Sunday, March 22, 2020 – Lent 4

March 22, 2020  
Filed under Sermons

Lent 4 2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

John 9:1-14

 

A seminary professor, doing some research on the gospel of John, discovered that the phrase “put out of the synagogue” (which we see in verse 22) is used three times in John, but nowhere else in the New Testament and in no other known Jewish or Christian writings of that time.

Knowing this, the scholar proposed that this phrase to “put out of the synagogue”

refers to the Benediction Against Heretics that was introduced into the synagogue liturgy sometime after 70 [AD] and probably between the years 85 and 95 . On the basis of this benediction, [the writer] concluded that the Fourth Gospel was written at the end of the first century… in and to a community that was being expelled from the synagogue, and that this conflict with the synagogue decisively shaped [John’s] story of Jesus.

(Gail R. O’ Day “John 9:13-41 Commentary” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 657)

As is said in verse 22 of our reading, the parents of the blind man Jesus healed feared the Pharisees that interrogated them. The parents feared the Pharisees because, if the parents were to confess that Jesus was the Messiah, they would be “put out of the synagogue.” The Pharisees’ questions were a trap. And, in real life (in the late first century), this was happening. Christians were put out of the synagogue for confessing their faith in Jesus.

You who are watching this service have been “put out of the synagogue.” Literally. And you aren’t alone in that.

Doors are closed in mosques, temples, churches, shrines and other holy places around the world. Like you, people are worshiping at home: maybe sitting at the kitchen table watching the screen on their tablet, maybe in another part of the house at an altar of their own construction.

Most of us would prefer anything but this. Others of us, because of illness or age or frailty, have been worshiping online for weeks or months or years—unable to physically be in the sanctuary of their choice.

We have been told to take sanctuary outside of our sanctuaries.

The crowds of people in normally our sanctuaries create risk.

Some of us feel hurt. Some of us are angry or frustrated because we think everything is being exaggerated. Some of us are afraid. Some of us are lonely. Some of us might be doing ok, having fun with family or with friends online.

The parents of the blind man Jesus healed feared the Pharisees that interrogated them. The parents feared the Pharisees because, if the parents were to confess that Jesus was the Messiah, they would be “put out of the synagogue.”

They feared they would be “put out of the synagogue” because of their faith in Jesus.

We are not in our places of worship, in part because our faith in Jesus leads us to stay home. Because Jesus calls us to love one another we stay home to minimize risk. Because Jesus calls us to care for the sick we stay home, not wanting to make things worse for them. Because Jesus calls us to care for our elders we close our doors to people who have been accustomed to “going to church” every Sunday for decades. Because Jesus calls us to care for those who are most vulnerable those who are strong do all they can to protect those who immune systems are weak or weakened.

This is hard, in part because many of us are used to doing whatever we want whenever we want with whomever we want. We have had this privilege. Now our privileges, our freedoms are being denied us.

*   *   *   *

When the Pharisees were questioning the man who had been blind, they said of Jesus “we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29). The man who had been blind replied (in part) “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes” (John 9:30).

How might Jesus open your eyes today?

What astonishing things might you see?

Close your eyes and imagine a place you would go if you wanted to find sanctuary. A place you would feel safe. A place you would feel protected and comforted and calm. Your place might be a geographic location or in a specific building. Your place might be outside. Your place might be wrapped in your loved one’s arms or held by a parent…

Now imagine yourself in that place. Take a deep breath. Take another deep breath.

Imagine yourself with friends or family there if that makes your safe place a better place for you.

Now answer in your own mind or speak the words out loud… Why is this the place you are imagining as your sanctuary? Why do you feel comforted there? Why do you feel calm there?

Now, in your mind hold on to your safe place, your sanctuary because this place you are imagining is a place you cannot be “put out” of. This place lives in your mind and you can take yourself there anytime you need to.

Your place is your place.

And you are not alone there. God is with you. Imagine being able to physically feel God’s presence with you there.

Now open your eyes and look around. God isn’t just in the place you have imagined in your mind. God is with you now, in this moment. Where you are.

If you haven’t already done this, are there ways you can make the place you are into a sanctuary? Can you make the place you are into your own or your family’s sacred spot? Can you add a candle? Can you lay a few smooth stones or beads or coins to the desktop or table that you can pick up and hold in your hands? Can you add a photo of a friend or family members? Do you have a bible or a hymnal you can keep near you as we worship? Can you or someone else color pictures to decorate the area for worship? Think of your home, or wherever you are, as your sanctuary during this pandemic.

*   *   *   *

The hymn we are about to sing is an advent hymn: All Earth is Hopeful. Advent is our season of hope—hoping for the return of Jesus to the world even as we remember and re-tell the stories of people waiting for Jesus to come.

This moment, these days, these weeks are not a time to lose hope. Jesus is here, with us. As the 4th verse of the hymns tells us: We first saw Jesus a baby in a crib. This same Jesus today has come to live in our world; he is present, in neighbors we see our Jesus is with us, and ever sets us free. (ELW #266)

Jesus is with us. Always.

Amen.

Sunday, March 15, 2020 – Lent 3

March 15, 2020  
Filed under Sermons

Lent 3 2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Waking Up White Series

Galatians 3:26-28

 

On our bulletin cover you see a graphic of international trade routes during the time when people were being captured, shipped, bought and sold. The graphic illustrates the horror of the times: that human beings are listed as “slaves,” as items for trade alongside rum, lumber, sugar, gunpowder, and other dry goods.

History tells us that, to transport people:

Two by two the men and women were forced beneath deck into the bowels of the slave ship. The “packing” was done as efficiently as possible. The captives lay down on unfinished planking with virtually no room to move or breathe.

Some [people would] die of disease, some of starvation, and some simply of despair. This was the fate of millions of West Africans across three and a half centuries of the slave trade on the voyage known as the “middle passage.”

Doctors would inspect [people] before purchase from the African trader to determine which individuals [were] most likely [to] survive the voyage. In return, the traders would receive guns, gunpowder, rum or other sprits, textiles or trinkets.

The “middle passage,” which brought the slaves from West Africa to the West Indies, might have taken three weeks. Unfavorable weather conditions [would have] made the trip much longer.

[Captives] were fed twice daily and some captains made vain attempts to clean the hold at this time. Air holes were cut into the deck to allow the people breathing air, but these were closed in stormy conditions. The bodies of the dead were simply thrust overboard.

Upon reaching the West Indies, the [people] were fed and cleaned in the hopes of bringing a high price on the block. Those that could not be sold were left for dead. Those [sold] were then transported to their final destination. It was in this unspeakable manner that between ten and twenty million Africans were introduced to the New World. (“The Middle Passage” U.S. History Online Textbook //www.ushistory.org/us/6b.asp copyright 2020 accessed 3/11/2020)

When Jeanne and I were in Memphis two years ago I bought the print you see here, in front of the altar. The print is of a painting done by the artist i.Babatunde, and is sold as a fundraiser for a house that was once on the Underground Railroad. The title on the painting is “The Middle Passage.”

The print depicts the souls of deceased people rising from the ocean water, their faces pointing toward heaven. These people had been transported on a slave ship, where they died. Their bodies were thrown in the ocean water, chains still binding them. In the print the peoples’ hands are lifted upward, broken chains hang from their wrists and from collars around their necks.

I’m telling you this because of the looks on the peoples’ faces in this print.

They are rising from the water, their hands and faces looking up. I believe they are looking toward heaven. The chains on their hands and around their necks are broken. Their spirits are free… free to rise up… looking at their faces I see joy, I see joyful anticipation. These beautiful human beings have escaped the chains of slavery and are going to God.

St. Paul wrote to the Galatians “As many of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ” (Galatians 3: 27-28).

Professor Richard B. Hayes wrote that, in Paul’s time

In baptism, the person being baptized confessed the lordship of Jesus Christ over all creation, disrobed to signify the putting off of an entire way of life, was immersed below the water as if undergoing a burial…, was raised to a new life, and was clothed in new garments symbolizing the transformation that had occurred. (“Galatians 3:26-29 Reflections” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 11 p. 274)

They disrobed… taking off their old ways of living.

They were clothed in new garments… clothed in Christ!

They were putting on Jesus!

With everything going on in the world around us right now… now is the time to remember that in our baptisms we were transformed, we were clothed in Christ, we put on Jesus! And Jesus has never left us. Jesus is with us.

After worship our church council will meet. We will discuss the La Crosse County Health Department’s recommendation that people not meet in large groups right now. Here we are, meeting in a large group. I’m recommending to council that we not meet again in worship until we are certain it is safe to do so. I’m recommending our worship be online only.

These recommendations come to us and we receive them not out of fear, but with love for every person. All of us who are at risk (And I’m at risk in multiple ways) are asking those whose risks are less to live in solidarity with us, by practicing social distancing.

Because we have been clothed in Christ we continue to receive Christ’s call to love one another. People still need to be fed, in fact, with schools closed, feeding hungry people is going to be more urgent. We need to find safe ways to continue serving the hungry.

Because we have been clothed in Christ we continue to receive Christ’s call to love one another. People still need to be prayed for. I urge you all to pray for one another and for the people working in health care and for people without medical insurance and for people who will feel the pains of loneliness and/or depression as they self-isolate. Pray for our elders in nursing homes or living alone at home. Pray for those in prisons who are in lock-down as governments try to lock out disease.

Because we have been clothed in Christ we continue to receive Christ’s call to love one another. To love every other human being as Christ loves us. To delight in our diversity.

Because we have been clothed in Christ we are called to hope because our hope comes from God. Our hope is in God. Our trust is in God.

Because we have been clothed in Christ we look toward heaven with joy, knowing (as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said) “our God is able.”

Our God is able.

Amen.

 

Sunday, March 8, 2020 – Lent 2

March 8, 2020  
Filed under Sermons

Lent 2 2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Waking Up White series

Ephesians 4:1-16

Pastor Jehu Jones was the first African-descent pastor in the Lutheran tradition in America. “Pastor Jones was born in the South.” His family was “part of the so-called mulatto aristocracy of South Carolina” (p. 25). Pastor Jones “was an Episcopalian who eventually found his way to the Lutheran Church” (p. 26). Pastor Jones was “ordained in New York City… he was [assigned] to work with the American Colonization Society,” asked to lead“a Lutheran mission” to Liberia” (p. 27). “Instead, upon his return to Charleston, he was arrested with every other free black… He languished in prison…” (p. 27).

Eventually, Pastor Jehu Jones was sent to Philadelphia where he “founded St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Center City… He bought the land and started to build [the church] with his own money. In 1836, the foundation of a truly free black Lutheran Church was laid down in this country” (p. 28). But, “he was never paid. He was constantly under financial pressure, with no help from the Pennsylvania ministerium… After a while, he was viewed as a failed experiment… that must be shut down” (p. 29). The church’s “assets and land were purchased by the Pennsylvania ministerium and sold off for a profit” (p. 29). (As told by Pastor Lenny Duncan in Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. chapter 2, Fortress Press 2019)

A few weeks ago I helped my dear friend Pastor Becky Swanson and her husband Gary Anderson finish packing up their belongings so they could move to their new call to ministry in central Illinois. I spent about six hours with them, loading boxes into a truck they rented and cleaning the parsonage. It has been years since I’ve done as much vacuuming as I did that evening.

The next day, my body hurt. There were places that hurt that I forgot were places I had!

In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul tells us the body of Christ is no different. We are part of the body of Christ. The body of Christ consists of all who believe. Paul wrote there is one body and one Spirit (Ephesians 4:4). Paul wrote

Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

The body of Christ cannot function properly when any part of the body is neglected or abused.

Pastor Jehu Jones was both neglected and abused. As Pastor Lenny Duncan wrote in his book Dear Church, “Jehu’s welcome into ordained ministry in the church of Jesus Christ was chains and jail” (p. 27).

“He was never paid.”

“He was constantly under financial pressure.”

“He was viewed as a failed experiment.” (all quotes from p. 29)

Pastor Duncan wrote “The story of Rev. Jehu Jones is instructive to a church that screams for diversity and can’t seem to understand why it remains so white” (p. 29).

Like most other professions, our pastors of color and women pastors in the ELCA are paid less than white male pastors even though all pastors come out of seminary with a boat-load of debt. This leaves our pastors of color and women under more financial pressure. Ministries that are developed in communities serving African Americans or Hispanic Americans struggle to find support.

Some of you might remember Pastor Melissa Gonzalez from Tapestry ministry in Richfield MN. She preached here about a year and a half ago, when she was biking down the Mississippi River in memory of her son. Some of her parishioners came and led our service…

Their ministry is multi-cultural and constantly struggling to find financial support. They need help. Maybe we should help them.

Jesus calls us to speak truth in love. The apostle Paul said that, to do this, we need to grow up in every way into him (Ephesians 4:15). If we don’t grow into Christ in equitable ways, (as illustrated in my young persons’ message) we have a body completely out of proportion!

Never forget, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians:

“…each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (4:7).

For this reason we are called to

“…lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

Amen.

 

 

 

Sunday, March 1, 2020 – Lent 1

March 1, 2020  
Filed under Sermons

Waking Up White Lenten Series

Lent 1 2020

Philippians 2:1-6

Entering into conversations about race, specifically racism, is a difficult thing to do. We all have our own thoughts about race, about racism, about who we are and who other people are. Knowing this, beginning an entire Lenten series that is about race, specifically racism—is daunting.

No one wants to feel like they are being attacked.

No one wants to feel like they are being judged.

No one wants to address the elephant that is in almost every sanctuary or worship space in the ELCA: that we are the whitest church in the United States. There are a whole lot more white people in our congregations than there are black people, or brown people; there are a whole lot more people of European descent than there are indigenous people, or people of Asian descent.

Obviously, Lutheranism’s heritage is German, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish… aka northern European.

Just as obviously, generations have passed since people of those ethnicities immigrated to the United States in large numbers, establishing congregations in the communities where they settled. In that time, most of our Lutheran churches have not changed, even when the communities they are rooted in have.

As Lutherans, we need to ask ourselves why this is true. Why aren’t our congregations more diverse? This is not a question we direct to the people of color we know. This has to be a question the white people in the room ask ourselves. What are we doing or thinking or saying or believing or not doing or not thinking or not saying or not believing that leads to our being the whitest denomination in the United States?

Our synod recently had Anti-Racism training for all rostered staff in our congregations. I was unable to attend because of my father’s death. But, at the Anti-Racism Task Force meeting I attended this past Monday, colleagues told me the training began with some ground rules, including that there would be:

No blame, no shame, and no guilt.

The workshop was led by a black man. The workshop was attended by dozens of white rostered ministers and one black minister. No other people of color. Friends who attended said the leader was a master of facilitating no blame, no shame, and no guilt. Even when people said things that made others cringe and want to climb under the furniture, the leader of the workshop stayed true to his own rules. Some attendees were surprised he was able. I’m not. If he has lived in this part of the United States his whole life, he is most likely accustomed to being the only black person in the room, which means he has spent a lifetime nurturing the ability to practice no blame, no shame, and no guilt.

I was studying a commentary on the scripture reading I selected for today, the reading I selected to begin our 40-day Lenten journey with. The writer wrote that “theology and ethics are inseparably joined together” (Morna Hooker, “Philippians Commentary” in the New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 11 p. 514).

As an Ethics teacher, I disagree. There are millions of people in the world thinking about ethics who have no belief in God, and thus no theology. But, as a pastor I agree with the author. As Christians, our theology and our ethics are inseparably joined. Our ethics, our figuring out how we ought to live, is rooted in our knowledge of God. “Theological affirmation leads to ethical demand” (Hooker).

Saying “yes” to the reality of God leads us to an obligation to be the people God calls us to be, doing the things God calls us to do.

Paul is clear in his letter to the Philippians: “Those who confess Jesus as Lord should not be looking for status or power” (Hooker p. 515). “Rather, they should be humbly considering others better than themselves” (Hooker p. 516).

The scholar I cited wrote about today’s scripture reading: “the church as a whole has never taken to heart the true significance of this passage…” adding that we have attempted to “detach theology from ethics” (Hooker p. 516).

When I talk about Christian ethics I am not talking about a set of rules God has provided, like the 10 commandments. I am talking about a way of living, a way of living Paul sets before us when he boldly embraces humility. “Paul, in his teaching, always went back to first principles. In effect, he is saying, ‘This is the gospel. This is what God is like. This is what God has done for you, and this is what God expects you to be like” (Hooker p. 516).

It is vital that we approach our conversations these next 40 days with humility. It vital that we listen to others. It is vital that we set aside our own notions and open ourselves to hear voices that are not our own. It is vital that we have as our ground rules: No blame. No shame. No guilt.

We are seeking to better see our systems, better see our policies, better see the cultural values we have had that are exclusive and privileged and counter-productive to our call to live as disciples of Christ.

In Christ we find our community. Knowing this, the relationships within this community– if they are rooted in love, rooted in selflessness, rooted in concern for others (as Christ calls them to be)—they will be transformed. Doors previously shut will open. Hearts previously hardened will soften.

As Paul wrote:

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord…” (Philippians 2:1-2).

Amen.

 

 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020 – Ash Wednesday

February 26, 2020  
Filed under Sermons

Ash-Wednesday 2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

“Ash Wednesday” verse 6 T. S. Eliot (1930)

VI
Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dream crossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

I have discussed elements of T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday poem in sermons before, but I always look at the first stanza. Today I’m looking at the sixth and final stanza, thinking about the meaning of this day, Ash Wednesday, for us as followers of Jesus.

Eliot wrote the poem Ash Wednesday in 1930 shortly after he converted to Anglicanism, or as we know it, the Episcopal faith. According to one scholar, Eliot was turning in his own life, turning away from the temptations of the world, towards God (Dr. Oliver Tearle, “A Short Analysis of T.S. Eliot’s Ash-Wednesday” found on interesting literature.com).

Eliot wrote

Although I do not hope to turn again
          Although I do not hope
          Although I do not hope to turn

with the hope that he would not turn his focus, again, away from God.

In his poem Eliot described life:

This is the time of tension between dying and birth

and again he wrote that life is

The dream-crossed twilight between birth and dying

This week, I’ve been focused on Eliot’s notion of life as twilight.

Twilight.

Twilight is the time of day when there is “no intensity of night or day” (Tearle).

The day is not day. The day is not night. The day is twilight.

And so, Eliot wrote, is our lifetime of living.

Ash Wednesday demands we examine our twilight.

There is no purity to who we are. Our lives are stained by sin. In our confession today we will admit to God “that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word and deed” (ELW Ash Wednesday “Confession”).

We have sinned by what we have done.

We have sinned by what we have left undone.

Again, the words point us toward the in-between, toward twilight.

Eliot wrote in his Ash Wednesday poem:

Teach us to sit still

We enter 40 days of Lent today, our time to set aside time to sit still. We sit:

among these rocks

knowing our need for God.

Let our cries come unto God.

We plea for God’s mercy, even as we know and we believe God’s mercy is everlasting.

Amen.

Sunday, February 16, 2020 – Epiphany 6

February 16, 2020  
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Epiphany 6   2020

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Our Savior’s La Crosse

 

Choose life.

The irony of the statement is not lost to me.

Two weeks ago my mother and I embraced death for my father.

He was suffering, undeniably suffering from infections that were battering his body and confusing his brain.

As the two of us sat with my father and the Dr. caring for him, and we discussed each element of his care, we concluded that the best decision we could make for him was to embrace his dying. Antibiotics weren’t strong enough to beat the level of his infections. At best, they would extend his life a day or two, extending his suffering.

We chose in-hospital hospice, specifically comfort care. We stopped everything that was being done to extend his life, choosing to have hospice do everything they could to ease his pain and suffering.

He died 24 hours later.

Fortunately for us, my father’s parents chose “life” for my father almost 93 years ago, first when my grandparents chose to have my father baptized. Then when my father affirmed his faith, saying “yes” to his baptism as a teenager, he chose life.

The choice to baptize, the choice to say “yes” to having been baptized—is a life-giving choice. Don’t misunderstand me, you don’t have to be baptized to have life or to live a good life. But baptism is a choice we make for children or as adults that has life-giving implications. Both in life and at death.

For those of you here in the sanctuary (or if you have a hymnal at home) please turn to page 227 in the front of your hymnal (Evangelical Lutheran Worship).

Follow along as I read the prayer on the left:

God, who is rich in mercy and love, gives us new birth into a living hope through the sacrament of baptism. By water and the Word God delivers us from sin and death and raises us to new life in Jesus Christ. We are united with all the baptized in the one body of Christ, anointed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and joined in God’s mission for the life of the world.

Through baptism we are given new life.

This is God’s activity in us. God cleanses us. God delivers us. God raises us to new life in Jesus. All of the baptized together, we become the one body of Christ. We become The Church! The Holy Spirit fills us with new life as we go out into the world telling others about the life of love, the life in love we live forever! This new life isn’t just of this world, isn’t just in this world. This new life we live is both now and forever!

Choose life!

Turn to page 231 in your hymnal. Look at the prayer we pray as I lay hands on the person I am baptizing:

Sustain (this person) with the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, now and forever.

 

My dad was baptized when he was 10 days old. A similar prayer would have been prayed for him as his pastor laid hands on him. For 93 years the Holy Spirit lived in my dad, lived in the decisions he made, lived in all that he learned, lived in and through him as he celebrated the joy of God’s presence in his life. In death, that new life did not end. In death, our new lives do not end for us. We have been given new life because we have chosen life!

Look at the bottom of page 231, at the words the congregation speaks to the newly baptized. Read them with me…

We welcome you into the body of Christ and into the mission we share: join us in giving thanks and praise to God and bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world.

This is what we say to the baby, or the young adult, or the old person who has chosen baptism: welcome! Welcome! You are now a part of this new family, the body of Christ. Welcome! Join us in mission. Welcome! Join us as we give thanks to God. Welcome! Join us as we give praise to God. Welcome! Join us as we take God’s creative Word (Jesus), God’s redeeming Word (Jesus) out into the world!

Welcome!

Join us!

Choose life!

Choose joy!

Choosing life with Jesus Christ is choosing a life that is of this earth and a life that lives beyond time on this earth.

Choosing life with Jesus Christ is choosing joy, joy in the belief that we are forever cleansed and redeemed.

Choosing life with Jesus Christ is choosing joy in the knowledge that we will never be alone because we have God’s Spirit in us, and we have the body of Christ, our family of faith surrounding us.

Choosing life with Jesus Christ is choosing joy in knowing that God loves the world!

Choosing life with Jesus Christ is choosing joy in knowing the wonders of God’s love!

Choose life!

Even in death, life is given. New life. Always and forever.

Amen.

 

Sunday, February 2, 2020 – Epiphany 4

February 2, 2020  
Filed under Sermons

Epiphany 4 2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Matthew 5:1-12

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

 

 

My father died Monday.

His death was peaceful, but unnecessary.

His death experience speaks to the immorality of “care” many medical systems and institutions provide our elders.

It will take time for me to process and integrate what happened to him, and to our family.

Until then, today I want to tell you about someone I met while visiting my dad in the hospital.

First, I need to ground my story in scripture.

St. Paul wrote in his first letter to the church in Corinth that “God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (I Cor. 1:28).

St. Paul’s language is iffy (at best). Speaking of what is high and what is low, what is despised (and thus what is not) reeks of power and privilege. Which is his back-handed point. We are all equal in the eyes of God. In or out of religious communities, morally speaking every person has ultimate value. And yet our cultures, our societies, our businesses, our families, our churches seem to manifest themselves in hierarchies. Those with more power, those with more wealth are given, structurally and practically, more esteem.

Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3).

Jesus said “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

Jesus said “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Jesus said “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

My mom met Julie before I did.

My dad was in the hospital over a week by the time I went to be with him and my mom. My brothers and sisters were all there at one time or another so my parents weren’t without support. They had their church family. They had friends.

And they had Julie.

Julie worked at the hospital. Her job was to clean the rooms on my father’s floor. She pushed her cart from room to room, mopping and wiping things down.

As she cleaned my dad’s room she spoke to my parents. They talked about our family and about my dad’s health and life, and about God.

Julie wore a silver necklace with a cross suspended from it.

By the end of my dad’s first week in the hospital, my mom and Julie were hugging.

My mom had told Julie about me, her pastor daughter. So when I arrived at the hospital for the first time, Julie knew all about me. She stood in the doorway of my father’s room and looked at my twin sister, me, and my nephew as we lined up against the wall. “Which one is the pastor?” she asked. I raised my hand like a child in school. “I am” I said.

Julie went down the line, hugging us all. Then she went to work, cleaning the room as we waited outside.

When she finished, as we entered the room I looked at her and said “My Mama loves you.” She said “I love her.”

My dad was discharged a few hours later.

We returned to the hospital the next night—dad rushed there by ambulance. Once he was stabilized they returned him to the same floor he had been on before. Julie’s floor.

I saw her the next morning. “He back?” she asked. “Did they let him go to soon?”

“Yes” I said.

She hugged me.

I asked “Do you pray for people as you mop their rooms?” She said “Yes. And I talk to them, too.” Whether they could hear her or not, she talked to them.

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Consider your own call…” (1 Cor. 1:26).

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31).

St. Paul asked the Corinthians in his letter to them: “Where is the one who is wise?” (1 Cor. 1:20).

Where is the one who is wise? She was and is mopping the floor of my father’s hospital room, that room now no longer his but being used by someone else, someone else for whom Julie is praying.

Julie’s call is to clean—cleaning is her vocation. Julie lives out her vocation praying and tending to those in her care.

That, my friends, is what God calls us each to do with our lives.

God calls us to be merciful.

God calls to us, we who hope to be pure in heart. And, if we are looking, we see God.

We see God in those who have been called to care for us.

Hopefully, others see God in our caring. In our caring for them.

In our caring for the world.

Amen.

 

 

 

Sunday, January 19, 2020 – Epiphany 2

January 19, 2020  
Filed under Sermons

Epiphany 2 2020

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Our Savior’s La Crosse

 

The community’s history was one of war and destruction. At one point, they were completely destroyed, their streets burned and buildings razed; the ruins sat for almost 100 years. At the time of the destruction the men of the community were killed, the women and children were sold into slavery.

Decades later, the emperor issued a decree re-establishing them as a colony. The community was re-settled by a melting pot of Europeans and Asians. Many of the settlers were Jewish.

The community was strategically located on an isthmus where two ports could be controlled. As it grew, the community became prosperous, the fourth most influential metropolis in the Roman Empire. Only Rome, Alexandria, and Ephesus were bigger communities with more power.

I’m talking about Corinth; Corinth as it was for two centuries before Jesus and in the early days after Jesus. I’m talking about Corinth, the community Paul visited, wrote letters to, and helped establish a Christian community in.

Corinth was the capital city of the province of Achaia. A part of the Roman Empire, the local Roman Authority had his residence in Corinth.

Corinth was a center of politics, a center of trade, and thus a center for employment. Immigrants settled in Corinth. People from all over the Mediterranean world brought with them diverse cultural practices. There were diverse social customs and religious beliefs. There were temples dedicated to a variety of pagan gods.

Corinth was notorious for its citizens having lax morals. Many of the more “questionable” moral behaviors were rooted in religious traditions. There were pagan cult rituals, fertility rituals and magic. For example, there was a temple in Corinth dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite that was said to have as many as 1,000 priestess-prostitutes in residence.

Corinth.

The Apostle Paul’s first contact with Corinth was in 50 A.D. As a guest of Aquila and Priscilla, Paul went to the synagogue in Corinth, telling people about Jesus. He was an aggressive missionary. He was enthusiastic. He was convincing. His energy threatened synagogue leaders, who felt their faith was being challenged. They not only asked Paul to leave the synagogue, they asked him to leave the area. So he did. But Paul took his converts with him, including the president of the synagogue and others associated with the temple.

Paul did not limit his ministry to Hebrew people. He ministered the Gentiles who were equally as intrigued by Paul’s words.

Paul and those who followed his teachings formed a community church, integrating Hebrew and Gentile, slaves and wage-earners, wealthy civic leaders and the poor.

As wonderful as the diversity of the church in Corinth was, their diversity brought with it some problems. Folks were dividing themselves into smaller groups. They were aligning themselves with different leaders. They were jockeying for power. Things got ugly. They wrote to Paul, asking for help.

Paul wrote to the church. Our reading from 1 Corinthians is the introduction to one of his letters. Addressing a community of faith full of division, full of anger, with smalls groups bickering and struggling, Paul wrote:

“I give thanks to my God always for you…” (1 Cor. 1:4).

Paul did not write “I give thanks to my God for some of you…” Paul did not write “I give thanks to my God for those of you who align yourselves with me…” Paul did not say “Those of you who are aligning yourselves with Peter or with Apollos better get back on track or you’re out of here…”

Paul wrote “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus…” (1 cor. 1:4-5).

His words are a lesson on how to live in community with one another, even when in the midst of in-fighting or struggle.

You disagree with me? I give thanks to my God for you, because of the grace of God that has been given to you. And you. And you. And you.

Imagine beginning every argument with those words. Whether it is an argument at home or an argument at work or an argument at school or an argument at your favorite bar, or an argument online, or an argument at church.

“I give thanks to my God always for you…”

“You have been given God’s gift of grace, just as I have.”

Now, what was it we were talking about?

Those words don’t make the disagreement go away. But they center people on what’s most important for everyone, always. God loves everyone equally. God saves all people, most assuredly. God forgives all of us our sins.

We live in a time when conflict pervades everything. Politics. Families. Towns. States. Nations. Chat groups. Twitter threads.

I’m inviting myself, as well as each of you, to pause before you engage in the conflict. Think for a moment. God loves that other person just as God loves you. Before you speak, before you write, before you tweet—hold that other person or persons in your heart. And tell them:

“I give thanks to my God always for you…”

Amen.

 

(Information on Corinth from “Corinth” by J. Finegan in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, volume 1, pp. 682-684).

Sunday, January 12, 2020 – Baptism of Jesus

January 12, 2020  
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Baptism of Jesus 2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Matthew 3:13-17

I read through my file of sermons preached on the subject of the baptism of Jesus, surprising myself for the number of times I asked and answered the question: why did Jesus need to be baptized?

Here we go again:

Why did Jesus need to be baptized?

We baptize for two reasons.

Because humans are sinful and unclean. We are cleansed in the waters of baptism; we receive the promise of forgiveness.

Because we as the Church want to claim the baptized as a child of God. We want the baptized person to become a member of the family of God, a member of the Church of Christ, with us as a beloved sibling.Here’s a fact:And…  “…just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matt. 3:16-17).

Typically, my answer has rested in the Spirit’s descent upon Jesus and in the words spoken by God as Jesus “came up from the water” (Matt. 3:16).

Why did Jesus need to be baptized?

Jesus was and is the Son of God, already a member of the family. In fact, as one element of the trinity Jesus was and is with God, one God.

Jesus was never sinful. Jesus did not need to be cleansed. Jesus did not need to receive the promise of forgiveness.

The descent of the Spirit and God’s words feel and sound like an anointing. God is saying to the world words God hadn’t yet spoken: This is my Son. This is my Beloved. He pleases me.

This moment of baptism is a curious moment in the life of Jesus, at least in Matthew’s gospel. Matthew wrote about the birth of Jesus and he wrote about the family fleeing to Egypt. Matthew wrote about the family’s return to Nazareth some time later, after the death of Herod.

Matthew tells us nothing more of the life of Jesus until his baptism. We know nothing about his childhood, we know nothing about his teenage years, we know nothing about early adulthood until he was baptized. And yet, at that moment, at the moment of baptism, God had seen the life of Jesus and God had said “With him I am well pleased.”

I’m curious. I want to know what Jesus did. In another gospel we hear about his journey with his family to the Temple in Jerusalem and his conversations with the teachers there. In his gospel, Matthew didn’t tell that story. He told us nothing about most of Jesus’ life.

The gap in time fascinates me. What did Jesus do? What did Jesus see? What did Jesus learn? What did Jesus think? How did Jesus feel? What about his life gave God such pleasure? Or was God pleased in the simple reality OF Jesus. That Jesus was in the world.

We as a congregation have been working with a homeless couple since a week before Christmas. They were sleeping “under the bridge” when “the city” came and cleared everybody out. They had nowhere to go because they both had jobs working hours that don’t partner with the Warming Center’s hours, nor the Salvation Army’s.

How did they become homeless? A car accident. The car was totaled. Because they lost their car they couldn’t get to work and so they lost their jobs. Because they lost their jobs they couldn’t pay rent so they lost their apartment. Because they lost their apartment they lost their kids to the kids’ other parents. They came to this area to find work. They found work but couldn’t yet afford housing.

With their stuff thrown in the dumpster by the city, they had only what they were carrying on their backs. So we have been helping them. In another week, they will move out of town to a farm where they found work and a place to live. Hopefully, their lives turn around. Hopefully, they will get their kids back…

That’s the world we live in. That’s the world Jesus came to save. And we are his servants.

Before his baptism, I wonder if Jesus saw the world as I do. There is so much need. So many people are hungry. So many people need homes. So many people need jobs that pay enough for them to have transportation and housing and medical care… So many people find themselves in a cycle of awfulness and the cycle spins them downward, around and around into worse and worse circumstances.

What did Jesus see that taught him that the hungry needed to be fed? What did Jesus see that taught him the blind needed to see? What did Jesus see that taught him lepers needed healing? What did Jesus see that taught him the naked needed to be clothed? What did Jesus see that taught him the world needed peace?

He saw something, because as soon as he was baptized, after 40 days of temptation in the wilderness Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, calling his disciples and ministering to crowds of people, curing diseases and sicknesses.

“With him I am well pleased,” God said. “This is my beloved,” God said.

Why was Jesus baptized?

Jesus was baptized because Jesus was of this world.

We confess: Jesus, Son of God, was “made man” (Nicene Creed).

Jesus was of this world and Jesus saw the world and Jesus saved the world from what it was he saw.

And we are his servants.

Amen.

 

 

Sunday, December 29, 2019 – Christmas 1

December 29, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Christmas 1 2019

Matthew 2:13-23

Our Savior’s La Crosse

 

A philosopher once wrote:

I tried to find out for myself, from the start, when I was a child, what was right and what was wrong—because no one around me could tell me. And now… I realize I need someone to show me the way and to blame me and praise me, by right not of power but of authority, I needed a father.

I thought I knew it, and that I had myself in hand, I don’t know any longer.

            (The First Man by Albert Camus)

 The Nobel prize winning philosopher and writer who share those thoughts was Albert Camus. Camus died in 1960 but his last manuscript was not published until 1994. The book was incomplete, based on a manuscript found in the wreckage of the car accident that killed him. The story is autobiographical, about his childhood growing up in Algeria. The book includes footnotes that are actual notes he wrote to himself about what he was writing. The quote I just read to you was one of his footnotes.

Camus’ father died in a battle in France when Albert was just 1 year old. As an adult, as a husband and as a father of two adolescent children, Camus found himself longing for his father, thinking his father could tell him what he needed to know about right and wrong. He wanted his father to tell him how to live. Apparently Camus was feeling lost. He was trying to figure out the meaning of life and he felt lost.

Feeling lost isn’t uncommon. Most of us feel that way at one point or another. Sometimes we are, literally, lost. Other times, like for Camus, we might be trying to figure out how we ought to live and simply don’t have a clue. Those are the moments when we want someone to tell us, just tell us what we need to know.

Camus was not a religious man. He didn’t have a faith to lean on that would show him the way forward. We do.

So here we are, on the first Sunday after Christmas, our ugly holiday sweater day, reading Matthew’s story about the slaughter of the innocents.

Whenever this text comes up, I wonder why Matthew felt compelled to tell the story. There is no historical proof, no documentation of Herod ever having all of the boys 2 years old and under living in Bethlehem killed. No other gospel records the event. Just Matthew. Which begs the question: why? Why did Matthew make this story part of his telling of the birth narrative? The story of babies being killed is horrible…

Think politically. What kind of king or ruler or leader finds the possibility of another leader taking his place so threatening that he would have every baby boy in his kingdom killed to prevent the future leader from growing up?

 

Maybe Matthew tells the story to remind us, in the midst of our holiday season, what kind of world Jesus was born into. Maybe Matthew tells the story because he wants to remind us how desperately the world needed Jesus, how desperately our world still needs the ministry and the message Jesus brought.

Jesus came into a world that desperately needed to be shown the way. Jesus came into a world that needed to be taught how they ought to live. Jesus came into a world that yearned for an authoritative voice.

We live in a world that continues to need to be shown the way. We need to be taught how we ought to live. We yearn for authoritative voices.

Think about Mary and Joseph and their flight to Egypt with a newborn baby. They were political refugees, traveling because they had been warned that the king was going to kill baby boys. They journeyed to Egypt because they trusted God when God told them to go—and they trusted the land of Egypt to provide them with safe harbor.

There are families around the world seeking refuge in other countries because of the violence in their own homelands. They go, trusting they will find safe harbor.

When God told us that God loved the world, and called us to love one another, God didn’t put boundaries or borders on the love God called and calls us to share. Neither should we.

Each of us, after all, is on a journey. Our journeys may vary. Our destinations may or may not be clear. What we all need to know and to trust is that we are never alone.

God is with us.

God is speaking to us.

God is showing us the way.

Just as God is with every traveler, whatever their reason for traveling.

Amen.

 

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