In pm's words
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November 7, 2016, 12:00 AM

the one about those blessings...

Sermon from November 6, 2016 - All Saints Sunday

Text: Luke 6: 20-31

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’ll tell you what. This is always a difficult text to preach on. It’s a difficult text because it is so abrupt. There’s little room for interpretation, there is no embellishment from Jesus.

Blessed are you who are poor. Blessed are you who are hungry. Blessed are you who weep.

When we hear these words spoken by Jesus, we hope for the version of those blessings that we read in Matthew’s Gospel. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Those are the blessings that feel like they are directed at me.

I’ve felt poor in spirit – sometimes struggling to see where God is at work in a world seemingly filled with terribleness. I don’t think I’ve ever been truly poor; not ever having to choose between food or a bill or even between staying home to care for family or work to earn even a meager amount more. I continue to hunger and thirst for righteousness; to shine the light on injustice and to be present with those who suffer at the callous hands of others. I don’t think I’ve ever been truly hungry. I’ve never been placed into a situation in my life where the food that others couldn’t finish would fill me – for a short period. And, I don’t know if I’ve truly wept. I’ve lost friends and family and that pain is real, but looking at what we lift this day – as I look at those candles – I’ve not felt that sort of pain. The pain of losing a spouse, of losing a parent, of losing a child. Even when I weep for them – when I weep for y’all – it isn’t the same. It doesn’t come close.

Jesus lays blessings upon them.

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

After those blessings? We receive woes from our Lord. Woe indeed.

Those are the areas where I feel convicted and punched in the gut by our Lord today.

Woe to you who are rich. I may not be ‘rich’ by some standards, but I am – and I’ll hazard a guess many of y’all – are doing alright. We’re doing pretty good compared to some of our sisters and brothers around the world. Woe to you who are full now. Man, I’ve got food… in fact I have so much food that I can’t eat it all, a lot of it goes to waste. Woe to you who are laughing now. For a glimmer of a moment, there was raucous laughter and rejoicing on Wednesday night as the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. Even when you were a curmudgeon and didn’t watch that series out of spite (raise hand), you couldn’t help, but chuckle and smile at that good story 108 years in the making.

What am I – what are we – to do when we see ourselves more in those woes than we do in those blessings?

Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t stop right there. Thankfully after these blessings and woes – Jesus continues.

The words of Jesus that we read this morning are important words to hear. They are important words to hold on to. They are important words to live into. Especially, in light of what will transpire this coming Tuesday.

But, Jesus’ words aren’t directed at us to ‘feel better’ because of the way an election shakes out. Jesus’ words and life are given to us to live into and follow all the days of our lives. How true are these words for us to hear and follow every day. When we’re cut off in traffic, when we mourn change in our community, when we battle with what our brain and our emotions tell us…

If only we take Jesus’ heed and listen.

Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Do to others as you would have them to do to you.

Those are the hardest things that Jesus proclaims. It’s so easy to not do those things. It’s so easy to do the opposite of what Jesus calls us into. Jesus invites his disciples – Jesus invites us – to shower radical love, blessing, forgiveness, generosity, and trust even to our enemies and to outsiders.

Living into those words of our Lord just might help us see the humanity and the beautiful face of Christ in each of our sisters and brothers around our community and world. Where we see in each person we encounter the very face of Christ, knowing that they too are blessed, that they too are called, that they too are a brother and a sister. Where we embrace one another as saints in the kingdom of God.

And what we celebrate today is that we don’t do that alone. We don’t struggle alone. We don’t persevere alone. We don’t weep alone. We don’t laugh alone.

We do all of this within the great community of saints. We lift up today – specifically – those who have died this past year, but we continue to lift up this day and all days those who are no longer with us. The community of saints surrounds us this day. Not only those who have come before us and rest fully with our God in their death, but we are surrounded by the saints who fill these pews, who have filled the pews, and who will sit here as well. We are surrounded by those around the world who pray for the Body of Christ, who pray for the kingdom of God.

We do all of this together. We hear blessings, and we hear woes – together. We come to this table and feast on this meal – together. We remember fully this day that no matter what – not one thing separates us from the love of Christ in Jesus our Lord. Not even death.

And sometimes, we have to do that together, because there are days when someone else has to sing on our behalf, pray on our behalf, to hold us up, to move us forward. Within our grief – within our weeping – sometimes we need the help of those around us. And, because we are a community of faith, called together by God, we do that. We do that. We continually remember that in this life of faith it isn’t about me and mine. It is so much more about you and y’all. Making sure those outside of us are cared for, knowing that someone is caring for me as well.

No matter if you hear Jesus laying blessings on you or even hear Jesus’ woes directed your way – Jesus’ call is still to all of us.

Love. Bless. Forgive. Be generous. Trust.

Be radical and abundant in all of that – to everyone. To all the saints – those who have gone before us and those who live this life with us still. Amen.

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October 31, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one about dwelling...

Sermon from October 30, 2016

Text: John 8: 31-36 and Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Grace and peace to y’all 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!

It’s always around this time that I get a little nervous. I get nervous because we come to this day – this Reformation Sunday – and it is pretty special to us as Christians who identify as Lutherans. I get nervous because I continually think – how can I preach this text and this day that isn’t just the ‘same old same old’ that we’ve all heard for years.

Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, we should steer away from the thought that Lutherans ‘fixed’ the church. That this isn’t a day that we celebrate because we’ve ‘finished’ the Reformation. This isn’t a day that we pat our selves on the back with a ‘job well done.’ Why? Because each of those actions are ‘final’ in our minds. It makes us think that we don’t have anything left to do.

But, we have so much left to do. Our reading from Jeremiah this morning paints a wonderful image of what life can and will be like in the future. A day where no one has to say, “Know the Lord.” For all will know God. God’s law will be written on their hearts and God’s love will be shown through God’s choosing to not remember our sin anymore.

We haven’t quite made it there yet. But, Jesus’ action on the cross has brought us to the brink of that life.

But, God is still at work.

We are still at work. We are still a work in progress.

And why are we still at work? Look at our gospel reading.

Who is Jesus speaking to? He’s speaking to those who already believed into him. I think that’s pretty important. Jesus here isn’t just speaking to those passing by, curious strangers to this odd man who gathers crowds around him. Jesus isn’t speaking to those who have deliberately spoken out against him and have tried to make him stumble in his words.

No, Jesus is speaking to those who have heard him. Jesus is speaking to those who have begun to know him. Folks, Jesus is speaking to those like us.

And, I think the response these believers give is on the one hand a little sad (for people that are so history minded) and also pretty close to how we respond to God’s word.

It is funny that these believers have pretty short memories. They’ve never been slaves to anyone? Yet, they live in their land that is not ruled by them, but by an occupying force. The believers are from a line of people that have – unfortunately – been one to have been under the thumb of quite a few occupiers in their shared history. Romans, Egyptians, and Babylonians just to name a few.

I believe that the response they give is close to how we respond to God’s word as well. We rely – many times – on our own self. We don’t like to think that we are captured by anyone or anything. We’re smarter than that, we’re better than that to be ‘tricked’ into something along those lines. You can’t pull one over on us. Don’t tell us what we don’t want to hear.

We don’t like to think that we are slaves to sin. Yet, we want Sunday worship to be crisp in tidy in time because we’ve got to make sure we get home for the 1pm start of our team’s game. We feel the pride of cutting the cord, but don’t notice the massive amount of content we consume from other sources. We claim we are taking care of ourselves because we might drink a diet coke, yet are blinded to the double cheeseburger – with bacon – in our hands.

We are blind to our own prejudices against other because, ‘well – I have a friend whose different from me – so I can’t be.’

We tend to respond defiantly – just as the believers in our gospel this morning – to Jesus’ words.

And those words? Abide. Abide in him. Abide in the word. Abide in the one who is in and with God.

Abide, abide, abide. Remain. Dwell. Live.

On this Reformation Sunday, we are reminded again and again not only by what Luther shined a light upon, but on what Jesus has given to us. To remain in this word. To dwell in his light. To live with and for God.

Not to make excuses or have short-memories. Dwell in God. Recognize that we have, do, and will screw up. It’s going to happen.

Abide in the word.

That is what we celebrate on Reformation Sunday. Luther almost 500 years ago (499 to be exact) called the church proper to again abide in this word. To read it, to know it, to understand it.

Not necessarily to always memorize chapter and verse (though, it is nice to know scripture that well), but to know the text enough that we begin to know who and how God loves, acts, and desires from us.

To come into a situation and be able to say, “In the word that I know – in the word that I abide in – I know that this isn’t right. This isn’t how we are supposed to act.”

Or even, to know that word and abide in that relationship with God so well and so deep that we can say, “This is where God is at work. I have faith that God is in this action, speaking to us in this way, walking with us towards the cross.”

This morning our Reformation Sunday celebration is a little different as well. Today, we get to celebrate the continued faith formation of two young women in our congregation. Today we get to celebrate with them as they say, “yes” to the faith that has formed them, continues to form them, and to live into this Word. Saying ‘yes’ to the promises that their parents and this congregation made for them when they were baptized here in this place.

When we really think about that, it’s kind of scary. We are saying and these young women are confirming – you’ve been taught, you’ve asked questions, you’re ready to walk this life of faith with us.

It’s scary because you’re probably thinking, “Do I really know enough? Have I really learned it all? Am I really ready to do this?”

It’s scary.

But, I want to tell you something. Those questions that roam in your mind that you might think are ‘bad’ thoughts or are signs that you’re not ready. I’ll tell you a secret – those same questions bounce around in my head too. Your parents ask those questions. Those other adults who’ve journeyed this life of faith longer than you have asked those questions. Even I as your pastor still ask those questions. I still at times doubt if I’m ‘smart’ enough, if I know ‘enough,’ if I’m really ‘ready.’

I really do.

What we remember on this Reformation and on this day of celebration of the affirmation of your and our baptisms is that we are still a work in progress. The Reformation was not a ‘final’ word in our journey of faith. Confirmation is not graduation. We still have work to do.

You don’t become ‘complete’ after your classes and this formal instruction time has ended. You’ve been given a good overview and outlook of Christian basics, discipleship, who Jesus is, our Lutheran beliefs, and even a small taste of other traditions in the church and faiths in the world. Your formation hasn’t ended - just as the formation of everyone here this day has not ended.

Each of you have been blessed with gifts to this community of faith and to all who you will encounter in your life. A love of learning and faith. You both have been two of the most active participants in our classes these past two years – and I don’t think it’s only because you get a piece of candy.

You both have shown me – in small and great ways – how much you love this Word and how you hope and strive to live into this faith. Your care for those around you, your desire to participate in the community of faith, your ability to question the world around us, the deep thinking you each take as you process these words and God’s Word.

Yet, this is a continual journey – a journey we’re on for the entirety of our lives. A journey where there will be ups and downs, there will be joys and struggles, there will be doubts and questions, there will be life and death. Through it all – whether you’re being confirmed today or remembering your confirmation from 10 – 20 – 50 years ago – God is still at work in you. Continually forming you to abide, dwell, to live into the Word of God, the Word made flesh, the Lord of our Life, Jesus who is our Christ.

This life of faith and continued formation is not something that we tackle alone, but we do so with one another. We pray for one another – we encourage one another – we serve with and for one another. We point out to others where injustice is and we lift up where love reigns. We help and study with one another as we – together – abide in the words of our Lord. We come together – as one – praising God in our own unique ways.

This is what the Reformation is. A call to continually abide and dwell in the Word that God has given us – not just the words we read in our scriptures, but the Word that has been given to us. The Word of God that has been made one of us.

Together – all of us – we live into, for, and with our Lord Jesus who is the Christ. Amen.


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October 31, 2016, 7:43 AM

November Newsletter Article

Grace and peace to y’all!

So, it seems (for the moment) that God has turned down the thermostat and brought in some cool weather for us. This type of cool weather is amazing. What I love most about the change in temperature is that it usually brings with it the change of seasons and some other welcome items that haven’t been around in a year. For me, that mostly means all the pumpkin spice foods I can handle.

The one thing that jumps out to me the most when I come to this time of year is the changing colors of the leaves. I think it’s beautiful and wonderful (and I know many, many, many agree with me on that). This year I’ve begun to think a bit on what those trees might be thinking as the leaves change and what that means.

For months, trees have been decked out in brilliant colors of green. Signs of health and well-being in the plant world as green signifies being full of life. Yet, when the seasons begin to change to autumn, those colors are replaced by yellows, reds, oranges, and browns. Usually colors that are assigned to being sick and leading to death. When the colors are done with their change, the leaves fall and what is left behind is a barren and ‘dead’ looking object. Something that once was full of life now seems like it is ready to be plucked from the ground and to be replaced.

Yet, we know that isn’t the case.

Though the trees have undergone a dramatic change, life still resides within them. As Christians, we can say that God is still present with them. Though they may appear cold and alone, God has never left their side. Still tending to them and caring for them in the ways that they need. God is preparing them still for the new thing that will soon take place.

Eventually autumn turns to winter and winter back to spring. Life bursts forth again and all of creation shouts, claps, and dances in joy. Throughout it all, they were never alone and they were never dead. Though, throughout the change they probably thought they were.

I write this small thought because Redeemer herself is approaching a change that a few have expressed concern about. For those that haven’t heard, the Inspiring Worship team moved forward with a change regarding the Christmas Eve Services this year. This year we will have a 4pm and 7pm service. We will not be having an 11pm service. The 4pm service will be directed more intentionally at families with young children while the 7pm service will be the same in its tone and structure to the usual 11pm traditional service.

This is a change from the history and tradition of Redeemer. But, I don’t think it is a change just for the sake of change. The Inspiring Worship team talked at length over this and prayed heavily upon it.

Christmas Day is on Sunday (next year Christmas Eve will be on Sunday), so from the standpoint of those leading and participating in Christmas Eve services, this was not an ‘unwelcome’ change for this year.

Attendance has also been a concern at the 11pm service as well. Perhaps, moving to a 7pm service will reach and speak to even more people that otherwise wouldn’t have come.

Most importantly, this was never decided as a permanent change. It was decided that if the team thought about trying this out – this would be the year to do that.

This change may be joyous news to some, it might bring sadness to others, and still some more might think, “Well, I was going to go at whatever time it was held.” No matter where you fall into that spectrum here’s the ultimate truth – God is present with you in that. Whether you cry out in joy or cry out in despair – God is with you. I think that is something for all of us to keep in mind as we approach any type of change in our lives.

What the Inspiring Worship team will need during this time is constructive feedback. Whether you agree or disagree with the Christmas Eve service time change, the team welcomes your input. However, there are some caveats to how that input should be brought forth.

In cordial and constructive ways. Never anonymous.

Any community of faith thrives and grows when all are participating in the life of the community. Participating in that life will at times bring disagreements. However, holding those thoughts in, speaking in ways that would not be considered kind, or leaving unsigned notes does more harm than good. Whether you agree or disagree with this change, tell the members of Inspiring Worship. All of them welcome your input.

I end this month’s message with this: As Thanksgiving approaches – I’m thankful to be a part of a community of faith that does care about the life of the community. I’m thankful to be a part of some wonderful conversations about a whole range of topics. I’m thankful that we can talk about issues – both within the church and outside it – in ways that bring us closer together and are done with respect and honor throughout.

Most importantly – I’m thankful for every one of you.

 - pm

October 24, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one where we remember Jesus was for all...

Sermon from October 23, 2016

Text: Luke 18: 9-14

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? Let 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!

Before we dive into our gospel text today, I wanted to mention something about a question I’ve received throughout my ministry that I never thought I’d receive so much. That question? “Pastor – why do we share the peace?”

I’m glad you asked that question. And, be honest – there’s a lot of you who’ve thought that question, but have never voiced it. The sharing of the peace. At a specific point in the service people get up and share the peace with one another. They shake hands, they might hug. Smiles are shared. Words are exchanged, usually ‘peace be with you, peace, or Christ’s peace.’

Why do we do that? I know that for many of you who have been in the game of life longer than I has noted that the church didn’t always have that. So, even after years of doing it – it still feels a little weird. It takes you – and everyone – a bit out of their comfort zone. Especially if you practice the roving and walking sharing of the peace where you literally move from your pew to share peace with those around you.

But, why do we do it? Throughout the history of the church, think about all those who have come to sit in the gatherings of churches from all over the world. You’ve got people from all walks of life, you’ve got people who hold on to wildly differing views on a whole range of topics, you’ve got people who identify themselves differently from one another. All of them – all of us – come to our respective places of worship to gather, hear, sing, receive, and be sent.

Within that service there is one time where each one of us treats those around us specifically as equals. There is one moment that we put aside our differences, look past our prejudices, look one another in the eye and say, “Peace be with you.”

The sharing of the peace is that one time we specifically and intentionally engage in what Paul has written that in Christ there is no slave or free, Jew or Greek, male or female. We’re one body. We’re all children. God loves us all. Christ has shared peace with each of us and in turn we share that peace with one another.

Think about that as we hear this parable. Jesus talks about two men who’ve come to the temple to pray. The first talks about his accomplishments and feats in faith. He then goes off thanking God that he’s not like ‘those others.’ Those who are less than him – especially that guy in the back.

We then hear from that guy in the back – the tax collector. His prayer? Just have mercy on me. A sinner.

Normally, I’d probably turn at this moment and say, “Be like that humble tax collector – not the braggadocios Pharisee. I think most people would be OK with that. And, it’s probably good advice.

But, if I moved in that direction, I’d be cheapening this parable.

You see, parables themselves always tell a story about who God is. How God acts. Where God is present. By focusing just on these two individuals, we miss out. As the adage goes, we’d lose sight of the forest because of the trees. In fact, praising the humble tax collector here (and imploring that we should be like him) would potentially lead each of us to pray – as theologian David Lose writes, "Lord, we thank you that we are not like other people: hypocrites, overly pious, self-righteous, or even like that Pharisee. We come to church each week, listen attentively to Scripture, and we have learned that we should always be humble." If we do that, we end up sounding a lot like the Pharisee we pray that we aren’t like.

As, I read this parable I can’t help, but notice where these two are. They are in the temple. The place where God is said to be present. They both have come to give prayer and honor. They both do it in vastly different ways, but they’ve both come.

But, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection when I look at that parable I begin to see a big problem in how we should interpret Jesus’ words and story here.

These two men are different. The Pharisee is the one that is looked up to, the one who has the right – whose earned the spot – at the head – closest to the seat where God is. Within his belief system – his righteousness has been proven because he is successful – he isn’t like the others. The tax collector is in the space where he ‘should’ be too. Within his faith culture – he’s not seen as ‘important.’ He’s someone that you know would probably cheat you. He collects money for the occupying army of Rome. He’s sold out.

That’s how the temple worked before Jesus comes along. Jesus’ death and resurrection has put aside that thought and belief.

Jesus’ ministry was for all people. Of course, he was particularly caring for those who are outcast, down trodden, and oppressed – he viewed those lives as urgently important. But, Jesus shared meals with all people from all walks of life, from all stations of life. Rich and poor. Young and old. Those from here and those who lived over there.

There was not a group of people that Jesus didn’t speak to, didn’t proclaim to, didn’t ask to be watchful, didn’t attempt to see where God was truly at work and present.

Jesus did all of that – proclaim, share, tell – with everyone.

So, naturally his own death and resurrection was for all people.

Jesus didn’t die and rise just for the rich folks. He didn’t accomplish victory over sin and death just so the poor and oppressed would have hope.

Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension helped change how we understand how both we experience God and how God experiences us.

That God blesses and love and forgives and invites us all equally because we are children of God. All of us.

God doesn’t love the Pharisee more than tax collector or vice-versa. I don’t believe God desires us to be the desperate humble of the tax collector nor the just about bragging prayer that is the Pharisee.

In Christ – both are loved and welcomed into the temple to worship and give thanks for what God has done.

In light of that knowledge and faith into who and how God is. We can begin to see a bit into how we experience one another.

It isn’t so much that the Pharisee should be knocked down a peg or three. It isn’t that the tax collector should pray in such a way that he feels he has no worth.

Instead, in Christ we look to one another and say, “Yeah – I’ve been blessed. God, thank you for the life I’ve had. You’ve helped me from following into paths that don’t seek you fully. I’ve strayed from time to time – I know I’m not perfect – but, you’ve always been there. I see my brother over there. His life hasn’t been as smooth as mine. We’ve taken different paths. Yet, I know you are with him too. Help me – help us – to see where you are so that we might both live in faith together.”

Conversely, I feel that the tax collector’s prayer could be more like, “Father – I’m a sinner. I know you forgive me, but I keep taking paths that don’t lead to you. I know you love me, I know it even when it is hard for me to understand or even feel it. I see my brother over there. He can be a little loud and speak in such a way that I don’t agree with. But, I know you’re with him too – that you love us both. Help me – help us – to see where you are so that we might both live in faith together.”

With this parable, we get sucked into identifying as one or the other in this story. The truth is – we are both. Sin filled and filled with pride. Yet, we – especially as Lutherans – understand that God still loves us. Not so that we just stay the same, but so that we continually live the life of faith that Jesus has called us into.

That life that tears down the borders, the stereotypes, the walls of our lives. Living in such a way that all are welcomed in this space. That all gather – together – recognizing that we are one body of Christ. We are all children of God. For there is another saying that I love, this one not as old as that one about forests, but just as impactful. Whenever we find ourselves in a spot where we draw a line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ God normally shows up on the other side.

Where we share the peace – and our lives – our smooth and rough edges – in this life of faith. Where we see one another as equal in the eyes of God. Knowing that all of us have worth, grace, and love. Where we live into this life of faith together, rising up – together – as we give praise and honor to God through our words, our deeds, and thoughts.


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October 17, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one about respect...

Sermon from October 16, 2016

Text: Luke 18: 1-8

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, is it just me or does Jesus – throughout Luke’s Gospel – always seem to find the most odd and unsettling ways to talk about God? The shepherd who abandons the majority to find the one. The woman who searches for the ‘worthless’ coin. The dishonest manager of money. Now, the unjust judge.

What in the world is Jesus getting at?

Jesus continually implores to his disciples and to us that God does not, never has, and never will fit neatly into the ‘boxes’ of our design. No matter how often we try to corner God and place the Holy into our tidy little spaces, Jesus comes along and just disrupts it all. It never makes us feel particularly good when that happens. For we are stretched beyond what we thought was possible, but in the end, I think it further expands how we think about God, how different God is from what we think God should be like, and how much effort and strength God goes through to show love for all creation.

So, Jesus talks about this judge. And this judge is, I think, uncommon among judges. You more than likely would not find, particularly during this time, a lot of judges who did not fear or were not in awe of God in some way. Especially since being a judge was somewhat of a holy vocation. They were the ones who interpreted scriptures, heard the cases of those coming forward, and then enacted justice through their decrees.

Now, judges then – and still today – are seen as those who are filled with honor and have at least a modicum of respect for those who come before them. When we encounter those, who appear that they don’t have respect for those they hear from, it usually doesn’t end up well for them. People rise up, they stir, and more. So, to be told and then later hear from this own judge’s lips that he has no respect for anyone is rather odd and unsettling.

We are also introduced to a widow. Now, remember, that during this time a widow was someone who did not have much say or voice in the world – let alone her own life. As a widow, she has lost her ‘power’ because she’s no longer married. There also wasn’t a great chance for her to be married again because of the customs of the day. We can also presume that she doesn’t have any sons as well. Why? Because she is the one who is coming forward to the judge crying out and demanding justice.

This widow’s cries for justice in her life become so loud and bothersome to the judge that he eventually relents and hears her case. He agrees to stand up for her and provide justice – however it is to come. But, I want us to be certain of something here. It isn’t so much that the judge relents because the widow is a pain, or an annoyance, or just irritating him.

No, the English here subdues what is actually going on. This widow is relentless. In fact, in my study and in my conversations this week when the judge says, “so that she may not wear me out” is probably more closely translated to mean ‘so that she won’t give me a black eye.’

The judge appears to have a lot to lose both physically (if we’re literal in that whole ‘giving him a black eye’) but, also within the eyes and minds of those around him. Her consistent please for justice are probably causing him more angst than he expected. I can imagine that her relentless cries aren’t just simple taps on the shoulder that would be persistent – and annoying – but, mostly meek and mild. No, I imagine that this is a woman who accosts him in the street, who bangs on his door, and who physical beats upon him to hear her cries.

At the end of this parable and story, Jesus seems to compare God to the unjust judge. Which makes us squirm a little bit. Is Jesus really saying – when coupled with the first verse of this snippet of the gospel that if we just badger God enough through our relentless prayers that God will finally, with a large and exasperated sigh, listen to us?

No, I don’t think that’s what Jesus is saying.

But, that also doesn’t mean that God does not listen to nor answers prayers. I believe God does. Possibly not in the ways we expect, but God does listen and does answers our prayers.

As I read this text, I couldn’t help but think about what justice meant since we are introduced to a judge who doesn’t seem to have much in the justice department.

We could talk at length as to what justice means simply because we all have differing opinions on what that might look like. We all might agree that we should care for the poor, but we all might have a different way of living into that just action. We may all agree that caring for the environment in our lives and community, but the action of justice taken towards that might differ substantially from one person to the other.

I think what we are introduced to in this short gospel text is the potential bedrock and foundation of what justice is founded upon. Jesus helps us to see where justice actually begins.

I think and feel that Jesus is trying to tell us that justice begins with showing our fear and awe of God by respecting those around us.

Think about that for a minute. This – as one of my favorite preachers has said –minimalist definition of just behavior is very helpful to how we live into the justice and righteousness that God calls from us.

This judge at first refuses to listen to one of the most helpless and vulnerable individuals in his society. She wails upon him relentlessly and he refuses to heed to her cries. That is the action that makes him unjust. It isn’t his previous decrees, pronouncements, or verdicts. It isn’t his eloquent use of language or his astute interpretation of the law.

It is the simple act of refusing to listen to the widow, and we can presume others like her, that has made him unjust.

When we think of the world today, I believe that is something we should take seriously as we listen to Jesus’ words this morning.

What does it look like to give and have respect for those around you? How can we further lift up those whose voices seem to carry little weight because of who they are, their station in life, what they have done, or where they’ve come from?

Again, how we live into that just action in whatever avenue of life it takes place might be different. We may disagree with how that is lived into. But, where we begin that conversation, where we begin that action, begins with how we treat and view others.

By giving respect. Expecting respect. Honoring those before and around us. Being treated with respect garners some expectations. An expectation of being listened to – fully and completely. Of being seen in the most positive of lights. Being seen and understood as someone who has worth – no matter what.

That is the beginning of justice. Something that God calls for us to live out and into. Showing our fear and awe of God by respecting those around us. Respecting our spouses. Respecting our friends. Respecting those whose views differ from our own. Respecting those who others look down upon.

We live into this life of faith of fear and awe of God by respecting those who are around us.

What then of the widow? As we expect to be seen with respect, we also expect others to show respect for those around them as well. The widow is a reminder to us that as we pray without ceasing to our God, we also relentlessly speak out about the injustice in our lives, in the lives of others around, in the lives of those most vulnerable in society.

God is not the unjust judge. God is the one who listens, God is the one who respects – from the beginning – those whom God has created. God does stand with the oppressed and the ignored. God does soften and warm the hearts of those who whose cold gaze drifts above those beneath them. God works through all of us to bring that justice to life. God might be working that justice on us.

God just might be using you – me – all of us – to bring that respect of life to the world.


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October 11, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one where we show gratitude...

Sermon from 10/9/2016

Text: Luke 17: 11-19

Grace and peace to y’all from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let 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 morning we read another interesting story about Jesus. He and his disciples are still traveling around the area and they find themselves in a spot between Samaria and Galilee. An ‘in-between’ state. Sandwiched between the area that practiced the predominant faith of the time – Galilee – which was Jewish and the area that was a cousin of the Jewish faith, but seen as unclean in many respects – Samaria.

In the middle of those two areas there happened to be a leper colony within a village that Jesus and his disciples came upon.

Now, we are already seeing Jesus in an ‘awkward’ area, in-between two differing cultures and people. Within that area is a colony of those that neither wanted anything to do with. A colony of those afflicted with leprosy.

Leprosy is an infection that attacks the nervous system resulting in people not being able to feel and or lose their extremities because they cease to feel pain in those areas. How most experience those with leprosy (which is all but confined to tropical Africa and Asia) is that they develop pustules, deformities, lesions, and more across their skin, their hands, and their face. For a faith and culture at the time that centered on ‘cleanliness’; Leprosy was about as unclean as you could get.

So, Jesus meets 10 individuals with Leprosy he tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. As they depart they are cleansed. One of those men – who was a Samaritan – prostrates himself before Jesus in thanks and gratefulness. Jesus remarks that the other nine are absent and that this man’s faith has made him well.

First thing I wanted to point out in this is that all 10 individuals who had leprosy were healed. They were healed because they followed Jesus’ command and were obedient to him. He directed them to go and show themselves to the priests. They went. They were healed.

This story isn’t so much about ‘those ungrateful ones who didn’t get healed’ as it is about being grateful for the blessings that God does bestow upon us.

If we can fault those nine for anything in our gospel this morning – after they’ve followed Jesus’ command to show themselves to the priests – is that they don’t show gratitude for what has been done to them.

Which makes it even more interesting and radical that the one who does show gratitude to Jesus is the one who is specifically stated to not be of the Jewish faith. Again, the author of Luke’s gospel uses a story of Jesus’ ministry to further turn that mirror on the people and followers in the faith.

How quickly we take for granted the good things in our life. Or in fact – how quickly we take for granted many and all things in our life.

I once knew someone who whenever I asked her how she was doing, her response was always, “I’m upright and vertical and grateful for that.” It always seemed like a pretty strange answer to give. But, it always made me think – as stressful and frustrating as the day could be I’m still grateful to be – like her – upright and vertical each day.

Each of those 10 lepers were cleansed. I imagine that they too were overjoyed in their healing – who wouldn’t be. I’m sure they went and told their friends, family, and all who they saw that day and in the future. Maybe some took it for granted. There really isn’t any way for us to know. What we do know is that one of those 10. The one who was singled out as even more different than the others – a Samaritan – was the one who chose to give voice to the thankfulness he felt.

He turns to give thanks to Jesus and to give thanks to God.

He gives the thankfulness and gratitude voice. He chooses to express that in a way that the other nine do not. He looks at his life and what has immediately been done and cannot keep in that voice.

He gives thanks. He chooses.

He could have chosen – like us – to give voice to all sorts of emotion that day. For we too have opportunity to choose and live into things like fear, anger, or sadness. We too have the choice to live into frustration, annoyance, or regret. We have the choice to live into the emotions we have.

Sometimes it is far easier to choose one of those other emotions. Sometimes the most difficult thing we can think of doing is choosing gratitude.

When confronted with anger, we may choose to retaliate and strike back. It’s difficult to say, “I’m grateful of your passion on this topic.” Seeking empathy can be difficult. When confronted by setback, it is easy to choose frustration – either with yourself or with those involved in your work. It’s difficult to say, “I’m grateful for what I’ve learned through even this.”

Living in a life of gratitude and thankfulness for what we have been given by God – not taking for granted the life which we live – is what Christ models for us and lifts up in this story about the 10 lepers. This Samaritan, turns to Jesus and gives thanks for what God has done for him. Jesus’ response is that he has been made well. He has – according to the Greek – been saved. His faith has saved him.

It is all mixed and rolled up – faith, thankfulness, gratitude.

Yet, sometimes it’s still really difficult. I’m not advocating that one should always just be happy and move past all those other emotions. Sometimes we aren’t in the position quite yet – because of grief or loss or hurt – to give voice to the gratitude of our lives. Sometimes it is difficult to live into gratefulness when everything around us seems to be about accusations, excuses, degrading words and phrases, venting anger within our culture. Written in headlines, from the lips of the ones most hurt in society, tapped out on keys through Facebook, twitter, and Instagram.

Jesus isn’t commanding us to be thankful or to be grateful for what God has done. Nowhere does Jesus say, “You better gives thanks… or else.” Jesus doesn’t command us, but instead invites us into this life of thanks and gratitude. Jesus invites us to live our lives like the Samaritan who turns towards Jesus. If you’re not there yet? It’s OK. Jesus understands. God never stops inviting us into living in gratefulness. In the meantime? We are surrounded by this community of faith that will and can give thanks – through word, song, and prayer – while you are not able.

God invites us – continuously and always. Invites us into giving voice to gratefulness and thankfulness.

Giving voice to what God has done in and through Jesus for us.

Giving voice to that emotion that at times seems so distant.

Giving voice to that feeling that at times seems like it is most desperately needed in our world.

Choosing to live into the faith that God has invited us into. Amen.

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October 3, 2016, 7:58 AM

the one where we have faith in God's long game...

Sermon from October 2, 2016

Text: Habakkuk 1: 1-4, 2: 1-4

Grace and peace to you form 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 has been rougher than usual. At least in my personal life. I have a friend who is struggling with cancer and dealing with an insurance company that won’t approve the coverage of the treatment doctors believe he needs to survive and fight. Another friend valiantly lost her battle with cancer this week. She was a good one and someone I’ll remember greatly. Then there was the news this week of a shooting in South Carolina at an elementary school. More shootings, more protests, more looking into the mirror as a nation in where we hold those prejudices that prevent us from hearing and listening to those most deeply hurt and afflicted. I also was witness to the debate this past Monday and then witness to the hate, vitriol, and sniping back and forth not only between candidates, but between those who support them.

It’s been a rough week.

And then, I got to read Habakkuk. And let’s just say, my mood didn’t quite improve.

Habakkuk is a pretty short book from one of the ‘minor’ prophets in our early scriptures. He lived between the fall of the Jewish kingdom and the first exile of his people into Babylon. He was there to speak to the people as a mouthpiece of God as an army continued to march its way towards them. To drive them out of their land, and push them further and further away.

Habakkuk lamented.

We got to read this morning the first part of that lament. The rest of the lament isn’t much different. A cry out to God with the underlying question of “Why, O Lord?” Why does this happen – why is this happening? Do you not care? Are you not able or capable of seeing?

Habakkuk laments.

We lament too. I lament.

We join in with Habakkuk and we too cry out to God as we live through this life. This life where at times it seems in line with Habakkuk when he writes, “you have made people like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler.”

Habakkuk’s lament - our lament - ultimately rests in the question, “God do you not care?”

Death stands at our doors. Fighting and violence erupt. The people don’t listen to one another. Where is the care for those who are in need? Why do the good ones die so young?

Habakkuk laments.

We lament as well.

Then, the prophet seems to take a deep breath and states, “I will stand, I will keep watch. How will God respond to me?”

And God responds.

God responds in the way that at times I don’t think we expect.

When someone takes us to task, calling us out, accusing us of ‘not caring’ our first response isn’t to be ‘kind.’ We want to defend, we want to make excuses, we want to make people know that they are wrong about their accusations.

We want to fight back. At times, I think we expect to see and hear that from our God because that’s how we react.

Yet, as God responds to Habakkuk I don’t read malice. I don’t read indignation. I don’t read annoyance.

In God’s response, I feel empathy. I feel understanding. I hear a different story.

Write the vision. Make it plain on tablets so that a runner may read it. There is still a vision for the appointed time.

I read that, and I hear the abiding peace and comfort that only comes in faith of a God that plays the long game. That sense of mystery that I am a part of something much larger than myself, my family, my congregation, my community. That mystery that I don’t understand, I’m not given a peek or a cheat sheet for.

But, I rest in the knowledge that God does care. That God does notice. That God is here.

I rest in that comfort because of the knowledge and faith of what was to come – much longer after Habakkuk lamented and wrote this piece of scripture – what was to come in the incarnation. In the birth of Jesus. In the proclamation of the kingdom of God by our Lord, in the death and resurrection of our Christ.

And yet, there are times that even my resolve and steadfastness in that knowledge wavers, and yet I am blown away in other’s calm during struggles in their life.

My friend – James – is living in the unease of cancer and the dis-ease of an insurance company that has denied coverage for his treatment. He and his girlfriend are inspirations in how they have approached this point in his life. There is hope – deep hope – in their words. At times it seems like he is comforting us with each new tale of a roadblock or a hoop to maneuver. God’s got this.

My friend Tanya, who died this week from her long struggle with cancer, approached her impending death by saying she was ‘calm and at peace.’ She wrote another witty, beautiful, and heartfelt post on Facebook before her death in which she talked about how much she’s loved her life. How incredibly proud she was of her family, her friends, and the work she was able to do. After her death, her young daughter Sabin spoke about her mom, “My mom lived an epic life.” God’s got this.

Today in Habakkuk, we hear from our God that there is a vision for the appointed time. There is hope and comfort in that, but there is also a challenge in it as well for us.

We are not to sit and wait for that. Just watching the world burn around us. Not sitting in our comfortable places – simply on our couches in front of the TV – simply in our pews on Sunday morning – we are not called to simply sit this one out.

For God’s words to Habakkuk are the same to us – write it plainly for even runners to see.

Not just big. But, in ways to provide comfort. The runners that God speaks of this day aren’t doing it for their leisure or their health. They are fleeing – fleeing the Chaldeans who continue to march on. Spreading news of what is coming. In many ways, speaking of ‘the end’ in fear in the context of their lives.

We have that too. Many people are running through and running by. Not simply to ‘just run’ for the fun of it. Running out of fear of what they see behind them.

We as the church – as the community of the faithful – are called to write – to engage – to provide comfort – in the news of the Gospel. Not to be ‘congratulated,’ not to be ‘noticed’ by God. But, to spread that news – that deep abiding faith that brings wholeness, peace, and calm to a life in the midst of the tumbling river – by writing it in large letters so even those running can see, and know, and notice.

We as the church proclaim that good news that has already been given to the world. We as the church write it on tablets so that all might see and know. We as the church do not simply wait on the fringe, but we walk boldly with our words held high – God’s got this.

How we do that as the church depends on who we are engaging with, having a conversation with, developing relationships with – but, the message remains – God’s got this. God does care. God’s got the long game. God has called us to be a part of this too.

And when we live into that life? Wow, will it indeed be epic. Amen.

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September 29, 2016, 8:53 AM

October 2016 Newsletter

Grace and peace y’all! I hope your September was wonderful and the cooler weather that has moved in as we begin October allows us all to enjoy and be a part of God’s creation even more!

I debated on whether-or-not to write something like this, knowing full well that there will be those who don’t like it, there will be those who will understand, and there will be those who wonder what the fuss might be about. But, I’m going to do it. I’m going to talk about politics…

The mere mention of that word and this topic makes my hair stand on end. However, I wanted to approach this in a way that is a little different than what you might expect. Take note I’m not going to, nor would I ever, tell you to vote for one candidate or issue over another. I don’t do that. I won’t do that.

As we (quickly) approach Election Day on November 8th, I wanted to lift up a view that Martin Luther had involving the role of a Christian in politics. He advocated an idea that has traditionally been termed, ‘The two kingdoms.’ As Darrell H. Jodock says in his (excellent) article called Lutherans & Politics: The ‘two kingdoms’ and putting the news of others first in an issue of The Lutheran (now Living Lutheran) from October 2012. He states that the ‘two kingdoms’ moniker might be a little misleading. He advocates that we should instead translate Luther’s views as the “two governances of God” or the “two ways God influences the world.”

Luther’s idea is that God works in two ways in ordering our lives throughout the world. On one hand, God works through the gospel to overcome estrangement, suffering, and more to bring people into relationship with God. This of course is done through the living out of our faith as we have all promised to do when we were baptized and when we affirmed our baptisms (our new hymnals – Evangelical Lutheran Worship - makes these promises very clear on pages 228 and 236). 

On the other hand, God works through authorities and structures to create the kind of order that allows humans to flourish. These structures include the role of the government in all its aspects – elected officials, police, transportation, safety boards, and more. God has created both ‘kingdoms/governances’ for our well-being. They both come from God.

So, how then do we ‘vote’ as a Christian? First and foremost is that we vote.  Period. We include ourselves into the life of this kingdom/governance so that God can (and will) continue to work to enact justice, safety, and well-being to all those within a government’s jurisdiction. We get to be a part of that. This is a gift given to us by God. Please vote.

Voting one way or another does not make you more Christian, or more faithful, or more of a disciple than someone who votes differently from you. We are all the body of Christ and God continues to shower us with grace and mercy no matter which box we check, arrow we fill in, or button we push on Nov. 8th.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

In that same issue of The Lutheran (I have copies of the article in my office and I’d be more than happy to let you read it), there is a wonderful study guide as well. In it Pastor Robert Blezard of Trinity Lutheran Church in Arendstville, PA gives us nine exercises that one should use as she or he approaches Election Day. I’ll lift a few of those exercises up:

Let righteousness roll down – Amos 5: 1-24 is a poignant piece of scripture to read that shows us how humanity truly operates and opens us to God’s re-ordered priorities. How is Amos’ call for justice reflected in our lives and in those who we elect?
Thou shall not lie – The eighth commandment tells us not to lie, which during the political season seems to get thrown out by all political parties through a myriad of half-truths and untruths. How are we holding up this commandment as we speak on issues and candidates with our friends, family, and others?
Love your neighbor – We are called by Christ to love our neighbors. Our neighbors are people of different (or no) faiths, different races, different political parties, difference economic levels, and different lifestyles. How is our call to love our neighbor reflected in our lives and voting?
Tone it down – We don’t teach our children to call others names or use language that is hurtful toward others. We normally put a stop to that kind of behavior. Yet, for many in political debates this is par for the course. One can have political discussions without resulting to word fights.

So, on November 8th, vote. But, before you vote be in conversation with scripture, in prayer with God, and in study over issues and candidates. Be in dialogue with others as well. I’ve discovered in my own conversations that the political ‘divide’ between two people is never as great as others make it out to be. Those conversations are and can be fruitful, faith-filled, and relationship deepening. If they continue to be honest conversations and not word fights filled with the sort of rhetoric many of our political leaders practice.

We have been given a wonderful gift by God – that is to be an active part of this ‘kingdom’ that God has given us. So, go and be a part of it.

If you would like a copy of the article by Mr. Darrell H. Jodock or the study guide, stop by the office and I’ll be more than happy to give you a copy!


Love y’all. Mean it.

-     pm

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September 26, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one about indifference and the rich man...

Sermon from September 25, 2016

Text: Luke 16: 19-31

Grace and peace to y’all from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let 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, who here has ever heard this gospel story as a stewardship sermon? Just gives you warm fuzzies doesn’t it? You better use your wealth to care or you’ll be like the ol’ rich man – suffering in the ‘bad place’ not even able to quench your thirst with just the dip of a finger in water.

But, I’m not going to go that route this morning – don’t worry. Though, from our other texts leading up to this week, it is good to use what we have in abundance to help care for and share with those in need around us. Not because one might have more, but because God calls us to serve those around us.

I want to move a little bit in this story and focus on what it means for us to see or notice things around us. Did you know that whole industries and marketing strategies are designed so that we don’t have to look anywhere other than straight ahead. Go to any supermarket in town – Wal-Mart, Bi-Lo, or Food Lion and take a look at where the items you purchase tend to be placed.

If you buy more popular items, name brands, etc… where do you end up finding them? Right on eye-level. You don’t have to go looking down to find the most popular cereal, cheese, or even beer. It’s all right there at eye level for you. It might not even be the best or the cheapest item in comparison to the others, but it’s the one that has paid the most to make your life easier and take advantage of the fact that we can kind of be lazy and indifferent.

It’s done this way because we – as humanity – have a tendency to not look down. We march and look forward, sucked into our own little world as if we have blinders on and the marketers of the world have taken shrewd advantage of that. They put the brightest, flashiest, and at times the most popular items right in our eye level. They know most of us won’t look to find that particular item, so they make it so it’s just placed right in front of us.

And this whole marketing strategy reminds me of the rich man in this parable. Every day he passed by Lazarus who was at his gates. We aren’t given much information about how well they knew one another – though the rich man does know Lazarus’ name. However, it can be reasoned that the rich man – nor anyone else –bothered to look down and see him. Instead, they passed by with indifference throughout his life. Not even noticing to care that only the dogs would come to soothe his sores.

If anything, the point that Jesus is trying to drive home in this parable is not so much that his rich man didn’t use his abundance of stuff to help Lazarus (though, I’d wager that Jesus would say he probably should’ve), but instead that the rich man lived in indifference to Lazarus’ need.

The rich man didn’t see Lazarus. Sure, he may have noticed him just enough to know his name. But, he never saw Lazarus. He more than likely saw something ‘less’ than himself. Something not worthy to be noticed or interacted with. That seems harsh to interpret that after only a few verses, but look how the rich man acts after both men have died.

Even in the ‘bad place’ the rich man is still operating from a view of superiority. Still trying to get the person ‘less than him’ to go and do his bidding. Tell Lazarus to deep his finger in water and place it on my tongue. Send Lazarus to go and see my brothers so they won’t end up with me.

Now, there is a tendency to think that what Jesus is saying is that we better shape up so we don’t end up where the rich man is sent. I’m not so sure that’s what Jesus is getting at. Remember, parables are intentionally abrasive, exaggerated, and hyperbolic. I’m not so sure this parable is about how we ‘get’ our eternal reward like Lazarus and not like the rich man.

Instead, I think it focuses more on how we live our life now.

The rich man is indifferent to the world around him. Sucked into his own little bubble, not caring enough to even look outside it to see those in desperate need around him. So in-ward gazing to not even see the one in need at his front gate. Someone he may have had to literally step over in order to enter his home.

So, I ask you… who is Lazarus in your life? Is there someone – perhaps even a group of people – that you fail to notice? The one who cry out, yearning to be free from whatever it is that ails them. Notice them, see them, help them.

For you see, we as humanity do have a problem. We cease to ‘see’ things that are right in front of our eyes. We get sucked into our little worlds and we fail to see that which is all around us. The needs of others at times are so present – all the time – that it is as if it has just faded into the background. For the rich man, Lazarus became a part of the wall, a crack in the sidewalk, something so insignificant that it wasn’t worth paying attention to.

Have y’all done that before? I know I have. Yes, even your pastor.

I’m not sure I’ve shared this story before, but it is still worth repeating. When I was on internship in Alabama, I went to the Synod Assembly and arrived around lunch time. So, naturally I was hungry and went to the best and quickest place to eat that I knew – Jimmy John’s. That particular chain was directly in front of a downtown park. I got my sandwich and sat down facing the greenspace from within the restaurant. I noticed that there was a lot of activity in the park across the street and there were a lot of people. It took me a bit to realize that each of those people were homeless. Here I was eating my quick and easy lunch, just watching the people push grocery carts, carrying bags, and sitting in the hot sun. I was in a hurry and knew there really wasn’t much I could do. I may have said a prayer. I finished my meal and left to go back to the big convention hall to register for the Assembly.

I was there for three more days. I walked by that park every day as I had free time, as I went to meals, as I fetched coffee for the bishop, as I gathered with new friends to go out in the evenings for fun and fellowship. I never saw another homeless person.

They were still there. They were still in the park. They didn’t just magically disappear. I just failed to notice them. I continually looked past them. In my mind, they became as ‘insignificant’ as the trees and bushes in the park. Just there. No need to stop and notice.

I remember being hit with that realization when my internship supervisor asked how the assembly was a few weeks later. I was shocked. I was heartbroken. How could I do that? So easily too!

I mention that story not to say that I’m assured of going to the ‘bad place’ because I didn’t notice people in need one time. But, that day forever changed how I try to live my life. I know how easy it is to discount and look past and see over those around us. We do it a lot. All the time. It is when we recognize that we do it, and find ways, by the grace and call of God, to help and care for those in need that we move away from that life of indifference.

I’m going to share one final story – this is a good one.

As I read this text and thought of my own experiences I happen to see an article that came out in the last few weeks about someone that I now hold great respect for. I’ve never met him. He isn’t famous. But, he’s someone that I hope I can one day be like.

His name is Arnold Abbott. And he got arrested. Again. Second time in a week. In fact, he was so brazen after that first arrest he told those around him – including the ones arresting him – You’re going to have to do this again. You can’t stop me.

Twice he has been caught this past week breaking the law, and I fully expect that it’ll keep happening too.

His crime? Feeding the homeless of Fort Lauderdale. Mr. Abbott, the 90-year-old founder of his Love Thy Neighbor charity – which hands out hot and healthy meals to the homeless of Ft. Lauderdale was asked, “Why do you keep doing this?” His answer – the most gospel oriented answer I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing or reading –

“These are my people. And they deserve to be fed.”

Wow. That’s the gospel.

Throughout his entire ministry and his continued proclamation of the gospel through the guidance of the Spirit, Jesus has wanted us to see life like Mr. Abbott.

These are our people. We are in this together.


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September 12, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one that isn't a pastors favorite...

Sermon from September 18, 2016

Sermon text: Luke 16: 1-13

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ. Will y'all pray with me? Let 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!

If you ask any pastor about their favorite passages to preach on, you'll get a lot of different answers; perhaps the parable of the loving father, maybe the beginning of John’s gospel, or the Emmaus Road story (which is mine). But, one thing will be consistent throughout their answers - this Gospel reading won't appear among the list of favorites.

This is a tough and a weird gospel story for us this morning. We're used to Jesus giving gospel nuggets through means that seem well - good. Caring for one another, loving God and neighbor, extolling the love of all for everyone. Those are the nice and tidy messages that we like to read from Jesus. Then, along comes this parable. The first part of the parable seems easily digestible and the last part of the reading is more easily understood. But, there are two verses in here that make us scratch our heads and say, "Did he really say what I think he said?” Make friends for yourselves by dishonest wealth? What does that even mean? A person is commended for being 'shady' with someone else's money? What in the world is going on here?

This is one of those texts where I must be honest and say - y'all these words from Jesus are about as odd and difficult to understand for me as quantum physics – I just don’t really get it.

It reminds of what Bill Gates - former CEO of Microsoft would do with his programmers. He'd usually assign the laziest programmers with the toughest tasks. Seems pretty stupid, right? But, his thought was that those individuals were more likely to find the easiest way to complete that task. Pretty shrewd now huh - especially when it works.

So, we have this manager and steward of money who not only hasn’t been good at his job, but it is implied that he has stolen from his boss – a lot. Word gets to him that he’s been figured out and he is about to be let go. His first thought isn't to apologize or even rectify the situation. In fact, he sees the writing on the wall and knows that there is no way he can get out of this situation cleanly with his boss, so he decides to make the outcome for him the ‘best’ it could be. He's not able to do manual labor and he has too much pride to accept charity from others. And, when you think about it - he has the same conversation we've all had at the prospect of losing or ending a job. We know we're not able to do some things and there are other things where we'd rather just not work than 'work' in particular jobs. We all have those lists.

So, this soon-to-be former manager of money hatches a plan to double down on cheating and ‘forgive’ some of the debt of the ones who owe the most to his master. He brings them into his office and says - you owe 50% now and you chop 20% off the top. Now, he does this so that when he is let go he'll be seen in a much different way.

Instead of being looked at as the one who 'mismanages or steals money' he'll instead be the ‘guy who cut me a deal.’ He scratches the back of the ones who owe his master the most because the expectation is that they’ll owe him a favor – a big one. Don’t get me wrong, what this manager has done is wrong. He has cheated, lied, and has stolen from what is not actually his. But, he still protected his life.

Then the one this dishonest manager is stealing from commends him for his shrewdness. Bizarre, isn’t it? The dishonest manager has put him in a very tight spot. Sure, he fires his manager, but based on culture and societal rules he can’t ‘fix’ the mistake because he’ll be looked at as someone who doesn’t honor others. It’s weird and a culture vastly different from our own.

So, as we hear and read this story, Jesus says that we should make friends by means of dishonest wealth, and then we hear the last verses of Jesus speaking today and we're thrown for a loop. For Jesus says you cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve mammon (money/wealth) and God. You can only serve one.

Here is where I think a lot interpretations can get sidetracked. We see money and wealth as this bad thing (and it can be, believe me) and we think the ‘bad’ guy in the story is the owner and master. He’s wealthy. Don’t be like that guy.

I don’t think Jesus is speaking to that. Being wealthy, having abundance, and being more well off isn’t a bad thing. However, how we pursue that wealth and at what cost can be bad.

We read in Amos where the prophet is speaking to those in power – especially the ones who complain about not being able to ‘work’ because it is the holy season or the Sabbath. The ones that sell the scraps for profit. In an economical culture – making money wherever, whenever, and however you can is a strength and a plus, but it isn’t what God calls us into.

And that hits us right to the core - especially as relatively privileged Christians living in the American society. It hits us at our core because we want to be able to have the best of both worlds. We want to gain favor in the economy by making the 'most' for ourselves. Always building our portfolios stronger, doing what we can to 'get the most' for ourselves. That's what the world sets up for us. That's the honest way in which the economy around us works. We want to be able to do all that the economy says we can and we also want to live a life to God. Yet, the ideals of God are counter to the ideals of the economy.

Where the economy says - "Get the most for yourself." God declares, "Give to those in need."

Where the economy shouts - "Obtain the most, by any means necessary." God cries out, "Care for others."

Where the economy urges – “Work, work, work. It’ll be better for you later.” God whispers, “Rest in and because of me. It’ll do you good now.”

Jesus is telling us to be 'shrewd.’ Being shrewd by using the rules of money against itself. Where we buck thinking and trends to invite others to participate into the kingdom of God. That doesn't mean that Jesus is saying we all should go rob banks to hand out to the poor like Robin Hood. Again, Jesus isn’t saying that the squandering and cheating that this dishonest manager participates in is good. He isn’t. What this manager, the steward of someone else’s stuff does is bad. But, Jesus is saying that we should find ways to further the kingdom of God - through the systems in place so that all might participate in it in shrewd ways. Where we abstain from bowing down to the almighty dollar - the bottom line of our lives - and live in a way where all are cared for, supported, encouraged, and loved.

Jesus didn't come to sustain the rules and systems of the day. Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection was the epitome of 'rule breaking.' Jesus did come to shake things up, buck trends, and work through the systems in place to proclaim, spread, and point to the kingdom of God at hand. Jesus calls us to be shrewd - to be wise - to be cunning - in proclaiming the kingdom and 'changing the rules' in that proclamation.

Jesus makes a bold proclamation this morning for us - what would our life be like if we approached our faith with the skill, savvy, and shrewdness that we use in dealing with our ‘monopoly money’ of the world?

Where can we be shrewd in our lives - in our praise - in our days and nights - in our proclamation of the Kingdom of God?  Amen!

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