Lutheranlady's Weblog


Scripture’s Silencing: A Sermon for Lectionary 17 Genesis 29:15-28
August 2, 2017, 9:33 am
Filed under: Sermons

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

When I started at St. Olaf College, I was an uncertain religion major with a complicated view of Christianity. I’d had the joy of a loving, active congregation and also stood on the frontline of church division and saw the ranks defecting their post and their pastor. I’d found comfort and hope in the pages of the Bible, and also felt the pain of those holy words turned against me. So there I was, at one of our ELCA colleges, trying to work out my faith in the pages of my first assignments.

I titled it, “Between Eve and Mary,” (or something like that) spending my word count fumbling into my first feminist criticism. I asked what was there for me as I tried to sort out my identity and purpose in a Bible that boiled down two possibilities for women- either the cause of men’s fall as the temptress or the bearer of men’s salvation as the impossible virgin mother.

My philosophy professor had once considered a call into ministry himself, so it was with a pastor’s heart that he steered me back into grace. Where I had angrily written Genesis 1: “In the image of God, he created them, male and female he created them,” my professor emphasized “and female,” calling me to reclaim my sex’s place as part of the original blessing. That helped me move forward into discovering new voices and other ways of being Christian than what I had felt trapped into.

When we open up to Genesis today, and read the next chapter of life for the chosen family, I find myself sinking down again.

Jacob has come to find a wife and falls for Rachel. He strikes a deal with her father Laban, buying her in exchange for seven years of labor. When Laban switches daughters in the marriage bed, Jacob is stuck with older sister Leah as he wife. Leah’s like a prom dress you can’t return because you took off the tags and wore it.

We may have started this story out with a romantic scene at the local watering hole, as Jacob first sets eyes on Rachel, but it quickly spirals into women being sold for profit. The literal exchange is, Laban- “I don’t want you to work for free. Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Jacob, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”

We don’t hear the women’s voices. Unlike other women in scripture, they do have the honor of being named. Keeping them straight will be important as they become the mothers of the 12 tribes of Israel.

At this point in Jacob’s story, we see a fascinating shift as Jacob moves from his upbringing in his mother’s tent to “being a man.” I’ve been reading a book on Genesis by Dr. Miguel De La Torre in which he has a discussion of Jacob being raised outside the world of men. When he meets Rachel, he serves her, uncovering the well, watering her sheep. He speaks to her and listens. But then when he comes to Laban’s house, he steps into another realm and slips into the power given to him. He becomes a willing participant in a system that uses women as currency and incubators of the sons of the promise.

So what do we do with a text like this when we find something distasteful in its sanctified treatment of the characters? Do we chalk it up to a different culture with a foreign way of entering marriages? Focus on the romance and ignore the other parts? Use it as another reason religion has no relevance today?

I could get on my soapbox and rage against the patriarchy, maybe I’ve already done that, or I could press on to feel a bit more of the power of this text. Noticing how much I identify with the women who have been forced to be voiceless and powerless, I could wonder when I have silenced others. When have I been as Jacob and Laban, authors and readers of scripture, who simply didn’t notice or care that they were undermining half of humanity. I could roll my eyes at this text, or I could turn my sight inward.

Looking through this text into our lives, we see our own complicity in systems of power that benefit us at the expense of seeing others as less than fully human. We have sinned, by what we have done and what we have left undone. A text like this calls for repentance.

It’s time to confess that we have lived benefiting from having some named group of outsiders to blame or exclude. We’ve called ourselves holy and in the right while pointing at other who are doing it wrong, and that’s helped us feel better about ourselves and be drawn closer together as a community.

We’ve done ministry in a way that requires passive recipients of our good news and good works without first listening to people identify needs and strengths and giving them the agency to decide how- if at all- we might be invited to minister alongside them.

We’ve mouthed Biblical platitudes thoughtlessly, without bringing the whole witness to bear on a situation. This happens when an abused spouse is told staying in the marriage with its hurt is a cross to bear. Not helpful, and not true to God’s intention for us.

We repent from our silence, our ducked heads, our going with the flow so as to not create any waves, when something didn’t threaten us directly enough to merit action. We’ve done nothing so as not to offend, to keep the peace, and keep ourselves safe.

We need God’s forgiveness for those times when we judge others as less than human. For when we keeps costs down by devaluing the well-being of others. When we’ve gambled with other’s safety and spent the resources our children will need.

Church, we’re a community whose worship begins with confession. That may be one of the greatest gifts we offer our culture. We practice saying we’ve been in the wrong, and that we don’t have the power within ourselves to do it right. We need help to live with love and justice. God forgives us and empowers us to continue to work towards God’s kingdom.

We’re not only the ones stepping on others to get ahead, we’re also the ones being ground down. We need God’s assurance that God sees us as people with worth and value, especially when the world tells us we are not enough- because of our bank accounts, or the way we look, our education, or our jobs, our skin color, abilities, struggles, nationality, language, culture, gender identity, or the family we love.

God makes that assurance to you through Jesus. Jesus proves the depth of God’s love for you, the great worth in which God values you. Our Romans text declares “neither death nor life, nor rulers, nor powers… nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus”- there is no cost that would outweigh your value, nothing that would be too great to pay, in God’s loving work of claiming you as God’s own beloved, good, valued creation.

Jesus’ actions make us reevaluate the value of other persons and of all creation. Jesus was challenged and changed by his encounters with people outside his community. He moved from preaching exclusively to the people of Israel to healing foreign women and sending his disciples to the ends of the earth. He welcomed little children, who were seen as prehuman, and named them models of faith. He willingly choose the experience of the blamed outsider and carried the rage and guilt of the community. The good news of his resurrection was first entrusted to the women among his disciples. Jesus’ life and death resets the scales of value, replacing our miserliness with his abundance. The kingdom Jesus is ushering in has room for all to be especially precious to God, and no one less so than another.

God’s resurrecting Jesus is God’s affirmation of his work. The one whose radical welcome led to his being killed is the one who is raised from the dead. Jesus’ way of being is validated in the resurrection. Our “no” is met with God’s “yes.”

Jesus’ coming to us, dying and rising, changes how we know God, how we read the Bible, and how we seek to live in response. Scripture is not a once and done event, but the unfolding witness of a creation encountering God and being inspired as they compile, edit, and record that witness. We are not a once and done church, but a community that is continually in the process of being reborn as we sin, are forgiven, reformed, and sent out into the world to witness to our encounter with God and join God at work.

God is using us, works in progress, to reclaim the value of each person God has so lovingly made. We’re going to mess it up sometimes, but we can’t let that scare us away from trying. At the end of the day, God’s going to restore this whole creation. In the new day God is bringing, we will be one community of beloved people, finally able to look at ourselves and each other as beings of worth.



Exposed and Covered by Grace: A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
January 22, 2017, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

When we were living in North Dakota, we had a very long laundry line that basically took up our entire backyard. About 15 feet on the other side of the line was our neighbor’s house. So if our neighbor was in his kitchen, doing dishes, and looked out, he could read the logos on our t-shirts hanging in the breeze.

I never hung any underwear on our line.

From childhood taunts, “I see London, I see France, I see Suzy’s underpants” to high school dress codes to admonitions in seminary preaching classes – “don’t show your exegetical undergarments”— I’ve been formed to know you don’t go showing what you’re supposed to be covering up.

The thing is, we all have bodies, we all have variously shaped underclothes to hold our variously shaped bodies, and there’s nothing new or surprising about that. I was surprised then, one day while watching one of my favorite shows- “Call the Midwife”- set in 1950s urban England- to see a scene of laundry hanging between the flats. I noticed that there were all manner of undergarments and I was surprised that I had reaction of embarrassment that was simply not shared by the people in that culture. People have clothes, clothes get dirty, they get wet when washed, and they need to dry, and the way you dry clothes is to hang them out, which has the side effect of being visible to your neighbors.

Those are the facts. There’s nothing really to be embarrassed about. It’s pretty pointless to try to hide what we all know about each other.

When we read Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, it feels a bit like we’re noticing their undies on the line. We’re hearing about those cracks in their community we think we’re expected to hide. But what if the invitation is not to hide from our humanity, but to acknowledge each other’s? And in recognizing that we all have things under the polished image we’d like the show the world, might we learn how to deal with those not so pretty bits- and even more importantly, might we discover grace and live in grace towards each other?

Let’s enter the text with humility and compassion- for the Corinthians and for ourselves.

Paul has just greeted the Corinthians with a typical opening, and reminded them of a vision of who they are called to be, as he writes:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift 

Within that thanksgiving are veiled references to the struggles Paul will address in this letter. It doesn’t take him much longer to become more direct.

We’ve only read 10 verses when we come to the first uncovering of the trouble in the community. Paul writes,

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 

Divisions? Disagreements? What’s this all about? He continues,

11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 

Ah. Factions have formed within the one community. The problem is that people within the community are claiming adherence to one teacher or another. In Paul’s culture, in which you might be a disciple of one rabbi or another, this is understandable. You might follow one teacher and interpret the scripture through that teacher’s lens. The problem is that they are using their affiliation as a source of justification and division. It’s like they’re going up to each other and saying, “I”m following the right teacher and yours is wrong.” Or- “You’re believing lies.” Or- maybe they’re trying to keep away from those who are interpreting from a different point of view.

Was there a pros and cons list followers were carrying around for Paul, and Apollos, and Cephas, and those “always have the right answer group” claiming Christ?

Paul calls them on it. He’s not interested in having his name used in their game, writing “thank God that I baptized none of you… except Cripus and Gaius…” (1:14). Paul knows it’s not about him. He may have been the one called to spread the word, but it’s been the word about Jesus, not about Paul himself. It’s been the word about the cross, not something wise or glorious, flashy or entertaining. Paul knows he’s human and has plenty of failings, and he’s ok pointing those out just to help the Corinthians break away from their focus on having the right group.

Your teacher, your pastor, your church affiliation, in the end, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is Christ. If Paul’s clear on saying he doesn’t want his name dragged into this argument, I can only imagine how clearly Christ would shout his disapproval.

I think we all can picture pretty clearly what it looks like to have a church broken up into factions. Many of us have ears ringing with memories of heated discussion and accusations. We also know what it is to weigh different schools of thought- different interpretations of the scriptures. Maybe some have not, but I think many of us have had plenty of time in prayer and study, discerning what teachings we want to live out of. We have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in the Corinthian community. It can be pretty uncomfortable for this kind of division to be named and brought out in the open.

Frankly, I think many of us have found it embarrassing for this church to have its name spoken out in public along with phrases like, “they’re having problems” or “they’re leaving the ELCA.” But, I don’t think it has to be. There’s nothing new with having divisions within the church. There’s nothing new to being emotional or having a temper or turning away instead of working it out. We don’t have to be ashamed of having a problem that is pretty typical. We’re not called to hide away our struggle. But we are called to be open to God’s word to us:

We’re in the same boat as the Corinthians, and so, more than ever, from the page of the Bible to our ears, Paul’s speaking to us: “Has Christ been divided?” (1:13)

Is Christ a measurable quantity that exists to a greater degree in one church over another? Can one group claim Jesus and be right in saying the other does not have him? No, of course not. In Colossians we read that in Jesus “all things hold together”  (1:17) and “there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all” (3:11)— all the groups into which we divide ourselves mean nothing to Christ, he transcends our boundaries. Further on in First Corinthians, Paul will talk of the Body of Christ, holding all the very different members of the body into one being. There might be differences among people, but there is one Jesus Christ who holds them all together- only one Jesus Christ who decides that each of them has a part in him.

The problem is that we tend to be afraid that Jesus will decide we don’t have a part in him. This makes us do crazy things. Our fear grows a festering sense of shame that divides community and pulls us away from Christ.

We don’t have to play the shame game when we realize there are divisions among us. We don’t have to let shame drive us to cover up by exposing other’s faults. So much of our lives is caught up in trying to look better than we are, to pretend we have fewer faults than our neighbors, to claim righteousness and holiness. Paul calls all that what it is: foolishness.

Because we who claim Jesus see things upside down to the way the world sees things. We claim something the world sees as foolish: the cross as the highest wisdom. We name the cross as the throne of our God. Looking through the cross, we see what seems wise is really foolish.

We’re so used to thinking according to the ways of this world that what God’s doing in the cross really doesn’t make sense. Why would God choose to be exposed in shame?

God goes to the cross to upend all our expectations about needing to hide the truth about who we are. On the cross, God declares:

I’m here for you.

You’ve gotten it all totally, horrible wrong, all my teachings, all my intentions, and yet, I’m still going to love you. 

You can’t do anything nasty enough to make me budge, I’m not going to turn away from you, 

I’m not going to turn on you. 

All your lists of right and wrong, holy and sinful, are upside down and twisted around, 

it’s time to realize I’m not a God about lists of naughty and nice, 

I’m a God who keeps no score, who washes away sin, 

who declares you beloved even while you are covered in the muck of sin, and who makes you new 

I’m bringing you along on the path towards a more whole creation. 

I’m here for you, because I know how very much you need me, and I’m willing to do everything to love you into life.

The foolishness of claiming affiliation to the one right teacher is exposed by the Jesus Christ who comes from God and hangs despised on a tree. Because that Jesus doesn’t do the “right” thing at all. He doesn’t follow the rules. He follows God’s love.

God’s love is a dangerous and wild force that rips out of our hands any tallies of in or out, right or wrong, welcome or not. God’s love carries us up out of ourselves and our preoccupations with self-righteousness and centers us in the wonder of grace.

The cross unravels our need for division. We align ourselves with the right group so that we can feel justified that we’re believing the right things and doing the right things, and so that we have an opposing group to point to as our foil. It helps us avoid looking at the things we don’t like in ourselves and keeps others from discovering how we are broken.

But if the cross is about Jesus choosing to stand with us in our brokenness, if Jesus already knows about everything we’re trying to hide, and if that hasn’t made him run from us, but is actually what is making him run towards us, then maybe we don’t have to be afraid or ashamed anymore. This is grace: that God loved us when we were most unloveable. Living in that grace, we can say with bold confidence, I am broken, but I am also beloved. We can look out- at those we’ve once pushed away- and know that about them: you are broken, but you are also beloved.

Living in grace, shame and judgement have no place. Without shame and judgement, division cannot be fueled. There will still be differences. The twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians is all about how differences are necessary. Different lens for interpretation, different ways of living out the gospel, different organizing structures, different styles, different gifts and different failings- but grace gives room for difference because it is centered in unexpectedly wide love.

We no longer have to hide what is a given about us- that in this life, we struggle. We can be outrageously open with the good news- that our struggle gives us occasion to learn even more deeply God’s love for us, and opportunity to live in to the experience of forgiveness, reconciliation, and freedom that Jesus’ cross opens for us.

Display for your neighbors to see: you’re a work in progress, and the master craftsman is forming you into people who rely on God’s grace and who show that grace to others.



Wastelands becoming Gardens: A Sermon for Advent 3, Isaiah 35:1-10
December 12, 2016, 5:16 pm
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: , , ,

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.

 



Blooming Out of Season Sermon: Advent 2 Isaiah 11:1-10
December 5, 2016, 12:33 pm
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: , ,

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: 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.



Pet Blessing Oct 9
October 13, 2016, 9:08 am
Filed under: Sermons | Tags:

Grace and peace to you, creatures of God.

 

We’ve gathered today to celebrate our shared identity as God’s created beings and our holy calling to care for all of creation.

 

We read the beautiful poetry of creation, God’s speech bringing into being new life. Waves and rain, soil and sand, animal and human- and it was good. This refrain of “it was good” echoes in our hearts when we walk in the woods, harvest our gardens, marvel at a sunset, and enjoy our animal companions. God has created all that is, and in looking at creation with thankfulness and wonder, we look beyond the creation to God who created – and find the One whom we can thank and praise.

 

Genesis 1 tells an account of an ordered creation, while Genesis 2 tells of a God who is deeply engaged with the creative process, open to change and adaptation for the well-being of what God is bringing to life.

 

In this second telling of creation, God looks at the human creation and sees that it is not good for the human to be alone. This lack of companionship inspires God to create the animals and bring them to the human to see which would be a helper and a friend. God’s first answer to a person’s loneliness is an animal. Those who consider pets members of their family know God had it right. God creates for there to be relationships of mutual benefit, so that together, creation is good.

 

It is so fun that you have brought your animal helpers and friends today. I love that our scriptures talk about animals having this potential to fill a gap of our loneliness. You all know what it feels like to have an animal’s presence bring you joy, comfort, and understanding. That companionship is a gift of God.

 

In your caring for your animals, you are living out God’s call for humans to join God in tending to the creation. With our offerings of items for the Watertown Humane Society, we join in tending those animals in most need of care. As those created in God’s image, we are called to be about God’s work, caring for all of creation in our responsible use and thoughtful care of the entire world and all who live here.

 

As we give thanks for the gift of God’s good creation, we also remember that God cares for us. God has given us life. God has given us human and animal companions. In Jesus, God shows us the depth of his commitment to creation. God enters creation in Jesus, a created person, in order to be more fully connected to us, so that even when we die, we would not be separated from God.

 

Today we’ve brought our animals to church to be reminded that all of creation is God’s. We all look to God for life, and we return to God our thanks and praise for all we have been given.

 

Let us raise to God the joys and needs of creation in prayer, responding to Lord in your mercy with hear our prayer.

 

 

FIRST READING: Genesis 1:1, 20-28, 31a

A reading from Genesis:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,  20God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.”  21So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good.  22God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”  23And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so.  25God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

26Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

27So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

Word of God. Word of Life.

Thanks be to God.

 

A reading from Genesis:

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,5when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7then the Lord God formed a human from the humus of the ground, and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living being… 18Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the human should be alone; I will make it a helper as its partner.” 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the human to see what it would call them; and whatever the human called every living creature, that was its name.

Word of God. Word of Life.

Thanks be to God.



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?