Advent 1 A – 2016

November 27, 2016  

Advent 1 2016
Romans 13:11-14
Our Savior’s La Crosse

I am not a morning person.
I just don’t like to get out of bed in the morning. I have never like getting out of bed in the morning. I probably never will like getting out of bed in the morning.

The only reason I get out of bed in the morning is because I have to. Either I have to get to work or I have to feed the dogs and the cats. I don’t want to get out of bed to do any of those things, not because I don’t want to do those things but because I don’t want to get out of bed.

When I do get up, it is hard for me to wake up because I gave up caffeine years ago.

St. Paul wrote in Romans “Besides this you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”
St. Paul reminds me of my mother.

As a child I had to share my room with my twin sister. My mother, who IS a morning person, would wake us up for school each morning by coming into our room and making a beeline for the windows, where she would snap the shades open and say “Twins, it’s time to get up!”

The light from the windows would glare into our eyes as we laid in our beds, groaning. My mother would then prance into the kitchen where she would pack everyone’s lunches. As we kids stumbled in for breakfast the radio would be blaring (which I hated) and the sun would be shining in the kitchen window, onto the kitchen table.

It was all quite sadistic.
It was time to get up.

“Besides this you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”

Martin Luther wrote in his sermon on our second reading:
“In response to the morning dawn, birds sing, beasts arouse themselves…”
(I have been up early enough to hear the birds sing. I have never noticed beasts arousing…)
Anyway, Luther wrote:
“In response to the morning dawn, birds sing, beasts arouse themselves and all humanity arises.”
Obviously, Luther was not exactly right. Not ALL humanity arises in response to the dawn. I try not to…

He wrote:
“At daybreak, when the sky is red in the east, the world is apparently new and all things reanimated…the comforting…preaching of the Gospel is compared to the morning dawn, to the rising sun…”
Luther called it the “womb of the morning.”

He wrote:
“the Gospel is compared to the morning dawn, to the rising sun—the womb of the morning, the day of Christ’s power wherein as the dew is born of the morning, we are conceived and born children of Christ.
This Gospel day is produced by the glorious SUN Jesus Christ.”

Lovely imagery.
This lovely imagery is our wake-up call.
It is Advent and Salvation is rising like the sun, waiting for us. Salvation is near to us, nearer than we first believed.

The glorious SUN Jesus Christ is shining. We live in his light.

Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that they were to “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Put on the armor of light. The gospel. Put on the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ who loves us and frees us. The gospel of Jesus Christ is our armor, it covers us, it protects us…

Others need to see the armor we wear. How do they see the armor we wear?
Luther wrote “Our works are our armor of light…”

Our works help us fight the darkness, fight the evil, they help us to fight those human temptations that take us into the shadows, away from the light.

Luther never said, he never wrote that our works– what we do day after day after day in service to God—are our salvation. He said our works are our protection. They are our armor.

The armor glows, it glistens in the SONlight.

This morning we woke, whether we woke cheerfully or begrudgingly, to the first Sunday in Advent. This morning we lit our first Advent candle. The light of the candle lightens this space, it lightens our worship, it lightens our lives, it lights the dark.  We put on the armor of this light, the gospel light.

We are called to put on this light.
It is our Calling, a wake-up call of sorts.
So that, through us, God’s SONlight shines.

Amen.

Pentecost 26 C – 2016

November 13, 2016  

Pentecost 26
Our Saviors La Crosse 2016
Luke 21:5-19

It is not an easy time to be living in the United States.

Regardless of how you voted this past week, if you voted, the past many years have been a time of struggle. Economic hardships top the list—but that hasn’t been the only struggle for people.

People have been hurting each other—quick to make judgments, quick to tell lies or to believe them, quick to close ourselves off from others rather than reaching out. We are quick to take sides and then to criticize those who find themselves on the other side.

Struggles have led to fear. Fears have led to anger. Angers have led to hurt. We have struggled with our hurts which takes us full circle back to fear. And anger.

Not every person living in the United States is struggling. Not every person is afraid. We aren’t all angry. But, there are people who are—and we, as followers of Christ, cannot turn our backs to those who struggle, we need to tend to them. We need to tend to each other if the fears and the anger and the hurt are ours, we need to tend to others who feel the same pains.

Throughout the history of the world, when people experience suffering, rather than find ways to remedy the suffering they experience some choose to take the focus off of the here and now and focus on the when—the someday—the what ifs. They take today’s fears and make them tomorrow’s.

Thinking about today’s gospel reading one scholar wrote:

These verses allow us to examine two visions of what it means to follow Jesus. One is focused on prophecies of the future and makes no difference in how one lives in the here and now. The other calls for such a commitment of life that those who dare to embrace it will find themselves persecuted… (New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 403).

How we live here and now matters. How we respond to the here and the now matters. As Christians, we cannot turn our backs to or take our eyes off of the suffering that people experience. Even if the suffering is our own.

Our faith does not promise us a life without suffering, it promises us a life of suffering. That is what it means to be people who follow the cross. Those aren’t easy words to say but the promise is clear.
Jesus said: they will persecute you…
Jesus said you will be betrayed…
Jesus said you will be hated.

When we follow the cross, when we practice what Jesus preached, when we dedicate ourselves to living lives of love, to living lives of grace, to living lives of forgiveness— it is not going to be easy. It will most likely hurt. Those who don’t walk our same path will resent us. They will judge us. They will hurt us.

It doesn’t make sense—that living a life of love would hurt.
It doesn’t make sense–that being graceful toward others would cause us suffering.
It doesn’t make sense—that choosing to forgive others would mean we ourselves are left to know pain.

It only makes sense when we acknowledge the reality of evil in the world and we remind ourselves: evil will always stand in opposition to love. Evil will always fight against grace. Evil will always try to harden our hearts.

There are good people on all sides of the political divides in our society. There are good, faithful people. We don’t all think alike. We don’t all reach the same conclusions after we have spent our time thinking. And so we make decisions that aren’t the same.

As Christian believers, we cannot let our political divides divide us. We must center ourselves on truths Christ taught us.

It is better to love than be loved.
It is better to serve than be served.

I picked the hymn of the day weeks ago. Our hymn is about the future, about the end time, about tomorrow, not about today.

I hope that today—we hear the trumpet sound God’s call to love one another.
I hope today—we sinners cry out, asking for the forgiveness of all of our sins.
I hope today—we hear Christians shout.

I hope today WE SHOUT words of love to one another. I hope today we shout words of peace to this suffering world. I hope today we make our hopes for tomorrow real.

Now. In this moment.

Amen.

All Saints C – 2016

November 6, 2016  

All Saints – 2016
Our Saviors, La Crosse
Luke 6:20-26

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Luke 6:20b

Well—that leaves me out!

Really, it does. I’m not poor. In fact, when comparing my financial status to that of many people in the world, I’m rich.

Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Luke 6:24

These verses are not about spiritual blessing or spiritual wealth. We would need to go to the gospel of Matthew for that. Matthew wrote that Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” Luke doesn’t. Luke wrote that Jesus was talking about actual poverty. About the poor. Jesus was blessing those who were, literally poor. And cursing those who were rich.

I don’t feel rich. There are a lot of things I would like to have that I can’t because we can’t afford it. I wouldn’t mind making a little more money. I really wouldn’t mind making a lot more money.

But I know—Jeanne have great wealth. We have a home and clothes and food and transportation and medical care and vacations and a retirement plan… many in the world will never see even a small portion of what we have.

Some would say we are blessed. Some would say we are blessed by what we have.

Not Jesus.

According to Luke, Jesus said “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

A liberation theologian wrote that

God has a preferential love for the poor not because they are necessarily better than others, morally or religiously, but simply because they are poor and living in an inhuman situation that is contrary to God’s will. The ultimate basis for the privileged position of the poor is not in the poor themselves but in God…”
(Gustavo Gutierrez, as quoted in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol .9, p. 145)

A few weeks ago I recommended we read scripture with the eyes of love, through a lens of love. This is how God sees the poor, through the lens of preferential love—a preference that confers blessing on those who have the least, woes upon those who have plenty.

I feel like this message is about me, and those like me, who have plenty—that we are being left out of something wonderful only to receive a curse. And in a way, it is.

But, the message is more about God, who sees those us of who are like me, sees our comfort and knows we don’t need the special care and concern that Jesus offers.

Imagine a doctor who is faced with providing care for a patient, just one patient. Two patients stand before the doctor. One is sick—so sick she can barely stand. She is coughing and her bones ache and her head hurts and her eyes are weepy.

The other, he seems fine. He is bouncing on the balls of his feet, raring to go and do something, anything. Energy radiates out of him.

Which patient will the doctor choose to care for? The one who is sick or the one who is well?

Just so Jesus turns his attention to the poor. And he curses those of us with wealth—because our wealth distracts us from the purpose of a God given, God blessed life.

Remember the rich young man who heard Jesus speak but went away sorrowful because his possessions were many. Jesus didn’t want the young man distracted by his wealth. The rich young man didn’t want to give away what was distracting him. The stalemate caused the man to turn away. Sorrowful, but away.

Which is the definition of sin.

If you are poor, it is my hope Luke’s words this morning bring comfort to you. You are blessed. You are loved. God’s embracing you, and calling the word to come to your aid.

If, like me, you are rich—it isn’t that God doesn’t love us. God loves us. But God needs us to do more, to do more with what we have. God calls us to share more, share more of what we own. And God calls us to care more, care more for those who need our support and our compassion.

Amen.

Pentecost 24 C – 2016, Reformation

October 30, 2016  

Pentecost 24/Reformation
Our Savior’s La Crosse
Luke 19:1-10

Zacchaeus was a wee little man—a wee little man who collected taxes and made a LOT of money. He was rich. And he was in a hurry.

We learned last week that tax collectors were considered to be “unclean” by Jewish society. They made their money fraudulently. They conspired to work with the Roman Government, oppressors of the Jewish people. Nobody liked a tax collector. Nobody wanted to be near any tax collector, let alone a chief tax collector who was rich.

Well—nobody but Jesus.

And, Jesus wasn’t just anybody.

A commentary I read said, about this story

The hero of the story is Jesus, not Zacchaeus. The last line appropriately returns to the issue of what this scene has revealed about Jesus: the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost. (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 359)

It might be difficult for us to imagine a rich little man being lost. In a free market system—wealth is what people strive for. With wealth comes power, often times. With wealth comes influence and respect and esteem.

Not back then, at least not for rich tax collectors. Zacchaeus was sinful. He was unclean. His home was impure.

Zacchaeus, a rich little man who ran around in public and climbed a tree, making a fool of himself—was publically acknowledged by Jesus, who invited himself into Zacchaeus’ home.

Jesus changed Zacchaeus’ life by changing his heart.

Luke doesn’t tell us how it happened. It seems as if Zacchaeus was open to change, he was anxious to see Jesus. But how was it that a simple acknowledgment and invitation had the power to change a man’s life?

We don’t know, but when we hear Zacchaeus say “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything [which he certainly had] I will pay back four times as much” (verse 8).

Jesus invited himself into Zacchaeus’ life. The desire Jesus had to be in Zacchaeus’ life changed him, hopefully forever.

Jesus brings the same power into our world, today.

Again, in the commentary I studied this past week I read

The gospel of Mark uses the word for “today” only one time. Luke uses the same term eleven times, often emphatically. (NIB, vl. 9, p. 359)

Jesus said to Zacchaeus “Today salvation has come to this house…” (verse 9).

Today.

Today we gather here, in this house, in the name of Jesus, receiving Jesus into our hearts.

Today—every day, every today—Jesus desires to join us as we join with him, receiving his love and sharing his love with each other—sharing his love with the world.

It isn’t always easy to see Jesus acting in our world. We can see the consequences of sin—do we see Jesus? Today—do we see Jesus?

Let me tell you where I have seen Jesus—the past few days. Where I have seen the power of his love working in and through this congregation:

*We receive phone call regularly from folks who are members of the LGBTQ community, or parents of folks who are—asking for spiritual advice and direction. They call us because they know we are a welcoming place…

*I gave a gas voucher to a young woman and her mother who are struggling to make ends meet. The young woman said “I am so thankful you are here and you help us.”

*I met some of the family members of one of our members, Betty Brenegan. Betty has been in the hospital and is now in the nursing home. Her family walked around the church, remembering growing up here. They were baptized, confirmed, married here. Their children were baptized here. Their father was an usher here for years. They were thrilled to see that the church is in such good shape, and that we have a strong ministry. Their memories of this congregation were heart-felt and loving. We will stand with them when Betty dies, offering comfort and love and peace.

Today we stand in the house of Jesus, knowing he has saved us, is saving us, and will save us.

Jesus doesn’t just save us, he asks us to take his message of salvation into the world, sharing the good news of his presence, not just in our lives, but in every person’s.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

Pentecost 23 C – 2016

October 23, 2016  

Pentecost 23
Luke 18:9-14
Our Savior’s La Crosse

My father is legally blind.
Whenever he reads anything at home, he uses a large, thick magnifying glass.

I was thinking of him, sitting at the kitchen table, using his magnifying glass to read the newspaper, as I prepared to write this sermon. A friend of mine has taught me that, when we read anything, we read with lenses on—even if we don’t wear glasses. Specifically, my friend believes we read scripture—we see scripture through our own unique set of lenses.

I’m wondering—how you “see” today’s gospel story.
How do you “see” the Pharisee? How do you “see” the tax collector?

On the front of our bulletin we have Jack Zinniel’s drawing of the two men. We see what Jack saw when he read the story.

Here’s a bit of history:
The temple the two men were praying in was much more than a temple room, it included open courtyards all around the building. The temple was open from prayer from 9:00 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon, but only priests could pray there. Others had to pray in the courtyards.

The Court of Israel, where the Pharisee prayed, was a yard just outside of the temple door. That is where the Pharisee stood. It was a place of prominence because it was close to the altar of sacrifice.

The tax collector would have been required to stand far from the temple door, perhaps as far away as the Court of Women or the Court of Gentiles. The tax collector was considered ritually and morally unclean, because of the way he made his living. Tax collecting was a fraudulent business. To make any money at all tax collectors had to charge more than folks were actually taxed so the collector could skim a percentage off of the top. In addition, he was collecting taxes for the Roman Empire—considered to be a foreign government by the Jews. All of this meant his work was sacrilegious.

On the other hand, the Pharisee standing by the temple door praying, was a devout man, sacrificing more for his faith than his faith required. He was required to fast once a year—he fasted twice a week. He was required to give ten percent of his agricultural income to the temple—he was giving ten percent of everything he made.

It wasn’t unusual for a Pharisee to do a little more than was required by Jewish Law—they wanted to be sure they were being obedient. But to do all that this man was doing—was a sign of remarkable self-disciple and heart-felt belief.

The way the story reads we want to like the tax collector and dislike the Pharisee. Jesus leads us to want that when he tells us the tax collector is the one who went home justified.

The words Jesus spoke become a lens we see the two men through. We see one man who exalted himself—he was full of himself and his own spiritual discipline. We see another man who saw himself for who he was—sinful. Needing God’s mercy.

Whatever else you see in this story—you see it through your own life experience. We all have different experiences so we all will see different things, even as we read the same words.

My friend suggests we read the bible through the lens of love. She recommends we set aside our own life experiences for a moment, try to put away the magnifying lens—and look with eyes of love.

Can we look at these three men: the Pharisee, the tax collector, and Jesus—with eyes of love?

I don’t think it is hard to look at Jesus and to love him. We know Jesus as our Savior. We know Jesus loves us. We know Jesus has mercy for us, just as he did for the tax collector.

What about that tax collector? And what about the Pharisee? Can we see them with love?

I ask because really, the two men are reflections of who we each are. That doesn’t mean we all stand in worship with puffed out chests, praying to God proudly, knowing we are more faithful than anyone else. And that doesn’t mean we are all frauds and cheats.

What it means is that we are sinful and unclean, in need of Jesus and the mercy he provides. Whether our sin is pride or greed or ten other things—we ARE sinful. We are no different than the two men in this story. We need Jesus.

This is where looking through the lens of love gets interesting—because we don’t just look at others, or at Jesus, with love. We also take a look at ourselves. Yes, we sin. Yes, we do those things that turn us away from God rather than turn us toward God. Yes, we need Jesus.

But–look at who we are– we are children of God, forgiven and loved. Always. Forever.

We are loved. We need to see ourselves through the lens of love, with eyes of love.

It doesn’t matter who we are or what we do, God loves us. It doesn’t matter if we stand at the front of the church or sit in the back, Jesus loves us. It doesn’t matter if we stand in need of a slice of humble pie, or if we need help to stand tall, Jesus loves us.

Jesus has been, is and always will be our Savior, our God, our merciful Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Amen.

Pentecost 20 C – 2016

October 2, 2016  

Pentecost 20 Sunday, October 2nd, 2016
Our Savior’s La Crosse
Luke 17:5-10

Thursday afternoon I walked up to a tree in my front yard and said to the tree “Tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea.”
It didn’t move.
So I said it again, louder. “Tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea.”
The tree still didn’t move.

I didn’t really expect the tree to move.

So I started wondering. What size is my faith? Smaller than a mustard seed?
A mustard seed is pretty small.
I wanted to believe my faith is larger than a mustard seed.

Since the 1st tree didn’t move, I walked up to the other tree in our front yard. I said to the 2nd tree “Tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea.”
It didn’t move.

I began thinking I might be in big trouble. Then I realized, if I’m in trouble, everybody else is, too. There’s nobody I‘ve ever heard of that can move trees by talking to them.
The disciples said to the Lord “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5) The disciples wanted to have more faith—enough faith to do everything Jesus was telling them they needed to do.
And the Lord said “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed” you could make trees move by telling the trees to move.

Why don’t we have enough faith?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. There’s so much to be done in the world, so much to be done in our community, so much to be done in our neighborhood, so much to be done in this congregation. Why can’t we get it all done? Why can’t we move the trees?

Why can’t we eliminate the causes of hunger? How much faith does it take?

Why can’t we eliminate the causes of homelessness? How much faith does it take?

Why can’t we eliminate all that causes war? All that causes hatred? All that causes suffering and addictions and cancer and prejudice and hatred and mean-ness and bullies? How much faith does it take?

Why can’t we move the trees?

Does it seem to you like suffering never ends? That’s because suffering never ends.

How much faith will it take to end suffering?
Jesus “Increase our faith!”

After telling the disciples that, if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they could move trees, Jesus seemed to change the subject. The disciples asked for their faith to be increased. He started talking about a slave and a master.
Rather than repeat a repulsive metaphor, let’s cut to the point.

Living in the world the way Jesus wants us to live demands that we don’t depend on ourselves, we depend on Jesus. We can just keep doing, and doing and doing. And we ought to keep doing because there is much to be done. But, ultimately, it has been Jesus and will be Jesus that brings love to the world, enough love to save us all, most importantly saves us all from our sinful selves.

To understand why there is sin in the world we have to look first at ourselves and see the sin we have in us. We cannot free ourselves from sin—how can we ever expect to be able to free the world?

We need Jesus.

The poem we have on the cover of the bulletin points to our own human frailty. We sin. We lead others to sin. We avoid some sins for a while and then jump head first into them and keep on sinning for as long as we can. We are forgiven our sins only to go sin some more.

We need Jesus.

Fortunately for us, and for the world, Jesus has come. And Jesus will come again.
 
Please, open your hymnals to hymn #598. This is our hymn of the Day. Look at the 1st verse:
“For by grace you have been saved and even faith is not your own, it’s the gift of God for you and not the works that you have done. Don’t let anybody boast, for this is God’s great gift.”

This is God’s great gift: the gift of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our salvation. And Jesus has saved, is saving, and always will save the world.

Amen.

Pentecost 19 C – 2016

September 25, 2016  

Pentecost 19 Sunday, September 25, 2016
Our Savior’s La Crosse
Luke 16:19-31

How many people like a surprise? (Show of hands)

Some of us do, some of us don’t.

I’ve been thinking about why… if we like surprises, what is it that opens us to the possibility of the unexpected?
If we don’t like surprises, what is it that makes us so uncomfortable? Is it the lack of control over what is going to happen next?
Are we afraid?

In our gospel reading, I would say the anonymous rich man received the surprise of his life—but his “life” was over. The rich man died. The rich man, who dressed in the color of royalty, who feasted sumptuously every day, who lived in a gated home—
The anonymous rich man was dead. He died and was buried.
He found himself in Hades. Pardon my language but, quite literally, the anonymous rich man had gone to Hell.

That was a surprise!
The rich man ending up in Hell was a surprise, not just to him, but would also have been a surprise to some of the people hearing Jesus tell the story.

Tradition had it, in those days, those who were rich were rich because they had done something good. Those who were poor were poor because of evil. Just as the leper was a leper because of sinfulness, or the powerful was powerful because of blessing.

If you brought good into the world, in this life or the next you would receive goodness. If you brought suffering into the world, in this life or the next you would receive suffering. It sounds a bit like karma…

The anonymous man was rich, blessedly rich. Some would had seen this as a form of favor, that he was receiving God’s favor. Which is why they would have said it was a blessing.

The gospel of Luke is full of surprise stories.

Beginning with the birth of Jesus, the gospel is full of surprises. A young virgin was told she would have a baby. Surprise! According to Luke, the young, innocent girl was blessed, she was favored. After being told she was to give birth to the Son of the Most High, she said “Here am I.”

Mary didn’t say “you have got to be kidding.” She didn’t say “No way, this is not happening.” She sang a song of praise to God! She sang “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

In contrast, when the husband of her cousin Elizabeth was told he and Elizabeth would have a child, a son who would be “made great,” the husband, Zechariah, didn’t believe a word he heard. He said “How will I know this is so?” He was old. His wife was old. He was also a priest. He and Elizabeth lived righteously. One might have expected good things to happen to him, but he didn’t.

Surprise, because of his doubt the angel who visited him punished him saying “You will become mute, unable to speak…”

The priest, the righteous man was punished for his unbelief.
The young, innocent girl was favored.

A rich man found himself in Hades. Surprise!
And guess what he saw?
We know the rest of the story. The poor man, Lazarus—a man who laid at the rich man’s gate, a man covered with sores, a man who was poor, a man who ate the crumbs from the rich man’s table, a man who had dogs licking his sores—
Lazarus died and was carried by angels to be with Abraham.

The rich man saw Lazarus there, with Abraham, and was surprised. As were those listening to the story.

Throughout his gospel Luke takes the underdog and lifts that person up. Luke takes the powerful and shows them no mercy. In this instance Luke literally lifts Lazarus up to heaven—creating a huge chasm between Lazarus and the anonymous rich man. That chasm cannot be breached.

Interestingly—Lazarus is named in Luke’s story. The rich man is not. He is anonymous. He could be anybody.

He could be anybody. He could be anyone… any one of us.

Not that we are all rich.

Not that we are all surprised by the story. Many of us have heard this story before, we know how it ends.

So, what is Luke’s point?

I think Luke, in his gospel, tries to challenge the status quo by flipping it on end. Those society assumes to be blessed are cursed. Those whom society deems cursed are blessed. The mighty fall. The fallen are lifted…

How do we see ourselves in God’s kingdom? As favored? Or have you been struggling? Do you feel cursed, let down, left out?

If you have been feeling good about your life as a Christian, perhaps even comfortable—it might be time to think about what it is you are doing, what it is you are saying, how it is you are using your time and your talent and what you have. If your faith life is comfortable—it is probably time to make it uncomfortable.

If you have been struggling, feeling abandoned or punished or neglected by God—it is most definitely time to know and to trust that you are NOT alone, that you are never alone, that God is with you, lifting you up, favoring you with light and love.

God is always with us all. The question for today is: are we getting too comfortable living in community with God? Amen.

Pentecost 17 C – 2016

September 11, 2016  

Pentecost 17
September 11, 2016
Our Savior’s Lutheran, La Crosse

Luke 15:1-10

While studying in preparation for my sermon, I found a story that illustrates the point of our gospel reading:

God appeared to a hardworking farmer and granted him three wishes.
There was a condition—the condition being that, whatever God did for the farmer would be given double to the farmer’s neighbor. (So, if the farmer asked for a new barn, the neighbor would get two…)
Well, the farmer wished for 100 head of cattle. Immediately, he received the cattle and he was overjoyed. Then he saw that his neighbor received 200 cattle…
The hardworking farmer wished for a hundred acres of land. He was filled with joy when he received 100 acres of land, until he saw that his neighbor received 200 acres…
The hardworking farmer was jealous. He felt a little bit slighted. He didn’t like what was happening. Rather than celebrating his own good fortune and his neighbor’s, he was upset.
The hardworking farmer told God his third wish: he wished God would strike him blind in one eye.
And God wept. (The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 9, p. 298).

The parables we heard today speak of God’s joy when what has been lost is found. The lost sheep was found. The lost coin was found. Like the shepherd who joyfully carried the found sheep on his shoulders, and like the searching woman who invited her friends in to celebrate because she found the coin she lost—God celebrates when any one of us who has been lost to sin, repents—turning toward God rather than away.

As wonderful as God’s joy is in these parables—
There is more to the story.
The parables are about us, and how we respond to God’s joy. The stories remind us of those times when we, like the Pharisees, have felt jealous, when we have resented the blessings others have received.

The way scripture readings get chopped up for Sunday readings, only reading a set of verses each week, allows us to forget the context of the stories we hear.

In chapter 14 of Luke, the chapter before today’s reading, Jesus was eating with a leader of the Pharisees. He was eating at the table of someone who had power, who had privilege in the world of the Jewish people.

One chapter later we find Jesus at table with outcasts—with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus was with the powerless. Jesus was with those lacking privilege. Jesus was with tax collectors—men most people despised because many of them were cheats. Jesus was with “sinners.” In those days, “sinners” would have been anyone breaking moral laws—living the wrong way, and anyone whose lives did not meet Jewish purity standards. Perhaps a leper, perhaps someone who touched a leper, perhaps a woman menstruating, perhaps a Samaritan who didn’t keep Jewish law…

In our day and age, who do we despise? In our day and age, who lacks privilege? A person recently released from prison? Someone who practices the Muslim faith? A single mother living in poverty who is pregnant? Someone on welfare who smokes?

In our day and age, who do we resent? Is it the LGBTQ community that rallies around a many-colored flag? Is it an African American person who believes Black Lives Matter? Is it a Native American protesting the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota?

Someone might think:
How dare Jesus gather with one of these—or should I say, one of “those?” How dare they be the recipients of God’s blessings?

I’m not trying to push any buttons this morning—I’m trying to be true to the gospel story we have at hand, a story that clearly calls us to celebrate with those most unlike us—to celebrate the blessings they receive from God, even when it appears to us like they are getting more attention, more blessing, more joy.

Like the Pharisees, anyone of us might think anyone of them deserves a little less attention, a little less praise, a little less joy. We would be wrong. We would be wrong, according to Jesus, because they are the ones Jesus chose to gather with, to celebrate with, because they—the lost in society—are always sought out by Jesus and found, and celebrated.

A scholar wrote that these parables “expose the roots of bitterness that dig their way into us whenever we feel that God is too good to others and not good enough to us” (IDB, vol. 9, p. 298).

God’s love is good enough for us all. God weeps when God sees us guided by bitterness and not by love. God weeps when God sees us guided by resentment and not by love. God weeps when God sees walls dividing us that we built— not God, because God loves us all.

When we are lost God searches each one of us out, even if what we are lost to is the sin of our own jealousies or dislikes.

God loves us all. God frees us all. And God calls us to love one another.

Amen.

Pentecost 17

September 11, 2016  

Pentecost 17
September 11, 2016
Our Savior’s Lutheran, La Crosse
Luke 15:1-10
While studying in preparation for my sermon, I found a story that illustrates the point of our gospel reading:

God appeared to a hardworking farmer and granted him three wishes.
There was a condition—the condition being that, whatever God did for  the farmer would be given double to the farmer’s neighbor. (So, if the  farmer asked for a new barn, the neighbor would get two…)
Well, the farmer wished for 100 head of cattle. Immediately, he received  the cattle and he was overjoyed. Then he saw that his neighbor received  200 cattle…
The hardworking farmer wished for a hundred acres of land. He was filled  with joy when he received 100 acres of land, until he saw that his neighbor  received 200 acres…
The hardworking farmer was jealous. He felt a little bit slighted. He didn’t  like what was happening. Rather than celebrating his own good fortune and  his neighbor’s, he was upset.
The hardworking farmer told God his third wish: he wished God would  strike him blind in one eye.
And God wept.  (The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 9, p. 298).

The parables we heard today speak of God’s joy when what has been lost is found. The lost sheep was found. The lost coin was found. Like the shepherd who joyfully carried the found sheep on his shoulders, and like the searching woman who invited her friends in to celebrate because she found the coin she lost—God celebrates when any one of us who has been lost to sin, repents—turning toward God rather than away.
As wonderful as God’s joy is in these parables—
There is more to the story.
The parables are about us, and how we respond to God’s joy. The stories remind us of those times when we, like the Pharisees, have felt jealous, when we have resented the blessings others have received.
The way scripture readings get chopped up for Sunday readings, only reading a set of verses each week, allows us to forget the context of the stories we hear.
In chapter 14 of Luke, the chapter before today’s reading, Jesus was eating with a leader of the Pharisees. He was eating at the table of someone who had power, who had privilege in the world of the Jewish people.
One chapter later we find Jesus at table with outcasts—with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus was with the powerless. Jesus was with those lacking privilege. Jesus was with tax collectors—men most people despised because many of them were cheats. Jesus was with “sinners.” In those days, “sinners” would have been anyone breaking moral laws—living the wrong way, and anyone whose lives did not meet Jewish purity standards. Perhaps a leper, perhaps someone who touched a leper, perhaps a woman menstruating, perhaps a Samaritan who didn’t keep Jewish law…
In our day and age, who do we despise? In our day and age, who lacks privilege? A person recently released from prison? Someone who practices the Muslim faith? A single mother living in poverty who is pregnant? Someone on welfare who smokes?
In our day and age, who do we resent? Is it the LGBTQ community that rallies around a many-colored flag? Is it an African American person who believes Black Lives Matter? Is it a Native American protesting the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota?
Someone might think:
How dare Jesus gather with one of these—or should I say, one of “those?” How dare they be the recipients of God’s blessings?
I’m not trying to push any buttons this morning—I’m trying to be true to the gospel story we have at hand, a story that clearly calls us to celebrate with those most unlike us—to celebrate the blessings they receive from God, even when it appears to us like they are getting more attention, more blessing, more joy.
Like the Pharisees, anyone of us might think anyone of them deserves a little less attention, a little less praise, a little less joy. We would be wrong. We would be wrong, according to Jesus, because they are the ones Jesus chose to gather with, to celebrate with, because they—the lost in society—are always sought out by Jesus and found, and celebrated.
A scholar wrote that these parables “expose the roots of bitterness that dig their way into us whenever we feel that God is too good to others and not good enough to us” (IDB, vol. 9, p. 298).
God’s love is good enough for us all. God weeps when God sees us guided by bitterness and not by love. God weeps when God sees us guided by resentment and not by love. God weeps when God sees walls dividing us that we built— not God, because God loves us all.
When we are lost God searches each one of us out, even if what we are lost to is the sin of our own jealousies or dislikes.
God loves us all. God frees us all. And God calls us to love one another.
Amen.

Thinking in “We”

September 4, 2016  

Pentecost 16, 2016
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Our Savior’s Lutheran, La Crosse

Thinking in “We”

Tuesday I called my brother up on the phone to wish him a happy birthday. It is a tradition between some of us in our family, when we call to say happy birthday we actually sing it to whoever is celebrating their birthday. So, when my brother answered the phone I sang to him.

Thursday, my brother and his daughter called me up to sing happy birthday to me. I was out for dinner with my niece’s family so I let it go to voicemail and listened to them sing later, at home. My parents called, as well. What a blessing to listen to my 82 year old mother and 89 year old father sing to me.

At the end of my brother and niece’s birthday message to me, I heard my niece say, “Now let’s call Diane!”

Diane is my twin sister. She and I shared text messages during the day on Thursday. But I hadn’t talked to her so I called her after listening to my brother and niece. When she answered I began to sing Happy Birthday. I sang “Happy birthday to we…”

When a person is a twin or triplet or quadruplet, the person lives his or her life thinking in “we.” Even after years of separation, marriages, families, jobs, different geographic locations—twins/triplets/quadruplets—there is always a “we” that transcends space and time.

We don’t live in a “we” world, we live in a “me” world.

When we hear someone say “Me, me me…” we know the person is talking about him or herself, not practicing vocals.

Thursday, when I sang “Happy birthday to we…” to my sister we both started to laugh and said at the same time “Wee, wee, wee, all the way home.” We were both thinking of the little pig going home from the market… Both of us, thinking the same thing, although there was over a hundred miles separating us.

We were thinking in “we.”

In the reading Sheila read from Deuteronomy, Moses was giving his farewell address to the Israelites. He had traveled with the Israelites out of slavery. They had wandered through the wilderness for years. In this reading, they had a bird’s eye view of the Promised Land.

Moses knew he wouldn’t be traveling any further with his people. He had a few last words to share, including a choice: Life or death.

You might hear the words of Moses and think the choices he offers the Israelites are choices for each one of them, as individuals. You might think each one of the travelers is being asked to choose life or death, to receive blessings or curses, to experience prosperity or adversity. You might be thinking that because it is the way people think in our world, in this society: people think in “me,” not “We.”

Moses was addressing the community. Moses was addressing the Israelites as a people, not as persons. Moses was saying to his community of faith, to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: you people have a choice. As a community, you have a choice. The Israelites would have known that because they lived as a community of “we,” not “me.” They survived as a community of “We,” not as a bunch of individual “me, me, me-s.”

It is called the Deuteronomic Code.

If the people of Israel, Abraham’s descendants, chose life they would receive blessings. Choosing life meant choosing to love God. Choosing life meant choosing to obey God. Choosing life meant choosing to hold fast to God, to cling to God.

Choosing death was to choose to be disobedient. Choosing death was to choose to be separate from God—to either love other gods or to simply step out of having any love for God, at all. To choose death was to choose to let go of God, creating a distant relationship.

Terence Fretheim, a Lutheran scholar suggests that we need to know that the people of Israel were not looking ahead to a relationship with God they might have if they made the right choice, they were looking at sustaining a life they already had (Deuteronomy 30:15-20, www.workingpreacher.org). The Israelites were living in community with one another and with God. Moses was encouraging them to sustain that relationship, to continue to be obedient to God, to continue to love God, to continue to cling to God.

What does this mean?

The answer is difficult.

I say it is difficult because the answer demands that we, living in the 21st century, take on a way of thinking that is thousands of years old.

I say it is difficult because the answer demands that we “think in we” rather than thinking in me.

Everything in our world tells us to think “me.” I need to think about “me” myself, and I. I need to do what’s best for me. I need to protect my best interests. I need to choose between life and prosperity, or death and adversity.

This reading, read from the proper context, wants us to ignore me and think “we.”

Do we choose life or death? Love or separation? Obedience or disobedience? Relationship or individualism? Do we cling or do we let go?

This isn’t about us as individuals or about us as a congregation, this is about putting ourselves in the context of a congregation that exists in a larger context, a context bigger than who we are in this place, bigger than who we are in our synod, bigger than who we are as Lutherans… this is about who we are as Christians.

It is much easier to think about me, because I have some level of control over my relationship with God.

It is much easier to think about us as a congregation because we have a structure in place for thinking that way.

It is easy to think about ourselves as part of a synod, or as Lutherans, because we have structures and doctrines that guide that kind of thinking.

How do we think as Christian people, as a global Christian family? Knowing all of the differences that exist within Christianity—how do we even begin to think about ourselves as a family? As a huge, global, diverse family?

I look to my own family for ideas. What do we do to sustain who we are: we talk, we get together, we play, we sing…

Those are things we can do in a larger context. If we are choosing life, as Christian people living in community, we are asking God to be with us and to guide us as we talk with others, as we get together with others, as we play with others, as we sing together new songs, singing in “we” rather than me.

Thinking in “we.”

Living in “we.”

Amen.

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