Sunday, February 16, 2020 – Epiphany 6

February 16, 2020  
Filed under Sermons

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  
Filed under Sermons

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.

 

December 25, 2019 – Christmas Day

December 25, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Christmas Day 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Luke 2:8-20

 

There was a man and a woman in a stable behind an inn.

They had a baby that the woman wrapped in bands of cloth. She laid him in a manger.

Pretty ordinary stuff.

Or was it? How many women gave birth to their babies in stables? How many babies were laid in mangers?

I have no idea.

Rather than ordinary, perhaps I should say the birth was basic. Everything was stripped down to the most basic necessities. Two parents. A baby. Cloths to wrap the baby in. A place to lay the baby for it to sleep. A roof over the family’s head. There wasn’t much more than that, at least according to what Luke wrote.

Then there were shepherds, working at night to protect their sheep from predators. Their work was ordinary. Basic.

What happened next was anything but basic, anything but ordinary.

An angel appeared in the sky.

The angel’s appearance was sudden, it was bright, and it was terrifying.

The angel spoke to the shepherds, bringing the shepherds “good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

A Savior was born, the angel said.

The messiah, the Lord.

The angel told the shepherds where to find the newborn baby, and then the angel was joined by a “multitude of the heavenly host” (Luke 2:13).

Again, it happened suddenly.

Suddenly, the multitude was saying

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace…” (Luke 2:14).

 

The shepherds went to Bethlehem. The shepherds found Mary and

Joseph and their baby. The shepherds told Mary and Joseph what the angel had said about their baby boy.

Luke tells us “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

 

The shepherds’ words were a lot to ponder. For Mary. For us.

Every day Jesus comes to us.

Every day Jesus is born in our hearts.

Every day Jesus arrives, in our hearts and in our minds, silently slipping into our world of joys and sorrows, pains and pleasures.

Jesus enters our lives and fills us.

We are ordinary people. The presence of Jesus in our hearts and minds, in our daily lives, is a brilliance of love, grace, forgiveness, and peace.

This is good news.

This is glorious.

In his own Christmas sermon the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther wrote that Christ took our birth from us and absorbed it into his own, making us pure and holy. He wrote that this occurred so that we might “rejoice and glory in Christ’s birth as much as if [we ourselves] had been born of Mary” (“Christmas Day” in Sermons of Martin Luther volume 1, Baker Book House Press, 1988, p. 144).

And so this morning we celebrate that Jesus was born.

We celebrate that Jesus was born, knowing that because of his birth, on this and every day, we are born again.

Amen.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019 – Christmas Day

December 25, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Christmas Day 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Luke 2:8-20

 

There was a man and a woman in a stable behind an inn.

They had a baby that the woman wrapped in bands of cloth. She laid him in a manger.

Pretty ordinary stuff.

Or was it? How many women gave birth to their babies in stables? How many babies were laid in mangers?

I have no idea.

Rather than ordinary, perhaps I should say the birth was basic. Everything was stripped down to the most basic necessities. Two parents. A baby. Cloths to wrap the baby in. A place to lay the baby for it to sleep. A roof over the family’s head. There wasn’t much more than that, at least according to what Luke wrote.

Then there were shepherds, working at night to protect their sheep from predators. Their work was ordinary. Basic.

What happened next was anything but basic, anything but ordinary.

An angel appeared in the sky.

The angel’s appearance was sudden, it was bright, and it was terrifying.

The angel spoke to the shepherds, bringing the shepherds “good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

A Savior was born, the angel said.

The messiah, the Lord.

The angel told the shepherds where to find the newborn baby, and then the angel was joined by a “multitude of the heavenly host” (Luke 2:13).

Again, it happened suddenly.

Suddenly, the multitude was saying

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace…” (Luke 2:14).

The shepherds went to Bethlehem. The shepherds found Mary and

Joseph and their baby. The shepherds told Mary and Joseph what the angel had said about their baby boy.

Luke tells us “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

The shepherds’ words were a lot to ponder. For Mary. For us.

Every day Jesus comes to us.

Every day Jesus is born in our hearts.

Every day Jesus arrives, in our hearts and in our minds, silently slipping into our world of joys and sorrows, pains and pleasures.

Jesus enters our lives and fills us.

We are ordinary people. The presence of Jesus in our hearts and minds, in our daily lives, is a brilliance of love, grace, forgiveness, and peace.

This is good news.

This is glorious.

In his own Christmas sermon the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther wrote that Christ took our birth from us and absorbed it into his own, making us pure and holy. He wrote that this occurred so that we might “rejoice and glory in Christ’s birth as much as if [we ourselves] had been born of Mary” (“Christmas Day” in Sermons of Martin Luther volume 1, Baker Book House Press, 1988, p. 144).

And so this morning we celebrate that Jesus was born.

We celebrate that Jesus was born, knowing that because of his birth, on this and every day, we are born again.

Amen.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019 – Christmas Eve

December 24, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Christmas Eve 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Luke 2:1-14

 

We were standing in total, complete darkness, underground.

Our guide had just turned off the only light—a single light bulb suspended from the ceiling.

We were crowded into a small space, maybe eight feet by twelve. There were 20 or so of us standing. In the dark.

It was the root cellar of a house in Memphis, Tennessee.

The house was built by Jacob Burkle, a white man who operated the stockyards in Memphis. He began harboring runaway slaves in his cellar around 1855, continuing to shelter them until the abolition of slavery. His was one house of many that constituted the Underground Railroad (slavehavenmemphis.com).

As I stood in the darkness I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the people fleeing slavery, what it must have been like to hide in the dark, to move from place to place under cover of darkness. To fear being seen in the light of day.

Darkness is not evil.

During the time of slavery, darkness brought cover, darkness brought safety, darkness led to freedom. It was the light that was feared.

Imagine hiding in a dark cellar—and someone turning on a light. Back then, it would have been someone lighting a candle or a lantern. Imagine the panic that would have ensued. Or, if not panic, imagine the deflating, deafening feeling of defeat.

In that region there were shepherd living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid…” (Luke 2:8-10a).

The shepherds were keeping watch in the dark. Their darkness wasn’t “city-dark,” like what we have at night here in La Crosse. The shepherds worked in the darkness of night without light.

When the angel came, it was the glory of the light that shone around them that the shepherds feared. The angel’s light was sudden. The angel’s light was terrifying.

We use the language of light and dark loosely in our Christian tradition, and in our society. We make darkness evil. We make light good. We fear shadows. We celebrate what is luminous.

Darkness is not evil. What happens in the dark can be. Just as light is not inherently good. What happens in the light can be.

What happens in the dark can be good. What happens in the light can be evil.

In the gospel of John it is written that Jesus said “I am the light of the world” (8:12). But the good news of his birth, the good news that the angel brought to the shepherds, that good news came in the dark of night.

According to the gospel of Luke, according to our gospel reading tonight, Jesus was born in the light of day. The news of his birth came to the shepherds at night.

In the darkness of the night a message of love came to the world. In the darkness of night a song of peace came—a song of peace on earth. In the darkness of night glory was sung. And that glory shone around the shepherds. And they were afraid. Of the light.

This evening we celebrate the stillness, the darkness of the night. We celebrate the shepherds who, in spite of their fear, traveled to Bethlehem to see the child Jesus, wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger.

We celebrate the birth of Jesus, grateful for his love.

Amen.

Sunday, December 15, 2019 – Advent 3

December 15, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Advent 3 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Matthew 11:2-11

 

John was in prison.

John heard what the Messiah was doing. He couldn’t believe his ears.

He sent his disciples to Jesus to ask Jesus “Are you the one to come or are we to wait for another?” (Matthew 11:3).

John was the one about whom it was written ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ (Matthew 11:10).

Jesus said of John: “among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).

John was in prison.

John received the call to be a prophet before he was born, while yet in his mother’s womb. John dedicated his life to preparation, preparing the way for the Lord. John was arrested for provoking religious authorities. His vision of the ministry of the coming Messiah challenged their comfort, challenged their authority, challenged their leadership.

John was in prison.

He began to doubt.

“When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Matthew 11:2-3).

He was behind bars. He was in a shadowy place, maybe feeling some despair.

Can you sense the pain in his message: “Are you the one?”

 Was John questioning everything he spent his life doing? Did his life seem to him to have been futile? Did he think he wasted his time? Was he disappointed? Was he feeling betrayed?

When John’s disciples asked Jesus “Are you the one?” Jesus’s answer was swift and clear: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 11:4-5).

The blind receive sight.

The lame walk.

The lepers are cleansed.

The deaf hear.

The dead are raised.

The poor have good news brought to them.

Actually, the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the dead and the poor all received good news. They received healing. They received cleansing. They received new life.

This is what Jesus himself said he brought to the world. This is what Jesus brings to our world. Healing. Cleansing. New life.

Since the time of Jesus and before his coming, people have had their own ideas about what his coming would look like and what he would be able to do. Often what people longed for or are longing for was or is rooted in what they believe they need.

Our expectations are born out of our needs.

What happens when our needs aren’t met? Not even by Jesus?

Do we like John, ask “Are you the one?”

In his sermon for this third Sunday in Advent Martin Luther wrote:

“In order to keep your faith pure, do nothing else than stand still, enjoy its blessings, accept Christ’s works, and let him bestow his love on you….

After this, think of nothing else than to do to your neighbor as Christ has done to you, and let all your works together with all your life be applied to your neighbor. Look for the poor, sick and all kinds of needy, help them and let your life’s energy here appear, so that they may enjoy your kindness” (Sermons of Martin Luther, volume 1, p. 110-111).

Luther is telling us, rather than waiting to be healed—go and heal others.

Rather than waiting to be cleansed—go and cleanse others.

Rather than waiting and watching for new life—go and give your life’s energy to others.

Then see, see what happens in your own life and heart.

Then stand still, enjoying Christ’s blessing.

Stand still, letting Christ’s love be bestowed on you, not because of what you have done for others, but because of what Jesus’s love does for you and through you.

For, where there is Christ there is love.

Where there is love there is hope.

Where there is hope there is peace.

Amen.

Sunday, December 8, 2019 – Advent 2

December 8, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Advent 2 2019

Our Saviors La Crosse

Romans 15:4-6

Matthew 3:1-12

Ash Wednesday (1930)

Because I do not hope to turn again

Because I do not hope

Because I do not hope to turn

Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope

I no longer strive to strive towards such things

(Why should an aged eagle stretch its wings?)

Why should I mourn

The vanished power of the usual reign?

(T. S. Eliot Selected Poems Harbrace Paperbound Library 1930, p. 83)

I know, it is unusual to use a poem entitled “Ash Wednesday” on the second Sunday of Advent. But, the poem is perfect for our Advent season.

Let me read the first three lines of the poem again:

Because I do not hope to turn again

Because I do not hope

Because I do not hope to turn

The repetition of the words “I do not hope…” is breath-taking.

St. Paul wrote to the Romans: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

Advent is our season of hope. Hope is the word we name today as part of our faith foundation. Jesus came to the world bringing hope.

In this day and age, Advent may seem more a season of preparation than a season of hope. We have prepared our church building for Christmas. We are preparing our homes and yards for Christmas. We are preparing for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—buying gifts and planning menus and choosing hymns and checking on candles…

More authentically, historically, Advent was and is a season of hope, a time of anticipation, a time when people were hoping for and anticipating the 2nd coming of Christ. Most specifically those first generations of Christians, like those St. Paul wrote to in Rome, expected Jesus to return to the world soon.

With that hope for the return of Jesus came a bit of anxiety—anxiety rooted in the knowledge that, when Christ returned there would be judgment. As John the Baptist told the Pharisees and Sadducees: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7).

I don’t know. Do we get the anticipation of the season? Do we know the fear, the anxiety? Do we wonder: how will we be judged? Are we, like Eliot expresses in his poem, hopeless?

Because I do not hope to turn again

Because I do not hope

Because I do not hope to turn

As I said, the Romans believed Jesus would return soon. They hoped his return would happen in their lifetime. Some believed it would be any day…

Two thousand years later it is difficult to hold onto that “any day” kind of anticipation, let alone the anxiety it might have caused. Do we even believe Jesus will come again?

Do we ask as Eliot asked:

Why should I mourn

The vanished power of the usual reign?

 The kingdom of God may well seem like a vanishing power to us.

Which is precisely the point of the day.

John the Baptist reminds us: “I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up the children of Abraham…” (Matthew 3:9).

Our God is able!

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once preached: “The ringing testimony of the Christian faith is that our God is able” (“Our God is Able” in Strength to Love, by MLK, Pocket Books, 1963, p. 124).

Later in his “Ash Wednesday” poem T. S. Eliot wrote:

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly

But merely fans to beat the air

The air which is now thoroughly small and dry

Smaller and dryer than the will

Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still.

(Eliot p. 84)

In the stillness of this hour we learn again and again to care, we learn again and again to hope, we care and we hope believing Jesus will come again to the world.

Until that time, we turn, we turn again toward God, trusting in the God who is able.

Amen.

« Previous PageNext Page »