Lutheranlady's Weblog


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

 

In this season of Advent

we wait for God-with-us arriving,

an answer to prayer.

A: Come, O Lord.

 

The world is broken

and bound by selfishness, disease, and violence.

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

A: Come, O Lord.

 

Jesus brings a new way of life that

values each person and all creation,

shows love in the face of hate,

and produces abundance from scarcity.

A: Come, O Lord.

 

We both wait and welcome

trusting that Jesus has come into the world,

is with us now, and

will be more fully in the time to come.

A: Come, O Lord.

 

Jesus’ way begins today.

We’re here to practice and prepare.

As the people of God

gathered at Our Savior’s

We commit to preparing the way

for God’s kingdom by

“Serving God,

God’s People,

and our Community”

 

 

We wait in hope. Sometimes our faith is fragile

as the light of a candle.

At others, it is strong and spreading

as a spark igniting brush.

We light the candles of our Advent wreath

as a sign of our hope:

one-

(one, then two)-

(one, then two, then three)-

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

growing, waiting, then complete.

Come, Lord Jesus.

A: Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

(slide- for it is..)

“For it is as if…”

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

(slide- gobstopper)

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

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

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

(slide re: apocalyptic)

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

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

(limited sum slide)

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

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

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

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

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

The Kingdom of God inspires disruptive change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(slide- Rosa)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 



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

read the Bible

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

Aah, aaah, aaachooo!

(God bless you).

Thank you. Thank you for blessing me.

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

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

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

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

Not in any way I’ve thought of blessing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 



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

Bible readings 

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

****

 

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

 

(photo of kids and flag)

 

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

 

(God ->

People in Charge)

 

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

 

(God= one in charge)

 

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

 

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

 

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

(art)

 

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

 

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

 

(art for the Matt text)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

(Martin Luther)

 

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

 

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

 

 

Luther developed what we call the two kingdoms doctrine.

 

(two kingdoms slide)

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

(saint and sinner picture)

 

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

 

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

 

(A true Christian wholly motivated by the Holy Spirit

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

 

(most of us do…)

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

(nazi photo)

 

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

(A Christian asks…

 

 

 

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

 

(Jesus frees Christians…))

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

 

((Christians also exercise their calling …

another slide…

 

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

 

(Faith is active in love…)

 

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

 

 

(Roman coin)

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

 

(baptized with cross/ash cross)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

(peaceable kingdom picture