Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Holy Cross Sermon

When you preach a sermon three times, it's never quite the same....here'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. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Have faith.

August 31, 2014
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28 

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. 

One of my favorite times of the day being a camp counselor was ‘devos’ or devotions.  As we settled in the cabin or tent at night, there would be time for a story (no matter what the campers’ age) and a time for reflection and prayer.  For the younger ones, it was just a story and a prayer….and some of them dozed off during the story, but we still took the time to close each day in prayer.  For many, many summers at camp I shared a story entitled Barrington Bunny as part of the end of the day devotions. 

Barrington is a bunny who is very good at hopping and is very furry.  He is a very good bunny.  Those are his gifts…he realizes on a Christmas Eve….that he can’t make it to the beaver’s house because he can’t swim.  He can’t make it to the squirrels’ home because he can’t climb the tree….so he sits and is sad because he is on his own. 

He ends up providing warmth and shelter for the night for a lost, cold field mouse. 

In the morning, the mouse family finds their lost family member under Barrington’s cold body.  In the midst of the storm, the decision he made meant he would lose his life….because he gave it for the sake of someone else. 

This story leads us right into today’s gospel lesson.  Because the call that Barrington responded to, is the same one that Jesus extends to his disciples….and to us today. 

Just after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah (just after our reading from last week) Jesus starts to explain what is to happen.  Peter is adamant that this must not happen.  No way….Jesus, we know you are the Messiah, you’re not supposed to die! 

This is just one of the moments that I love about Peter.  He seemed so firm in his faith, just moments ago…and now he’s not so sure about this plan.  He’s so human.  Just like you, just like me. 

And Jesus calls him right out as a stumbling block….and says get behind me Satan.  Because again, just like you and me….he’s focusing on human things, not divine things.  It’s great to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, but Peter wants it his way, not through the way of the cross. 

Jesus continues…those who want to become my followers, take up their cross and follow me. 

And this, then, is the call for Peter, and for you and for me….this is the path we, too, must travel.  The disciples are not just witnesses of Jesus’ suffering, but participants in it.  (Barreto)

To truly be a disciple doesn’t just mean telling people about Jesus life, suffering, death and resurrection but living it in our own bodies, as well. 

But to take up one’s cross….it had a different meaning for the people of Jesus’ time….it meant death.  The cross was a symbol of death.

Sometimes the phrase “that’s my cross to bear” gets slightly misinterpreted in our day and age.  When the phrase is used, it’s more of a burden, it’s something that we take on as silent sufferers, rather than seeing it as a symbol of death. 

Does this make sense?  That when we talk about having a cross to bear, we don’t think of it as carrying the symbol of Jesus’ death, but more so as a responsibility that is a burden in our day to day lives. 

I’m not trying to call anyone out for using this phrase, I just think it’s important to think about what Jesus is actually calling us to do. 

A colleague of mine, Brian Stoffregen puts it this way,

“To "take up the cross" then is not an invitation, for disciples then or now, to start going around looking for crosses to bear. The logic of the kingdom does not have to do with plotting the way to success. Instead, disciples are called to an obediently humble giving of self for the neighbor in which hearing and doing are brought into conformity and the whole of the law is fulfilled.”

We’re not called to look for crosses to bear….to do things that will garner jewels for our crowns or better our own selves in any way.  It’s about being humble, loving the Lord our God and in serving others. 

It’s about losing our lives…and letting our lives be lived for others. 

It’s all about the first commandment.  You shall have no other gods.

Pretty simple, right?  I mean, it’s the first commandment. 

Luther says this means that we are to fear, love and trust God above all things. 

In the moment that Peter says, no Lord, that’s not how it’s supposed to be!  Jesus shouts right back…by telling him that he’s lost sight of the first commandment once again.  He has forgotten to put God first and have faith that this plan is the right plan. 

Maybe Peter is the stumbling block in that moment because he cannot really see what the cross means.  He is blinded by his own wants and needs that he wants the kingdom, and a savior, but he doesn’t want the savior to die in the process. 

Yet Jesus points him and us, back to the first commandment.  It’s all about putting God first.  It’s all about having faith.  Maybe we could just rewrite that first commandment, it could just say, have faith.  It would be just as hard for us to follow, but it would sound nicer….

No seriously…that’s the toughest thing about this commandment, right?  That we know we’re supposed to have faith and put God first….but in a way, we’ll never hold this commandment at all times. 

Ready: Have faith.  Got it?  Got faith? 

It’s just not that simple, you see, faith drives us to call upon God, to listen to God’s Word, to obey God’s representatives, to love and care for our neighbor. 

Let me say that again, faith drives us to call upon God, to listen to God’s Word, to obey God’s representatives, to love and care for our neighbor. 

Having faith is more than just saying I believe.  It’s the life you live, growing out of that belief that is bearing the cross of Christ. 

"Barrington lay on top of the little mouse and hugged him tight.  The tiny fellow felt himself surrounded by warm fur.  He cried for awhile but soon, snug and warm, fell asleep.
Barrington had only two thoughts that long, cold night.  First he thought, 'It's good to be a bunny. Bunnies are very furry and worm.' And then, when he felt the heart of the tiny mouse beneath him beating regularly, he thought, 'All of the animals in the forest are my family.'
Next morning, the field mice found their little boy, asleep in the snow, warm and snug beneath the furry carcass of a dead bunny.  Their relief and excitement was so great that they didn't even think to question where the bunny had come from." (The Way of the Wolf, p. 8) 


And there it is…the opportunity to save one’s life, by deciding what is safe and what is in one’s own self-interest.  Or the opportunity to lose one’s life for Jesus sake, by living not just for yourself but living for others.

It’s following the first commandment…. To have faith.

It’s having faith enough that you can see beyond yourself and know that God is there to help and guide you. 

It’s having faith enough to call out, “Lord, save me!” when you don’t feel strong enough. 

It’s having faith enough…to doubt….to ask questions…to struggle with issues of the day. 

It’s having faith enough…to see a community of people that gathers around you to love and support you, and that seeks your love and support. 

So even on those days, when you struggle the most with this one commandment….to have faith, know this.  God is by your side.  God will not leave you.  God’s arms are open to embrace you…..have faith. 

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