In pm's words
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June 18, 2018, 1:48 PM

the one about the kingdom...


Sermon from June 17, 2018

Mark 4: 26-34

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, this past week I was able – again – to do something that I not only think is pivotal to the formation of faith life (the faith lives of those whom I’m lucky enough to serve and my own), but also something that I truly and deeply love; being at Lutheridge for a week of camp. In fact, it is something that I think is so important that Erin and I are taking the girls to Family Camp later next month so that Ashleigh and Miriam can receive their first taste of a week of summer camp.

This year, I was lucky to be able to accompany Ben Lindsay and almost 20 other youth from around the Southeast as we learned about the seasons of the church, heard about Jesus’ struggle and his passion narrative, we learned about prayers, miracles, and the Spirit that sends us out to serve God and serve our neighbors – all of them. It was a great week and it makes my heart to feel so full when kids like Ben and the others utter the words, “Pastor Matt…do I have to go home?” Especially after they stated earlier that they were a bit apprehensive to coming to Lutheridge – like really how can learning about Jesus be fun and cool.

Every time I am in those mountains and walking those well-worn paths, stepping into those areas, cabins, the dining hall, and trudging up and down that mountain; I begin to be ever mindful of what I’m experiencing around me.

Mostly, the thing I experience the most is the noise. Camp can be and is loud. And it isn’t the encroaching commercial world that seems to continue to ‘push in’ on what I consider holy ground. The noise comes from these kids. They can be loud y’all. Games of ninja red light green light (a camp favorite I might add), Gaga ball pits, the pool, the songs they sing – all the time, at every moment, and the deafening roar of the Dining Hall. That doesn’t even include the sounds that don’t stop when the lights turn out and the animals of the forest join in and continue the cacophony of noise.

It’s loud.

That loud noise doesn’t extinguish the ‘quiet noise’ that we sometimes overlook, the inter-cabin squabbles that always crop up as a new community is being formed early in the week, or those kids who pine for home as they are in a new environment and away from all their usual comforts, or even those certain youth who require just a little more attention than the others. Those noises at times can be even louder and sometimes messier than all those other things combined.

Yet, in spite of all that chaos that goes on at camp, despite all that extra ‘fun’ that a young kid might bring into camp – there is a place for them. Every single one. They are welcomed with energetic smiles that Sunday afternoon. They are helped into easing into this new community. They are encouraged to take on new challenges. They are helped to see God’s presence not only in the world around them, but in and through their very selves as well.

These young boys and girls are lovingly guided through obstacles – those that are physical; like the Group Interaction Course, working together to solve physical puzzles while including everyone in their new community. But, even those obstacles that are emotional or spiritual. Where they share something about themselves wondering if they’ll truly be accepted and loved. Where they might let a counselor, a new friend, an adult they feel that they can trust in on something personal going on in their lives.

There is a lot of noise, chaos, and mess that goes into a week of camp.

Yet, no matter the noise; no matter the mess; no matter the chaos – people are loved, welcomed, accepted, encouraged, and God’s love is shared with them. In fact, through games, songs, bible study, and more – they are told how God is already present in their lives because of who and whose they are.

God isn’t there because of the ‘them’ they share on social media. God isn’t there because of the clothes they wear or the people they know or the people they are friends with.

No, God is there because of the one God knows. The one God has created. God is there, in full and welcoming love because they – because we – are God’s own.

I thought about all that and more this past week as I read this Gospel text. Here we see Jesus tell another story – another parable – to compare the kingdom of God. This time, the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.

An incredibly tiny seed that grows into an incredibly large bush.

But, not only that it starts from something so small and grows into something large, but that this large shrub welcomes and hosts all sorts of birds, flying creatures, and other animals.

It provides shade, shelter, and care to all who inhabits its branches.

As I was able to talk with my fellow pastors, my colleagues, my friends we began to notice something rather interesting about the trees and shrubs we saw around camp. They don’t really exist to benefit themselves.

A shrub or a tree doesn’t flourish to the highest of heights growing leafy branches to provide shade and shelter to itself. It doesn’t produce an assortment of ‘fruit’ to feed itself. It doesn’t grow strong and sturdy branches so that it can ‘live in’ itself. It doesn’t absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen just, so it can ‘breathe.’

No, it does all of this for others. It provides, it gives a home, it welcomes all into itself so that others are cared for. Whether they be bugs, or birds, or animals nesting in, crawling up, or hanging out – the shrub provides a home, a place of welcome.

It doesn’t ask for papers. It doesn’t threaten violence. It doesn’t separate or divide those families coming to it to find shelter and a little peace and rest.

It welcomes. It provides.

That is the kingdom of God my sisters and brothers.

That kingdom of God doesn’t provide shelter so that it might feel better. It doesn’t provide food so that it can be fed. It doesn’t welcome all so that it can feel smug. The kingdom of God does all of that because it cares for the people around it. It welcomes all those into it’s branches, it’s rooms, it’s homes, it’s lives because it exists for and with others.

So, the kingdom of God is a lot like a shrub. Or a holy place on a mountain. Or these people in a little town like Newberry, or even a country – that welcomes, and cares, and loves. A place where shelter is provided. A place where love is found and shared. A place where all sorts of creations of God can call home.

The kingdom of God is a noisy and sometimes messy place – just like all those other things that look like the kingdom. Yet, in spite of the noise, in spite of the mess – God is present there working through those communities, working through those people, working through them all to be – again and again – a place of shelter; of solace. A place that encourages and shows love. A place that forgives and provides mercy. A place that welcomes all sorts of people. A place that is a home.

That’s the kingdom of God – it looks a lot like a shrub that grows from something tiny – a word, a smile, a stand, a hug, a cross – and grows into something big enough to welcome all into its branches. Amen.




June 11, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one where they called Jesus crazy...


Sermon from June 10, 2018

Mark 3:20-35

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, I don’t know about y’all, but the last few weeks in my house have been a never-ending stream of The Greatest Showman songs and viewings of the movie. Literally. Every. Day. The basic premise of that movie (if you haven’t seen it) is that a man wants to ‘make it big’ and the only way he knows how is by doing things differently from what the world has seen before. He brings together a collection – a circus – of human ‘oddities’ to bring entertainment and joy to those who come to see them perform.

He gives life, voice, and more to those ‘oddities’ in 1800s America. He gives them a job, some money, and a little respect. This man, in a sense, brings a little healing into their life. He helps make them more ‘whole.’

All the while, those who come to see his show are aghast at what he’s doing to make a buck. He is going against the conventional norm, and mostly how DARE he bring ‘those sorts of people’ into the spotlight. How dare he give them any sort of honor or respect. How dare he bring them near the rest of us ‘good’ folk. How dare he let the world know that they do exist and are deserving of love.

Those folks that have been given power, voice, and respect come to the peak of their state in the great song of ‘This is Me’ sung by Keala Settle as she portrays the ‘Bearded Woman’ Lettie Lutz. It’s a great song and kind of the anthem that I think would fit Jesus in our gospel lesson today.

Now, let me catch you up on what Jesus has been doing so far in Mark’s gospel up to this point. Remember, in Mark’s gospel things happen fast. We’re only in the third chapter, but already Jesus has stepped on just about everyone’s toes, especially on the toes of those in traditional roles of power.

He’s been baptized by an odd guy screaming out of the wilderness, he has called his disciples from a collection of possible ‘throwaways’ in the rabbinical teaching system there, he’s approached those who are on the outside of society to heal them – those afflicted with unclean spirits or who are possessed by demons, lepers, the paralyzed, he has sat down to share a meal with those whom society has deemed ‘beyond reproach,’ he has (seemingly) gone against the normative teaching of the Sabbath, and he has done this all by parading his message of forgiveness, mercy, God’s love, and healing all around the country side and is making a name for himself and drawing large crowds wherever he goes.

This news has traveled so far and wide that even the religious muckety mucks in Jerusalem hear about this man named Jesus and come to see what he’s been doing. And they aren’t happy.

They and the others who have gathered in Jesus’ hometown just have one thing to say, “This boy has lost his mind.” Even his family is confused by the actions he’s been taking. But, mostly his mother, brothers, and sisters want to protect the one they love. They are fearful for him because of how people are reacting to him because of the things he proclaims and does.

One of the main points of this little gospel story is what Jesus says in verse 28. Ultimately, people think he’s lost his mind because he says that people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter. He lives into that gospel and love of God.

This concept of God’s forgiveness and love is so foreign to those around him at this time that they think it is the work of Beelzebub, the work of Satan, the work of the ruler of demons. Of course, Jesus logically argues that that really doesn’t make much sense. Mostly because the devil isn’t typically in the department of healing, and if Satan is casting out Satan and demons wouldn’t that only be beneficial to the people? Because, after all, a divided house cannot stand on its own. If he is who they (wrongly) say he is – than wouldn’t that be good? It would mean that the ruler of demons is working against himself and only making his work that much weaker and allowing the work of God to be that much more successful.

But, people really think he’s ‘crazy’ because of the message he proclaims to give life, wholeness, and love to those who feel that they’ve never had it from God. He has a screw loose because he’s telling as many people as he can that 1. God loves you. Already. Forever. 2. Nothing you’ve done keeps you from God’s love. 3. In fact, all those things that you’ve done or said that people say are wrong – You’re forgiven. For real. God’s forgotten about it.

Here comes this Jesus guy, proclaiming about God’s love and forgiveness. In that love and forgiveness, he heals countless people who believe and trust him about what he proclaims about God. He brings life, wholeness, honor, and respect to people who previously did not have it. He restores what was removed from them by society because of their ‘condition.’ He gives back what has always been theirs and what is bestowed upon them (and the world) by God.

He has gone out of his mind.

Jesus is acting foolish. And thank God he is.

Talking about love and forgiveness for everyone, for all their sins, preaching with more authority than those traditionally educated for such a vocation, what Jesus was, is and continues to do is a bit senseless and what Jesus proclaims is even more ridiculous! He's done and gone lost his mind!

We too are a bit foolish as well. Some, a little further from the norm than others. But, we’re a bit silly because we believe that this, this Word of God, our Lord Jesus, is the truth. We too look upon these words of scripture and listen to the Word and we have to be honest with ourselves and believe that you have to be a bit different to believe this. It's irrational to believe this, not because what we read isn't the truth (because it is), but because what we read, believe, and participate in is so different from what the world outside proclaims.

This Word is radically out-there folks.

This message does not sit well with those in established places and sitting on traditional seats of power. It is a message that gives power and hope to the majority. Jesus brings new voices to the table. Jesus proclaims a message that gives honor and respect where it has been removed. It is a message that rubs against those in power.

We read these words and live into this Gospel; we know that we are a part of that crowd gathered around Jesus' feet. Though many of us have searched far and wide, high and low, to be close to our Lord, within these words spoken by Jesus and those we read throughout this gospel lesson and all the gospels, we learn that we are already a part of the crowd Jesus has called to himself. We're a part of this crowd where Jesus calls us sisters and brothers, where God – through our baptisms – has claimed us as God's own children.

And when you think of it, the message that we believe is truly weird. We believe that the God who created us, the one who claims us as children, sister, brother, and friend has loved us so much that this one has sent the Son to proclaim and show that love to the world, whatever the cost, even if it means death.

Yes, this is a crazy message, and thanks be to God that it is! 

It is a message that leads us into all sorts of odd things. Where we care about our neighbors over ourselves. It means that we take time out of our lives to be with those whom we’ve never met to care for them in their need – no mater what it is or who they are or where they are from. It means that we seek out and develop deep and meaningful relationships with those that society – in all its myriad ways – has told us to be ‘against’ or ‘wary’ of. It’s a message that fights back against the demons in our own minds that can and do tell lies about ourselves and about the world around us. Those lies that push many to take drastic measures as we’ve unfortunately seen in the news this past week with the sudden and tragic deaths of designer Kate Spade and food and travel aficionado Anthony Bourdain at the hand of the disease of depression. It’s a message that calls us to be with those we know and to break through the tension and taboo and ask, “How are you doing?”

It’s a message that proclaims that the one who created the universe, who fashioned life from dust, the one who weaves through every fiber of living is at work in and through even you. Where that work in and through you helps bring wholeness, equity, justice, and righteousness to the world.

That through you – God is at work. That through even that one over there – God is working to bring about change and love to a world in desperate need to hear it. That because God is at work in you, you can seek help to fight those demons in your mind and that because God is in you – your life matters. You are loved. Always.

Let this foolish God of love - this Lord that loves the world and forgives all sins for everyone - work through you and work with you. Allow the Spirit to work around you, pray that God open minds and hearts, yours or even another to see God's amazing self at work within the world, within our world.

Think of how you can be 'foolish' in your proclamation of God's crazy Word of love, grace, and mercy. God loves over and over and over again, expecting one thing - that we know that we are loved, that we are cared for, that we matter, and that we too are called to love others as God has first loved us. 

God is foolish, Christ has lost his mind, the Spirit’s screws are a bit loose, and we are crazy for believing all that Jesus speaks about and that's a good thing. Join in the inane, preach this foolishly abundant love in your own daily lives as you work and play, read this book of faith, be open to new opportunities of ministry; know that though it may seem ridiculous - God is at work throughout the world, proclaiming Christ and this Gospel message of love to all. Even and especially to and through and because of you.

As the refrain in This is Me proclaims (which I’ve slightly adjusted) – we march to the beat of God’s drum. This is who I’m meant to be. This is me.

Jesus has done lost his mind, and thanks be to God for that. Amen.




June 4, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one about sabbath...


Sermon from June 3, 2018

Mark 2:23-3:6

 

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ. Will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, today we get to hear a lot about the Sabbath. How it is holy, alluded to why it was set forth, and unfortunately how it might get in the way of God’s work (because of how humanity views and uses it). As I talked with friends and colleagues about all this during the week, an image popped into our brains to help showcase what Jesus is doing here.

One of my favorite things to do with my daughters is to watch funny videos on the internet. Some of the funniest videos are those of animals, and of those animal videos the most intense and hilarious ones involve cats. Specifically, those videos that involve precious objects (to the human), a table edge, and the indifference of a cat.

Where the cat looks at whatever that object might be – a cup, a plate, a toy, usually something breakable. The human looking at the cat and the object and continually saying, “Don’t do it. You better not do it. Don’t you dare. You know better.”

At each breath, it is as if the cat purposefully nudges that object closer and closer to the edge before one final ‘swat’ and off it tumbles. Perhaps shattering on the floor, while the cat looks up to you with smug indifference.

As I read this story from Mark’s gospel, I can’t help but think that Jesus is that cat, and the religious authorities and elite are the pleading humans, and the sabbath is that precious object.

This gospel begins as Jesus is with his friends as they are traveling on the holy day of rest and his disciples begin picking grain within the field – presumably because they are hungry.

Of course, this riles up the religious elite who appear to be ‘clutching their pearls’ in shock and amazement that they would do such a thing on such a holy day of rest – a day that no work is to be done. At all.

Further still, more shock and awe as Jesus confronts them with the opportunity to help a man in need. A man with a withered and presumably useless hand is in need. Jesus poses the question of whether it is right and good to save a life by doing something for them (or by ‘killing them’ by doing nothing) on the sabbath?

Jesus is angered and deeply saddened by their quiet response. Then, much like that cat continually pushing the precious object right to the edge, the man with the formerly withered hand swats it off to show God’s goodness and grace has been done that day.

Now, the religious elite are besides themselves in anger and seek to finally do something about this man named Jesus.

As we read this I think many of us – of course – side with Jesus. Those dastardly Pharisees don’t know what they’re talking about. How could they not do anything to help themselves live or to give life to another person in need. I mean seriously, bless. Their. Hearts.

Though, if we’re not careful, we’ll begin to think that what Jesus is saying is that the Sabbath is bad. That we shouldn’t follow the sabbath and adhere to the gifted day of rest to creation. I don’t think Jesus is saying that at all.

What I think Jesus is really saying is that we – yes, we – should be careful of our ‘hardened hearts’ that get in the way of helping and caring for others and using ‘religious rules’ as an excuse.

Now that is something that we probably do quite often. I’m guilty of it too.

Where we’ll say, ‘we’d like to help, but… you belong to that group over there and according to this part of scripture or practiced norm in our tradition we just can’t.’

Or, perhaps like the story that was shared across the country this week of a church in South Carolina who voted this month to remove artwork of Jesus from their church because it looked too much like it belonged to another tradition in the Christian faith. We don’t want people to ‘get confused.’

Where their well-being and insecurities was more important than depictions of our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ within their worship space.

There are of course way more examples that I could give that show our hardness of heart in the world when confronted with the opportunity to live into the gospel and model of Jesus for those in the world. It doesn’t take much imagination and thinking to see where we too – individually and as a community – have let ourselves get in the way of helping and caring for others and using religious ‘rules’ as the excuse.

So, about that ‘religious rule’ of Sabbath – what is it for. As a friend wrote this week, when God gives laws – it is not for religious piety. These laws are not designed for us to make a checklist of things to assure ourselves of our righteousness and devotion. On the contrary, the laws given to us by God are designed with the purpose of showing us where we are in ‘right relationship’ with God and neighbor.

When asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus stated that loving God with all your heart, mind, and soul, while the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. On those two hang the ENTIRETY of the law. If we are loving God and loving neighbor, then the rest of the commandments will fall into place.

So, the law of the Sabbath itself falls in line with that mentality and purpose. It is a gift to humanity of an intentional and frequent day to rest – something that was completely foreign to the world at that time. And to be quite honest – it is still a foreign concept to our modern world as well. That day of rest is taken so that one can be refreshed and renewed to live into the work of loving God and loving neighbor. Yes, it is an intentional day of rest and some observe that to more extremes than others (and still do), yet it is not a day to be a detriment to others.

It is a day to soften our hearts because out of love we have been gifted this day of rest to be aware of the fullness and abundance of God’s grace and love. But, we become blind to God’s grace if we live with those hardened hearts and are incapable of living into that kind of love for others in need simply because we have to ‘adhere’ to a rule.

The truth of what Jesus proclaims is that none of our ‘rules’ even the ones written down in scripture supersede our call to care, love, and be in right relationship with those before us. In fact, the ‘rules’ that we have point us to that sort of life lived in love and grace. The whole law of the prophets hangs on loving God and loving our neighbor.

Yet, there will still be moments where our hearts are hardened – it might be because we have been slighted, hurt, or in fear of what could be. The good news is, that in spite of our hardened hearts, eventually – because of God’s persistent love upon us and shown through others towards us – our hardened hearts will crack. They’ll crack wide open and God’s love and grace will fill in and heal those hearts. Those healed hearts are then sent out to continue to live into God’s love and grace.

God is continually working and loving on us so that we might see the fullness of Jesus’ presence and his activity in the world.

Continue to love one another, so that others and even ourselves, can experience and see God’s full and abundant love present already in their life. Even when that love bends or perhaps ‘breaks’ one of those ‘rules’ in our life. Amen.




June 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

June 2018 Newsletter


Grace and peace to each of you this month! It is JUNE! Summer is here and is now the time where many get to heave a sigh of relief – students, teachers, administrators, even some parents. They are all in my prayers as they take this opportunity to refresh and rest.

Of course, there are others who do not receive that long time of respite – or for whom those summer months of ‘rest’ end up being quite stressful as schedules are thrown off and a new (brief) normal is lived in. They too are in my prayers as well – prayers that they find and seek out those opportunities to refresh, rest, and take sabbath.

Sabbath is such a needed and blessed thing we receive from God. We follow the one who tells all of creation that it is OK to rest. God so believes in sabbath that even God made space for rest after creation. Our Lord Jesus took moments to find rest throughout his ministry leading to the cross. Sabbath rest is good for us. It is a gift for us and for the world.

Yet, we live in a society that continually pushes back against times of break, relaxation, and sabbath. Whether it is vocations that consume most of our time or the feeling inside of us that fights the need for rest in fear that we won’t ‘advance’ further in our places of work. We live in a world that is always ‘on the go.’ Additionally, there are some that might make a subtle ‘shame’ towards those who do take time for themselves and their families. All of that discourages us to seek those moments of rest for ourselves and our families.

So, I’m here to tell you – take sabbath. Live into the gift that God has granted to creation – that God has granted to you. Again, sabbath is a pretty big deal to God. Find ways that give new life to you and renew your life.

Sabbath time is good for you. Sabbath is gifted to you. Sabbath is holy for you.

Take those moments of sabbath so that when you return to the community of faith here at Redeemer, you are filled with new life and energy to serve others and be with and a part of the kingdom of God; right here and right now.




May 28, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one where we don't know...


Sermon from Holy Trinity Sunday, May 27, 2018

Text: John 3:1-17

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, today we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday. Each year that we come to this day, I like to remind everyone – that when I felt that God was calling me to pursue this odd and wonderous vocation to be a pastor, I only had one question, “Will there be any math, I was told there would be no math.”

Today we celebrate the math that makes no sense – Three equals one, one equals three. There have been numerous attempts to ‘explain’ this relationship and Trinity. Yet, each and every one falls short – way short – to come to the fullness and wholeness of who and what the Trinity is.

There is something about that need to know that tempts me and makes me question why. I would presume that many of you have probably felt that same desire and draw as well. That desire to know fully what this means and how this works?

Those are the questions that we approach most of our lives with. We seek to know, to dig deeper, to get to the truth of what we experience and see every day.

For many, many, many things – this is good. As we seek to better care for those with needs within our community, we seek to understand and know them, we dig deeper into reasons as to why ‘stuff’ happens in certain ways, we strive to apply that ever changing and growing knowledge and skillset to better be present with our community.

We’ve seen how that desire to know, grow, and understand has changed our approach to medicine, race relations, public relations, farming, education, and almost literally anything you can think of. Diving deeper, learning the nuances and intricacies of something, and applying that new knowledge to our practices, interactions, and relationships.

We see this desire to know at play in our Gospel reading this morning. We are introduced to Nicodemus who desires to know more about who this Jesus guy is. But, he still knows that the yearning to know him at this point in history is a little scandalous, so he comes to the Lord by the cover of night. I like to imagine that this scene plays out like an old black and white film noire crime drama. The lone street light in the midst of the darkness. Jesus standing firmly in the light, while Nicodemus creeps into the frame from the outer darkness to ask his questions.

We are like Nicodemus, we want to know more, we want to draw closer, but we have no idea what that means. We have no idea what ways our Lord will confuse us more and expand our minds and sense of reality and faith.

Nicodemus comes seeking answers, and I imagine that he leaves with even more questions. More than likely, each of us are engulfed in that confusion as well. What does this man mean by ‘born again or born from above?’

Of course, there are many who would like to tell you what they think the absolute meaning of that phrase, and if you don’t agree? Well – you’re doomed - eternally.

Hopefully, each of you know me well enough that I don’t do that. It is rather presumptuous of any of us – me, you, the person shouting on the street corner – to feel that we’ve got the ‘ultimate, only, true’ answer. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say what I hope what Jesus means – and it is still rather scandalous and difficult for us to hear and live into.

For me, Jesus is saying to Nicodemus and to each one of us who journey as Nicodemus does by night to understand this messiah more – being born again is as one commentator wrote this week, ‘as we move from questioning leader to witness – it takes our full selves to join in this movement.’

That we jump into and are called into this flow of God with everything that we have and are. For most of humanity, this is a difficult task, simply because we like to section off each little part of our lives. We compartmentalize everything in our life. Our life of ‘faith’ is over here. Our ‘home’ life is there. We put our ‘work’ self in this place. Here is the box that our ‘role as parents, children, friends, sports nuts, nerd-dom, and anything else goes in.’ Most of the time, those boxes are separated and stored accordingly. We try to make them not get mixed up.

Yet, here comes Jesus telling Nicodemus, telling me, telling you, informing the whole world – that’s not how God sees this. The mystery and confusion of the Trinity is that it is a relationship that weaves in and through our whole lives – every aspect of it.

It weaves, moves, and breathes life and love into our very being and service. It guides and thrusts us into places to proclaim that love, grace, and mercy that we’d rather not place ourselves in. The Trinity and the relationship between father, son, and Holy Spirit invites us to live a life different than what the world demands us to follow.

Through this all we will still question and be confused by it all. Yet, we push back against our desire to know fully and completely and are invited to trust in God’s promise and relationship. It doesn’t make sense, but the harder we try to know fully and completely what the Trinity means for us and that relationship through and for us – it makes our brains hurt more than we need them to. Casey Cross wrote this concerning this day, “While we struggle with discernment, wondering what God is truly calling us to, remember that the answer will always involve our full selves, it will involve our transformation (often over and over again), it will involve us physically moving, following the example of Jesus, and getting into it.”

A friend of mine shared with his story of having faith in God and Christ’s promise of new life. Throughout his life, things had been setup for him not to believe. He was a scientist at heart (and still is), he has a deep desire to know and understand, to seek truth. That desire coupled with a deep yearning to care for others led him to the medical field. First as a nurse and then a doctor. He told me that he distinctly remembers the first time he looked at the veins in the human body in class one day. It was there in that moment that it ‘clicked’ for him. Not because he ‘understood’ what he was seeing, but because of the mystery and beauty that he saw displayed before him.

Here were these little lines that help life that span throughout our bodies. No one’s vein path is the same, yet it looked deliberately placed and arranged. Meticulously cultured to bring life efficiently. For him, it couldn’t have been a random chance that this is how life ended up.

As he viewed those signs of life, he couldn’t help but think and trust that this is God at work, the one who has breathed life this wonderful creation. And if you can trust and have faith that God has done this for us – in giving life – then it isn’t that far of a leap of faith to trust what Jesus has done for the world. And having trust in all that, how could one not live fully into the life God has given us following the example of Jesus? He came to know of God’s love and promise for him, not by what he ‘knew,’ but by leaning in to the unknown. That ‘leaning’ into faith has opened the world to him in how he not only cares for those within his reach in the medical field, but caring with those throughout each moment of his life.

As we live this life in the desire to know mingled with the Trinity weaving its way through our whole life; our faith helps us understand the ‘stuff’ we are getting into so that we might care more fully for others. Living in that faith helps us realize and stand firmly in that spot that as people of faith, we understand a need to reform immigration policies within our country, yet the taking of children from parents at the border is not the way. Our faith is built on the welcoming and caring for the stranger. The Trinity weaves its way through our lives calling for us to care for the least of these in deliberate and intentional ways. We are called – by God – to a live a life different from the reality before us. Even in our confusion, our misunderstanding, and our disagreements, at the core of our lives is relationship and love. Knowing that through God’s love and relationship for us, we are called to love and know – in deeper relationship – those before us; whether they are ‘like us’ or not. For they are, and we are children of God; known and loved in and through and by the Holy Trinity.

We live life seeking to know the truth, and yet we come to this day being confronted by something we cannot understand. We are called to have faith in what God has done, is doing, and will do through and for and because of us; of all creation.

We may not understand, but that does not keep us from experiencing this love and life and living fully into that life and love for others; for every person we meet because of what God has done and continues to do. The best thing still? Being good at math, still isn’t a requirement. Amen.

 




May 21, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one about the spirit...


Sermon from the Day of Pentecost - May 20, 2018

Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14 & Acts 2:1-21

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Risen Lord Jesus who is the Christ; will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, I’ve noticed something interesting throughout our texts these past few weeks as we have arrived on this particular day of celebration. You see, our texts these past few weeks have led us to this day of celebration, but from opposite directions. Our Gospel texts have shared the words of our Lord as he speaks about the future to come. Our texts from Acts speak of how that future and ‘new normal’ has been and continues to be.

These past few weeks, we have heard Jesus bring that assuring word of comfort to his disciples (and to each of us). Promising that things are going to be alright for he is alive. He breathes, he can be held, he eats, he prays, he promises a helper.

The Book of Acts (and how we have been reading them) has shown us how that ‘helper’ continues to grow and expand what is the kingdom of God. More and more are included; the Spirit has moved through many thought to be those God would never be with. We’ve heard from a eunuch, we’ve seen God declare that which is clean (though the world has said it was not), we’ve been witness to the Spirit moving and speaking through those outside the ‘normal’ life of faith.

The Gospel readings the last few weeks have been leading us to this moment and day. Acts has helped us trace back to this moment and day.

And here we are. The celebration of the Holy Spirit unleashed on the world. We get to celebrate this day with one another and the entire church universal. We get to celebrate this day with six young men and women who complete their confirmation studies. We get to host the community of Newberry Academy and Newberry High School later this afternoon at the annual Baccalaureate Service. We continue to move through how we faithfully respond to the generous abundance gifted to this community of faith.

We stand this day at the beginning of a long road before us. We stand on the precipice of this day and celebration of God’s continued action in the world and we ask the same questions we did the day after the discovery of the empty tomb. What now? How do we move forward? Where do we go from here?

We stand and continue to walk this road on this journey in the life of faith. We stand and walk with those who are affirming their faith this day. Together we remember our baptisms with them and God’s promise and love in and with us. We walk with them.

We stand and walk with those who are celebrating the completion of one chapter in their life as they celebrate their graduations from high school. We walk and guide those who get on this path as they transition into a fuller picture of adulthood in our community.

We stand and walk with one another as we make decisions on how best to live faithfully into this incredible gift of abundance. What ministries can open up to us that we never thought possible before? Where can we support those in need – those we know and those we have yet to meet? Where and how can we model good stewardship for this community of faith and for those in the greater community?

Each of those roads we are on – and all the others we individually walk – can have the dreaded question creep into our mind, ‘is it worth it? What do I get out of this?’

For you six who affirm their faith today, I know that question has wandered into your mind because it wandered into mine, and your parents, and every person who has been in your shoes. It is a question that continually crops up in some of the weirdest and most vulnerable moments in our lives.

The world and the loud voices of faith around us like to make us believe that this life of faith stuff is easy. That if you just believe and follow the path that others before you took – never straying from the lane; or believe in the ‘right’ way – then this life of faith will be a walk in the park. You’ll of course be able to live into the promises you affirm this day.

Hopefully, you remember our last class two weeks ago. Unfortunately, the life of faith doesn’t work like that. The promises you make this day will not be easy. Sure, some are easier than others, but as a whole, they are promises that we all struggle to live into. We, individually and as a community, fall short of those promises time and time again, sometimes we outright break and walk or run from those promises.

Yet, what we celebrate this day is God’s spirit breathed into and unleashed on the world. We celebrate that breath that gives life to the old dusty bones of our lives, fills us with life and faith, so that we can walk this path before us.

What you affirm today is that you hope to live into those promises said over your baptism. In that hope and promise, you affirm that you’ll cling to and hold on to the promise that God will help and guide you. You acknowledge that this life of faith is not one that you can do alone. It isn’t one that anyone can do alone. But, we strive, we struggle, and we journey together as the kingdom of God.

You’ve come to this moment not by your lonesome, but because your parents and families have walked with you to this moment. You’ve been surrounded by the saints of this congregation, you’ve been nudged along the way by people you know well and people who you still don’t know all that well. You’ve been taught, you have taught us, we have lived and walked this path of faith together.

You’ve been guided to this moment by the Spirit – the one who does know you completely. The one who does hold you tight and breathes life into your bones. Who has breathed life into all our bones.

You are here, because we’ve come this far and set out further together. The journey before each of you and the journey we all take together is not one we venture off into alone, but it is one that we travel with companions, friends, and more. The Holy Spirit guides us together, opening our eyes, shattering our notions of community, and continually forming and molding us in our faith.

This same Spirit is the one who fills this space with song and voice in our community. The same Spirit brings us together to celebrate accomplishments even in the midst of our moans and groans. As this place will be filled this afternoon as parents, families, and friends get to see their loved ones dressed in their graduation gowns walk this aisle. They’ll hear the word of God and the message that they are not alone as well. They will be surrounded by the community here. Many won’t know one another, but we all celebrate with them and the future that God holds them in and walks them through.

As a congregation and community of faith, we walk this road before us as we faithfully respond to the gifts we have been given. The Holy Spirit breathes into us that hope and promise of proclamation and truth. The Spirit guides us in the ways that are faithful, and seemingly scary because of the size of this gift.

As we walk all of these paths before us. We do so together. Whether you are affirming your faith this day, whether you are celebrating your graduation, whether you are wondering where God might be leading this community in ministry – we walk this life of faith, breathed into by the Holy Spirit of God, together.

As we walk there will be moments and questions of ‘why, and how, and when?’ But the thing that we will fall back on is not what we have done, not relying on our intellect, our skills, our knowledge. But falling into and clinging to the trust that God is present in this. Having faith that we are not alone in these decisions. Having hope that the Spirit still moves and breathes within us, within these walls, and throughout this community.

That the Spirit that so burst upon the world that Day of Pentecost so long ago is still alive and active today here in this place and in each of us. Breathing us into life, moving us into the unknown, being present with us the entire way.

We are not alone in this, and we have never been. The road is long, but we travel it together. Not just with one another, but with God right by us, right in us, right before us leading the way.

That is the work of the Holy Spirit. That is the celebration of this day. Amen.

 




May 14, 2018, 7:58 AM

the one about prayer...


Sermon from May 13, 2018

Text: John 17: 6-21

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, I’ve been here for almost three years now (it surprises me too, time flies when you’re having fun!). Throughout these three years, we have been praying each Sunday for a church within the South Carolina synod. We’ve prayed for almost every church in the entire Synod; which is pretty amazing when you think about it. And when we complete this final conference and then the Synodically Authorized Ministry sites – we’ll start over from the beginning again.

One of the really neat things that comes from these prayer letters are the responses I and the church receives from them. There are a few responses that I’ve received in reaction to our prayer letters that mostly focus on a profound sense of thanks. Churches are grateful that someone out there is praying for them and their participating in God’s ministry.

But, there is one type of response that I have received that makes me kind of chuckle. It’s only happened a few times, but one story sticks out. Probably about a year and half ago, we prayed for a particular church that I happened to be going to later that week. They had already received their prayer letter and the first thing the pastor said to me was, “Thanks, but what do you know that I don’t? Why pray for us now?”

We just wanted to let you know you were being prayed for.

Have y’all had that reaction before to someone finding out that you were praying for them? Have any of you reacted that way when you discover that someone has been praying for you?

That sense of, “What do they know that I don’t?” “What am I to do with this?”

In our reading this morning we get to eavesdrop on a private moment between Jesus and his disciples. This is the last night that our Lord is with his friends before he is to be handed over to the authorities and begin his bold march to the cross. Interesting that we end the season of Easter with this story.

And on this night – a night that anyone else would be filled with anxiety and worry – he prays for not only his disciples, but for all of us as well. It is why I added that extra verse this morning. I think we need to hear that even our Lord Jesus prays for each of us.

But, when we look at this prayer, it is a little odd and a little different than I think how most of us might pray for others.

Within this prayer, Jesus knows and alludes to his disciples that the road before them won’t be easy – it hasn’t been easy. And that hardship and struggle won’t be removed from them. They are not to be ‘snatched’ away and removed from the life of the world.

But, they are to be at work in the world, living what life offers to them and living into the faith that has been gifted to them – gifted to each of us. That our peace that Jesus prays for doesn’t come because the struggle and hardship has been removed or that our great and devout faith will pull us away from those difficult times, but our peace comes from the knowledge that God is present with us in those moments and times.

That kind of punches a pretty big hole in some things that we hear from others doesn’t it? If you just pray a little harder, have a stronger faith, do a little more service – than all this struggle will end. That life will be good and easy and fulfilling in all the ways it needs to be, if you were just a little better at this faith stuff.

Yet, here is Jesus saying almost the exact opposite of that; praying (and knowing) that God will be present with us through it all. Protecting us in the ways that God can and does.

Here’s Jesus praying for his friends and for us. Knowing that life will not be altogether easy, but that God will be present with them throughout it.

I think we’ve been fashioned to think that prayer only happens when things are ‘bad’ or are ‘needed.’ It doesn’t help that Jesus literally does that in our reading today. I’m guilty of that too. If someone tells me they are praying for me, I begin to respond like that pastor who I mentioned earlier. Like that pastor I too wonder – ‘what have I been doing that makes them think I need to be prayed for?’

But, there’s something else about prayer that I think we forget which I think brings us some really good peace when we sit down and think about it. I’d be willing to bet that Peter, James, John, and the other disciples are thankful for it as well.

Jesus prays for his disciples because he wants them to know that they are known and loved. That they are important enough to be prayed for. That they are not abandoned and alone. Jesus offers prayers to his friends – and to us – to remind us that we are indeed loved and cared for. Loved and cared for so much that even in one of the most desperate times the messiah faces, he sits down to pray for others. To let them know that they’ll be OK. That they are held close to God and to one another in community and relationship.

Those reactions are the ones that I receive that humble me so much when someone contacts the church about our prayer letters.

That sheer sense of, “Someone remembers us. Someone knows us. Someone loves us. Thank you.”

I think that is what Jesus is conveying this morning in our readings. Giving to his disciples and to each of us, as we are included in that prayer, that all are loved and remembered. But, not only all, but each of us – each of you – are specifically loved and remembered by Jesus.

Jesus invites us into how prayer for others might be pursued. It isn’t just because someone is hurting or in need. It isn’t just because you’re feeling good for another and wish that to continue.

But, as we pray, we pray because we care for that person we know personally or by extension through another. We pray because that other one is a beloved child of God – even when it is difficult to pray for that individual.

A few days ago, I picked my daughter up from school and she told me about an incident that happened that day. She and her friends like to collect and care for beetles while playing outside. Her friend had her beetle taken by another child, he squished it and threw it over the fence. My daughter and her friend were beside themselves.

After telling me that story, she crossed her arms and said, "Daddy, I don't know why God created him." I was first taken back by that comment, I've asked those same questions too sometimes. But, I questioned her, "Why do you think God created him?" With a sigh in her voice she said, "Becaus God's loves him." "So, what should we do then?" And begrudginly she replied, "Pray for him."

So we did. We prayed that this young boy would come to know through those around him that he is loved and cared for and doesn't need to act this way to gain attention. As difficult as it can be at times, we are called to pray for all of God's children because they are loved by God even when it seems we shouldn't or couldn't.

A few days ago, I picked my daughter up from school and she told me about an incident that happened that day. She and her friends like to collect and care for beetles while playing outside. Her friend had her beetle taken by another child, he squished it and threw it over the fence. My daughter and her friend were beside themselves.

After telling me that story, she crossed her arms and said, "Daddy, I don't know why God created him." I was first taken back by that comment, I've asked those same questions too sometimes. But, I questioned her, "Why do you think God created him?" With a sigh in her voice she said, "Because God's loves him." "So, what should we do then?" And begrudgingly she replied, "Pray for him."

So, we did. We prayed that this young boy would come to know through those around him that he is loved and cared for and doesn't need to act this way to gain attention. As difficult as it can be at times, we are called to pray for all of God's children because they are loved by God even when it seems we shouldn't or couldn't.

We pray for others because they are connected to us in the body of Christ; the kingdom of God. We pray for them because we follow the example our Lord who prayed for the disciples and for each of us.

We pray so that they might know that God is with them and that we are present with them as well. That as they struggle, as they celebrate, as the live – they are not alone, they are not abandoned. They are loved.

Likewise, let us remember when we hear of someone keeping us in their prayers – we are not alone, we are not abandoned, we are loved.

On this last Sunday in the season of Easter before we venture into the long season of Pentecost. We remember that our Lord prays for us. Not that the long road might be removed from our travels and our journeys, but that we might remember that God is there with us on that road. That we might notice God present with us in those valley moments as well as on those mountain tops. That God is present with us in this life. Always. Forever. Never ceasing.

Remember that prayer. Known that that prayer is just as much for you as it is for Jesus’ friends surrounding him at that table before he marches to the cross for the world – you included. Amen.




May 7, 2018, 9:56 AM

the one about shattering and reshaping...


Sermon from May 6, 2018

Text: Acts 10:44-48 & John 15:9-17

Grace and peace to each of you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Risen Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, as I read over the texts we have before us this day, I was greatly intrigued by our first reading from Acts. As I read of Peter and those who gathered with him in Cornelius’ home, I couldn’t help but think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. It’s a short book, but it is deeply packed with such a good understanding of what living this life of faith in community is meant for and looks like.

You see, Peter and those with him – those who were at that time devout in the Jewish life of faith – we’re accustomed to the thought that they were God’s people. And they are. They truly, truly are. Nothing can take that promise and covenant away from the Jewish people. That promise, that covenant is valid and still stands today and for all eternity.

But, as happens with any group, they began to believe that they might be God’s only people. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Especially since there are many stories within scripture showing God ever so often expanding what the community of God might look like and include. The culmination of that expansion is in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ our Lord.

Where, according to Bonhoeffer, the entire community exists through and in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t and cannot exist apart from him. For those gathered that day in Cornelius’ home and even especially for us today, God continually shatters our idealized notion of what community is and reshapes it into the community that God intends.

A community that is far greater, broader, and more diverse than ever thought possible.

In our text this morning from Acts, we read of those other faithful Jewish people with Peter who are bewildered and amazed that these others are proclaiming God. The Holy Spirit is made known to them and in them, so much so that all those around them are able to see it.

In fact, Peter earlier in this chapter, had a dream and vision from God that informed him that God is the one who makes things clean, and that which is named clean is not to be called profane.

Peter’s ideal notion of clean and unclean, of those who are a part of the community of God and those who are outside that community is shattered – deliberately – and reshaped into the intent of God’s kingdom.

So, too are those who are gathered that day in Cornelius’ home having their notion of community reshaped by God. They entered that day knowing one thing about what it means to be loved by God and they left with a much fuller and more complete understanding of who God loves and includes in the community. In Christ, it is much deeper and wider than ever before.

This reminds me of a story in my life. Last week I talked a little about my time in Mexico City, today you get to hear another short story about that experience.

One of the greatest gifts we received during those two and a half weeks, was the ability to listen and learn from those within the indigenous communities of Mexico. Specifically, how their community is shaped around God and living into that faith that Christ has given through the Holy Spirit. The individual we spoke to and learned from told a story of those first missionaries who came to ‘save’ her people.

The missionaries were amazed at how well they received God’s Word and promise for them and the entire world. Those they came to minister to were equally amazed that these missionaries were so surprised at this reality. As one leader within the indigenous community said to the missionaries, “You came here to bring us God, but you did not bring us God. We know that God was already and has always been here. We don’t give you thanks for that, but we do thank you for giving us God’s name – Jesus who is the Christ, the savior of the whole world.”

I can only imagine the look of astonishment on those missionaries’ faces when they heard that. They came into this country expecting to bring Jesus to those who did not know, yet they discovered that God had already been present there. Their notion of the community of God was shattered, reshaped, and made far larger than they had known before.

Last Sunday, we read of the Ethiopian Eunuch – another individual who was considered ‘outside’ the community of God based on their country of origin and who he was and how he lived his life. Yet, as he and Philip spoke and read scripture together, the Ethiopian stated, “Here is water – what is to prevent me from being baptized?”

The answer to that question is of course – nothing. Nothing can prevent you from being baptized. Here is water – here is God’s word. You are welcome to the font of living water, you are welcomed to the table of life. You are a part of God’s community and family. Nothing prevents that from you, nor is there anything that can take that from you.

Last week, we heard from the one on the outside of the community asking if anything can prevent them from entering into it in baptism. This morning we hear from those on the inside asking, “Can anyone withhold the waters of baptism from these ones?”

Again, the answer is no, no one can withhold the waters of baptism. All are welcome. Here is water – here is God’s word. Come, be washed, be fed in Jesus’ name and life.

As Bonhoeffer writes, God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. God shatters those dreams and visions of what we think the Kingdom and community of God might and even should look like.

This sense of community – who belongs and who doesn’t – is still something we struggle with even today. Where we attempt to exclude from those being a part of us on account of where they are from, who they are, how they live, what they look like. We do it subtly and unfortunately at times more overtly.

Last Sunday, many here gathered with those in the community to watch the movie Selma. A film chronicling Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s epic march from Selma to Montgomery, AL to advocate for equal voting rights. I had never seen that movie before and, for me, it was quite emotional and powerful to watch that movie surrounded by the diverse community of Newberry.

Where in that film the sin of racism was being shown during that time – and where unfortunately that sin still exists today. That film gives each of us a window into seeing how difficult it can be to undergo that shattering and reshaping of God’s community. It is such a struggle that we are still adjusting to it today.

We are still being reshaped in our community so that we might know more fully and completely what God’s love is for the world.

In our Gospel reading this morning, we hear the word ‘love’ spoken quite often, nine times to be exact. It is a continuation of Jesus’ talk with and to his disciples that we heard begun last Sunday. Though, this day we read and hear a very, very important word from Jesus’ lips.

That as we idealize our notions of community – who is in and who is out. We hear Jesus say to his disciples and in turn say to each and every one of us.

You did not choose me, but I chose you.

Jesus has chosen you. Jesus has chosen others. Jesus is the one who chose. Jesus chooses all. Our Lord’s love is so great and wide that all are welcome to the waters of baptism. All are welcome to the table. All are included in the community of God.

God has chosen you through Christ. God has chosen me through Christ. God has chosen even those through Christ. God has done this through the great love that only God can bestow and live fully into.

God’s love, grace, and mercy continually shatters our idea of community, but in that love, grace, and mercy God reshapes us and the community into what God has intended all along. In that new and intended kingdom of God, we are invited to live into that love that God has for us through Christ through and for others.

A final word from Bonhoeffer about community, “The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us.”

Let us live this life of faith knowing that we are shattered and reshaped. That in our reshaping, God has made this community that much more full, complete, and whole. Let us live into this reshaped community and kingdom of God so that we might all know Jesus and his love for all more fully. Amen.

 




May 1, 2018, 8:00 AM

May 2018 Newsletter


This year, the month of May is an incredibly important time in the life of the church and in the life of the community. For this is a month of celebration.

We will celebrate those within our community and within the life of the church who will be graduating from high school, college, technical school, or a post-graduate program. We will celebrate those accomplishments for those within our congregation on May 27. If you or member of your family is graduating from one of those educational institutions above, please contact the church office so that we can forward that information on to the appropriate people.

Also, on May 20th Redeemer will help celebrate all those within the community who are graduating from Newberry Academy and Newberry High School with a Baccalaureate Service that is hosted by the Downtown Ministerial Association Churches. This is truly a special event to be a part of, especially for those families who get to see their young graduates walk down the aisle wearing their caps and gowns. Just one more opportunity for them to celebrate this significant accomplishment in their lives! This year’s preacher for Baccalaureate will be Rev. Elizabeth Morgan from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

As significant as those celebrations are (and they are significant and I’m so happy for Redeemer to be a part of those moments of joy in the life of the community and the congregation), I am looking forward to being able to celebrate our confirmation students this year – May 20, Pentecost Sunday! Six young men and women will complete their three-year journey through confirmation: AC Cary, Emma Chapman, Madeleine Long, Philip Livingston, Ben Lindsay, and Stephen Senn.

They’ve learned a lot (probably more than they’ll admit), they’ve grown, they’ve participated, they’ve been active in the church in numerous ways, they’ve fussed, they’ve laughed, they’ve been a part of my formation in faith during these three years as well.

Of course, there is something a bit different about completing Confirmation studies. It isn’t a graduation. When you finish Confirmation, your life, growth, and study as a follower of Christ doesn’t end. You continue to learn. You continue to grow. You continue to live into this life of faith that you are called into. Confirmation is a continuation of this journey of faith that we are all a part of. I really do love to celebrate it!

May is a busy month, but it is a month full of celebration for the community! Amen!




April 30, 2018, 8:15 AM

the one about pruning...


Sermon from April 29, 2018

Text: John 15:1-8, Acts 8:26-40

Grace and peace to each of you from God our creator and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ.  Will y'all pray with me; may the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen!

Farming. 

Gardening. 

Growing. 

So, those are things of the world, which I cannot do. I really don't have a lick of horticultural skills within me. In fact, if it requires any more than ‘water’ I am almost at a loss at what to do. I can be witness to the great beauty of seeing plants grow, of flowers blooming, and fruit bursting forth from the branch it is on, but asking (or expecting) me to care for it and help it grow and form, that I do not possess the required gifts. I’ve shared the story from my first call that I was gifted a poinsettia plant after my first Christmas there. For months I believed that that little plant was either the most hardy plant ever conceived – or that it was fake. I never watered it. I didn’t care for it. It just thrived! It’s a miracle! Of course, as I recounted to that possibility to someone at the time, I was told the real story. The custodian had been watering it for me since I received it. Without her, that plant would’ve ended up the same as every other potted plant in my life. Scraggled, withered, and dead. Today, I like to joke that the only reason that our kids and animals are alive and well in our house is because I can hear them tell me that they’re hungry.

However, though I don't have a lot of skill when it comes to gardening, tilling, planting, or watering plants, I do know some of the hard things that are required in caring for those plants. I know that at times one must prune a bush for it to yield further growth. At times one must cut off from the bush either that which is not growing or cut the ‘excess’ growth so that more energy in the plant can be given to those areas needed to let the plant thrive. It is not fancy work and the plant itself doesn't look all that great when the pruning is complete. That selective cutting off of what doesn't help the plant leaves it bare and open; vulnerable. But, the plant isn't left to its own devices. It is continually cared for, watered, looked after, and checked upon as it continues to thrive and grow. Without those parts of it that limited its growth no longer a part of the plant, the beauty it will give will be wonderful.

The same can be said for us as we live out our lives as disciples of Christ. In our gospel today, Jesus tells us that he is the vine, we are the branches, and that God is the vinedresser (or farmer). From Jesus we are given life, we are a part of this great vineyard that grows wonderful fruit. Fruit that is bursting with the love and nourishment from Jesus. God is there cultivating us, caring for us, watching over our growth. And yes, God does prune us where we need to be pruned. God does indeed selectively point out, cut off, and cast away those things in our lives that keep us from seeing God's presence and keeps us from growing the fruit of God's gospel - serving God and neighbor, loving God and neighbor, and dwelling in Christ as Christ dwells within us.

There are those parts of ourselves where, while it is growing from us, keeps us from growing fully into the faith and life that is intended. God, working through ourselves and through others, points out and prunes those places that we focus too much on. Those areas which can keep us from growing in the way that God has intended. A snip here, and a snap there. To us, it can feel like God is just taking those gardening shears and just 'going to town' on us as God casts out those areas that we sinfully enjoy and that which comes easy to us, but that which draws us away from God and way from being a part of the vine that is Christ.

God points out and prunes those areas where we draw into ourselves - those areas where we think more about 'me' than we do about 'we.' The part that seeks to horde instead of share of God's creation, that part of us which is quick to judge those around us instead of forgiving out of love. Those parts where we feel compelled to speak without listening to the hurts and needs of those before us. Those parts where we only view ‘our stuff’ as most important, and that other ‘ideas’ or not worth the time, space, or air they are devoted to. Those parts where we are more apt to concern ourselves with just 'us’, yet God prunes us as we are directed to help and serve those in need around us in and through our love and faith.

This is hard stuff and when we are pruned we feel open, raw, and exposed. We ache at the world in which looks at us in this vulnerable state.

My second year in seminary I was able to go on a trip to Mexico City. Mexico City is a beautiful, vibrant, and historic city. There are so many cool things about it - ancient ruins, wonderful museums, delicious (DELICIOUS) food. Vibrant colors, fantastic music, and a lively culture. Mexico City is awesome, but it is also not without its downside.  

Rampant poverty, appalling living conditions for many, crime, violence, hunger, pollution and needs beyond belief. While there, our group went to a shanty town; homes built simply with corrugated steel roofs, cinder block walls, and dirt floors. We helped teach and play with the local children and we ate a delicious meal prepared by the women of the town. It is here that I could see how much I had looked inward in my life. 

Where I complained in a restaurant back home if the water tasted a 'bit funny,' while these children couldn't even drink the water in town or they might get horribly ill. Where I could fret here about 'what to wear' while those fathers and husbands only had one shirt to work, live, and play in. I can tell you now, that was a pruning experience for me. After that time, I felt raw, broken, and vulnerable because for so long I could see how much I cared more about 'me' than about those around me, not caring to see the great needs that surround us all.

But, I wasn't left alone, just as those plants in the vineyard are not left alone after they've been pruned. We are not left alone as children of God, branches of the vine that is Christ. After the ‘pruning’ in faith of our lives, we are cared for by God through others around us. Where we seek conversation, dive into prayer, and reach out in relationship with others to help ourselves grow into that beautiful fruit that God has intended all along.

After that experience in Mexico, I’ve wanted to be a part of conversations. I’ve strived to gently correct those who hold stereotypically untrue views regarding are sisters and brothers from that beautiful country. I’ve sought to learn more about the struggles they live with by listening to those who have experienced it.

We are all a part of the vine, grafted into Christ through our baptisms. Where we do live and abide in Christ, as Christ dwells within us. God doesn't prune us and open us to those needs around us so we just feel bad about ourselves and ask simply for forgiveness for our pettiness. No, God prunes, but then nourishes us in Christ and encourages us to grow in ways that the fruit of God's labor is made in us so that we might proclaim the Gospel for all, so that we might LIVE out that Gospel for all, so that we might know that Gospel for all in us.

We are a part of this great and wonderful vine that gives us life, we are a part of the vine that is Jesus the Christ. Without whom we can do no thing.  Without whom our joy is never complete. All of our readings this morning point us to what life in God, life in Christ is all about.

It is a relationship of love and service.

We are part of a vast body, the Body of Christ, grafted and adopted through our baptisms. We proclaim along with the eunuch today that, "What can keep me from being a part of this?" NOTHING can keep us from being a part of the body, nothing stands between us and the holy waters of baptism that wash us and give us new life in Christ. We read today that we love and serve because God first loved us, sending us the son so that sin and death are no more. Finally, we read that we receive life and nourishment from Christ as a branch, which bears wonderful fruit. We are comforted by the fact that God is the vinedresser, watching and caring over us and the world - the entire body, the entire vineyard - that is in Christ our Lord.

We are fed and nourished, we are pruned to grow, and we are encouraged to bear fruit in faith so that others might know that God loves, God cares, and God watches over us in grace just as a farmer cares for his or her crops and flowers.

With this message, with this truth, we are called and encouraged to live out that Gospel for others.  Where we live our lives caring for all instead of looking inward upon ourselves which sin causes us to do and that which is so easy to fall into. Where we are open to God's pruning, where we know that God's pruning isn't to make us shameful or judged, but so that we can continue to grow and thrive in the light of God's love. Bearing fruit in the growing of our faith, the spreading the Gospel message to all, and the serving of others over the inward looking toward ourselves.

Pruning at times isn't a glamorous job. But, when those plants bloom; when faith thrives. It is a beautiful wonder and sight to behold. Amen.


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