Pentecost 9 C 2016 – Pastor Jolivette Retirement

July 17, 2016  

PENTECOST 9 C 2016

JULY 17, 2016 OSLC

RETIREMENT SERVICE OF PASTOR JOLIVETTE

 

I stand here this morning wondering what to say and how to say it all:

 

Let me start by saying, I am in awe of people who in their 90’s drive to church every Sunday.

 

And I am in awe of people who come to church the Sunday after a family member dies.

 

I am in awe of people who do not let a little thing like cancer keep them from worship.

 

I am in awe of people who put together menus of great food week after week and serve it for free to an audience which may or may not appreciate the gourmet feast they are eating.

 

I am in awe of people who get up early on a Tuesday to be at church at 7 am for Bible Study.

 

I am in awe of parents who bring children to worship and train them to join in the singing and the praying.

 

I am in awe of children who run down in front with joy to be cheerful givers.

 

I am in awe of children who say table prayers in school cafeterias.

 

I am in awe of altar guild members who come in on so many Saturdays to prepare for our worship needs.

 

I am in awe of ladies who serve funeral lunch after funeral lunch.

 

I am in awe of people who mow the church lawn on a hot summer day.

 

I am awe at the incredible sounds that our organists produce.

 

I am in awe of all the beautiful people God has put in this place.

 

I am in awe of a God who can take all of our burdens, including finding a new pastor, into God’s care.

 

I am in awe of our God who gives us far more than we can think or ask.

 

I am in awe of Jesus who picks ordinary people to be ambassadors to the world of God’s forever kingdom.

 

I am in awe of God who has let me try to tell God’s stories while feeling that I still have so much yet to learn.

 

I am in awe of Jesus who would not let a little opposition, or a lot, or wandering minds, or social norms, or etiquette, get in the way of a chance to be authentically and fully God to us and for us in our world.

 

So today we have a Gospel story we think we know well, the story of Mary and Martha with Jesus coming into their home.  Something out of the ordinary is going on.  These two adult women are apparently not married. They must be from an early Lake Wobegon,  precursors to Norwegian bachelor women, a bachelor family with a brother Lazarus thrown in on other stories.  How else can you explain 3 unmarried people living in this house?  That clearly wasn’t normal in Jesus’ day. I have met some of  their kin living  in some coulees around here.  And in Jesus’ day, a man didn’t enter an unmarried woman’s house.  But Jesus did.  He actually seemed to think that He belonged there. There are other times in Scripture when Jesus came to this family.  Sometimes it happened in a place called Bethany just east of Jerusalem, but this episode as Luke tells it seems to happen up north in Galilee some place.  So not all the details are clear about who Martha and Mary really are or where they live,   but Jesus shows up.  And He was not alone.

Did you hear the start of the story? “Now as they went on their way…” it begins. Clearly they means a group of some kind.  So what would you be doing if a group of people decided to descend into your living room?  You’d put out something to eat, of course. Hospitality would be the concern of the day. Maybe it’s stories like what happened to Martha that inhibit us now from inviting people to our houses.  There’s a whole lot of work involved. And cost.  There is also more than a little risk in offering hospitality.  Martha and Mary had just been put to the test.

A bag of potato chips would be easy, some oreo cookies put on a nice platter just fine, but this was Jesus, and special company needs something special.  So you would go into the kitchen and cook something up, right, and hope you had stuff at hand in the pantry.  Or if not cook, at least put a nice cheese tray together, with some nuts and berries maybe, because it would always be helpful to impress the Big Guy with something tasty and healthy.

So you’d be right there with Martha, wouldn’t you?? Of course you would.

I don’t think this is a story about good choices and bad choices, good Mary, bad Martha.   I don’t think Martha gets a big put down from Jesus. I don’t think this is a story about Mary being a winner and Martha a loser in Jesus’ estimation.  I think Jesus breaks the rules, comes into the house of single women, because this is about the kingdom and God. Martha gets a great big invitation, which is this:  Please stop worrying about hors d’ouevres and come eat the main course with me. I want you at the table right next to me, you and Mary together.

This is the One who sent disciples out 2 by 2 to announce peace and the kingdom of God, and 35 pairs went out to prepare the way for Jesus.  And their amateur hour turned into a night of stories and joy, of celebration that demons were sent packing and Satan fell from the sky like lightning, of doors opening in advance for Jesus to come to their village.

And when some wanted to take detours from heading toward Jerusalem and the cross and all that Jesus had laid out for them, he had told them to let the dead bury the dead, and not to go hang out with friends at parties before they left families and friends.  They weren’t to look back, but ahead.

And they were told about opening their heart and soul and mind and strength to God and equally to their neighbor, and then given a story about the Samaritan who opened a charge account to pay for all the medical costs of the enemy he found lying by the side of the road, with a promise to come back and check in on him regularly. And Jesus would become the Good Samaritan, offering an open charge account to care for all, including his enemies.

Jesus was calling disciples to go all in, not to go halfway, and Jesus was constantly inviting and calling and instructing those whom he would soon leave behind about all this. As I have been going through these last few weeks of Luke’s stories about Jesus’ last weeks and months, I have been clearly thinking about what it means to invite people and train people and get ready to leave them. Today’s Gospel is one more story in a string of stories about Jesus offering a group pushed to the side an equal participation in His work.  Today’s Gospel is about two women, a focus on women in a day when women didn’t study at the feet of any rabbi,  and they are asked to be disciples, with everything that involves.  Today’s Gospel is Luke’s reminder that the church is an open house built with all people, no exclusions,  sitting down for the main course with Jesus, and then living out the story they have been told.

Here was Martha, getting those cheddar slices all lined up nicely, and he wanted her to hear about the kingdom; not just hear, but announce it, and be in it.  He wanted both Mary and Martha to be His disciples.

Jesus is still calling disciples, I hope you know, and frankly, Jesus wants you right next to Him. Jesus would like us to eat the main course with him and then take that walk to Jerusalem with Him.

I am in awe of Jesus who was so intent on including everyone in this incredible opportunity that he stopped at this house and made sure all its inhabitants were onboard.

I am in awe of a congregation who wants everyone to be invited to be part of this journey.

I am in awe of God who wants no exceptions to our participation.

I am in awe of God who can take one who threw the first stone to kill one of the first deacons of the Christian church and turn him into an unrivaled missionary.

And that missionary named Paul writes a letter to a bunch of adults who have just been baptized into the salvation story of this Jesus, the story Mary and Martha had just joined. These new Christians were now disciples with Martha and Mary and Lazarus.  The letter is called Colossians, and in it Paul is so excited to talk about Jesus whose cross they now wear and whose name has become their new identity that he writes in great big run- sentences.  He is just pumped to tell them about Jesus. It sounds something like this:

Jesus is the one who makes God known to us, the image of the invisible God, and what he did was to create everything and then hold it all together.  But he didn’t stop there.  He founded his church, and he is the head of this church, and he is the bridge pulling heaven and earth back together.  He is the reconciler, the one who brings peace between God and all people, even those who have been wicked and fought against the church. And he has given you faith to believe in his story and he has been working so that you will never stop believing that story. Even when I am suffering, I will not stop talking about this story. God commissioned me to keep telling this story, even when life is not fair or easy.  And I have the joy of telling you the great mystery, hidden for years and years and ages and ages.  Jesus made it clear. God chose to make God’s-self known to you who didn’t grow up as believers or as insiders who already knew about God.  And it will always be my job to help you understand this mystery.  I can’t wait to tell you more about our great Lord Jesus. And if I can’t make it clear, Jesus will do it Himself.”

Paul was so in awe of what Jesus had done for him that he couldn’t wait to have more baptisms and more adult inquiry classes and more deep, deep discussions with anyone about the greatest mystery of all – God opening the doors of the kingdom through Jesus to all people.

I am in awe of a church which feels this joy that Paul felt.

I am in awe of a God who called me to join Paul, commissioned me to join Paul, to tell this story to all who will listen.

I am in awe of a church that can write our welcome statement and mean it. Read it with me one more time:  All are welcome in this church!  The Good News of God’s grace is for all, regardless of age, abilities, physical & mental health, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, education, income or strength of faith.  There is nothing we do, have done or will do that can separate us from the love of God.  God makes no exceptions, nor do we.  Come join us in praise, prayer and the work of our Lord!

 

And I am so awe that you, my dear brothers and sisters, invited me to help lead the story telling right here.  I am counting on all who come to this place to join Martha and Mary in receiving the main course that Jesus offers.  I am confident that we, fed by Jesus, will never stop feeding our community with the rich food which Jesus brings.

 

 

PENTECOST 8 C 2016 – JULY 10, 2016 OSLC

July 10, 2016  

Gospel: Luke 10:25-37

Jesus is challenged to explain what is involved in obeying the greatest commandment. Jesus tells a parable rich in surprises: those expected to show pity display hard hearts while the lowly give and receive unexpected and lavish mercy.

25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That’s how our Gospel starts. Do you hear anybody asking that question?  Do you hear people asking about getting saved, about salvation?  Do you hear people saying they want to get to heaven but don’t know how?  I hope people still care about life beyond, and life in God’s hands.  Jesus did. Here goes the answer, Jesus’ answer, so we can be the answer for others.

Jesus does a good teaching technique.  “What’s written?” he asks back.  “What do you already know?  What does the Torah say?” And the answer comes forth: “you shall love the lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind and your neighbor as yourself.” The man should have stopped there, but he decided to question Jesus, so he presses on.  “And who is my neighbor?” he asked Jesus.  That will always be a key question. And the response is the story we call the “Parable of the Good Samaritan”.

There are several actors in this story: some robbers, an innocent man who becomes their prey and gets injured, a priest, a Levite, a Samaritan, and the innkeeper.

We might be each person in this story on any given day.   I don’t always give money to people on corners with cardboard signs asking for money for food.  I don’t always trust people who stop me outside the Co-op looking for money for whatever is in their story.  I know people use money to buy booze and meth and cigarettes and sometimes food.  I don’t know who to trust or how to verify. I step, so to speak, to the other side of the road and walk by. But this always bothers me.  And of course, I hear all kinds of stories as people walk in off the street to ask for funds that come from the Second Offering we are taking today. Am I the priest or the Levite? And on some other days I feel victimized by something and identify with the wounded man by the side of the road.  As someone once said, some days we are the windshield and other days we are the bug. Either way, we are in this story.

And it is clear that Jesus’ story turns the expected answer on its head.  This isn’t some comfortable morality tale about how we are to be good and do good.  We are invited to understand that God’s grace comes to us when we are at our worst.  God’s mercy comes when we cry out for help.  And those who want to be in synch with our God are the ones who will link arms with all the world in mercy, even with those who are our enemy. Whether we are the ones walking by on the road, or the one lying in the ditch waiting for help, there is something in this story that links us all together and tells us that God is coming for us.  God will nurse us back to health and pay for the unlimited care we need at the inn, and those who wish to understand how God saves simply receive the mercy and do the same.

The violence against innocent people that has filled our hearts with pain and terror this week links us all.  We are linked to the black men who appear to be innocent and yet are struck down by police.  We are linked to innocent police who are struck down in a boldfaced attack based on hatred.  We are trying to admit to the racism in our country, and we are trying to bridge the gulf of mistrust that has been deepened by this week’s painful shootings. It is hard work, and we have taken some steps backward. I hope you understand that these shootings and the cries of hurting people link us all to one another and our common need for unlimited mercy, the mercy of the Good Samaritan who doesn’t ask for reasons to give love.

Who is my neighbor?  There was an interesting and uncomfortable movie that ended up being very moving.  It came out in 2007 and is called “The Visitor”. Rent it.  A professor comes to present a paper at a conference in NYC, where he keeps an apartment. I surmised that he came from a nearby New England university. He is recently widowed, and he has some hesitancy heading to this place of memories.  Once there, he finds some immigrants residing in his apartment, a young couple, and they have been hoodwinked by someone who is pretending to be the owner and has rented it out to them.  He is upset with them, they are upset with him. Neither knows whom to trust.  So the real owner, and a struggling couple who think they are the lawful renters, have to figure out how they will live or not live with each other.  It is moving story about distrust that turns into friendship and support, about the need for mercy in a really tough situation.

Or maybe you have watched the Disney Academy Award winning animated movie “Up”, a story also about a loving couple and their home, their lives entwined through the years, and then the man loses his dear bride. A young boy enters his world, and the two begin quite an adventure. The boy becomes the neighbor who cares about this lonely man.

Or the movie “the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, one I really enjoyed, where older British people who cannot afford a retirement in England arrive in this somewhat second rate hotel in India which they can afford, and become quite the community with each other and with the owners from India.  They are some of the most caring neighbors one could ask for.

I mention these, not because I watch so many movies, but because in a world that truly is global and interconnected, yet so often seems disconnected, the question of who is my neighbor actually becomes the question of our existence.  The food we eat and the clothes we wear often come from around the globe. Just read the labels on your clothes. Are the people who produced them our neighbors?  What would it take for that to happen?

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached on this text a number of times.  In 1967, he said this: “On the one hand,” he said, “we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” In other words, caring about salvation and doing something about social justice are intricately linked. Our elections do matter. Listen carefully to the politician’s answers about who are our neighbors.  Our actions do matter.  Our hearts wanting to be united with God then do go out and get united with our neighbor.

And everyday we are surprised by whom they might be.

This past week I heard a troubling story on National Public Radio.  You might recall the horrors of Sarajevo during the unraveling of the former Yugoslavia, when Serbia and Croatia were at war so brutally.  This city which had hosted a beautiful winter Olympics lost 20% of its citizens, many of them simply becoming targets of distant marksmen. Shopping was a trip into a death zone.  Current residents, asked to reflect on that horrible period with those who now come as tourists, often say that though they do not miss the horror of war, they miss the community they became when things were at their worst.  Their humanity shone. Tough days made them better neighbors. They do not so easily shine that way today.

We pray that it doesn’t take bullets and bombs to make us a better community.  But that has been our week as a nation. Once again we are asked to seek out neighbors, to answer the question “who is my neighbor” based on the actions of Jesus who answered this man.  He answered when he said “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son”. He answered our answer from the cross when he offered unlimited forgiveness and mercy to those who killed him. Jesus does not give a morality answer, a treatise on how to be good people.  Jesus is proclaiming the good news of the kingdom as he tells us about the Good Samaritan.

We tell this story with our lives.  Mercy and grace flow from us as we invite the world to meet Jesus who is our Good Samaritan, picking us up when we are at our worst as individuals and as a nation.

 

 

PENTECOST 7 C 2016 – JULY 3, 2016 OSLC

July 3, 2016  

It’s the Fourth of July weekend.  Is it ok if my sermon is a bit shorter than usual today?

As I am getting ready to leave all of you in a couple weeks, I want to make it clear, because Jesus makes it clear in today’s Gospel, that the sharing of the Good News and even the opportunity to preach about Jesus and the kingdom of heaven does not belong only to the professionals.  The kingdom is entrusted to all believers.  The proclamation of the Gospel is entrusted to all believers.  Telling our faith stories is part of the mark of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. The works of sharing new life in Jesus’ name, the healing of sick and the bringing of comfort, is entrusted to all believers. That means that this ministry doesn’t end when I leave.  In fact, perhaps it can even pick up.  Some may do a better job than I.  Some may be more authentic than I.  Some may make better connections with certain individuals or groups than I.

Today’s lesson starts with Jesus sending out either 70 or 72 disciples in pairs, depending on which ancient manuscript we read.  That’s 35 or 36 pairs, people.  If we think of the world of disciples as being only 12 guys, we have missed the power and breadth of this story.  If we think that only the insiders can be trusted, we are mistaken.  There are at least 35 pairs of people whom Jesus trusts strongly enough that He tells them go out and heal the sick and tell the world, neighborhood to neighborhood, village to village, that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near. God is right here, and we are sent to tell you how real that is, we say. The good news about Jesus and God’s new vision of human reality is meant to be spread throughout the world by the ordinary and the humble and the non-professional.

Think about some of our greatest literature and movies.  In The Lord of the Rings, an orphan named Frodo lives with his uncle Bilbo, and at the end of Bilbo’s life, Frodo is entrusted with a ring.  A great and evil ruler wants this ring so that he can rule Middle Earth, and this untrained and very unpretentious thirty-ish man is given the job of saving his village from this evil person.  It soon becomes a much bigger mission.  He is to get rid of the ring at a certain mountain where the ring will be tossed into the fires. This very ordinary person ends up on an adventure that saves all of Middle Earth.

Luke Skywalker, of “Star Wars” movie fame, is a water farmer on a distant planet.  He is a friend with a smuggler named Hans Solo, and with his sister Princess Leia, he ends up forming a trio that will save the universe as we know it. Great stories are made of ordinary people who do extraordinary things.

Each person here today is called upon to go beyond their front door to be a messenger of the Lord of the universe.  Each person here today is invited to go out with a brother or sister in the faith and share the stories that have changed our world.  Each person here is invited to go out and introduce the world to its Savior, Jesus of Nazareth.

Add that to your Fourth of July list.  You are probably planning to go out a bit, to a barbeque or to Riverfest or just to sit in the summer sun.  There is even more you can do.  Take a friend and tell the world that you bring health, healing and peace in the name of Jesus. We add to the Independence Day stories of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and the now even more famous Alexander Hamilton by talking about the real source of our new freedom, Jesus who frees us from sin and death and the devil and ourselves.

So what are we supposed to do?  Proclaim peace.  What a great thing to do in our world today.  We read of struggle after struggle and battle after battle.  We go to proclaim piece.  Salaam aleikum.  Shalom.  Peace.  And how do we do it? We are urged to eat whatever is put before us. For the Jewish disciples, this was a way of saying that the food didn’t have to be kosher or ritually pure.  For all of us, we know what a big part food plays in all hospitality, including right here at church.  This church knows a thing or two about food.  It’s one of our strengths.  We can do this food thing, no problem. Eat with people.  Stay with them a bit.  Don’t be in a rush.  Form relationships.  And let them know that there is an even more authentic way to live.  We are to engage in community, in justice, in healing, in peace.  This isn’t so that we get over our problems.  It is so that we can look beyond all of the earth’s problems with the love and grace we have been given by Jesus the Christ.  Then we will fill in the conversations with our own stories of the love and grace and mercy and hope and new life that Jesus has given to us.  Those stories should be just as easy to tell as stories about our children and our grandchildren and our favorite sports teams and our favorite musicians and the best movies of all time.

When the disciples do this, they end coming back to Jesus with great joy and powerful stories.  The journeys worked. Sick were healed, demons were sent flying, and people responded to the stories of Jesus and the kingdom of heaven being close at hand. Joy abounded.  I have it on good authority, Jesus’ authority, that the same joy can happen among us!

This is our joy, that the story we tell about Jesus will change lives; not just our own, but others.  And not every one will listen.  Come on.  We don’t stay in the fairways with every golf drive, we don’t get on base with every trip to the batter’s box, we don’t always succeed.  We just keep on telling the story, going to new places and starting over.  We can do this, people, we can do this.

We go out.  That actually is where we start our journey as a welcoming community.  We go out the doors on a journey this and every week.  We bring bread to the hungry, and compassion to the afflicted.  That’s where the welcome is given. Wherever your journey takes us, we are invited to live authentically as people in love with Jesus.  We will tell that story to the next house and the next neighborhood. God’s welcome goes with us.

We have those stories to tell right in this area.  How do we get the neighborhood into this building?  I have to think that it comes from doing what Jesus invites us to do, going out in two’s to them, and then we start eating, start talking, start sharing.  There are no shortcuts to this method, no bypasses.

And joy will come.  New friendship will be made.  God will be at work in our humble efforts.  We will find our own Bilbo Baggins and Luke Skywalkers, and the universe will be blessed.

We are going to be sent out into a world that is not necessarily looking for the story we bring.  Jesus calls us “lambs among wolves”.  That sounds like an invitation to acknowledge our fear and just sit this one out.  But the Gospel began with these two words “after this”.  After what, we ask?

After Jesus had told the disciples, in the story we heard last week, that they didn’t have time to go back to bury their fathers or say good bye to relatives.  They had no time for excuses, distractions, or detours.  Now you might think that this kind of answer would have sent a lot of would-be disciples away.  Perhaps.  But it still left Jesus with 35 or 36 pairs of people that He could trust to send out with this incredible ministry.

I think this congregation has at least 35 or 36 pairs who could do this ministry in our day and in our place.  Don’t you?  And don’t we want to try, by the help of God?

 

 

PENTECOST 6 C 2016 – JUNE 26, 2016 OSLC

June 26, 2016  

39 years ago, about this time, I was meeting with my first call committee.  It turns

out that in the Lutheran system, newly graduated seminarians don’t get to choose where

they live.  We call it the draft, the gathering of bishops who pick the new seminary

graduates, usually with a specific congregation in mind when they choose them.

I had put down that I wanted to be in a Midwestern small town with one high

school.  The bishop told me that I was going to suburban St. Louis, to a place of extremely large high schools.  Not only that, but he sent me to a congregation that was only 10 years old and already split in two, with half of the charter members gone to a Pentecostal mega-church in the same community. And to make matters worse, there had been 11 candidates interviewed, and no one wanted to go there.  I was now their only choice. In the excitement of graduating from seminary and starting down the road of public ministry, this was not what I had in mind.

And looking ahead, I had no clue where my future would take me, and I had absolutely no idea where I would ever retire.  That is unfolding right now and right here, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have made Our Savior’s and this community my last stop on the ministerial trail.  Thank you.  That trail didn’t start easily, and there have been bumps in the road on the way to getting here.  Many of you can say that about your own lives.  But God has been walking that road with us.  Today we have a story about that journey, and what faith means, and specifically what Jesus is calling disciples to do.

Today’s Gospel lesson is an important story we only get in Luke’s Gospel, meaning this is only recorded once in the New Testament.  Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem, we are told.  You know what that means.  Jesus refuses to walk away from the fight of his life.  The cross looms ahead. Jesus didn’t invite people to a faith walk which is a technique for helping the self-satisfied become more self-satisfied.  Jesus cannot be accused of false advertising. When Jesus called out “Follow me!” he was very upfront about the dangers and struggles of discipleship.

And that is exactly what is happening here on this early summer morning.  God is making disciples.  You could be somewhere else, but you are here. Wonderful.  Listen with an open heart.  Let me continue by saying that there is no coach I have ever respected who allows the athlete to define the workouts.  And we all know that the way to become a better athlete is simply practice, and practice and practice. Or a bricklayer. Or a host of other fine and noble endeavors.  Repetition and practice, often at hours we would not choose and in amounts we would not gladly do without someone pushing us, are the ways to getting better.

It is the same for anyone who wants to become a good musician. I had a fantastic high school band director.  He always found something wrong at my lessons, something I could improve on.  I thought I was doing great, but he found something else for me to focus on in the upcoming week.

Malcolm Gladwell, award winning author of several best seller books, says something that is often quoted from his book Outliers: the minimum requirement for those who wish to be great at anything is 10,000 hours.  10,000 hours is what it takes to separate one’s self from the others, to be great at piano, or chess, or basketball, or golf, and the list goes on and on.  For those of us starting something new, it begs this question: are we willing to put in that time and effort to succeed? And the same came be said of faith: how do we daily practice?  What amount of Bible reading and Scripture study and prayer and works of kindness and giving does it take for us to get the hang of this discipleship thing?

So as Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem and that fight of his life, there is hard work to do.  Discipleship isn’t easy, and there are always going to be some distractions.  There was a city in Samaria they were walking toward that wouldn’t receive him and his disciples.  For whatever reason, things didn’t work out for them there.  Those two brothers, James and John, the ones elsewhere called Sons of Thunder, wanted to make noise and do something thunderous.  They asked Jesus if they shouldn’t command fire to come down from heaven to consume these unready and unwilling and ungrateful Samaritans.  Jesus wouldn’t let them go down the shortcut trail of hatred and anger.  There are times when we feel our cause is so right and those who oppose us are so wrong that we would do anything to get their attention. Jesus says that we’re not taking that detour.

Instead, Jesus talks about having no place to lay down his head.  The Samaritans were not giving them a bed and meals and a welcome.  But Jesus really had no place to call home, not even in Israel.  It is as if Jesus in this verse is indicating that He is one of the homeless among us, identifying with all without a roof over their heads, or as we used to say out in the field with the Marines, no cot and three hots, no roof and no beds and no hot meals.

And then come the excuses from would-be disciples, good sounding all of them.  The ones being called to join him and the twelve have some business to attend to.  There is a family funeral to go to.  There are the good byes with the parents and all the siblings and all the cousins and all the friends in the village.  That probably means a barbeque or two or three, and a brewski or more, and a long lingering kiss with the current honey, and Jesus has no time for that.  He is headed toward Jerusalem. He says “no one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of heaven”.  Wow.  This is true, we know. You can’t plow a straight line if you are looking backward.  But not being able to give proper good-byes and proper burials seems to raise the stakes a bit high.  How in the world are we ever going to get disciples in today’s church if we talk like Jesus talked that day?  How can people go toward Jesus without basic human needs being met? These persons sounded so normal, and Jesus so difficult.

Well, why is it that the Marines are always the branch of the military that fills its recruiting goal most quickly?  It is simple, really – they make it clear that they are the toughest and fittest and most demanding of all the branches of the military.   And having done so, they have lines out the door.

Which coaches attract the most attention?  Are they the ones who are the kindest and easiest to work with?  Usually not.

While it seems that Jesus is asking way too much of us, it doesn’t work to sugar-coat the making of disciples. We are talking about Jesus, even when many people find it hard to even say his name out loud.  We are talking about the cross, when many people want success and see the cross as failure.  We are taking about tough love, and deep love, when a lot of people want only sentimentality and sweetness. We are talking about life changing actions when many only want to look good on the surface.

Jesus is talking about throwing caution to the wind and going on the journey of a lifetime.  He makes no apologies when he faces down the life issues that would be disciples bring him.  He wants us all in, all with him on the journey to Jerusalem.

It may sound terribly unpleasant. Imagine the scene in our first lesson, as the mantle of prophetic leadership was passed from Elijah to Elisha.  For those of you who have seen the Amish working their spring ground with six horses, an incredible and powerful team, Elisha had a twelve yoke of oxen team.  That is incredible.  It’s huge.  It indicates his wealth and power and prestige as a farmer of his day.  And what happens when he is called to be a prophet?  He knows he can’t be a farmer anymore, so the twelve oxen turn into perhaps the Bible’s biggest barbeque.  It’s a huge event.  They are boiled. But the reality is, there is no turning back.  This mantle from Elijah now on his shoulders means this is an all in moment.  Elisha will never go back.

Jesus is calling us, asking us never to go back.  My calling took me from small town Iowa to you.  I have no regrets.  I’m glad we have come together in this place to serve our Lord Jesus. God knew where God was taking me.

Jesus’ call for you might take you back to your work or into your classroom with a new heart for other people.  Or Jesus calling you might take you to a new community, or even to a place of new neighbors.

Jesus’ face was set toward Jerusalem.  He knew his goal, and nothing, not even a community that let him down, or disciples who came with their distractions, would cause him to veer off course.  And as he sets course for the place where He will lay out his life for us, he invites us to be part of that journey, no distractions, no detours, all in.

 

 

PENTECOST 3 C 2016 – JUNE 4, 2016, 0SLC

June 4, 2016  

A new business was opening and one of the owner’s friends wanted to send him flowers for the occasion. They arrived at the new business site and the owner read the card, “Rest in Peace.” The owner was angry and called the florist to complain. After he had told the florist of the obvious mistake and how angry he was, the florist replied, “Sir, I’m really sorry for the mistake, but rather than getting angry, you should imagine this: somewhere there is a funeral taking place today, and they have flowers with a note saying, ‘Congratulations on your new location.'”

A man died, and the first son was trying to arrange everything himself, because he knew that the other son was not so bright and sure to mess something up in some way. The dim brother insists that he wouldn’t.  Finally the first brother relented and gave him a small task: “Just make sure dad looks nice for the service.” The day of the service arrives and everything goes off without a hitch. The first brother congratulates the less trustworthy one on a job well done. A month after the service, the first brother received a bill for $200 from the funeral home. He assumed it was a missed cost and sent the money. Another month went by, and again he received a bill for $200. Thinking something must be wrong, he called the funeral home and asked why he’s being charged another $200.The funeral home director replied, “Well, your brother was insistent on your father looking nice for the funeral, so he rented him a tux!”

Marvin, was in the hospital on his death bed. The family called Marvin’s Preacher to be with him in his final moments. As the Preacher stood by the bed, Marvin’s condition seemed to deteriorate, and Marvin motioned for someone to quickly pass him a pen and paper. The Preacher quickly got a pen and paper and lovingly handed it to Marvin. But before he had a chance to read the note, Marvin died. The Preacher feeling that now wasn’t the right time to read it put the note in his jacket pocket. It was at the funeral while speaking that the Preacher suddenly remembered the note. Reaching deep into his pocket the Preacher said “and you know what, I suddenly remembered that right before Marvin died he handed me a note, and knowing Marvin I’m sure it was something inspiring that we can all gain from. With that introduction the Preacher ripped out the note and opened it. The note said “HEY, YOU ARE STANDING ON MY OXYGEN TUBE!”
Three friends die in a car accident and they go to an orientation in heaven. They are all asked, “When you are in your casket and friends and family are mourning you, what would you like to hear them say about you? The first guy says,” I would like to hear them say that I was a great doctor of my time, and a great family man.”
The second guy says, “I would like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher which made a huge difference in our children of tomorrow.
The last guy replies, “I would like to hear them say … Look, He’s Moving!

It is easy for us to think that death disrupts our lives, but today, in our Good News gospel story, at a funeral, it is Jesus who disrupts death.  Just outside a little village called Nain, the people had taken the body of a young man beyond the city walls for burial.  It was a desperate time for his mother.  She was all shaken because she was already a widow and this son was her only support and sustenance.  Without him with her now, she had no future.  She could most certainly be reduced to begging. It was as if her social security check was cancelled for good.

Jesus approached this village and disrupted this procession.  As one person put it, every time Jesus shows up, there is a distinct possibility of an outbreak of life. And that is just what happened on this day.  Death does not get the last word.  Jesus does.  The future for this young man opened up again. The future for his mom opened up again.  The resurrected presence of Jesus will disrupt our lives as well. What in the world might that mean?

 

Last week we learned, when Jesus healed the servant of a Roman centurion, that his ministry could turn a slide toward death totally around.  The word about that healing spread.  When Jesus traveled anywhere, he traveled not only with his disciples, but with a crowd.  So it was both Jesus and the crowd that had come upon this sad scene.  I imagine the whole village grieving.  I imagine this young man as someone everyone knew and appreciated as they do in a small town.  I imagine him as a neighbor who helped others out on a regular basis, because all living was communal living. I imagine the crowd with Jesus wondering why they were stopping in this God forsaken outpost.

 

Jesus and his crowd are confronted with a grieving mom and widow and with death’s crowd. Jesus says to the widow a very comforting yet perplexing invitation: Don’t weep.  It sounded like he had real compassion, but it is still a strange order.  Maybe some people watching as their procession ground to a halt felt that this was a bit strange or even a bit rude.  Who wouldn’t grieve in these circumstances? Why should this mother not be allowed to cry her heart out?

 

But that’s what Jesus does.  Jesus disrupts our thinking.  Jesus disrupts our expectations.  Jesus makes our expected responses ultimately seem foolish.

 

Now Jesus didn’t reside at Nain.  Jesus didn’t put down roots after this episode and remain there.  We doubt that he knew this small town and its citizens at all. But I am sure that they knew Him from that day onward. When Jesus disrupts our world, it is changed forever.

 

After the strange command to stop crying, Jesus gave another strange command. Talking to the body, he said “young man, arise!”  We know what happened next. This event doesn’t happen in the middle of a great plaza in Jerusalem surrounded by great crowds.   It doesn’t happen late in his ministry.  It happens in an almost unknown village and very early in the story Luke tells us. The man gets up, and mom and son are joyfully reunited.

 

Early in this story about Jesus, Luke is telling us that what seems supernatural is just another day at the office with Jesus.  Luke is telling us that when Jesus enters our village or our city, we have no idea what is going to happen.  Luke is telling us that Jesus has compassion on all the needy, and reaches deeply into their worlds, and when Jesus comes into our world, there also comes new life.

 

Luke is telling us that nothing is off limits for Jesus, not even death itself.

 

Luke, who will tell us of the Holy Spirit of Jesus coming to shake away the fear and quiet that had taken over the disciples after the death and resurrection of Jesus, tells us in this story that Jesus pushes into territory that previously seemed off limits.  Jesus pushes into death and brings life. God breaks into death, and life breaks out.

 

We have no names to remember, neither a mom nor a son.  There are no names to immortalize today.  Just two unnamed persons and an almost unknown village take center stage. God came very close to them, speaking in ways that made little sense at first, but all the difference in the end.  Life came on some sad day, and life came to a whole village because God comes so very close to people who need Jesus.

 

Luke tells us in an interesting sentence about what happened next.  “Fear seized the whole village, and they glorified God”, he writes.  What a combination – fear and glory!

 

Now what were they afraid of?  Was it that Jesus had come too close for their comfort?  Are we some of those who like it better when Jesus doesn’t get up close and personal with us? Perhaps this is an example of what is stated elsewhere in Scripture: It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, said one of the prophets.  Does that mean it isn’t a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a dead idol?  Hmmm. It’s an interesting phrase, this fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.   Anyway, I think the fear is that our normal expectations and our normal experiences are totally changed when Jesus walks up to our town, which means, when Jesus shows up in our world, we never really quite know what to expect but we know we will never be the same, and we kind of like sameness.

 

And when Jesus is free to speak Jesus’ words, and when Jesus is free to do what Jesus came to do, our world will never be the same. Joy abounds.  So our fears and our songs of glory get all wrapped up together, change and wonder all wrapped up in our song.

 

And they couldn’t figure out what to make of this, either.  There seems to be a division of the house, so to speak.  Some in the village thought it meant that they had been visited by a great prophet, someone like Elisha who had visited the house of a widow in another small town called Zarephath.  Her son had almost no breath left in him, we are told in our first lesson.  That’s a nice way of saying that he was on his death bed. And he carried the boy upstairs, prayed to God over him, and the Lord revived this boy.  They figured that a Bible story they had read about from long ago was happening to them, so it had to be a prophet who visited their town.

 

And others said, this must mean that we’ve gotten God’s favor.  We are in good with God. This happened to our town because we’ve done something to make God smile on us.  Somehow, from something we have done, we have qualified for special divine favor.

 

The town couldn’t decide why this had happened, but that was ok.  They had a mom and a son reunited. When Jesus speaks to us, we can’t always figure out the gap between us and God, nor the connection between us and God.  That’s just fine.  It’s ok. Why has Jesus come to me?  We might never know. Jesus whom we meet today, the Jesus we have celebrated as both dying and being raised from the dead Himself, invites us simply to marvel at God’s goodness every time we meet encounter Jesus.

 

And the spirit of this same Jesus invites us to expect Him to show up here.  Strange and wonderful things happen when we invite Him to our village.

 

And not only that, but we are invited to take our Pentecost shaped lives, our Spirit formed lives, and believe these stories, and even come to expect these stories to happen now.

 

We are invited to be prepared, whether crying our eyes out or watching in wonder, for God to disrupt our walks, for God to disrupt our days, for God to disrupt our village. We our invited to believe that God even disrupts death.

 

If Easter is the joke God played on the devil, then this day is the day that God played a joke on us.  The dead are not to be buried.  The dead are invited to come back to life.

 

And when we worship this Jesus, we can expect every day that the joke will be on us.

We bring our fears and our joys, all wrapped together, our worries and our doxologies, and we praise God for new life, even in the face of the steepest odds. And we dare laugh for joy, and wait with expectation, for Jesus to speak the words that change our life forever.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PENTECOST 2 C 2016 – MAY 29, 2016 OSLC

May 29, 2016  

I Kings 8:22-23, 41-43; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10

The questions of today’s Scripture are as real as the political campaigns. Who should be allowed to come to this country?  Who is entitled to receive the programs that taxpayers fund?  Who should be guaranteed the opportunities that our constitution enshrined?  In other words, who gets the gifts of this great nation?

It also touches the core of our religious leanings.  Who does our God favor?  Who gets the ear of God?  Who gets the attention of God?  And that all leads to questions like, who does God choose to answer?  Whom does God choose to heal?  Is there an inside track to God’s favor?

I have to admit to you that I stopped going to religious book stores a long time ago, and you will seldom see me browsing the aisle at Barnes and Noble marked Christianity.  Yes, I have a library full of books, and yes, most of them are about Christianity, but they are carefully chosen to open the subject matter up, not to close it.  Way too many of the books in religious aisles and book stores reduce Christianity to some technique.  Then we can use that technique to get whatever we are wanting: hope, peace, healing, a great marriage, things we desire in life.  In essence, the hook is this:  you tried many things, just fill in the blank…… exercise, drugs, a positive attitude……and now you should try Jesus.  “Here are ten Biblical steps to have a better marriage”; “here are the fundamentals for money management”; “here is how to pray rightly so you get connected with God” – these are the ideas behind many of the books.  They are about techniques to use God to get what we want.  I stay away from those books.

Why?  Our relationship with God is about being shaped in God’s image, about listening to the voice of the One who calls us and guides us. Our relationship with God is not about wrapping God around our fingers to get what we want. It’s about responding to words of love and encouragement from the One who has given His life for me.  It is not about techniques.

So today our Scriptures face us with those things that block dialogue with God and one another, and with those things that open up our ears and hearts to the living presence of God.

It starts in the First Lesson.  The ancients built grand temples that were meant to be earthly homes for the divine.  Representations of that god were found in statues and carvings and paintings.  The Israelites finally got their wish, which was to build a Temple for their God.  But this one was different.  The truth about the temple is that is was built with slave labor, so it didn’t start out much differently from the others.  But instead of carvings and statues and paintings of the Almighty One who had called Abraham and Sarah and called Moses from the burning bush and led the people back to this place in Israel, they had a box, the ark of the covenant.  They had a box bearing the 10 Commandments.  Without a physical representation of their God, what led people to worship there?  It was the story they carried in their hearts and acted out in this place.  They told of the One who had led them across the Red Sea. They told of the One who had anointed David with power as a child.  They told of God’s promises that were kept, and they came to renew their end of the promise, the covenant that bound them to this God.  And when we hear Solomon praying in the dedication prayer that was our First Lesson, he did an amazing thing. He called on the God of Israel to hear the prayers of every foreigner who came to the Temple to pray. In other words, this Temple wasn’t just for the Jews.  It was open to all who would call on the Lord.

All were invited to worship in this temple, not just the Israelites.  Their land and their worship were open to all.  That was the gist of this great prayer from the beginning of worship in the Temple.  A common language of prayer and praise and worship could come from the tongue of any person of any nation, and they were invited to be in the Temple, and God was called upon to hear their prayers just as God might hear the prayers of his Israelite faithful. Unfortunately, this open-heartedness was not always the prevailing mind in this place.

In the second Lesson, Paul was talking about Christians deserting the message he had built the church upon, the gospel of the One who frees us from ourselves.  God wants to give us freedom, but this other gospel was a message that would bind people.  We call its proponents the Judaizers, and they wanted every Christian to become a Jew first.  That meant keeping a kosher kitchen and having every man get circumcised and everyone following the calendar of the Jewish holy days and festivals.  Paul said that Jesus came to free all people from the demands of the law, and that the good news of Jesus Christ is both for the Jews and the non-Jews alike.  To quote our welcoming statement, “God shows no partiality, nor do we.”

The Gospel involves a Roman centurion, the leader of 100 or so men.  The Jewish leaders vouched for him and said that he was a man worthy enough for Jesus’ help when he had a slave who was close to death.  He loved the Jewish people and built them a synagogue.  His kindness and good works indicated that he was a moral, righteous and good person. The Jews he had helped told Jesus that this guy was worth helping.

The centurion knew that the opposite was true, that no one is worthy, in spite of how much good we do.  We do not merit healing or God’s mercy in any way.  And he knew power and ability, so when Jesus came near, he told Jesus it was enough for him just to say the word, and he knew his servant would be healed. The centurion knew power because he could back up both his promises and his threats with action.  He knew that Jesus also had the power to back up his words with action, so by faith he waited for Jesus’ word to come true.  He acknowledged Jesus’ power and authority, and faithfully waited on Him. Jesus ended up praising this Roman leader of men, saying that in all Israel he hadn’t found such faith. And the servant of the foreigner was healed.

Obviously, in the early Christian Church, this story clearly was told to remind people that Jesus came for everyone.  Even Roman soldiers could receive God’s mercy and love and new life.  A living sign of Rome’s power and might opens his heart and his need to Jesus, and this army officer received God’s embrace, as did his servant. The Christian Church would not turn people into enemies, but celebrate that Jews and Gentiles alike received the attention and help of Jesus.

Those foreigners who came to the temple King Solomon had built didn’t’ come because they were forced to pray their or make a pilgrimage there.  When they came, the doors to God’s living presence were not shut to them, but opened. In the Gospel, both Jewish leaders and the Roman leader worked together to bring Jesus’ healing to someone who needed it badly.  Doors were not shut, but opened. No one forced the centurion to come to Jesus, but his need and his viewpoint drew him to Jesus.

On this weekend when we focus our attention on American service members and American losses, we come as people who take our role in the world seriously.  Let us remember that we are not the whole of Jesus’ world by far.  When we talk about American dreams and American stories, let us remember how precious they are, but also that neither they nor our country are the focal point of God’s love.

These three Bible stories are invitations to see God’s wide embrace and God’s wide welcome for all people.  We don’t need special techniques to get God’s favor.  We don’t even need an American birth certificate.  We simply need open hearts, and God is ready to offer God’s gifts freely and openly to all.

That is a celebration worth remembering every day. God’s heart is open to all of us, regardless of our backgrounds, every single day.

TRINITY SUNDAY MAY 22, 2016 – LEVI POWERS, SEMINARIAN

May 27, 2016  

People of God,
Math has never been my strong-suit. And, as I disclose this to you, I do not want you to hear that I am anti-math. Or, to think that it is shameful to struggle with math. There is no math-shaming here. However, when I was in college at UW-L, I had to take remedial math. During the week I would spend maybe two hours a night with the math tutors. They were very astute and helpful people. Thankfully, after some hard work, I succeeded and made it through the class. Today we will explore a realm where math will not make sense. And, that is okay. It is the Church’s feast day and celebration of the Holy Trinity. This is the day we confess there is one God in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If I asked my diligent math tutors to help me add they would certainly assure me that 1+1+1=3. But, when it comes to the Trinity, God confounds my math skills. For here, that does not equal three. Here, 1+1+1=1. (Then, try counting with fingers and the words, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” three persons, one God). The reason we confess this is because Christianity has
always been a monotheistic religion—we believe there is one God. This is a gift that we inherited from our Jewish brothers and sisters. That’s why we do not say that we have three gods. Therefore, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
Boiled down, we say the Trinity is “one God in three persons.” Scripture gives names to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Giving them names implies that there is something distinct and personal about each of them. Each person of the Trinity shares the same essence that makes them God. A helpful way I can describe what I mean by “essence” is that it is something about God that is substantial to who God is. Think of it like this, we all have our own essence as human beings—our humanity—all that it means to be human—is that essence. Even though we share our humanity with each other, we each have particular characteristics that make us unique. I’m Levi, there is something about me that is me. If you took that away then I wouldn’t be the Levi you know. This is how it is with God. This is
good news because the God who is unique and creator of heaven and earth, also created us to be uniquely us. God’s creation has not stopped but is continually being made new in our lives.
Certainly, this means that we as individuals matter to God. We matter to God because the Trinity itself is relational. We see that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have relationship with each other. The Son is begotten of the Father before eternity. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. It’s the relational reality inherent within God that matters to us. For this Triune God seeks to be intimately in our life
Today’s readings bring out the relational nature of God. The scripture tells us that we are made right with God through faith, and thus we have peace with God. God has established a relationship with us. God seeks to bring peace about in our lives. Romans informs us that through Jesus Christ we have access to the grace of God—out of sheer grace, nothing makes us any better than anyone else. Romans points us to hope, so we can be glad in our suffering—knowing that our suffering is reframed for
us in the hope given by Christ and this hope is poured out as God’s love for us in the person of the Holy Spirit.
I want to talk about each of the persons and their relationship to us. God the Father is typically who we talk about first. This does not mean that God the Father is somehow above the Son or the Spirit—rather, they are all three equal in glory and majesty. Also, by saying God is Father, we are not saying that God is some man in the sky with a grey beard. God in fact, is beyond gender. Rather, saying God the Father is the way that we talk about his relationship to the Son and the Holy Spirit (it says something that the model of Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier does not quite capture). A better term to designate for Father has not yet been found or agreed upon within the Church. The important thing to know about God the Father is that this person of the Trinity is “creator of heaven and earth.” (pause) The confession that God the Father is creator of heaven and earth means that it is God who creates us and gives us all we have.
Our food, our clothing, a roof to protect us, a job to sustain us, spouse, friends, societal peace, even our very life.
For all this we give thanks and praise to God. And, yet in our society we take these things for granted. We get so worried about ourselves we forget about our hungry neighbor—whether in La Crosse—or throughout the world. It reminds me of the liturgy of confession when we confess that we have sinned by what have done, and by what we have left undone. Confession is like a mirror, it shows our alienation from one another and from God. God is calling us to be a means by which God feeds all the world. If we all recognized that we are created brothers, sisters, siblings of one another, I think our world would be in a better place than it is now. The kingdom of heaven would be that much closer. The person of God the Father has a gracious heart and desires all to be protected, loved, cherished, and at peace.
This brings me to how God the Father accomplishes this peace in our lives. God brings about peace in our lives through the Son. Jesus is the mirror of the Father’s heart—which,
remember, is a gracious and kind heart. We know in this world that often there is not peace, not enough food, not enough jobs. This is so often perpetrated by racism or transphobia, or Western elitism. We do not recognize each other as brothers and sisters. Yet, God continues to reconcile people to each other and to Godself. Through Jesus, we have access to this grace. And, because we believe we have a gracious God on account of Jesus, we can be glad even in our suffering. Now, when I first read this passage in Romans and realized it was talking about being glad in suffering, I was put off a bit. Too often suffering has been glorified in the Church to the detriment of many. It is important that when we talk about suffering in the Church that we be clear that we do not mean that we want to suffer, want others to suffer, or go out looking for ways to suffer. Rather, suffering, or another translation would be “troubles”–are a part of our life in an imperfect world. God seeks to reframe our troubles from despair to hope. And, this hope is a “sure promise” in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, regardless of how
contrary and gloomy life is or seems, or if we have felt like we have been dealt cards unfairly—we have hope. For God in Christ reframes our troubles so we need not despair or be afraid. God, in Christ, reframes our troubles so that we may have endurance and character all wrapped up in hope—even if it is just feeble. God’s promise of peace is something that we can trust—this hope will not disappoint us.
So, then, if God the Father has given us all creation, and God the Son has reframed our story from despair to hope, what then, does the God the Spirit do? It is the Holy Spirit who reveals God’s promises and teaches us every good thing. Through the Spirit, God gives all that Christ has accomplished for us. So, that we have hope, healing, and wholeness. Without the Spirit this would not be possible. The Spirit pours into our hearts God’s love through the Word and Sacraments. The Word can be found in the words Holy Scriptures, in the words I preach, even in the words of a friend. (pause) It is the Holy Spirit who uses words as a way to communicate God’s unconditional love for us in Jesus Christ. In
Holy Baptism, the Spirit pours out her love for us through the words and the water. In Holy Communion, the Spirit pours out his love for us in the words, bread, and wine. In God’s holy community on earth, the Spirit pours out God’s love into our hearts through peace, reconciliation, kindness, feeding one other, loving our neighbor and our enemy. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, God is reframing our lives and our world to one where all people have hope, dignity and peace.
The relationality of the Trinity matters. We do not always have to have all the answers, like, for why 1+1+1=1 instead of 3. What matters is that this God we confess as, “one God in three persons,” is a God who deeply cares about our life, and seeks to bring about a true, lasting peace, and gives us hope that this will indeed be the case. (pause) God the Father gives us all creation, Christ all his redemptive works, the Spirit all his gifts. Thanks be to God.

EASTER 7 C 2016 MAY 8, 2016 Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

May 8, 2016  

EASTER 7 C 2016

MAY 8, 2016 OSLC

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

 

Today we are listening to Jesus pray.

I hope you have had the privilege of hearing your mother pray for you.  I hope, on this Mother’s Day, that you have known hands embrace your own and teach you to pray.  I hope you have known the agony of a mother’s heart in her concern for you, and the comfort of her voice as she prayed for you.  I hope every parent here can tell their children and grandchildren clearly and boldly “I am praying for you”, and that every child among us, of any age, knows that to be true.

And what do we pray for?  We pray for our children to understand things that are hard to fathom.  We pray for our children to believe and trust in us even when they do not think we know too much.  We pray for our children to stay close to us.  We pray for our children when they have wandered away.  We know, many of us, the reality of those words from the well-known John Ylvisaker hymn “Borning Cry” about God being with us when we have wandered off where demons dwell. It is so good to know, wherever we wander, that our mothering one is praying for us.

We pray for our children to do things that make us proud.  We pray for our children to do things even better than we have done  And in today’s Gospel, we get to hear Jesus pour out all those prayers for his family as he is about to leave them. We hear words from Holy Week, just before He lays all his life on the line for them. We get to listen in. Jesus is praying for those sitting at the table with him. Jesus prays for those coming to the table today.

His prayers are not the usual, the prayers you and I probably know so well.  Those prayers sound like this: “Lord help me”, or, “Thank you for my blessings.”  None of those prayers crossed Jesus’ lips.  He prayed intimately with His Father, about his hour to come, about glory, about being one in total unity, about his children that he had been teaching.

Jesus prays for his children like a mother who had adopted a house full of kids. These children really belong to God, but God has given them to Jesus to take care of, to teach and to nurture. So Jesus pours out his heart in prayer for them.

Jesus also prays about glory.  What glory, you might ask?  Is Jesus crying out to win, to be the victor, to be praised by all people forever?  Not at all.  The reader of this Good News story knows that after this prayer, and after the meal that immediately follows called the Passover meal, where a child asks “What is different about this night from all other nights?” Jesus would bolt into the darkness and show us how that night was so different from all others. . He would walk down the Kidron Valley and back up into the dark of the trees of Gethsemane, and be arrested, scourged, mocked, tried, his brow pricked by thorns, his wrists and ankles shattered by nails, his side pierced by a spear.  That’s his glory.  It is in the cross, it is in life giving love, it is in being lifted up to death that Jesus shows his family how much they are loved.  Isn’t that the glory we remember most dearly about mothers today, the glory that comes from pouring themselves out for those they birth or adopt? And Jesus prays that we might share his glory, which is to say, he prays that we might also learn how to be people who love their family with all their life, whether it be their immediate family or every other family they have been given to care for.

This prayer for them surprised his disciples.  The events of the next 24 hours stunned his disciples.

Look, dear friends, Mother’s Day is not originally about cards and letters and dinners out. The original Mother’s Day included a proclamation to end war. “We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.” said Julia Ward Howe in that proclamation written in September 1870.  Our country had just known the pain of the Civil War, and too many mothers had their son’s bodies in another state in some hastily erected cemetery by one of the innumerable battlefields.

John wrote these words, the prayer of Jesus, probably well into old age.  He had gone forth to teach the next generation of believers.  He had kept Mary, mother of our Lord, in his care, ever since Jesus from the cross had put each in the care of the other.  He knew time on earth was running short for him, I believe, and he remembered this incredible prayer that Jesus prayed for him when His time was running short. Like Julia Ward Howe, he had big concerns for his world. He wanted the Christian Church to hear Jesus’ prayer for all of us. And he wanted us to know the unity that Jesus had prayed for.

Today there are something like 33,000 denominations.  Can you believe that?  What a difficult human response that is to Jesus’ prayer that we should all be together, one, united.  But I will say that Lutherans and Catholics from around the world are having official dialogues, and good things are coming from listening to the heart of faith shaped by Jesus in each other. We are having Lutheran and Orthodox dialogues, and we now have the courage to share pastorates and pulpits and Holy Communion first with Episcopalians, and then with the United Church of Christ, and then Presbyterians and others of the Reformed tradition, and then Moravians, even if you haven’t met any and don’t know who they are.  We are a work in progress. We are working on bringing back a sense of unity so that the prayer from the heart of Jesus might be heard and answered. But we have a long ways to go, don’t we?

In John’s world of second generation Christianity, he had already met divisions.  His great book with his vision, the Revelation, was meant to unify and give hope among all Christians, rekindling our willingness to be bold in our faith and proclamation of Jesus as Lord of the world, not Caesar or any emperor.

Sharon and I have done some remodeling, and that means we were looking for some new wall art.  We now have a tree of life, a tree with birds in the branches, hammered out of metal in a fair trade project done in Haiti.  The metal is the old head of a steel drum.

The tree of life, an ancient symbol, the sign of fullness and unity, when animals and birds and humans can dwell together in unity and peace, that’s a beautiful sign of what both Jesus was praying for and John was envisioning.  John’s vision includes the baptized wearing white robes, entering the eternal city of God and then enjoying the fruits of the tree of life.  John tells us today that Jesus is the root of the tree of life.  The tree is the crucified Christ, the risen Christ, the ascended Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the word who was with God at the beginning of creation.  That tree is Christ who is the whole of Christian life, the one who brings life out of nothingness, the one who prays for the children in His care, the one whose goodness gives us new life.

This praying Jesus, this the Alpha and the Omega, the tree of life, the bright and morning star, this risen Christ, one with God as a son with a father, is praying for us.  We are called to join in this prayer, to live this prayer, to be one with another, to be one with the Risen Christ who is one with God.

When ancient printmakers would make woodcuts of this great vision, the tree of life was always fashioned from wood that look amazingly like a cross.  As one commentator put it, Easter without the cross is only a springtime flower festival.  Good Friday without the empty tomb is only a story of guilt and total despair. Put the two together, and we have a wonderful faith, a vibrant Christianity, the center of our unity, the heart of Jesus who prays for us. This is unity, to desire everything that Jesus has prayed for us to do.

This is my destiny and my identity and my hope, to remember my mother’s hands clasped around my own, teaching me to pray. This is my destiny, and my identity, and my hope,  to remember the words of Jesus wrapped around my own, enveloping me in His prayer, praying that we might share in His glory by being one with God.

 

EASTER 5 C April 24, 2016

April 24, 2016  

EASTER 5 C 2016

APRIL 24, 2016 OSLC

 

The Gospel of Matthew has the Sermon on the Mount.  Its beautiful words begin with the Beatitudes, the words that tell us that the blessed ones are those who are poor in spirit, the meek, the grieving, those persecuted for my name’s sake, and so on.  The kingdom of God doesn’t look like the rest of the world. God takes the vulnerable and broken and uses them to show God’s strength at work.

Now that’s an important thing to remember on the Sunday we welcome new members.  The kingdom of God doesn’t look like the rest of the world.  John’s Gospel, the source of today’s message,  doesn’t have a Sermon on the Mount, great and lofty stories that inspire us to keep thinking about the meaning of our community.  Instead, John’s Gospel, as our Tuesday morning Bible Study group has been learning, is really divided into two parts, the Book of Signs and the Book of Glory.  The book of signs starts with the wedding of Cana in chapter 2, with the shocking problem of running out of wine early in the wedding reception.  Mary lets Jesus know there is a problem, tells the steward of the feast to do whatever Jesus tells him, and then the story unfolds.  6 jars of water holding 20 – 30 gallons each turn get turned into the very finest of wines by Jesus.  This story isn’t about taking care of the bride and groom and their families.  This is 600 bottles of the finest vintage, way more than enough.  The story is about God’s incredible goodness and generosity, allowing a whole community to feast in goodness.  And the story ends with these words: this was the first of many signs that Jesus performed in the presence of his disciples.

The book of glory takes all the events of Holy Week and shows us Jesus in control, even to giving his life.  And that part of John’s Gospel is where we find today’s Good News story. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” These are Jesus’ words to us today.

God’s church is a beautiful and messy thing.  We are trying to do what Jesus called us to do, to love one another.  We’d like to think that we are succeeding on this day that we welcome new people.  We really don’t want our new members to see our failures. We’d like to think that new people wouldn’t hang out with us if we weren’t somewhat loving, or caring, or welcoming, or at least interesting. We’d like to think that our welcome makes a difference, not just to new members, but to the world. I think we all hope that the welcoming statement on the front of our bulletin truly makes a difference.

Frankly, we need to be a little bit humble about that welcome.  The issues that come up in any community of believers might make us seem no better than any other community. We are challenged to live with each other’s burdens and to share them. Sometimes we do that well, others times we don’t have a clue. And every group has rules.  A lot of them are unspoken.  We just expect people to learn them by observing, and by having some awkward moments along the way.  And caring for one another?  Well, frankly, that’s always a work in progress, and it always starts with our willingness to trust in each other to even voice our concerns or pain.

Can intentional loving, the call of Jesus which is today’s Gospel message, be the sign of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church?  Are we willing to risk the make-up of our church to be radically changed? Are we willing to let the racial make-up change?  Are we willing to let the average age change?  Are we willing to find ways for the homeless around us to turn tables and teach us ways to care for one another? This love thing that Jesus tells us to do really means we are willing to create a pretty messy community, a community that doesn’t always do things the same way every year.  Letting the world know that we are disciples of Jesus by how we love one another means that we have a kind of humility, seeking out the other person rather than promoting who we are.  We must always look for new ways to share love rather than rely on past methods.

The vision of the Second Lesson from Revelation is the wonderful heartwarming story that God in Jesus Christ is making all things new.  What we know so well in this world ends up still bringing us to a place of pain, a place of loss, a place of tears, including the church.  Jesus is thankfully making all things new. The One who starts things also ends things and begins again, and heaven is God’s grand new beginning for those who have welcomed God’s Son into their world. Somehow, in this community of love and discipleship called the church, we invite people into this dream and into this hope.  And when we are not the perfect place, we point people to the perfect One, Jesus who washed our feet and told us to do the same, and we boldly proclaim that this is the One who will make everything new and wonderful again.

Peter was one of the change agents in the early church.  He started out as a conservative, you know.  Paul was going out to the Gentiles, expanding the borders of the Christian Church by going on grand missionary journeys into modern day Turkey and to the islands of the Mediterranean.  He would go to the synagogues and share the story of Jesus as the promised Messiah, and then he would go into the public forums where goods and ideas were both exchanged. He would use the speaker’s stand as a place to tell the whole community the story about Jesus.  So in almost every city that Paul visited, there were both Jewish and Gentile believers.  Paul quickly figured out that it wasn’t important to the new believers that Gentiles had to become Jews first.  They could take the best of their own background and bring it to Jesus, and Jesus would do the rest.

Peter disagreed. This rocked his Jewish world too much.  Peter wanted everyone to be a Jew, to share in that marvelous heritage.  But that also meant that everyone needed to keep kosher kitchens, and circumcise the baby boys and all the adult male converts, and also abide by the Jewish cultural rules.  That is, until Peter received this vision from God and  these words from heaven, an invitation  to accompany six men to the Roman capital city of Caesarea, the city of Caesar.  And going there, he found that they were filled with same Holy Spirit of Jesus that the disciples had received in Jerusalem.  Peter decided that if God could come to these guys, they surely were to be part of God’s working team.  In other words, God led the way, and Peter was just open-hearted enough, and smart enough, to follow what God was doing.  God was bringing Gentiles into the church.  So his witness changed, and he told people that the church had to be open to all. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. Do you hear the echo of Jesus’ words rolling forward?

Jesus had just washed his disciples’ feet on Holy Thursday evening when He spoke these words.  Just a few hours before he offered his life, he was inviting his followers to also offer sacrificial love, love that would change their worlds and the world for those who received God’s love.

Maybe Olav, for that matter, can help teach us.   You remember Olav, the snowman in the hit movie Frozen.  As he and Sven the reindeer and Anna, the sister of Elsa who had retreated to the ice castle, go on a mission to rescue Elsa, one can hear the snowman open his heart with these words: “Some people are worth melting for”. He was willing to give his very being for Elsa. Now this is Disney, you know, so warmth and springtime return to the Frozen world.  And somehow a snow man survives.

But it is not just in Disney movies that wonderful things happen.  It is in the church, where God’s people are learning every day what it means to be people in love with those who cross our paths. Being radically inclusive, the experience Peter was sharing with skeptics back in Jerusalem, living the words on the front of our bulletin- it’s a huge risk.  For starters, we can often be misunderstood.

But radical inclusivity relies on one thing – the radical hospitality of Jesus, the total acceptance that God in Christ has for each one of us.

So we do one more thing.  We come to the One who made 6 jars of water into 600 bottles of great wine. We come to the One who took a Passover meal, something which is being celebrated around the world this week, and He turned it into a new story about his body being broken and his blood being poured out for us, and then He gave us radical hospitality.  We receive a meal meant for everyone, food for the world.  And having been fed, we go out to invite others to this meal, God’s meal, and we tell them of the day God made our world new by welcoming us to God’s table.  We point each other to the day when all things will be brand new, God’s new beginning breaking into our world, and we invite each other into the presence of Jesus who brings total joy. We ask one another to join us in the wait for Jesus to finish His work.

And we say, while we are waiting for that great day of Jesus, do you mind if we practice loving one another in the open-hearted way that Christ has totally accepted us?

EASTER 4 C 2016 APRIL 17, 2016 Acts 9:36-43; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

April 17, 2016  

EASTER 4 C 2016

APRIL 17, 2016 OSLC

Acts 9:36-43; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

 

It is at almost the end of every funeral service when I say these words:” Into your hands, oh merciful Savior, we commend your servant, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.”  It is the most emotional line in the funeral liturgy for me to say. The shepherd is claiming his sheep.

This is Good Shepherd Sunday, always celebrated in the middle of the Easter season.  It is a kind of textual transition in the Easter season.  The Sundays right after Easter have the stories of the early earthly encounters with the newly Risen Jesus, the surprise and wonder and excitement that Jesus’ presence brings. .  The Sundays after today will raise the question of how this Easter joy shapes our lives. Will we hear the shepherd’s call?  Does it make any difference to the sheep of Jesus that the Lamb who was slain is now on the throne of God, shepherding God’s eternal flock?

It made a difference to one sheep named Dorcas, whose name graces a women’s society here.  She who was known to be generous in giving to various charities, she who had a wonderful reputation for sewing and giving her goods to the poor, had fallen deathly ill.  And she died. It sounds like it happened very quickly. Peter was in the area, between Joppa and Lydda, which is on the Mediterranean sea coast west of Jerusalem and not far from the modern capital of Israel called Tel Aviv. He hurried to her home, and the power of the Spirit of the Risen Christ was able to fill Peter to bring new life back to Dorcas.  With that, the saints, meaning believers, and the widows with whom she had worked, were all encouraged to believe in Jesus as their Lord and shepherd. More people became believers and wanted to follow Jesus. Dorcas experienced her Easter early, and her death and new life were a sign that helped many to believe and join her work.

The second lesson continues the stories of singing in heaven that we heard last week.  The heavenly chorus is a choir not only made up of singers of different voices and abilities.  It is made up of all tribes and peoples and languages, including, I imagine, Dorcas.  I remember being in Jerusalem on a Reformation Day, and we were in the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Arabs and Germans and Norwegians and Americans and Brits and more.  When it came time to pray the Lord’s Prayer, we were invited to pray out loud in our own language.  It didn’t sound horrible.  It was beautiful music, this sharing of a wonderful prayer in our own tongues and languages.

But an article in the Annals of Sociology says that the average Christian congregation in the US has only 10% of the racial variety of the neighborhood in which it is situated. Do you think that could apply to Our Savior’s?  Do we bear that study out?

Do we have any idea what a rich joy it is to sing with people of different tribes and languages?

When we talk about the flock today, about the sheep, as well as our good shepherd, I want you to remember that the flocks were not a collection of animals that looked alike.  There were sheep and goats mixed together, and some were darker and others lighter.  Some even had a few spots of color on them.  Some sheep had a slightly reddish hue.  Some had thin faces and others round faces.  Some have black faces and some have white faces.  A Middle Eastern flock is a real mixture on the hoof.

And sheep don’t always listen to their shepherd.  Go figure.  We’d never do that, would we?  We would never go off on our own, away from the shepherd’s voice, to get something we want, would we?

It is good to be reminded that the shepherd’s staff has two ends.  One end is the crook.  The crook can be used to draw a sheep away from danger, to pull a sheep toward safety, to gather sheep who are not doing a good job of listening.  The other end, the blunt end, can be used to prod the sheep, pushing them toward places they would rather not go.  A good shepherd is always both protecting and agitating the sheep as needed, gathering the sheep for shelter and leading them out in the right places to graze.

And so it is with Jesus, the good shepherd.  Jesus is drawing us toward Him, with the crook.  Jesus is drawing us toward Him so that God’s purposes might be fulfilled in us.  And there is Jesus challenging us to go in some directions we would rather not go, prodding and pushing us along.

So take a look now at the bulletin cover.  Usually the cover on Good Shepherd Sunday shows a lamb being carried by the shepherd, or sheep gathered close by the Shepherd.  I’m sure you can picture some of those scenes.  But this bulletin cover has the sheep walking away from the shepherd.  It is the posture that the shepherd finds us in far too often.

The ones who are singing around the throne of the Lamb of God in heaven are the ones who have come to know that Jesus has loved them with both the crook and the blunt end of the shepherd’s staff.  The ones singing in heaven are the ones who know they faced away from Jesus, but Jesus didn’t let them go.  Jesus kept calling their name. The ones who are singing the songs of eternal love for Jesus are the ones who know that this shepherd has guided them to the springs of the waters of eternal life.  The good shepherd will never take them into places of danger.

Our favorite psalm is the Shepherd’s psalm, the Lord is my shepherd psalm.  We are going to sing it today twice, once at that conclusion of this message, and again during the distribution of Communion.  What makes a shepherd good?  It is even more than the presence walking beside me, the comforting presence whether I am in front of my enemies or going through the valley of the shadow of death.  That which makes the shepherd good is more than the acts of protection, and the prodding. It involves the acts of justice and truth and goodness that are hard to deny but difficult to pull off.  The good shepherd is steady; steadfast, we say.  That means the shepherd is always dependable, even when I, that lamb who likes to take detours, am not.

This shepherd looks out on the crowd at Hanukkah, the festival of Dedication.  People are getting testy with Jesus.  They don’t know he is the good shepherd.  And to those pushing for answers, he promises to always hear the voice of the sheep, and give them eternal life, and never to let them be snatched out of his hand. It is his answer to their question about whether He is the Messiah.  He says he is a shepherd, the kind of leader who always takes care of his flock and brings them safely home.

That’s good enough reason to sing today.  We know both the crooked and the blunt end of the staff.  Jesus has brought us this place, both called and prodded us to quiet waters and green pastures, a place to be fed, our watering hole and our pasture.  And no one will snatch us out of His hand.

So we pray: Into your hands, oh merciful Savior, we commend your servants of this place, sheep of your own fold, lambs of your own flock……keep us in your mercy.

Let us hear your voice, calling us.  Let us join Dorcas and all the saints of every color and race in the choir that can’t stop singing.

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