Epiphany 6 – 2017
February 12, 2017
Epiphany 6 2017
Our Saviors La Crosse
The Israelites were given a choice.
Moses, their leader, said to them:
“I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil.”
Finally, finally they were preparing to cross the Jordan River. They were going to enter the Promised Land.
It was a fulfillment of a dream.
They had been wandering for 40 years.
Finally, finally they would be going home. Home to the land God had promised them. Home to a place God said, would be theirs. Home, to a place they had never seen.
I remember when I moved to seminary. I had been living in Rockford, IL with my parents. I flew from Chicago to Oakland, CA (2,117 miles), caught a taxi at the airport and had the driver take me to the seminary in Berkeley (a 20 mile drive).
I was alone. I told the driver where I wanted to go. I told him the seminary was at the top of Marin Avenue. Marin Avenue is a road that goes straight up the Berkeley hills. It is a steep hill bisected by roads. Going up Marin Avenue, the driver drove up a steep block, then flat road, steep block, flat road, steep block, flat road—up and up and up. By the time we got to the seminary, at the top of the hill, the taxi had overheated.
I was home. My new home for three out of the next four years. A place I had never seen in a city I had never been to.
“I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil.”
For the Israelites, choosing life and good meant choosing to live according to God’s Law, it meant a life of obedience.
Choosing death and evil meant choosing to live outside the law—it meant choosing a life of disobedience which really meant a life free to do and to be whatever they wanted to do and be.
Moses encouraged the Israelites to choose life.
To choose life would be to choose the more difficult option. Choosing life meant obedience, obedience not just to the ten commandments but to all that God had commanded the Israelites—the book of Deuteronomy is full of God’s laws and expectations. When Moses told the Israelites to choose life—it was a challenge. He was challenging them to be obedient. But his challenge was also a gift.
Both the challenge and the gift were given to them as a people, as a community, not as individuals.
I took my journey to seminary 36 years ago. (I can still smell the steam from the over hearted taxi.) I made my journey alone, but, on the same day I flew into the Bay Area, I became a part of a group of people still dear to me. My seminary classmates. We loved each other fiercely. We played hard and studied harder. Many went on to become wonderful, wise pastors serving God around the world. They were my people, my Israel. Together, we chose life.
All of us here this morning are here, I hope, because we have chosen life. We have chosen to live with, in, under, through God—in community HERE in this place. We are each other’s people! We are each other’s Israel!
We don’t choose life for ourselves. For us. For we. For me. For you.
Think about this for a moment. When we choose life, we are choosing to live for the other.
Look at the Ten Commandments, God’s gift not just to the Israelites but to every person of faith since.
When I choose to be honest, to honor my parents, to not commit adultery or steal or bear false witness or covet I am choosing to live life for the other, not for myself. I’m not going to lie to that other person, because that person deserves honesty. I am not going to commit adultery because my spouse deserves to be honored with my faithfulness. I am not going to steal because what others have deserves to be respected, simply because it is theirs. These decisions are not about me. They are about the other.
That is how we choose life. That is why we choose life. We choose life because choosing life means everything to all those others we find ourselves in community with. God is asking us, as a community of faith, to make a commitment to honor each other, and all of the other others present, not just in our lives, but around the world.
“Choose life!” Moses said.
I’m not going to lie to you. Choosing life isn’t easy. It is a bit like driving up Marin Avenue, up a steep hill, then it flattens out, up a steep hill, then it flattens out and get easy for awhile.
You know this. You live this.
This is why we choose life together, as a community of faith. Because we need each other. We need each other’s prayers when we are too weak or too tired or too hurt or too angry to pray ourselves. We need each other’s hands to hold onto—we can’t always be alone. We need each other’s voices, singing when the song is too difficult for some of us to learn. We need each other’s hearts, because sometimes our hearts are broken. Sometimes we need someone to breathe life into our spirits—because we are dying inside.
We need each other. We need this place, these people. Others outside of here need us—one at a time and all together.
This is why we choose life. This is why we chose life today. This is why we are here.
Thanks be to God.
Epiphany 5 – 2017
February 5, 2017
Epiphany 5 2017
Our Savior’s La Crosse
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light so shine before others…”
On winter days like this, everything feels crisp and cold. Here in Wisconsin, some of our winter days are bright; some are grey…
Jeanne and I are blessed. Our backyard is adjacent to the Wildlife Refuge. Once the leaves have fallen off the trees we have a wonderful view of the backwaters of the river area. Looking west, we can watch the sun set through the bare trees. It is quite beautiful. Some days, if we are both home and the sun is shining, we stand together, silently watching it set, a large red ball of light slowly falling through the branches. And then it is gone. It is dusk.
Emily Dickinson wrote:
There’s a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.
(There’s a Certain Slant of Light, Dickinson)
The light she talks about in her poem is almost dark. If you were to continue to read her poem you would find the whole poem as oppressive as the third line. It is weighty.
This winter has been weighing on people. All of the grey days. The ice. The darkness.
Whenever I read Dickinson’s poem I try to imagine what time of the afternoon she is writing about. I always end up deciding she describes those moments, right before sunset, when the shadows are longest. Especially in the winter, with snow on the ground, we see the shadows as they stretch long before us.
“You are the light of the world.” So Jesus said, while preaching his sermon on the mount. “Let your light so shine before others.”
Someone once said “The primary function of light is not to be seen, but to let things be seen as they really are.” How are things, really? Do we want things to be seen?
When we turn on the lights, what do you see? When you see what you see, do you have a sudden desire to turn the lights back off?
As night turns into day we anxiously wait for the sun to rise.
The SON has risen!
What does it mean, to know that Jesus, the Son of God has risen indeed, even on the darkest days of our lives?
And how do we let his light shine through us, letting things be seen as they really are, while simultaneously touching everything with love and grace?
Life is about more than daytime and night, throughout our lives we see and we experience the darkness of human suffering: pain, sickness, dying, hunger, poverty, fear, oppression, powerlessness, sadness, misunderstandings, loneliness… those sufferings all stand in the light, creating long shadows.
When we turn the light on, those things don’t just go away. As Dickinson wrote, they oppress, like the weight of cathedral tunes. The organ’s bass plays heavy, darkly hanging sounds that reverberate through the floor of the church, into the soles of our feet.
“You are the light of the world… Let your light so shine before others…”
Don’t stop shining. The world needs us.
Don’t stop shining. There are people out there you need to find them, to touch them, to offer a word of strength and hope to them.
Don’t stop shining. There’s hungry people needing to be fed.
Don’t stop shining. Someone is sick. They need you to hold their hand.
Don’t stop shining. Someone is afraid of the dark. They need to see your light.
Don’t stop shining. Someone is cold. They need the warmth your light creates.
Don’t stop shining. They can’t live without your love.
Don’t stop shining. Your light brings joy.
Don’t stop shining. The light helps to clear the confusion that exists.
Don’t stop shining. People need to see they are not alone.
Don’t stop shining. When we see each other clearly, we see all we have in common.
Don’t stop shining. Your light lifts spirits.
Don’t stop shining. God’s light shines through you. God’s love shines through you.
“You are the light of the world…. Let your light shine before others so that they see your good works and give glory to God in heaven.”
Epiphany 4 – 2017
January 29, 2017
Our Saviors La Crosse 2017
“Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord
appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
‘Get up, take the child and his mother,
and flee to Egypt,
and remain there until I tell you;
for Herod is about to search for the child,
to destroy him.’
Then Joseph got up,
took the child and his mother by night,
and went to Egypt,
and remained there until the death of Herod.”
There is no mistake.
Jesus was a refugee.
When Joseph “took the child and his mother by night” Joseph was fleeing the ruler of Judea. He was a political refugee, seeking protection for his family. He and Mary fled to protect their child’s life.
I know there are people in this congregation who don’t like the preacher, whoever the preacher is, to discuss politics. I know this sanctuary, this place is a place people come seeking refuge from the storms caused by politics. I know that I have made a personal commitment to never let my political beliefs get confused with what I do in ministry.
Sometimes what happens in the world transcends politics. So, let me make myself perfectly clear: what I am about to say is not about being a Democrat or a Republican. It is not about being conservative or liberal. It is about people seeking refuge.
I woke up at 4:00 this morning thinking: Jesus was a refugee. Then I got up, took a shower and came to church.
We cannot mistake what Jesus would have us do when someone comes to us, seeking refuge.
Last October the current Pope said to a group of pilgrims and Lutherans visiting from Germany: You cannot be a Christian without living like a Christian. You cannot be a Christian without practicing the Beatitudes… It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help…”
(Catholic Herald, October 13, 2016)
It is hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee.
This is personal. I have been a refugee.
I fled the church. Specifically, I fled the ELCA. I ran for my life. I left a church that, at that time, wanted nothing to do with me because of who I was and who I continue to be. I was Gay. I was a pastor. I was not welcome.
I am not being melodramatic. To save myself. To preserve my integrity. To honor who I was I had to leave.
For two years, back in graduate school in Iowa I had nothing to do with the church. For a few years, here in La Crosse, I had little to do with the church. But then I found shelter. I found refuge. I found hope.
Where did I find those things? Here. Here in this place, in this congregation.
You welcomed Jeanne and me home.
If we, as Christians, are going to “practice the Beatitudes” (as the Pope says), which we must if we are going to be Christians, we must first honor the first beatitude.
A scholar once wrote “If the beatitudes are eight [in number] they form the octave of kingdom music” (The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 7, p. 278).
On octave is a musical sentence. It is “the difference in sound between the first and eighth note on a musical scale” (Merriam Webster).
On octave of kingdom music begins by playing the first note, the first key: it sounds like this:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).
Being “poor in spirit” means being humble. It is about humility.
Humility is a virtue. When I teach Virtue Ethics at WTC I teach my students a virtue is a character trait manifest in habitual action that is good to have.
A virtue is something that is such a part of us, it has become habit. It is 2nd nature to us. It is a part of who we are to the extent we don’t even have to tell ourselves to do it, to be it. We just do. We just are.
Humility, as a virtue, demands that we put ourselves last, not first. Humility demands that we acknowledge there is much we don’t know, rather than try to claim we know it all. Humility demands we sit at the foot of the table, not the head. Humility demands we open our lives and our hearts and our doors to those we do not know, we do not understand, we do not see ourselves in because, well because Jesus told us to.
There is much we don’t know about life. There is much we don’t know about death. There is much we don’t know about war, about conflicts, about peace.
There is much we don’t know about each other. There is much about strangers, about what others think or what they have done or left undone. There is much we don’t know.
God is so much more than we know. But God knows us. God loves us. God loves the WORLD. That includes the strangers in our midst. That includes the refugees at our door.
Epiphany 3 – 2017
January 22, 2017
Epiphany 3, 2017
Our Saviors, La Crosse
Years ago, when I was on staff at a Lutheran Church Camp, one of the things we did with campers was to take them on night hikes. In the dark. With no flashlights.
We would walk on trails through the woods. Sometimes we would go down into the valley. Sometimes we would stay closer to the camp’s main site, hiking along the edge of the forest, in open fields.
When we walked in the night, without flashlights, our eyes would get used to the dark. If the moon was bright enough, it would light our way, as long as we stayed out of the woods. Hiking in the woods, going down into the valley, was always much darker.
Still, our eyes got used to the dark. We could see enough to follow the trail. If campers were afraid of the dark, we held their hands.
Daytime or night—there is always darkness in the world.
Just about anything can bring the darkness on. Unemployment. Under-employment. Illness. Aging. Death. Watching loved ones struggle with their own pains or fears or the consequences of their mistakes. Struggling with the consequences of our own mistakes. When relationships end, or change, or aren’t being lived out the way we wanted or expected. Poverty. Hunger.
There’s always darkness in the world.
I think, sometimes, we just get used to the dark. We live in it, or in spite of it. If we are lucky, we can see enough—in the dark—to find our way. If we are really lucky, we aren’t alone in the dark. We have somebody there holding on to us. Maybe just holding our hand.
Jesus was born in the night-time, in the dark. Not alone, loved by his mother and his father, visited by shepherds and wise men—Jesus came into the world, born in the night.
He is the light of the world.
It is written in the book of Isaiah, and repeated in the gospel of Matthew: “The people who walked in the darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”
We are those people. We walk in the dark. We dwell in a land of deep darkness. The light of Jesus shines on us, just as it shone on those early Galileans, and on every person of faith who has walked in the dark for every generation since.
Jesus is the light of the world. His light shines. And, as is written in scripture, “the darkness cannot overcome it.”
When Jesus came to the world he came to experience the darkness of the world, with us. He knew pain. He knew suffering. He knew death. But the darkness he knew did not overcome him. He brought light into the dark. The light of love. That love allowed him to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to bring life to the dying and dead.
“As he walked by the sea of Galilee Jesus saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me…”
Like Simon Peter and like Andrew we are called to follow Jesus, to follow the light.
The light has dawned… we follow it. We follow him.
And then somehow, somewhere along the way we become part of the light! We begin to shine! We become beacons of hope, we become beacons of love; we become beams of light shining in our still dark world.
“This little light of mine… I’m gonna let it shine.”
We’ll be singing those words in a minute.
“This little light of mine… I’m gonna let it shine.”
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
The world needs to see the light of Jesus Christ shining. We need to bring the light of Jesus into every moment of our lives because other people, they need to see it. We can’t leave them standing, leave them living, leave them walking in the dark.
They need the light, just as we do.
Let it shine.
Epiphany 2 – Martin Luther King Day
January 15, 2017
Martin Luther King Day
Our Savior’s La Crosse, 2017
“Now to him who is able to keep you from falling,
and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing,
to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be glory, majesty, power, and authority,
before all time, now, and forever. Amen.”
The man’s name was Isaac. He had been admitted to the hospital I was working at because he had had a heart-attack.
I remember walking into his room, up to his bedside, and touching his arm. I remember saying “Mr. Moline, Mr. Moline, I’m Chaplain Richmond. I’d like to spend some time with you.”
Isaac Moline looked in my direction and invited me to stay. Then he began to tell me his story.
“You see, I’m blind” he said.
“I’m blind because I’m a diabetic. I lost the use of my kidneys years ago. My legs have both been cut off. I’ve had a stroke. Now I’ve had a heart-attack.”
There was silence in the room. A long silence. Then Mr. Isaac Moline said “You know, through it all God has been real good to me.”
This was years ago, but to this day I do not know what I expected Mr. Moline to say, but I do know I did not expect him to say that God had been good to him.
Mr. Isaac Moline told me about his childhood. He was an African American man born on a plantation in a shack where, as a child, he could look up at night and see the stars shining through the holes in the roof. As a young man Mr. Moline moved north to find a job. He found a job. He also discovered he was diabetic. That is when his life-long battle with diabetes began.
You and I, we might think Mr. Moline was losing every skirmish:
His eyesight was gone; one leg was taken, then another; his kidney function stopped; after his first stroke he lost a lot of physical strength; then he had a heart-attack.
And yet—and yet—he told me “Through it all, God has been real good to me.”
I asked Mr. Moline how he could say that, that God had been good to him.
Mr. Moline turned his toward me and said, as if talking to a child “Well, God loves me. God loves me, and God keeps on giving me life.”
“Our God is Able.”
Taken from the book of Jude, that is the title of a sermon the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote. Dr. King wrote:
“Only God is able. It is faith in God that we muster-discover. With this faith we can transform bleak and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of joy and bring new light into the dark caverns of pessimism. Is someone here moving toward the twilight of life and fearful of what we call death? Why be afraid? God is able.
Is someone here on the brink of despair because of the death of a loved one, the breaking of a marriage, or the waywardness of a child? Why despair? God is able to give you the power to endure that which cannot be changed.
Is someone here anxious because of bad health? Why be anxious? Come what may, God is able.” (“Our God is Able” in Strength to Love, MLK, Jr., p. 130).
Come what may, our God is able.
God is able to work in our lives, touching our hearts, strengthening our minds. God “is able to keep you from falling” as was written in the book of Jude.
God is able to give us hope when all seems hopeless. To give us light in the darkest corners of our lives. God is able to heal, to empower, to forgive.
Our God is able.
The Rev. Dr. King said our “God is able to give us the interior resources to face the storms and problems of life” (King p. 132).
And he said
When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a great Power in the universe whose name is God, and God is able to make a way out of no way, and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows” (King, p. 132).
Mr. Isaac Moline knew God was able. He believed in God’s love, in spite of the suffering he endured.
May we be so bold. May we have such faith. May we say, in each moment of our lives, that we have every confidence in the God, in our God, who is able.
Christmas Day – 2016
December 25, 2016
Imagine never being able to see God. Imagine never being able to touch God – to hear God, to know God.
You might be thinking: Joanne, I haven’t ever seen or touched or heard God. I don’t need to imagine not doing those things because I haven’t.
Let’s talk about that…
As one commentator wrote,
“…the incarnation changes God’s relationship to humanity and humanity’s relationship to God. The incarnation means that human beings can see, hear and know God in ways never before possible… The relationship between divine and human is transformed, because in the incarnation human beings are given intimate, palpable… access to the cosmic reality of God.” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IX, p. 524)
According to Bing.com, as powered by Oxford Dictionaries, an incarnation is a person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit, or abstract quality.
Jesus, as the Word who was in the beginning with God, and who was God both in the beginning and is forevermore…
Jesus was and is God incarnate.
God made human.
Jesus embodied in the flesh God.
God, born to Mary, laying in a manger because there was no room in the inn.
God living, God breathing, God hearing, God smelling (in more ways than one 🙂 ), God crying, God growing to become the King of kings and Lord of lords.
God revealed God’s Self in Jesus.
And so, “The story of Jesus is not ultimately a story about Jesus; it is, in fact, the story of God.” (TNIB, p. 524).
Our God, the God we worship and adore, the God who supports and sustains us, the God who, as Creator of the universe continues to rule the universe –
Our God born in a manger. Both human and divine.
Because God so loves us and loves the world.
Because God so loves us and loves the world God did this for us and for the world. The Word, God became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory… full of grace and truth.
What do we see, then?
What do we know then, about our God?
We worship a God who clearly knew our need to know.
God knew we needed to know God – who God was and is, what God did and does, how and where God fit into our lives and into the world.
And so, God came. God Be-Came flesh and lived among us.
Full of grace and truth.
This is what we celebrate this Christmas Day! God grace and truth as it lived and lives among us.
God’s grace! the free and unmerited favor of God (Bing/Oxford).
We don’t deserve this gift of love God gives us.
That’s the truth!
That God loves us. That God loved us enough to come to the world in the life and work and words of Jesus Christ.
This is what we celebrate! This is the reason for this day on our church’s calendar and on the calendars of the world.
God came to us, in flesh and blood God became real to us and to the world in order that we truly know God, truly see God, truly hear God’s Word and will for the world.
This is what we five thanks for today, even as again we receive God’s flesh and blood in the bread and wine of holy communion.
We commune with the God who came, with the God who is present with us now, and with the God who promises to return to the world.
Christmas Eve – 2016
December 24, 2016
We gather in this place this evening because two people chose to fulfill a prophecy.
If you think, in the context of cosmic realities, that you have no ability to influence the trajectory of humanity –
The story of the birth of Jesus ought to give you pause.
Two simple people, a carpenter and his betrothed, journeyed to Bethlehem to register in a census required for citizens of the Roman Empire. As a descendant of David Joseph needed to travel to the town of his tribe.
As the story goes, when they reached their destination there was no room for them in the inn. They were offered shelter in a stable. Which is where Mary’s son was born. He was laid in a manger. On the 8th day he was named Jesus. A fulfillment of prophecy. As Christians, we believe his life, his ministry, his death, his resurrection – changed the world.
We have no way of knowing what would have happened if Mary had said “No” to the angel Gabriel when he visited her in a dream, telling her she would give birth to the Son of the Most High. We have no way of knowing what would have happened if Joseph had rejected Mary when he discovered her news, of her pregnancy. What we know, as the story goes, is that they carried on with their life as a couple, and they traveled to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.
In Hebrew, roughly translated Bethlehem means the “house of bread.”
Mary and Joseph traveled to the House of Bread where, in the dark of night, the Bread of Life was born.
Bread. It was a staple in ancient times, just as it is for many now. In fact, the Hebrew word Bethlehem can be translated the House of Bread or, just as easily, the House of Food. Bread was food. In the gospel of John when Jesus referred to himself as the Bread of Life he was saying I am the Food you need, the Bread you need… I am your sustenance.
Jesus sustains us, centuries later Jesus still sustains us. Our Bread. Born in the House of Bread.
Bread was offered as an offering, not just by the Hebrew people but by other cultic groups as well. Grains would be offered, sometimes in loafs, sometimes cakes made just with flour and oil, or flour and water. They were burnt sacrificially, offered up to God or to other gods.
Our Bread of Life, Jesus, was sacrificed for us and our sins. We receive him, his body and his blood, this evening, when we receive the bread and wine. The Bread of Life feeds us forgiveness, feeds us love, feeds us the promise of life everlasting.
The world we live in –
There is such a need for love in this world.
Our world is torn by violence. Torn by war. Torn by hatred. Torn by fear. Torn by injustice. Torn by inequalities. Torn by privilege. Torn by hunger. Torn by poverty. Torn by distress and disease and arrogant disregard for human suffering.
You might be thinking to yourself – there is so much wrong in our world, I can’t make it right again. I can’t.
But you can.
It starts with you, each of you, each of us. We can and we do bring light into the world every time we respond to violence with peace, every time we respond to hatred with love, every time we respond to fear with hope, every time we respond to injustice with justice, every time we respond to inequality with respect and empowerment, every time we respond to abuses of privilege with ears turned to truly listen to those whose lives DO matter, every time we share our food with those who hunger, every time we share what we have with those who have less, every time we speak comfort to those distressed or suffering.
We can bring goodness into this world. There is goodness in this world.
There is goodness here, in this House of Bread. It is grounded in the love of Jesus Christ, born to set us free from our sins, freeing us to love one another as we have been loved.
When Mary, a young innocent woman was told she would give birth to the Son of the Most High she said “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
May we be the Lord’s servants in this time, in this circumstance, free to fulfill the hopes and the promises of God.
Blessed Christmas to each of you.
May you bring blessings to the world.
Advent 2 A – 2016
December 4, 2016
Our Savior’s La Crosse
The world has lived so long without Jesus, we might just have forgotten what it is we are supposed to be longing for.
I know, Jesus came to the world, he preached his gospel news of salvation, he died and rose again, he redeemed us from the grave and offered us the promise of eternal life.
I know—Jesus is here living in our hearts.
I know, the love and spirit and light and hope that is Jesus lives in the world.
But literally, not figuratively, Jesus has promised to return to the world. Advent is our time to focus on, to anticipate, to claim that promise.
What is it we are longing for?
Why do we await his return?
And how do we prepare ourselves for his coming?
John the Baptist said “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.”
John the Baptist said “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
I don’t know if you are familiar with the structure of Matthew’s gospel, but his writing has a way of taking unexpected turns without tidy transitions. If you were to look at the verses that proceed today’s gospel text, you would see that, in a matter of 10 verses: an angel warned Joseph in a dream to take his family to Egypt to protect them from Herod (and so he did); the killings of all children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under because Herod felt threatened by the birth of a new king (Jesus, which is why they had to flee to Egypt); another angel warned Joseph in yet another dream to leave Egypt and return to Israel (which he did); and a final dream wherein Joseph was told not to take his family to Judea but to go to Galilee, specifically Nazareth (which he did).
Then—BOOM! John the Baptist is in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus.
Jesus went from being a baby getting hauled around the Middle East for his own protection to the Lord whose arrival was proclaimed.
This is the way God works. God doesn’t always offer smooth transitions. I know, this is the holiday season when we romanticize Joseph and Mary and Jesus and shepherds and angels—but, as one scholar wrote
God’s will does not always work gently, climbing quietly like ivy up the lattice of history. Sometimes an Elijah appears, a nation repents, a Berlin wall is dismantled, a Martin Luther King Jr. strides across the landscape. God’s will shatters the mold, violates the categories, breaks in on the world as a jarring surprise.
So the doors of Matthew’s gospel suddenly swing open, and there stands John in the wilderness of Judea… it is a shock to see him…His surprising appearance is, itself, a claim that God’s ways with the world are often strange, unforeseen, and unpredictable.
As we approach Christmas we aren’t prepared to be told to repent. As we approach Christmas we aren’t prepared to be reminded of our sin—to be reminded of our weakness—to be told we need to turn around, to turn away from sin, toward the coming Christ who had the power to redeem us and has the power to—once and for all—separate the wheat from the chaff.
How do we prepare ourselves for the return of Jesus?
We prepare by seeing ourselves for who we truly are—children of God needing to be saved from ourselves and our constant desire to turn away from God, toward mammon, toward power, toward wealth, toward privilege, toward the comfort of our own homes rather than face the God whose light reveals the darkest corners of our hearts.
John warned the Pharisees, the religious leaders of their time “not to presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’” as a means to save themselves from God’s judgment.
John could just as well say to us that we ought not presume to say to ourselves “We have Christ as our Savior” to protect us. The gift of faith we have received does not save us from John’s call to repentance.
We have been called to respond to God’s gift of love by turning ourselves around, to turn away from sin and death, toward God’s gift of life and love.
We are cleaning house—this IS housekeeping.
The house we are cleaning is the house of God that exists in our hearts. The temple of the Lord is here—in each of us. And it is in the world, a world desperately needing redemption.
Christ has come.
Christ will come again.
Prepare the way of the Lord.
Advent 1 A – 2016
November 27, 2016
Advent 1 2016
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…
“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.”
“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.”
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.
Pentecost 26 C – 2016
November 13, 2016
Our Saviors La Crosse 2016
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.