Monday, October 30, 2017

Reformation Sermon

October 29, 2017
Reformation Sunday
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 46
Romans 3:19-28
John 8:31-36

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

If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.  

Telling the truth will make you free, Jesus says.  And it will.  Which means it will change your life. 

Glennon Doyle Melton, author, blogger at and public speaker shares that her calling in life, her ministry is truth telling.  She’s a reckless truth teller. 

'As she was discovering her vocation she shares, “Maybe my public service would be to tell people the truth about my insides.”  She decided that she had found her thing: openness.  She decided it was more fun to say things that made other women feel hopeful about themselves and God than it was to say or omit things to make people feel jealous of her.'  (Carry On, Warrior, p. 6)

This openness meant revealing to the whole world who she was and is…someone who has struggled with drug, alcohol and food addiction, someone who has been arrested many times because of those additions.  Someone who worries about how she parents, if she’s doing it right and if she should even be doing it at all. 

When she started blogging the truth about who she is and her daily struggles, her dad called her and said, “Glennon.  Don’t you think there are some things you should take to the grave?” And she replied, “No.  I really don’t. That sounds horrible to me.  I don’t want to talk anything to the grace.  I want to die used up and emptied out.  I don’t want to carry around anything that I don’t have to.  I want to travel light.” (Carry On, Warriorp. 6)

I have listened to her on podcasts and read two of her books and I can say that there is something to being a truth teller.  There is something in that profound sharing that helps us connect more deeply with God and with one another.  Sharing struggles, worries, anxieties and truths about who we are is freeing, life-giving and real.

There is something about admitting our brokenness, not just to God, but to ourselves and to others.  When we do so we are more aware of the sin in our lives, the need for repentance and forgiveness, the need for God and our calling to continue to help and heal others. 

Glennon describes all of us as wounded healers. (Carry On, Warriorp. 50)
Knowing that we are all broken, we come to God for forgiveness and healing, and then we go to forgive and heal others.  We are wounded healers, that is who the church is…and is called to be. 

We are called to see not only ourselves as wounded, but I believe the greater church as well. 

As we gather to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.  We look back at a single act, by a single monk, that started something much bigger.  When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, he was hoping to spark conversation and dialogue about how the church needed to be reformed. 

Yet once that ball started rolling, there was no stopping it.  With the help of the printing press, Martin Luther’s writings were being copied and distributed like wildfire. 

While we often gather this day and think of Luther and his translation of the New Testament into German and the teaching tools of the Small and Large Catechism, we often gloss over his writings about the Jews.

Luther's attitude toward the Jews changed over the course of his life. In the early phase of his career—until around 1536—he expressed concern for their plight in Europe and was enthusiastic at the prospect of converting them to Christianity.  Luther tended to be stubborn and he could not wrap his mind around how the people of Jewish faith could not see Christ as the Messiah. 

Being unsuccessful in conversion, in his later career, Luther denounced Judaism and called for harsh persecution of its followers, so that they might not be allowed to teach. 

Sadly, because his writings were so prolific and he himself was such a strong figure in German history, these writings were brought to the surface during the Nazi occupation in Germany.  

But who we are today, as a church, and as the Body of Christ, is the reality that we are all wounded healers.  We are called to see and name the truth of our past, and how by the grace of God we are continually transformed to speak the truth and continue to live in the light of Christ. 

On April 18, 1994 the ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted the “Declaration,” which repudiates Luther's anti-Jewish writings, expresses deep regret for their historical consequences, and reclaims the desire to live in "love and respect for Jewish people."

Sometimes telling the truth is painful, but necessary to move forward. 

Jesus says, you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. 
The theme that Jesus is bringing to his followers is one of freedom.  Jesus knows he brings freedom for those who live in him and stay connected to God’s word.  He tells them, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 

Jesus is describing a new kind of freedom.  Not just a freedom from the stresses and struggles from everyday life, but a freedom from sin and death…and the promise of eternal life.  Not that anyone stops sinning.  By nature, humans are sinful and live enslaved to the power of sin.  Left to ourselves, we mess things up.  Badly. 

Even on our best days, we fall short of God’s expectations of us.  Falling short includes both things we have actively done and that whole category of things we never get around to doing.  Guilt is not a stranger to the Christian.  Yet, Jesus sets us free from that guilt.

That is the most amazing thing about God. 
That even though we try our best and fall short of perfection, God continues to love and bless us nonetheless. 

So, where does that leave us? 

We are always in a place to begin anew, thanks to God’s transforming grace and love in our lives and in our world. 

Knowing that we are yet sinners, we will go out each day, speaking the truth…to lies in our lives and our world. 

We will speak the truth of a God who loves us unconditionally and forgives us our sins. 
We will speak the truth of who we are and who God created us and calls us to be. 

Will it be easy?  Some days yes, others not so much. 

But we are reminded that we are connected in this mission…that we are called by Christ, and we gather in that grace, and we go forth joyfully serving. 

This is the gift of faith, given to us by God, that carries us out into the world. 

“Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith.”  Luther said.  And it is.

I pray that we as members of the Body of Christ and the visible presence of the church in the world around us are strengthened by this act of forgiveness, that we are empowered to speak the truth and that we impact the world around us in amazing and transforming ways. 

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

Monday, October 2, 2017

I don't know.

October 1, 2017
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Psalm 25:1-9
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

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

In the 1957 book, Dynamics of Faith, the Lutheran pastor and theologian Paul Tillich wrote the famous words, “Faith is not belief without doubt.  Faith is belief in spite of doubt.”
“Faith is not belief without doubt.  Faith is belief in spite of doubt.”
For Tillich, these words would not just be theoretical words in a vacuum.  Paul Tillich held onto his faith in a particularly difficult situation and time. He was a pastor and professor in Germany during the 1920s and 30s. 

The church was a challenging place to be during this time.  You see, many of Martin Luther’s writings we were being used to promote anti-Semitism.  And the largest protestant Christian movement in Germany sought  to, among other things, strike the Old Testament from the Bible due to its Jewish origins.  They also banned people with Jewish heritage from the ordained ministry and even questioned whether it was proper to baptize people of Jewish descent. 

They even tried to change the focus of Christianity from the cross and resurrection to Jesus’ conflicts with the Jewish authorities.  They were trying to make Jesus the lead Aryan warrior in their campaign against the Jews.  Paul Tillich came into conflict with these so-called ‘Christians’ and lost his job as a seminary professor when Hitler came to power.  Yet in 1957 he was still able to proclaim his faith in Christianity despite his doubts. 

Now meet, Bishop James Pike a popular Episcopalian leader who became the Bishop of California shortly after Paul Tillich shared those words of faith and doubt.  Pike’s time as bishop was controversial.  He became associated with Dr. Martin Luther King who was a deeply polarizing and controversial figure himself.  Pike promoted civil rights for blacks, he ordained a woman as a deacon (even though her ordination wasn’t approved until after his death) and he was in favor of gay rights. 

Pike wasn’t just controversial because of his social positions.  He was a man who was not afraid to question the theological positions of the church, either.  He questioned just about every one of them.  In the end, he went to Israel to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and died in the desert while he was looking for answers.  Bishop Pike’s most famous quote was that Christians need to have ‘fewer beliefs, but more belief.’

Both of these leaders are going to make any history book that is written about 20th century theologians.  Both wrote many books and were on the faculty at respected universities.  Neither one was afraid to say, “I don’t know.” 

“We don’t know.” 
These are words that take a prominent role in today’s gospel lesson.  Of course, the context of these words was very different than when we hear them from Paul Tillich or Bishop Pike…their words are a confession of human limitations, an expression of humility.  When we hear these words spoken from the Pharisees, it’s a political maneuver. 

Their alternatives are to acknowledge that John the Baptist’s mission (that is his preaching and command to baptize) was from God or to claim that it was of human origin (that is that he was a false prophet.)  In the first case they would have to explain why they hadn’t accepted his message; in the second case they would run afoul of the popular opinion of John: that he was a true prophet. 

It’s important for Matthew to show here that not only are the leaders influenced by the crowd’s opinion, since they seek popularity and are jealous of Jesus.  Matthew also lifts up that the crowd, which has played a positive role throughout that narrative but has not yet definitively decided for or against Jesus, does indeed have influence and responsibility.  The leaders decide that it is better not to answer at all. 

But even if the words we hear from the Pharisees are not genuine, there are places in the Bible where we hear the more humble, “I don’t know.”  Even Paul, the first Christian theologian and someone who was never hesitant to declare his own convictions, honestly admitted that we cannot always know how to pray. In his letter to the church in Corinth, he admitted that he didn’t even have all the answers when it came to his personal visions.  Only God knows everything.  And it is in God that Christians put all their faith, despite not knowing the things we cannot know. 

“We do not know,” is actually a very Christian confession. 

But on the other hand, as Christians, there are things we can say we do know. 

Our faith is based on and in Jesus Christ.  Christians believe that in his life, death, and resurrection, we get a glimpse of the divine.  We believe that through Jesus, we can see God.  What is true of Jesus Christ is also true of God.  That isn’t a statement that can be proved in any empirical sense.  That’s where faith comes in. 

In Jesus we meet a God that loves and cares for the sick, the poor, the oppressed.   We meet a God that spreads love to all people even though it means violating every artificial social, religious, and purity boundary that human beings could devise.  Even in his crucifixion, Jesus he continued to tell us, from the cross, that God loves us. 

And not even death could stop him from coming back, offering forgiveness to his betrayers.  That’s the Jesus that we confess.  That’s the loving image that Christians claim show us God’s true nature. 

As Christians, we feel comfortable saying, “I don’t know,” to all sorts of questions about life and the afterlife.  We don’t need to know all the answers because we know we don’t have to worry.  We are in the hands of a God who loves us.  A God who didn’t put up a defense even when we were killing God in Jesus.  Since God loves us that much, then we don’t have to worry that we will be taken care of, even if we don’t know the answers.

Some of the things we should know is that Jesus Christ is and Christian faith should be, understanding that we are all one human family in God’s eyes. 

It’s about proclaiming the good news that God loves everyone no matter who they are.  It’s about knowing that our life here is not all that there is and seeing ourselves in the perspective of something bigger.  That’s what we learned from Christ.  It’s okay to say that we don’t know about the rest.

The God we see in Christ doesn’t give us all the answers.  But that God gives us something better –courage.  Despite the promises of some preachers and religions, life will always be an uncertain thing.  We all know this.  We can never know what is coming next.  But we have a faith that allows us to live each day with a confidence others may not have. 

We have the promise that nothing we do, don’t do or anyone else ever does can snatch us out of the God’s hand, no matter what happens in this life.  Because we live with this, we can also sometimes live with the words, “We don’t know.”

So as you go about your week, be guided and guarded by a God that loves you. 
Know that through God’s love, you are free to love and serve others, to share a hope and a promise of eternal life…and to not know all the answers, because you are loved by a God who loves you, no matter what. 

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.