of Jesus’ resurrection will spread over all of us, and we will know the joy of Jesus’ conquering of death, sin, and evil.

 

God’s promise to Isaiah’s listeners was spoken through images that translated their present pain into future joy. Where in your life do you need new life? This week, pray for God to give you a vision of what it would look like for God to heal struggle and widen joy in your life. Pray also for the eyes to see signs of that good future coming. May you have time to notice glimpses of life, even when you see life drawing back, and faith to trust that God will bring you into a fully bloomed creation again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is paired with a Gospel telling of John shouting at the crowds. While it might be fun to play the part of John the Baptist, it certainly isn’t fun to be yelled at.

 

But I know I yell when I’m afraid someone’s not paying attention and they might miss something that is life or death.

 

Of my children, the little one is a runner and the big one is a dreamer. Lydia would just as soon run away from me in the parking lot because she thinks it’s funny and she loves to be chased. Laila would be dancing around assuming everyone in the world is watching out for her.

 



Sermon Advent 1: Where are We Going and Are We There Yet? Isaiah 2:1-5
December 5, 2016, 12:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Bible Grace and peace to you, people of God. My husband, Jeff, is a list maker. I go to use a notebook and find it’s full of basketball stats. Ugh, March Madness and brackets. I go to another notebook and it’s football stats. Ugh. Fantasy Football. But then we went to his parent’s house while they were doing some cleaning and got handed notebooks from his childhood. And there were more lists! These were lists of birds, or plants… It’s taken me 10 years into our marriage to really understand what this is all about.

 

Every part of life can be a game. Jeff’s lists are contests won, points scored.

 

This includes place he’s been. His life goal is to go to every National Park Site. He keeps track of what states he’s been to and which are left to go. He mentally marks off which countries he’s visited.

 

And that’s where things get a little contentious between the two of us. What really counts as being somewhere?

 

While we were in seminary, we flew down to Guyana, South America, to study under the Lutheran pastors there. Our flight touched down in Barbados. We never got off the plane. We saw glimpses of the country as we descended, but we never left our seats on the airplane. So were we ever really in Barbados?

 

Jeff is convinced that because he was on his seat which is on the plane which is on the tarmac which is in Barbados, he has been to Barbados.

 

I’m more of an opinion that he hasn’t really been there, because all he breathed was the recycled air of the plane, and never set foot on that beautiful land. How can it count as being there if he hasn’t experienced anything of the place?

 

He’s convinced he can cross it off the list, but I’m fighting against it, hoping that eventually he’ll agree and see the need for a tropical island vacation someday….

 

This question of “are we there yet?” echoes throughout the season of Advent. How will we know when we’re arrived- and where exactly are we headed anyway?

 

Throughout this season, we’ll be reading from the book of Isaiah, and I’ll be centering on those texts for my sermons. Isaiah is written and compiled during and after difficult times for the people of God. They are surrounded by much more powerful nations and empires: Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. At various times, these empires attack, defeat, and dismantle the Israel and Judah. The people hear from God words of warning as well as hope. Hope must have been a difficult thing when everything seemed destroyed. This text has meaning in each of these periods of defeat and struggle.

 

Take, for example, the Babylonian exile, when God’s people have been taken from the promised land and help captive in Babylon while the Babylonians rule over what had been their kingdom. The exile ends when the Babylonian Empire is defeated by the Persian Empire, and the people are allowed to return back home. Where we pick up Isaiah today, the idea that Babylon could be defeated is a weak dream, and the only thing that seems sure is that the people of God have been defeated.

 

The people to whom Isaiah preached were struggling to make sense of what had happened. No more promised land. No more promised king. No more temple in which to meet God. In a foreign land, they need to be encouraged to remain faithful to God.

It would be so easy to start to follow the gods of the peoples around them, especially when it seemed like God wasn’t able to deliver on God’s promises.

 

Isaiah preaches hope from God. Where now the Lord’s house, the temple is in ruins back in Jerusalem, “in the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of mountains.” This God that seems defeated will rise again! The text goes so far as to declare a day in which war itself will end, “(the nations) shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” Through Isaiah, God speaks right to the fears of the people, casting a vision for a better future, promising that one day it will come.

 

Today, God speaks to you. God speaks to your fears, inviting you to see the better future God is bringing you. In this season, we begin at the place where we most need God to act – even if it seems impossible that things might change.

 

Where is there brokenness in your life?

Where are things not right in the world?

 

That’s where God is at work!

 

Advent is the season to look at the impact of sin and see not the present destruction, but the new creation that will be. God brings life where there is death, health where there is sickness, forgiveness where there is hurt, reconciliation where there is division, abundance where there is scarcity.

 

In faith, we see things the way they will be. This isn’t blind naiveté, but trust. Trust that God will do as God has promised. Trust built on the knowledge that God has done the miraculous, giving life where there was only death. We know God’s power through Jesus.

 

In Jesus’ coming to us, in his incarnation, death, and resurrection, Jesus has conquered death and sin, and opened the kingdom of God to all. On Easter we joyfully declare, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” and this proclamation means that God has proven more powerful than all the forces of evil- more powerful than death.

 

I lead this triumphant proclamation, and yet…every Easter, in the midst of the celebration, I feel sad. If Jesus has won… why doesn’t it feel like a victory today? If God is more powerful than evil- if God heals all brokenness, why is there suffering today? How can there be: Families who won’t talk to each other. Children who don’t live a long life. Refugees who find no safe home. How can all this be if God’s kingdom has come?

 

As theologians, we use a phrase- “already but not yet.” “Already but not yet.” This is to say- yes, Jesus has already claimed the victory. But the new creation is not here yet. The final and complete healing has not come yet. Jesus’ resurrection shows us that it will come, but we’re living in the meantime… waiting… trusting.

 

So where are we? Are you more like me, seeing Barbados out my window but not feeling like I’m really there? Or more like Jeff, not caring that you can’t run on the beach, because you’re happy enough to be close?

 

The texts we read today talk about the nearness of the day of salvation. They say, “be ready” for the “unexpected hour.” Isaiah opens with “in the days to come” but then closes, “come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

 

Maybe we’re at that moment when we can glimpse the shoreline out the airplane window and the speaker is promising that soon the cabin doors will be opened. It’s ok to shrug off the winter jackets and switch out from boots into flip flops. We’re almost there.

 

God with us has come and is coming. The kingdom God’s bringing has come near and is almost here.

 

As I discussed this text with nearby pastors, Chaplain Nick came up with this image. “Maybe it’s like a mountain,” he said, “you can be on the mountain even if you’re not at the peak yet.”

 

As baptized children of God, we claim that we are living in the life Jesus gave us. Death has already been defeated for us. We live in two realities, this world, in which we sometimes suffer, get sick, and die, and in God’s realm, in which we have life now and forever, life that will never be taken away.

 

We might think of the cross of Jesus as the peak of the mountain. From that cross, everything is changed. Outcasts are welcomed. Sinners are made righteous. Dead are raised. We’re living in the time during which that transformation is taking place.

 

I’ve had the joy of visiting Glacier National Park twice in my life. I love the cool ice melt streams and waterfalls. The snow pack up high on the mountain slowly melts throughout the summer, and the water trickles down, down, down, finally flowing down to the base of the mountain and the open valleys. What happens up on the peak slowly transforms what is down below. Because of that snow melt, fields burst into bloom. There is abundant life.

 

God’s transformation of creation is flowing down from the peak of the cross. All the healing and joy we’ve been longing for is coming down to us. The texts of Advent call us to be alert and awake- on guard – so that we notice the signs of God’s kingdom coming into being. We name the brokenness so that our faith has space to name the healing God is bringing. We’re called to live as if we were already in that healing. Knowing God will make all things well gives us the courage to extend love and peace to others. If it is not reciprocated, we can simple remember that we’re not yet to that place where God will make all things better, but we will be there soon. But that doesn’t mean we stop living in love for all. We continue to live as if we were already there, in God’s perfect kingdom, and one day, we will be.

 



Sermon: Thanksgiving Day
December 5, 2016, 12:30 pm
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Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ,

Does anyone have their Christmas tree up?

You don’t have to be ashamed, no one’s here to judge.

Anyone? Anyone start decorating? Maybe some lights outside when we had that beautiful weather a few weeks ago?

We have entered the high season of tradition. This year, I’ve heard so many people talking about putting up their tree a little earlier than other years. They tell me they need something joyful in their lives. Especially with the election, the atmosphere has been angry and divisive. People are longing for the holiday more than ever because they want that cheer and goodwill. Maybe it will be good year for the Hallmark Channel- everyone wants a good story with a happy ending. We need to be reminded that we are people who care for each other.

Tradition and good stories call us back to what’s important. They remind us who we are. They renew us so that we have the strength to keep going.

In the Church, we are people who understand that. We need the foundational rhythm of worship and the Biblical stories that teach us who God is and who we are, so that we can face the next day with love and hope.

Today we read from Deuteronomy instruction for how to remember and respond to God’s action through the retelling of the story of God’s salvation and a worshipful action of living in response to God.

God has done something wonderful. The people were slaves in Egypt and God has freed them. Long before, the people had been promised their own rich land. But they did not receive it. Instead, they wandered as foreigners, sometimes living prosperously in land that was not their own, sometimes living as oppressed people, crushed by those who were more powerful. But now, they are about to enter this promised land. And they will soon have the richness of great harvests. They have been waiting for the day of that first harvest for generations. It will soon come. And when it comes, they will need to remember all that they have gone through. They will need to remember that it was God who made it all possible.

 

 

They are called to perform an act of faith. The first fruit of the harvest is to be dedicated to God. It’s not safely stored away in case a hailstorm comes or locust eat the rest of the harvest. It’s given to God. In giving it to God, the person offering remembers that it doesn’t belong to him in the first place. The harvest has always and only belonged to God.

The story of God’s freeing the people from slavery, leading them through the wilderness, and bringing them to a prosperous land is an identity forming narrative that shapes the way God’s people understand themselves, God, and how to live their lives. What we don’t hear enough of is all the ways this foundational story is used throughout the Bible to remind the people of how God wants them to act towards other people. It flows from the command, “Remember, you where once immigrants in the land of Egypt”

Listen to this:

Exodus 23:9

9You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Exodus 22:21

21You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 10:19

19You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:34

34The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

 

There’s a direct relationship between the people’s history, God’s interaction with them, and God’s call for how they are to interact with others. You were immigrants. I saved you. There are immigrants among you. You know what that’s like. Treat them well.

The ritual retelling of the story of God’s saving the people out of Egypt reminds them of their moral and religious imperative to live justly with those who might be easy to oppress.

What is the story, ritual, and imperative in our tradition today?

We come together at church to continue to tell each other our story. The salvation story remembered in Deuteronomy is our story. It is repeated in God’s action through Jesus. We were once enslaved to sin and death, but God sent Jesus to lead us into freedom. Jesus has welcomed us in to a new kingdom, where every person is much loved, where the hungry are fed and souls are nourished. Through baptism, God unites us to Jesus and washes away our sin and destroys the power of death to hold us captive. At the Table, we receive Jesus’ body and blood as we claim our place at the table, make room for our neighbors, and are nourished by Jesus’ forgiveness.

We tell each other that God saves us, we do things like baptism and communion that enact God’s forgiveness and claiming of us, and we are called out in the world to serve.

Jesus’ call for our lives begins with “remember you are a baptized child of God…” We have received life freely, based only on God’s love for us through Jesus. It is a gift of great joy. We are called to increase our joy by living as Jesus does for the sake of the world.

In Freedom of a Christian, Luther writes that “the Christian individual is a completely free lord of all, subject to none.” He continues, “The Christian individual is a completely dutiful servant of all, subject to all”

When it comes to sin and death, we have been made perfectly free, because Jesus has given us his own victory. We are righteous, holy, and good, because that is what Jesus is, and he has made what is his, ours. When it comes to our neighbors, we are bound to them, responsible for fulfilling their needs.

If we remember that what we have has always and only belonged to God, then our care for others, our giving of resources, isn’t a burden but a cause for celebration. It’s a cause for celebration because our story reminds us that God is good and generous and has given great things to us.

We’ve been working to grow gratitude in this congregation. The fruit of gratitude is generosity. Look at what our gratitude has grown!

There will be lived changed because of your generosity. A child will go to bed with enough food to be able to sleep soundly all night. A student will be able to focus on school because she is not wondering where her next meal will come from. A marriage will be stronger without the stress and shame of not being able to provide dinner once again.

We’re a church remembering that we’re called to serve not because we want to make each other feel guilty. We’re not about badgering people into giving more because they better show God they’re grateful. We are a people alive in God’s story of salvation- filled with love and grace- letting that flow out of us in ways that bring life to others. Our tradition is about giving life. We are seeing God give life to the world. We are joining God by joyfully doing God’s work. Thanks be to God. Amen.



Sermon: All Saints
December 5, 2016, 12:30 pm
Filed under: Sermons

BibleGrace and peace to you, Saints and Sinners of Cross.

Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day. This isn’t a day only for those special holy people we’ve thought worthy of admiration. This is a day for all people- because Jesus has made us all saints. You are the saints of God.

I’ve also called you sinners. Not to make you take offense, but to name the reality of our lives. Even now that Jesus has claimed us and clothed us with his holiness, we continue to fall down. We continue to seek brokenness inside of us, and spew that brokenness out into the world. Our sin is to think that we can make ourselves saints. We choose to struggle our way into that lie rather than be at peace by relying completely on Jesus.

When we choose the path to self-sufficient sainthood, brokenness cracks out into everything we encounter. If we’re trying to prove that we’re worthy of being called saints, we’re occupied with justification. We work and work to prove we’re good enough.  When met with our failure, we turn outward. Like Adam and Eve before us, we blame, declaring our fault is not our fault. We celebrate others’ sin, enlarging it so that our own seems insignificant in comparison.

If we’re sinners who try to pass ourselves off as saints, we always stand alone, an accusing finger pointed outward, to try to keep the truth about our brokenness redirected- away from ourselves. That finger will turn into a hand, and we will always push others away. We don’t even want God to come near, because to say we need God would be to admit we cannot do all things on our own.

But if we acknowledge who we are, and that we need help, we can rejoice that God is for us. If we’re sinners who know that we are truly sinners, and yet also receive a new identity as saints- as a gift of God- then we are freed for community. We are ready to embrace not only God, but all the others God embraces. Jesus brings us together.

Community is what this All Saints Day is about. Today we celebrate the connections Jesus has made within all creation. In stretching his arms out on the cross, he has pulled together all people. In dying and rising, he has buried our sin, buried our need to keep others distant, and raised up a new people, creating a community of saints in his body.

 

 

Ephesians speaks of the Church- the community of saints- as the body of Christ- and Christ as the one who fills all in all. Jesus has enters all the sinners of the world- present, past, and future, and transformed them into saints who are connected because they share Jesus between them. Jesus is the lifeblood pumping through me and you and your neighbor and the people worshipping in Africa and your great grandparents and the children who are yet to be born. Jesus has connected all of us to him for life.

If the Church is the fullness of Christ, then we congregations and individuals are parts of Christ. Awesome wonder! And it’s not an unbearable burden, because we are not individually the entirety of Christ. Just as we don’t have to prove our worth as saints all on our own, we aren’t called to be doing the work of Jesus all on our own.

Cross is not all there is. We don’t have to do everything, we are only called to be faithful to the task God has for us. We have been specially gifted for good work that is meant to be joined with the work Jesus is doing through many others, and through all of us, God will accomplish the healing and restoration God intends.

Because we don’t have to believe that Cross is all there is, we don’t have to be jealous of other congregations, but can see that we are all players on the same team. We can focus and specialize, freeing ourselves from the burden of doing what we are not called to do and leaving that task to others who are.

The question that will propel us forward is the question of what we are specially gifted and called to do. What role are we called to play? Who are we and what is our place in the body? If we can clarify who we are, then we’ll know how to move forward. We need to claim a mission we share. Jesus has a job for us to do, not to prove our worth, but so that we can catch the joy of working on the horizon of the new life Jesus is making for all creation. We don’t have to be the only- or the best- we don’t have to compare ourselves to others as if there was a competition in the body of Christ. We simply are called to be faithful to the mission Jesus has for us, and to trust that he values us.

It’s only when we let go of our need to prove our righteousness that we can accept that Jesus welcomes in those we’d rather be separated from. Starting from a place of wonder at God’s love, we can begin those difficult practices Jesus calls us into: loving our enemies, doing good to those who hate us, blessing those who curse us, praying for those who abuse us.

Knowing without a doubt that we are loved beyond reason makes it possible for us to love others recklessly. Jesus loves us into transformation.

When we embrace the reality that we are sinners, then we recognize others as sinners just like us. If Jesus has declared us worthy of love, Jesus has also made the other worthy of love. From a stance of humility, we can reach out with the love of Christ, even and especially to those who don’t want to receive or return that love.

Reaching out in love is a scary thing. We are a community that has experienced hurt over these past six months. Connection is a tender subject. We are missing loved ones from their regular seats in our pews. We hear echoes of words said that broke our image of who our fellow people of Cross were. Maybe we never allowed that they were sinners just like us, and seeing their brokenness wasn’t something we were prepared for. Maybe it showed us our own brokenness, and that was hard to see.

And yet, even if they do not return, they are not separated from us. Jesus holds us together.

The promise recorded in Romans 8 gives me hope: 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing will strip us out of Jesus’ grasp. Not church conflict, not self-righteous independence, not sin, not even death. Jesus even holds those who have died.

That’s maybe the most beautiful thing to remember today: even those we feel have been permanently separated from us, have not been. We who are connected to Jesus are still connected to those who have died, because Jesus continues to keep them in life. When we die, we are not lost. When we try to separate ourselves, we are not severed. Jesus holds us, Jesus never gives up on us, Jesus always loves, and Jesus will bring us all together into new life. And there, in that new life, our arms will be outstretched as Jesus’ are, and we will embrace each other. Our sin will be washed away, and we will fully love each other as the saints of God. We will live in certainty of God’s love for us, in community, forever.



Sermon: Oct 16 22nd Sunday after Pentecost Genesis 32:22-31 Luke 18:1-8
December 5, 2016, 12:28 pm
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BibleGrace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

I grew up as the only young granddaughter in my family.

This certainly had some advantages. I occupied a very special soft spot in my grandmother’s heart.

It also had some disadvantages-after receiving gifts from grandma, it wasn’t as fun to race around the house swinging my hair bow while my cousins zoomed their toy cars.

I figured I could play most anything that my cousins enjoyed. For the most part, we did play together and had a lot of fun. Climbing trees, playing in the sprinkler, making crafts… but there was one thing I never got into and actually scared me quite a bit: wrestling.

My cousins were a household of four boys, three older than me and one younger. They would get into fights. One way they had learned to work it out was through body to body full on angry matches. They grab each other and pull. From oldest to youngest the span between them is maybe 10 years and you can imagine that at 8 and 11, those couple years mean a lot when it comes to size and strength. So one might hold on simply to show his strength over the other, until the order of the pack was restored.

I didn’t like it. I didn’t understand the drive to hurt a sibling. I didn’t understand how they could be buddies again after this. I didn’t like the noise or the lack of control. I didn’t like the conflict.

Watching my girls together, I have to say that grabbing and pushing and holding and pulling are not activities that are reserved only for boys.

As we move into these texts, I want us to keep this image of wrestling in mind, and my own avoidance of it. We’re going to move into the idea of wrestling in the church, wrestling with each other, wrestling with God, and wrestling for the sake of the other.

The Genesis text drops us in to the storyline of Jacob and Esau. They were born wrestling, twins, with Jacob grabbing Esau’s heel. Jacob is the one who wrestles his brother’s birthright blessing away from him. He’s a trickster, and yet, the one whom God chooses to bless and through whom God builds the chosen nation.

We meet him tonight as he prepares to meet his brother. He’s sent his family on, hoping to keep them safe through the separation. As he lays down to sleep, and a unknown man comes and they wrestle until dawn. Pulling, pushing, grabbing on and not letting go. At the end of this tussle, Jacob is blessed, and also limping. He is named as one who wrestles with man- and with God.

The wrestling in these texts isn’t something to fear or avoid.

We have been experiencing a wrestling match in our pews.

The wrestling in our congregation leaves us limping, but also has the potential for us to clarify who we are. Wrestling involves holding on to each other- giving and taking- asserting and then giving space for the other.

Of course this image only goes so far. Aggression with a goal of forcing the other to yield isn’t what we want in the congregation. But engagement is. Coming to the mat together means being willing to test each other out- hear where we’re coming from- and allow those values to interact with our own.

I’m not advocating violence, but tenacity and interaction- holding on, being engaged, and working towards a goal.

We’re not conditioned for wrestling in the church. We want peace and welcome. We’re better prepared for sweeping things under the mat than showing up at the mat to work things out. No wonder we feel exhausted and uninterested when faced with values and strategies that push against each other!

When my girls are getting crazy with each other, I know that the laughter can easily turn to tears. It starts out with grabbing on – giggling arms holding each other in a bear hug. Then one of them lands on the other and the laughter gets wilder. Then someone smashes her head or gets an elbow to the nose and they are upset with each other. If I haven’t gotten them to calm down before, it’s with tears and blame that they come to me. And I turn them towards each other, to say sorry- it got out of hand- I love you- and I’ll play with you again.

That’s the turn we’re trying to enter here at Cross: I’m sorry- I see you’re hurting and I know I played a part in that. I love you- I’m going to hold on to you as my brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m committed to continuing to engage with you. Jesus is the reconciler who makes it possible for us to be brought together, even after hurt. Jesus gives us the strength and the vision to keep coming together to discover how we can work together for the kingdom of God, creating a shared vision for our congregation’s future in this community.

Can we hold on and push together to discover what God has in store for us? Can we wrestle the powers of this world together, for the sake of those most in need, holding on to God’s vision for creation?

In the Luke text, a widow is wrestling with a judge. Widows had little power in her time. But here she is, holding on to her demand for justice. She will pull justice out of the one who is unjust. Through her we see a vision of Luke’s proclamation that God is turning things upside down in order to right them up- the one who has no power will grasp it, and restitution will be wrested from the powerfully unjust.

Jesus frames this parable as telling the disciples to keep praying, and not to lose heart, wondering aloud if when the Son of Man returns at the final, complete coming of the kingdom, he will find faith on earth.

Think of wrestling as holding on and prayer as holding on to God’s promise and never letting go. Jesus’ telling the disciples to wrestle- to hold on to the promise. God is making all things new. God will restore justice and raise mercy. Tears will be wiped away and violence will end. All peoples will be brought together. The kingdom will come.

Do we have the stamina to keep on – to keep holding on- to keep hoping on- connected in prayer and trusting God will fulfill God’s promises?

Jesus will pull us forward. Psalm 122 speaks hope to us who are weary: “I lift my eyes to the hill, from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” We don’t look to ourselves. It’s not up to us alone to bring healing to this congregation, justice to the oppressed, or the kingdom down to earth. This is God’s work. We’re invited to join in to experience the joy of being on the edge of its coming. The One who raised Jesus from the dead is the One who promises to raise us to life. Even out of the pain of this present moment, God is birthing something new.

Hold on. Stay engaged. You may be limping today, but we will be blessed.