Your Faith Journey
All of us are on a journey of faith in our lives. At Faith Lutheran in Okemos, Michigan we bring people one a journey of faith each week and share that journey with the world.
info_outline Sermon - John 9:1-41 03/22/2020
Sermon - John 9:1-41 In today’s gospel reading, we are invited into a story, a story that simply did not just take place a long time ago, but a story that is truly our story, here and now. Because of the nature of this gospel passage, I am going to do something different. Before we hear the reading, I would like to share just a few insights with you. The community to which the Gospel of John is addressed may very well have been expelled from the synagogue for confessing Jesus as Messiah. They may well have felt isolated and abandoned. So, as you experience hearing today’s reading about the isolated blind man, ask yourself how this passage might address the isolated and the abandoned, not only within John’s community, but also the isolated and abandoned among us today. How does this story address us as we face a whole new form of living in isolation? Not only does this reading address the nature of this early Christian community, it also works to undermine a simplistic understanding of sin. When the disciples voice a common view of the day that disability or hardship is the result of sin, a view some people today even continue to suggest, Jesus sharply disagrees. Also, when the Pharisees assume that knowledge of the law automatically grants righteousness, Jesus counters their thinking by saying that precisely because they feel so certain regarding their understanding, because they deny their sin and claim to “see,” they are in fact sinning because they do not recognize and trust God’s very saving presence to them in the person of Jesus. So, are they really the blind ones? With these insights in mind, I invite you to listen or follow along and enter into this story. John 9:1-41 As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. 35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. Friends, to follow Jesus is to see differently. Sometimes, to follow Jesus is to be brought into a messy situation, maybe even a crisis. But, in the mess, we are called to trust that God is present and at work doing a new thing. Sometimes, this newness means discovering that we are actually the blind ones when we think we see perfectly. My friend, Pastor Bill Uetricht, quoted theologian John Petty on Thursday and then added some thoughts of his own. He wrote: “John Petty speaks of Lutheran irony, the notion that ‘it is precisely when we are most spiritually confident that we are in greatest spiritual danger, that it is precisely when we feel strong in faith, precisely when we are feeling the most committed, precisely when we are the most religious, that sin lies closest at hand.’” My friend Bill then said, “I suspect that in the craziness of these current times, this wisdom is worth clinging to. Who knows for sure what it is all about? The call in the midst of it is not certainty, but trust. That isn't coming easy for me these days.” I agree with my dear friend, Bill. That trust is not coming easy for me these days. Yet, I do continue to trust God’s word to us. That blind man was made new. Theologian, Nadia Bolz Weber, writes, “New is often messy. New looks like recovering alcoholics. New looks like reconciliation between family members who don’t actually deserve it. New looks like every time I manage to admit I was wrong and every time I manage to not mention when I’m right. New looks like a very fresh start and every act of forgiveness. New is the thing we never saw coming – never even hoped for – like our blind guy here. But new ends up being what I needed all along.” And, I would add, new is discovering the new ministries and new ways we are able to be together as people of Faith in the midst of the craziness of our present existence. Such newness is also what we call grace, it is what we call love. Nadia Bolz-Weber continues by saying, “God simply keeps reaching down…reaching down into the dirt of your humanity and resurrecting you from the graves you dig for yourself through your violence, your lies, your selfishness, your arrogance, and your addictions. And God keeps loving you back to life over and over….There are times when faith feels like a friendship with God. But there are other times when it feels….I don’t know….more vacant. Yet none of that matters in the end. How you feel about Jesus or how close you feel to God is meaningless next to how God acts upon you. How God indeed enters into your messy life and loves you through it, maybe whether you want God’s help or not.” In today’s story, one of the most remarkable things is the fact that the blind man didn’t seek out Jesus or ask his help. Yet, he was healed and made whole. And the powerful, life-giving truth of the gospel is that our suffering, our grief, the challenges we are currently facing, and even our sin will not have the last word. As our souls and bodies desperately cry out for relief, we hear the faint yet clear voice of the Christ calling us; reminding us that, through the cross, death and all its trappings have been swallowed up in victory. The final word rests not with suffering, not with blindness, not with this coronavirus and everything that we are currently facing and experiencing, but with the newness, life and peace that come through Christ. These days, we hear people reminding us to wash our hands over and over and over again, and it is a necessary reminder. But, this story reminds us that the most sublime words imaginable are, “Go, wash.” And, I don’t mean just go wash your hands yet again. I mean wash in the waters of your baptism and the water of life in which God daily bathes each one of us, whatever our circumstances. We may not always sense this, but we trust God’s promise to us. And, as the cool and refreshing waters of life wash over all of us – those baptismal waters in which we daily live – our eyes and our hearts are opened to behold the living Christ, standing as the chains of death and hell lay broken at his feet. There is no other response than to simply trust, raise our voices and cry out at last, “Lord! I believe!”
info_outline Sermon - John 3: 1-17 03/08/2020
Sermon - John 3: 1-17 I grew up as a sailor. From the age of two, my dad had me flying across the water on a Hobie 16, propelled by harnessing the power of the wind. I came to know my husband, Corey, through sailing, and sailing remains a special part of my life. My dad gave me a poster that I hung wherever I was, moving through high school, college and even into early adulthood that had an anonymous quote “You cannot direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” Sailing is a challenging and invigorating sport because of the lack of control you truly have. You are totally dependent on the wind. Wind shifts, dies, and puffs so powerfully it tips you over, flinging you off the boat and into the water… as a little girl I would beg my dad “Promise you won’t let us tip!” He would say, “I can’t promise that we won’t tip but I’ll promise that I’ll do my best to keep us from tipping.” As teenagers Corey and I became more daring and tried to see how many times we could tip in one day...enjoying the rush of being overpowered by the wind. Now my kids beg me, “Mom, promise you won’t let us tip!” and I give them the same response my dad gave me. You must respect the power of the wind while sailing, and admit that you don’t have complete control. Sailors become keenly tuned to the wind. My dad would say to me: “feel the wind on your cheek”, and “watch for signs of the wind on the water”. The most essential -- and often frustrating -- rule of sailing is that it is impossible to sail directly into the wind. If you need to move in the direction of the wind you must zig-zag back and forth toward your destination. “You cannot direct the wind but you can adjust your sails.” Jesus’ words today remind me of this quote that I have lived by. Jesus tells Nicodemus “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Jn 3:8) Nicodemus is a leader, a Pharisee, someone who is studied in the laws of the Jewish religion. He knows a lot about Jewish law, what’s right and wrong and what’s to be done about it. But something draws him out “by night” to Jesus. It follows the old stereotype that only shady things happen in the dark. That sneaking around in the dark means you’re up to no good. Perhaps Nicodemus is sneaking around to avoid being labeled a heretic by his community for his acknowledgement of Jesus. Despite these risks, he seeks Jesus. He greets Jesus respectfully, calling him “Rabbi”, acknowledging him as a teacher and openly affirms that Jesus is from God. Then things get pretty murky in the conversation with Jesus speaking about things like water and spirit. We witness Nicodemus becoming more and more confused as he tries to understand Jesus within his rational, law-abiding way of thinking. I really like Nicodemus because I can relate to his confusion and desire to understand. It’s hard to grasp God’s presence in the world with Jesus’ explanations of the nature of water, spirit, wind and flesh… I need a story. The bible offers us many stories describing God’s agency in people’s lives. The first reading from Genesis this morning highlights Abraham’s call, which is a great story that demonstrates the persistence of God’s promises in the lives of human beings who don’t always go in a straight line to their destination…. But sometimes even these stories seem a little too distant to grasp. This community at Faith Lutheran Church also has a really great story that many of you know, that many of you participated in, that I want to remind you of today. Two-and-a-half years ago Samaritas cried out for help for refugee youth who were aging out of their program without the government documentation needed to either continue in Samaritas’ program or provide for themselves. This is how the Parish House began. Over the last couple of years I’ve heard many stories about this old parsonage that sits behind Faith Lutheran Church. It was built in 1957 with the original church building and was a home for the first pastors who served this congregation until it was converted into an office. With the expansion of this church building, including the addition of offices, the parsonage became an inexpensive storage facility and the location of weekly sewing by the dedicated quilting ladies of this community. This congregation looked into having the parsonage burned by the fire department for training, or bulldozed, but those were expensive options. The parsonage was actually sold to a community member for the hot price of $10,000, a transaction that fell through just before closing. At the time of Samaritas’ need, the parsonage was rumored to be infested with mold and unlivable. Laurie and I believed these rumors as we entered the parsonage for the first time and discovered it had no kitchen sink, one working bathroom between the two, a leaky roof that had soaked through and collapsed part of the ceiling in one of the bedrooms, and many other issues. “You cannot direct the wind”... “the wind blows where it chooses.” By all realistic, rational accounts, this old, dilapidated house could not be turned into a home within two months when it would be desperately needed. It was obvious that this conversion, this transformation, was not possible. “What is born of the flesh is flesh.” And yet something inside this community persisted, insisted, that we try. “What is born of the Spirit is spirit.” And so we tried, we started, we began, piece by piece to empty the house of its random stored items, to transfer the quilting projects out of the house and into the church basement. We zig-zagged toward our destination with the hope that the wind would somehow carry us there. This entire community came together, once individuals, now joined by the spirit toward a common goal, to transform this house into a home. To repair its brokenness. To believe in God’s promise of newness. By the world’s standards we were not licensed professionals, and yet the spirit inspired and empowered us to say “sure”. The spirit called us to use our skills at plumbing, rewiring, painting, repairing and moving. We adjusted our sails, we learned to feel the wind on our cheeks, and we listened to the spirit. What’s amazing is that through witnessing the the renewal of the brokenness of this old house -- this community was renewed too. Our eyes were opened as they witnessed God’s presence living, working and moving within this community. What we had thought was impossible became transformed into a new reality before our very eyes. We did not know where the wind would blow or where it would go but we felt it and responded. And we stumbled into something beautiful. Jesus tells Nicodemus “We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen” (Jn 3:11). Still, when I look back on this experience, there are many things that I don’t understand, things that don’t add up according to the way I know the world to work. Richard Rohr in his book Falling Upward describes this: God has to undo our illusions secretly, as it were, when we are not watching and not in perfect control, say the mystics. That is perhaps why the best word for God is actually Mystery. We move forward in ways that we do not even understand and through the quiet workings of time and grace. When we get there, we are never sure just how it happened. (p. 51) This lack of clear understanding makes it difficult for me to talk about this experience with people who didn’t live it. This unknowing also brings a sense of humility, especially when I’m asked to share this story. Laurie and I have been asked to develop a model so other communities can embark on their own similar project, and we find ourselves at a loss. I have no model for God’s work within community -- except to feel the wind on your cheeks and look for signs of the wind on the water. Jesus seems exasperated with Nicodemus because Nicodemus, like us, wants a model, a pattern, a guide, to tell him what he has to do. Really what Jesus describes is a process of letting go of control. Of giving oneself up to the Spirit, to God’s will. We must not try to direct the wind, we can only adjust our sails. We need to learn to feel the power of the spirit on the tiny hairs on our cheeks. We need to learn to see the signs of the spirit moving across the waters of our lives. This learning is releasing control. This learning is grace. This learning is God undoing our illusions. God’s presence within our lives does not fit within conventional categories that we easily understand. This Lenten season, as we approach the time when Christ will be lifted up on the cross like the serpent in the wilderness, we are called to bear the cross within our own lives. We are called to recognize that the cross is no longer humiliation, but exaltation, in Christ. God revealed in Jesus is a God whose love knows no bounds and a God who reshapes us through that endless love. Through our identity as God’s beloved we are given the courage to face those burdens that painfully stand between us and the Spirit of God. The love of God empowers us to consider and face what illusions of control persist within us today… and let them be crucified. Let them die. Let them go. As Christians, this is the foundation of our belief: that every death leads to newness and wholeness of life. You never know what beautiful new thing might be waiting for you on the other side. Amen.
info_outline Sermon: Genesis 2:15-17; 3: 1-7; Matthew 4:1-11 03/06/2020
Sermon: Genesis 2:15-17; 3: 1-7; Matthew 4:1-11 Many of you are probably familiar with the term Theme and Variations. This term describes a very common form of musical composition. When used, this compositional technique first presents a simple theme or idea and, after it is initially stated, repeats that theme but alters it and embellishes it. There can be multiple variations presented, based on this simple theme, but each variation can always be traced back to the original presentation. Today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis as well as the Gospel reading from Matthew present a form of theme and variations. You see, there are not really three temptations in our Gospel story. There are three variations of the same basic theme. As from the beginning, the devil always tempts his victims to reach for, access, and attain power. As we look at our reading from Genesis, I want to first make clear that this ancient story was written to help explain why, in God’s creation, there came to be sin and death. It is not a story to be interpreted as literal. The truth of this story goes much, much deeper. This ancient tale helps to communicate something about human nature, something about our alienation from God. It serves to narrate aspects of human brokenness and it helps us understand more about the way we disobey God by eating false foods of all kinds. And, it describes how we invite others to join us in our disobedience. So, from the beginning, we see evil, in the form of a serpent, tempting victims to go for power, saying, “You will be like God.” For the tempter, there seems to be no surer path to internal contradiction and self-destruction. You see, this story is our story because human beings repeatedly succumb to such temptation. All we need do is look around us at what is happening in our country and the world, and we see not only the result of people eating false foods (foods being a metaphor for all kinds of things), but we also see the result of human beings wanting to be like God. It is all about the desire for power. This Genesis story provides a foil to our Gospel reading today because it not only represents us, it represents the opposite of what happens when Jesus encounters temptation. In our gospel reading, Jesus is tempted to misuse power. As we look at our reading from Matthew where the first temptation, or first variation of this theme, is presented, the devil goes right for the jugular. The tempter addresses Jesus’ very identity saying, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” This first variation is a temptation for Jesus to use power to show the miraculous. Having just heard for the first time, at his baptism, that he is God’s Son, the tempter then calls that holy moment into question saying, “If you are the Son of God.” Lutheran Minister Nadia Bolz-Weber reminds us that God’s first move is always to name us and claim us as God’s own. But soon other people try to tell us who we are and to whom we belong. Nadia writes, “Capitalism, the weight-loss industrial complex, our parents, kids at school—they all have a go at telling us who we are. But only God can do that. Everything else is temptation.” Jesus responded in this moment of vulnerability by quoting scripture saying, “One does not live by bread alone.” In this first confrontation, the deceiver attempts to mislead Jesus into using his God given power for himself rather than trusting the Father to satisfy his need. Jesus refused. He will not misuse his power for personal material gain. In the second variation on this theme, the tempter takes the quest for power to yet another level. After leading Jesus to the holy city of Jerusalem and placing him on the pinnacle of the temple, the tempter again calls Jesus’ identity into question saying, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” Then, misusing scripture and taking it out of context, the tempter says, “For it is written in scripture: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you’ and ‘on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus is tempted to use his power to save himself from danger. This is a test of heroism and what kind of Messiah Jesus will be. Is he going to be the warrior king, the superhero who can leap from buildings in a single bound and be saved at the last instant because he is God’s Son? Or is he going to be a Messiah folks never imagined possible, the Son of God who will suffer and die on a cross? Jesus says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Jesus will not and does not use his power to make himself safe and secure. Well, the tempter has yet one more power play to make, yet another variation on the same theme, and he raises the stakes even higher. He attempts to seduce Jesus with domination and prestige. Essentially, he offers Jesus all the power in the world. He offers Jesus control over all the world’s kingdoms, along with their praise and glory, in exchange for Jesus’ allegiance to him, allegiance to evil itself. He says, “All these kingdoms I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” But, Jesus is not led astray. Jesus rejects the deceiver’s misdirection and Jesus quotes Scripture in its context, saying, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.” Jesus will not misuse his power to amass clout and esteem. Jesus will not turn from God to embrace the kinds of success we would recognize and applaud. In fact, contrary to the way most human beings pounce on the opportunity to attain such power, Jesus remains exasperatingly himself, and he remains steadfastly faithful as God’s beloved Son. Human beings – individually, corporately and institutionally – all know the pull of the quest for power. What could be more human? And, we have seen throughout history as well as in today’s present context, the way in which the quest for power corrupts. But, in Jesus, we find a very different kind of power. In Jesus, we find one who not only speaks the power of love but also lives the power of love. And, divine love is infinitely more powerful than all the powers of this world combined. What is even more fascinating is that such love is the only power that assumes the utter vulnerability of the lover. As St. Paul wrote, “whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” Theologian, Paul Tillich, wrote, “We long for a Christ of power. Yet if He were to come and transform us and our world, we should have to pay the one price which we could not pay: we would have to lose our freedom, our humanity, and our spiritual dignity. Perhaps we should be happier, but we should also be lower human beings, our present misery, struggle and despair notwithstanding….Those who dream of a better life and try to avoid the Cross as a way, and those who hope for a Christ and attempt to exclude the Crucified have no knowledge of the mystery of God and humanity.” (The Shaking of the Foundations, p.148) In today’s reading, the tempter finally leaves Jesus. But, we soon find this tantalizing deceiver will again voice one more variation on his major theme. The tempter will present yet one more power play as Jesus hangs on the cross, despised and rejected. In that seemingly God forsaken place, we hear the taunts voiced by those who pass by, shaking their heads while saying, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” And, in that place of horror, we find out just how powerful the force of divine love really is. There we find the greatest love and grace the world has ever known, a power that will ultimately trump evil forever. As we make this Lenten journey together, live into that divine love.
info_outline Sermon - 2/16/20 02/16/2020
Sermon - 2/16/20 We are a people who love having the freedom to make choices, and we like to have multiple options before us as we make those choices. Quite honestly, having options to choose from in any given situation has become a staple of the American dream. We are daily confronted with dozens of choices like deciding on fries or chips, a large drink or a small drink, the list simply goes on and on. Right now, we clearly see that political agendas of all flavors are being sold on a platform of choices. And, quite frankly, we are blind to the privilege we have when we are given so many choices on a regular basis. Today’s scripture readings are about the choices we make and then how we live with the consequences of our decisions. On the one hand, there are certain factors in life in which we don’t, or maybe even can’t, choose. We do not choose to be born. We do not choose our parents or our families. We do not choose the historical time or the country in which we were born. And, at the end of life, most of us do not choose to die; nor do we choose the time or the conditions of our death. On the other hand, in between our birth and our death, we make a myriad of choices about how we shall live our lives and how we shall spend our time here on earth. In today’s Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy, we find Moses finishing his long list of instructions to the Israelites as they came to the end of their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. They were finally camped on the east side of the Jordan River, ready to cross over into the Promised Land. Summarizing what was most important for God’s covenant people to know as they are about to step foot into this unconquered territory without him, Moses instructs the people to “Choose life.” Choose life over death. Decide on a life of blessing over a life that is a curse. Moses gave these former Hebrew slaves a choice: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying God, and holding fast to God; for that means life and length of days…” Yes, Israel was faced with a clear choice. They could follow the God-given commandments and trust God, or they could yield to the culture and multiple pagan gods of the Canaanites. The first option led to fullness of life, and the latter led to “death,” which wasn’t necessarily physical extermination but an existence that lacked joy, well-being, security, and a life with meaning. Such a death might better be described as the complete opposite of God’s shalom. However, if the Israelites chose faithful obedience to God’s laws, they would become fully alive, for they would know the love of God and experience the best life had to offer by living in healthy relationship with God and others. In our gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus was teaching his disciples about what it means to live as citizens within God’s kingdom. It helps to remember from last week that Jesus said he came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them. Jesus then showed the disciples what the “fulfilled” life looks like. He informs all would-be disciples, then and now, that whoever seeks to follow him must choose to go further than merely keeping the letter of the law as did the scribes and Pharisees. His disciples must also keep the spirit and the intention of the Law. The law was not simply something that was to be observed outside of oneself, it was something that needed to be internalized and come from a transformed heart. It must have meaning, showing forth in the way we live our lives and in the way we live in relationship to others. If the people kept the spirit and intention of the law, if God’s law of love was written in their hearts, they would be fully alive to both God and others. So, Jesus raises the bar by referring to several of God’s commandments, saying, “You have heard that it was said… but I say to you…” You have heard it said, ‘You shall not murder.’ Jesus warns the disciples that it’s not enough to refrain from murder. He warns them against unresolved anger and says they are sent to make peace and be reconciled with one another. Who is right or wrong seems beside the point. We should treat each other with respect and that means not speaking hateful words, not calling other people names, not demeaning others and not meting out vengeance. The reality is that words matter! At issue are broken relationships and the need for healing within the two parties. You have heard it said, “You shall not commit adultery.” The act of adultery is wrong; but, whether or not one actually commits the sinful act, the lust that occurs within a person’s heart is also a violation of the holy covenant. God desires a relationship of wholeness between partners. The lust that looks on another person as a sexual object to be exploited is prohibited in favor of a godly love that sees the other person as a child of God who is also made in God’s image. Jesus also addresses divorce. Now it is important to understand that his words about divorce are not to be turned into a new restriction that forever keeps broken marriages bound together despite the brokenness. No, Jesus wants to affirm the sanctity of marriage, and warn those who use their spouse like throw-away toys without regard for their welfare after the divorce. We should not treat people as disposable, and we should make sure that the most vulnerable are provided for. And, in the culture of that time as well as in places in our world today, the most vulnerable usually are women and children. You have heard it said, “You shall not swear falsely against your neighbor.” It is not enough to keep from swearing falsely, lying to others or lying about others. We should speak and act truthfully in all our dealings so that we don’t need to make pledges at all. What Jesus calls for is that we be honest in all our dealings. Honesty is the outward expression of an inner integrity. Truthfulness and faithfulness are characteristics of the life lived under the rule of God. We see in Jesus’ teachings that God does not want us only to avoid committing wrongs. God wants much more. God is all about right relationships, and God wants us to love our neighbors and one another from the innermost affection of our hearts. God wants us to love others based on the way God loves us. We are to live our lives from the inside out as we recognize that we are created in God’s image, as are all other people! Therefore, the divine stamp upon us must influence how we think, how we feel, and how we act. This isn’t about “being good,” but being alive in the fullest sense. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” Joy and a great sense of fulfillment come from keeping God’s law. When we do as Jesus instructs, we find that we are intimately connected to God and all others, and we become fully alive. When we do this, our life of worship becomes deeply connected to the most vulnerable among us and to the starving world. And, quite honestly, as I mentioned last week, that is where liturgical practice or worship really begins. Worship really happens in our lives once we leave this place as we live our lives from Monday through Saturday. So, be reconciled to others and worship with all your heart. Moses said, “Today I set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life.” History bears out, however, that many times the Israelites chose their own way and suffered the consequences of their own decisions. Yet, we discover throughout the Bible that God remains faithful to the people in a myriad of ways, despite their wrong choices. Friends, choosing life is a lifelong process, sometimes only learned in the midst of struggle and challenge. And, as we see in today’s gospel reading, Jesus is always not only calling us to be reconciled as we live in relationship to all others, but to come to the altar and give our very selves to God. We are to choose life, turn toward God and give God our very hearts. And, as we come to this place and give our very lives to God, we receive in return all that we need not just to survive, but to truly live. So, let’s stand and sing from the depth of our hearts these words: What have we to offer? What have we to give? Eyes that are wide open; lies that we won’t live; Truth that must be spoken; justice somehow. Lay it at the altar now. What have we to offer? What have we to give? Lives we will live.
info_outline Sermon - Isaiah 58:1-12 02/10/2020
Sermon - Isaiah 58:1-12 There are people in my family, and probably also in yours, who, when they get hungry and need food, tend to get out of sorts, even angry. In other words, when they get hungry, their actions and behavior show it. Their hunger causes them to be cranky and snap at others. They develop that condition we often describe as “hangry.” When we see this condition arise, we usually quickly work to fix the problem as soon as possible. Hunger is something that prompts a response. And, throughout history, people have used the sensation of hunger to prompt a certain kind of response, a deeper sense of spiritual awareness in their lives by practicing fasting. Fasting is spiritual practice utilized by people of many religious backgrounds in the belief that, by doing so, one will be drawn closer to God. When used as a spiritual practice, it can help create more space for worship and reflection in one’s life. Fasting and worship are the spiritual practices described in our reading from Isaiah this morning as we find the people of Israel engaged in devoted acts of worship. The words of this passage were written around 520 BCE when the people had returned to Jerusalem following the exile. The people were longing to live into the promises that are hoped for after extreme hardships. Having been released from exile, they were trying extra hard to make things right because they did not want to return to the path that led them into what they perceived as great judgement and punishment. They truly were hungry for a relationship with God. So, they regularly and steadfastly gathered for worship. In the process, they made worship look good. That is where they put all their energies. But, it did not take long for them to become so consumed by this that they became isolated from the rest of the world, closed off to anything beyond the walls of their worship space. You see, what they did not do was let worship trouble their consciences and shape their way of living. They did not want to make connections between their worship and their neighbors. They ignored the poor and anyone else they wanted to choose to ignore. Even though their intentions may have been genuine, they missed some of the point of what worship is all about. So, Isaiah critiques their worship practices, especially their fasting. He says their fasting is self-serving and hollow. They are just pretending to be righteous while allowing injustice to continue in their own backyards. He offers very stern reminders that the practices of fasting and worship are not just about going through the motions. It is about what happens after that, namely, how they are to live in the world. Isaiah tells the people that rather than being so focused on hunger as a spiritual practice of fasting, their worship and fasting should make them hungry for something more – for breaking the bonds of injustice. Then he gives several simple, concrete ways that they can accomplish this. He identifies basic human needs – food, shelter, clothing, and indicates that these are the hunger pangs in the world that need undoing and he calls the people to be a part of that undoing process. They are called to share bread, offer shelter, and cover those in need, even at the risk of exposing one’s very self. Theologian, Walter Brueggemann notes something important for us to understand about this reading in our context. He writes that these instructions are not: a theoretical debate about the merits of socialism or capitalism, a debate that is a smoke screen about human need and human resources. There is here no debate about governmental public welfare or “the private sector.” The poet does not care and would be likely to say, ‘Do it either way, but do not talk about the private sector in order to avoid public welfare, do not focus on public welfare in order to exempt the private sector.’ What we are in any case talking about is hunger, homelessness, nakedness, and your bread, your house, your self. Isaiah gives us a definition of true worship, relative to how the people of God care for the most vulnerable in their midst. No doubt these words hit home with a people who had not too recently been in similar positions themselves, as strangers in Babylon, living in a foreign land, struggling to make it and longing to return to Jerusalem. Isaiah brings the people of Israel back to their roots, with encouragement to plant and build and grow, and to help others do the same. In all of their attempts at worship and fasting, the people had been crying out to God, clamoring for a response and acknowledgment of how good of a job they were doing. The beginning of this reading echoes their frustrations that they are not getting the attention they feel they deserve. Isaiah says that perhaps it is because their worship has not been complete. By offering them the missing pieces, Isaiah helps again guide the people of Israel back home and into a connectional relationship with God – one that is only found when connecting with all of God’s children. And that means it is about the way we treat all others! The prophet concludes with the promise that when this is the kind of worship they choose to embrace, “light shall break forth like the dawn” (Isaiah 58:8) and “light shall rise in the darkness” (Isaiah 58:10). In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says a something similar. He continues his sermon on the mount with similar message. He says, “Let your light shine.” Jesus called the disciples, and calls each one of us, to do more than just hole up inside our Sanctuary walls and practice a private faith. Worship is not meant to be just a “me and Jesus” private moment. It’s meant to be a time when we recognize and experience the incredible relationship God has with the world through Jesus Christ, who connects us not only with God, but with all others and the world. When talking about Jesus’ words to us today, Lutheran theologian and professor, Barbara Lundblad, connects his message to the words of the prophets before him, including Isaiah, when she writes: For Jesus, salt and light came out of a long tradition of biblical teaching: salt and light were images for the law of God. Salt and light must take us back to the fullness of the law and the prophets, and the fullness of Jesus’ radical teaching in this Sermon on the Mount. The prophets plead for fullness of life: freedom from oppression, bread for the hungry, homes for those who have none, clothing for the naked. Is this not what it means to be the salt of the earth, to keep this prophetic word alive in the midst of our world? If we lose this vision, if we give in to other values, if we forget God’s longing for justice, our salt has lost its taste. If you think Jesus’ call is impossible, remember that the One who is our bread is with us and within us, empowering us to be salt and light in this world. Friends, our worship should make us hungry for what is to come, eager and enthusiastic to go out and live as followers of Christ in the world. That hunger is represented each time we gather around the table for communion, as we demonstrate our longing for a closer relationship with Christ, and as we join together in the meal which Christ has prepared. We consume the “bread of life” and the “cup of salvation,” and are then refreshed by the Holy Spirit, filled and restored. But for what? Isaiah has some answers, and Jesus did, too. The answer is to go out. We are called to go out into the world and participate in relationships will all others, especially the most vulnerable in this world, doing so in the name of the One who came to be in relationship with us. Both of our readings this morning call us, good little worshippers in the pews, to NOT let our worship in this sanctuary be all that our faith is about. If we only focus on what is happening within these walls, and how good we are at it, we have missed the point. Our worship of God should not end when Bruce’s postlude is over; that is where it should begin. The truest sign of our worship happens on Monday through Saturday, as we live out our faith in the world. Listen again to Jesus’ words to us today as I read them from Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message. Listen as Jesus speaks to you: Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. So, go my friends, leave here with a deep hunger, a hunger that drives you to go out to the world, living and proclaiming God’s justice, God’s love and peace for all people, and telling of a way of life that will bring healing to the world.
info_outline Sermon - Micah 6:1-8 02/02/2020
Sermon - Micah 6:1-8 I know many of us have favorite passages in scripture, certain passages that have deep meaning for us. I also know there are some passages that are essential for all of us as we walk and live this journey of faith. And, one of those passages is today’s reading from Micah. While we do not know a lot about the prophet Micah, we do know the justice issues he faced during the eighth century B.C. were not unlike some of the issues we face today. Micah lived in the land of Judah during a time of great wealth and prosperity. On the outside it appeared that God’s people were thriving, but on the inside, they were rotting to the core. Political corruption was pervasive. Economic exploitation was rampant! Ethical violations were voracious. The nation had drifted so far from God they could no longer tell the difference between good and evil. Even though they were going through the outward motions of worship, their hearts were far from the Lord. Much like America today, their society was characterized by overconfidence and self-indulgence. Most of the wealth was concentrated in the hands of the ruling elite while the poor were scraping to get by. Unbridled greed and arrogance made those in power callous to meting out justice fairly and evenly. People were talking the talk, but they were not walking the walk. Consequently, their words were empty. So, Micah blew the whistle on this blatant hypocrisy by announcing God’s ensuing judgment on God’s people unless they repented from their sin. His whistle blowing prophecy blends a harsh message of judgment with the hope of future restoration at the coming of the Messiah. Through it all, he pleads with his people to come back to the Lord. And, Micah 6:1-8 forms the climax of his prophecy. He reminds the people that God is not interested in hollow sacrifices or empty acts of worship and he sums everything up in verse 8 saying, “Israel would please God by simply acting justly, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.” Micah’s words take the form of a legal controversy. And, as we look at verses 1 & 2, even the world of nature is asked to enter the dialogue. The mountains and the hills are the everlasting foundations of the earth and they are called to be witnesses of what has happened to the God-Israel relationship. They have been around longer than the Israelites and have witnessed the Lord’s faithfulness and Israel’s rebellion. This seems to heighten the drama and intensify the sarcasm of the passage. Once the court scene is set and the witnesses are in place, the legal procedure begins with the Lord’s accusations against God’s people in verses 3-5. The Lord’s indictment begins with a series of scathing interrogatives and their tone is sarcastic, for God already knew God was not guilty of anything. God had been totally faithful to God’s own people, but the people had abandoned God. Not only has the Lord not harmed God’s people, God has also lavished grace and mercy upon them. Verses 4 and 5 provide three illustrations of the Lord’s faithfulness to the people, God was faithful to God’s covenant promises even though the people were not. That is always the story of God’s great love for humanity. Then, after a direct address from God, the prophet speaks. In verses 6-8, we hear Micah speak some of what I believe are the most empowering words in scripture. Micah offers four rhetorical questions with increasing severity. The first question is vague and general: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?” Micah asks this question on behalf of the Israelite people. They wanted to know what they must do to please God. The second through fourth questions specifically ask about sacrifices, about giving “things,” stuff, even children to God. Micah employs hyperbole to heighten the effect of his line of questioning. And, the implied answer to all these questions is “no.” God was not impressed or interested in thousands of animal sacrifices, nor “things,” or any other form of empty religion. God certainly would not have been pleased with the pagan practice of human sacrifice. God wanted something much deeper. What does the Lord want from God’s people? How does God want them to live? What is pleasing to God? In verse 8, Micah finally answers the questions he raised – God wants people’s hearts. If Judeo-Christian ethics had to be summed up in a short phrase that could be placed on a button, verse 8 is the verse that fits the bill. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” The ultimate point of this passage is that we should be faithful to the Lord because the Lord is faithful to us. We show our faithfulness through right ethical actions, not empty religious rituals. If we want to live a life that pleases the Lord, we must act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Now, like the land of Judah in Micah’s day, America is experiencing a time of abundant wealth and prosperity; but our country is plagued by the sins of overconfidence, self-sufficiency, self-indulgence, economic injustice, racism, bigotry, hatred, greed and much more. Outwardly, many have more money and resources than at any other period in history, yet we have drifted dangerously far from the Lord. Some people still go to church, but why are they there? Is it because they really want to worship and live for the Lord, or is it just the habit of empty religion and empty words, with no change in the way people actually live their lives? So, what are we to do about it? How do we change from simply going through the motions to genuinely living for God? Does our relationship with God entail any expectations? How can we live a life that truly pleases God? Well, Micah answers these questions by showing us the three things God wants most: to act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with God’s very self. In this answer, the orientation of our expected response is toward both neighbor and God. This is very clear. To act justly means to do what is right and truthful according to God’s Word. We are each presented with decisions like this all the time. When we see injustice, will we do something about it and work to bring about change, or will we ignore it and pretend it isn’t happening? To act justly may mean blowing the whistle on unethical practices at our workplace, in our community or even in the country; it might require calling the authorities on a neighbor who is physically abusing his wife, children or girlfriend; it might mean refusing to laugh at an ethnic joke; it might mean confronting racism and bigotry when we see it. Justice is something we do. No concept is more Christian than is the demand for justice. Wherever there are people who face oppression – whether it is political oppression, economic oppression, racial oppression, or whatever form that oppression may take – we are called to raise our voices and do justice. In addition to acting justly, we also please God by loving kindness and showing mercy. There are so many ways we can live showing our love for kindness and mercy. This is the most basic, minimal requirement of all religion, that we should treat other people as we would like to be treated. It can be as simple as volunteering at a homeless shelter. But it can also be as difficult as forgiving someone who has wounded you with their words or injured you by their actions. These first two requirements emphasize our relationship with people, our horizontal relationships with all others. But, the third desire of God focuses on our relationship with God. To walk humbly with God is to live in awe of God, in relationship with God, and live honoring God. Friends, we have three jobs: Do justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly. And, living into these ideals enables us to get a glimpse of the kind of world Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel reading, a glimpse of the world as God sees it. This, in the end, is the true goal of our discipleship – to be a part of the vision for the world that Christ already sees as a reality. And when we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God, our very lives and beings become a part of that picture Jesus shares. We will become living depictions of what God’s presence in the world looks like.
info_outline Sermon - Matthew 4:12-23 01/26/2020
Sermon - Matthew 4:12-23 Grace to you and peace from God and Jesus, our advocate, Lord, and Savior. Amen. Please pray with me. Lord, we are called to be advocates for all your children especially those who are vulnerable in society. Open our minds and hearts so that your word may be made clearer to us. Help us to hear the message of love, peace, and unity, so that we may be strong advocates for your kin-dom of wholeness on Earth. Amen. Imagine for a moment that you are at your daily job. Just sitting or standing doing your daily work - teaching, working on a computer, driving around, whatever it is you do on a daily basis. Then, out of the blue comes this strange man, maybe a little rough looking, someone you haven’t seen before. He stops you in what you are doing and tells you to follow him and he’ll give you a new job of working to make people’s lives better. He wants you to drop everything, your job, your family, your friends, your whole life and just follow him to do something strange and new. Do you? Do you suddenly upset your whole life simply because a stranger asks you to? If you are anything like me, I’m sure you are thinking - “No way! I’d never do that!” This is apparently what happens in the second part of today’s Gospel reading. A story that is well known to most people. Where Jesus starts calling his disciples to follow him to be fishers of people. The story clearly states “immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:20) and “Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.” (Matthew 4:22). For many people and many interpretations, this is clear cut for people. If we truly want to be followers of Christ we must give up our lives and completely devote them to following Christ and God. Even if it means leaving everything we know and love and changing our lives completely. I don’t know about you, but this seems quite hard for me to believe, that we would be expected to uproot our lives like that for the sake of the Gospel. I mean, why would God give us our lives we already have if we are just supposed to push them aside and leave everything to devote ourselves solely for God? I’ll get back to this later. Now, let’s take a look at why Jesus was calling them in the first place. In verse 23 of the reading, we hear that “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” At a quick glance, it sounds like he did three things: taught, proclaimed, and cured people. But are they really three separate things? Or are they really just one? Could it be that they are all forms of advocacy? The Oxford dictionary defines an advocate as “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy”. Well Jesus certainly did things publicly and encouraged others to do so as well. His particular cause or policy? Simply that the good news of God’s love, is for all. All of Jesus’s actions were around this. He wanted to bring the wholeness, the completeness, that only is fully realized when we know that God’s love is here and now and for all people, that everyone gets to experience a full and complete life. Without people being able to have a full and complete life, then God’s kin-dom isn’t fully realized. In the Old Testament there is the focus on God’s chosen people and a lot of laws that were set down for these people. At the time, these laws made perfect sense to ensure that people could lead full and complete lives. Over time these laws became so ingrained in the faith that people believed that the only way to be saved and be right in God’s eyes was to follow these laws (created for a certain time and place) to the exact letter. One might even say they worshiped the laws more than God, since in their eyes one could only get to God through the laws. Often times these laws were even changed or given more detailed rules and rituals that had to be followed to be considered meeting the letter of the law. This left people not being able to “access” God anymore because this access was being controlled by the church and all their laws and rituals. Jesus came to advocate for these people to show them that there is a different way. A way that allows “access” to God for all. How does advocacy tie into when Matthew says that Jesus taught, proclaimed, and healed? First, Jesus’s teachings. He knew that the way to reach some of the people is to meet them where they were most comfortable. With the old testament, the history and the laws. He met them in the synagogues where they were comfortable. However, he then took their readings they were so used to hearing and challenged them to think about them in new ways. Ways that would help them see there is a new way that God is working, a way that opens up God’s love and wholeness to all by looking at the laws in a new way and understanding the reason the laws were created in the first place. Next, Jesus proclaimed the good news. He did this in his everyday life with everyday people around him. Making sure that everyone would hear his message of a new way of life with God. A way that is open to all. For example, in several cases Jesus was accused of working on the Sabbath which people viewed as being against the commandments. He healed several times on the Sabbath and also allowed his disciples to pick corn on the Sabbath. According to the strict interpretations of the laws that the religious leaders created, Jesus was sinning. From a commentary by David Pratte: “The Pharisees criticized the act, not as stealing, but as a violation of the Sabbath. This was the first of a whole series of conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees about the Sabbath. Two things must be remembered. (1) The Pharisees, as they had done with other things (Matthew 15:1-14), had added a whole complex system of traditions about Sabbath observance. Much of this was intricate and detailed; but above all it was based on their own ideas, not on what God's law really said. (2) They were motivated in their criticisms, not by sincere concern for the Sabbath, but by a desire to trap Jesus (v10).” ( ) So Jesus is working to show people that our actions must be done in a way that shows forth God’s kin-dom, not by other motivations or human made laws and customs. Jesus’s whole life was about proclaiming this Good News that our connection with God, is just that - a connection with God, not one that has to be made through laws and sacrifices and that if we don’t do something “just right” that connection is gone, but instead that connection is made by God and is permanent and unbreakable. Now the third activity that Matthew says Jesus did - healing people. The biggest part of this isn’t that Jesus healed, but who he healed. As Matthew says in verse 23, Jesus was “curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” Nothing about “the deserving people” or “people who go to synagogue every Sabbath” or “people who have followed every law perfectly” or “people who have been deemed by society to be male” or “people who have a certain skin tone” or “people from certain countries”. Nope, none of this - he healed everyone who needed it. And most of the time these people that needed healing were the lowest of the people in society at the time. The people who were lacking food or money or status or were shunned by society once they became ill. None of this mattered to Jesus - he healed all. Wow - he was a busy person! And - he is asking us, as individuals and as the church body, to follow him and do all this? To be advocates for everyone in society? To publicly support this cause? To make sure that God’s love and fullness of his kin-dom are available and accessible to all? Those are some big sandals to fill. Yes, it is a lot to do, but that is what we are called to be, to be advocates for all of society, especially those most vulnerable, those fleeing persecution, those who are shunned from society, including members of the LBGTQIA+ community, those who are hungry or poor. Anyone who does not have the means to live their lives fully and freely to experience the true wholeness and love of God. It is hard work. But yet, we are called. Many times, people say church and politics shouldn’t be mixed, but that simply can’t be, if we are to fully live into our call to be advocates. Just like Jesus challenged the religious and governmental system of his time, we need to challenge our system. If that means teaching others so they better understand the minorities in society by holding community forums and movie screenings, do that. If it means spreading the good news of God’s love for all at Pride events, do that. If it means healing or helping people in need by providing shelter in our parish house and taking care of all their needs, do that. Writing letters to elected officials, protesting, signing petitions to amend state law so that people can’t get fired for simply being gay, do that. And, hopefully we don’t need to, but if it calls for some rage and throwing over some tables and demanding change, as Jesus did in the temple with the money changers, then maybe we do that. No matter what form our advocacy takes, we are called and cannot sit silently in our chairs inside these walls and do nothing. We must publicly support God’s call for us to share his kin-dom of love and wholeness for all. How can we fully feel God’s love in us knowing that others are prevented from living fully into their lives? To share the Gospel, the Good News of God’s love for all, we must be strong advocates for all. Now, back to panicking that to do all this we must drop everything, leave our jobs and families, and follow Jesus immediately and uproot our lives, as we heard in today’s Gospel. Well, here is the Good News - that isn’t what the Gospel says. Without getting into too much detail (more info at ), remember that in Jesus’s time, the world population was a lot smaller, and that the disciples had certainly heard about Jesus before he came up to him, in fact many were most likely related to him. So it wasn’t a complete stranger, it was someone they knew and most likely already had a personal connection to. It would be like asking your friends and family to join you in a project of yours that you find valuable, to sign a petition, to march in a parade or rally, to build a house, and more. Also, again without getting into detail (more info at ) the disciples didn’t drop everything and never return to their lives they were living. There are stories in the bible where they still met with their families and they still had their boats, etc. So instead of a stranger asking people to completely drop everything in their current lives and do new work, this story is about advocacy. About hearing God’s call to be an advocate for ensuring that God’s kin-dom is available for all, and then using your skills and talents God has given you, so that you can do the needed work, and then get your friends and family, and maybe a stranger or two, to do the work with you. Wow! This is so much better - and much easier to say “Yes!” to. Yes! I can work with you to create some cards to make a senior’s life a bit better. Yes! I can work to take some actions at home to reduce my carbon footprint or release some butterflies. Yes! I can go march in the pride parade this summer. Yes! I can donate to help provide for the needs of the young people living in our parish house. And since God’s grace, love, and forgiveness is freely given to all, we don’t have to focus on how to “win God over” and be right with God, since Jesus ensured this is already done for all of us, we can focus on doing the advocacy needed to bring God’s kin-dom to fruition. We, as individuals and as a community of Faith, are currently doing advocacy all the time. Is there more we can do - certainly, but we need to celebrate what we have and currently do, learn from it, and then work to do even more in this broken world that for many fall way short of being whole and complete, so that God’s love, hope, and dream for all may be made fully known, so that His kin-dom can truly come to us and God’s will be done on Earth. Amen.
info_outline Sermon - John 1:29-42 01/20/2020
Sermon - John 1:29-42 I am technologically challenged. Just ask Katie, our secretary. Or, better yet, talk to my husband. In fact, just last Sunday, I wanted to play a video for the Confirmation class in the evening. So, on Sunday morning, I had to ask my husband to SHOW me how to do it so I would be prepared for Sunday evening. While technological understanding comes very naturally to some (my husband for example), I always find myself befuddled and cannot seem to make sense of what needs to be done. I have always been one of those people who needs to learn and verify things experientially. I am an experiential learner and I usually must seek out someone to show me what to do, how to do it and thereby, through that experience, finally understand. Because I am an experiential learner, I appreciate the sequence of events described in today’s gospel reading. Today we are told of John the Baptist who has the experience of baptizing Jesus. John has the experience of seeing the Spirit descend upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and then he is able to confidently point to Jesus as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John’s experience gave him insight and he could then assuredly proclaim who Jesus is. Because of John’s experience, two of his disciples decide to follow Jesus to try and learn more about this unusual man. As they begin following, Jesus turns to them and we hear the very first words Jesus speaks in the gospel of John. What is so fascinating is that Jesus’ first words appear in the form of a question as he asks, “What are you looking for?” Jesus, as he frequently does, uses a question to draw these two men into relationship, into the experience of relationship with him. It is helpful to look at the original Greek when listening to what Jesus asks. Jesus’ question would be better translated as, “What are you seeking?” or “What do you hope to find?” or “What do you long for?” And, what I find so captivating is this – Jesus speaks these same words to each one of us as we meet him. Jesus asks a question that goes directly to the deep yearnings of our hearts. Jesus’ words invite us to look into the depth of our being and ask, “What is my deepest longing, what is it I hope to find in this one called Jesus?” As a Faith community that desires to engage the greater community, I believe there are many seekers around us who are asking the same questions. There are many in our greater community who are longing for something more, something deeper in life. As we work to connect to those beyond these walls, I have to ask each one of you, what is the hallmark of this Faith community that we can lift up so others may see who we are, see whose we are, and what we offer in this place? It is interesting that the disciples reply to Jesus’ question by asking where he is staying. Again, it is important to look at the original Greek as we try to make sense of this experience. The disciples’ question to Jesus goes much deeper than simply asking about a geographical, physical location. The Greek word used implies they are really asking about where he is dwelling, where he is abiding (a word we find used over and over again in the gospel of John). The disciples are asking Jesus where he is remaining, abiding and indwelling. This question takes us to a deeper place. They want to know where they can come and simply experience being with him. We live in a culture that is all about doing. Our lives are all about what it is that we do or must get done. I intensely feel this doing aspect of life every single day, and I am very aware of it every time we gather for worship. Quite honestly, the plethora of focal points that demand intense doing in people’s lives takes away from participation in the life of the Faith community. Each focal point attempts to demand ultimate concern in people’s lives, and a life of faith no longer fits in that ultimate concern slot. Furthermore, in a culture where more and more of us have our faces buried in our phones or tablets, simply being with, abiding with, intentionally remaining with and being present to someone is increasingly rare. So, what does it mean for us to reply to Jesus’ question by desiring to come and simply be with him? It is intriguing that Jesus does not offer an answer to the disciples’ question. Instead, drawing them ever more deeply into the experience of relationship, Jesus’ response is a simple invitation to “Come and see,” an invitation that is profoundly relational and experiential. His invitation is non-threatening, simple and very clear. Jesus’ invitational response is so beautiful because it is open ended and does not require any prior pre-judged concepts of Jesus. And, isn’t that the miracle of the Jesus journey? Despite the countless layers of encrusted doctrine, dogma and varied identities that the church has put onto Jesus, as well as the requirements so many communities put on prospective followers before they even begin a faith journey, Jesus does not do this. His invitation is simply to come and experience. Come and see. It is an invitation to unprejudiced, undetermined encounter and relationship. It is an adventure where the disciple and the teacher live together in relationship. It is an invitation to come and participate in this Jesus reality and it is the pathway to life, eternal life, which means life that truly matters. Living in relationship is what this faith journey with Jesus is all about. When we respond to Jesus’ audacious invitation to come and see, we begin an experiential journey of continual discovery as we learn that this God of whom Jesus speaks is all about relationship and love. We will discover more about our very selves, and we will grow in ways we never before thought possible. We will discover true life that is always relational, life that is all about a flow of love and a dance of grace. Jesus' answer, "Come and see!" is an answer that captures a primary message of John's Gospel: If you want to know the Word made flesh, come and see Jesus. If you want to know what love is like, come and see Jesus. If you want to experience God's glory, to be filled with bread that never perishes, to quench your thirst with living water, to continually be born anew, to abide in love, come and see Jesus. If you want to behold the light of the world, to enter into life everlasting and to experience life that truly matters, come and see Jesus. If you want to know God, come and see Jesus! On this weekend the greater church begins highlighting a week of Christian Unity, and we also remember Martin Luther King, Jr. We remember the work he did, work which brought transformation to culture. He was able to do that work because he answered Jesus’ call to come and see. He was a person who abided in Christ’s love, abided in Christian community, and helped to live into Christian unity. And, that abiding enabled and brought forth necessary change in culture. It happened because all kinds of people came together and experienced living in relationship as the body of Christ. I said at the beginning that I am an experiential learner and I deeply want to live a life that truly matters. As I long for this in life, I cannot think of a better learning experience than responding to Jesus’ invitation to come and see and experience the joy of living in relationship with Him. And, that is something that one richly experiences when you live in relationship to others in the Faith community, when you participate in the life of the Faith community, and when we live together as the Body of Christ in this place. Andy Root, the professor who is coming to talk with us about youth leadership, when talking about living together in relationship as a community of Faith, writes: “Relationships of persons encountering persons are the very way that we encounter Jesus Christ…..[We live together and go through life together], sharing in the humanity of each other as the very joyous journey of sharing in the life of God.” Let’s be intentional about making this journey together. Come and see, experience what the body of Christ has to offer.
info_outline Sermon - Matthew 3:13-17 01/12/2020
Sermon - Matthew 3:13-17 I want to confess something to you this morning. I have a tattoo. Yes, many years ago, when I was much younger, I got a tattoo on the inside of my ankle. Now, there is something I know about people who have tattoos. If you ask them for the story behind their tattoos, most people are very willing to share their story because it usually says something about their identity. So, I will share my story. Two things I absolutely love are butterflies and music. I love the fact that butterflies symbolize new life and freedom. I feel that my life has always been a process of living into the new life and freedom God has given me as a baptized child of God. And, I also love music. In fact, for me, music is a form of prayer because through music I can express the deepest longings of my heart, those things that cannot be expressed through words alone. So, my tattoo is a butterfly surrounded my music notes. It is so old that one can no longer recognize it as such but, nevertheless, that is what is on my ankle. I share that story because on this day, I think it is important to remember that we each have an important story to share about our identity. You see, there is a sense in which we each have our own tattoos, an identity given us in baptism. As we remember and give thanks for our baptisms, we remember these words that were spoken over us, “You are marked with the cross of Christ in your lives – forever.” Think about that! Wow! What a story that is to tell! Today, our gospel reading gives us the story of Jesus’ baptism. Now, quite honestly, John did not know what to do with the fact that Jesus came to him to be baptized. And, from the time Jesus first presented himself for baptism by John until today, Christians have puzzled over why Jesus had to be baptized. At that time, the act of baptism was understood to be an act of repentance and the cleansing of one’s sins. So, John does not understand why Jesus, whose sandals John is “not worthy to carry” should seek to be baptized. Instead, John declares to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you.” Why should the Son of God need to be baptized? Theologian, Frederick Dale Bruner, says that he considers Jesus’ first miracle to have occurred at his baptism. The miracle is that Jesus was humble. The divine Son of God humbles himself by allowing John to baptize him. This act of humility is an act of obedience to God and an act of pure love as Jesus begins his ministry, an action through which he enters into solidarity with all of humankind and all of creation. Jesus did not need to be forgiven. However, for us, he goes down to the river of repentance with all the other sinners to be baptized. He enters into the depths of human life and is baptized. And, Jesus’ baptism, his first adult act as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, gives us a clear indication of how he will act for his entire life. The Son of God, out of love for human beings and all of creation, comes down to us and with us, on our level, identifying with our needs and our brokenness. His baptism, then, foreshadows how his life will also end, on the cross. In his death, Jesus experiences the worst we could ever experience as mortal humans. But, because Jesus united with us in baptism, we are united with him in both his death and resurrection. Through his humility, Jesus comes down to us in the depths of our humanity and shows us that we are beloved! He shows us that God loves us! Yes, there definitely is a story to tell about baptism. I love what Richard Rohr says when talking about this aspect of Jesus’ ministry. He writes, “Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.” Just think about that. “Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.” Yes, Jesus came to proclaim that we are God’s beloved! You see, it is all about what God in Christ has done for us! Remember, when Jesus had been baptized and the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove, a voice from heaven said, “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” That word “beloved” is such a beautiful word. To be beloved is to be adored. To be beloved is to be cherished and to be treasured. And, this is also the promise given to us in our baptism. You see, baptism is first and foremost an act of God. It is about God claiming us as God’s very own, as God’s beloved children. It is all about God declaring to us that we belong to God. And, because we belong to God, baptism is about God telling us that God is well pleased with us! Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that is a story each one of us should be proclaiming from the mountaintops. It is a story about our identity! We no longer need to work so hard to justify ourselves or our existence because we have been given this priceless identity. We are beloved by God and God is pleased with us! I am beloved by God and God is pleased with me! And, it is all because of what God has done! Yet, that is not always the story we tell ourselves. Quite honestly, many of us have another story that runs in our head. Sometimes we call this storyteller the inner critic, that one who reminds us just what a failure we are or how people may only be pretending to like us. You know, if they really knew the truth about us, they would run away. That inner critic sometimes tells us we are not attractive enough or talented enough or clever enough or intelligent enough to be beloved, let alone have someone be pleased with us. I know this because I have experienced that inner critic far too often. And so, in our brokenness, we desperately do all kinds of things as we attempt to justify our existence, just so we can measure up! That’s why we need to tell this baptism story over and over again – to counter the story of the inner critic, and to counter the story the world often tells. You know what that story is, the one that says to be truly beloved you have to possess something: money, house, good looks, power. Yes, we tell our baptismal story over and over to counter the story, or stories, that you don't measure up or that you don't belong. Yes, we need to remember our true identity, remember how deeply we are loved, and we need to hear that story told to us over and over again and celebrate this precious gift! But, friends, there is yet more to celebrate about this gift of baptism! The story of baptism is not only that we belong to God and are beloved by God; it is a story that we belong to each other, that we are a part of a community, that we are part of a larger story of God's presence in the world. You see, we, who sometimes feel rejected because we just don’t measure up, are chosen to be a part of something big and beautiful. Just as God had chosen us in our baptism, God has also made us members of God’s family! We are part of God’s kingdom. So, it is important that we come together in worship, not only because we need to hear over and over again that God loves us and has claimed us as beloved children, cherished and treasured. We also need to come together in worship because our wells sometimes have run dry and we need to feel those refreshing waters of baptism trickling over us again. Quite honestly, sometimes life is just so hard we have no words to pray or no songs to sing; we are just that empty. Sometimes it's the community of the baptized that sings those hymns we can't always sing, and sometimes it's the community that prays the prayers we can't always pray, and sometimes it's the community that speaks the words of faith that we might have trouble speaking ourselves or even believing ourselves. And, we just deeply need to let those words and songs and prayers wash over us, reminding us of God's love, reminding us that in the waters of baptism, God has called us and claimed us as God's own, beloved, delightful and cherished children! Jesus entered that baptismal river to become one with humanity and to tell us we are beloved. That is the story of baptism and the story of our baptisms. That is the mark we carry, and it is our identity. That's a story worth living in. And, that is a story worth telling, over and over and over again! Thanks be to God.
info_outline Christmas Eve at Faith Lutheran Church in Okemos Michigan 12/27/2019
Christmas Eve at Faith Lutheran Church in Okemos Michigan If you missed the Christmas Eve service at Faith Lutheran Church in Okemos Michigan you can listen in to the amazing music and celebrate in the service celebrating Christmas!
info_outline Sermon - Matthew 1:18-25 12/22/2019
Sermon - Matthew 1:18-25 American journalist and writer, P. J. O’Rourke, once said, “Family love is messy, clinging, and of an annoying and repetitive pattern, like bad wallpaper.” I agree with him - family love is very messy, and the messiness too often becomes systemic, passed down through generations. Quite honestly, life is very messy. And, the Bible is brutally honest about this messiness as it contains stories of all kinds of people in the depth of messiness and dysfunction. One of the beautiful aspects of scripture is that it speaks the truth about our very lives, the truth about the messiness that creates all sorts of systemic problems within families and communities, the messiness that prevents us from living in relationship with others, the messiness everyone experiences in some form. And, it is so fascinating that, when looking at the messiness in our own lives, our reaction to it, or our inability to thoughtfully respond in a healthy manner, is usually rooted in some aspect of fear. In today’s gospel reading, we meet up with Joseph as we hear Matthew’s version of Jesus’ birth. While the gospel of Luke focuses on Mary, Matthew focuses on Joseph. And guess what? Joseph faces a very messy situation! Matthew does not give us the sweet, saccharine, syrupy, heart-warming stories of angels and shepherds and a baby born in a cattle stall. No. Matthew focuses on Joseph and the heart-wrenching struggle he was facing. The woman to whom he is engaged, the woman to whom he is contractually espoused, is pregnant. Mary and Joseph have not yet moved in with each other, they have not yet had sex, and Joseph experiences extreme heartache as he faces a very messy problem. Mary is pregnant and this could only mean one thing, she has been unfaithful. Can you imagine the emotions Joseph must have had when he heard this news? Anger, shock, hurt, disappointment, betrayal, fear and a need to distance himself from the mess. Yet, as Matthew describes Joseph and the situation in which he finds himself, Matthew calls Joseph “righteous.” Now, to be righteous, according to Torah, one must strictly follow the law. Therefore, as a good law-abiding Jew, Joseph could have had Mary stoned to death. After all, stoning was the punishment commanded in the twenty-first chapter of Deuteronomy for engaged women who slept with other men. But, Matthew also tells us Joseph was a man of compassion. So, instead of stoning, Joseph decided he would quietly dismiss Mary as his wife. A quiet dismissal would hopefully minimize the public disgrace she would have to face. It is fascinating that, in the depth of his fear and the messiness, what never occurred to Joseph was that there is yet another way to be righteous - the way of acceptance and forgiveness and grace. Joseph, all on his own, couldn't possibly imagine how God could be present in so difficult, so utterly messy, so heartbreaking, so embarrassing and so dangerous a situation as Mary's pregnancy. Therefore, God had to help him. Joseph was afraid. He was afraid to take Mary as his wife. The gospel writer tells us that, in the deep darkness of sleep, God came to Joseph in a dream. An angel of the Lord spoke to him saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” God brought truth, grace, forgiveness and love into the irrational depths and quandary of Joseph's mind, heart and being. In ways deeper and more magnificent than the mind can imagine, God changed Joseph. And because God changed Joseph, Joseph became a channel of God's grace in the world. In the depth of the messiness of life, in the mire and sludge of the unexpected and unexplainable, in that which Joseph perceived as betrayal, in the overwhelming darkness of an experience that created fear – yes, in that place, Joseph finds God present to him. God penetrated the darkness and fear within Joseph, and that experience of God led Joseph to take Mary as his wife and name the child “Jesus” which means “God saves.” Now, Matthew was writing to a Jewish Christian audience, people who intimately knew Jewish scripture. So, the gospel writer connects Joseph’s experience to the words of the prophet Isaiah saying, “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and they shall name him Immanuel.” (Immanuel is the Hebrew word for “God with us”). The truth about the Isaiah passage we read earlier today is that when Isaiah spoke these words to King Ahaz, the king was not very hopeful. When invited by the prophet Isaiah to “ask a sign” of God, Ahaz was not interested. In fact, Ahaz said, “I will not ask.” You see, Ahaz was living in fear and he was sure he would be defeated at the hand of the conquering Assyrians. However, Isaiah – good prophet that he was – was persistent. He pointed to the perennial sign of hope and new life for all people in any time saying, “a young woman will conceive and bear a son.” The truth about Isaiah’s words to Ahaz is that the baby of which he was speaking was already in utero. We are not told who the mother of that baby was. But, because a newborn child is always the promise of hope, even in hard times, Isaiah names the child as a sign of God’s presence: Immanuel God with us. Immanuel, God with us! These are powerful words packed full of meaning and, centuries after Isaiah, Matthew connects these words to Jesus’ birth. These words gave Jesus identity and, as theologian Daniel Patte suggests, they do not simply describe Jesus. No, these words “Immanuel, God with us” were part of Jesus’ very vocation. Jesus’ calling was and is to manifest and make known God’s presence in people’s lives and save people from their sins. Jesus’ calling then and now, is to manifest and make know God’s presence to us in the depth of our fear and the messiness of our lives. Joseph discovered that the presence of God in the depth of the messiness of life drives out fear. God’s presence moved him beyond fear. Joseph also discovered that the experience of God’s presence brings forgiveness. And, he discovered God’s presence brings change – change within self, change within the mess, and change to the world as he perceived it to be. We live in a world that is notorious for crushing hope. We live in a world that is notorious for turning love into a stingy commodity as if there is not enough to go around. We live in a world where we participate in creating systemic messes - messes in our lives, messes in our families, messes in our communities, monumental messes in our country and colossal messes in the world. So, I ask you, what are the messes in which you live? Listen to the voice of God’s presence in your life, the voice that will penetrate the darkness of any situation, the voice that always says, “Do not be afraid.” Listen to the voice that says, “You are loved, and your sins are forgiven.” Christmas is all about God’s presence to us, Immanuel God with us. Christmas is all about incarnation. Christmas is about the love and grace of God that is on the way, the love that is in fact already here!! Christmas is all about God putting skin on God’s dream for the world – about God’s dream becoming flesh in this very broken, messy world. Christmas is God’s invitation to each one of us to experience within ourselves the love that forgives sin and the love that comes to bring healing to the world. And, it is only the presence of Immanuel, God with us, that transforms the systemic, predictable, messy patterns of living and enables us to live into the dream of God where all things are made new. Yes, love is on the way and the Child will be born again in us, in the depth of our neediness, in the depth of our messiness, in our hurting and pain, and in our deep longing for God. Do not be afraid because the hopes and fears of all the years are met in this One, Immanuel, God with us – this One who is on the way!