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Blooming Out of Season Sermon: Advent 2 Isaiah 11:1-10
December 5, 2016, 12:33 pm
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bibleGrace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

 

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking around the church. Sometimes, when the weather is nice, I walk around this place in which we gather, and I pray. I found my way out to the prayer garden and sat down on the swing.

 

I was praying for this community, for the hurt that’s been a part of recent conversations, and for each of you, for the joys and struggles I know about and those that I do not.

There are times in my prayers when I am really sad. I hurt in the love I have for you and this community, I hurt as I know your hurt. So I give it to the only one who can do anything about it. I place you, and me, and the world, into God’s hands.

 

That’s not as easy as it sounds. I’m not a person who likes to give up or give over things I think I should be able to fix. It’s easy to say slogans like, “let go and let God,” but a lot harder to do.

 

After all, what do we really imagine God’s going to do with all the pain of the world?

 

I sat out there, challenging God to answer all that I had thrown over for God to catch. Gazing around the garden, I noticed all the flower and plants that had died back for the winter. All that was once green was brown, drooped. The perennials pull back their life, their energy and let go of all that isn’t necessary, waiting for the warmth to return, for it to be safe to bloom again.

 

The whole garden looked dead. Except for one plant. An Easter lily was in full bloom. Its delicate trumpets stood ready to proclaim: “life will come again!”

 

(Monty Python- “I’m not dead yet.” )

 

I’m not really a God sent me a sign type of person, but that lily was a reminder to me of God’s power for life. On Easter, we celebrate that God transforms a situation of grief into a cause for joy. Where there was death, there is life. New life comes out of suffering and death. This present moment isn’t all there is, but a new and better future is coming. Alleluia, Christ is Risen… and we shall arise.

 

But wow, it’s hard to trust that there will be new life when it feels like death. Or to look forward to healing when you’re sick. Or to think of planting a garden in peace when your land is trampled by armies.

 

 

 

Isaiah speaks of a shoot coming up out of the stump of Jesse. A tree cut down, and yet, somehow, coming back to life. This little twig of life holds the promise of a strong trunk supporting thick limbs. In due time.

 

The people of God have had plenty of times in which everything looked hopeless. They were a tiny nation, constantly conquered by neighboring nations who were stronger than them: Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia… there were even wars between factions within the community. Through Isaiah, God promises that there will be life springing out of what was once cut down. The remnant will not be wiped out, but will grow.

 

This shoot from a stump, like my blooming lily, is a sign that life is not done yet. There’s reason to hope. God is here.

 

The lily’s blooming was out of season. Its trumpet didn’t wake all the other slumbering plants. It was a herald of things to come. There will be a full bloom in the garden this spring.

 

Jesus’ resurrection is a sign of what is to come. God will restore all things. God will bring all creation to life. This new life will be like Isaiah’s vision of the holy mountain, where even the natural need of predators to kill will be fulfilled with peace, and all creatures will be safe.

 

This season of Advent isn’t just about counting down to Christmas. We’re preparing not only for the baby in the manger, but for the Savior who will come again. We’re waiting and expecting Jesus to come and finalize his work.

 

What do we imagine God is going to do with all the pain of the world?

 

First, God feels it. God doesn’t just look down on us from some heavenly realm and feel bad for us. God comes into creation to share all of human life, including its pain. More than that, as Jesus dies on the cross, Jesus pulls onto himself all the pain of the world. Betrayed, rejected, cursed, banished, and tortured, Jesus- God in the flesh- feels all the worst. No matter what we experience, we are not alone, Jesus is there, not afraid to come near to our suffering, because he’s been there, too.

 

Today, God continues to carry our pain. Jesus walks with us, through whatever comes in life. We experience God’s support for us through prayer, worship, the sacraments, and our community. God puts people in our lives who embody God’s love and support for us. That’s part of the work we do here in this congregation for each other. As we care for each other, being there in both difficult and joyful times, Jesus loves through us.

 

 

One day, God will wipe all pain away. The world will be transformed. We will be transformed. There will be wholeness of life that will never end. The bloom of Jesus’ resurrection will spread over all of us, and we will know the joy of Jesus’ conquering of death, sin, and evil.

 

God’s promise to Isaiah’s listeners was spoken through images that translated their present pain into future joy. Where in your life do you need new life? This week, pray for God to give you a vision of what it would look like for God to heal struggle and widen joy in your life. Pray also for the eyes to see signs of that good future coming. May you have time to notice glimpses of life, even when you see life drawing back, and faith to trust that God will bring you into a fully bloomed creation again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is paired with a Gospel telling of John shouting at the crowds. While it might be fun to play the part of John the Baptist, it certainly isn’t fun to be yelled at.

 

But I know I yell when I’m afraid someone’s not paying attention and they might miss something that is life or death.

 

Of my children, the little one is a runner and the big one is a dreamer. Lydia would just as soon run away from me in the parking lot because she thinks it’s funny and she loves to be chased. Laila would be dancing around assuming everyone in the world is watching out for her.

 



Sermon 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.



Sermon: All Saints
December 5, 2016, 12:30 pm
Filed under: Sermons

BibleGrace and peace to you, Saints and Sinners of Cross.

Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day. This isn’t a day only for those special holy people we’ve thought worthy of admiration. This is a day for all people- because Jesus has made us all saints. You are the saints of God.

I’ve also called you sinners. Not to make you take offense, but to name the reality of our lives. Even now that Jesus has claimed us and clothed us with his holiness, we continue to fall down. We continue to seek brokenness inside of us, and spew that brokenness out into the world. Our sin is to think that we can make ourselves saints. We choose to struggle our way into that lie rather than be at peace by relying completely on Jesus.

When we choose the path to self-sufficient sainthood, brokenness cracks out into everything we encounter. If we’re trying to prove that we’re worthy of being called saints, we’re occupied with justification. We work and work to prove we’re good enough.  When met with our failure, we turn outward. Like Adam and Eve before us, we blame, declaring our fault is not our fault. We celebrate others’ sin, enlarging it so that our own seems insignificant in comparison.

If we’re sinners who try to pass ourselves off as saints, we always stand alone, an accusing finger pointed outward, to try to keep the truth about our brokenness redirected- away from ourselves. That finger will turn into a hand, and we will always push others away. We don’t even want God to come near, because to say we need God would be to admit we cannot do all things on our own.

But if we acknowledge who we are, and that we need help, we can rejoice that God is for us. If we’re sinners who know that we are truly sinners, and yet also receive a new identity as saints- as a gift of God- then we are freed for community. We are ready to embrace not only God, but all the others God embraces. Jesus brings us together.

Community is what this All Saints Day is about. Today we celebrate the connections Jesus has made within all creation. In stretching his arms out on the cross, he has pulled together all people. In dying and rising, he has buried our sin, buried our need to keep others distant, and raised up a new people, creating a community of saints in his body.

 

 

Ephesians speaks of the Church- the community of saints- as the body of Christ- and Christ as the one who fills all in all. Jesus has enters all the sinners of the world- present, past, and future, and transformed them into saints who are connected because they share Jesus between them. Jesus is the lifeblood pumping through me and you and your neighbor and the people worshipping in Africa and your great grandparents and the children who are yet to be born. Jesus has connected all of us to him for life.

If the Church is the fullness of Christ, then we congregations and individuals are parts of Christ. Awesome wonder! And it’s not an unbearable burden, because we are not individually the entirety of Christ. Just as we don’t have to prove our worth as saints all on our own, we aren’t called to be doing the work of Jesus all on our own.

Cross is not all there is. We don’t have to do everything, we are only called to be faithful to the task God has for us. We have been specially gifted for good work that is meant to be joined with the work Jesus is doing through many others, and through all of us, God will accomplish the healing and restoration God intends.

Because we don’t have to believe that Cross is all there is, we don’t have to be jealous of other congregations, but can see that we are all players on the same team. We can focus and specialize, freeing ourselves from the burden of doing what we are not called to do and leaving that task to others who are.

The question that will propel us forward is the question of what we are specially gifted and called to do. What role are we called to play? Who are we and what is our place in the body? If we can clarify who we are, then we’ll know how to move forward. We need to claim a mission we share. Jesus has a job for us to do, not to prove our worth, but so that we can catch the joy of working on the horizon of the new life Jesus is making for all creation. We don’t have to be the only- or the best- we don’t have to compare ourselves to others as if there was a competition in the body of Christ. We simply are called to be faithful to the mission Jesus has for us, and to trust that he values us.

It’s only when we let go of our need to prove our righteousness that we can accept that Jesus welcomes in those we’d rather be separated from. Starting from a place of wonder at God’s love, we can begin those difficult practices Jesus calls us into: loving our enemies, doing good to those who hate us, blessing those who curse us, praying for those who abuse us.

Knowing without a doubt that we are loved beyond reason makes it possible for us to love others recklessly. Jesus loves us into transformation.

When we embrace the reality that we are sinners, then we recognize others as sinners just like us. If Jesus has declared us worthy of love, Jesus has also made the other worthy of love. From a stance of humility, we can reach out with the love of Christ, even and especially to those who don’t want to receive or return that love.

Reaching out in love is a scary thing. We are a community that has experienced hurt over these past six months. Connection is a tender subject. We are missing loved ones from their regular seats in our pews. We hear echoes of words said that broke our image of who our fellow people of Cross were. Maybe we never allowed that they were sinners just like us, and seeing their brokenness wasn’t something we were prepared for. Maybe it showed us our own brokenness, and that was hard to see.

And yet, even if they do not return, they are not separated from us. Jesus holds us together.

The promise recorded in Romans 8 gives me hope: 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing will strip us out of Jesus’ grasp. Not church conflict, not self-righteous independence, not sin, not even death. Jesus even holds those who have died.

That’s maybe the most beautiful thing to remember today: even those we feel have been permanently separated from us, have not been. We who are connected to Jesus are still connected to those who have died, because Jesus continues to keep them in life. When we die, we are not lost. When we try to separate ourselves, we are not severed. Jesus holds us, Jesus never gives up on us, Jesus always loves, and Jesus will bring us all together into new life. And there, in that new life, our arms will be outstretched as Jesus’ are, and we will embrace each other. Our sin will be washed away, and we will fully love each other as the saints of God. We will live in certainty of God’s love for us, in community, forever.



Sermon: Oct 16 22nd Sunday after Pentecost Genesis 32:22-31 Luke 18:1-8
December 5, 2016, 12:28 pm
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BibleGrace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

I grew up as the only young granddaughter in my family.

This certainly had some advantages. I occupied a very special soft spot in my grandmother’s heart.

It also had some disadvantages-after receiving gifts from grandma, it wasn’t as fun to race around the house swinging my hair bow while my cousins zoomed their toy cars.

I figured I could play most anything that my cousins enjoyed. For the most part, we did play together and had a lot of fun. Climbing trees, playing in the sprinkler, making crafts… but there was one thing I never got into and actually scared me quite a bit: wrestling.

My cousins were a household of four boys, three older than me and one younger. They would get into fights. One way they had learned to work it out was through body to body full on angry matches. They grab each other and pull. From oldest to youngest the span between them is maybe 10 years and you can imagine that at 8 and 11, those couple years mean a lot when it comes to size and strength. So one might hold on simply to show his strength over the other, until the order of the pack was restored.

I didn’t like it. I didn’t understand the drive to hurt a sibling. I didn’t understand how they could be buddies again after this. I didn’t like the noise or the lack of control. I didn’t like the conflict.

Watching my girls together, I have to say that grabbing and pushing and holding and pulling are not activities that are reserved only for boys.

As we move into these texts, I want us to keep this image of wrestling in mind, and my own avoidance of it. We’re going to move into the idea of wrestling in the church, wrestling with each other, wrestling with God, and wrestling for the sake of the other.

The Genesis text drops us in to the storyline of Jacob and Esau. They were born wrestling, twins, with Jacob grabbing Esau’s heel. Jacob is the one who wrestles his brother’s birthright blessing away from him. He’s a trickster, and yet, the one whom God chooses to bless and through whom God builds the chosen nation.

We meet him tonight as he prepares to meet his brother. He’s sent his family on, hoping to keep them safe through the separation. As he lays down to sleep, and a unknown man comes and they wrestle until dawn. Pulling, pushing, grabbing on and not letting go. At the end of this tussle, Jacob is blessed, and also limping. He is named as one who wrestles with man- and with God.

The wrestling in these texts isn’t something to fear or avoid.

We have been experiencing a wrestling match in our pews.

The wrestling in our congregation leaves us limping, but also has the potential for us to clarify who we are. Wrestling involves holding on to each other- giving and taking- asserting and then giving space for the other.

Of course this image only goes so far. Aggression with a goal of forcing the other to yield isn’t what we want in the congregation. But engagement is. Coming to the mat together means being willing to test each other out- hear where we’re coming from- and allow those values to interact with our own.

I’m not advocating violence, but tenacity and interaction- holding on, being engaged, and working towards a goal.

We’re not conditioned for wrestling in the church. We want peace and welcome. We’re better prepared for sweeping things under the mat than showing up at the mat to work things out. No wonder we feel exhausted and uninterested when faced with values and strategies that push against each other!

When my girls are getting crazy with each other, I know that the laughter can easily turn to tears. It starts out with grabbing on – giggling arms holding each other in a bear hug. Then one of them lands on the other and the laughter gets wilder. Then someone smashes her head or gets an elbow to the nose and they are upset with each other. If I haven’t gotten them to calm down before, it’s with tears and blame that they come to me. And I turn them towards each other, to say sorry- it got out of hand- I love you- and I’ll play with you again.

That’s the turn we’re trying to enter here at Cross: I’m sorry- I see you’re hurting and I know I played a part in that. I love you- I’m going to hold on to you as my brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m committed to continuing to engage with you. Jesus is the reconciler who makes it possible for us to be brought together, even after hurt. Jesus gives us the strength and the vision to keep coming together to discover how we can work together for the kingdom of God, creating a shared vision for our congregation’s future in this community.

Can we hold on and push together to discover what God has in store for us? Can we wrestle the powers of this world together, for the sake of those most in need, holding on to God’s vision for creation?

In the Luke text, a widow is wrestling with a judge. Widows had little power in her time. But here she is, holding on to her demand for justice. She will pull justice out of the one who is unjust. Through her we see a vision of Luke’s proclamation that God is turning things upside down in order to right them up- the one who has no power will grasp it, and restitution will be wrested from the powerfully unjust.

Jesus frames this parable as telling the disciples to keep praying, and not to lose heart, wondering aloud if when the Son of Man returns at the final, complete coming of the kingdom, he will find faith on earth.

Think of wrestling as holding on and prayer as holding on to God’s promise and never letting go. Jesus’ telling the disciples to wrestle- to hold on to the promise. God is making all things new. God will restore justice and raise mercy. Tears will be wiped away and violence will end. All peoples will be brought together. The kingdom will come.

Do we have the stamina to keep on – to keep holding on- to keep hoping on- connected in prayer and trusting God will fulfill God’s promises?

Jesus will pull us forward. Psalm 122 speaks hope to us who are weary: “I lift my eyes to the hill, from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” We don’t look to ourselves. It’s not up to us alone to bring healing to this congregation, justice to the oppressed, or the kingdom down to earth. This is God’s work. We’re invited to join in to experience the joy of being on the edge of its coming. The One who raised Jesus from the dead is the One who promises to raise us to life. Even out of the pain of this present moment, God is birthing something new.

Hold on. Stay engaged. You may be limping today, but we will be blessed.



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

Grace and peace to you, creatures of God.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

A reading from Genesis:

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

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

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

27So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

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

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

Word of God. Word of Life.

Thanks be to God.

 

A reading from Genesis:

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

Word of God. Word of Life.

Thanks be to God.



The Party for the Lost: A Sermon on Luke 15:1-10 (Ord. 24)
September 13, 2016, 9:23 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Bible Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

I’m so glad you’re participating in worship today. When we gather here for worship, we’re joining the worship in heaven. Have you ever thought about that before?

Whenever we prepare for communion, as part of the Great Thanksgiving, I say a prayer that closes, “with all the choirs of angels, with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn” and you all jump in to sing “holy, holy, holy”- praise described in the book of Isaiah as the song being sung by the angels to God.

What we do here mirrors what’s going on up there.

What’s going on up there is joyful worship and celebration.

Today’s gospel helps us to see what’s got God celebrating.

There are two groups of people hanging out with Jesus. One group is those who think they have figured out how to live the way God wants. The other group is those that first religious group thinks aren’t living the way God wants. We might call them the righteous and the sinners. But if we do that we might be missing the point of Jesus’ stories.

Jesus tells them two stories, one for the men and one for the women, to be sure everyone can relate. A shepherd lost one of his sheep and then ran around looking for it. When he finally finds it, he calls together all his friends and family to celebrate with him. A woman lost one of her coins and sweeps the house looking for it. When she finally finds it, she calls together her friends and family to celebrate with her.

Jesus concludes by declaring there is more joy in heaven over the lost who are found than those who never needed to be found in the first place. That’s his answer to the religious grumbling, “this man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The religious people who are following Jesus are voicing their expectations that Jesus should allow only the right people to be with him. Especially in their time, with whom you spent time, with whom you ate, said a lot about who you were. Your company could put you to shame. In some way, their grumbling is a protective warning- “Jesus, if you want to be a respected leader, don’t go hanging out with the wrong people. That’s not what a good rabbi should do.”

We often reflect their concerns. We want to protect Jesus, to keep him holy. We come to think of ourselves as the ones who deserve to be in Jesus’ company, and bar the way for those we’ve decided are less deserving. We want everyone to prove themselves worthy of receiving Jesus. The thing is, Jesus doesn’t need our protecting. Worrying that too many people have been allowed into the party and focusing on all the reasons they don’t deserve to be there keeps us from enjoying the celebration. Can you imagine the dinners that must have happened- with Jesus sitting and laughing with the tax collectors and sinners while the Pharisees and scribes recline next to him, scowling the whole time because they are counting all the ways those other people aren’t worthy of Jesus? They’re closing themselves off to the celebration at hand!

So how do we move away from a mindset of righteous judgement and into an attitude of celebration? We realize that we actually need Jesus- we can’t be righteous on our own, and we give back to Jesus his job- to judge the living and the dead.

Ask yourself- Am I willing to admit that I’m the sheep that’s wandered off and the coin that’s found a cozy hiding spot with the dustbunnies in the darkness? Acknowledging my guilt reminds me I’m no better than anyone else.

Remember, the sheep and the coin aren’t things that have the power to make decisions to move themselves. The sheep is guided by instinct, try to eat enough to stay alive, and the coin has no mind of its own at all. Am I willing to admit I have no power on my own to choose God and keep from evil? Acknowledging my powerlessness turns me to rely on God.

That’s the key to the spirit of joy that makes celebration possible.  We have to let go of our need to be the righteous. We have to let go of our power to judge people and keep them out. We have to let God be God and let God do the work God intends. Only Jesus is good. Only Jesus gets to decide who he’s going to go seeking and bringing back and celebrating. Those are both the so called righteous and sinners.

Jesus has decided that we’re worthy of being found. Our being found is worth celebrating.

I’m exploring Brene Brown’s work in preparation for our synodical church leader’s fall theological conference. She researches shame and vulnerability. Shame is what keeps us from living whole lives. What defeats shame is a sense of worthiness. In her famous TEDTalk, she says, “you know what- you’re imperfect and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” Worthiness is an ability to say, “yes, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve done things wrong, but I am worthy – worthy of love.” If there was ever a brilliant secular explanation of the gospel- this is it.

You and I have messed up- we’ve chosen to be lost- we’ve chosen to judge- we’ve chosen to break apart community. Jesus knows that all, and acts in reckless love. Jesus has made us worthy. Jesus has acted because he’s decided you’re worthy. You’re worth his life!

I’ve read plenty of commentaries about why this coin is worth so much to this woman, but honestly, when I read the gospel, all I can think is- who cares about a dropped penny?! If you open your wallet and a bill flies out of it into the wind, how much does it have to be worth for you to go wildly chasing after it? (I suppose it depends how much is left in your wallet.)

When I was little, one of my jobs was to clean my dad’s car. It wasn’t a hard and fast command, but an opportunity. If I cleaned the car, I was allowed to keep any coins that I found.

I would carefully sort out the mess of papers, fast food bags, and clothes, digging down under the seats to remove those receipts trapped there, all in hopes of finding a few quarters. Every coin counted! By the end of my time, I would be very happy to have a baggie full of change and my dad would be very happy to have a clean car.

Today, when I vacuum my van, sometimes I realize that chunk of crystallized fruit snack I just sucked up was attached to a quarter. When it’s time to empty my shop vac, and I look down into that pile of dirt, I remember that there is some money down there. I’m less attached to each quarter than I used to be. (Ok, I’ll be honest, I really do still stick my hands in there and dig out the quarters – the only difference now is that I soak them in bleach before putting them in my wallet.)

The thing about the gospel is, sometimes you might feel like you’re about as worthwhile as a penny. Pennies pretty much cost more to make than their actual value as currency. You might be that fruit snack and goldfish coated penny that’s lived on the floor mats through the entire winter, but Jesus has still decided to scrape you off, clean you up, and make you his.

When Jesus tells his story, he’s talking to people who know their values- some of them know the world sees them as pennies and the others $100 bills. Jesus welcomes – and values- all of them. He’s going to get down and dirty on the cross to show just how much each of them is worth to him.

As Jesus’ followers, we’re called to reflect what Jesus has done in valuing all people, through our loving action for their well-being.

As we celebrate “God’s Work our Hands” Sunday along with ELCA congregations across the country, we celebrate that God has called us to join God’s work in this world. God works through our hands to reach out in love, welcome, and healing. Today also marks the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on our country. This morning the Sunday School thanked our Ixonia Fire and EMS Department. Every day these servants go into the community to help those in need, without weighing the worth of the ones calling for help. On that tragic day 15 years ago, servants and strangers entered collapsing buildings because they believed that others were worthy of their help- even to the point of giving up their lives. As then, today emergency responders continue to serve and not one of them stops to say- maybe you’re not worth saving, if you hadn’t been speeding, or you hadn’t been drinking, you wouldn’t be in this problem. Their job is to serve without hesitation or judgment.

We’re freed to be God’s hands, reaching out to others without judging their worth, because we know that Jesus has made us- and them- worthy. We’re freed to worship in great joy because we know ourselves to be those once lost and now found- who are continually becoming lost and being found over and over again.

There’s a party going on in heaven because of you. God is so happy to have found and claimed you that God’s throwing a party. We’re invited. The party is happening right here- right now. That’s why we gather as a church. We’re here to celebrate that Jesus has come in love to find you- and you- and you- and all the world.