Pentecost 7 – Sunday, July 23, 2017

July 23, 2017  

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

According to the Oxford American Dictionary, a “weed” is a wild plant growing where it is not wanted.

My high school Horticulture teacher taught me that “a weed is a flower whose beauty or purpose hasn’t been discovered yet.

Jeanne and I have plenty of weeds in our yard and gardens.
B
ut some of those weeds are pretty. Queen Ann’s Lace is a favorite wildflower of mine. Yet it is growing like a weed. We have Goat’s Beard growing—it’s a weed, even though it has a great flower and when it goes to seed, is really quite marvelous. Violets: pretty. Clover: pretty, and the rabbits love it. Dandelions, kids love them and so do the bees. Even the Creeping Charlie, which I hate, has pretty flowers every year.

Jesus said a good man planted seeds, wheat seeds. While he slept an evil man came and planted weeds among the wheat. When the plants came up the weeds appeared as well. The man’s servants wanted to pull the weeds. The Man said no. They shouldn’t pull the weeds because they might uproot the wheat

The story is a parable, which means, although it is a story about wheat and weeds, it isn’t really a story about wheat and weeds.

What is the story about

Fortunately for us, Jesus explains. According to Jesus, the parable neatly divides people into two categories: children of the kingdom and children of the evil one.
Children of the kingdom are, of course, the good seeds planted by Jesus. They are righteous. They will, at the time of everlasting judgment, “shine like the sun.

Children of the evil one are the weeds that were planted by the devil. At the time of everlasting judgement, they will be thrown into the furnace of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The story is a tidy little parable, neatly packing us each in place, like seeds in seed packets. We are wheat or we are weeds. There is no in-between.

End of sermon.
Time for me to go home and mow my weeds.

Except that isn’t the end. That isn’t the beginning. If I end my sermon here I will have missed the point.

This parable is not about whether we are weeds or wheat. This parable is about WHO DECIDES which we are.

The slaves of the good man thought they knew which plants were wheat and which plants were weeds. They were ready to go and gather the weeds.

The good man knew the task wasn’t so easy. The good man knew that, if the slaves picked the “weeds” the slaves might accidently pull up some of the wheat. And so the good man said “Let both of them grow.”

Let both of them grow.

We think we know, don’t we?

WE think we can look at others and just KNOW if people are good, or if they are no good, if they are wheat, or if they are weeds.

If there is one thing most everybody has in common, it is the desire to judge most everybody else. And most everybody is pretty comfortable judging themselves…

How many times have you heard someone say, about themselves: I’m no good.

Or have you said those words about yourself

How many times have we looked at someone we know, or someone we don’t know, and thought “That person is worth-less.” “See him, he’s a wild one.” “She doesn’t belong here.”

According to the dictionary, a weed is a wild plant growing where it is not wanted so, that must make him or her or them a weed. “They’ll be weeping and gnashing their teeth when judgment day comes, mark my words.”

But, according to my high school horticulture teacher, a weed is a flower whose beauty or purpose hasn’t been discovered yet. Or, in this day and age, the purpose has been discovered, we know it is beautiful, we just don’t want to believe it so we call it a weed. We call the person worthless.

Have you ever felt judged by someone else? Probably. Have you ever just wanted to scream “I am somebody!” Or “I am beautiful!” Or “I am just as important as you are!” Or “God loves me just as much as God loves you!”

This parable is not about who is a weed, who is wheat. This parable is about who decides who is a weed and who is wheat. And it isn’t US!

This parable ought to serve as a warning: be careful how you judge other people! You might be making a terrible mistake! LET GOD BE GOD!!!

Only God knows us. Only God sees us for who we truly are. Only God is capable of making the kind of judgment we tend to want to make about ourselves, and about others.

That can be a frightening thought, knowing God knows us and sees us.

Don’t forget, God loves us. God sees us through a lens of love. Any judgment God makes about us will be rooted in God’s unending love for us and for the world.

Which is the way we are supposed to know and love ourselves and each other, but we simply aren’t always able. We try and we ought to keep on trying to love one another. That is our greatest challenge. But when we can’t, we need to step back and lean on what we know is real, and that is God’s love for every person.

One of my favorite flowers is a wildflower that grows like a weed along the side of the road: chicory. I love chicory. I can’t pick it because as soon as I do, the flower closes.  Chicory isn’t a fancy flower or plant. Chicory is just what it is, a simple flower/weed. But I love it.
Honestly, there is nothing fancy about any one of us, not really. There is no reason for God to love us as much as God does. And yet, God does.

God loves each of us deeply. God loves each of us divinely.

What a wonderful thing to know. To trust. And to believe.

Amen.

 

 

Pentecost 6 – Sunday, July 16, 2017

July 16, 2017  

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

“A sower went out to sow.”

We could say “A farmer went out to farm.”
We could say “A gardener went out to garden.”

Jesus said “A sower went out to sow.”
He was planting seeds.

Unintentionally Thursday, right before working on my sermon, I was out in our peace garden walking around. I remember when the garden was a thought a few people had. I remember looking at the various gardens within the garden, thinking “hmmm… I don’t know… is that going to work?” I didn’t have a vision of what the garden would look like after it had established itself. I wasn’t at all sure what our gardeners were hoping for.

Now look at our peace garden. If you haven’t taken the time, walk through it. The garden is lovely. Absolutely lovely. It is a peaceful place in a busy neighborhood. As it was intended to be. Our gardeners and their assistants have done a wonderful job.

Which makes me think about what gardening is about.

Gardening is about hope.

Those of us who garden, we garden on a wing and a prayer, with a lot or a little knowledge thrown in. Sometimes what we know about gardening we have learned the hard way, making mistakes that teach us what not to do next time. Sometimes, what we know about gardening has been taught to us, information shared by a friend or neighbor. Sometimes, gardening is in a person’s DNA. We grew up gardening. Our mother and/or father, grandmother and/or grandfather gardened.

I come from a family that gardens. At my dad’s parents’ house there was a garden almost as big as their yard. It had flowers and vegetables in it. Their compost pens (they were too big to be bins) were the size of the side of the garage. My grandma spent a lot of time in that garden. I’m supposing my dad and his sisters did too, whether they wanted to or not.

My parents had huge vegetable gardens at their house as we kids were growing up. The five of us kids spent a lot of time in those gardens, whether we wanted to or not. We spent a lot of time in the kitchen dealing with the fruits of those gardens, shelling peas, chopping beans…

I remember my first flower garden. My mother gave me a corner garden in the backyard. Although I like vegetable gardening, I prefer flowers. I love seeing flowers bloom, digging bulbs, moving plants…

Gardening is about hope. When our gardening hopes are fulfilled, it is wonderful.

The parable of the sower is often misunderstood. Folks think it is about US planting seeds, US as the gardener, US as the farmer, US as the sower.

The story is not about us. It is about God.

God plants seeds in the world, those seeds being God’s Word. God’s Word is planted in our hearts, in our lives. God’s Word is planted in every heart, in every life. Sometimes the Word is planted in good soil, and it is tended, and it is nourished, and it grows and bears great fruit. Sometimes the Word is planted in rocky soil, or on a hard path, or in the hot sun, or among thorns. Even when tended and nourished, the Word requires extra tending, the Word requires extra nourishment. If we want the Word to live and to grow and to flourish, that extra effort is required.

God planted, God plants the seeds. Have no doubt about this, those seeds will grow. God’s kingdom will come.

What we need to do is to figure out what our hopes are, what do we hope grows in God’s garden?

God planted seeds of hope. Seeds of Life. Seeds of Forgiveness. Seeds of Grace. Seeds of Welcome. Seeds of Understanding. Seeds of Peace. Seeds of Respect…. SEEDS OF LOVE.

Are those the seeds we tend to? Are those the plants we nurture? Are those the gardens we help grow?

The last month or so, I haven’t been able to do much gardening. But I walk around our yard, taking photos of our flowers as they bloom. That’s kind of how I’ve felt about my ministry here, I haven’t been able to do much gardening. But I have been walking around, looking at things. I’m thinking about what needs watering, what needs pruning, what needs planting or re-planting. You all have thoughts about how this church, this garden grows. I hope you will share them with me.

Wherever we live, whatever we do God’s Word lives in our hearts and lives. God’s seeds have been planted. The Sower has sown.

Thanks be to God for the love God plants in our hearts and in our lives.

Amen.

Pentecost 5 – Wednesday, July 12, 2017

July 12, 2017  

Romans 7:15-25a

I’m guessing most of us have played the game “Follow the Leader.” It might have been a long time ago. But we have each played at following someone around the house, or around a yard—doing whatever that person does, following wherever that person goes.

Throughout the gospels we hear Jesus invite his disciples, or his listeners, to follow him. Following Jesus isn’t a game, it is a way of life. And it isn’t always easy.

In the 2nd chapter of the gospel of Mark there is a story about Jesus and a tax collector named Levi. Jesus was walking along when he saw Levi sitting in a tax booth. Jesus looked at Levi and said “follow me.” He didn’t say anything else. No explanation of who he was or where he was going. No formal invitation to become a disciple. No argument, trying to convince Levi to come. Jesus just said “follow me.” And Levi followed.

Later, the two of them (Jesus and Levi) had dinner at Levi’s house. There were other tax collectors there. There were other people Mark referred to as “sinners.” And there were disciples of Jesus.

The scribes, holy men, saw Jesus dining with all of the “sinners.” The scribes spoke to the disciples about what they saw, asking the disciples why Jesus was with “those people.”

Jesus discovered that the scribes were asking about him. So he answered their questions. He said, basically “Why not?” Why not dine with “those people”? Jesus knew “those people” were the people he was called to serve. Jesus knew “those people” needed him. Jesus told the scribes he came to the world to call sinners to him, and to salvation.

We can be like the scribes, looking at “those others” and seeing that they are sinful. Or we can look in the mirror and see our sinful selves. The choice is ours.

Seeing what wrongs others do is easy.

Seeing our own wrongdoings may be more difficult. Knowing ourselves as sinners. It isn’t always a comfortable thought. Then again, maybe it is too easy.

The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (7:15).
Paul wrote that “sin dwells within us” (7:17).

It isn’t comfortable, looking inside ourselves and seeing the sin that dwells there. It isn’t pleasant, admitting (even to ourselves) we are sinful and unclean.

I wonder, when we read the order for confession and forgiveness, as we did today—do we reflect on a list of things we have thought, things we have said, things we have done that separate us from God? That’s what sin does, it separates us from the God. When we read words of confession, do we make a mental list of our wrongdoings? Or do we generalize things? Or, are we fortunate enough to not be able to come up with a single thing we think was sinful and unclean?

Sin. It is a word we toss around in worship… is it something we think about all those other days of the week? If we think about something we have thought, or said, or done—and know it to be sin even as we do it or think it or say it—do we confess? Do we ask for God’s forgiveness? Do we pray, knowing we have done exactly what the sin that dwells within us tempts us to do? Like the apostle Paul, do we find the whole subject confusing?

Scripture teaches us: we all sin. We all fall short of what would be an ideal relationship with God. We all turn away rather than turning toward the God who loves us.
This is why Jesus came to the world. To call us back to God. To call us to follow him. He came to show us the way.

We will keep on sinning. We will keep turning away from God, rather than toward. We will continue to need to confess.

The good news is, God will always be there, hearing our confession, forgiving us our sins. Always. Forever.

God loves us. God loves us exactly for who we are. God calls to us—encouraging us to live as Jesus lived, knowing we won’t always succeed. Which is why God calls again. And again. And again.

God loves us. And God loves the world.

Amen.

Pentecost 5 – Sunday, July 9, 2017

July 10, 2017  

Pentecost 5 2017

Rules.

How do you feel about rules?

Most moral philosophers will tell you we need rules. Without rules everyone would choose to do what was in his or her best interest, forgetting about the needs of others. Rules bring order to the lives we share with others, whether within a society or a nation or an organization or a family. We need rules.

In order for rules to work everyone affected by them needs to agree to them. If we have a rule against robbing banks, and I rob a bank, and nobody does anything about the fact that the bank was robbed, you can bet other people will start trying to rob banks. Rules are contracts, they social contracts. Whether we like it or not, we all are affected by a variety of social contracts each and every day.

There are rules of the road. There are laws and statutes. There are employee handbooks and course syllabi. Families have rules. Even churches have rules.

When God gave Moses the ten commandments there weren’t just ten rules… although there were ten commandments. God gave Moses and Aaron a whole long list of things they and the Israelites ought to do, or ought not do.

The Israelites were told not to worship any other gods, we know that from the ten commandments. They were also told that, when they entered the promised land, if the inhabitants of that land were worshipping other gods, the Israelites were to “tear down their altars; smash their sacred pillars, and cut down their sacred poles.” (Exodus 34:14). That was a rule.

The Israelites were told that the first born male of any livestock belonged to God. Period. It would have to be offered as a sacrifice. If it was the firstborn male of a species that wasn’t allowed (by God) to be used in sacrifices (such as a donkey or a camel) the owner of the livestock would have to redeem that animal by sacrificing another animal that was legally acceptable for sacrifice (such as a goat or a calf).

God gave Moses a long list of Sabbath rules, many of which are still kept by those Jews who “keep kosher.” For example, they could not light a fire on the Sabbath. There is an entire chapter in the book of Exodus about what priests in the temple could or could not wear, describing the colors of the yarns and the texture of the linens.

In the book of Leviticus there are rules about animal offerings, peace offerings, cereal offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings, and offerings for special cases. There are rules about clean and unclean foods, rules about the uncleanliness of childbirth and the rituals a woman would have to go through after childbirth to become clean… There are pages of rules in Leviticus about leprosy, about personal cleanliness…

I’ve gone on and on but I could keep going on and on about this. About rules. About religious practice and rules as found in the books of Exodus and Leviticus…

I don’t think God gave all those rules to the Israelites in order to make their lives difficult, I think God was trying to establish order. What happened over time was, people in power within religious communities, such as the scribes and the Pharisees, began to use those rules to assert power over others. Religious practice became more and more proscriptive. We see it in New Testament stories where Jesus was hounded by religious leaders for breaking a variety of rules.

Rules were not meant to be broken.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Mat. 11:28-30

Jesus broke the rules. He openly defied them. Jesus understood that religious practice had become something other than what God intended. It was providing order it was punishing, it created exclusive classes, religious practice became something meant only for the powerful, for the privileged.

In contrast, Jesus said “My yoke is easy. My burden is light. I am gentle. I’m humble of heart.” With me, “you will find rest for your souls.”

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of humility, it is a gospel of grace, it is a gospel of forgiveness; Christ’s gospel is a gospel of love. The gospel of Jesus Christ is an invitation not an expectation. The gospel of Jesus Christ brings welcome. There are no barriers.

We are baptizing Jameson Matthew this morning. There is a reason we, as Lutherans, practice infant baptism. We do this because we believe there is nothing any one of us can do to earn the privilege of becoming a member of God’s family. Baptizing infants symbolizes our own weaknesses as we stand before God. God sees our weakness, God sees our vulnerability, God sees our fragility and God says “come.” God says, “You are mine.”

“You are mine, Jameson Matthew.”

God says “I promise you, Jameson Matthew, my yoke is easy. My burden is light. I am gentle. I’m humble of heart. In your life, lived with me, you will find rest for your soul.”

This is good news. This good news is Jameson’s. It is his parents’ and godparents’. It is all of yours’. And it is mine.

Thanks be to God.

Thanks be to Jesus, who understands the burdens of life, and promises a religious life of freedom and love, grace and honor, forgiveness and peace.

Amen.

 

 

 

Pentecost 4 – Sunday, July 2, 2017

July 2, 2017  

Matthew 10: 40-42

Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

What a wonderful verse to begin our new life together as congregation and pastor!

If there is one thing this congregation is about – it is about welcome.

I’m not going to say we are experts at welcoming people, or even that we are always good at welcoming others.

I am going to say that welcoming is something we are committed to, something we hope to do well, and to do consistently.

I remember when, in my first Call, I moved into the parsonage that was my home for seven years, in Westby. I was 28 years old. I was single. I had just spent a year living between the camp I worked at and my sister’s house in Illinois. I had next to no furniture.

The parsonage is huge. It is a four bedroom house. Two story. The rooms are large, with windows on every side. The kitchen was the width of the house. Appliances were furnished.

The day I moved in, I opened the refrigerator to put some things in it. It was full! Stocked full of food (including Westby cheese curds). That gesture was a wonderful welcome, something I have (obviously) never forgotten.

The day after I moved in I walked down to the town’s post office, just up the street from the parsonage. I walked up to the counter where the postmaster stood. The postmaster took one look at me and said “You must be the new lady pastor.” No hello. No welcome. Just “You must be the new lady pastor.”

His words scared me a little bit. I wondered, how did he know who I was? Some of you have lived in Westby, or have family that live in or around Westby. You know what I soon learned: everyone knows everyone in Westby. Everyone In Westby knows who the strangers are.

In Westby, just like in any town or city, congregation or community, not everyone welcomes strangers. Not everyone welcomes those who aren’t strangers…

We sang “All Are Welcome” this morning. We mean those words. It is become a bit of an anthem for us… we intend to welcome everyone.

This may be my first official Sunday as Senior Pastor at Our Savior’s, but many of you know I have been a member here for at least 13 years. Jeanne and I were welcomed to this congregation way back then – truly welcomed. It means so much to us today that you welcome me as your pastor.

It has been 17 years since I left the clergy roster. Those 17 years as a layperson have taught me a few things – particularly about what it means to truly welcome someone.

Immanuel Kant was an 18th century philosopher who believed that every person has ultimate value. Every person. Regardless of what each person has done, regardless of who each person is – each person has ultimate value. For Kant, a person’s value is rooted in the simple reality that he or she can THINK. Almost every person has the ability to reason. Kant believed this ability set us apart, as a species, from any other species. And so we each have ultimate value.

Please note: Kant believed our value was rooted in the fact that we CAN reason, not in how well we reason. Our individual value lies in our ABILITY to think, not in how well we use that ability.

Kant also believed that, because we can think, we need to be responsible for the consequences of our thinking. So, if I was mad at someone, mad enough to want to punch the person in the nose… and then did punch the person, Kant would say I would have to live with the consequences of that decision. I would have to ask those consequences without complaining. Because it was decision that led to what ever happened next. If I got punched back, well, that was a natural consequence. If I got thrown in jail, well, that’s the way our society deals with assault. I should have known it would happen.

As Christians, we believe every person has value, but our belief is rooted in the value God gives us as human beings, not in any abilities we have.

Scripture is clear. God loved and loves the world. God loves every person who has, who does, who will ever exist. Always. Forever. No matter what we think or how we think. No matter what we do or how we do it. God loves the world!

We follow God’s lead. We preach God’s message of love. We welcome every person into this space, and into our lives, because we know that, when we welcome others we welcome Jesus, and when we welcome Jesus, we welcome the one who sent him.

As a former Instructor of Ethics – I love Kant’s philosophy on human reason. I believe we, as human beings, do have specific moral responsibilities that are ours simply because we have the ability to think about the meaning and implications of what we do. I agree that we need to think rationally. I agree that, no matter how we think, each of us needs to accept responsibility where our decisions lead us. Not a lot of people are thinking rationally these days… and not a lot of people are taking responsibility for their decisions.

Nor are many people offering radical welcomes to those who are different than them.

Make no mistake – the kind of welcome Jesus calls us to is radical. It is a welcome that embraces every person. It is a welcome that makes no distinctions. None what so ever.

This societal de-valuing of reasoning, this societal rejection of those who are “other” makes our commitment to welcoming others oh so much more necessary and important.

Please, get out your bulletin and join me, as we read our welcoming statement, together…

Amen.

 

 

Easter 5 – Wednesday, May 17, 2017

May 17, 2017  

Hebrews 11:1
John 14:1-14

As I read from Hebrews, it is written “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Faith is something we talk a lot about. That’s the point of being here, right? We are here because we have faith… faith in God. Faith in the triune God: Father, son, and Holy Spirit.

Although we talk a lot about faith, and about what we have faith in… we might be assuming we really know what faith IS.

The easy answer is that faith is belief. You or I or we believe something to be true. When our beliefs are based on facts, they are easy to prove and so easy to have. (At least when we are basing beliefs on facts that are actually facts…)

When we believe in something that is not based on facts, that is not provable scientifically or logically, we have what I call faith.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Faith is a matter of the heart. For example, I have faith in my spouse.

Faith is a matter of the soul. For example, I have faith that there is more to life than just our physical selves.

Faith is a matter of trust. For example, I trust you are here today because you believe in the triune God. I have faith in your presence.

An example of a belief: I believe airplanes can fly. I see them fly over my house several times a day. I have ridden in them.

An example of faith: I have faith in the pilots who fly planes. When I step on a plane I trust the pilot will get me, and everyone else, safely to our destination.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Years ago, right after Christmas, I was visiting my twin sister’s family. At that time they lived in a house in Rockford, IL. The family room of the house was added on over the garage. To get into the family room from the living room we had to go down a short flight of steps.

My nephew, who was 2 ½ at the time told me he wanted to fly. He didn’t mean he wanted to fly in an airplane, he meant he wanted to fly. Then he turned around, climbed up that short flight of stairs that went into the family room, and stood, waiting to jump.

He told me to stand at the bottom of the stairs. I was supposed to catch him.

My nephew and I had never played this “flying” game before. He had no idea I would actually catch him. He knew I could carry him. And he knew I loved him. With that knowledge, he had faith I would catch him. And so he jumped. And I caught him.

Life demands faith. Faith in others. Faith in ourselves. Faith in God.

Jesus said “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.”

He said those words to the disciples. The disciples had already given up everything to follow Jesus: careers, families, comforts, security. All they had left in their lives was a Call to follow Jesus. When Jesus said “Let not your hearts be troubled” he had just told them he was leaving them. Of course their hearts were troubled! They didn’t know where he was going. They wanted to go where he was going. After all, they had a Call, to follow him.

It seemed Jesus was talking in riddles. He was going to his “Father’s house.” They didn’t know the way to his Father’s house.
You know the Father. You have seen him” No, they hadn’t seen him.
So they said “Show us.”

Show us.
We need to see before we believe.

Do we?

Do we need to see before we believe? Or do we have faith?

We are here because of our faith, our faith in God.

Because we have faith in God, Jesus believed and believes: we will do great things.

Great things.

The greatest of which is to love one another. As we have been loved. We believe in the love of God.  We have faith in Jesus Christ.

May God’s Spirit empower us to love as we have been loved.

Amen.

Easter 5 – Sunday, May 14, 2017

May 14, 2017  

John 14:1-14

The women were playing softball.
It was the bottom of the 7th – the last inning of the game – an we were down by one.
The game was the 2nd game of a double-header and we wanted to win but we were down by one and it was the bottom of the 7th inning. The pressure was on.
There was one out.
One out, the bottom of the 7th, down by one, AND THE BASES WERE LOADED.

Our designated hitter stepped up to the plate. She raised right hand in the air (as she did at every at bat). She placed the tip of the bat on the far corner of the plate. She scrunched her feet into position at the side of the plate. She held the bat just over her right shoulder and she looked at the pitcher.

The pitcher looked at the catcher. She nodded her head. She swung her right arm into her wind-up, pitching the ball.

Our designated hitter stepped into the pitch, swinging.

She connected. The ball sailed. The ball FLEW over the center-fielder’s head, and over the fence.

She hit a gram slam homerun at the bottom of the 7th, with our team down by one. We won the game, up by three.

It was the designated hitter’s 20th birthday.

It was poetry.

That story remains one of my favorite stories from when I was college pastor at Dana College in Blair, Nebraska. When I remember that day I still feel the tension, I still feel the adrenaline. I still hear the screams and see the joy of the players.

Today is Mother’s Day. (And the 5th Sunday in the season of Easter… for those tracking the Church calendar.)

There are women here today who became mothers a long time ago. There are women here today who have never been mothers, they might have longed to, they might have never really had that dream. There are women here who just became mothers. There are women here for whom motherhood has been difficult, challenging, painful-filled, a frustration. There are women here who have lost their children. There are women here who have tried to have children, and tried, but so far not succeeded. There are women here who are step-mothers. There are women here for whom motherhood was or is the absolutely best thing that ever happened to them.

There are men and women here who love their mothers. There are men and women here who suffered because of things their mothers did or chose not to do. There are men and women here who are estranged from their mothers. There are men and women, children here who live with their mothers, or mothers in law, or grandmothers.

Knowing all of this diversity exists, what do I say on this Mother’s Day? I say: Women—you rock.
Even in those moments when you feel you are at your worst, or weakest—you rock.
WE rock!

When life seems stacked against you, you are down by one in the 7th inning and the pressure is on: you rock! Even if you don’t manage to hit a grand slam homerun. The fact that you are here, you are trying to be the best woman you can be, means you rock!

Jesus said “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
As Christians we hear this call, we know this call, we live this call to love.

Today is a day when we remember, specifically, the women in our lives who have honored that call to love. We love them. We give thanks to God for them. We celebrate their graciousness. We admire their determination. We honor their strength.

I know, not every woman, not every mother is always gracious, or always determined, or always strong. I also know, every woman is always loved by God. And forgiven. And embraced.

As is every man. Every person. Every child.

For this I say: Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter 4 – 2017

May 7, 2017  

John 10:1-10

I have never really liked the whole “Jesus as the Good Shepherd” metaphor.
I grew up with the image; my home congregation is the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd. When I was a pastor up in Houghton, MI the church I served was Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Although I loved both churches, I was never fond of the metaphor… mostly because, if Jesus was (or is) the Good Shepherd, that makes us sheep.

I am not a lamb, or a sheep, or a ewe (E-W-E)…
I have no desire to think of myself as a cute little lamb mindlessly following my shepherd from field to field, with no knowledge of what it means to be free. If I’m going to be a lamb I want to be the one that runs off to the other side of the field if I want to run off to the other side of the field.

I value my freedom. You probably do to. Which makes a metaphor that has us being led around by a shepherd who has a staff in his hand, ready to whack us with it if we step away from the herd—distasteful. I know—it doesn’t say anywhere in the reading that Jesus is going to whack us with a staff. But still… my point is, we value our freedom.

In the year 1523 Martin Luther wrote a sermon on this text. (www.trinitylutheranms.org) Luther wrote that these verses from the 10th chapter of John are about freedom, they are about liberty, they are not about blindly following a tyrannical shepherd.

Luther said (in his sermon) Here (in this story from John) Christ speaks about Christian liberty. Luther said Let us see to it that we allow the pure Word of God to take its course, and afterward leave them (the sheep) free to follow.

Luther believed the Word of God has the power to reach into our lives, to reach into our hearts and draw us to God. We don’t need to be coerced, or forced, or threatened into believing.

Luther said (in his sermon) Christ’s wish is that none be forced, but that they be permitted to follow from willing hearts and of their own desire; not out of fear, shame, or strife. He (God) would let the Word go forth and accomplish all.

Luther clearly states in his sermon that our hearts are free. That God desires our hearts be free. In fact, this section of Luther’s sermon is sub-titled “Preachers are to Force No One to Believe.”

Luther had that much confidence in the power of the Word of God.

In the first chapter of the gospel of John, the first words are “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”

What we have here is a play on words… because we have the written Word which reaches into our hearts, and we have the Word that was and is God… Jesus Christ.
Jesus reaches into our hearts. Jesus draws us toward him, toward his light, toward his love.

Jesus said “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9). This is where Luther finds our freedom, in our ability to come in and go out as we search. There is no shepherd whacking us on the back with his staff, trying to keep us in line. We can walk through the gate, going in… or we can walk through the gate, going out.  Liberty is ours.

Luther had that much confidence in the power of the Word of God.

The Word of God has the power to grab us by the heart and change us, drawing us in.
Preachers don’t need to grab people by the arm, or the nose, or the ear, dragging them into a life of faith. The Word grabs us.

And so Luther said “let us see to it that we allow the Word of God to take its course, and afterward leave them (us) free to follow.”

It might be the boldest statement of faith I have ever heard. Luther’s belief in God is so strong, so full, so complete… he trusted God. He trusted God’s ability to reach us, to touch us, to change our hearts.

There is another side to this, Luther also believed in people. He believed in our ability to make the right choices. He knew we aren’t sheep, blindly or meekly following a shepherd. He recognized that we have a choice when we are confronted by the gospel, by the Word. He trusted us to make the right choice.

The Word of God is a Word of love. Luther knew love to be something everyone desires. When given the choice, when having the freedom to choose—he believed we would choose love.

God loves us. God loves the world.
What a wonderful thing—to be free to experience such love.

Amen.

Easter – 2017

April 16, 2017  

Matthew 28:1-10

“Do not be afraid.”
“He has been raised from the dead.”
“Go and tell.”

Fourteen words that changed the world.

“Do not be afraid.”
“He has been raised from the dead.”
“Go and tell.”

It was after the Sabbath. In the hazy gray-ness of dawn, the light just beginning to shine, the two Marys went to see the tomb.
They did not go to see the body of Jesus—they went to see the tomb. Just as we go to cemeteries to visit the graves of those we love, buried there, Mary and Mary went to see the tomb of Jesus.

Suddenly there was a great earthquake.
There had been an earthquake just days earlier, when Jesus died. Now, again the earth began to shake. The stone covering the front of the tomb where Jesus was supposed to be laying rolled away, opening the tomb. The women saw an angel of the Lord descending from heaven, coming down from heaven like lightening. The angel sat on the stone that had rolled away. The angel’s clothing was white as snow.
Who was he?

“Do not be afraid” the angel said.

The guards, big strong men there to protect the tomb from grave robbers, were afraid. They were so afraid they began to shake and then “became like dead men”—which, I think, means they fainted.

“Do not be afraid.”

Why not be afraid? There was an earthquake! The stone rolled away. An angel dressed in white descended from heaven like lightening. Yes, be afraid!

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary listened to the angel.

“Do not be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus. He is not here. He has been raised from the dead. Come and see. Then go. Go quickly and tell his disciples.”

Do you think Mary and the other Mary heard anything beyond those words “”He is not here…?”
Maybe they heard the part where the angel said “He has been raised from the dead.”

“So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy…”
Yes, they were afraid.
Yes, there was great joy. Jesus was alive!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Do you think Mary and the other Mary needed the angel to tell them to go and tell? Wouldn’t you have wanted to run and tell everyone—everyone who loved him. Everyone who cared. Everyone he told he would be back but who probably never believed it…

Yes! Go! Tell!  He is alive!

Then suddenly!!! Suddenly!!! There he was! Jesus! Standing right there, in front of them!

“Greetings!”

Greetings?!?! You were dead! You were dead, Jesus! Now you are alive!

They must have fallen at his feet. Luke writes “They came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.”

Do you think they were crying? I think they were crying. I think they covered his feet with their tears.

Then, those words again: “Do not be afraid.”

Are you kidding?!?! You were dead! You were dead, Jesus! Now you are alive!

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Jesus speaks to us: Go and tell. Go and tell.
In the year 2017, the message is the same. Go and tell. Go and tell others who Jesus was, who Jesus is, why you worship Jesus. Go and tell others, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” Go and tell others, “Jesus loves you.” Because he does. Jesus loves us all; Jesus loves the world.
Go and tell others.

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen!

 

Good Friday – 2017

April 14, 2017  

Matthew 27:45-53

Darkness covered the whole land. Which was odd because it was the middle of the day.
Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Even his words were dark…
Jesus felt forsaken. Renounced. Abandoned.

The darkness was for us.

His words still ring with agony. We hear the despair. We hear his suffering.
And then we know that despair ourselves, we suffer—because we know this all happened for us.

The sins of the world were on his shoulders. The sins of the world brought darkness, an all-encompassing darkness. A darkness that screamed for light.
God saw the world living in darkness and brought Jesus to the darkness to be the light.

People heard Jesus cry out. People knew he suffered. People struggled to help him, offering a sponge soaked in wine to wet his lips. But they couldn’t stop his pain. They could not end his suffering.

He cried out again, again with a loud voice.
Then he breathed his last. He entered the darkness.
For us he died.

And the earth shook. The curtain in the temple was torn, ripping from top to bottom what had, until that moment, separated all but the most holy from coming near the sign of God’s covenant with God’s people.
God’s promise, God’s covenant, was to be with the people of Israel, to protect them, to love them, to be their God forever.

But then darkness fell, Jesus died, the earth shook and a new covenant was born.
This new covenant was with all people. It was a new promise. For God so loved the world…

For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son, so that everyone who believed, everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.

This is the light of Christ. This is the light that shatters the darkness. The darkness cannot overcome it.

Darkness fell because of us, because of the darkness that lives in human hearts. Jesus cried out into the darkness of Good Friday.
His pain was ours. His despair was ours. He carried his pain and despair for us, so that we would never know the agony of being forsaken. He died in order to free us from the darkness of death.

We re-member the death of Jesus today. Our sacrificial lamb.
We relive the darkness.

But then, we know, there was light.

Amen.

 

 

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