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Covet: A Sermon on James 3:13-4:3,7-8a
September 26, 2018, 12:19 pm
Filed under: Sermons

(sermon from James slide)

 

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

 

How do we know what to want? That might seem like a weird question- “how do we know what to want?” because most of us just go through life and when we want something, we know we want it. Most of the time, we don’t often think about where that desire came from.

 

Humans are social creatures. From our earliest age, we learn what to want by watching others.

 

(slide- parent and child)

 

Our parents teach us to want mushed peas from a jar. Our friends teach us to want sparkly backpacks. Our culture teaches us to want trophies, money, fame, certain bodies…

 

We look to others to see what they want, so we know what to want. We look to others to see what they have, and we want what they have.

 

(slide- kids photos series)

 

We value things because others value them. That’s the whole premise of a currency based economy. We’ve all agreed that these little pieces of paper have value (hold dollar bill). Without that social contract, they’re really not worth much- you can’t write much on them, they won’t keep you warm because they don’t even burn that well. We’ve decided that we all want them, and so they have value. We want more and more and more- and more than the person down the street…

 

The letter of James speaks to our wanting.

 

(slide- James quote)

4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.

 

We covet when we want something someone else has. James describes this coveting as the root of murder- the desire to have what someone else has leads us into greater and greater trouble. It isn’t just a hunger within our mind, it spills out into hurtful action.

 

 

 

 

At my pastors’ group this week, someone shared that they had learned to read the Ten Commandments backwards.

 

(slide- 10 commandments photo- blue)

We often start with “The Lord your God…” If we start with number ten, “You shall not covet…” as our lens, we see that all the breaking of these commandments rises out of a desire to have what we do not have.

 

(slide – 10 and 9)

 

Coveting, wanting what we don’t have and what belongs to another, is the basic sin that leads into all else. Looking at the Ten Commandments, Ten and Nine list all the things belonging to our neighbor that we might want. Out of our wrong desire comes the need for the other commandments, meant to rein us in when our coveting would lead to harmful action.

 

(slide- 8)

You might be jealous of your neighbor’s situation- their popularity or honor. To get a better position for yourself, you tear them down, you gossip and slander. Do not bear false witness.

 

(slide- 7)

You want something, so you take it. Do not steal.

 

(slide 6)

Do not commit adultery, taking the relationship belonging to another for yourself.

 

(slide 5)

You want something so much you’re willing to do anything to get it. Do not murder.

 

(slide 4)

Honor your mother and father, do not withhold your respect because you want it only for yourself.

 

(slide 3)

Remember the sabbath by not wanting more so much that you exchange a day of rest and worship for a day of work.

 

(slide 2 and 1)

Give God have the honor due God and not wanting it for yourself. From our misplaced desire comes all sorts of evil.

 

James writes that our wanting what does not belong to us causes destruction:

16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.

 

(Slide Genesis)

Our Holy Bible describes coveting as the root of all sin. If we go back to the idea of Original Sin, Adam and Eve in the Garden wanted to be like God. God has knowledge they did not have. They wanted it. They broke God’s command not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in order to get it.

 

Coveting comes from fear. We want something others have because they’re having it means its worth something and our not having it means we lack something and if we lack something, that must mean we’re not worth much.

 

(cartoon slide)

 

So the only answer to our feeling worthless is to get what has worth and pile it up all around us. Then we’ll have worth, right?

 

God gives us a different answer. God says you have worth now. God declares you are beloved and worthy by placing God’s image onto you. We can stop trying to impress God. God doesn’t need it.

 

Trusting that God has made you worthy means that you don’t need to be anything else or have anything else before you are valued. There’s nothing to be afraid of losing. You don’t need to be like anyone else because God has made you special- beloved and wonderful just as you are. God has promised to provide for you. There’s nothing more that you need, so you have no reason to covet.

 

It drives me nuts when a preacher seems to have finished the sermon and then goes on and on again. So, I apologize, but I really want to make one more point as a corrective:

 

James is an important text for our self-examination, but it could all too easily be used as a weapon against others. Surely the powerful have used it to justify their position, saying to those below them, “envy and selfish ambition” leads to “disorder and wickedness.”

 

(Slide- suffrage cartoons)

 

Stay in your place. That’s what weaponizing James sounds like: the powerful maintaining their power by calling evil the desire to be free and fully human, to have rights awarded another group. I can imagine it shouted throughout the generations: the Roman Empire to the Jews in occupied Israel, American slaveowners to slaves, Federal Government to Tribes, Whites to Blacks, citizens to immigrants, men to women, rich to poor: Stay in your place. To want more than your station allows is wrong and disrupts the natural order.

 

Jesus breaks down this use of James when he confronts the disciples as they argue about who is the greatest.

 

(slide- Jesus blesses children)

 

He places a child among them, a being that to their culture, was not yet fully human. Jesus lifts the child up as an example of one to be honored as Jesus’ own self. The very ones some would look down on are those Jesus most identifies with. Jesus always sides with the one we would cast out and push down. Jesus teaches us how to read James, keeping us from using his words to oppress.

 

You are beloved and worthy in God’s eyes, just as every other person is. Each of us has been created in God’s image. We’ve already received freely the greatest standing we could achieve. Live in God’s love, with generosity and gratitude rather than insatiable desire.

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Love Casts out Fear: A sermon on 1 John 4
April 30, 2018, 9:25 am
Filed under: Sermons

1 John 4: 7-21

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

 

Fear.

 

Most of us fear something.

 

Monsters under the bed- or around the corner. Loss. Being forgotten. Failing.

 

Fear can drive our lives, causing us to act in ways that aren’t good or healthy, but feel like the only option we have.

 

What does fear look like in your life?

 

It’s not pretty.

 

My fear that my kids won’t be good citizens and feel successful leads me to yell at them over the learning mistakes of childhood. My fear that we won’t have enough keeps me from being generous. My fear that people won’t like me keep me from talking to people who might have become my friends.

 

Fear keeps us from living and loving. It keeps us from meeting people where they are and from giving ourselves permission to bring our full and true selves.

 

We read in First John, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts our fear.” Fear comes in because there’s a consequence, a result that isn’t good. First John talks about fear coming from punishment. Some of us might image God as a holy judge, someone who will look at our lives and decide what type of future we deserve. Some of us may have heard preachers, family members, or friends tell us if we didn’t change, we’d end up in a fiery place of eternal torment, hell. So we come here to church with a certain fear and dread of God.

 

First John tells us that fear has no place in our lives. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” We don’t need to fear God, or God’s judgement, because God is love. God has proven God’s love is for all of us, even if we think we don’t deserve it.  God sent Jesus to be God with us, and through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has reconnected us all with God for life.

 

God looks at you with love- complete and unconditional. That’s what gives us the power to live without fear. We know that the biggest power in our lives is a power of good- a power that has chosen to love us. God has chosen to live within us, actively loving us and making it possible for us to love others. First John writes, “We love because God first loved us.”

 

God’s love within us gives us the certainty of knowing we are loveable. We don’t have to fear that the only thing we’re good for is rejection. God has chosen you. That certainty pushes away the fear that would keep us from risking love. You can take the risk of loving others.

 

In loving others, you may experience rejection. Those you want to love won’t love you back. Those to whom you show loving action might not appreciate it or change. It won’t be much fun, but it will be ok. You can risk love, and then if your love isn’t received, you can shake the dust off your feet and move on, as Jesus taught his disciples to do. The source of your love is Jesus’ love, and that reservoir is overflowing.

 

Today we at Our Savior’s open up a community conversation around what it means to be a loving presence in our neighborhood. Specifically, we’re looking at the option of hosting a monthly free breakfast as a loving action that supports the people who live here. Taking the time to have conversation is itself a bold act of love. Love calls us to risk hearing from others what they need, rather than loving from a distance. Jesus’ risky love lets us acknowledge that others may have the answers we thought we had, and teaches us to listen. Thank you for being willing to share your experience and hear that of others in the respect that comes from having nothing to fear, and acting in love towards each other.

 

May God who is love dwell in you deeply, so that you would be grounded in the deepest love, and live without fear.

 

 



Love is: A Sermon on John 10 and 1 John 3
April 23, 2018, 3:52 pm
Filed under: Sermons

John 10:11-18 

1 John 3:16-24

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

Jeff and I have been married for almost twelve years. Before that, we shared a mini fridge and a chest freezer, split between our two dorm rooms. Food sharing is not easy. It’s great to cook together and have dinner together and all that. But when you come home from a long day, having dreamed about the sweet satisfaction of that last brownie in the pan, and you open up the pan that’s still on the counter- and it’s empty-

Well.

There may be a bit of frustration- that he took my brownie and then had the nerve to not even wash the pan!

And don’t even get me started on the one time he ate my Christmas present candy that I had hidden in the closet…

 

It’s easy for me to fall into a self-important spiral. Obviously that brownie belonged to me. I made it. I mentally claimed it. Jeff took it from me!

There’s all sorts of ways that we get sucked into this mindset. What’s mine is mine. I worked for it. I deserve it. It’s all about me and getting what I need.

 

That’s not what love looks like. Jesus shows us what love looks like. First John and the Gospel of John both speak of Jesus laying down his life for us. Jesus is the result of God’s love choosing to take off power that distances, setting aside the right to be honored, and giving up a claim on everything- including life.

First John carries Jesus’ example into an instruction for our living, “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” I opened with a kinda silly example from married life, but I don’t think that’s the primary arena for this kind of love, certainly it isn’t for the writer of First John. The primary place to love like Jesus is within the community.

First John calls these ones to whom you owe love your brothers and sisters. The thing about siblings is that you don’t choose them. Earlier this week, our younger child Lydia came up to me and said she thought it might be better to not have a sister. She was thinking maybe I could be just her mommy, and she wouldn’t have to share a house, toys, and parents with another kid. We told her it doesn’t work that way. You’re stuck with the family you have.

When First John speaks of siblings, our initial impression might be that we’re to care for other Christians. A Christian’s sibling are those who claim Jesus as their brother through whom we’ve become children of God. The world they- and we – live in often tells us to take care of our own people first. We say we need to take care of our own family before we take care of anyone else’s. When the early church was starting to be formed, families were becoming divided. For some people, following Jesus meant leaving family behind. Having the church become family, and take on the roles of safety and care, kept people alive.

The early church grew because it moved beyond ethnic and economic boundaries in its ministry. This was a time when people were very much divided through citizenship and status. Against this culture of division, the church made a radical claim- “there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, all are one in Jesus” (Gal 3:28). The church became known for taking care of people of all backgrounds, welcoming into community those who had been cast out. We read in Acts that the very structure of the newly organizing church was formed in order to be sure that the widows, those who were the most vulnerable, were all being taken care of, no matter what ethnic group they belonged to.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks of having sheep from many folds. Jesus makes the diverse groups into one flock- his flock, for whom he laid down his life.

So when First John describes the active love of God actively loving our siblings through us- we read those siblings as including not only those in this building, or in a similar worship space, but all the people throughout the world.

“How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a sibling in need and yet refuses to help?” I struggle with these words. I struggle because that’s so scary to me as someone who has the world’s goods. What does it mean to help? What does it mean to love as Jesus has loved me?

When I was in college, I read “Breathing Space” by Pastor Heidi Neumark and wondered over her commitment to live and serve in a neighborhood where bullets sprayed through her house and just missed her child sleeping in bed. What would it look like to lay down my desire to provide safety in order to be present among God’s people who live amid violence?

A new initiative from Lutheran Social Services is Host Homes- encouraging families to welcome into their home a youth experiencing homelessness. I see the space in my home and I think – maybe this is something we should do. But then I also wonder- will it be safe, what about my own kids, I like my privacy…

In all these things, I find myself thinking about myself first, my family first. That’s why this passage from First John haunts me so much- I know I’m not there. But then I stop again because if it’s just about making myself feel better, then I’m not laying down my life for another. I know I need to find a way to help that isn’t about me using someone else to prove my faithfulness.

The danger the church has sometimes stepped into has been to decide on its own what other people need, serving its own purposes. Missionary work and colonization went hand in hand. Christianity sometimes has meant making other people live into Western Culture and negating their own agency and the strength of their way of life. Within my family tree are missionaries who left the United States to spread the Gospel in China, as well someone who worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and headed up schools on reservations. I imagine that they did what they thought was of most help and acted in love, and yet I look back on my own history and see a warning. It is so easy to do what sounds best and makes me look good by serving others instead of giving them the power to choose to invite me to be a part of what they’re doing to raise themselves up.

What would it look like for our congregation to lead the way in laying down its life for others- even for our siblings who are not part of this flock? You’re already well on your way down this faithful path. After sitting through council meetings at former congregations, listening to arguments declaring the boy scouts absolutely could not use our building because they might leave glitter on the floor- I am so refreshed by your willingness to accept the wear and tear that do affect your beautiful building in order to open your doors to organizations that serve this neighborhood. Colleen is serving her internship here among us to increase our capacity to listen to our neighbors and be the church needed for our place and time. We hold lightly all things, ready to set aside our own desires in order to meet Jesus at work all around us. We exist for those who aren’t here yet, and those who may never come in.

Last week, I spoke about Jesus’ bodily resurrection sending us into a ministry that cares not only for souls, but for bodies. This week we hear the call to let Jesus who laid down his life love through us, not in our empty words, but in our bold actions. Next week, we’ll be having a presentation and community conversation to begin to wonder if one way we might be called to love our siblings is by hosting a free monthly breakfast.

As much as it is important for us to hear the challenge of this text- to love in action- it is even more important to hear the promise- Jesus has laid down his life for you. Jesus loves you, choosing to care for you over all of his own needs. For Jesus, it was all about you, all about this whole creation. You’re his love and his purpose. You’re what mattered most to God, and so Jesus live and died and was raised, for your life now and forever.

 



And Yet… Easter Sunday Mark 16:1-8
April 19, 2018, 12:37 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Mark 16:1-8 

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ!

 

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

 

__

(haha, you know, not really knowing how to respond to that news is exactly what we hear in our Gospel this morning. I say Alleluia! Christ is Risen- you say Christ is risen indeed alleluia. )

 

*Christ is Risen indeed, alleluia! Yes! That’s the response to the good news! It’s something many of you have practiced and learned, but we read in the gospel this morning that the first people to hear it had no idea how to respond.

 

__

 

In the Gospel of Mark, three women set out to the Jesus’ tomb early in the morning. These women are Jesus’ disciples, caretakers, and friends, and they go to perform their final task of ministering to him.

 

They’re in the midst of that kind of grief that gets stuck on things and won’t let them see past the immediate problem. They set off from home, but now that they’ve been walking for a while, they remember that the tomb is sealed. There’s a heavy stone covering the entrance. How will they get inside to prepare Jesus’ body? They’re so caught up in worrying about this- repeating to each other- how are we going to move it? I don’t think we’ll be strong enough. Why didn’t we ask one of the disciples. I’m sure your son would have been willing to help us. Why didn’t he offer? Why are we doing this alone? How are we going to get in?

 

They’re so caught up in worry that they almost walk right in to the tomb. They’re startled, look up, and see that the stone is already rolled back.

 

A young man is there who tells them awesome, good news, “Do not be alarmed. Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised. He is not here. Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him.”

 

Shock takes over, fear freezes them, and then releases them so that their legs work again and they run. Maybe they cling to the clothes and spices they’ve brought because it’s something solid to hold onto, maybe they let them drop and smash on the ground.

 

Nothing’s as they’ve expected. It’s all just too much. The Gospel ends in silence and fear.

 

 

I love this Gospel. It’s not afraid to be real about this totally unreal experience. An empty tomb isn’t the reality we live in. Dead no longer dead isn’t the reality we know. As Church and Easter people, we’ve gotten comfortable with this “Alleluia Christ is Risen (—-) idea- even if we aren’t always so comfortable with the refrain. The thing is, it’s not a very comfortable idea. It messes with the one certainty we all expect.

 

The Gospel of Mark with its shocked into silence women seems to be just about right. I really get them. I’m a don’t get excited until it actually happens type of person. If you’ve heard of Dr. Brene Brown, you might be familiar with what she calls “foreboding joy.” She studies vulnerability in its relationship to how we live full lives, and she’s noticed that many people live in this sense of foreboding joy.

 

This occurs when you’re looking at your children sleeping soundly at night and they looks so cute and quiet and safe – but then you imagine the worst possible thing that could happen to them. Or, you get a new job, one you’ve been working so hard for and you’re so excited. You’re on the plane on the way to headquarters to get trained in, and then you have this sense that it’s totally going to crash- or if you make it there safely, they’ll take one look and you and say, sorry, there’s been a mistake, we must have called the wrong person. Whenever there’s something good, you just can’t totally accept it, there has to be a catch or a bad thing coming.

 

That’s what I see in the women fleeing the empty tomb. Maybe they remember Jesus saying something about rising from the dead, maybe they want to believe he really is alive, but after so much fear and pain over the last days, it’s hard to open themselves to another possible disappointment. If they believe and it’s not really true, then they’ll be worse off than if they just never believed in the first place. Why open themselves to hope?

 

The Gospel records- “and they said nothing to anyone, being afraid, and yet…”

 

And yet…

 

Many of our English translations don’t end with a coordinating conjunction, but the original Greek does, and to me that opens up this strange ending to further possibilities. Even though the words end, it means there is more to the story. The women ran away in fear with mouths closed- and yet- yet this Gospel was written, the story was told, the resurrection was believed. They found the bravery to be vulnerable by trusting the good news that Jesus is alive. Incomprehensible joy maybe, but no longer foreboding, no longer hesitant.

Something eventually changed and the women trusted God enough to share the story and generations since have heard and believed and lived a new life grounded in this strange and beautiful news that death is not the ending and violence has not won.

 

Today I ask if you’re willing to be vulnerable in order to trust this good news that Jesus is alive, death is conquered, and a new life marked by peace and well-being is coming?

 

Easter can be hard. Sure, the bright music and beautiful flowers and full sanctuary and chocolate bunnies are all lovely and lift the spirits- but to go into Monday with the promise of resurrection is a bit more difficult. Just like the women getting stuck on how they will roll back the tomb, we can get stuck on all the obstacles between us and a life of hope.

 

The news will still talk of war. The food shelf will still have clients who struggle for basic necessities. Loved ones will still be sick. We will still see death all around us.

 

And yet…

 

The tomb is empty. Jesus who was crucified has been raised. He is alive.

 

That witness, the good news that somehow escaped lips frozen in fear, is meant to overlay all we see. Where there is violence, we remember the Jesus took on violence in order to finally destroy it. Where there is need, we remember that Jesus promised the poor would be blessed. Where there is death, we remember that Jesus was the first of all to be raised into new life. The moment we live in is not the final ending. God is still at work to bring healing and life, and one day, we will see this salvation’s completion.

 

We can help each other be courageous enough to live full lives, grounded in faith. Dr. Brown gives us an image of an arena. Every day when we wake up, we enter the arena, the sports stadium, the play stage. We have the opportunity to show up- in work, in relationships, in service- we have the chance to live fully engaged. There are always detractors in the crowd, but we get to pick who’s in the front row, in our team’s box. We need people who will cheer us on, remind us that our hope and our work is not useless, but that we are part of a great narrative being written by God, that will certainly end in life and joy. We’ve gathered here today to be cheerleaders for each other.

 

 

How might your life be changed if you were vulnerable – open- to living the good news of Jesus’ resurrection? Might you work for peace even when you don’t see progress? Continue to feed and serve even when struggle never ends across the generations? Expect to be surprised by joy and find it because you’re looking? Risk looking foolish for the sake of love? This congregation exists to cheer others on in this good news, so that we might live changed lives in a world God is changing towards resurrection.

 

We’re one community called to live, worship, and praise together so that when some among us are faltering, others can strengthen them. With voices hesitant and voices bold, we proclaim:


Alleluia. Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.



Easter Sunday at Chum Church John 20:1-18 Luke 24:13-35
April 19, 2018, 12:24 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Read the Bible

Grace and peace to you, my siblings in Christ.

We are in a whole season of Easter. Easter is celebrated on more than one day. One thing I like best about having church during Easter is that we get to have a special greeting. Just like if it’s your friend’s birthday, you say something special- we say Happy birthday! On Easter I say – Alleluia Christ is Risen- and you say- Christ is Risen indeed alleluia. Let’s do that together.

That’s how we celebrate Easter- by sharing the good news- Alleluia Christ is Risen— Christ is Risen indeed alleluia.

That means Jesus is alive. He’s not dead. We can be happy.

Today we read from two books of the Bible. They both are stories about what happened when people first learned that Alleluia Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed alleluia.

In both of these stories, people see Jesus alive, but they don’t know it’s him! They don’t recognize him. That’s really strange to me, because the people who don’t recognize Jesus are the people who know him the best. They are disciples, people who spent a lot of time with Jesus. They would work with Jesus, pray with Jesus, listen to Jesus, eat with Jesus- how can they look at Jesus now and not know it’s him?

So I’ve been thinking about what makes it so that we don’t recognize people we know. Maybe we don’t know who someone is if they’re wearing a big hat, or funny glasses. Maybe it’s been a long time and they look different or we’ve forgotten them. Sometimes I don’t recognize someone when they aren’t where I expect them to be. If I’m grocery shopping, I might be trying to remember everything on my grocery list, and I’m so focused on that, I could walk past my best friend and not notice!

I think the disciples are so focused on being sad because Jesus died. They’re so focused on being confused because they’ve heard that Jesus is not in the tomb, but they don’t understand what that means. They are so focused on something else, they don’t recognize the good news, they don’t recognize that Jesus is standing right with them, talking to them! Then Jesus does something to make them recognize him.

So how do we recognize people? I recognize my children on the playground by their brightly colored snowsuits. I recognize my mom’s voice because she calls me on the phone. I recognize my husband when he holds my hand. I know people I love from the way they look or sound or feel or what they do to help me.

Mary recognizes Jesus when he calls her by name. Their relationship, Jesus’ knowing her, calls her into recognition, and she knows the alive man standing in front of her is Jesus. Alleluia Christ is Risen!

The two disciples walking on the road recognize Jesus when he sits down to share a meal with them. Jesus’ sharing of bread reminds them of all the times they’ve shared a meal, and of that special meal when Jesus talked about giving his body and blood for them. Their fellowship, Jesus’ feeding them, brings them into recognition, and they know that the alive man sharing a meal with him is Jesus. Alleluia Christ is Risen!

Today Jesus is still with us. One of the ways Jesus is with us is in each other. When we meet each other, we can recognize Jesus’s spirit in each other. When Sue welcomes you all to CHUM Church, I recognize Jesus because Jesus welcomes people in love. When you are happy to see each other, I recognize Jesus because Jesus celebrates each person. When we share a meal together, I recognize Jesus because Jesus shares meals where everyone has enough and everyone has a place at the table.

Today we help each other recognize the good news. Jesus is here with us. Alleluia Christ is Risen!



Opposites: Sermons for Palm/Passion Sunday Gospel Reading Mark 14:1-15:47
April 19, 2018, 12:21 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Gospel Reading

Mark 14:1-15:47

Children’s Sermon

 

Today we’re telling a story throughout our entire worship. It’s the story of the final days of Jesus’ life all the way through his death and burial. It’s a sad story and it’s ok to feel sad or scared by some of the parts of the story.

We already started the story this morning. I think this story is all about opposites. Do you know your opposites? (flash cards?) What’s the opposite of hot? On? Closed?

Great.

We’re going to tuck that idea of opposites in our head and remember the beginning of the story we’re telling today. What did we just do? Can anyone tell me the story about Jesus?

Great. Were the people happy excited or angry when they saw Jesus?

They used these palms to say they were happy excited!

The next part of the story is going to talk about Jesus’ friends. What’s a good friend like?

What’s the opposite of a friend?

We’re going to hear that Jesus’ friends left him. One of his friends turned on him and led people who wanted to hurt him right to him. That’s the opposite of being a friend.

Jesus gets taken away and a crowd gets to decide what happens to him. But they’re not happy excited anymore- what’s the opposite?

They’re angry. They decide they want Jesus to go away and stop teaching. They want him to go away so much that they wish he was dead. Everyone decides that Jesus should die on the cross, and that’s what happens.

One of the ways I like to remember the opposites of this day is to fold my palm- which I used when I felt what? Into a cross- which reminds us that the crowd felt what?

It reminds me that I can act in opposite ways sometimes. Sometimes I’m not a good friend. Sometimes I feel angry and I hurt people when I’m angry.

 

Most of all, it reminds me of God’s opposites. Jesus is God and could choose to be a great king, to have everything he wants, to hang out with movie stars— but instead Jesus chooses the opposite- to love people others leave out, to work for people so they can live, to spend his time with people who need him. On the cross, Jesus died. But- God made the opposite of what we expect happen! God raised Jesus to life. Next Sunday we’ll celebrate that really special opposite. God takes death and makes it the opposite- life.

So even though my palm is a cross now, it doesn’t have to mean scary or sad things, it reminds me that God takes sad things like death and turns them into the opposite- life in happiness. That’s the future God has for all of you- not death or scary things, but life and love.

You can see if you can make your own palm cross, and after worship I can help you make them, too.

 

 

 

 

 

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

Today is a dramatic day. Thank you, readers, for helping to bring the story of this day to life. This is indeed a day of opposites. As we live into this great drama, we recognize our own tendency to sweep from reception to rejection, faithfulness to betrayal, service to selfishness. God works through the Bible to show us ourselves, and it isn’t always a pretty picture.

God reveals our fickleness, so that we would rely on God’s faithfulness. I hear the crowd’s movement from “Hosanna” to “Crucify” and for a moment I think, surely not I- that’s not me. They didn’t really know what they were doing or who Jesus was. I know better. But then I wonder, when I have wanted Jesus only when it was convenient for me?

In place of our fickleness, God shows us faithfulness. Jesus sticks around for rejection after rejection. At the garden, Jesus may have pled, “Stay with me,” while all his disciples left him. Jesus is the one who will stay with you, through all things. Jesus chooses to experience rejection, suffering, and death so that you would know that there is nothing so bad that you can do that will make him give up and decide you’re not worth the effort. Jesus does all things to be with you.

God reveals violence as our response to fear. Jesus was a threat because he challenged the way things were. The Roman empire was threatened because he claimed a different order of authority. The religious leaders were threatened because he taught with a different perspective, and the signs he performed pointed to his authority. The people lived under the rule of a foreign empire. Life didn’t match their hopes and dreams. Someone needed to take the blame. The crowd’s eager cry of “Crucify” reveals our choice to blame outsiders and others, convicting them to punishment, so that the general feeling of unease has a source that can be named and contained. The way we’ve learned to deal with a sense of danger is to put a name to it, a face to it, attached to someone who is other than us. The way we’ve learned to deal with threats is to destroy them, defeat them, through violence. We trust violence to be the solution to protect us from fear.

When he hear the centurion declare, “truly this man was the Son of God,” we are shocked into the realization that our scapegoating lands punishment where it is not deserved. Jesus takes on all the violence we show towards others. When we look at Jesus on the cross and recognize his innocence, we are startled away from thinking violence will be an answer to our fear. Jesus so longs for us to live in peace and harmony that he shows us what a false answer violence is.

God reveals our limited expectations, and surprises us with life instead of death. Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb with the certainty of death. Everyone knows death is the end of life, and there’s no going back. Next Sunday we will gather to celebrate the greatest of all the opposites God works. Through death, Jesus makes life forever and death only temporary.

Today we hear the story of our greatest brokenness, our most obvious rejection of God. It it a story of our killing God. When our intent is death, God transforms our intentions to work the opposite.

God works in us, works through the hearing of the Bible, so that we would recognize where we are not living into God’s intention for us. At that moment of realizing our failings, God speaks grace to us, showing us that it’s not our perfection, but God’s love that matters. We can rely on God instead of ourselves.

We may flip flop between the best and worst of who we can be- but God remains steadfast. God’s action for us is certain and true. God is working to bring you life and healing, now and forever.



What’s the Point: A Sermon for Lent on Ecclesiastes 1 and 2
April 19, 2018, 12:08 pm
Filed under: Sermons

12I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. 14I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind. 15What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted. 16I said to myself, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind.

2I said to myself, “Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But again, this also was vanity.

12So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly… 15Then I said to myself, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also; why then have I been so very wise?” And I said to myself that this also is vanity.

17So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

20So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun?

5:18This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot.

9: 7Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; …9Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.

Word of God, Word of Life. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

It is my joy to join you in worship this evening. Thank you for your welcome. I bring you greetings from your siblings at Our Savior’s in West Duluth.

Us preachers have been tasked with picking out one text that brings hope for today. I’ve stepped away from all the beautiful verses worthy of inspirational posters to read from a book I appreciate for its unrelenting honesty.

“Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Not something you’d hang in the front of a classroom to inspire students to work harder.

“All is vanity… utterly meaningless… a chasing after the wind.”  These written words are the cry of someone searching for meaning in a world that doesn’t make sense. It’s a voice looking for purpose in a world that isn’t fair.

This voice belongs to someone called the Teacher. The Teacher notices and questions. Some people might hear this voice as too depressing, but I’ve always liked it. In a way, it reminds me of the voice of a teenager or young adult, someone who is noticing things are not as good in the world as she had assumed during her childhood. She hasn’t learned that you’re supposed to be content with the way things are, and questions everything. Maybe she’s angry things aren’t as nice as she thought they were, but behind the anger you can hear a desire for hope. The Teacher is like this teenager, daring us readers, daring God, to answer for the state of the world in a real and meaningful way so that she can go on living.

Although I hear in the Teacher’s voice the voice of youth, the Teacher describes himself as old, having lived enough to see the world for what it is. As we hear him noticing things about the world, we also hear the question he’s longing for God to answer:

The Teacher laments the futility of all our work. One might plant but another enjoys the fruit of his labor. One might work three jobs and never get ahead of the bills. What’s the point?

The Teacher calls evil the way of the world that leads to injustice. People get rich by oppressing others. One might organize and march, write letters and make phone calls, and still not see those in power work for justice. One might bike to work, install led lighting, and compost, but all that work to care for creation is offset by another’s overuse of resources. Why try?

The Teacher points our impermanence, writing, “All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again” (3:20), a precursor to our Ash Wednesday refrain, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Death is the end we will all meet. Often the Teacher calls this meaninglessness, because those who do good die just the same as those who do evil. Does life matter?

These questions embedded in his observations push the Teacher into deeper exploration of the human condition and our relationship with God. They are the questions we might all bring into our prayer life- “What’s the point? Why try? Does my life matter?” That these questions are included in the Bible gives us permission to pray them. My challenge to you this Lent is to not hold back from asking God the questions that really matter to you. It’s not necessary to have quick and pious answers. The Teacher is traditionally identified as King Solomon, to whom God gave great wisdom. If this giant in the faith can ask these questions, so can you.

The Teacher’s clear-sighted honesty leads not to despair, but to a determined enjoyment of whatever good life brings. Have food and drink? Enjoy every taste. Have a spouse you love or a friend you connect with? Celebrate being with that person. Have a job? Take pride in your work and sleep well at night. Live in the moment. Hug your children. Look for the little joys and give thanks for them. Life is not all unicorns and rainbows, but if there are any moments of happiness, they are meant to be sought for and treasured.

From my own faith journey, I hear God answering the Teacher’s desperate questioning.

Is it evil that we plant and another enjoys? No. We do not live for ourselves alone. If we see that in God we are all connected, then we can be happy when our work benefits another member of our human community.

Is it useless to work for justice? No. Doing what we can is our way of living into our prayer, “your kingdom come.” We work for justice trusting that God is building a new kingdom in which all creation is valued and peace will be complete.

Is life pointless because it ends? No. Living on this side of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can look past death with hope for a new life to come.

The voice of the Teacher joins my own in noticing and questioning. I notice that tragedies, disasters, accidents, disease, any one of us can be affected at any time, in any place. I question- how do we go about living?

An example that I think hits many of our hearts at this time:

A few months ago my three year old came home to describe her day at daycare. She told me that they had practiced shutting the door and hiding in the corner and being really quiet. They were learning to be safe if a bad person came into the school, she explained. Lock down drills. At three years old. How can I bear to let my child out of my sight? The Teacher writes, “…time and chance happen to them all. For no one can anticipate the time of disaster” (9:11b-12). There is no assurance of safety anywhere. In light of the horrific shooting in Florida, how can we live in times of danger and uncertainty?

I struggle. But I think it’s ok to struggle in faith. Holy platitudes don’t ring true to me, and they don’t help much. So don’t tell me an angel is watching over her, or that God won’t give me more than I can handle, or that if my faith is strong enough, everything will be ok. And never tell me that a child dies so God can have an angel in heaven.

But tell me a gospel that speaks to my life. The voice of the Teacher prepares the way for the gospel by not pretending about the struggles in life. If the Bible can speak truth about the pain in life, then I can believe when through the Bible, God speaks promise for healing in the future.

The gospel is that God stands with us in the midst of struggle and creates meaning in our lives by sharing life with us.

God entered creation to share our human life. That Jesus Christ is God with Us, God as one of us, is a sign of God’s valuing this messy, complicated, beautiful life we live. Life is not perfect, but it is precious. God’s valuing of human life gives it meaning. Yes, the laundry pile is never completed, and as soon as the dishwasher is empty, another stack of dishes appear- but our God in the flesh- Jesus- may have stood at the sink just like us, embracing the ordinary rhythm of human life, and making it holy.

God enters the powerlessness of our lives. Jesus died, sharing in the end of human life. Jesus died in the ultimate place of vanity, on the cross where rebels with all their plans for a different way of life were snuffed out. Even though all Jesus did seemed meaningless in that moment of despair, that was not the end. God raised Jesus from the dead. By resurrecting Jesus, God breathed into the finality of death a new life. God changed our future path from certain death to certain life.

God has united you with Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection belongs to you. All that we want to hold on to- life and loved ones- is already in God’s care. I can let my daughter go into her day because I know God is holding on to her, and no matter what happens, she will never be truly lost. God will carry all of us through this life into the new life God is preparing for all creation.

Jesus’ proclamation of a new life, a new way of being human that is not drenched in injustice, suffering, or violence, is made certain in his resurrection. In this life, we may not see our work for a better life for all brought to completion. But in God’s time, holistic peace will come to be.

The honest voice of the Teacher encourages us to lean into our humanity. To accept our frailty, our lack of power. When we’re not trying to be more than we are, we can be who we were created to be.  Claiming our humanity allows for us to look outside of ourselves for God. We are freed to be human because there is a God. God is present with us today and is preparing a future in which all evil will be destroyed, all injustice made right, and life will never end.

The voice of Teacher, after all its noticing and questioning, speaks an urgency to live life to the fullest, work hard for what is good, and trust in God to create meaning. This moment is what you have. This life is a gift. Enjoy whatever is worthy of joy. Point out and work against that which is evil. Trust in God, who is making all things new for you. We do not live in vain because we live our lives under the care of God, who gives meaning to all things, and answers our questioning with love.