Thursday, December 4, 2014


November 30, 2014

Advent 1B


Isaiah 64:1-9

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Mark 13:24-37


Please pray with me,

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.  


So, here we are –the first Sunday in Advent.  Happy new year!  Yet as we begin a new church year, we don’t do so with the birth of Jesus, we spend time in the season of Advent and wait for the birth of Jesus that comes at Christmas.  


In Advent, the texts we read have a two-fold thrust.  They are texts that either anticipate the coming of the Word in human form; or they anticipate Christ’s second coming or the Great eschatological feast that we will all be a part of, as our reading from 1 Corinthians does and as we could also understand the other two readings to be doing as well.  It is for this reason that Advent is often considered a period of “waiting.”


I remember being a little kid and how hard waiting for Christmas vacation was and then waiting for Christmas Eve so that we could open our presents was.  Christmas Eve was the night that we opened our presents.  And well, Christmas Eve was a very long day.  As we got older it was a day with church at 7 and at 11.  We usually had dinner and opened our presents between the two services.  I guess this tradition started because on Christmas Day we would pile in the car and drive to Long Island, New York to celebrate Christmas with both sets of grandparents.  


Sometimes the waiting got so hard that my sister and I my parents to let us open the gifts in our stockings before the first church service….we tended to be very anxious!  December was a hard month, - whole month of waiting.


But in the grand scheme of things, a month isn’t that long to wait to open presents, I guess.  Especially when one considers what I learned this week when I googled “waiting” to see what I came up with.  


I learned that Americans spend approximately 15 minutes a day waiting in traffic.  In fact, the average American spends between 45 and 62 minutes a day just waiting in lines at the store, waiting for web pages to download, or being put on hold.  


We wait in lines:  to purchase groceries, to be served at restaurants, to be attended to in a bank, at stop signs and traffic lights, waiting for our coffee to brew, or an email to arrive, we wait for rides at amusement parks, to see a play or a movie. 


When this is all tallied up, it comes out to be between 3 and 5 years that each person spends in their life just waiting.  Think about that.  


That is about how much time is takes to go to college.  Think about all of the stuff you could do in three to five years.  Think about where you were 5 years ago and just imagine if you had done nothing but wait for all of that time.  


This is why efficiency experts are recommending that people bring their computers or a book or something with them everywhere they go, so that all that time isn’t wasted.  I found one web page that even claims that the time you spend waiting in life is enough time to learn a foreign language.  


So, hopefully that helps put waiting for Christmas into a little bit of perspective.  But it’s important to remember that Advent is not supposed to be a season that is just about waiting for Christmas. 


Advent is not just a chance for us to pretend like we are excited that Jesus is about to be born. 


The term Advent comes from the Latin word adventuswhich means “coming.”  Advent is about the “coming” of Jesus into our lives now, just as communion is about us communing as the Body of Christ, with God, here and now.  It’s not simply looking ahead to the afterlife or the end of time when, as Isaiah says, “the wolf shall lie down with the lamb and the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.”  


The whole point of Advent is that Christ is impacting our lives right now.  It’s not that God is getting ready to transform us and the world; it’s that God has transformed and is transforming us and the world.  And it’s not just about the fact that God will someday call us home to Heaven.  The gift of that knowledge that comes through Jesus Christ is itself a call to be part of God’s mission and God’s plan, right here and right now.  


So that’s where we find ourselves in this first week of Advent.  While we wait for the celebration of Christmas, we see how Christ is impacting our world here and now.  Yet at the same time, we wrestle with waiting for the celebration of Christmas.  It’s a challenge isn’t it?  


So often in the month of the December, the world cries out CHRISTMAS!  And the church gathers in this space and says, no it’s ADVENT!  How do we wrestle with that?  How do we watch and wait both in this space and in the world around us?  It’s not easy.  Because part of the waiting is preparations…sending out Christmas cards, baking cookies, decorating the house and preparing it for company this season.  


How do we wait and yet see Christ in our midst here and now?  


It’s hard because we are a people and a society that is not very good at waiting.  We record shows so we can fast forward through the commercials.  We have multiple webpages open so we don’t have to wait for one to load.  Many of us have access to a desktop computer, a laptop computer and a smart phone, so we can be the most efficient with the time we’re given, so we don’t have to wait.  


Truth is, we are an impatient people.  


Waiting is hard.  


Yet there are some things we must wait for….

We must wait for flowers to grow and bloom, 

for babies to be born, 

for wounds to heal, 

for bread to rise and cheese to age, 

for children to mature, 

for friends to call, 

for love to deepen.  


And while we wait for those things…we wait for celebration of the day when God broke into our world by the gift of Jesus Christ.  


And as we wait, we will prepare.  

We will hear Christmas music, we will sit in the quiet of the season, 

we will pick out our tree, we will pray for those away from loved ones this season,

we will send greetings to family, friends and loved ones, 

we will feast with our church family and take time to feed the hungry, 

we will wrestle with injustices and how to speak to our brothers and sisters with integrity and love,

we will wait in the uncertainty of how loved ones diagnosed with cancer and other life threatening illnesses will respond to treatments,

we will pray for healing and wholeness for all of God’s people, 

we will prepare for the holidays with new family dynamics due to marriages, divorces, deaths and births…


And in the midst of it all, we will seek out the Lord, Emmanuel (God with us here and now) in the pains of sickness, loneliness and suffering.  


We will light candles and we will watch and wait…


And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and let all God’s people say, Amen.  




Tuesday, November 25, 2014

not sure yet...

I've spent the day in prayer, in scripture, in the news and (probably most importantly) in community. 

I tried to wrap my mind around the news from Ferguson as I headed to the gym first thing this morning.  It was hard to clear my mind for yoga, but when I was finally able to, I was thankful for a moment of peace and focus. 

Because then I hit the elliptical and kept seeing headlines and images splattered across the TV screens.  With no volume I was thankful to chat with folks around me about other things.  The images of riots brought tears to my eyes.  They frighten me.  I am scared when people act out of anger and fear in ways that do harm to people or places.

The community of people I know at the gym were a light in the darkness this morning. 

As I ran simple errands, I gave thanks to God that stores were open, that I felt safe in my community and that I could have a long conversation with the woman who lives on the farm where I buy my produce spring through fall.  We talked about Thanksgiving plans with our families and potential travels.  The farm stand closes up tomorrow...and I will drive by through the winter...eagerly awaiting the reopening in the spring. 

The woman at the farm, her family and their livelihood was a light in the darkness this morning. 

As I did some reading and preparation the sermon this weekend, I was thankful that we are entering into the season of Advent.  A time when we acknowledge the darkness, yet await the coming of the light that breaks into the darkness knowing that the darkness cannot comprehend it.  Yet in the midst of the waiting, we also look for the glimpses of light we see in our homes, in our lives, in our communities and in our world this and every day. 

The joys of preaching bring with it the proclamation of good news. 

The challenges of preaching bring with it how we as a people of faith live our lives in a broken, hurting world, fighting injustices, giving a voice to the voiceless, and loving our neighbor (and our enemy) as ourselves. 

How do we as people of faith watch and wait? 

How do we as a people of faith respond to injustice?  Violence? Pain?  Hatred?  Fear? 

May the light of Christ shine in your midst this day. 

Gracious God,
You hold us in the palm of your hand.
Don't drop us.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Christ the King Sermon

Before you get into this week's sermon, you should know that a parishioner sent me this picture last week...

I couldn't get the song out of my head. 
I downloaded it from iTunes.  
I played with some of the lyrics and sent it to some clergy friends for insight and suggestions.  (My thanks and possible apologies to Meghan Trainor for inspiration.) 

November 23, 2014
Christ the King
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Please pray with me,

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen. 

Here we are, on Christ the King Sunday.  We recognize Christ as our king, our sovereign, the one who has claim on our lives…and we wonder, does this king, have specific criteria that earn his favor? 

It seems like this passage from Matthew lays out specific things we can do….and when they are done, we enter into eternal life.  It’s a passage that makes us wonder…what can I do…what can we do, to gain eternal life. 

And…in this passage, Jesus suggests six things: 
How we treat the hungry...
How we treat the thirsty…
How we welcome the stranger…
How we clothe the needy…
How we take care of the sick…
And how we visit the prisoner….

Well, tackle those six thing and you should be good to go. 

Not so much, right? 

Because here’s the thing, we don’t understand eternal life and God’s grace as something we can earn by doing things.  God’s grace…eternal life in the kingdom is something that is given to us by God…and there is nothing NOTHING we can or can’t do to earn that grace. 

Are you with me here?  God’s grace is not something we can earn.  We can't   get closer to the kingdom through doing good works.   God’s love and grace is a gift, a free gift that comes down to us. 

But it’s not about climbing the ladder…it’s more the fact that the ladder isn't even there.  Are you getting this?  It’s not about climbing closer to heaven based on the good works we do…it’s really all about God coming down to us.

So it may be simple to hear this passage and think…follow those six steps and we will just climb up that ladder to the kingdom.   But really…it’s not about the ladder…

You see,
It’s all about dat grace, bout dat grace, no ladders.
It’s all about dat grace, bout dat grace, no ladders.
It’s all about dat grace, bout dat grace, no ladders.
It’s all about dat grace, bout dat grace, grace, grace grace…

Yeah it’s pretty clear, what we’re supposed to do                                
But we can’t make it, make it                   
Left up to what we do        
See God has that room room for all of God’s people
With all of our faults and all of our failures
I hear what Jesus says, talkin about sheep and goats
We know we try our best                         
Sometimes we miss the boat        
We are all sinner saints, don’t try to hide it,
cause God knows we are imperfect
from the bottom to the top

Yeah, the gospel it tells me to think about what I do
It says, to care about others and not just about you
Yet try as I might, it is hard to always do right
So I’m thankful for God’s love and grace that keeps me alive…

(you sing it…)
It’s all about dat grace, bout dat grace, no ladders.
It’s all about dat grace, bout dat grace, no ladders.
It’s all about dat grace, bout dat grace, no ladders.
It’s all about dat grace, bout dat grace, grace, grace grace…

So hopefully it’s clear…that it’s all about God’s grace…so what about those good works?  Well we don’t have to do them to earn God’s grace, but it sure does make a difference to how we live together in community, doesn’t it? 

And we do that by living our lives out of our baptismal call.

We are called…

To live among God’s faithful people,
To hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper,
To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
To serve all people following the example of Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. 

We are to live out the justice that God intends…serving each needy person who is Christ-for-us…

Matthew’s emphasis on obedience can be forbidding.

If we get hung up on our baptismal call as something we MUST do to earn God’s grace, then we have failed.  We know even as we try our best that we will not be able to always think about others and not about ourselves. 

If this passage makes you worry or makes you wonder whether you’re a sheep or a goat…it’s because we hear the judgment that we have not always lived out our baptismal calling.  But the reality is that we will miss opportunities to live out our baptismal call. 

In my previous congregation there was a woman who worried about missing opportunities to serve God.  At the end of the day she would wonder about what more she could have done throughout the day to serve others.  It’s almost as if she lost sight of why she was serving others and was now focused on how much she was doing each day. 

You will miss opportunities…but more will be revealed.

Because God is at work in the world and continues to call us each and every day. 

So here’s the thing…

It’s Christ the King Sunday…it’s the last Sunday of the church year. 

Next week, we begin a new year, with the season of Advent.  The season of preparation. 

Maybe as we enter this new year together we are able to renew our baptismal promises. 

Think about this coming year….especially with the busyness that enters our lives and our homes between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.  What are the ways that you see new areas, places or ways that God is calling you to respond in love and grace? 

Our passage from Matthew serves as a guide to the ways we can reach out through love and service.  And my guess is that if you've been listening to the news this past week you would have heard examples of some of the following…
How we treat the hungry…
How we treat the thirsty…
How we welcome the stranger…
How we clothe the needy…
How we take care of the sick…
And how we visit the prisoner….

This isn’t the time and place to get hung up in politics, but our baptismal call gives us a guide to prayerfully think and act about things happening in our community and world every day. 

How are the hungry, thirsty, sick, and imprisoned around you each and every day? 

How are you empowered by God’s love, forgiveness and grace to respond to the need that surrounds us? 

As you see new ways and think about new ways to be alive and at work in the world around you remember that all that you do…all that we do….is out of the love and grace and forgiveness that God has already given to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Let us pray,

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, may give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we come to know God in our world around us, 18so that, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we may know what is the hope to which God has called us to.  May we see where God is calling us to live and love and serve and may we be empowered with grace, love and forgiveness to respond to the needs of our world.  And now may the peace, which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

On the 9th day, she ran.

It's been a solid fall of training....culminating with the race month of October.  From the Hartford Half, to the Dash for the Splash 5K (with a PR!) to the Stoudt's Brewing Distance Classic 12K.

Who knew this month would be a race month?  After the 12K, though, my body declared that I was done.  The day after the run a cold came in and took over.

Thankful that I didn't have any races in the near future, I took a week off from working out.  Yup.  A whole week.  No easy yoga, no elliptical, certainly no running.  (Even with a few days in the 60s.)  I slept in, I went to bed early.  I drank lots of water and tried to cure the common cold with double stuf oreos.  (This cure is still in need of more research.)  I watched my calories add up on My Fitness Pal...with a big zero each day next to calories burned.  But it didn't matter.  My body was done.  It needed love and naps, hydration and more naps.

My weekly email came from Daily Mile....."your friends miss your training...."  I know.  I also know that rest is a healthy part of training and staying in shape.  Without any big races in my immediate future, on a day I'm on the sleepier side, I'll rest.  I wish you could log in rest days on daily mile, because it is such an important part of taking care of your body.

I'm not a big fan of taking an entire week away from working out.  My daily workouts clear my head and help to keep my mind clear and focused.  I felt a little off last week...but that was probably a combination of the cold and the not working out.

I feel a bit better this week.  Still a little stuffy, but well rested and ready to ease my way back into some fitness.

Yesterday's easy 5K on the treadmill was the perfect beginning.  I forced myself to start off slow.  It felt great to see my gym buddies yesterday and today.  It's good to be back.

I'll definitely be ready for a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving and some other silly runs throughout the winter.  I should add, too, that I do have rest days built into my workout schedule.  I like those days.  But after along fall, my body wanted some true rest.

I can't speak for anyone else when it comes to working out and caring for yourself....but I know that rest days are a good thing.  And listening to your body is a very good thing.  I know that I probably could have squeezed in a workout last week...but I took the rest route instead, which has made for a great beginning to this week.

Until the next post...

PS.  This post was written under a napping cat.  She clearly understands the importance of rest.

Monday, October 13, 2014

So, how did you do?

The title of the blog post is the most frequently asked question after I run a race.  My gut reaction is to say I finished. Because it's true.  In essence my goal was completed....I finished the race that I began.

On a cold and rainy Saturday morning, my sister and I stood in a mass of runners just waiting for the Hartford 1/2 Marathon to begin.  At that point the goal was to run the 1/2 with her.  For those of you who know me, you know that I've been training for the last three months.  You've commented on my weight loss, you've waved at me and cheered me on via Facebook posts and encouragement at the gym, and in the last few weeks you kept asking....when is the race?

This run has been in the works for the past two years...but I didn't know it.  Two years ago this fall I ran the Baltimore 1/2....I PR-ed....I ran a little off kilter with a bandaid on my toe and finished the run with a crazy pain in my heel.  I hobbled around the city of Baltimore with my then fiance claiming I was fine.  A few days later I knew I wasn't fine.  It was a pain that just wasn't going away and I was planning on running another 1/2 in 3 weeks time.  I went to the doctor.  Achilles tendonitis he said.  No running he said.  I said, but the half in 3 weeks....he shook his head and said no.   He said you won't run for 3 least.  I pouted and he said see you in a month.

I wept.  I ached as I walked out of the office and called my mom to say, the 1/2 I had planned on running with her would not happen.  (She was less than excited to hear that.)

After 3 months, I wasn't in daily pain.  In January, I completed my first 5K.  It felt great...just to be able to run again.  I didn't care about the time.  I didn't care that it was 17 degrees and I was wearing a million layers.  I was running.  I was back.

And then I took some time to cross train.  I joined the gym.  I started yoga in May of that year.  I did some more 5K runs.  The plan was just to run a few times a week and complete some 5K races when they fit the schedule.  I even told folks that a longer distance race wasn't in the cards for 2013.  It just wasn't worth the potential injury.  If the pain came back, my tendon would've needed 6 months away from running. (After 3, 6 just seemed impossible!)

Enter 2014....a good year.  The second annual frosted chocolate buns 5k in January and I was back in the game.  I put ice traction things on my shoes and ran throughout the winter in the snow!  Good times.  I kept up the yoga.  I turned 40.  I entered some more 5K runs in the spring.  I was fast.  (Well, faster than I had been.)  I placed in a race, I love the small town races for that very reason.  I placed in a few competitive races....I felt faster!  I thought....maybe there is a 1/2 in me.  I talked with my sister, who had her first baby in February....we thought, okay, we can sign up, and run together in October.  We were committed.

This came in the mail:

I adjusted the training plan I had used for Baltimore to allow for only running three days a week.  Since the achilles pain, I have not run back to back days.  I go for a bike ride or hit the elliptical for the cardio, but keep it easy on the tendon.  My training went well.  My speed was good and I felt strong.  My longer runs with hills were the most challenging...and the heat and humidity almost got the better of me one of those days...but training continued. 

I knew I could run Hartford.  Heck, maybe even faster than I ran Baltimore.  I knew I could run Hartford and wanted to do so with my sister.

Prior to the race start, we decided we would start together and see how it went.  We were together in the rain and the up and down hills for 12 miles.  Then she said, go.  I said are you sure?  Yup.  

So I went.  

Crossing the finish line with my arms raised, (Not sure why that feels so good.) I did so with tears in my eyes.  I had run a good race.  My sister had run a stellar race.  I did not feel a thing in my tendon.  I was not hobbling and limping.  I was just a bit chilly from the rain and the cold.  But I had set the goal to run with my sister....and to finish the race....and I did.  

So, how did I do?

I could tell you my time...but that will only mean something to people who are focused on times.

I could show you my bib and finishers metal as proof...because I am proud of here they are.

If you ask me how I did I'm happy to say I ran a solid 1/2 marathon.  Thanks, Laura, for running with me. We laughed, talked, were encouraged by volunteers, bagpipers and a guy in his front lawn playing the didgeridoo.  We encouraged each other.  We shared stories.  We were thankful our husbands and dad made it through the cold and rain to cheer us on.  We were happy, too, that mom stayed home with her 7 month old grandson so he didn't need to weather the race.

The Hartford 1/2 was my favorite run this year.

I set a PR for myself of the joy and accomplishment I felt at the end.  It was the best runner's high ever.  It's the feeling I'll be chasing, instead of numbers in the future, because it was amazing.

Until the next post...

PS.  One additional note about the NU Hartford Marathon and 1/2 Marathon.  The volunteers are AMAZING!  Standing in the cold and rain, shaking cowbells and cheering us on in places on the route that otherwise would've been quiet.  You made the race more than you know.  Thanks for your time, energy and encouragement.

PPS.  The cutest water stop award goes to two stops:  The one with the boy scout troop...and the one with the girl scout troop.  Being served by those smiling faces and small hands brought pure joy to the run.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Holy Cross Sermon

When you preach a sermon three times, it's never quite the's at least what I started with each time.  +peace

Holy Cross Day
September 14, 2014
Numbers 21:4b-9
Psalm 98:1-4
1 Corinthians 1:18-24
John 3:13-17
Please pray with me,

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen. 

Today we remember and celebrate (if you can call it that) Holy Cross Day.  It’s a day when we turn to the cross and look and see God in a place where we least expect God to be. 

Vulnerable and dying….

You see, we live in a world of glamor and glitz….and wanting everything to go our way….we also want everything to go according to our plan…We want a God who conquers evil, who saves all the good people and who does it looking good…and all the while rewarding those whom God has chosen. 

We live in a world that is crying out for a message of good news….but wants to hear it as something they deserve or something they can earn.  There seems to be this understanding  of sorts that those who are favored in God’s eyes are the ones who will be rewarded.  Some people even say, “If I do all the right things, then I will be blessed by God.” 

But what does that say to a mother who just lost her 40 year old son to cancer? 

What does that say to a family who is struggling to make ends meet while parents work two jobs and have trouble finding time to spend together as family? 

What does that say to a woman who is 37 whose breast cancer just came back after years of remission? 

What does this say to families adjusting to divorce? 

What does this say to a woman or a man living in an abusive relationship? 

The questions could go on and on….and as the time I spend serving as your pastor, and our relationships deepen…I learn more and more about what each of you are going through in your day to day lives.  I talked about it in my latest newsletter article…we are all going through something….something that makes our lives imperfect.  There is always something going on that causes us to question, to wonder and to feel the need for the presence of God in our lives. 

And so here’s the thing….God is present. 

And God is present in the places where we least expect God to be. 


Let me share a few examples of this case….

One is taken from your bulletin: 

At the circus on Monday night, several of us saw a young girl (probably 3 or 4) proudly walking back to her seat with a bright red balloon on a stick.  She was beaming.  In less than a minute, it popped. 

A teenager sitting in front of me (one of the youth from Bethany) who had just bought her own balloon, walked over to that young girl and gave her her balloon. 

God was at work in that moment. 

Several people nearby started digging in their wallets to give this young woman money for another balloon, but she would not accept it.  She said, “I’m good.” 

God was at work in that moment. 

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to get to know a woman in Trinity’s family who just entered into hospice, who I had only met once before.  Within the context of an afternoon visit the stories shared and the questions about faith and end of life led to tears and smiles and ended with prayer.  God was at work in that visit.  In a place least likely…in the presence of two good friends and a pastor just getting to know them better, God deepened our faith and our relationships.  Not that I wouldn’t have expected God to be present in a visit like that, but as I walked out of that house, I felt like I was leaving a holy space.  That was God at work. 

That’s the God who died on a cross. 

That’s the God whose power is revealed in weakness.

That’s the God that is in the worst and rockiest situations and scenarios of our life. 

In the movie Dogma that came out in 1999…there is a scene in which a cardinal in the Catholic church is unveiling Buddy Christ – a hipper, more friendly savior….one that allows people to see Jesus not dying on the cross, but as a savior who came down to ‘help us out.’ 

I know…it’s silly…and it’s from a movie, but we still long for that ‘feel good’ savior….one who came to earth and made everything better.  That’s a message that makes us feel good.  That’s a message that leads us to believe that there is something that we can do to receive God’s love and grace and eternal reward.  And in a culture where we work to get things done, it’s something we understand and can grasp.  If you’re looking for  the wow factor…that’s it. 

The God we come to hear about week after week, isn’t flashy….isn’t at work in our world because of things that we have done.  The God we hear about week after week is one that is in our midst, in our lives and in our world because of the love God has for each and every one of us. 

It’s a God who is present with us when we’ve lost a job.

It’s a God who is present with us when we argue and struggle to live with one another in community. 

It’s a God who….and this is a tough one….is at work in the world whether Trinity Lutheran Church is a part of it or not. 

You see God is on this continual mission…to bless and love the world.  And the world will be blessed and loved and then we the people of the world will mess up.  And God – through Jesus – save us time and time again – reminding us that we are loved and forgiven….and send us back into the world where God is still at work, loving and saving people.   

It’s amazing the times and places where God is at work throughout the week.  As a pastor, I get to see some amazing situations where God is at work.  And…I guess, because of who I am, it’s part of my call to tell others about these great moments. 

But the good thing, too, is that it’s not just my responsibility to tell others about these moments. 

It’s up to you too….to share these great and amazing stories of God at work in your life and in the world around you. 

You may see them at school when one student stops to help another one out for no reason.

It may be at the end of a 5th quarter as students thank the volunteers and wish them a good night. 

It may be when you are at work or when you are at home with your family or when you are at the gym, or on the road, or anywhere really…..

God is busy.

God is at work. 

God is showing up in the places least likely….like under the big top tent, when families enjoy an evening of entertainment and conversation. 

It may be watching a parade and seeing kids scramble to pick up candy being thrown from passing floats. 

It may be in the stillness of sitting on your porch and watching birds at the feeder or neighbors walking down the street. 

Keep your eyes open…and look for God at work. 

Especially in those places where you may not expect God to be. 

Because that’s the God that loves us.

That’s the God that forgives us.

And that’s the God who claims us as daughters and sons….and calls us home. 

And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Community and conflict with a splash of grace.

September 7, 2014
13th Sunday after Pentecost
Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

Please pray with me,

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen. 

I’m glad the last line in our gospel lesson ends on a positive note, because the rest of it today seems to cut to the quick.  And maybe it cuts to the quick because it hits us right where it matters….in the heart.  Jesus calls the disciples out on conflict within community.  Two great things that always seem to go together. 

For wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, he is there among him. 

I’ve heard it said, for wherever two or three are gathered, there is conflict, so it’s a good thing Jesus is there, too! 

As the local pastors met for text study Wednesday morning, it was lifted up that the revised standard version of this passage is more accurate.  Let me read part of that to you and listen for the differences.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

This translation lifts up the importance of the relationship that Jesus is pointing out.  It’s not just church member having an issue with another church member, it is the closeness of brothers….it’s the closeness of sisters….it’s the closeness of being members of the body of Christ.  It’s not just Jesus addressing the conflicts that arise (or will arise) within the context of a congregation, or as we may hear it within the context of our congregation here.  It is Jesus addressing the issue of conflict between brothers and sisters within the context of community. 

In a day and age where we have the capability to be more connected to one another than ever, it seems that community is something we still long for. 

I know that for many people, maybe not all, but for many the ability to connect with someone or many people is within the palm of your hand, when your smart phone is there.  You can see what all your friends are up to on facebook, you can text someone any time of the day and you can skype or facetime to video chat face-to-face. 

But you get the idea, right?  That within our grasp it is so easy to connect with others.  Yet, this is different than the community that exists when we meet face to face. 

In the world of texting and Facebook, if you don’t like something, you can ignore it.  You can even block certain posts if you don’t agree with them.  You can even “unfriend” someone without having to tell him or her why. 

In these online or electronic connections, it’s easy to walk away.  It’s easy to leave a problem.  It’s super easy to avoid conflict. 

Yet, within the realities of race-to-face relationships that we find within the context of a community that gathers together week after week, it’s not so easy to avoid the conflict.  Because here’s the truth….we are all sinful beings.  The church is made up of a bunch of sinners. 

The challenge for us, this day, is to live within the context of community.  We say we all want community, but we usually can’t comprehend how difficult it is to come by. 

Or more accurately, authentic community is hard to come by.  It’s work, right?  But it’s well worth it.  (D. Lose)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about community in his book, Life Together.  He writes, “It is easily forgotten that the community of Christians is a gift of grace from the kingdom of God, a gift that can be taken from us any day – that the time still separating us from the most profound loneliness may be brief indeed.” (p. 30)

This community here….is a gift of the grace of God.  It’s nothing we created.  It’s nothing we control.  Those gathered in this place have been called together by God and are held together in God’s grace, which is an amazing and wonderful gift. 

Because the truth of it is, we won’t all get along.  Try as we might, we are sinful beings….we will stumble, we will cause others to stumble.  As we try to do God’s work, our words and actions will get in the way and will upset some and cause others to wonder how and if God’s work is being done. 

So in the midst of listening for God’s call for our lives and the life and mission of this congregation, when we see others pushed away...Jesus commands us to go and get them.  While the words in our text talk about pointing out the fault in the other, maybe it’s important to remember that when you point someone out, there are three fingers pointing back at you.  It’s more than just pointing out the issue of one particular person, it’s loving that person enough – BECAUSE of how much God loves us – to call them back into community again. 

It’s not about placing blame, or hurting others.  It’s all about knowing that this place is a community that gathers in God’s grace and that all are welcome in this place. 

The good news for us this day, comes to us from our passage from Ezekiel, “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live” 

It’s all about God’s desire for us to be gathered in community (together) to share God’s love and grace for others.  And THROUGH that love and grace we are able to humble ourselves, to admit our wrongs, to extend apology and to be offered forgiveness and grace all because of God. 

Bonhoeffer writes, “The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more everything else between us will recede, and the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is alive between us.” (p. 34) 

And that’s it really….the blessings and challenge of living in community.  That when we are more genuine with one another and our relationships with God an one another deepen, we are able to see more clearly the call that Jesus has for us and for this community. 

It is what we desire most deeply…but it calls us to open our hearts and our minds.  To share things that trouble us, to share questions and struggles that we have in our lives and our faith, knowing that others that surround us are in the same boat, and only by the grace of God are we gathered, forgiven, loved and sent back into the world to share how we live and act as a community. 

Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber shares something like this in every new member class at House for all Sinners and Saints Lutheran Church in Denver, CO.  Look around you, someone within this group will say something or do something that offends you or hurts you, it may even be your pastor who does it….but what makes this place different than the world, is our ability to love and forgive and work through our differences and our conflict because of the love and grace of God in this place. 

May we remember this day, and all days, that in the midst of conflict and unrest, it is God’s grace that calls us together, it is God who forgives, enabling us to forgive – and may we model humility, love and grace within these walls and beyond. 

And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.