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Certainly.
June 19, 2017, 12:11 pm
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Romans 6:5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

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Certainly. What a word to use when describing such a mystery as resurrection!

We are desperate for certainty, especially about those things which we cannot prove. People love movies and books of “real life accounts” from those who have passed into death and returned to tell us all about it. Is there a bright light? Pearly gate? Angels? Everything we’ve ever wanted? We want to know! And know for certain!

Those kind of details aren’t what Paul is so certain about. What he’s certain about is Jesus- and Jesus’ hold on us. Jesus has claimed you and me forever. Not even death is going to separate us from Jesus.

We receive this promise in a watery cross, in a morsel of bread and a sip of wine. Water on our foreheads dries. The feast leaves us hungry. We’re left needing to return again and again to font and table so that we can be reassured in Christ’s promise. Our certainty is fleeting, but the One who continues to draw us in is steadfast.

*God of promise, continue to show yourself to us so that we might know that we are certainly loved and united with you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*



Romans 5: Scripture of the Week Devotion
June 12, 2017, 12:45 pm
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“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… God proves God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:1, 8

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Performance reviews. Job interviews. End of term finals. The silence of the phone after a first date.

 

We are judged. We are told where we’re failing. We see red circles on our mistakes. We feel the sting of not being chosen.

 

It is not a good feeling.

 

Some of us may have experienced this feeling at church, but that’s not what God wants for us.

 

We’re made right with God through faith. It’s Jesus’ faithfulness – Jesus hold on us, no matter what- Jesus willingness to do all things for us- that brings us into God’s presence as blessed and holy ones.

 

Instead of experiencing rejection once again, we discover that in Jesus, we are chosen! We are worthy. We’re worthy of Jesus’ love and effort.

 

When the world keeps on judging, remember that God’s already judged you. God’s judged you through Jesus, so instead of your brokenness, God counts Jesus’ holiness. You might have plenty of “growing edges,” but God’s going to keep you. No more fear. Be at peace. You’re enough. God has made you God’s own beloved one.

 

*God, help me to trust in your love for me. When I feel my own failure, strengthen me with your claim on me. You know my worst, and still, you love me. That’s not something I get very often. Thank you. Amen.*

 

-Pastor Liz



What’s Next? A Sermon for Trinity Sunday Matthew 28:16-20
June 12, 2017, 12:43 pm
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Matthew 28:16-20

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

In this season of graduations, “congratulations” is often on our lips, quickly followed by, “what’s next?” For those who have jobs lined up or another level of education to go on to, there’s an easy answer. They can be confident in their plans.

Confidence doesn’t always continue a week, or a day, or an hour into that new plan. College might be more difficult than expected, the new job more to learn than bargained for. That confidence in future plans can easily turn into an overwhelmed “what did I get myself into?”

You don’t have to be a recent grad to have situations in which you’re not sure you’re up to the task. A move, new opportunity, birth of a child, illness of a loved one— there are many points in life that we might pause and wonder if we have the skills, strength, and stamina to live through the new thing.

That sinking feeling came to me on a Friday morning in August, the day I began my year-long internship at Zion Lutheran Church in Rockford. I was excited- I was finally going to be working in a congregation. Six years of higher education had led me to this first real taste of the life I was called into. So I drove down from our country parsonage, next to the church my husband had been assigned, over the border into Illinois, which as a Wisconsinite, is a difficult line to cross, through the city intersections until I arrived at this central city church. It was my supervisor’s day off, so while he came in to meet me and show me my office, he quickly left for his golf game. This church had so much I hoped I could learn from. They had launched community development corporations. They had their own food pantry. That morning there was a group of Laotian members making egg rolls for the Sunday fundraiser and a group of neighborhood church leaders working on hunger issues. There was so much amazing work being done in God’s name- that I found myself in the bathroom, shaking and crying, totally overwhelmed and confident in one thing- that I had no clue what I was doing there.

How could I possibly live up to the challenge?

We open the Gospel of Matthew to meet the disciples in Galilee. It’s not been long since Jesus was arrested before their eyes, and then tried, crucified, and buried. It’s been even less time since some of the women went to the tomb to prepare his body and were met by an angel accompanied by an earthquake. The angel told them that Jesus had been raised and would meet the disciples in Galilee. Then as the women ran to tell the other disciples, Jesus met them- Jesus- alive.  The women share all this with the men, who travel on as instructed.

When the men gather in Galilee, they see Jesus. I love what the text says- “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” (Other translations….) After all that’s happened, I can’t fault their lack of confidence! Are they doubting the living Jesus in front of them? Or doubting their own readiness to be a part of whatever Jesus is doing? Surely they must also be wondering- what’s next for me?

Confidence comes from being able to tell ourselves, “I can do it!” When we realize what the “it” it is we’re going to be doing – that’s when we might freak out! It helps if we can see the new task’s connection to something we’ve become familiar with.

Jesus tells his disciples they’re going to be doing everything he’s been doing. Remember what Jesus has been busy doing: teaching about God, reviving the dead, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, restoring outsiders to community, and all the while growing a crowd of onlookers and disciples.

Now it’s the disciples who are going to be discipling.

They are called to be discipling disciples who follow Jesus’ pattern of ministry- gathering groups of people, doing life-giving acts, living and preaching God’s grace.

It might be scary for them to think of doing this themselves, but they are not unprepared. Jesus is calling the disciples to do familiar work. They’ve spent an intensive period of formation with Jesus. They’ve been there as he’s taught and healed. They didn’t always know everything or do things right, but they learned and grew.

Their future ministry will be familiar enough because they are continuing to imitate the God they have come to know through Jesus.

When we’re faced with a change in life, how do we get ourselves to a place of confidence so that we can bravely move forward?

As we were packing and saying goodbye to move up here, I intentionally paused to experience the familiarity of all I was leaving. I looked out at my congregation, remembering time spent with them, stories, tears, and prayers shared, and reminded myself that there was a time I did not know them so deeply, that I had been struggling simply to know their names. I drove all the winding roads and remembered when I was so confused as to how to get to the places I needed to go.

I told myself what was now familiar was once overwhelmingly new. As I went out to begin something new, it, too would one day become familiar.

The disciples were called into scary new and yet familiar work. Even though Jesus was ascending, he was not abandoning them. Jesus promises he will be there with them. The Holy Spirit will continue to disciple them as they disciple others.

Because the disciples were faithful in their call, Jesus’ work has expanded through the generations. We’ve been discipled and we’re called to disciple others. Think back and remember- who was it who brought alongside them so that you would learn to pray, love and serve? When were those times of experiencing God’s love for you? Even as you are continuing to be discipled, God is calling you to disciple others.

When faced with this call, we may feel overwhelmed or unqualified. Who among us is totally good? Or has it all together? Or knows all the answers to the big questions of life, death, and faith? When we’re asked to serve on a board, teach Sunday School, or read for worship, some of us might freeze and think – I can’t do that. When we’re given the opportunity to show forgiveness, mercy, justice or love- we might wonder if we have what it takes.

You can. You do. God has called you to continue God’s work, and in calling you, God has given you what you need to serve. As was true for the disciples, God created us in God’s image, shares the Son’s authority with us, and empowers us with the Spirit in order to bring us in to the work of the Triune God. We all serve in different ways. We never serve alone. The Spirit fills you, too. We join the work God is accomplishing in the world.

Next time someone asks what your future plans are, tell them. You’re healing the broken world, welcoming the stranger, living forgiveness, and caring for those in need. You’re offering what you have to God, and through you, God is bringing life and love. Be confident in your call, and even more confident in the God who calls you. In the midst of your worshipping and your doubting, God is there, blessing you with the call and the means to serve in God’s great work of salvation.



The Spirit’s Base Line: A Sermon for Pentecost
June 5, 2017, 10:52 am
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Read the Bible

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

Today we celebrate the church festival Pentecost. Our reading from Acts tells the dramatic story of the disciples receiving Jesus’ promised Holy Spirit. Wind, flames, and words rush in and out- and people hear – and understand – the good news of God’s work in Jesus.

This event empowers the disciples to really take on Jesus’ work. Its effect reaches us today. At baptism, God sent the Spirit to you. A candle was lit as a sign of that flame resting on you, as it did on the disciples so many years ago. What is history is also continuing today: the Spirit comes to us, remains with us, and empowers us to do Jesus’ work in the world.

It’s a beautiful coincidence that we’re starting our time together on Pentecost. You’ve commissioned Pastor Sarah on to her summer sabbatical, and you are called into your own sabbatical, with the purpose of rediscovering and relishing the joy, power, rest, and direction the Spirit brings. This is a time of renewal. The Spirit’s work is to replenish us.

The Holy Spirit sets the beat for us to dance, to party, to live. Over these next three months, I’ll be walking with you as we listen for that Spirit and allow ourselves to be moved in new ways.

When I first talked to Pastor Sarah back in March, summer seemed a very long ways off. But by the end of this week, I finally started to feel like summer is actually going to come. The sun is out, the air is warmer, and I let the kids talk me into stocking our freezer with ice pops.

Our summers always include a number of activities we have to make time for. Walks in the woods, coloring with chalk, building sand castles, and watching a parade. We’ve lived and visited enough places that I’ve seen a wide variety of parades- from our small town North Dakota parade that drove down the parade route and then turned around to drive it again. We had to make the action last more than 5 minutes.  We moved from that to a 3-hour long parade with trucks, tractors, politicians, and candy in southern WI.

I’m always impressed by the school marching bands. While I’m sweating away in shorts and a t-shirt, with a water on the side of the road, these teens are marching in hot polyester uniforms and funny hats, lugging their instruments and having enough breath to actually play them.

There’s a way in which I always feel a part of the music as the band marches by. It’s those big drums- boom, boom, booming- reverberating in my chest. Sometimes it’s almost like they’re trying to reset my heart beat- boom, boom, boom. I hear the rhythm, and I feel it inside me.

That’s what the Holy Spirit is like. Boom, boom, boom, setting the beat for our lives.

If you have young ones in your community, you might have seen the movie Trolls. The movie focuses on two groups of creatures- Trolls who are carefree and fun-loving, always happy and quick to sing, and the Bergens, the monsters of the story, who are sad and angry. The Bergens look at the happiness of the trolls and want it. They think they have to take happiness from the trolls in order to be happy themselves. But at the very end of the movie, they are transformed. The trolls begin to sing and dance, and in domino fashion, they bump into one Bergen who starts to catch the beat- who bumps into another- who starts to move a little- and finally the whole room is one big happy dance party. The beat is infectious and its song is joy.

When on that long-ago Pentecost, the party got raucous with flame and wind and witness, disciple Peter got up to explain this wasn’t just any disturbance. This was the fulfillment of God’s promise recorded by the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” The Spirit is the song that knocks first one person and then another into God’s dance.

What is this song and how does this dance go?

Paul writes the church at Corinth to remind them of the Spirit’s song and how to follow the Spirit’s lead in the dance of Christian life. He explains, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The Spirit leads us into different actions, based on our own personal gifts, for the sake of others. Some teach, some encourage or heal. Some send cards to let people know they are loved and remembered. Some sit with a child and encourage their reading. Others prepare a meal or this Table. Maybe you send money where it’s needed, remind a representative to make decisions that will benefit those most at risk, or help a parent pick out summer clothes from the clothes closet. The Spirit creates faith in us, gathers us as a community, and sends us out to continue Jesus’ work in the world.

The Spirit is here, among and within us, singing God’s song, beating God’s rhythm, with such insistence that even the most reluctant dancer is drawn in. Sometimes, though, it can get difficult to hear the Spirit and our feet can miss the steps.

There might be too much noise in our lives. If I were sitting on a lawn, watching the marching band while speakers from the house were blasting music with strong base, I’d be overwhelmed with the conflicting beats. Or we might be actively trying to avoid hearing what is being sung to us. If I came with my lawn-mowing sound canceling headphones, I might know there was something going on, but not quite hear the music. Are there things in your life that are keeping you from noticing the Spirit’s song and holding you back from joining the dance?

Let’s set an intention for the summer. Let’s commit to each other and to God our desire to turn down some of the excess noise in our lives and set aside things that muffle the voice of God. Our summer is also about sabbatical, letting some things rest so that we can attend to what is most important. What might that look like for you?

My advice? First, join in worship. This is where we most clearly hear the song. We practice the dance as we pray, hear the good news, give back God’s gifts, and gather at the table.

Then, try something new. Explore prayer practices. Show love to your neighbors. Learn something new. Share your talents. Serve in a way you haven’t before. Don’t be afraid. I spent my jr. high and high school dances standing with my friends, wondering how they all learned how to dance, and trying to be invisible. I was always afraid to look stupid. That kept me from the freedom of simply having fun with the beat- or even having fun offbeat. The thing about the Spirit’s dance is that we can’t get it wrong. No matter what, God has claimed you, the Spirit has come to live in you, and even when you make some wrong steps, the Spirit is still happy to turn you back around.

Your pastor is rightly proud of all of you. Pastor Sarah often told me that you are a congregation who knows what it is to do Jesus’ work in the world- making a real difference in the lives of those in this community. You’ve been joining the dance. This summer, let’s tune in to the joy of dancing to the Spirit’s beat.

 



Recommendations: Second Sunday after Epiphany John 1:29-42
January 16, 2017, 9:17 am
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Grace and peace to you, people of God.

 

When’s the last time you went out to a restaurant or to a new place?

How did you decide to go there?

 

If I’m driving around in a new area, I’ll pull over and check out Googlemaps, read a number of reviews, and then pick out where I’m eating. I listen to what total strangers say and let them influence my decision.

 

As we prepare to move to a new city, I’m writing down and leaning on other’s recommendations for everything from professional services and contractors to the best way to get from place to place. I look to others as the experts in their homeland.

 

We go places, hire people, and try new things because others tell us about it. We take their word for it.

 

How much we trust them depends on our relationship and their authority. I’m going to trust a good friend or a trusted professional because of the former’s relationship and the latter’s position of expertise.

 

Our experience of following through on the recommendation determines if we tell others- and if we trust the source again.

 

The Gospel of John is written in beautiful poetic Greek. John chapter 1 was one of the first entire chapters I translated into English while studying Greek. Even as I read it in English, I am awed by how beautiful it is. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The first human character we meet is John the Baptist. “he himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.”

 

As much as I love the beauty of this chapter, I know others find it wordy, abstract, and hard to follow. I think it will be more accessible if you use this framework of seeking and following the recommendations of others. The book was written so that you would find and follow Jesus. Within this first chapter the major action is the Word Incarnate- Jesus- coming on the scene with an authority- John the Baptist- pointing him out and recommending him to others. This action then ripples out, with those who trust John the Baptist’ recommendation recommending Jesus to others.

 

 

John the Baptist is a teacher, a religious authority, who has a group of disciples who have formed a long and trusting relationship with him. When John points to Jesus and declares, “This is the Lamb of God,” his own disciples take his word for it. They follow his recommendation, invite others to join them, and go to see Jesus for themselves.

 

It strikes me that John is sending his own disciples to Jesus. He isn’t concerned with keeping his fame. There is no competition between John and Jesus here because John’s role is to prepare for and point to Jesus. They’re both working to bring people to the same God. There’s a lot for us to learn here, as we consider how we talk of fellow Christians and other churches. We’re all about the work of recommending Jesus to the world. We don’t need to create bad reviews of other congregations in an attempt to make ourselves stronger. John was confident enough in his faith to release his own power and prestige and encourage his followers to follow the one they had been waiting for. He’s willing to release his disciples into a new community where they will be formed in faith.

 

John uses his influence to encourage his disciples to seek out Jesus. His influence must be considerable. John points to Jesus, declaring, “Look, here is the Lamb of God,” and two of his disciples leave John and, following his directions, find Jesus.

 

When John’s disciples come up to Jesus, we hear one of the most interesting phrases in this text. When the disciples ask Jesus, “Where are you staying?” it appears to be a simple question of “how can we find you later? Where are you going to be around dinner time tonight?”

 

Jesus takes the questions to another level. Instead of saying, “I’m at the inn on the corner, the one with the famous falafels,” Jesus says, “come and see.”

 

This, then becomes an invitation to disciples. “Come and see” – not only where I’m sleeping tonight, but see where I’m staying- where I’m dwelling- where I- the living God- can be found.

 

For the next few years, that’s what these disciples will do. They will be with Jesus, seeing how he shows up for those in need, those pushed aside, and those without hope. They will discover anew where God is found- and be amazed that God is active outside the boundaries they had assumed.

 

 

 

Sometimes, they will not like where Jesus chooses to dwell, and it will be hard for them to stay with him. They won’t like that staying with Jesus means sharing company with people they’ve been taught to stay away from. They won’t like that being with Jesus means they step out of the space in which rank and honor and being better than others gets you rewarded. They will scatter and leave when Jesus chooses to be in danger, in suffering, in humiliation, and in death. They won’t be able to believe the news when Jesus is found, not only in death, but in resurrection- new life. With his ascension, Jesus fills all places with his presence and assures us that there is no place with the power to push him out.

 

John chapter 1 is an invitation to us, to follow the recommendation of John and his disciples, of Jesus’ disciples and the early church, to seek out where Jesus is staying, to come and see, and enter a life of discipleship, dwelling where Jesus dwells, and sharing in his work. Cross- our community of faith- is the recommender and the accompanying disciples who help us discover Jesus and dwell with him.

 

We don’t create faith within ourselves, that’s the work of the Holy Spirit, but we can put ourselves in places where we meet Jesus. We can go to places where faith is created. That’s why we come here. The primary place Jesus dwells is in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, because Jesus has promised, “this is my body; this is my blood.” Jesus comes to us in Word read and preached. Jesus stays here among us, as promised, “I will not leave you abandoned.” (Jn 14:18) We’ve come here to meet Jesus and to be trained to recognize Jesus as we leave this place and enter the rest of our week.

 

Our annual meeting is a time to celebrate that this community of faith has been meeting Jesus. For us, Jesus has made himself present in bread and wine, divided and shared. Jesus has made himself present in the strangers and familiar faces we’ve served at Bread and Roses, Family Promise, and the Ixonia Food Pantry. We saw Jesus reflected in the eyes of children and adults working for a better future on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. We met Jesus in each other, as care, love, and forgiveness were expressed. People have met Jesus in you.

 

While we may trust that Jesus is present, it can still be hard to see him. Like a pop up party or a mob dance, Jesus appears where we least expect him.

 

 

 

I was listening to an interview with Veronica Chambers and Sarah Lewis who edited and contributed to a book about First Lady Michelle Obama, entitled The Meaning of Michelle. One of the vignettes told that Mrs. Obama would go for regular walks on the streets of Washington DC, and no one would recognize her. She wasn’t accompanied by all the fanfare one expects with the First Lady. She just looked like a normal black woman out for a jog, and so no one expected she was anything special. They didn’t give her a second look, didn’t ask for an autograph, didn’t really see her.

Sometimes we don’t recognize what we don’t expect to see. We see what we expect and miss out on what’s really there. If we don’t expect Jesus among the poor and oppressed, the sinners and the anti religious, the depressed and the dead, we will miss him. We won’t have the wonder of seeing that God’s love is so big, nothing anyone can do will push Jesus away. We’ll miss out on knowing that God values all people, and maybe we’ll live in fear that we might do something to make God value us less, to make God reject us.

 

Jesus dwells where we don’t want him to be. He is in us, knowing those places we hide from everyone else. He is in people and situations we don’t want to value and we don’t want to be near. Jesus has to be there, because that’s where the front lines of the coming kingdom are: where God is working to bring good news, healing, and justice. We might not want Jesus to be there, in the ickiness of life, because his being there calls us towards changed action. If Jesus is there at work, surely we should be too. If we’re disciples, we’re to be joining Jesus where he is active, mimicking his work.

 

This first chapter of John is all about this God who dives into the world, entering it fully, especially dwelling among the poor, the pushed aside, and the suffering, even filling the space occupied by death. Jesus comes into all this to bring his love and life to the whole world.

Jesus is found in scary, unexpected, messy places, and invites us to come and see what he’s up to. He dwells there to bring change, and calls us to be active in his work. It’s more comfortable to find Jesus in the woods, or in the beautiful sanctuary. We need each other- we rely on each other’s word- to tell us where Jesus is staying, so that we don’t miss out on finding Jesus. The glory of being a disciple is in being right next to the teacher, copying the teacher, becoming more and more like the teacher. Then the work of the master is work we also take joy in, because we’ve been there as it’s coming into being.

 

The movement of the Gospel of John continues today. We are called to be doing the work of John the Baptist and the disciples, pointing Jesus out and walking with others as they come and see where he is. Jesus invites you, and each child of the earth, to come and see that he already dwells right here, with you, and his presence is bringing joy and life, justice and well-bring, for now and forever.



Sermon Advent 1: Where are We Going and Are We There Yet? Isaiah 2:1-5
December 5, 2016, 12:31 pm
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Bible Grace and peace to you, people of God. My husband, Jeff, is a list maker. I go to use a notebook and find it’s full of basketball stats. Ugh, March Madness and brackets. I go to another notebook and it’s football stats. Ugh. Fantasy Football. But then we went to his parent’s house while they were doing some cleaning and got handed notebooks from his childhood. And there were more lists! These were lists of birds, or plants… It’s taken me 10 years into our marriage to really understand what this is all about.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Where is there brokenness in your life?

Where are things not right in the world?

 

That’s where God is at work!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 



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

Does anyone have their Christmas tree up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Listen to this:

Exodus 23:9

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

Exodus 22:21

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

Deuteronomy 10:19

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

Leviticus 19:34

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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