MID-WEEK LENT 4 2015 – MARCH 18, 2015 OSLC

March 18, 2015  

MARK 13:3-13

I have been preaching about the “musts” that come out of the mouth of Jesus in the last half of the Gospel of Mark, this year’s Gospel focus. In the home of my youth, my mom would say things like “if you want to go play catch with Gary, you must do the dishes first”. “If you want to watch TV, you must get your homework done first.” “No, you must go to bed at 10 pm. You can’t stay up late”. It wasn’t that mom was out to squash fun out of my life. She knew how to bring life to me and in the whole family. There were some “musts” experienced every day that defined our family’s existence. The last half of the Gospel of Mark, eight of sixteen chapters, basically occur in one week we call Holy Week. In these words of Good News, we hear Jesus define life in the family of God.

The “musts” we have heard so far are that Jesus “…must undergo great suffering be rejected, and be killed, and after three days rise again”, and the backlash of the disciples to such a plan; followed by “whoever wants to be first must be last of all”, where we learned how different the kingdom Jesus was introducing is from the power curves of our world. Then we heard Jesus respond to someone who wanted to follow him and asked him this question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life”, and Jesus’ answer shocked him and led to a broken heart. Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor, and then to follow him. He went away full of sorrow, we are told. He couldn’t let go. What he owned tied him down. And I talked about fasting as not being just as diet plan or diet fad, like giving up asparagus and broccoli and chocolate for Lent, but fasting is a re-ordering of our time, our energy, our heart. It means to let go and make room for something new, food or prayer or people or God.

So now we are at the fourth “must”, and it is a double “must”. Some tough stuff must take place, wars and rumors of wars, and earthquakes and famines, before the Son of Man comes back in the clouds, the final judgment scene, the final consummation of history. And the good news must be preached to all nations.

We all have been aware of different apocalyptic scenes, scenes of destruction and the end of the world as we know it. It could be Will Smith and Bill Pullman in the movie “Independence Day”, or any number of zombie movies out in recent years, or Bruce Willis in the 23rd Century being one of the planet’s few remaining inhabitants.. It could be some of the Left Behind books or movies. All of them are alike in that they talk about the world facing overwhelming and destructive changes, and the inability of most people to either stave off the problem or save themselves. We are pawns in a world governed by stronger forces, whether they be aliens, or evil government, or plagues, or the walking dead (which, just be clear, I think is one of the strangest fads to come along in a long time). I just don’t get flesh eating dead people, but that could be me, I know. Maybe I am missing out on something crucial here.

What is certainly clear is that there are some things that get our collective blood pressures up.

Sometimes a day’s worth of headlines will do that. Here are some that have come onto my smart phone screen in the last 28 hours: large Soviet forces in a military exercise yesterday – it’s an echo of the cold war that so many of us lost some amounts of sleep over; an Israeli election with a hawkish Prime Minister who attacked Arabs on election day being re-elected – a clear statement that war-mongering can win an election; a Tunisian museum being over-run by kidnappers and killers – which makes us wonder where we are safe to be tourists, for these poor people has simply sailed into port that day on cruise liners; Caroline Kennedy, ambassador to Japan, receives death threats – which brings up old wounds for people of my generation who clearly remember where we were on the day JFK was assassinated; plus all the stuff about ISIS, including Americans rushing to join, and our fears about what happens when they return and what havoc they might bring.

If we want reasons to be afraid, we don’t need to go to the Scripture. We’ve got them all around, including wondering if there is formaldehyde entering the air we breathe from the wood and flooring that is in our homes. But then Jesus said this, centuries ago, and the words don’t go away.

Please be clear, Jesus’ words apply to every age. There has always been some new disease and some foreign power just waiting over the horizon to challenge our futures. But Jesus calls these things

“birth pangs”, which really re-frames them. They are about new beginnings, not about dead endings.

Our fears are always about ending, and in the case of anything that seems apocalyptic, we need to hear Jesus frame them as part of the birth process. And what is being birthed? Disciples! People who can stand before the world and say that these things do not scare Jesus out of our lives. These things do not cause us to doubt the caring God who has touched us personally. And we will testify, and the Spirit of God will give us the strength to speak and the words to speak, Jesus promises.

Which isn’t that hard, if we have a story to tell. What I mean is this: if we have seen something, we don’t have any problem talking about, describing it. It could sometimes be bigger than words, like what we felt when our child was born, or when we saw the Grand Canyon or the Norwegian fjords. But it is still real. And we don’t have problems talking about our joy at the Badgers being one of the favorites in the NCAA and our intent to watch the games, or my pride that the wonderful state of Iowa has not one but three teams, all the state universities they have, in the NCAA – UNI, U of I, and ISU.

We don’t have trouble telling stories of Jesus when Jesus has touched our lives, or answered our prayers, or come close to us when we fasted from foods and from TV and from gaming and internet and texting.

For many of us, we have stories of tough days becoming the gateway to joy. We can talk about the diagnosis of a heart blockage turning into procedures, stents or bypass, that promise us a longer life. We can talk about finding a problem that turns out to eliminate a problem, a cancer removed and chemo or radiation therapies that killed those little cancer buggers in our bodies and brought us a new day. Some can talk about losing a job, only to find one that brings renewed joy and purpose.

Jesus was not trying to tell us that the world was marching forward on some sort of timetable, and there is a countdown, and our job is decipher how many years planet earth has left. In a few more paragraphs, we hear him say that the Son of Man doesn’t even know the day and the hour of his return. He was saying that in the world as we know it, there will be big changes, and those are not reasons to abandon our faith or feel that God has abandoned us. Something new is being birthed.

And indeed, exactly where Jesus sat, on his third and last visit to the Temple, would become a pile of rubble in the year 70 A.D., within the lifetime of many of his listeners. The Romans would reach such a decisive victory over Jewish rebels that the nation would be destroyed for quite some centuries, and its inhabitants dispersed as refugees throughout the world. The words of Jesus came true. Destruction to Jerusalem happened.

But that wasn’t the end to the words. He offered up hope and strength to people of faith of all generations. And then he showed us how to face the trials and the judges and the court of public opinion. He began a journey over the next two days that led to his own trial and his own defense and his own death warrant. And He went with love and forgiveness for those who misunderstood him and condemned him.

He gave us, in living technicolor, the witness of how to live when our days are falling apart, and he gave us the victory that tells us that no human power gets the last word in matters of life and death.

Which is why the cross looms overhead us and beside us. As our bishop said on Sunday, we are surrounded by crosses for a reason.

And that reason is not fear.

It is hope. It is witness. It is the public testimony that says we see what God was up to, we get it now, and we would like to God to birth in us a new story of faith.



March 11, 2015  

Mark 10: 17-22 

Last week I talked just a little bit about the three ancient practices of Lent, which are fasting, prayer and giving alms, or making gifts to the poor without any expectation of receiving benefits or return payments. And in talking about fasting, I described it as much more than a diet fad, giving up chocolate or ice cream or special things we love like asparagus. I talked about letting go of things that fill our life to such degree that they might not be healthy. Fasting can be the act of letting go of the things that keep us from taking time to grow our spirits. So I suggested that we can fast from television, or fast from the internet, or fast from gaming, or fast from texting, in just such a real way as we can fast from Brussel sprouts. But I also said that fasting is something even larger than giving up something. It is filling that time with our Lord, or using that money we would have spent on the activity and then taking the time to reconnect with God, and using the money to give to others rather than spend on ourselves. So fasting leads to prayer leads to giving, in some real way. All three Lenten practices are wound together.

Here is this week’s story from the Gospel of Mark. Remember that the theme word this Lent is “must”. What does that word mean in our world? So this man runs up to Jesus with a question that is so important he just has to blurt it out: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus is setting out on a journey. The man is possibly delaying the start of Jesus’ trip. When has that ever kept Jesus from taking time for people? So Jesus stops in his tracks and takes time to teach and to respond in this moment. Just before all this happened, religious leaders were trying to trap Jesus with their questions. Is it lawful to divorce someone? What are the reasons or conditions? There were different traditional answers, and they mattered greatly in the lives of the couples and families affected. Which side are you going to take on this important family and societal issue, Jesus?

But this man isn’t trying to trap Jesus. He appears to be really sincere, so much so that he is willing to impose his question upon a man getting ready to leave on a trip.

And some translations would say that this man flung himself at Jesus’ feet. That translation might suggest that the man is really worked up about this question. Or it might suggest that he really wants to get Jesus’ attention, or make Jesus feel that he is incredibly serious about his request. And it might suggest that he really respects Jesus as an authority figure.

What must I do to inherit eternal life, the question rings out. There’s a pre-supposition in that question; a couple of them, actually. First of all, this man does believe that there is life after death. That’s important. Not all Jews of the day believed that. Not everyone today believes that. A number of people simply believe that one lives, does one’s best, then dies, hopefully peacefully after living a long life, and then what survives is our reputation, our philanthropy, and our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Now that’s a pile of stuff living on, but none of these are the same as eternal life. But this man believes in eternal life, that there is something beyond life as we know it.

The second presupposition is that we can do something to get there. The pronoun “I” is wrapped in the middle of this sentence: what must I do. And the answer is somehow tied up with money, and stuff, and ultimately fasting. “Listen: Sell all that you have and give it to the poor”, Jesus says. And then we are told that this man had lots of possessions, and went away shocked and grieving.

In between these moments was a Q and A, a question and answer session between Jesus and the man. The man calls Jesus good, and Jesus humbly says that one can only call God good, and then begins to recite the 10 Commandments. Because this is spring training, let’s go back to the basics, and say the 10 Commandments together:

I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods………

                  (Look in Exodus 20 and read them in their full context)

Jesus does just that with the man, and the man says he has kept them from his youth.

Which means: look, Jesus, I’m very respectable. I’m very dependable. I really learned my lessons in Boy Scouts and I’ve got both the 10 Commandments and the 12 points of the Scout law all covered:

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent”. I’m doing all these 22 things of what I’m supposed to. But I’m just not sure I’m doing enough. Give me confirmation.

And here is Jesus’ surprising answer, at least, very surprising to this man, and I think to all that guides our society today: Being respectable isn’t enough. Not causing harm to other people is not enough. Having no police record is not enough. In other words, at the center of our faith, not doing stuff isn’t enough.

Doing stuff is where faith becomes real. And here is what you need to be doing, says Jesus. You need to let go of your stuff, the things that are so important to you that you cannot imagine life without them, the stuff that takes your time and your heart, the stuff that gives you identity in the community. Let go of all of that. Fast from that. That’s the starting point to Jesus’ talk about eternal life.

I don’t think for a minute that Jesus was trying to make it impossible for this guy to get peace about eternal life. I don’t think for a minute that Jesus tries to keep anyone out of eternal life or heaven. I do think Jesus is asking us to fast, to let go, to come closer to God and farther from the stuff of this world, and Jesus is ‘spot on’ when he talks about our stuff, our possessions, as causing a huge blockage to our faith journey.

So why do people go out and camp in a tent, anyway? Sure, it might be to get closer to nature.

But maybe it is to unburden ourselves of stuff, and to live simply. What happens when we go on a trip, and what we need to bring along has to fit into a carry-on suitcase unless we want to pay baggage fees? Do we go on this trip all upset because we can’t take our whole wardrobe? We will take all our kids heading to Detroit and convince them that they cannot take their whole bedrooms with them on the bus. We do these periodic stints of living without, but Jesus wasn’t just talking about living out of a tent or suitcase or duffel bag. Jesus was talking about everyday life.

What MUST I do? Jesus’ answer is not a prescription or a law. It is a definition of God’s new reality. The people who come with me into the kingdom are people who are fasting and praying and giving, not the people who are holding on. If we are holding on, we are held back. It’s that simple.

The bus will leave without us. So God invites us to come on this journey with Jesus by letting go of stuff, and even people, traveling unencumbered with Jesus on a journey defined by faith.

Jesus left on the journey. He went down the road. We presume this man was not going with him and the disciples, because he was grieving, which meant he had to go back home to be reconnected with the stuff that give him his identity, rather than letting go so that Jesus might give him his identity.

Fasting is not a diet craze. It is a lifestyle of letting go and reconnecting with Jesus.

Jesus was not questioning the man’s integrity. He was inviting new priorities.

Jesus was inviting new life. The man wanted his old life.

Our Lenten journey will be a trip into doing some new things, and letting go of lots of the old. That’s a trip into new life. And Jesus showed his disciples how to shed the distractions, and how to claim the cross. That will be our struggle of faith every day, but Jesus invites us to walk down this road with Him. Jesus invites us to know that He will laugh and cry with us on the way. What better way to try something new than with a support group? That is what we are to each other, with Jesus coaching us, inviting us to let go and learn how to do this new thing called faith.


MIDWEEK LENT 2 2015 – MARCH 4, 2015 OSLC

March 4, 2015  

MARK 9:35

It was my first part of Navy Chaplain’s School. Commander Don Muchow was our Basic Course instructor, and he was strong, helpful, tough, and a master teacher. There are many things he taught me that I still remember, but here is one story.

He talked about his first duty station at Philadelphia and the old Naval Hospital there. It was a busy place during the Vietnam War, and he had an active ministry among the wounded. He thought he was doing a great job, until the senior chaplain and he had a sit-down supervisory session. The supervisor asked how things were going, and Don bubbled about how he knew the doctors and the patients, their names and so much more. Then he was stopped in his tracks by this question: what are the names of the people who clean the rooms? Who are the people who bring the patients their food? What are their names? Who does the laundry? And the senior chaplain went on to say that these nearly invisible people often had the most direct contact with the patients, and had a huge part to play in making the patient’s stay happy and comfortable. He was required to come back the very next day with everyone’s names. He was humbled. He thought he was important, and knew the important details, and was succeeding at doing the important things. His supervisor needed to re-focus his efforts.

Don later became Rear Admiral Muchow, 20th Chief of Chaplains of the United States Navy, and he used this teaching story often. Here is his message, and here is our message from the Gospel of St. Mark: we neglect the invisible at our peril. Often those whom regard as unimportant are extremely important.

Which is where we encounter Jesus, master teacher, and his disciples in today’s lesson. “What were you arguing about?” Jesus was asking his disciples. “ I heard you getting kind of animated as we were walking back there. It seemed like something serious was going on.” But of course, he knew. James and John had asked out loud if they could sit at his right side and left side when he got into this kingdom. They wanted seats at the front table. They wanted public recognition for all their work with Jesus. They wanted what would turn out to be their Lenten journey to pay off in tangible ways. And this desire had spilled over into the conversations on the walk. Obviously, the other disciples were not pleased that these two had tried to jump to the head of the line.

But come on, that’s where we all want to be. Have you ever gotten up very early the day after Thanksgiving to get in on the first hour of the sales? Of course, when you get there, you go to the end of the line, and others just fall in behind you. Does anyone go out in the early hours of Black Friday and say to everyone else “Where’s the back of the line? I’ll just stay there.” Yes, of course we stand at the back of the line, but it soon becomes the middle of the line as others get behind us. We don’t seem too eager to keep backing up to last place and staying thee.

And we don’t seem to like our sports teams in last place. It has been difficult being a Timberwolves fan this year, and a Bucks fan last year, or a Minnesota Twins baseball fan over the past three years. Losing over 300 games in the past four years takes some steam out of their fan base.

We get it. Winners, not losers, get the crowd buzz. Winners, not losers, get the attention. Those at the front get the goodies when there is a sales rush. Here’s what we don’t get so easily. Jesus uses the word “must”. Whoever wants to be first of all must be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus didn’t say you couldn’t be first. He said you must be last to get there. You must be servant of all to get there.

Then Jesus took a little child and put the child in front of the disciples. He cradled the child in his arms and said “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me”. Don’t get me wrong. Children have always been loved. Children have always been cradled. Children have always been held lovingly, and we have always melted as their baby blues or browns look back at us. They just weren’t the center of attention all the time as they are now. The effort it took to grind the grain and bake the bread and harvest the crops and shepherd the sheep and goats didn’t allow time to sit together in front of television, or just plain time to dote on the kids. In fact, kids were not considered important in Jesus’ day other than as more hands to work. Those under age 2 were not counted in the census.

So Jesus took someone, a child, probably under that age of two, a little being who was not important, and said that greatness comes through paying attention, and holding on to, and welcoming the ones who are unimportant. Hospitality not only goes to the ones we know, and to our relatives, and to those we work with, and to disciples we travel down the road with. Hospitality goes to the most unlikely people, like the children who usually eat someplace else, and the invisible folk who don’t score invitations to eat with us.

We seek out those who cannot do anything to benefit our career. We seek out those who do not do things back for us. This is not an option. It is a must. The kingdom of God is made this way.

Anything else is artificial.

The three basic actions of Lent are fasting, giving alms, and praying. Fasting is a not a word about a new diet plan. It isn’t even limited to food. It can be abstaining from anything that fills our being. Certainly that can be unhealthy or too much food. But it could be fasting from too much television, or fasting from too much internet time, or fasting from too much gaming. Fasting is even more than doing without. It takes the time we spent on food or TV or internet or gaming and fills it with Jesus. It takes that time and fills it with quiet and attentive listening to God, to prayer, to Bible reading, to making caring connections with others we have treated as unimportant.

Alms is giving money without any thought that we will get repaid.

Prayer, well prayer is just taking time to converse with God, just as we talk on our phones or send text messages.

Somewhere, in our Lenten journey, we go from first in line to the end of the line, to serving others rather than being the ones waited on.

And that journey to the end of the line is our Lenten journey this week.



March 1, 2015  

GENESIS 17:1-7, 15-16; ROMANS 4:13-25; MARK 8:31-38

Last Sunday night was the Academy Awards, the much sought after awards from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. One of the nominees for best actress was Reese Witherspoon for her portrayal of Cheryl Strayed, real life writer of the book and the movie with the same title, “Wild”. It was a movie I really did enjoy, even though it is rated R for some of Ms. Strayed’s escapades that were not as wholesome as the goal of the whole walk was portrayer. She was working through her personal demons. Anyway, near the beginning of the movie, about a walk from south to north, California to Oregon on the Pacific Crest Trail, a walk begun after the death of her mother at a much too young age, and the unraveling of her marriage, the heroine played by Ms. Witherspoon buys and packs all her hiking gear together, loads up her pack, and gets a ride out to the trailhead. She puts her 80-some pound backpack on, tries to stand up straight, and promptly tumbles over backwards. In real life, the author called this backpack “Monster”, and said it grew to be part of her life. She writes: “Though its weight and size still confounded me, I’d come to accept that it was my burden to bear. I didn’t feel myself in contradiction to it the way I had a month before. It wasn’t me against it. We two were one”

We too were one. Abraham was given the gift of a promise. It’s called a covenant, a promise meant to last that shapes life. We have wedding covenants, and condominium covenants, and land use covenants, just for starters in the legalities of our modern world. And in this place we need to keep reminding one another that we have lasting covenants from God. . Abraham received God’s covenant. That is today’s First Lesson. Actually, if one were to read all of Genesis, it is such a world-defining covenant that God keeps coming back to give Abraham these words of promise 7 different times. It was a sign that God doesn’t give up on us. Last week we heard about Noah and the flood in the first lesson, and now some untold years later, in this week’s first lesson, we receive God’s promise in another covenant. Abraham is given an identity that is not only his hope, but the hope of all his descendents. God wants to have a conversation with God’s people that lasts not just a few years, but centuries. This covenant to Abraham is one of those long-lasting promises meant to spark discussion and conversation for generation upon generation.

A 99-year old man was given a promise of God’s blessing through a family that would ultimately be multitudes big. It had to start with one child in the advanced years of Abram and wife Sarai, and that child and that child’s children would be a blessing to all who come after them. Sometimes this promise seemed like a monster backpack for Abraham. He couldn’t wait. He got his maid pregnant before his wife got pregnant. Hagar and their son Ishmael, who represent Arabic people today, and whom Muslims consider their forbears, are a sign that Abraham couldn’t always deal with the weight of trying to carry the promise. Covenant keeping isn’t always our best attribute of faith. We are all Abrahams who struggle with the monster backpack, and often fall backwards.

And Jesus was a direct descendent of Abraham and Sarah, right in the line of this great promise.. God didn’t ever give up on us, or forget God’s promise, is a huge part of the Good News story. That’s why Mary was told that her child would be Immanuel, God With Us. . Last Wednesday I preached on the message that begins today’s Gospel, where Jesus says that the “Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, after three days rise again”. I talked about how God did not lose on purpose, or passively give up in the face of opposition.. Jesus walked into enemy territory to be God’s mission for us. Jesus was willing to walk into Jerusalem and into the Temple and into the arenas where others would play with his life, just so that God’s work might be done and God could continue for countless more generations to carry on God’s conversation with God’s people.

Today we hear what happened right after those words. Peter decided to instruct Jesus in theology. The taught one decided to go after the teacher. Peter decided to put a stop to this silliness right then and there. It was as if hearing about the cross was a monster backpack and Peter toppled over trying to lift this load.

Jesus was quick to tell Peter that his mind was all caught up in the stuff of human living. God has a different way to teach us about living. Those who want to follow him must learn about God’s way of living. We find out that the God of covenant, the God of Noah and his family, and Abraham and Sarah and their family, is not a God of wrath, but of love and humility and servanthood. Like Cheryl Strayed setting out on the Pacific Coast Trail, not having a clue about the mountains and deserts and snow at the high elevations that are the various parts of the book and the movie, we have no clue what it is to set out to try to follow Jesus. God has been talking to us for centuries, but each generation has deal with our slowness in understanding God’s century old conversation with us. So God came in flesh, with audible words and clear actions, so that we would not be confused about the God who keeps God’s promise. God came in the flesh with real audible words and noticeable actions so that we would not be confused about how God acts in the world. It is always for the children, always for the children, that God works I love.

But this cross thing still does get confusing. It sometimes topples us over, just like it did Peter, like our 80 pound backpack Monster. Is Jesus signing me up for suffering and death? Is Jesus really wanting me to get nailed to a cross? Does Jesus really want me to be humiliated and scorned too? Is that the conversation God wants to have with me?

Perhaps. But it certainly is the way God will converse with us, God in Jesus, God in Pilate’s halls and Herod’s palace and Caiaphus’ chambers, will choose the path of the cross. And that will be where we hear the voice of God, coming from the top side of a cross.

If she only knew what she was getting herself into, Cheryl Strayed and 80 pound backpack tumbling over at the start of the Pacific Crest Trail…..If we only knew what we were getting ourselves into, covenant of God on our back, the trail leading to the cross, well then…….

And that’s right where God picks us up on the trail, and the conversations start.


February 25, 2015  

MARK 8:31 “The son of man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected, and be killed, and after three days rise again…”

Today’s verse comes almost exactly half way through the Gospel of Mark. It is near the end of Chapter 8, out of 16 chapters. These eight chapters have been filled with great and powerful stories about Jesus: he triumphs over Satan in the wilderness; he calls disciples who are so compelled to respond that they leave their occupations and go with him; he casts out demons; he heals people who were hopelessly left out of that day’s medical world; he calms storms on the Sea of Galilee. The list is bigger than that, but I think you have enough acquaintance with the Biblical stories to know what I am saying. This Jesus is more powerful than all that comes up against him.

And when we hear this verse tonight, it follows a high point in the telling of the story of the Good News of Jesus Christ, which is what Mark calls his Gospel book. Jesus has asked his disciples who the people are saying he is. They reply that some say he is Elijah come back, others say Moses, others say one of the great prophets. And then Jesus asks this direct, straight forward and pointed question: Who do you say that I am? And Peter, who often seems impetuous, who seldom can be held back, says an incredible answer, one that is uttered for the first time: You are the Christ, the son of the living God.

Now that would be worth celebrating. If you and I figured out that somebody was a long lost brother or sister, we would be crying and screaming and hugging. When someone asks the question “Will you marry me?”, all of a sudden two people have a new relationship when they say yes. Or when one is picked for a team in sports, or a band or symphony, one has a new relationship with the athletes or the musicians. This moment should have marked a new relationship between Jesus and Peter and the rest of the disciples. But here is how Jesus responds: don’t tell anyone. And he urged them to remain silent. You would have thought that this was the opportune time for a least a great big group hug.

Why is this? WE call this the riddle of Mark, the Messianic secret. Let’s talk about this secret.

When Mark tells the story, as I just shared with the Tuesday morning Bible study group, he takes 5 chapters out of 16 to tell the story of Holy Week. That tells us what is important to Mark. If we are going to know who Jesus is, we need to get to Holy Week. If we want to know the heart and mind of God, and the purpose of Jesus coming to this world, we need Holy Week. We need persecution and flogging and questioning and cross examination and betrayal and crucifixion. Only then can we see humanity clearly, and what we do to God, and only then can we see God clearly.

Miracles, no matter how dazzling, don’t tell us the heart and mind of God. They only show power. No matter how wonderful the casting out of demons and healing of the sick and raising of dead children back into the arms of their parents might be, these demonstrations only confirm our bias. Our bias is always, as humans, to honor power. We love power, we worship power, we adore power. We love those who get away with things, and evade things, and escape things.

But what do we do with servanthood? How do we honor those who serve us?

Mark’s Gospel says that he will be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes. These are specific titles for the group, the official representatives who made up the Jewish government.

In their eyes, they were the real Israel. Rome was the impostor. Elders were lay members of the court, chief priests were members of the aristocratic families who ran the Jewish court, and scribes were the professional religious interpreters or lawyers of the day. Their court was called the Sanhedrin, and had 70 members made up of these 3 groups. Jesus was saying that the Jewish court would put him to death.

Later on, just to keep things fully balanced, as the events play out, Mark will also say the Gentiles killed Jesus, meaning the Romans and non-Jews who had political power.

Jesus must come up against the religious power curve of his faith tradition, and he will come up against them by servanthood.

Why would the most powerful God put away God’s power? Why would God submit?

That is the question that brings Lent to our world.

It is the one we should ponder every day. Why God, would you serve me?

Why, God, would you put away your strength to be afflicted? Why, God, would you allow death to become part of your story?

Let me be clear. This persecution and death were not because Jesus gave up. That happened last night. Perhaps you heard today about a girls’ basketball game in Tennessee where each team tried to lose. The game’s winner would have advanced to play a powerhouse team, and by losing, they actually felt they were increasing their odds of advancing in tournament play by getting a lesser opponent for the next game. Both teams were barred from post-season play. No, Jesus wasn’t trying to lose, so to speak, nor was Jesus actively giving up.

What God was doing, God right in front of our eyes, was walking the journey of faith. The whole future of Jesus, even though He was the Christ, the Son of God, just as Peter stated out loud, was to be put into the hands of Almighty God in heaven. So the prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane are not fake prayers. Jesus is really putting himself into the hands of God. The tears over Jerusalem are not fake tears. Jesus is really crying over the fact that they don’t get it, and resist him, and harm him, and turn away from him.

And we have just learned about James Foley, killed by ISIS, first wrote about his Christian faith in an earlier imprisonment, and then in this captivity, converted to Islam. And those who know him say it might have been so he could have safe time for his Christian prayers. What would you do if captured by ISIS simply because you were Christian? You had cross jewelry on when captured. Would you turn away from the faith? Or what would you do, if captured, so to speak, by your classmates who want to know why anyone would go to church? Why would anyone do that? Do you give up your calling?

Jesus knew that the only way to make clear the mind and heart of God was to start walking into enemy territory. He had been in Satan’s domain, out in the wilderness. He had been in his own hometown when they pushed him out of the synagogue and gathered a mob to throw him over the cliff and kill him. He had faced opposition from the start. Now it would come from organized religion.

And He moved ahead, because only in the show down that put life on the line would the world really begin to see what was true, and what was false; what was real faith and what was mere institution; what was truly God and what was a fake God made in our image.

We scarcely understand this. But we don’t have to turn it away. All the time we accept things into our lives we don’t understand. Who truly understands how a cellphone works, but we claim it. Who truly understands how God works, but we receive this wonderful promise, and we ponder what a wonderful God would do just this, for us, be our servant.


LENT 1 B 2015 – FEBRUARY 22, 2015 OSLC

February 22, 2015  

We just started Lent this past Wednesday with ashes and prayer and Holy Communion on the day we call Ash Wednesday. We heard difficult words that are true and sobering: from dust you came, and to dust you will return.

Ashes are the Biblical sign of repentance. But repentance isn’t necessarily a dying move. The whole story of Jonah in the Old Testament isn’t really focusing on a large fish and Jonah as fish food. It is about repentance, and Jonah’s struggle to go proclaim that to the city of the enemy, Nineveh. But after the detour involving that big fish and other struggles, when Jonah finally talked with the Ninevites about it, they repented. A city was saved. The whole city repented and sat in sack cloth and ashes.

Ashes are a sign of death, of fragility. They clearly suggest something that doesn’t last. Clear back in Genesis, God told Adam “Dust you are, and to dust you will return.” Lent imposes on us the unpleasant fact that we will expend an unbelievable amount of time and money to avoid the fact that we are dust. We aren’t going to last.

So we had ashes put on us this past Wednesday. The word we use is imposed, because we get bumped into by something we would rather avoid, the imposition of ashes. And we get other truths imposed on us as well, and that is the joy we get to proclaim in this place over and over. Nothing will separate us, not even life or death, from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So Jesus comes to share our humanity, and that includes physical pain and very real death. Nothing will separate us from the love of God. God comes into our world as Jesus and Jesus stands with us, knee deep in our mortality, dust to dust, ashes to ashes, that God might save us and bring us close to God.

Today we hear that so wonderfully in the story of Jesus’ baptism. Many years ago my dream job was to be a life guard. In my small community, the swimming pool is where we met all summer. It was where farm and town folk met. It was where class mates came to mingle. We did as much laying around on the cement listening to the top 10 hits as we spent time in the water. So the dream job was to be there all day, seeing everyone and staying connected.

So I signed up as a 16 year old for the tough classes of Red Cross life saving. They were held in the morning in days when the pool wasn’t heated. We froze in that water, but I got my dream job. I was certified as a life guard.

And one of the main rules we learned was this: when you see someone in difficulty in the water, you don’t get in the water with them if it can be helped. You throw a buoy, you extend a pole, you toss a rope, you get flotation right to them. You reach out to them as much as humanly possible. Only as a last resort do you get in the water with them. Why? Because drowning people have a tendency to drag you down with them. Drowning people tend to drown their saviors. In desperation and panic, they will climb on anything to get out of the water, and that includes human life savers. So I weighed 120 pounds, as I think with smiles on their faces, they kept using 250 pounders as the flailing people in the water, trying to show how easy it was to drag me down with them.

So here is what happens in the Baptism of Jesus. Scholars constantly argue about why God would need to be baptized, but let me simply say that Jesus is jumping into the water to save us. It is the last resort, and Jesus is willing to be piled on, climbed on, pulled down into the water to save us. He goes there willingly, knowing that to join us in baptismal water will cost him his life.

So what does God do to get out attention? God could easily have sent a Messiah who was a scolder, a person who would be thoroughly justified in saying that God is ticked off at us and wants to punish us. But we get someone who jumps in the water with us and for us.

And then He comes out of the water and begins to publicly speak. Here are Jesus’ first words: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.”

What good news? That God will jump into the troubled waters of our world, willing to die to save us. The good news is that God will be one of us, dripping wet, walking the walk we find so hard to do when we get out of the water.

The kingdom is here, and it starts to include us with baptism. And it continues with repentance, our daily acknowledgement that we are not avoiding trouble nor keeping our lives pure and sinless.

The kingdom is here. Jesus has jumped into the water. We are rescued and saved. We have a new chance at life. That is the message we celebrate in every single worship service, and Lent is here, to remind us again that we are living again, thanks to Jesus.



February 19, 2015  

You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling’

Whoa, that lovin’ feeling.

You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling,

Now it’s gone, gone, gone, oh oh oh.


50 years ago, this song sung by the Righteous Brothers became the #1 hit in America.

Maybe it would make a good theme for Lent. We’ve lost that loving feeling.

At least, that’s one message behind much of our Scripture on this Ash Wednesday.

From Isaiah, there is a call to a nation of God’s people not to neglect or forsake acting in the ways of righteousness.

Righteousness is one of those big Biblical words that mean something special, and it’s a word we show know. Righteousness is a conduct that doesn’t jerk around day by day, but it has a consistent focus, and that focus is showing the world that the living God is in charge of our life. It isn’t enough to shorten the word to holy, as if we are special and set apart in some more perfect way. That is certainly part of it. We are indeed chosen by God. That should be at the center of how we define our existence: chosen by God, called by God, marked by God, washed by God, launched by God.

Righteousness doesn’t mean that artists are going to make statues of us and put them in front of churches. Righteousness doesn’t even mean that people will name churches after us, although I do personally like the ring of St. Mark’s. Righteousness means we constantly ask ourselves the question “How do I live to tell the world that God is real in my life?”, and then act accordingly, by the help of God.

And of course, Isaiah tells the people who know that righteousness is a wonderful calling for both people and nations, that they need to humble themselves. That is what we are doing today. It is a bit humbling, isn’t it, to walk out of church with a black cross on our foreheads.

Isaiah asks the question: Why do we fast, but the world doesn’t notice, nor do we figure out why we are doing it and what it means? Exactly why are we going to get ashes today? And he tells us the age-old answer, which is precisely our age-old problem, as new as today. We don’t notice. I bet back then they were too busy making a living to notice, just like today. Or they were too busy just surviving. I don’t think the predicament of human existence has changed much at all in 3,000 years.

Why do we fast, asks Isaiah? Because we are making choices that are not God’s choices. We are forgetting that righteousness is not about me, meaning how good I am and how much other people respect me for that. Righteousness is about re-creating the world in God’s image. Righteousness is about loosing the bonds of injustice, about undoing the thongs of the yokes that put people in bondage, about letting oppressed go free. Righteousness is about sharing bread with the hungry, and bringing homeless into our houses, and seeing the naked, which really means people not able to be dressed to go out in public, and clothing them with what they need.

And then, dear people, we will be back in right relationship with God, and God will hear us and we will be re-connected.

So let’s hear this call, and be connected with God today.

Because, let’s face it. We’ve lost that lovin’ feeling.

Paul, in his second letter to the Christians trying to figure out righteousness in Corinth, entreats them. He pleads with them, cajoles them, begs them, to see that now is the acceptable time of salvation. Folks, you don’t have to wait for something more. This is God’s time right now. And then follows the whole list of excuses we use about why we would go on some kind of spiritual detour: afflictions, meaning who doesn’t let the flu and colds and worse become an excuse; and hardships, and calamities, and sleepless nights, and hunger, and worse: beatings and riots and more. Do you see yourself in that list someplace? Come on, God, you don’t expect me to be concerned about being a living sign to the world of your presence when life is this lousy, do you? This is more than ‘my dog ate my homework’ kind of excuse to God. This is Paul speaking the truth. We use the everyday struggles of our personal world to say, “God, I deserve a rain check on this righteousness stuff. God, give me a pass today.”

And Paul reminds the Christians that they have all the power of God right at hand. They do not need to be overwhelmed. In fact, they don’t need excuses. The weapons and power and strength of righteousness and living as God’s people are within reach. Purity and knowledge and patience and kindness and holiness of spirit and genuine love and rightful speech are right here. God has come close to us in Jesus Christ, and given them to us. The power of God is given to us. It is as if Paul were saying, you’ve got the medicine in your medicine closets. Open the door and just take the stuff. Use what you have been given.

And our Gospel from St. Matthew, in the section we call the Sermon on the Mount, is Jesus’ kind words to say that we don’t need to let the whole world know that we are working on this righteousness thing. We don’t need to hold out a mirror, or use public venues to do religious stuff, or sound all preachy and churchy when we talk, or go around all hang-dog and scruffy so that everyone asks us what we are doing, and we say, well guess what, I’m fasting today.

And don’t try to think of life as a spiritual bank, either, where you pile up all these good things you are trying to do, Jesus said, like some super-big job application for the holiness club. Just let your heart be the place where God dwells, and where the motivation for living comes, and where you hear God guide your next move. That’s all.

Join me again:

You’ve lost that loving feeling……whoa, you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling…..

So Lent begins today, with honesty before God.

We hear God tell us the truth, and pray together, dear God, let me love the world, its creatures, and its people, just like you do. Jesus, show me the way today, and oh yes, if that way has something about a cross in it, dear God, let my heart be strong enough to walk with you.


February 15, 2015  

There are moments that linger with us, the “take away our breath” kind of moments that are unforgettable and even shape us. Sharon had brought our only child at the time, Karin, to come join me on a Navy trip in San Diego. We took Karin to La Jolla and the wonderful Pacific beach there. We picked her up out of her car seat, and started walking on the beach toward the waves, and our 2 year old just got the biggest eyes in the world and said in awe and wonder “big water!” It was a defining moment, both for her and for us. We saw our beautiful world through her eyes.

Of course, so was her birth, one of those defining moments, as I held her as a newborn while Sharon was being attended to, and her baby blues were wide open and she focused unwaveringly on the weird person looking down at her. And I was smitten.

Many of us have driven west on I-80 in Nebraska, and can remember the first bluish line off in the distance that made the horizon irregular and interesting. And then we drove miles closer, and mountains came into view. And we have memories of places like Longs Peak outside Estes Park, or farther north at Jenny Lake and the Grand Tetons, and the views that no camera could contain as we look out on the world from a new and higher perspective. Those sights never leave us.

Or we have the colorful sunsets over the Mississippi, pink and blue and orange all mingled together in spectacular ways that make it hard for an artist to fully capture.

Or Sharon and I have our memories of going to the St. Louis Airport while in our first parish, having become sponsors for a refugee family from Laos. We waited for the family, mom and dad and 4 boys, to come off the plane, wondering what the Chittakones would be like. And I will never forget the first view of these new refugee friends.

We read about people who die, and see light and feel so at peace that it is a hard struggle to come back to life. Perhaps some of you have had that experience. We come to Transfiguration and hear a story about people given a view they will never forget.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. I will mark you, and I will say “from dust you came, and to dust you will return”. And it will be really hard on me, your pastor, because I know some of you will not be here next year. I have no clue, nor do you, who that might be. So we speak of death and life, and we pray that we do not lose faith or lose sight of God in our world. And in our darkest moments, we cry out for assurance that God is really here.

Which is why this Sunday is so special. There was a changing of the guard in the important ministry of prophet to God’s people, and Elijah’s time of ministry was up. He passed the mantle to Elisha, and then all saw Elijah taken up into the heavens in a fiery chariot. Here was a living and lasting memory, a photo in the mind’s eye, that God had been at work through Elijah, and God would do the same through his successor Elisha. There was no doubt that God was at work with these people.

And shepherds had seen and heard angels. Who could forget that view, or the view of the little one they were told to go visit, there in the manger in Bethlehem. There was no doubt that they had been in the presence of God. Who could forget, if you were a wise man from the east, that the star stopped them in their tracks at Bethlehem, and a humble family received their gifts and treasured their presence, and a future king lay there in his parents’ care.  And who could forget seeing the dove come down out of the heavens onto Jesus at his baptism in the river Jordan.

Or who could forget that they had been healed by this man Jesus of Nazareth, who made their lives new in a sudden and profound way? And who could forget that the presence of the inexplicable, the demonic, that which took over life in evil and awful ways with epileptic fits and strange paranoid thoughts and psychotic visions and convulsions and fits of rage, that evil presence was cast out by the One who could only have been sent by God.

So before we hear the tough news on Wednesday that we are dust and to dust we will return, and before we go to the grave with our brother Don Stern and our sister Louise Young this week, we listen and see this moment in our minds’ eyes, as Jesus takes some special friends up a mountain today. Mountains always seem majestic, and the heights always seem to make us feel closer to God, and on this height, there was the same Elijah who went up into the heavens, and there was Moses, who met God in the fire of a burning bush and began to offer leadership to an enslaved people who needed guidance on their way into God’s promise. And there was Jesus, glowing radiantly, a transfiguring of the One that Peter and James and John had been called to follow to fish for people. The world “transfigured” literally is the Greek word “metamorphosed”, a change just as we label a pupa changing into a beautiful butterfly in today’s science classes.

But unlike looking at ocean or viewing the distance from a Rocky Mountain high or seeing a sunset over the Mississippi, no matter how beautiful and life-affirming that might be, the transfiguration of Jesus is a bit disorienting. The disciples didn’t really know what to do, except hope that it would last long enough that they could take it all in. Jesus put his disciples on that disorienting boundary between this world and a world that God enters and disrupts. Everything, from Elijah and Moses showing up to the very voice of God speaking, leads up to these words: Listen to Him.

On Easter Sunday, we hear of a young man at the tomb, dressed in shining white clothing, who reveals the truth about the resurrection and tells the reality of the morning. “Do not be alarmed, the man says. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised, he is not here.” In other words, weren’t you listening to Him?

Some days I preach sermons that are an invitation to a life application, to do something that God is calling you and me to do. This is probably not one of those days. It is rather a day to simply come into a vision, an epiphany as we call it, a sight that makes life rich and bigger and better. It is a sight of Jesus, gleaming white, and a sound, the voice of God saying “Listen to him”.

Religion is not something we think up on our own. Our faith is revealed by God. Our faith is the result of gifts from God who enters our world, God who comes to us to give us a new reality. This is one of those days where the gift is given. Jesus gleams before us, a picture of what God and heaven and our future might be. Jesus is of another realm, simply put, another existence, a reality we can scarcely understand, but one that God reveals to us. And we are invited today, like Peter and James and John, to live in the revealing of God’s reality. This story we hear every Sunday and every time we pick up our Bibles did not come from peoples’ imaginations. It came as a gift, God’s revelation to us. We are being addressed today with an invitation to listen to God’s Son, and enter into God’s divine reality, and then go down the mountain to tell the world that God is here.

And maybe, in the prayers and in the singing and in the meal we receive, we might leave our world and enter a bit more into God’s world. We are not invited to escape our existence, but simply to walk into God’s presence, God who has entered our own existence. On days when we think, in the limits of our understanding of space and time, that God is up there or out there some place , and we are stuck down here, and we want so much for God to deliver us, we have this day. We have a glimpse. We have a vision. And we have an opportunity to think about God in a new way, and in a new reality, and we are given hope.

And this hope does not disappoint us. Even when we hear… from dust you came, and to dust you will return.

Dorcas Bazaar on Nov 16th

November 1, 2013  

Dorcas Society’s annual Christmas Bazaar is 10 am to 2pm, November 16th, 2013. Find our flyers posted around church and buy your tickets in advance for the hot lunch served this year by OSLC youth group as a fund raiser for summer trips.

We are in need of your help for volunteers, bake goods, Norwegian treats, jewelry, books and craft items to fill our tables. If you have something to contribute, please talk to a Dorcas member. We hope to see you on Saturday, November 16th!

Chicken-Q Fundraiser on June 22nd

June 5, 2013  

The Youth of OSLC will be holding a Chicken-Q fundraiser in the church parking lot on Saturday, June 22nd, during the Washburn Neighborhood Association Annual Yard Sale!

We will be serving dinner between 11:00 a.m – 6:00 p.m. Meals (provided by Rooster Andy’s) are $8 and include 1/2 chicken, baked beans, potato salad and dinner roll. Advance tickets can be purchased at the church office. Thank you for supporting the youth of Our Savior’s!

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