Wednesday Lent 3 – 2017
March 22, 2017
Luke 19:41, 42
This was the day Jesus made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
Riding a colt into the city, Jesus entered as people shouted “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38)
The Pharisees, leaders of the temple, told Jesus to tell his disciples to stop shouting. Jesus told the Pharisees that, if the people stopped shouting, “the stones would shout.” (Luke 19:40)
But they didn’t get the message. Jerusalem, the city of God, rejected Jesus. Those chose to deny his identity as the Messiah, the King of kings, the Prince of Peace.
And so Jesus stood, looking over the city, weeping.
“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace.” (Luke 19:42).
Jesus. The Prince of Peace.
Jesus wasn’t the kind of king people expected. He wasn’t a military leader, like King David had been. He wasn’t adorned with jewels and dressed in purple robes like King Solomon. Jesus was a carpenter’s son. He rode into town on a borrowed colt. Bringing the peace of God which passes all human understanding. Jerusalem didn’t understand.
And so Jesus stood, looking over the city, weeping.
I have been thinking about this peace Jesus brought. I’ve been thinking about our centuries old rejection of his peace. I’ve been thinking about the world and the violence we manage to sustain in nation after nation. I’ve been thinking about the victims of wars, century after century of people dead because of a human belief that violence begets peace. I’ve been wondering what is wrong with us, that we cannot seem to find peace?
Jesus brought peace. Why can’t we build on that peace he brought to the world, and create peace in our lives? In our world? I’ve been wondering: how do we do that? How do we make for peace?
A student handed a paper in for an assignment at school. I read his paper. I was shocked by the violence of his words. His words were racist. His words were arrogant. I’m struggling to know what to do with that… how do I turn his assignment into an opportunity to learn about peace between people? To understand that every person has ultimate value, ultimate value just because we ARE. Just because we EXIST.
I’ve been visiting a man who is not well. He has made bad choices; we all have made bad choices in life. How do I help him find peace in his heart in what might be the last moments of his life?
It’s a struggle.
There is an answer. Jesus said himself, he brought the answer to the world. Just as the words we will sing tonight tell us, Jesus IS the light of the world. The Prince of Peace.
In all that we say, in all that we do, as followers of Jesus, it is important that we bring peace. That we know peace in our own hearts so we live that peace as we encounter others.
I have selected as a hymn a song about Jerusalem, a song usually sung in anticipation of our life after death. I want us to try to imagine peace now—in this life, in this moment. I want us to sing these lyrics believing we can bring Jerusalem to life now—that we can make Jerusalem a peaceful city now. We should not have to wait for peace.
Jesus brought peace to the world. Let’s, in this moment, find the joy that comes with knowing peace.
Lent 3 – 2017
March 19, 2017
Lent 3 – 2017
Our Savior’s Lutheran La Crosse
I don’t think we, in the 21st century, understand the depth of the hatred that existed between the Jewish people and the Samaritans at the time of Jesus.
Actually, the conflict between Jews and Samaritans had been brewing for centuries. The reason for the conflict is referenced in today’s text, when the Samaritan woman said to Jesus “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you (The Jewish people) say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem” (4:20).
The Samaritans built a shrine on Mt. Gerizim; they believed this to be the proper place for them to worship (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 563). The Jewish people believed the proper place to worship was at the Temple in Jerusalem. Jewish troops destroyed the Samaritan shrine in 128 B.C. (NIB, p. 563).
Samaritans were believed to be outsiders, according to the Jewish people. Even when they were in Samaria, if a group of Jewish men gathered they would have thought any Samaritan they encountered an outsider. Samaritans were the enemy. Samaritans were unclean.
So—our gospel story takes its shape first, because of the enmity between Jews and Samaritans. Then we have the fact that the Samaritan Jesus spoke to was a woman.
As I said in the children’s sermon, Jewish men were not supposed to fraternize with women in public. Not even their own wives. They were not supposed to worship with women. Jewish teachers were not supposed to have scholarly conversations with women. The relationships between men and women in the time of Jesus add a second boundary to this gospel text.
Samaritans and Jews weren’t supposed to talk to each other. Jewish men weren’t supposed to talk to any women, let alone a Samaritan woman. And then, we have this curious fact that the Samaritan woman Jesus spoke to was, in that moment of time, in a relationship with a man after having five marriages, which may or may not have been a violation of the law, depending on who the husbands were.
She is un-named in the story.
Look at what she did.
She willingly entered into a conversation with a Jewish man, a man she soon recognized as a prophet (verse 19). She spoke to him as an equal. The conversation she shared with Jesus is one of the longest conversations recorded in any of the gospels.
The unknown Samaritan woman was the first person Jesus told who he was (according to the gospel of John). The Samaritan woman was the first person who was not a Jew to understand who Jesus was, and then go and tell others (according to the gospel of John). The Samaritan woman was, then, an evangelist. Because she told other people about Jesus, many people came to have faith in him.
This gospel story, in its entirety, would have shattered the minds of first century Christians. So many laws were broken. So many expectations were shattered. Why? Because Jesus chose to speak to an unknown woman at a well.
We cannot forget, Jesus initiated this contact. Jesus broke all the rules. By doing so, Jesus made it clear to those who were with him, and to those who heard about him, and to those who believed in him—that he would change the world.
Jesus is with us here, today, revealed through the Word of God and through the sacrament of holy communion. His presence in our lives has the power, has the potential to change our lives. We cannot be casual about his presence. We need to understand what it might mean for who we are and how we live.
Jesus breaks down barriers. His love transcends barriers. If you feel like an outsider, he draws you in. If you are believed by others to be an enemy, Jesus makes you more than an ally, he makes you a member of a new community—a community rooted in love and grace. If you are powerless in your life, Jesus brings power to you and gives it to you, empowering you to boldly live life with self-respect because you are loved just as you are, for who you are, no matter who you are.
Thanks be to God for this Word of radical grace, love, and acceptance. A Word offered to every person, always.
Wednesday Lent 2 – 2017
March 15, 2017
Shame. Shame. Shame.
You know what it is like. I know what it is like, when we do something we are ashamed of. We’ve all been there. We’ve all done that.
The irony of tonight’s reading is, that same evening (the evening Peter betrayed Jesus) Jesus told Peter that Peter would deny him. Jesus told the disciples “You will all fall away because of me this night…” Peter responded to Jesus, saying “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter told Jesus “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” (Matthew 26:31-35).
Then Peter saw Judas betray Jesus with a kiss. Peter saw soldiers arrest Jesus and lead him away. And—as Jesus warned—Peter and the other disciples fled.
And then Peter did exactly what Jesus said Peter would do. Peter betrayed Jesus; not once but three times Peter denied knowing Jesus. Peter remembered what Jesus had said only hours before—and he wept bitterly.
His tears were tears of shame.
We could focus on his shame tonight. But we won’t. As I said, we all know what shame is, how it feels, what it does to us.
I want to talk about what happened next.
According to the gospel of Mark, on Easter morning, when women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus, they found, not Jesus but a young man dressed in a white robe. The young man told the women “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here… Go, tell his disciples and Peter
That he is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him” (Mark 16:5-7).
Peter was the Rock. That is what Jesus called him. The Rock on which the Church would be built. Strong. A leader among leaders. The foundation of the church. Peter. The man who cried tears of shame. Peter devoted the rest of his life to his faith.
Why? Because, at its heart, this story is not about Peter at all, it is about Jesus, and it is about God.
“For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God loves us. That is why Jesus was given to the world, to finally make God’s relationship with the world right—to make our relationship with the God right. Our relationship with God is a relationship rooted in love. Our relationship with God is a relationship rooted in grace. Our relationship with God is a relationship built on forgiveness and reconciliation, which brings hope and light and peace to the world—to us.
It is horrible to feel ashamed. More horrible still, would it be if we had no promise of forgiveness when we do those things that shame us. But the problem is there. The promise is real. The promise was Peter’s. The promise is ours. Always and forever, God loves us. No matter what we do. No matter who we are.
Our tears then, ought always be tears shed by grateful hearts.
Wednesday Lent 1 – 2017
March 8, 2017
There is a story about a man who was a drummer in a Salvation Army band. He played the bass drum; he always hit the bass drum as hard as he could. The leader of the band suggested to the drummer that it might be better if he didn’t hit the drum so hard. The drummer said “Ever since I’ve been a Christian, I’ve been so happy, I could just bust this bloomin’ drum!” (source of story unknown).
As we say in our communion liturgy, It is right to give God thanks and praise.
In the book of Ecclesiastes it is written there is a time to weep and a time to laugh (3:4).
The theme I’ve chosen for Lent this year is “When Tears Fall.”
There was a church once that had as their Lenten theme: Journey to Joy! An ad for the series promised the series was “sure to carry (you) through Lent with pleasure.”
The journey Jesus took to Jerusalem was no pleasure trip. He was on a pilgrimage. His journey was one of tears, suffering and sacrifice. This Lent I make no claims about suffering or sacrifice, but I want to examine some bible stories of when tears fall.
Tonight we begin with the story of a nameless sinful woman. She loved Jesus. She loved him enough to slip into the home of a man named Simon, uninvited, to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears. She dried his feet with her hair. She anointed his feet with oil. She was devoted to Jesus.
The woman’s sins were many.
Whose sins aren’t?
A standard definition of sin is to turn away, and who here hasn’t? Who hasn’t turned away from the will and the ways of God, rather than turning toward? I don’t need to name your sins for you, you can name them for yourself. But we all sin. We sin daily. We turn away from God many times a day, probably.
Our sins, our sinfulness grieves God.
Never forget, it was and is our sinfulness, human sin that led Jesus to the cross.
It was our need for salvation that took Jesus on that journey that led to his death. And to his resurrection.
The unknown woman’s sins were “many.” This is why she showed such “great love” for Jesus, because she knew the extent of her sinfulness. And she HAD FAITH in Jesus. She knew she was forgiven before he ever spoke the words.
The acceptance of forgiveness might be the most difficult thing a pastor has to preach. It isn’t hard to remind people that we need to see and to know our own sin. It is far more is difficult to teach people to have faith, to believe we are forgiven for what we do. It is most difficult to believe we are forgiven again, and again, and again.
But we are. God loves us so much, God turns toward us when we have turned away—cleansing us of our sins. God wipes away our sins. God dries the tears from our eyes.
God tells us, daily, “Your sins are forgiven… your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
May it always be so.
Lent 1 – 2017
March 5, 2017
Imagine you had just gone to see a man, a man known by others to be a prophet. This man was baptizing people, and so he baptized you. As you were baptized the heavens opened and a Spirit descended from them like a dove, on you! Then, a celestial voice came from the heavens, saying “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:16-17)
Imagine how you might feel.
Frightened? Determined? Empowered?
We don’t know how Jesus felt after John baptized him. We do know that, after he was baptized he “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Matthew 4:1).
A scholar wrote “It would seem appropriate that Jesus should have his vocation tested, and that his ministry should begin with a struggle between God’s kingdom and Satan’s…” (The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 7, p. 269).
“It would seem appropriate…”
I wonder about that. Why would it seem appropriate? Because Jesus needed to have his vocation tested? Because Jesus needed to pass some kind of test to see if he really was the Son of God?
Or, would it “seem appropriate” because, after all, Jesus was only human?
Sometimes we forget, or we overlook, the humanity of Christ because we know him as Christ. But his humanity was part of the point. God gave Jesus to the world as God’s Son, to finally achieve what God had not been able to achieve in God’s heavenly form: right relationship with the world. Right relationship with us as humans. Right relationship achieved through human sacrifice.
In the story of the temptation of Jesus we see the humanity of Jesus in a battle, not really with Satan, but with earthly temptation. Those temptations are of the devil…
There were three temptations, each its own kind:
First, the temptation to turn a stone into bread. This was the temptation to satisfy his own physical need. Jesus was hungry. He had fasted for 40 days. As the Son of God he had the ability to perform miracles. Why not satisfy his own hunger? He could… why not?
Second, the temptation to “give a convincing sign” (IB, vol. 7, p. 269). Why not show himself what he was able to do? Could he jump off the top of the temple and be saved by angels? Why not try and see exactly how important he was to God and to the world?
Third, the temptation to demonstrate his “political power” (IB, vol. 7, p. 269). He could have all the kingdoms of the world if he wanted. He was the Son of the Most High. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. Of course the world was his…
After all, Jesus was only human.
Which is the point. He was not only human. He was also divine.
We… we are the ones who are only human. We are the ones who, when tempted, have a REAL choice to make.
Former President George W. Bush told Matt Lauer in an interview this past Monday “Power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive…”
Some of us have more power, some of us have less.
But we each have the power to decide what we will do when it comes to the temptations we face.
I read that temptation is “a fork in the road, the leading of the Spirit, and the opportunity of the devil…” (IB, vol. 7, p. 269).
We may not see our temptations in such stark terms, but they do stand before us.
When tempted to satisfy our own needs, even at the expense of others, what do we do? When tempted to show the world all that we can do, to indulge our vanities and inflate our importance, what do we do? When tempted by the power we have over others, whether it is a lot or it is a little, do we use our power, do we abuse our power, do we consider the impact of our decisions on those whose power is less?
These are important questions to ask and to answer. And, most importantly, we need to answer them for ourselves, not for others.
It is easy to point out when others take the wrong path, giving into the opportunities provided by the devil. It might not be so easy to examine the results of our own decisions. But, examine we must. That is one of the tasks of this Lenten season.
We sing the Kyrie in Lent. We will sing it every Sunday. We will sing it because, we know, we give into temptation. We know we make the wrong choices at times. We know our own need to stand before God, praying, singing “Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.”
Ash Wednesday – 2017
March 1, 2017
Our Savior’s La Crosse 2017
Revelation 21: 3-7
They are funeral verses.
These verses from the 21st chapter of Revelation—they are recommended for reading during funerals. I have read them myself during funeral services, at grave sides.
They have always seemed to me to be words of hope. They are words that have brought comfort because they promise us: Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more… (verse 4b).
We hope for a final end to suffering. We hope in the promise that God will wipe every tear from our eyes (verse 4a).
But, what if?
What if these words aren’t just for that time? What if this promise begins to take form now, in this moment, in these days?
Today our season of Lent begins. We begin forty days of self-examination, forty days of repentance; we begin forty days of living in the tension that stands between our desperate need for God and God’s promise of graceful love and forgiveness.
As Lutherans, at the core of our beliefs is the understanding that we, sinful people that we are, cannot save ourselves from our sin. We believe that God not only has the power to love us, God promises to love us, God promises to forgive us, God promises to embrace us and enfold us in the depths of God’s saving grace.
God’s promises aren’t meant for our after-life they are meant for now, for this moment. God loves us now, in this moment. God forgives us all our sin.
I was reading a commentary on these verses. The writer wrote:
The contrast between heaven and earth disappears in the new creation. Now the tabernacle of God is with men and women, and they shall be God’s people. God’s dwelling is not to be found above the cherubim in heaven. The throne is set right in the midst of the new Jerusalem, where the living waters stream from the throne of God… God is no longer far off but immediate and manifest… that new creation is not something to look forward to, in Christ there is already the possibility, in the power of God’s Spirit, to bring about that new creation in individual lives
(The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 12, p. 729).
And he wrote: The city may be from heaven, but humans can be means of channeling God’s grace into it (NIB, vol. 12, p. 729).
Right now, in this moment God dwells with us, here. Right now, in this moment God is with us. Right now, in this moment God wipes the tears from our eyes…
There is mourning, there is crying, there is pain—but knowing God is with us in our mourning, with us in our crying, with us in our pain—when we know that presence and trust that presence we join with God, ushering God’s new creation.
Finally, the writer wrote: John’s vision (as found in the book of Revelation) is of a communal society, a reminder that biblical practice and hope center around humanity’s relationship with God and with one another… the fulfillment of God’s purposes is centered on… a community that reflects God’s paradise (NIB vol. 12, p. 730).
People often look at the season of Lent as a time when we as individuals take a journey into our own hearts and lives, walking a solitary path to the God we desperately need and joyfully receive.
Let’s let that understanding of Lent go.
Let’s think of ourselves here, in this place, as a hope centered community built around our shared relationship with God and with one another. Let’s think of ourselves as a community that chooses to reflect God’s paradise here, now.
Not everything in this world goes well. We see the hurt. We see the pain. We see the anger. We see the violence. We see the struggles.
We don’t just see those things—we live them. We feel them.
Rather than putting our hope in God off into a heavenly future let’s embrace God here, as brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s be loving to one another and to those we meet who are strangers to us. Let’s, in God’s name, wipe the tears from one another’s eyes. Let’s be God’s strong and holy city.
Epiphany 6 – 2017
February 12, 2017
Epiphany 6 2017
Our Saviors La Crosse
The Israelites were given a choice.
Moses, their leader, said to them:
“I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil.”
Finally, finally they were preparing to cross the Jordan River. They were going to enter the Promised Land.
It was a fulfillment of a dream.
They had been wandering for 40 years.
Finally, finally they would be going home. Home to the land God had promised them. Home to a place God said, would be theirs. Home, to a place they had never seen.
I remember when I moved to seminary. I had been living in Rockford, IL with my parents. I flew from Chicago to Oakland, CA (2,117 miles), caught a taxi at the airport and had the driver take me to the seminary in Berkeley (a 20 mile drive).
I was alone. I told the driver where I wanted to go. I told him the seminary was at the top of Marin Avenue. Marin Avenue is a road that goes straight up the Berkeley hills. It is a steep hill bisected by roads. Going up Marin Avenue, the driver drove up a steep block, then flat road, steep block, flat road, steep block, flat road—up and up and up. By the time we got to the seminary, at the top of the hill, the taxi had overheated.
I was home. My new home for three out of the next four years. A place I had never seen in a city I had never been to.
“I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil.”
For the Israelites, choosing life and good meant choosing to live according to God’s Law, it meant a life of obedience.
Choosing death and evil meant choosing to live outside the law—it meant choosing a life of disobedience which really meant a life free to do and to be whatever they wanted to do and be.
Moses encouraged the Israelites to choose life.
To choose life would be to choose the more difficult option. Choosing life meant obedience, obedience not just to the ten commandments but to all that God had commanded the Israelites—the book of Deuteronomy is full of God’s laws and expectations. When Moses told the Israelites to choose life—it was a challenge. He was challenging them to be obedient. But his challenge was also a gift.
Both the challenge and the gift were given to them as a people, as a community, not as individuals.
I took my journey to seminary 36 years ago. (I can still smell the steam from the over hearted taxi.) I made my journey alone, but, on the same day I flew into the Bay Area, I became a part of a group of people still dear to me. My seminary classmates. We loved each other fiercely. We played hard and studied harder. Many went on to become wonderful, wise pastors serving God around the world. They were my people, my Israel. Together, we chose life.
All of us here this morning are here, I hope, because we have chosen life. We have chosen to live with, in, under, through God—in community HERE in this place. We are each other’s people! We are each other’s Israel!
We don’t choose life for ourselves. For us. For we. For me. For you.
Think about this for a moment. When we choose life, we are choosing to live for the other.
Look at the Ten Commandments, God’s gift not just to the Israelites but to every person of faith since.
When I choose to be honest, to honor my parents, to not commit adultery or steal or bear false witness or covet I am choosing to live life for the other, not for myself. I’m not going to lie to that other person, because that person deserves honesty. I am not going to commit adultery because my spouse deserves to be honored with my faithfulness. I am not going to steal because what others have deserves to be respected, simply because it is theirs. These decisions are not about me. They are about the other.
That is how we choose life. That is why we choose life. We choose life because choosing life means everything to all those others we find ourselves in community with. God is asking us, as a community of faith, to make a commitment to honor each other, and all of the other others present, not just in our lives, but around the world.
“Choose life!” Moses said.
I’m not going to lie to you. Choosing life isn’t easy. It is a bit like driving up Marin Avenue, up a steep hill, then it flattens out, up a steep hill, then it flattens out and get easy for awhile.
You know this. You live this.
This is why we choose life together, as a community of faith. Because we need each other. We need each other’s prayers when we are too weak or too tired or too hurt or too angry to pray ourselves. We need each other’s hands to hold onto—we can’t always be alone. We need each other’s voices, singing when the song is too difficult for some of us to learn. We need each other’s hearts, because sometimes our hearts are broken. Sometimes we need someone to breathe life into our spirits—because we are dying inside.
We need each other. We need this place, these people. Others outside of here need us—one at a time and all together.
This is why we choose life. This is why we chose life today. This is why we are here.
Thanks be to God.
Epiphany 5 – 2017
February 5, 2017
Epiphany 5 2017
Our Savior’s La Crosse
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light so shine before others…”
On winter days like this, everything feels crisp and cold. Here in Wisconsin, some of our winter days are bright; some are grey…
Jeanne and I are blessed. Our backyard is adjacent to the Wildlife Refuge. Once the leaves have fallen off the trees we have a wonderful view of the backwaters of the river area. Looking west, we can watch the sun set through the bare trees. It is quite beautiful. Some days, if we are both home and the sun is shining, we stand together, silently watching it set, a large red ball of light slowly falling through the branches. And then it is gone. It is dusk.
Emily Dickinson wrote:
There’s a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.
(There’s a Certain Slant of Light, Dickinson)
The light she talks about in her poem is almost dark. If you were to continue to read her poem you would find the whole poem as oppressive as the third line. It is weighty.
This winter has been weighing on people. All of the grey days. The ice. The darkness.
Whenever I read Dickinson’s poem I try to imagine what time of the afternoon she is writing about. I always end up deciding she describes those moments, right before sunset, when the shadows are longest. Especially in the winter, with snow on the ground, we see the shadows as they stretch long before us.
“You are the light of the world.” So Jesus said, while preaching his sermon on the mount. “Let your light so shine before others.”
Someone once said “The primary function of light is not to be seen, but to let things be seen as they really are.” How are things, really? Do we want things to be seen?
When we turn on the lights, what do you see? When you see what you see, do you have a sudden desire to turn the lights back off?
As night turns into day we anxiously wait for the sun to rise.
The SON has risen!
What does it mean, to know that Jesus, the Son of God has risen indeed, even on the darkest days of our lives?
And how do we let his light shine through us, letting things be seen as they really are, while simultaneously touching everything with love and grace?
Life is about more than daytime and night, throughout our lives we see and we experience the darkness of human suffering: pain, sickness, dying, hunger, poverty, fear, oppression, powerlessness, sadness, misunderstandings, loneliness… those sufferings all stand in the light, creating long shadows.
When we turn the light on, those things don’t just go away. As Dickinson wrote, they oppress, like the weight of cathedral tunes. The organ’s bass plays heavy, darkly hanging sounds that reverberate through the floor of the church, into the soles of our feet.
“You are the light of the world… Let your light so shine before others…”
Don’t stop shining. The world needs us.
Don’t stop shining. There are people out there you need to find them, to touch them, to offer a word of strength and hope to them.
Don’t stop shining. There’s hungry people needing to be fed.
Don’t stop shining. Someone is sick. They need you to hold their hand.
Don’t stop shining. Someone is afraid of the dark. They need to see your light.
Don’t stop shining. Someone is cold. They need the warmth your light creates.
Don’t stop shining. They can’t live without your love.
Don’t stop shining. Your light brings joy.
Don’t stop shining. The light helps to clear the confusion that exists.
Don’t stop shining. People need to see they are not alone.
Don’t stop shining. When we see each other clearly, we see all we have in common.
Don’t stop shining. Your light lifts spirits.
Don’t stop shining. God’s light shines through you. God’s love shines through you.
“You are the light of the world…. Let your light shine before others so that they see your good works and give glory to God in heaven.”
Epiphany 4 – 2017
January 29, 2017
Our Saviors La Crosse 2017
“Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord
appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
‘Get up, take the child and his mother,
and flee to Egypt,
and remain there until I tell you;
for Herod is about to search for the child,
to destroy him.’
Then Joseph got up,
took the child and his mother by night,
and went to Egypt,
and remained there until the death of Herod.”
There is no mistake.
Jesus was a refugee.
When Joseph “took the child and his mother by night” Joseph was fleeing the ruler of Judea. He was a political refugee, seeking protection for his family. He and Mary fled to protect their child’s life.
I know there are people in this congregation who don’t like the preacher, whoever the preacher is, to discuss politics. I know this sanctuary, this place is a place people come seeking refuge from the storms caused by politics. I know that I have made a personal commitment to never let my political beliefs get confused with what I do in ministry.
Sometimes what happens in the world transcends politics. So, let me make myself perfectly clear: what I am about to say is not about being a Democrat or a Republican. It is not about being conservative or liberal. It is about people seeking refuge.
I woke up at 4:00 this morning thinking: Jesus was a refugee. Then I got up, took a shower and came to church.
We cannot mistake what Jesus would have us do when someone comes to us, seeking refuge.
Last October the current Pope said to a group of pilgrims and Lutherans visiting from Germany: You cannot be a Christian without living like a Christian. You cannot be a Christian without practicing the Beatitudes… It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help…”
(Catholic Herald, October 13, 2016)
It is hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee.
This is personal. I have been a refugee.
I fled the church. Specifically, I fled the ELCA. I ran for my life. I left a church that, at that time, wanted nothing to do with me because of who I was and who I continue to be. I was Gay. I was a pastor. I was not welcome.
I am not being melodramatic. To save myself. To preserve my integrity. To honor who I was I had to leave.
For two years, back in graduate school in Iowa I had nothing to do with the church. For a few years, here in La Crosse, I had little to do with the church. But then I found shelter. I found refuge. I found hope.
Where did I find those things? Here. Here in this place, in this congregation.
You welcomed Jeanne and me home.
If we, as Christians, are going to “practice the Beatitudes” (as the Pope says), which we must if we are going to be Christians, we must first honor the first beatitude.
A scholar once wrote “If the beatitudes are eight [in number] they form the octave of kingdom music” (The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 7, p. 278).
On octave is a musical sentence. It is “the difference in sound between the first and eighth note on a musical scale” (Merriam Webster).
On octave of kingdom music begins by playing the first note, the first key: it sounds like this:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).
Being “poor in spirit” means being humble. It is about humility.
Humility is a virtue. When I teach Virtue Ethics at WTC I teach my students a virtue is a character trait manifest in habitual action that is good to have.
A virtue is something that is such a part of us, it has become habit. It is 2nd nature to us. It is a part of who we are to the extent we don’t even have to tell ourselves to do it, to be it. We just do. We just are.
Humility, as a virtue, demands that we put ourselves last, not first. Humility demands that we acknowledge there is much we don’t know, rather than try to claim we know it all. Humility demands we sit at the foot of the table, not the head. Humility demands we open our lives and our hearts and our doors to those we do not know, we do not understand, we do not see ourselves in because, well because Jesus told us to.
There is much we don’t know about life. There is much we don’t know about death. There is much we don’t know about war, about conflicts, about peace.
There is much we don’t know about each other. There is much about strangers, about what others think or what they have done or left undone. There is much we don’t know.
God is so much more than we know. But God knows us. God loves us. God loves the WORLD. That includes the strangers in our midst. That includes the refugees at our door.
Epiphany 3 – 2017
January 22, 2017
Epiphany 3, 2017
Our Saviors, La Crosse
Years ago, when I was on staff at a Lutheran Church Camp, one of the things we did with campers was to take them on night hikes. In the dark. With no flashlights.
We would walk on trails through the woods. Sometimes we would go down into the valley. Sometimes we would stay closer to the camp’s main site, hiking along the edge of the forest, in open fields.
When we walked in the night, without flashlights, our eyes would get used to the dark. If the moon was bright enough, it would light our way, as long as we stayed out of the woods. Hiking in the woods, going down into the valley, was always much darker.
Still, our eyes got used to the dark. We could see enough to follow the trail. If campers were afraid of the dark, we held their hands.
Daytime or night—there is always darkness in the world.
Just about anything can bring the darkness on. Unemployment. Under-employment. Illness. Aging. Death. Watching loved ones struggle with their own pains or fears or the consequences of their mistakes. Struggling with the consequences of our own mistakes. When relationships end, or change, or aren’t being lived out the way we wanted or expected. Poverty. Hunger.
There’s always darkness in the world.
I think, sometimes, we just get used to the dark. We live in it, or in spite of it. If we are lucky, we can see enough—in the dark—to find our way. If we are really lucky, we aren’t alone in the dark. We have somebody there holding on to us. Maybe just holding our hand.
Jesus was born in the night-time, in the dark. Not alone, loved by his mother and his father, visited by shepherds and wise men—Jesus came into the world, born in the night.
He is the light of the world.
It is written in the book of Isaiah, and repeated in the gospel of Matthew: “The people who walked in the darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”
We are those people. We walk in the dark. We dwell in a land of deep darkness. The light of Jesus shines on us, just as it shone on those early Galileans, and on every person of faith who has walked in the dark for every generation since.
Jesus is the light of the world. His light shines. And, as is written in scripture, “the darkness cannot overcome it.”
When Jesus came to the world he came to experience the darkness of the world, with us. He knew pain. He knew suffering. He knew death. But the darkness he knew did not overcome him. He brought light into the dark. The light of love. That love allowed him to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to bring life to the dying and dead.
“As he walked by the sea of Galilee Jesus saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me…”
Like Simon Peter and like Andrew we are called to follow Jesus, to follow the light.
The light has dawned… we follow it. We follow him.
And then somehow, somewhere along the way we become part of the light! We begin to shine! We become beacons of hope, we become beacons of love; we become beams of light shining in our still dark world.
“This little light of mine… I’m gonna let it shine.”
We’ll be singing those words in a minute.
“This little light of mine… I’m gonna let it shine.”
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
The world needs to see the light of Jesus Christ shining. We need to bring the light of Jesus into every moment of our lives because other people, they need to see it. We can’t leave them standing, leave them living, leave them walking in the dark.
They need the light, just as we do.
Let it shine.