Epiphany 2 – Martin Luther King Day
January 15, 2017
Martin Luther King Day
Our Savior’s La Crosse, 2017
“Now to him who is able to keep you from falling,
and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing,
to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be glory, majesty, power, and authority,
before all time, now, and forever. Amen.”
The man’s name was Isaac. He had been admitted to the hospital I was working at because he had had a heart-attack.
I remember walking into his room, up to his bedside, and touching his arm. I remember saying “Mr. Moline, Mr. Moline, I’m Chaplain Richmond. I’d like to spend some time with you.”
Isaac Moline looked in my direction and invited me to stay. Then he began to tell me his story.
“You see, I’m blind” he said.
“I’m blind because I’m a diabetic. I lost the use of my kidneys years ago. My legs have both been cut off. I’ve had a stroke. Now I’ve had a heart-attack.”
There was silence in the room. A long silence. Then Mr. Isaac Moline said “You know, through it all God has been real good to me.”
This was years ago, but to this day I do not know what I expected Mr. Moline to say, but I do know I did not expect him to say that God had been good to him.
Mr. Isaac Moline told me about his childhood. He was an African American man born on a plantation in a shack where, as a child, he could look up at night and see the stars shining through the holes in the roof. As a young man Mr. Moline moved north to find a job. He found a job. He also discovered he was diabetic. That is when his life-long battle with diabetes began.
You and I, we might think Mr. Moline was losing every skirmish:
His eyesight was gone; one leg was taken, then another; his kidney function stopped; after his first stroke he lost a lot of physical strength; then he had a heart-attack.
And yet—and yet—he told me “Through it all, God has been real good to me.”
I asked Mr. Moline how he could say that, that God had been good to him.
Mr. Moline turned his toward me and said, as if talking to a child “Well, God loves me. God loves me, and God keeps on giving me life.”
“Our God is Able.”
Taken from the book of Jude, that is the title of a sermon the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote. Dr. King wrote:
“Only God is able. It is faith in God that we muster-discover. With this faith we can transform bleak and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of joy and bring new light into the dark caverns of pessimism. Is someone here moving toward the twilight of life and fearful of what we call death? Why be afraid? God is able.
Is someone here on the brink of despair because of the death of a loved one, the breaking of a marriage, or the waywardness of a child? Why despair? God is able to give you the power to endure that which cannot be changed.
Is someone here anxious because of bad health? Why be anxious? Come what may, God is able.” (“Our God is Able” in Strength to Love, MLK, Jr., p. 130).
Come what may, our God is able.
God is able to work in our lives, touching our hearts, strengthening our minds. God “is able to keep you from falling” as was written in the book of Jude.
God is able to give us hope when all seems hopeless. To give us light in the darkest corners of our lives. God is able to heal, to empower, to forgive.
Our God is able.
The Rev. Dr. King said our “God is able to give us the interior resources to face the storms and problems of life” (King p. 132).
And he said
When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a great Power in the universe whose name is God, and God is able to make a way out of no way, and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows” (King, p. 132).
Mr. Isaac Moline knew God was able. He believed in God’s love, in spite of the suffering he endured.
May we be so bold. May we have such faith. May we say, in each moment of our lives, that we have every confidence in the God, in our God, who is able.
Christmas Day A – 2016
December 25, 2016
Imagine never being able to see God. Imagine never being able to touch God – to hear God, to know God.
You might be thinking: Joanne, I haven’t ever seen or touched or heard God. I don’t need to imagine not doing those things because I haven’t.
Let’s talk about that…
As one commentator wrote,
“…the incarnation changes God’s relationship to humanity and humanity’s relationship to God. The incarnation means that human beings can see, hear and know God in ways never before possible… The relationship between divine and human is transformed, because in the incarnation human beings are given intimate, palpable… access to the cosmic reality of God.” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IX, p. 524)
According to Bing.com, as powered by Oxford Dictionaries, an incarnation is a person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit, or abstract quality.
Jesus, as the Word who was in the beginning with God, and who was God both in the beginning and is forevermore…
Jesus was and is God incarnate.
God made human.
Jesus embodied in the flesh God.
God, born to Mary, laying in a manger because there was no room in the inn.
God living, God breathing, God hearing, God smelling (in more ways than one 🙂 ), God crying, God growing to become the King of kings and Lord of lords.
God revealed God’s Self in Jesus.
And so, “The story of Jesus is not ultimately a story about Jesus; it is, in fact, the story of God.” (TNIB, p. 524).
Our God, the God we worship and adore, the God who supports and sustains us, the God who, as Creator of the universe continues to rule the universe –
Our God born in a manger. Both human and divine.
Because God so loves us and loves the world.
Because God so loves us and loves the world God did this for us and for the world. The Word, God became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory… full of grace and truth.
What do we see, then?
What do we know then, about our God?
We worship a God who clearly knew our need to know.
God knew we needed to know God – who God was and is, what God did and does, how and where God fit into our lives and into the world.
And so, God came. God Be-Came flesh and lived among us.
Full of grace and truth.
This is what we celebrate this Christmas Day! God grace and truth as it lived and lives among us.
God’s grace! the free and unmerited favor of God (Bing/Oxford).
We don’t deserve this gift of love God gives us.
That’s the truth!
That God loves us. That God loved us enough to come to the world in the life and work and words of Jesus Christ.
This is what we celebrate! This is the reason for this day on our church’s calendar and on the calendars of the world.
God came to us, in flesh and blood God became real to us and to the world in order that we truly know God, truly see God, truly hear God’s Word and will for the world.
This is what we five thanks for today, even as again we receive God’s flesh and blood in the bread and wine of holy communion.
We commune with the God who came, with the God who is present with us now, and with the God who promises to return to the world.
Christmas Eve – 2016
December 24, 2016
We gather in this place this evening because two people chose to fulfill a prophecy.
If you think, in the context of cosmic realities, that you have no ability to influence the trajectory of humanity –
The story of the birth of Jesus ought to give you pause.
Two simple people, a carpenter and his betrothed, journeyed to Bethlehem to register in a census required for citizens of the Roman Empire. As a descendant of David Joseph needed to travel to the town of his tribe.
As the story goes, when they reached their destination there was no room for them in the inn. They were offered shelter in a stable. Which is where Mary’s son was born. He was laid in a manger. On the 8th day he was named Jesus. A fulfillment of prophecy. As Christians, we believe his life, his ministry, his death, his resurrection – changed the world.
We have no way of knowing what would have happened if Mary had said “No” to the angel Gabriel when he visited her in a dream, telling her she would give birth to the Son of the Most High. We have no way of knowing what would have happened if Joseph had rejected Mary when he discovered her news, of her pregnancy. What we know, as the story goes, is that they carried on with their life as a couple, and they traveled to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.
In Hebrew, roughly translated Bethlehem means the “house of bread.”
Mary and Joseph traveled to the House of Bread where, in the dark of night, the Bread of Life was born.
Bread. It was a staple in ancient times, just as it is for many now. In fact, the Hebrew word Bethlehem can be translated the House of Bread or, just as easily, the House of Food. Bread was food. In the gospel of John when Jesus referred to himself as the Bread of Life he was saying I am the Food you need, the Bread you need… I am your sustenance.
Jesus sustains us, centuries later Jesus still sustains us. Our Bread. Born in the House of Bread.
Bread was offered as an offering, not just by the Hebrew people but by other cultic groups as well. Grains would be offered, sometimes in loafs, sometimes cakes made just with flour and oil, or flour and water. They were burnt sacrificially, offered up to God or to other gods.
Our Bread of Life, Jesus, was sacrificed for us and our sins. We receive him, his body and his blood, this evening, when we receive the bread and wine. The Bread of Life feeds us forgiveness, feeds us love, feeds us the promise of life everlasting.
The world we live in –
There is such a need for love in this world.
Our world is torn by violence. Torn by war. Torn by hatred. Torn by fear. Torn by injustice. Torn by inequalities. Torn by privilege. Torn by hunger. Torn by poverty. Torn by distress and disease and arrogant disregard for human suffering.
You might be thinking to yourself – there is so much wrong in our world, I can’t make it right again. I can’t.
But you can.
It starts with you, each of you, each of us. We can and we do bring light into the world every time we respond to violence with peace, every time we respond to hatred with love, every time we respond to fear with hope, every time we respond to injustice with justice, every time we respond to inequality with respect and empowerment, every time we respond to abuses of privilege with ears turned to truly listen to those whose lives DO matter, every time we share our food with those who hunger, every time we share what we have with those who have less, every time we speak comfort to those distressed or suffering.
We can bring goodness into this world. There is goodness in this world.
There is goodness here, in this House of Bread. It is grounded in the love of Jesus Christ, born to set us free from our sins, freeing us to love one another as we have been loved.
When Mary, a young innocent woman was told she would give birth to the Son of the Most High she said “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
May we be the Lord’s servants in this time, in this circumstance, free to fulfill the hopes and the promises of God.
Blessed Christmas to each of you.
May you bring blessings to the world.
Advent 2 A – 2016
December 4, 2016
Our Savior’s La Crosse
The world has lived so long without Jesus, we might just have forgotten what it is we are supposed to be longing for.
I know, Jesus came to the world, he preached his gospel news of salvation, he died and rose again, he redeemed us from the grave and offered us the promise of eternal life.
I know—Jesus is here living in our hearts.
I know, the love and spirit and light and hope that is Jesus lives in the world.
But literally, not figuratively, Jesus has promised to return to the world. Advent is our time to focus on, to anticipate, to claim that promise.
What is it we are longing for?
Why do we await his return?
And how do we prepare ourselves for his coming?
John the Baptist said “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.”
John the Baptist said “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
I don’t know if you are familiar with the structure of Matthew’s gospel, but his writing has a way of taking unexpected turns without tidy transitions. If you were to look at the verses that proceed today’s gospel text, you would see that, in a matter of 10 verses: an angel warned Joseph in a dream to take his family to Egypt to protect them from Herod (and so he did); the killings of all children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under because Herod felt threatened by the birth of a new king (Jesus, which is why they had to flee to Egypt); another angel warned Joseph in yet another dream to leave Egypt and return to Israel (which he did); and a final dream wherein Joseph was told not to take his family to Judea but to go to Galilee, specifically Nazareth (which he did).
Then—BOOM! John the Baptist is in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus.
Jesus went from being a baby getting hauled around the Middle East for his own protection to the Lord whose arrival was proclaimed.
This is the way God works. God doesn’t always offer smooth transitions. I know, this is the holiday season when we romanticize Joseph and Mary and Jesus and shepherds and angels—but, as one scholar wrote
God’s will does not always work gently, climbing quietly like ivy up the lattice of history. Sometimes an Elijah appears, a nation repents, a Berlin wall is dismantled, a Martin Luther King Jr. strides across the landscape. God’s will shatters the mold, violates the categories, breaks in on the world as a jarring surprise.
So the doors of Matthew’s gospel suddenly swing open, and there stands John in the wilderness of Judea… it is a shock to see him…His surprising appearance is, itself, a claim that God’s ways with the world are often strange, unforeseen, and unpredictable.
As we approach Christmas we aren’t prepared to be told to repent. As we approach Christmas we aren’t prepared to be reminded of our sin—to be reminded of our weakness—to be told we need to turn around, to turn away from sin, toward the coming Christ who had the power to redeem us and has the power to—once and for all—separate the wheat from the chaff.
How do we prepare ourselves for the return of Jesus?
We prepare by seeing ourselves for who we truly are—children of God needing to be saved from ourselves and our constant desire to turn away from God, toward mammon, toward power, toward wealth, toward privilege, toward the comfort of our own homes rather than face the God whose light reveals the darkest corners of our hearts.
John warned the Pharisees, the religious leaders of their time “not to presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’” as a means to save themselves from God’s judgment.
John could just as well say to us that we ought not presume to say to ourselves “We have Christ as our Savior” to protect us. The gift of faith we have received does not save us from John’s call to repentance.
We have been called to respond to God’s gift of love by turning ourselves around, to turn away from sin and death, toward God’s gift of life and love.
We are cleaning house—this IS housekeeping.
The house we are cleaning is the house of God that exists in our hearts. The temple of the Lord is here—in each of us. And it is in the world, a world desperately needing redemption.
Christ has come.
Christ will come again.
Prepare the way of the Lord.
Advent 1 A – 2016
November 27, 2016
Advent 1 2016
Our Savior’s La Crosse
I am not a morning person.
I just don’t like to get out of bed in the morning. I have never like getting out of bed in the morning. I probably never will like getting out of bed in the morning.
The only reason I get out of bed in the morning is because I have to. Either I have to get to work or I have to feed the dogs and the cats. I don’t want to get out of bed to do any of those things, not because I don’t want to do those things but because I don’t want to get out of bed.
When I do get up, it is hard for me to wake up because I gave up caffeine years ago.
St. Paul wrote in Romans “Besides this you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”
St. Paul reminds me of my mother.
As a child I had to share my room with my twin sister. My mother, who IS a morning person, would wake us up for school each morning by coming into our room and making a beeline for the windows, where she would snap the shades open and say “Twins, it’s time to get up!”
The light from the windows would glare into our eyes as we laid in our beds, groaning. My mother would then prance into the kitchen where she would pack everyone’s lunches. As we kids stumbled in for breakfast the radio would be blaring (which I hated) and the sun would be shining in the kitchen window, onto the kitchen table.
It was all quite sadistic.
It was time to get up.
“Besides this you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”
Martin Luther wrote in his sermon on our second reading:
“In response to the morning dawn, birds sing, beasts arouse themselves…”
(I have been up early enough to hear the birds sing. I have never noticed beasts arousing…)
Anyway, Luther wrote:
“In response to the morning dawn, birds sing, beasts arouse themselves and all humanity arises.”
Obviously, Luther was not exactly right. Not ALL humanity arises in response to the dawn. I try not to…
“At daybreak, when the sky is red in the east, the world is apparently new and all things reanimated…the comforting…preaching of the Gospel is compared to the morning dawn, to the rising sun…”
Luther called it the “womb of the morning.”
“the Gospel is compared to the morning dawn, to the rising sun—the womb of the morning, the day of Christ’s power wherein as the dew is born of the morning, we are conceived and born children of Christ.
This Gospel day is produced by the glorious SUN Jesus Christ.”
This lovely imagery is our wake-up call.
It is Advent and Salvation is rising like the sun, waiting for us. Salvation is near to us, nearer than we first believed.
The glorious SUN Jesus Christ is shining. We live in his light.
Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that they were to “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
Put on the armor of light. The gospel. Put on the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ who loves us and frees us. The gospel of Jesus Christ is our armor, it covers us, it protects us…
Others need to see the armor we wear. How do they see the armor we wear?
Luther wrote “Our works are our armor of light…”
Our works help us fight the darkness, fight the evil, they help us to fight those human temptations that take us into the shadows, away from the light.
Luther never said, he never wrote that our works– what we do day after day after day in service to God—are our salvation. He said our works are our protection. They are our armor.
The armor glows, it glistens in the SONlight.
This morning we woke, whether we woke cheerfully or begrudgingly, to the first Sunday in Advent. This morning we lit our first Advent candle. The light of the candle lightens this space, it lightens our worship, it lightens our lives, it lights the dark. We put on the armor of this light, the gospel light.
We are called to put on this light.
It is our Calling, a wake-up call of sorts.
So that, through us, God’s SONlight shines.
Pentecost 26 C – 2016
November 13, 2016
Our Saviors La Crosse 2016
It is not an easy time to be living in the United States.
Regardless of how you voted this past week, if you voted, the past many years have been a time of struggle. Economic hardships top the list—but that hasn’t been the only struggle for people.
People have been hurting each other—quick to make judgments, quick to tell lies or to believe them, quick to close ourselves off from others rather than reaching out. We are quick to take sides and then to criticize those who find themselves on the other side.
Struggles have led to fear. Fears have led to anger. Angers have led to hurt. We have struggled with our hurts which takes us full circle back to fear. And anger.
Not every person living in the United States is struggling. Not every person is afraid. We aren’t all angry. But, there are people who are—and we, as followers of Christ, cannot turn our backs to those who struggle, we need to tend to them. We need to tend to each other if the fears and the anger and the hurt are ours, we need to tend to others who feel the same pains.
Throughout the history of the world, when people experience suffering, rather than find ways to remedy the suffering they experience some choose to take the focus off of the here and now and focus on the when—the someday—the what ifs. They take today’s fears and make them tomorrow’s.
Thinking about today’s gospel reading one scholar wrote:
These verses allow us to examine two visions of what it means to follow Jesus. One is focused on prophecies of the future and makes no difference in how one lives in the here and now. The other calls for such a commitment of life that those who dare to embrace it will find themselves persecuted… (New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 403).
How we live here and now matters. How we respond to the here and the now matters. As Christians, we cannot turn our backs to or take our eyes off of the suffering that people experience. Even if the suffering is our own.
Our faith does not promise us a life without suffering, it promises us a life of suffering. That is what it means to be people who follow the cross. Those aren’t easy words to say but the promise is clear.
Jesus said: they will persecute you…
Jesus said you will be betrayed…
Jesus said you will be hated.
When we follow the cross, when we practice what Jesus preached, when we dedicate ourselves to living lives of love, to living lives of grace, to living lives of forgiveness— it is not going to be easy. It will most likely hurt. Those who don’t walk our same path will resent us. They will judge us. They will hurt us.
It doesn’t make sense—that living a life of love would hurt.
It doesn’t make sense–that being graceful toward others would cause us suffering.
It doesn’t make sense—that choosing to forgive others would mean we ourselves are left to know pain.
It only makes sense when we acknowledge the reality of evil in the world and we remind ourselves: evil will always stand in opposition to love. Evil will always fight against grace. Evil will always try to harden our hearts.
There are good people on all sides of the political divides in our society. There are good, faithful people. We don’t all think alike. We don’t all reach the same conclusions after we have spent our time thinking. And so we make decisions that aren’t the same.
As Christian believers, we cannot let our political divides divide us. We must center ourselves on truths Christ taught us.
It is better to love than be loved.
It is better to serve than be served.
I picked the hymn of the day weeks ago. Our hymn is about the future, about the end time, about tomorrow, not about today.
I hope that today—we hear the trumpet sound God’s call to love one another.
I hope today—we sinners cry out, asking for the forgiveness of all of our sins.
I hope today—we hear Christians shout.
I hope today WE SHOUT words of love to one another. I hope today we shout words of peace to this suffering world. I hope today we make our hopes for tomorrow real.
Now. In this moment.
All Saints C – 2016
November 6, 2016
All Saints – 2016
Our Saviors, La Crosse
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Luke 6:20b
Well—that leaves me out!
Really, it does. I’m not poor. In fact, when comparing my financial status to that of many people in the world, I’m rich.
Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Luke 6:24
These verses are not about spiritual blessing or spiritual wealth. We would need to go to the gospel of Matthew for that. Matthew wrote that Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” Luke doesn’t. Luke wrote that Jesus was talking about actual poverty. About the poor. Jesus was blessing those who were, literally poor. And cursing those who were rich.
I don’t feel rich. There are a lot of things I would like to have that I can’t because we can’t afford it. I wouldn’t mind making a little more money. I really wouldn’t mind making a lot more money.
But I know—Jeanne have great wealth. We have a home and clothes and food and transportation and medical care and vacations and a retirement plan… many in the world will never see even a small portion of what we have.
Some would say we are blessed. Some would say we are blessed by what we have.
According to Luke, Jesus said “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
A liberation theologian wrote that
God has a preferential love for the poor not because they are necessarily better than others, morally or religiously, but simply because they are poor and living in an inhuman situation that is contrary to God’s will. The ultimate basis for the privileged position of the poor is not in the poor themselves but in God…”
(Gustavo Gutierrez, as quoted in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol .9, p. 145)
A few weeks ago I recommended we read scripture with the eyes of love, through a lens of love. This is how God sees the poor, through the lens of preferential love—a preference that confers blessing on those who have the least, woes upon those who have plenty.
I feel like this message is about me, and those like me, who have plenty—that we are being left out of something wonderful only to receive a curse. And in a way, it is.
But, the message is more about God, who sees those us of who are like me, sees our comfort and knows we don’t need the special care and concern that Jesus offers.
Imagine a doctor who is faced with providing care for a patient, just one patient. Two patients stand before the doctor. One is sick—so sick she can barely stand. She is coughing and her bones ache and her head hurts and her eyes are weepy.
The other, he seems fine. He is bouncing on the balls of his feet, raring to go and do something, anything. Energy radiates out of him.
Which patient will the doctor choose to care for? The one who is sick or the one who is well?
Just so Jesus turns his attention to the poor. And he curses those of us with wealth—because our wealth distracts us from the purpose of a God given, God blessed life.
Remember the rich young man who heard Jesus speak but went away sorrowful because his possessions were many. Jesus didn’t want the young man distracted by his wealth. The rich young man didn’t want to give away what was distracting him. The stalemate caused the man to turn away. Sorrowful, but away.
Which is the definition of sin.
If you are poor, it is my hope Luke’s words this morning bring comfort to you. You are blessed. You are loved. God’s embracing you, and calling the word to come to your aid.
If, like me, you are rich—it isn’t that God doesn’t love us. God loves us. But God needs us to do more, to do more with what we have. God calls us to share more, share more of what we own. And God calls us to care more, care more for those who need our support and our compassion.
Pentecost 24 C – 2016, Reformation
October 30, 2016
Our Savior’s La Crosse
Zacchaeus was a wee little man—a wee little man who collected taxes and made a LOT of money. He was rich. And he was in a hurry.
We learned last week that tax collectors were considered to be “unclean” by Jewish society. They made their money fraudulently. They conspired to work with the Roman Government, oppressors of the Jewish people. Nobody liked a tax collector. Nobody wanted to be near any tax collector, let alone a chief tax collector who was rich.
Well—nobody but Jesus.
And, Jesus wasn’t just anybody.
A commentary I read said, about this story
The hero of the story is Jesus, not Zacchaeus. The last line appropriately returns to the issue of what this scene has revealed about Jesus: the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost. (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 359)
It might be difficult for us to imagine a rich little man being lost. In a free market system—wealth is what people strive for. With wealth comes power, often times. With wealth comes influence and respect and esteem.
Not back then, at least not for rich tax collectors. Zacchaeus was sinful. He was unclean. His home was impure.
Zacchaeus, a rich little man who ran around in public and climbed a tree, making a fool of himself—was publically acknowledged by Jesus, who invited himself into Zacchaeus’ home.
Jesus changed Zacchaeus’ life by changing his heart.
Luke doesn’t tell us how it happened. It seems as if Zacchaeus was open to change, he was anxious to see Jesus. But how was it that a simple acknowledgment and invitation had the power to change a man’s life?
We don’t know, but when we hear Zacchaeus say “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything [which he certainly had] I will pay back four times as much” (verse 8).
Jesus invited himself into Zacchaeus’ life. The desire Jesus had to be in Zacchaeus’ life changed him, hopefully forever.
Jesus brings the same power into our world, today.
Again, in the commentary I studied this past week I read
The gospel of Mark uses the word for “today” only one time. Luke uses the same term eleven times, often emphatically. (NIB, vl. 9, p. 359)
Jesus said to Zacchaeus “Today salvation has come to this house…” (verse 9).
Today we gather here, in this house, in the name of Jesus, receiving Jesus into our hearts.
Today—every day, every today—Jesus desires to join us as we join with him, receiving his love and sharing his love with each other—sharing his love with the world.
It isn’t always easy to see Jesus acting in our world. We can see the consequences of sin—do we see Jesus? Today—do we see Jesus?
Let me tell you where I have seen Jesus—the past few days. Where I have seen the power of his love working in and through this congregation:
*We receive phone call regularly from folks who are members of the LGBTQ community, or parents of folks who are—asking for spiritual advice and direction. They call us because they know we are a welcoming place…
*I gave a gas voucher to a young woman and her mother who are struggling to make ends meet. The young woman said “I am so thankful you are here and you help us.”
*I met some of the family members of one of our members, Betty Brenegan. Betty has been in the hospital and is now in the nursing home. Her family walked around the church, remembering growing up here. They were baptized, confirmed, married here. Their children were baptized here. Their father was an usher here for years. They were thrilled to see that the church is in such good shape, and that we have a strong ministry. Their memories of this congregation were heart-felt and loving. We will stand with them when Betty dies, offering comfort and love and peace.
Today we stand in the house of Jesus, knowing he has saved us, is saving us, and will save us.
Jesus doesn’t just save us, he asks us to take his message of salvation into the world, sharing the good news of his presence, not just in our lives, but in every person’s.
Thanks be to God.
Pentecost 23 C – 2016
October 23, 2016
Our Savior’s La Crosse
My father is legally blind.
Whenever he reads anything at home, he uses a large, thick magnifying glass.
I was thinking of him, sitting at the kitchen table, using his magnifying glass to read the newspaper, as I prepared to write this sermon. A friend of mine has taught me that, when we read anything, we read with lenses on—even if we don’t wear glasses. Specifically, my friend believes we read scripture—we see scripture through our own unique set of lenses.
I’m wondering—how you “see” today’s gospel story.
How do you “see” the Pharisee? How do you “see” the tax collector?
On the front of our bulletin we have Jack Zinniel’s drawing of the two men. We see what Jack saw when he read the story.
Here’s a bit of history:
The temple the two men were praying in was much more than a temple room, it included open courtyards all around the building. The temple was open from prayer from 9:00 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon, but only priests could pray there. Others had to pray in the courtyards.
The Court of Israel, where the Pharisee prayed, was a yard just outside of the temple door. That is where the Pharisee stood. It was a place of prominence because it was close to the altar of sacrifice.
The tax collector would have been required to stand far from the temple door, perhaps as far away as the Court of Women or the Court of Gentiles. The tax collector was considered ritually and morally unclean, because of the way he made his living. Tax collecting was a fraudulent business. To make any money at all tax collectors had to charge more than folks were actually taxed so the collector could skim a percentage off of the top. In addition, he was collecting taxes for the Roman Empire—considered to be a foreign government by the Jews. All of this meant his work was sacrilegious.
On the other hand, the Pharisee standing by the temple door praying, was a devout man, sacrificing more for his faith than his faith required. He was required to fast once a year—he fasted twice a week. He was required to give ten percent of his agricultural income to the temple—he was giving ten percent of everything he made.
It wasn’t unusual for a Pharisee to do a little more than was required by Jewish Law—they wanted to be sure they were being obedient. But to do all that this man was doing—was a sign of remarkable self-disciple and heart-felt belief.
The way the story reads we want to like the tax collector and dislike the Pharisee. Jesus leads us to want that when he tells us the tax collector is the one who went home justified.
The words Jesus spoke become a lens we see the two men through. We see one man who exalted himself—he was full of himself and his own spiritual discipline. We see another man who saw himself for who he was—sinful. Needing God’s mercy.
Whatever else you see in this story—you see it through your own life experience. We all have different experiences so we all will see different things, even as we read the same words.
My friend suggests we read the bible through the lens of love. She recommends we set aside our own life experiences for a moment, try to put away the magnifying lens—and look with eyes of love.
Can we look at these three men: the Pharisee, the tax collector, and Jesus—with eyes of love?
I don’t think it is hard to look at Jesus and to love him. We know Jesus as our Savior. We know Jesus loves us. We know Jesus has mercy for us, just as he did for the tax collector.
What about that tax collector? And what about the Pharisee? Can we see them with love?
I ask because really, the two men are reflections of who we each are. That doesn’t mean we all stand in worship with puffed out chests, praying to God proudly, knowing we are more faithful than anyone else. And that doesn’t mean we are all frauds and cheats.
What it means is that we are sinful and unclean, in need of Jesus and the mercy he provides. Whether our sin is pride or greed or ten other things—we ARE sinful. We are no different than the two men in this story. We need Jesus.
This is where looking through the lens of love gets interesting—because we don’t just look at others, or at Jesus, with love. We also take a look at ourselves. Yes, we sin. Yes, we do those things that turn us away from God rather than turn us toward God. Yes, we need Jesus.
But–look at who we are– we are children of God, forgiven and loved. Always. Forever.
We are loved. We need to see ourselves through the lens of love, with eyes of love.
It doesn’t matter who we are or what we do, God loves us. It doesn’t matter if we stand at the front of the church or sit in the back, Jesus loves us. It doesn’t matter if we stand in need of a slice of humble pie, or if we need help to stand tall, Jesus loves us.
Jesus has been, is and always will be our Savior, our God, our merciful Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Pentecost 20 C – 2016
October 2, 2016
Pentecost 20 Sunday, October 2nd, 2016
Our Savior’s La Crosse
Thursday afternoon I walked up to a tree in my front yard and said to the tree “Tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea.”
It didn’t move.
So I said it again, louder. “Tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea.”
The tree still didn’t move.
I didn’t really expect the tree to move.
So I started wondering. What size is my faith? Smaller than a mustard seed?
A mustard seed is pretty small.
I wanted to believe my faith is larger than a mustard seed.
Since the 1st tree didn’t move, I walked up to the other tree in our front yard. I said to the 2nd tree “Tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea.”
It didn’t move.
I began thinking I might be in big trouble. Then I realized, if I’m in trouble, everybody else is, too. There’s nobody I‘ve ever heard of that can move trees by talking to them.
The disciples said to the Lord “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5) The disciples wanted to have more faith—enough faith to do everything Jesus was telling them they needed to do.
And the Lord said “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed” you could make trees move by telling the trees to move.
Why don’t we have enough faith?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this. There’s so much to be done in the world, so much to be done in our community, so much to be done in our neighborhood, so much to be done in this congregation. Why can’t we get it all done? Why can’t we move the trees?
Why can’t we eliminate the causes of hunger? How much faith does it take?
Why can’t we eliminate the causes of homelessness? How much faith does it take?
Why can’t we eliminate all that causes war? All that causes hatred? All that causes suffering and addictions and cancer and prejudice and hatred and mean-ness and bullies? How much faith does it take?
Why can’t we move the trees?
Does it seem to you like suffering never ends? That’s because suffering never ends.
How much faith will it take to end suffering?
Jesus “Increase our faith!”
After telling the disciples that, if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they could move trees, Jesus seemed to change the subject. The disciples asked for their faith to be increased. He started talking about a slave and a master.
Rather than repeat a repulsive metaphor, let’s cut to the point.
Living in the world the way Jesus wants us to live demands that we don’t depend on ourselves, we depend on Jesus. We can just keep doing, and doing and doing. And we ought to keep doing because there is much to be done. But, ultimately, it has been Jesus and will be Jesus that brings love to the world, enough love to save us all, most importantly saves us all from our sinful selves.
To understand why there is sin in the world we have to look first at ourselves and see the sin we have in us. We cannot free ourselves from sin—how can we ever expect to be able to free the world?
We need Jesus.
The poem we have on the cover of the bulletin points to our own human frailty. We sin. We lead others to sin. We avoid some sins for a while and then jump head first into them and keep on sinning for as long as we can. We are forgiven our sins only to go sin some more.
We need Jesus.
Fortunately for us, and for the world, Jesus has come. And Jesus will come again.
Please, open your hymnals to hymn #598. This is our hymn of the Day. Look at the 1st verse:
“For by grace you have been saved and even faith is not your own, it’s the gift of God for you and not the works that you have done. Don’t let anybody boast, for this is God’s great gift.”
This is God’s great gift: the gift of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our salvation. And Jesus has saved, is saving, and always will save the world.