Sunday, August 25, 2019 – Pentecost 11

August 25, 2019  
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Isaiah 58:9b-14

Luke 13:10-17

This morning our first reading is from Isaiah; specifically the reading is a portion of what is read on Yom Kippur, a religious holiday also known as the Jewish Day of Atonement.

The history of Yom Kippur dates back to the days when the Lord spoke to Moses and his brother Aaron, as recorded in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. In Leviticus, specifically in chapter 16, the Lord told Moses and Aaron how the people of Israel were to “atone” for their sins. In chapter 16 verse 5, the Lord said Aaron should “take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering…”

“He shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the
entrance of the tent of meeting; and Aaron shall cast lots on the two
goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. (Leviticus 16:7-8)

Hence our young peoples’ message. The goat for the Lord was sacrificed as a sin offering, the goat for Azazel was sent into the wilderness as an atonement.

Atonement. It is derived from the phrase “at one.” “To be at one with someone is to be in harmonious personal relationship with” the person (“Atonement” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, volume 1, p. 309).

Rabbi Shai Held, president of the Hadar Institute in New York, wrote

On the Jewish Day of Atonement, the prophetic reading lands
like a stick of dynamite upon the congregation. By late morning,
when Isaiah is read, most of us are hungry and thirsty and perhaps
a little irritable from fasting. We’re right smack in the middle of
the holiest day of the year, a day centered on the hard work of
repentance and the joyous possibility of forgiveness, when the
words of the prophet come thundering at us, questioning just
what it is we think we’re doing in God’s house”

(“Living the Word: August 25” in Christian Century August 14, 2019 p. 18)

Just what is it we think we’re doing in God’s house?

The question sounds a little like the religious leader who challenged Jesus when Jesus healed the woman who had been unable to stand upright. The leader said

to the crowd who saw the cure: “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” (Luke 13:14). In essence, the leader was asking “Just what does he (Jesus) think he’s doing?”

How did Jesus answer the question?

Jesus answered with a question of his own: don’t you untie your donkey or your ox to lead them to water, on the Sabbath? If you can do that, why can’t I free this woman from her bondage in order that she might live?

Really, what Jesus is talking about is a matter of the heart. As is Rabbi Hart in the Rabbi’s commentary on our reading from Isaiah. The Rabbi explained this when the Rabbi wrote:

“Self-awareness can be hard to come by. We may believe ourselves
entirely sincere. Yet the prophet [Isaiah] has his doubts, so he offers
a kind of test: if our fasting comes coupled with a passion for justice
and a heart full of kindness, then our religious lives have integrity (source
cited above). If, on the other hand, our fasting convinces us that God is
in our pocket, then our religious lives are a scam, and God wants no
part of them.” (source cited above).

God cares about the burdens people carry, burdens that weigh people down, burdens that bind people, preventing them from living freely.

God wants us, as God’s followers, to care about the burdens people carry. God wants us to feed the hungry because hunger is a burden than weighs people down. God wants us to help heal peoples’ wounds because those wounds prevent them from living freely.

Jesus healed the bent over woman on the Sabbath because she was crippled, she was bound; her life was diminished. Her freedom and dignity was of much higher value than the need to keep order by properly observing the Sabbath. Jesus atoned for the sins of the world when he died and rose again, proclaiming victory making us “at one” with God.

Do we have a passion for justice? Are our hearts filled with kindness?

God promised the Hebrew people that

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
1if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
          God will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.

May this blessing fall on our hearts; that our lights rise in the dark and shine, bright as the sun at noonday. Amen.

 

Sunday, August 18, 2019 – Pentecost 10

August 18, 2019  
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Pentecost 10 2019

Luke 12:49-56

Jeremiah 23:23-29

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

 

“Am I a God nearby, says God, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” (Jeremiah 23:23-24a).

 “Is not my word like fire, says God, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)

 Jesus said: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.” (Luke 12:49)

 

When you know, really know, the power of God that power can be terrifying, terrifying enough to want to hide from it.

I don’t mean terrifying as in “I’m afraid I’m going to get hurt.”

I mean terrifying as in “I’m afraid of being overwhelmed.”

God’s word is like a hammer that breaks a rock into pieces.

Jesus came to bring fire to the earth.

 

During our ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly some incredible decisions were made. The Assembly approved a Social Statement on Faith, Sexism and Justice which names patriarchy and sexism as sins.

The Assembly adopted a Declaration of Inter-religious Commitment, witnessed by 39 ecumenical guests from around the world.

The Assembly authorized ELCA World Hunger to spend $21.5 million in the year 2020.

The Assembly adopted a Strategy Toward Authentic Diversity in the ELCA.

The Assembly presented a Declaration of the ELCA to People of African Descent.

The Assembly adopted 26 memorials on subjects ranging from gender identity to seminary tuition.

The Assembly adopted a memorial calling the church to create a Social Statement of the relationship of church and state.

The Assembly Adopted a memorial encouraging congregations to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the ordination of women, the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women of color, and the 10th anniversary of the decision to remove barriers to ordination for people in same-gender relationships.

The Assembly moved to support the vision and goals of the Poor Peoples’ Campaign.

The Assembly adopted a memorial that affirms the ELCA’s long-standing commitment to migrants and refugees and declared the ELCA a sanctuary church body.

That’s a lot of decision-making. Those are a lot of commitments. Our Church is on fire, carrying the fire Jesus kindled into the streets and the homes and the communities we live in.

There are those who might wish we could hide from these things. There are those who fear those things we do as a church will cause great division. There are those, perhaps some of you, who disagree with the decisions made and who feel distanced by them.

Jesus was not kidding when he asked “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth?” And then answered his own question, saying: “No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51).

Jesus said “From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided father against son…mother against daughter… (Luke 12:52-53).

And just so, households have been divided for centuries, not agreeing on the meaning of Jesus for the world and the power of the Word in the world.

“Is not my word like fire?” God asked (Jeremiah 23:29).

How do we live when our “house” is divided?

A few years ago there was a division in my immediate family.

My older brother believed I had done something that would have had a significant effect on one of his daughters. He was livid. He believed in his heart I had done this thing. He accused me in a phone call, angry and hurt.

I didn’t do what he thought I did, I couldn’t have; I didn’t have the power to do what he thought I did. But he was so hurt and so angry, he wouldn’t listen to me.

My other siblings heard about his accusations and some believed him. Some stayed neutral. My parents tried to heal the hurt.

Our division broke their hearts.

It lasted over a year.

My first inclination was to constantly defend myself. That didn’t work. So I put up healthy boundaries, kept a distance, trusting that time would prove I hadn’t done what I was accused of doing. Which it did. Eventually my brother apologized. And my parents rejoiced.

Divisions need not destroy families, they need not destroy communities, they need not destroy congregations, they need not destroy God’s Church on earth.

If we model the gifts God has given us: patience, kindness, respect and love—even if we never agree on the meaning of Jesus for the world and the power of the Word in the world… we will be ok.

We will be ok if we

“Lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely”

And we

“run with perseverance the race that is set before us,

looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Amen.

Sunday, August 11, 2019 – Pentecost 9

August 11, 2019  
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Pentecost 9 2019

Luke 12:22-34

Our Savior’s La Crosse

From Blossoms
(…as if death were nowhere in the background…)

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Li-Young Lee

 

A “brown paper bag of peaches” “bought from the boy at the bend of the road.”

(from the poem “Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee).

How many times have you bought a peach, or a bag of peaches, imagining the jubilance of your first bite?

Summertime is time for peaches, time for watermelon, time for corn on the cob from the yellow truck, time for luscious raspberries and giant juicy tomatoes.

The days are hot and sometimes humid but these hot days bear fruit. Luscious, gorgeous fruit.

As our cover poem states: “There are days we live as if death were nowhere in the background; from joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to blossom to impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom” (Li-Young Lee).

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;

yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

But if God so clothes the grass of the field,

which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven,

how much more will God clothe you?

And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink

and do not keep worrying.

Instead, strive for God’s kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

(Luke 12:27-31 excerpts)

 

We worry.

Violence fills the world. Death comes to children or their parents as their parents attempt to protect them. Families are separated. Immigrants are called invaders.

Black people, brown people are thought of as “less” not as equal. There is fear of those who are “other.”

And we worry.

Our worries and our fears stand in bold contradiction to the luscious days of summer when we hope to, when we want to live from “joy to joy to joy” (Li-Young Lee).

As followers of Jesus Christ we must show the world the truths Jesus taught us.

Now, in these days of anxiety and fear and violence and death, if we are to recover life’s joys we must show the world, we must proclaim to the world the truths Jesus taught us.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).

Scripture is clear:

Jesus taught us the most important law written upon our hearts, is the law to love one another.

In John 15:12 Jesus said “This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you.”

In John 15:17 Jesus is said to have said “These things I command you, that you love one another.”

Love lies at the heart of our faith. If we live the love Jesus calls us to love, we must speak out against violence, we must speak out against injustice, we must speak out against inequalities…

I asked a few weeks ago “Where is the love?”

My answer today: God’s love lives in us; we must allow God’s love to live through us. God’s love will bear fruit in us and through us if we allow God’s love to live and to thrive.

Today we pray as Christians have prayed Sunday after Sunday, year after year, generation after generation “deliver us from evil” (Lord’s Prayer).

The violence that lives in our world is evil. Domestic terrorism is evil. Separating children from their parents is evil. Closing our borders to brown people is evil. Racism is evil. These are evil acts that turn us away from God.

The love of Jesus Christ conquers evil. The love of Jesus Christ opens hearts. The love of Jesus Christ brings people together. The love of Jesus Christ cannot and it will not divide us.

We must be bringers of that love.

We must live God’s love in all that we say and all that we do and all that we are.

God’s love brings to the world days when we can “live as if death were nowhere in the background; from joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to blossom to impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom” (Li-Young Lee).

We must not fear the happenings in our world. We must trust in God and in God’s gift of love for the world. And then we must share our trust in the power of God’s love with all people.

This is our call. We are not alone in this call. God is with us, guiding us.

Have no fear.

In all things God works with us and through us.

And then there is joy. There is “joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to impossible blossom” (Li-Young Lee).

Amen.

Sunday, August 4, 2019 – Pentecost 8

August 4, 2019  
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Pentecost 8 2019

Luke 12:13-21

Our Savior’s La Crosse

 

God needs us.

Last week I began my sermon saying “We need God.”

This week I want to flip the coin: God needs us.

Our need for God is corporate and it is personal.

God’s need for us is the same.

God needs each of us to commit ourselves to being God’s disciples, God’s workers here on earth.

And God needs us, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, to serve God as a community even as we witness to God in our community.

When we looked at the Lord’s Prayer last week, I pointed out that, as a community we ask for three things in the prayer:

That God give us each day our daily bread (Luke 11:3).

That God forgive us our sins (Luke 11:4)

That God not bring us to the time of trial (Luke 11:4) aka lead us not into             temptation.

Looking at our gospel reading this week, it is clear that, even as we ask God for food, for forgiveness, for deliverance from evil, God asks us to be God’s servants in those things for which we ask.

For example:

Give us each day our daily bread.

This prayer petition voices a global need: in order to live we need to eat. Not just we humans, all species need to eat. So, what are we asking for when we pray “give us each day our daily bread”?

Literally, we are asking for enough for this day. Give us each day

Today’s gospel reading makes this clear when Jesus tells the story of the rich man. The man was a farmer whose farm produced food in abundance. The man’s farm produced so much food the man had no place to store it all. So, what did the man do? The man decided to build bigger barns so he could keep all of the grain for himself. He wanted, maybe needed to have enough grain to feel secure enough to be able to sit back and say to his soul “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19). According to Jesus, in his story God spoke to the rich man and said to him “‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20-21).

The rich man had no thought of his neighbors or of their needs. The rich man was only thinking of himself. He had no thought of sharing with others that which he had in abundance.

The moral of the story for us is this: We cannot just ask God for our daily bread, we need to work with God so that all people have daily bread. This means that, for those who have in abundance, our obligation is to give from our abundance to others, because we have been given much. For those not living in abundance, when our needs are met, we can work with those who have much to give, ensuring there are laborers in abundance who can provide for those who needs have not yet been met.

Another example from the Lord’s Prayer:

Forgive us our sins.

As baptized children of God, God’s grace overflows in our lives. Waters of baptism have cleansed and redeemed us. Each and every day we are promised we can rise to the day confident in the knowledge God has forgiven us. There can be no doubt. Our sins are forgiven.

Knowing God has forgiven us our sins, knowing that we have been washed by the waters of baptism, we are called as God’s children to love others as God loves us. Our call to love obligates us to forgive those who have sinned against us. Forgiveness does not imply we are to forget the hurts they may have inflicted. Forgiveness does not mean we cannot protect ourselves from ever being sinned against again. Forgiveness calls us to right relationship with those who have sinned against us. Forgiveness calls us to know that every person is a beloved child of God, forgiven their sins just as we have been forgiven ours. The forgiveness of our sins calls us to forgive those who have sinned against us.

Our final example:

Lead us not into temptation.

Temptation toward evil is prevalent, it is prominent, and it is powerful. The whole reason we need forgiveness in abundance is because of the power of evil, it is because of the power of all that is evil that tempts us. We must not fool ourselves. Everything that turns us away from God, everything that is sin, is there tempting us. And we so often give into temptation.

Our call as children of God who choose to follow Jesus is to reject sin, and to join hands with others who are equally as tempted by evil, that they too reject the sins that turn them from God.

This morning we hear, as we receive God’s word, a call to give even as we are given. To give food. To offer forgiveness. To protect others from evil.

Our call is to offer to others that which we ourselves receive from God.

Amen.

Sunday, July 28, 2019 – Pentecost 7

July 28, 2019  
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Pentecost 7 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Luke 11:1-10

We need God.

Let’s be honest with ourselves; our need for God brings us to church week after week, for some of us year after year.

Notice what I am NOT saying. I am not saying “I need God.”

I am making a corporate statement. I am naming the needs of the community.

We need God.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus didn’t teach them a prayer to use in private moments. Jesus did not teach them a prayer for individual supplication. Jesus taught them a prayer for them to pray together.

“Our Father…”

I know, in Luke the reading begins simply with “Father” (Luke 11:2). But there is a footnote added to scholarly texts, noting that “Ancient authorities read “Our Father in heaven” (NRSV).

“Our Father…”

I don’t often use gender specific language for God, but I cannot escape it here. Jesus is being quite specific with his word “Abba.”

“Our Father…”

Our God.

In our prayer we as a community ask for three things:

That God give us each day our daily bread (Luke 11:3).

That God forgive us our sins (Luke 11:4)

That God not bring us to the time of trial (Luke 11:4), aka lead us not into temptation.

We ask for bread to eat. We ask for forgiveness. We ask for deliverance from evil.

We ask together. We ask as a community when we pray “Our Father.”

When I take communion to people who have memory loss, I am never surprised by their memories of our words of corporate confession, and I am never surprised when they join with me, word for word, as we say the Lord’s Prayer together. If we say those words often enough, they become a part of who we are, as if they are tattooed on our hearts.

“Our Father, who art in heaven… hallowed be thy name.”

Our God, your name has been sanctified. Our God, your name has been made holy.

God’s name is holy here, in this community as we gather… as we pray. Just as God’s name is holy in every community of faith around the world as they pray the words we have all been taught to pray: Our Father…

Think about this:

The kingdom, the power and the glory are God’s!

Our prayer is a declaration as much as it is a request.

All of this… all of this is yours, God.

You have power in our lives, God.

To you is the glory, now and forever, Abba.

We need God. We know we need God.

This community of faith is built on our knowing that we need God.

This community of faith is built on our knowing that we need God to provide daily bread, not just for us but for all people.

This community of faith is built on our knowing that we need God to forgive us our sins, not just today but every day of our lives.

This community of God is built on our knowing that we need God to turn us toward God, to turn our hearts and minds toward God; we need God to deliver us from evil.

Now think about this:

The Lord’s Prayer might be one of the only things we have in common with every person who ever has, who ever does, whoever will know themselves as followers of Jesus. There are so many traditions associated with Christianity that are variable—we sing different songs, we dance or we don’t, we sit and stand or just sit or just stand, we read scriptures that have been translated by different scholars to mean different things, we focus on different aspects of scripture, we have different understandings of who God was and is and will be, we even share communion according to our traditions and cultures. But the Lord’s Prayer has a basic framework that is common to us all. We may or may not end it in the same place and we may or may not use contemporary forms. But the claims and the requests and the corporate character of the prayer has been, is, and always will be the same.

The Lord’s Prayer ties us to other believers more than just about any other aspect of our faith.

Which makes the words of the prayer sacred. The words of our prayer are holy.

The words of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples are a sacred gift given to us all.

And so I pray:

Abba, thank you for teaching us to pray.

Amen.

Sunday, July 21, 2019 – Pentecost 6

July 21, 2019  
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Pentecost 6 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Luke 10:38-42

 

She was one of my favorite people. She was an excellent writer, she had an incredible sense of humor, and she loved God. Sometimes she and I would go for walks together, telling stories and laughing.

One evening she invited a group of people to her home, including me. We had a wonderful meal, wonderful conversations flowed around the table. My only sadness was—and please note I am not saying it was a mistake or a problem, I’m saying it was a sadness—the hostess that evening, who cleaned the house and prepared the meal and set the table, did not set a place for herself at the table. She was back and forth between the dining room and the kitchen, serving the rest of us. She made each one of us feel like what we were: her special guests. And I know, it was her choice to do that. But, the truth is, as much as I appreciated all of her efforts, I missed having her at the table.

Now, imagine one of us having Jesus over for supper!

Imagine the weeks of preparation we would put ourselves through. I would be weeding the gardens in case he goes outside. I would Wash floors, wash windows, clean tables, wash tablecloths… I would dust! I would sweep the driveway and mow the yard.

Then– planning the menu! What would I serve Jesus? Would I place a loaf of bread and a fish on the table and wait for him to perform a miracle?? Would I serve a pitcher of water, knowing he could turn it into wine, saving me a few bucks? Would I fix dessert?

In our gospel reading, when Jesus arrived for dinner Martha was busy with all of the tasks one engages in when someone is coming. And, as a person with two sisters, I’m saying, doesn’t it just figure—her sister Mary wasn’t helping. At all. Mary sat herself down at Jesus’ feet and listened. Martha complained.

If I was Martha, I would have complained.

Last week I talked about “behaving ourselves into love” (Berkey-Abbott, “Reflections on the Lectionary” in the Christian Century, July 3, 2019, p. 18), suggesting gratitude be an alternative to rage or frustration.

With that in mind, I’m wondering what Martha might have been grateful for, and if gratitude might have changed the choices she made when Jesus entered her home.

If Martha welcomed Jesus with gratitude she might have been giving thanks for his decision to enter her home. And perhaps she did.

If Martha welcomed Jesus with gratitude she might have been grateful Mary was there to listen to Jesus while Martha worked.

If Martha welcomed Jesus with gratitude I don’t think she would have said “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me” (Luke 10:40b).

The author of the commentary I used as a source for my sermon last week wrote in her commentary for this week: We often get so consumed by the chores of daily life that we neglect to notice the sacred in our midst” (Berkey-Abbott, “Reflections on the Lectionary, in the Christian Century, July 3, 2019, p. 19).

Where is the love?

I read something interesting two weeks ago. R. Alan Culpepper wrote

“Neither the story of the good Samaritan nor the story of Mary and Martha  is complete without the other. Each makes its own point—the Samaritan loves his neighbor, and Mary loves her Lord—but the model for the disciple is found in the juxtaposition of the two. To the lawyer Jesus says, ‘Go and do,’ but he praises Mary for sitting and listening. The life of a disciple  requires both” (Luke 10:38-42 “Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible,       vol. 9, p. 232).

We are called to do both.

There are times meant for being busy, meant for chores and doing and “acting ourselves into love” (Berkey Abbott ibid p. 18)

There are times when we need to stop, when we need to listen, when we need to make ourselves aware of the sacred in our midst.

Discerning which time is when is the challenge.

I have decided the best way to meet that challenge is to begin with gratitude.

I have been determined to meet moments with gratitude this past week. And, although I haven’t been perfect at it, this new discipline has helped me.

I am grateful for friends who have made or do make or will make me laugh. I am grateful for meals shared with others. I am grateful for my sisters, who I love. I am grateful for each of you as we begin our third year with me as your pastor. I am grateful for the call we have received to love one another and the ministry we do in God’s name. I am grateful for this day, for this morning, for this time to worship and to share a meal together.

Thanks be to God for all that has been; thanks be to God for all that is; thanks be to God for all that will be.

Amen.

Sunday, July 14, 2019 – Pentecost 5

July 14, 2019  
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Pentecost 5 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Luke 10:25-37

“We might be startled to realize during the course of a day how often we feel more rage at our fellow humans than love” (Berkey-Abbot, Kristin, “Living By The Word” in “The Christian Century” July 3, 2019, p. 18).

I was reading a commentary on this morning’s text and I read those words and they’ve stuck with me all week:

“We might be startled to realize during the course of a day how often we feel more rage at our fellow humans than love.”

Rage.

I stopped at Festival to buy chicken wings because I wanted to cook them for the Dorcas potluck. When I came out of the store a truck had been parked behind mine, its front bumper only inches from my back bumper. From a distance, it looks like the two bumpers were touching. I felt something resembling rage as I walked toward my truck.

I stopped at Kwik Trip to buy coffee (which is something I do every day when I come to work). There was no place to park. Don’t tell me there is no place to park when I need my decaf coffee. I was something that might resemble being angry.

I parked my truck in the church lot and noticed a woman walking her dog. The two of them stopped and the dog went to the bathroom. Then they walked on. I thought the dog had pooped in the church yard and that the poop wasn’t picked up and I stormed angrily across the street to examine the remains. The dog had peed.

That’s within a time frame of 15 minutes this past Wednesday morning.

I am startled to realize during the course of a day how often I feel more “rage” at our fellow humans than love. I might prefer to call it anger or even just frustration, but the point is still the same.

Where’s the love?

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:25-27).

Samaritans were the enemies of the Hebrew people. As I studied the history of the conflict between the Hebrews and the Samaritans, I was surprised to discover a suggestion that Samaritan religious practices might have been influenced by Islamic belief. I read that there are “parallels between technical expressions used by Samaritan writers and those found in the Quran” (aka the Muslim Holy Book)(“Samaritans” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 4, p. 195). This tells me that the conflicts we see in the Middle East, some of which are between Arabs and Jews, are as ancient as they are deep.

 

The people listening to Jesus respond to the lawyer’s question with a parable never would have expected the hero of his story to be a Samaritan. Just as many Christians would never expect the hero of the same story told in the year 2019 to be Muslim.

“…the story of the good Samaritan shows what the Great Commandments mean. And here we see the size of the task that God gives us” (Berkey-Abbot, ibid).

“Love is action, not emotion. We show our love by what we do for those who need us” (Berkey-Abbot, ibid).

“We have to go through life behaving as if we love each other. We can behave ourselves into love” (Berkey-Abbot, ibid).

Those are quotes from a Director of Education at a college in Florida. She’s the one who wrote the quote I began my sermon with. She also wrote:

“It’s not enough to love the people who are easy to love. It’s much harder to love those who have behaved in horrible ways. But we must love them too.”

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

 Anger is easy.

All it takes is one person parking a truck. All it takes is a full parking lot. All it takes is a woman walking her dog (at least for me…).

Love is the more difficult task.

“Love is action, not emotion… we can behave ourselves into love” (Berkey-Abbot).

My young person’s message was prompted by these thoughts from the commentary I read:

“We can start where we are… We can stop keeping track of who has done what to wrong us or who is taking advantage of the system. Instead of keeping track of our losses, we can keep track of gratitude” Berkey-Abbot, ibid).

Keeping track of gratitude.

I have a friend who is celebrating 100 Days of Gratitude. Each day for 100 days she posts an image on Facebook of something for which she is grateful.

One image of one thing one day at a time.

It’s a first step into a journey toward loving our neighbors as ourselves. It is a first step toward “behave[ing] ourselves into love” (Berkey-Abbot).

Amen.

 

 

Sunday, July 7, 2019 – Pentecost 4

July 7, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Pentecost 4 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Isaiah 66:10-14

 

God judged them for their sins.

God punished them for their errors.

God destroyed their homes. God destroyed their cities. God destroyed their livelihoods and sent them into exile because of what they did.

The destruction was a calamity. It included the destruction of Jerusalem, the city of God. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.

The destruction was believed to be divine retribution for God’s rebellious children.

And so the children of God languished in exile, where they suffered. They lamented.

The earliest historical record of the existence of the city of Jerusalem is from the 19th century BC, when the city was known as Urushalim (“Jerusalem” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, volume 2, p. 843).

Jerusalem was and is a city sacred to Hebrews and Christians, and for people of the Islamic faith.

Jerusalem.

The author of the last chapter of the book of Isaiah imagined Jerusalem, rebuilt after the exile of her citizens, as a nursing mother consoling the exiles upon their return. The author wrote “Drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom” (Isaiah 66:11).

The image was an image of hope.

The prophets spoke of renewal. The prophets spoke of a new covenant between God and God’s people.

The prophets believed the children of God would return to the cities that had been their home. The prophets believed that the lives of the exiles would be rebuilt, as would their cities.

Jerusalem, the center of the Hebrew world, would be restored.

Jerusalem.

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her” (Isaiah 66:10).

God gave God’s children hope.

And here is where we find our hope:

In verse 13 of our reading from Isaiah (and in the verses following it).

God said to God’s children “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice”

God is telling them they will have a home. God is speaking to them as a mother speaks to her child.

Just so—God speaks to us.

“I will comfort you” God tells us when we are hurt, or are sad, or when we grieve, or when we find ourselves living in circumstances that can feel as if everything that matters is lost to us.

“I will comfort you…your heart shall rejoice.”

 The good news is, God is with us. God loves us. God no longer deals with God’s children with anger, with judgment, with punishment, with destruction. We are children of God’s new covenant. We are children whose sins have been washed away. Our mothering God loves us.

Imagine we are God’s children and God is bouncing us on God’s knees.

Now, stop imagining. Because, we ARE God’s children! God does feed us. God calls us to drink deeply. God promises us we shall flourish like the grass.

We are God’s children.

We are dearly loved.

Always and forever.

Amen.

 

Sunday, July 1, 2019

July 2, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Our Savior’s La Crosse

This morning we consider a moral argument as old as morality itself:

In order to be the best people we can be, do we live by a set of laws?

Or do we live by virtue of virtue?

In simpler language: do we need a set of laws to guide us, telling us how to live?

Or is moral life characterized by our character?

The argument was taking place in Galatia. Missionaries had traveled to the region and were telling new Christian believers that they still needed to conform to old religious laws. Paul wrote the church in Galatia, telling them that “Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). He wrote to the Galatian church, saying “The whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 as quoted in Galatians 5:14).

Paul wrote to the Galatian church “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).

As Lutherans, we believe the purpose of the Law (meaning the moral codes presented in the Old Testament) is clear, the Law exposes our sinfulness, thus exposing our need for Jesus. And so Jesus came to the world to free us. Jesus freed us from our sin. We know, we still sin; we are no longer slaves to sin. Because Jesus freed us—we are free to love one another as God loves us.

Throughout time it has been clear, people LOVE laws. People LOVE telling other people how they ought to live, throwing laws at them like fast hardballs.

In Paul’s time there was an argument was about circumcision. Missionaries declared to the newly faithful: you must be circumcised. Wham! Their pitch hits the catcher’s glove.

There was an argument about what meats could be eaten. Missionaries declared to the newly faithful: they must not eat unclean meat. Wham! Their 2nd pitch smacks into the catcher’s glove.

There was an argument about when people should work and when they should rest. Missionaries declared to the newly faithful: you must keep the Sabbath holy. Wham! A third ball hits.

“No! No! No!” Paul responds. “Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).

What laws are thrown in our time?

“They’re crossing the border illegally.” Wham! The ball slaps the catcher’s glove.

“We need to take care of our own first.” Wham! Another fastball.

And Saint Paul quoted Leviticus when he wrote: “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14).

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

“Live by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) Paul wrote.

The fruit of the Spirit is love.

The fruit of the Spirit is joy.

The fruit of the Spirit is peace.

The fruit of the Spirit is patience.

The fruit of the Spirit is kindness.

The fruit of the Spirit is generosity.

The fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness.

The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness.

The fruit of the Spirit is self-control.

“There is no law against such things” Paul wrote (Galatians 5:22-23).

There is no law!

There is no law because these are virtues; to echo Aristotle, these are character traits manifest in habitual actions that are good to have (Nicomachean Ethics, as quoted in The Elements of Moral Philosophy, James Rachels, 8th edition p. 159).

Roman Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz from El Paso, Texas has been at the center of immigration news this past week because he personally escorted two groups of migrant asylum seekers across the Mexican/United States border, to a migrant shelter run by his diocese. He was quoted as saying during a time of prayer at the border “In the America of today, is there no more Golden Rule? Have we forgotten the lessons of Scripture? Have we forgotten the commandment to love? Have we forgotten God?” (CRUX: Taking the Catholic Pulse “U.S, Bishop Personally Escorts Asylum Seekers Across U.S.-Mexican Border” June 28, 2019).

“Live by the Spirit” Saint Paul wrote (Galatians 5:16).

The fruit of the Spirit is love.

The fruit of the Spirit is kindness.

The fruit of the Spirit is generosity. (Galatians 5:22).

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit” Saint Paul wrote (Galatians 5:25).

 

Amen.

Sunday, June 23, 2019 – Pentecost 2

June 23, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Luke 8:26-39
Galatians 3:23-29

During Synod Assembly last week Mark Zellmer and I both attended a workshop sponsored by the Synod’s Anti-Racism Task Force, a group I co-chair. As the workshop began, the leader handed out index cards and asked us to take a minute to complete this sentence:
            I am….
So I’d like you to take a minute and do that yourselves, using the cards we have provided (or if you are at home, find some paper).
            I am….
The workshop leader had a different purpose for this exercise than what I have.
I simply want you to think about how you have categorized yourself:
Man, woman, black, white, old, young, large, small, Gay, straight, conservative, liberal, sick, survivor…
Now I want you to think about this:
Are these categories ways you think other people see you?
Do they represent how you see yourself?

After Jesus and his disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee, Jesus got out of the boat and was met by a naked man from Gerasenes. People hearing Luke’s story in the first century would know, a man from Gerasenes was a Gentile (so he didn’t keep religious laws). The man was naked and he lived in a cemetery.

When the naked man saw Jesus, he fell at Jesus’ feet, shouting “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” (Luke 8:28). Then Jesus asked the man’s name, and the naked man replied “Legion.” (Luke 8:30).

When you filled out your index card, did any of you write down: naked? No? That’s a good thing. (People worshiping at home, we don’t want to know your answer to this…)
Did anyone write down “legion”?
In Jesus’ time, a legion would be 6,000 Roman soldiers.
In this story, “Legion” represents “many demons.” Many demons.

The man was a naked, demon-possessed Gentile.
And Jesus saved him.

In his letter to the Galatians the apostle Paul wrote there is no longer “Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
We live in a binary society where we see and we name male or female, straight or gay, black or white, skinny or fat, old or young…”
The reality is many in society see themselves in non-binary ways. In other words, there are many shades of grey to any category we try to create.
So, although I identify as being left-handed, I golf and bat right-handed.
Someone might appear to be Black, even though that person is a mix of Latino and African American.

As people of faith, if we follow Paul’s teaching, all of us who are baptized are freed from any categories we might name, united and known simply as “children of God.”

I find it interesting Jesus did not baptize the demon-possessed man from Gerasenes; rather, Jesus freed the man’s demons to leave the man and enter a herd of pigs.
Although he was not baptized, make no mistake, the man, and all those who were near him, knew he was free. Because after he was freed he was clothed. He was in his right mind. He was sitting at Jesus’ feet, longing to become a disciple.

What I find even more interesting than the fact that the demon-possessed man was not baptized, was the fact that what Jesus did do to him (by releasing his demons) caused everyone else to feel deeply uncomfortable. They were afraid. They were “seized with great fear.” They were so afraid, they asked Jesus to leave them (Luke 8:37).

How frightening are the realities Jesus creates?
How frightening is it to know and to believe that there is no longer “Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28)?

We live in a society and time that embraces categories. It seems people want to keep other people in “their place.” The labels we have created divide us; the labels we have created hurt us; the labels we have created are (dare I say) demonic in and of themselves. What happens because of those labels is even more evil.

Which is why it is so important for us to claim, which is why it is so important for us to live the realties that have been created by Jesus Christ. To live boldly, knowing we are all one in Christ Jesus.

We are all one. We are all God’s children.

Always and forever, we are all loved.

Amen.

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