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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Filed under: Sermons
Bible Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.
Do you ever buy a lottery ticket?
Gambling isn’t a big part of my life, but when that jackpot reaches ridiculous amounts- $500 million dollars- sometimes I buy a ticket.
Then I start to dream. If I suddenly had $500 million, what would I do with it?
The dreaming is the really fun part. I imagine all the amazing things I could do. Take my whole family to Norway and Germany, tracing our family heritage. Take my girlfriends and their families on a cruise- or better yet- buy us our own resort! Make sure my kids and my niece and nephew have college paid for. Buy land on Lake Superior and build a retreat center with a special focus on clergy renewal.
I dream of never having to worry about money again, or struggle with that tricky dance between my ministry as a call and work that pays the bills.
So once in a while I buy a ticket so I can surround myself with the joy of dreaming. I know I’ll never win- sometimes I don’t even check the numbers. It’s mostly about the chance to hope- to imagine living the way you can only dream about.
When I get caught up into all this, I get caught up into a lie. Of course, the primary lie is that I have any chance of actually winning all that cash- the odds are never in your favor. But there’s a more dangerous lie. That lie is that I can’t live a life that reflects my dreams right now.
I could live today as if I had won the lottery.
Before you think I’ve really gone off the deep end and am about to explain my get rich scheme, hang on with me—-
it’s about looking again at my dreams and seeing the values at the root of them. Family, travel, time with loved ones, being a part of bringing renewal to others, living with integrity and without stress. I might need to reframe from a vacation on a private island with a chef to one at a state park, around a campfire, but I can still make time to be with family and friends.
I don’t have to wait for the day my lucky numbers are pulled for it to be possible for me to live with the same joy as if I was a winner.
In an even greater way than simply limiting our expectations so that we can live out of our joy, our faith changes the kind of life it’s possible for us to live now.
When we read in Hebrews, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” we hear an option for a new way of life that is grounded in confidence in God’s work for us. Through faith, we see our life today changed by the promises God has made to us.
Faith gives hope content. Faith describes what we hope for.
One of the church Fathers wrote this beautiful description of what our hope is: “Faith depicts for us in advance the resurrection of those still lying dead in their tombs and causes the immortality of the dust of our bodies to become evident” (Theodoret)
This means that when you walk across the street to the cemetery, in faith, you don’t imagine the dead bodies in the ground, but you see your loved ones rejoicing alive in Jesus’ presence. It also means that you don’t see your own life fading away, bitterly living into what you thought would be golden years- you see in your fragile body the new body of the resurrection you will receive through Jesus.
The central promise is that God alone gives life, and God gives life abundantly and eternally. This life is not all there is. God’s promises extend beyond the grave, into a new creation that God is preparing.
To have faith is to live as if you have today everything you’ve hoped God would provide. It means that your decisions about what’s important today are shaped by your having received what God has promised. The tricky thing about this is that you haven’t fully received what God has promised yet.
Living in faith does not mean you will win the lottery because that’s what you’ve been hoping for. God is not going to reward you with lots of money just because you pray today. So often we think prayer is about asking for what we want and hoping that we get it. Even Abraham, in our reading from Genesis, is wondering along these lines. God’s promised descendents and Abraham doesn’t have any kids. He asks God, “What will you give me?”
Abraham asks because he’s not seeing any results of God’s promise. How long is he supposed to keep trusting that God will do what God’s said when there aren’t any signs that his hope will come true? Why would we uproot our families, change our jobs, rearrange our budgets, spend time at church, and pray if we aren’t going to see any results in return?
Most people might think you’re nuts. Even faithful people might laugh at you.
Our great matriarch of the faith, Sarah, Abraham’s wife, doesn’t get much attention in the Bible while God is talking to Abraham about moving to a new land and having lots of kids. We get the idea that she’s heard these promises, and obviously she’s followed along, uprooting her life to travel along with Abraham. Of course she’s wanted kids, but they just haven’t come and now the time for having babies has passed.
So when angels come to tell Abraham that he really is finally going to have a child that year, Sarah, overhearing in the kitchen, snorts out her laughter. It’s pretty ridiculous. I like the way Hebrews puts it- she’s so old she’s as good as dead- how’s she going to have a baby now?
I think her laughter is one of those I’d rather laugh than cry type of moments, but when her child is born, her laughter is full of joy. Her son is named laughter, a reminder of our reaction to God’s ridiculous promises.
God promises things that seem impossible. Life today and after death. Forgiveness. Peace. Reconciliation. Healing. Unified community out of diverse individuals.
When we look at the reality of our lives, all these promises seem far, far out of reach. But when we look with eyes of faith, we see what God is making possible.
People who work in remodeling are good at this sort of thing. They see a house that is in disrepair. I would see a huge mess of a broken house that is good for nothing else but to be bulldozed away. But fixers would see the gross parts stripped away and beautiful new walls and counters and bathtubs put in. They could see the way the remodeled house would become a welcoming place of refuge, where family and friends would gather. They can look at the brokenness and see what will be. That vision gives them hope, makes it possible for them to do all the hard work that needs to be done to get from the current state of destruction to the future state of beauty.
In faith, we are called to be people who see the future state of beauty overlaid on the current state of destruction. This is meant to give us hope for what God will do, and strength to be God’s workers in bringing that future into the present. Knowing God’s promises, we can see what God is doing, and we can join God’s work with courage even when we never see the completion of God’s work.
We are a people who need measurable results. We are outcome driven. That kind of mindset just doesn’t work well with faith. It doesn’t work because it’s centered on the individual person as the judge of what has been achieved. God’s timeline is different than ours. God’s promises are for a whole creation, not just one people or one generation. Each of us might receive a glimpse of a promise being fulfilled, or be a part of one small way the beautiful future is coming into today. Or, we might sacrifice, pray, work hard, and see nothing for our life of faith.
If that’s the case, we would be in good company. We read in Hebrews, “All of these (ancestors) died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.” It can be a struggle to keep trust in God’s promises when you can’t see God making them come true. We need the community’s vision, and not just the vision of the people of Cross, but the vision of all the faithful around the world and through the ages. Then we are strengthened in our hope, because sometimes a promise made to one person is more fully made real to the next generation.
St Augustine wrote, “When you hope, you do not yet have what you are hoping for, but, by believing it, you resemble someone who does possess it.” In other words, fake it ‘til you make it. Act like you’ve won the lottery and can live the way you’ve only dreamed. Be confident that God will do all God has promised- living into those promises today by being people who create peace, increase love, and bring reconciliation. Then keep on with that work even when it doesn’t seem to be making any difference. In the end, it’s not going to be you who heals the creation, but God.
God has already achieved that healing through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Jesus, our hope has been fulfilled. Now we wait for all its effects to soak through our world.
As you go into your week, be confident in living into God’s promises. We gather here at Cross to live as if the kingdom of God has already come down to us. Church is our practice ground for living as if God has already fully transformed the world. We confess and receive forgiveness to live as if we have finally reached a place where sin has power no more. We share the peace to live as if all our relationships were healed. We gather at the communion table to live as if all people were brought into God’s celebration. We eat shoulder to shoulder to live as if we were already at God’s eternal banquet. We are sent into the week ready to practice God’s kingdom in this world, knowing that we’re not totally there yet, but God will make a good future happen.
Along with Hebrews 11:1, think of this quote: “Faith is the courage to move forward rather than retreat in cowardice.” Move forward into the new future God is creating- in which God is at our center, all people are united, death is no more, forgiveness is accomplished, and joy is complete. This is the kingdom of God Jesus proclaimed is near.