In pm's words
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September 12, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one about our searching God...


Sermon from September 11, 2016

Text: Luke 15: 1-10

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!

So, I know I’ve mentioned before that I don’t particularly agree at times with the titles that certain parts of our scriptures have been given; particularly when it comes to Jesus’ parables. This morning we again read two parables – that are incredibly well known – and yet, as much as they technically are titled correctly, their titles still don’t convey the fullness of what Jesus is proclaiming.

We have these two wonderful parables – the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. Both stories are incredibly well known, but again because of how they are titled it tends to limit how we read and interpret what Jesus is telling us.

In fact, if I had the authority and power I’d probably name these two parables something like, “The parables of the stuff God does that we the people would think was pretty stupid and foolish – and thank God for that.”

Have you ever tried to read these parables with fresh eyes before? Seriously.

In the first parable Jesus tells us about a shepherd with 100 sheep and one of them goes missing. He leaves the 99 in the wilderness and goes in search of that lost one. He finds the one and gathers his community together to celebrate what he has found.

In the second parable, a woman has ten coins and she loses one. Together, her 10 coins aren’t enough to pay for anything, but she still searches adamantly for that one lost coin. And when she does find it, she gathers her community together to celebrate what she has found.

Within these two parables Jesus says that ‘this’ is where heaven, the angels, and God find great joy. Essentially, these stories that Jesus tells us convey just what God is like.

To be frank and curt – God’s kind of dumb, right?

No one, NO ONE, does what Jesus says this shepherd did. You have 100 sheep, you’re out in the wilderness, and one wanders off. Well, I have 99 sheep now. Time to get the rest home before another one goes missing. And if you do go in search of that one lost sheep, you certainly don’t leave the other 99 out in the wilderness. You take precaution and make sure the vast majority are protected first.

Or, I know I had ten pennies around here, but I only can find nine right now. Oh, well it’s just a penny. It’s not worth the time and effort to go find it.

Folks, I’ve lost countless discs playing disc golf in my life. Way more than I care to admit and they are worth a little more than a few coins. But, I’ve got a rule – if I can’t find it in ten minutes, well at least I still got a bag full of other ones. I can always replace that lost one.

That is what amazes and humbles me most about these two stories. Jesus tells us what kind of God our God actually is.

God goes to lengths that none of us would go in our search for the lost.

When we lose something we ‘own’ it hurts and stinks, but we move on. We calculate what it would take in time and effort to find it against the ‘value’ of that item. More times than not, the value just isn’t worth it. So, we just let it go and move on.

Yet, our God – the God who has saved us in faith. The God who has claimed us in love. The God who has washed and cleansed us in baptism. The God who has given us new life in Jesus’ victory over sin and death. The God who guides us with the breath and wind of the Holy Spirit. That God – our God – relentlessly and feverishly searches us out as if we were the most prized and worthy jewel. Searches us out as if we were the only one that God cared for. God searches us out and brings us home.

Think about that for moment. Let it sink in.

You are valued so much by God – you are so worthy to God – that God drops everything to search, to find, and to bring you home.

Wow. God goes to more length than anyone ever would think to. God does that? Yep, that’s what God does.

So, if I think a little bit more on my new potential title for this group of parables, it would probably be – The Parable about our God who searches.

Because God does search, God searches us out tirelessly and relentlessly.

God searches us out when we are the ones who wander off.

We get caught up in a life counter to what we hear proclaimed by our Lord. We get caught up in a world of sin, drugs, and addiction. We get caught up in those things that turn us away from God. We get caught up in a life of apathy and indifference – towards the church, towards others, or towards life.

We get caught up in a life where we wander from idol to idol. Distracted by every shiny object and trinket the world produces to ‘make’ us better in the eyes of others.

We wander. We go off.

God searches, props us up on the shoulders of our Lord, and brings us home in celebration and joy.

God does that. God does that through the people that have been placed in our lives. The ones we know so well, and even the ones we meet in a glimpse of a moment. God continues to search for us even when we’ve given up on searching for God. Nothing – not one thing – is outside God’s realm, ability, and desire to search for you.

To tell you, to make known to you, how loved, worthy, and valued you are.

God does that. God is doing that.

Then there is the greater context of what happens in that second parable with the woman and the lost coin. If the woman is an allegory for God – does that mean God sometimes – sometimes – loses us? Perhaps – I don’t know. I’m still figuring that out as well.

But, that’s not the point of the parable. The point of what Jesus is telling the crowd and telling us is that God continues to search for us – relentlessly – even when others wouldn’t see the value in the time and effort. The woman loses a coin that could be considered by others to be ‘literally worthless.’ She tears up her house to find that one coin. Why? Because it is hers.

God searches tirelessly to find us. To celebrate us with the gathered community in heaven. Jesus is telling us that God literally thinks we are worth it.

The world might tell you that you aren’t. Maybe because of the job you have. You might not earn enough to be noticed. You come from ‘that’ part of town. You don’t have the looks, the personality, the clothes, the ‘whatever’ for others to think you’re worth anything.

Yet to God – you are.

You – we – are so worthy that God has come to us in Christ our Lord. God has come to be with us and has called us to live into that worth, to know that others too are worthy as well.

Worthy to be sought after, to be celebrated, to be loved fully and completely.

We are so worthy that God bathes us in the waters of baptism and feeds us at the table. We are washed, welcomed, fed, and sent to proclaim that to the world.

In the knowledge and faith of our worth before God – something that we don’t deserve, but that God grants to us – we remember that others are valued and worthy to God as well. We get to live a life knowing that we are worthy, that God searches, calls, and finds us. We get to live a life knowing that those around us are worthy as well.

We know that we are loved and cared for so that we don’t have to seek veiled comfort in those things that pull us away. We don’t have to find empty solace in what the world says will make us ‘better’ in the eyes and minds of those around us. We proclaim and worship a God who already has found value in us, and now we get to live a life living out that thankfulness for God and for others.

We proclaim this God who searches. Who searches – even and especially – because others have given up and think it’s silly and foolish.

God does that? That’s what God does. Amen.

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September 5, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one where we know what to do...


Sermon from September 4, 2016

Scripture Text: Philemon and Luke 14: 25-35

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.

So, as I looked at all these scripture texts this week, I was completely drawn to Paul’s letter to Philemon. First, apart from four verses, we read the entire ‘book’ of Philemon this morning. The final few verses we didn’t read center mostly on salutations and such to individual people (they don’t add too much to what Paul is trying to write). But, I was also drawn to this short ‘book’ because in many ways Paul isn’t just writing to Philemon. In many ways, it feels like Paul is writing to us – to me – to you.

How many of us have been ‘put’ in our place before? Specifically, in the way where we knew what to do, we didn’t want to do it, but we also knew we had the power to enact the thing that we didn’t want. Kind of a tongue twister right?

Paul sends his new friend and fellow brother in Christ – Onesimus – back to his ‘master’ Philemon. With him, he writes a letter to Philemon and lays it on THICK about what Phil should do. He sent Onesimus to Paul as a ‘slave.’ Paul is appealing to him in love – to welcome him back as a brother. Shed the titles, the pomp, the societal roles – welcome Onesimus as an equal.

Throughout this letter, Paul is saying, “I know you probably don’t want to do this. It’ll make you look weak and soft. I know those in high standing around you won’t understand – they may even mock you or treat you unfairly. I know you’ll ‘lose’ something out of this request and appeal. I know this. You know this. But, you know what should be done, right? Don’t you…”

Paul appeals out of love to Philemon to welcome Onesimus as an equal. Something unheard of during his time and dare I say during the vast majority of our history. Granting freedom to one who is your ‘slave’ was dangerous. Perhaps they wouldn’t stay. Maybe they’d tell others, and then more would be asking for their freedom. The less ‘help’ you have, the more ‘work’ you are responsible for on your own. If he stays and continues to work, now you’ll have to compensate him for what he does give to you.

There are a whole host of reasons that it makes sense for a ‘slave owner’ not to grant freedom.

In spite of that – you know what you should do right?

There are a whole host of reasons that financially, within our families, and within social circles, it would be wrong to grant someone ‘life’ that otherwise wouldn’t have it. To welcome someone into our lives as an equal – as a family.

In spite of that – you know what you should do right?

There are a whole host of reasons why we shouldn’t stand up – or in some cases sit down – to bring attention to important issues within our world and lives. What will people say? What will you lose? What good will it do?

In spite of that – you know what you should do right?

There are so many reasons why we shouldn’t do something that goes against what the world thinks, proclaims, and has set up.

But, I feel like I’m invoking Paul when I say, “But, you know what the right thing to do is – right?”

I wonder at times what we know we are getting ourselves into when we profess our faith in Christ. Sure, we are gifted with this wonderful blessing of new life, the knowledge, and faith that we are loved, honored, cherished, and accepted. That all of what we have done, are doing, and will do will be forgiven. We are incredibly blessed by God and as Lutherans, we understand that blessing as a free gift given to us in our faith in Christ our Lord.

We’re unworthy to receive it, we haven’t merited it in any way. We are given this gift.

Out of thankfulness, we get to live a life for others and not ourselves. For God and not ourselves. Looking out instead of looking inwards.

But, that’s where we tap the brakes a bit. When we begin to understand exactly what we are giving up.

We read Paul’s words, which is another way of stating what we read from Jesus this morning.

Living into this life of faith – this free gift that God has given us – is not easy. It means denying that which comes easily to us. It means going against the grain of the world.

A world that says – profits over all. No matter what.

A world that says – the football season is starting – nothing is more important.

A world that says – sure you can speak your truth, stand for your cause – but, only do it in a way that the majority thinks is appropriate.

A world that says – convenience rules over everything. Everything must bend to your schedule, your demands, your life.

A world that says – if you’re not from here, you don’t belong to us, you don’t belong here, and one way or another – you’re going to leave.

Jesus is calling us to deny that way of life. That way of life that seems so tantalizing and good. That life that is safe and comfortable. That life that feeds our ego and strokes our pride.

Jesus calls us to take up the cross and follow him.

In many ways, we hear this and think of the ‘cost’ of discipleship. In fact, one of the great Lutheran theologians – Dietrich Bonhoeffer – wrote a book with exactly that title. And it is a GREAT read. I highly recommend it. A book that centers on discipleship and what it actually means for us who profess faith in Christ our Lord.

But, whenever we think of the ‘cost’ of something, we think of the bad stuff. What we have to let go of in order to ‘do this.’ What we ‘sacrifice’ in order to achieve something.

The cost of taking up the cross is that you ‘don’t get’ to do some of this other stuff that you like.

Some have made that point to be dancing, associating with certain people, enjoying things, being accepting of who we are.

I don’t dance well, and I don’t often dance (believe me, Erin’s tried), but it doesn’t mean I don’t think dancing can’t be fun. Sometimes – lots of times – dancing is good.

But, what if we look at this as – both in what Jesus says and in what Paul is asking – not so much as the cost of discipleship, but the choice of discipleship. The choice of carrying the cross.

Choosing life instead of death.

Knowing that that choice is probably more for others than it is for you.

What if we looked at this in such a way where we say, “I’m choosing discipleship.” The ‘burden’ of carrying that cross just might mean life for someone else.

Choosing to follow into the life of faith in which we are called just might mean others are cared for and loved – loved by and through you and others. It just might mean you are cared for and loved by and through others. In choosing to follow Christ, by carrying that cross, acknowledging the sacrifice from the world it requires – we choose life and not death.

We choose invitation and not deportation.

We choose to listen instead of shouting over.

We choose to go against the grain and welcome the one who others say is ‘beneath’ me as an equal.

We choose the formation of our faith life, the deepening of what God has called us into by and through the Holy Spirit over the loud beckoning call of the football game.

We choose to be here, to be with one another, knowing that it could’ve meant a few extra hours of sleep, perhaps an earlier start to preparing for something else.

We choose to proclaim to those around us – you are loved. I love you. God loves you. No matter who they are, no matter what others say.

We choose to proclaim this with the help of others. We choose community – a community that is diverse and invites all to be a part of it.

We hear this message; we see what it means to carry the cross, and when the rubber meets the road, we hear Paul in the back of our mind.

“I know you might not want to do this because it won’t be easy, but you know what you’re called to do, right?”

Amen.

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September 1, 2016, 8:00 AM

September 2016 Newsletter


Grace and peace to y’all during this month of September!

I just wanted y’all to know something this month. I love y’all. I really do.

Sometimes I don’t think we hear that enough. At least not from one another, and when we do hear it – especially from places we don’t expect – we kind of shake it off and say, “That was weird…”

We probably don’t say it enough either. Blame it on the English language and its vague and multi-faceted definition and interpretation of that little four letter word.

But, I love y’all. I love the ministry we get to do here in Newberry in service for those in need and in celebration and thankfulness of what God has done and continues to do in our lives. I love all of it.

September begins that time that the ‘program’ year in the life of the church starts to ramp up. There are more opportunities to participate in ministry through our faith formation ministries, our community compassion ministries, our congregational care ministries and more.

God is at work here and we can and we get to be a part of it all.

As we approach those ministries, remember that you are loved. Loved by one another and loved by our God.

As we move through this life of faith, let’s try to tell one another – the ones we know really well and the people who we don’t at all –, “I love you.”

Spread God’s love for the world and all of creation through your words, your actions, your thoughts, your life of faith.

Imagine what that world would look like?

Bless y’all!

Love you. Mean it.

Amen!




August 22, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one where we can bend the rules...


Sermon from August 21, 2016

Sermon Text: Luke 13: 10-17

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, this past week I attended my usual sermon study group with friends and colleagues. We were thankful that the texts this week aren’t nearly as ‘uncomfortable’ as last week’s were. Yet, in our discussion we were struck with the amount of joy that the Lord calls for that we at times – as children of God – seem to lose sight of because we get in the way.

Have y’all experienced that before? To be witness to what seems to be utter joy and revelation? To literally see God at work in some way either here within your community of faith or outside that group? Where something wonderful and good happened; someone was lifted up, someone was given honor, someone was healed in a multitude of ways. Yet, in the midst of that time of celebration there was that one person – that one man or woman – who would say, “Well, you know…. That’s not how we really should do that…”

I remember a time where I hoped to bring all ages into the life of ministry and worship. Every community of faith that I’ve been a part of has wanted to be more inclusive of those who are still learning and growing. Finally, at one point I and others were given the opportunity to put that into realized practice.

Young children wanted to help with worship. We talked about the importance, honor, and thankfulness in which we approach these wonderful roles within worship – lighting candles, helping with communion, reading scripture, praying aloud, and more. These kids got it – they wanted to be a part of that. They wanted to be able to share and show those around them how thankful they were to be part of a community of faith and family of God to participate in the life of worship. To worship in unbridled joy and thankfulness.

They got it.

Those days of worship came. Young kids helping light the altar candles. Children reading scripture to the congregation. Younger members participating and helping in the holy sacraments of communion and baptism. It was awesome to see God alive and at work in these young members.

Then to see them be able to tell their friends – not in a prideful way, but in compassion and joy – I get to help out in worship! I get to help pastor and the other adults. I’m a part of this too! I really am!

But, then there’s always that one, the one who says, “Well… they aren’t old enough. They could burn the place down. You’ve seen how that kid usually acts right? We’ve never done it that way before….”

In our gospel this morning, we hear a wonderful story of Jesus healing someone that people literally would’ve looked over. On that day he looked out among the crowd and then looked slightly down to see a woman afflicted with a bent spine. Seeing her affliction, feeling compassion and telling her to stand up, he laid hands upon her and she was able to stand straight for the first time in 18 long years. There was much rejoicing. I like to think that she burst out in praise much in the same way in the words we heard in our psalm. Full of thankfulness and joy in praise for what God had done.

And yet, there was that one guy – the one who said – That’s not right! This is the Sabbath! We don’t do work on this day! This is wrong!

We all know that person. We’ve experienced that one in the life of the church. We’ve experienced that one in our families. We’ve experienced that one in the many parts of the community that we belong to and love.

Perhaps we’ve even been that person. The one who looks at the goodness of what has happened and has to throw a wet blanket on it all. Like the starks of Winterfell reminding us always that, “Winter is coming…” in the midst of the joys of summer.

What I think we take from this – especially after Jesus spoke last week about division – is that in the work that he does, the word that he proclaims, the life that he gifts to those who are looked over is that it is going to ruffle feathers. Rules are going to be bent. The light of the gospel and the Word will be cast upon those to see where our own double-standards lie.

In all of that – Jesus errs on the side of grace, welcome, and healing. That Jesus – our Lord – looks out upon creation and sees those in need, helps and heals in spite of the rules that say one ‘shouldn’t do this or that.’ That ‘work’ shouldn’t be done because of the day we happen to be on, “come back tomorrow and I’ll help you then.

Is not honoring the Sabbath being able to live out what is proclaimed by God? There is ‘work’ that we do each day whether we realize it or not. Honoring the Sabbath and keeping it holy doesn’t mean to sit alone in a room, away from those around us, and doing nothing lest we accidentally do something on this day that could be construed as ‘work.’

And we can chuckle a bit about that, but we who identify as Lutherans aren’t immune to it at all. We proudly proclaim that there is nothing we can do in order to receive God’s love. No amount of work, good dead, kind thought, or anything else will bring us closer to God. We continually fall short; sin continues to get in the way because we aren’t perfect. Yet, the wonder and beauty and freedom of our faith is that we proclaim God who is already with us. We can’t do anything to get to God because God is already here. We know that no good work brings us closer to God, so we don’t have to do good works!

However, in the thankfulness of what God has done – coming close to us, freeing us from the bondage of sin, gifting us salvation in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of our Lord – we get to do wonderful things in service to those in need. We get to praise God and serve in compassion. It is our response to what already has taken place. We get to do good works, not in order to receive salvation, but we do them because we already have.

Yet, there’s always that one Lutheran – and I’ve met a few in my life – who stubbornly hold to that manifesto of ‘no works.’

Yet, they and the leader of the synagogue from our Gospel this morning both lose sight over God’s work.

Jesus heals and calls us into the work that serves those in need – not as a mandate, but as an act of thankfulness and graciousness to what God has already done.

In our reading from Isaiah we hear what sounds like a bunch of if-then statements. The ‘if’ being – do all these things – which are all GOOD THINGS – and our thought is that the ‘then’ response is ‘I’ll be with you as your God and you will be with me as my people.’ Yet, what we forget is that during this specific period in which this part of Isaiah was written – the exile was over. The Israelites had already been brought back into their land, they are already close to God.

God has called them – God as called us. To be close, to be in service to those in need, to live out in thankfulness for what God has already done.

We have been redeemed. We have been brought back from exile. We have been saved. God’s love is already with you. Yes, even you – in spite of what you’ve done or thought. God is with you.

In that knowledge – knowing that you are a child of God – we are called to live out that faith and this new life in thankfulness and praise.

Knowing full well that in living in that life we may ruffle feathers. Why? Because we’re called to help those in need and we are called into that service in ways that people wouldn’t expect, desire, or contrast with what the world and society proclaims. Like Jesus we see the one who stand up straight and we see the ones who are bent over. We see the ones who are in need and we go to them. We proclaim. We serve. We help. We praise in joy and thanksgiving in all kinds of healing.

Healing in our life. Healing in the life of others around us.

See those around you. Help the ones who others look over. Live in thankfulness for what God has already done in you and for you.

Amen.

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August 15, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one about division...


Sermon from August 14, 2016

Sermon Text: Luke 12: 49-56

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our 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!

You know what – whenever I read a text like this and end it with ‘the gospel of the Lord’ I feel like I do it hesitantly. When we think of Gospel and good news, we like to think about things that make us feel good, that empower us, that point to hope, grace, and love. Yet, then there are times when Jesus speaks – and we read those words in worship – that don’t seem to have any of those aspects.

We read and hear these words from our Lord this morning that make us feel uncomfortable – they unnerve us. It is tempting to just move along and not worry about what Jesus says here, we’ll just go look at something a little more gentle and nice.

But, I don’t want to do that this morning, that’s not fair to y’all, it’s not fair to our Lord – to only pick and choose what we want to hear without diving into those texts and words that make us squirm.

Fire, stress, division. Jesus mentions all of this and points out that he hasn’t come to bring ‘peace.’

Maybe there were those that interpreted this in a way that Jesus was inciting violence against those around him – to be against those who disagreed with him. Hearing these words from Jesus and feeling that they are given full reign to go set fire to crosses in people’s yards, to destroy those places they disagree with, to murder those walking out of their place of worship simply because their faith is different than those. Jesus has come to bring division and not peace right?

I’m sure there are those that read these words of Jesus and feel justified in their actions, but I beg to differ solely based on Jesus’ actions and thoughts throughout the rest of the gospels. Jesus’ character and person doesn’t match up with that interpretation. So, I don’t think Jesus is calling those around him to rise up and cause division and not to seek peace. The division that Jesus sees is the result of the Word that he proclaims – a word that is counter to hate and fear and violence.

There is something about speaking and proclaiming a word and life that is different from the rest that causes people to squirm. That causes them to be uncomfortable. That causes some to rise up against this new word. When people rub against the status quo of the world; especially a word that challenges those in power, that lifts others up, that calls for radical hospitality, that gives life and dignity to those that many have turned their nose up at – it’s going to upset people. There’s going to be division.

There will be those who lift up words and life that is counter to what God proclaims. To what God proclaims through the prophets, counter to what God proclaims in and through Jesus our Lord. And in spite of that adversity God calls us to speak the word faithfully – to speak God’s word faithfully and fully.

Speaking that word creates division in the world. The word of God speaks out against those who take advantage of those less than them. The word of God speaks out against those who lord themselves over others because of their status, their place of birth, their skin color, their accent, their way of life, and anything else that others deem ‘superior’ in some form or another. The word of God speaks out against those who care only for themselves and walk by those in need around them every day.

Jesus this morning speaks of fire that he already wished was kindled. When we think of fire, we tend to think of that which hurts, devours, and destroys. We think of the raging fires in California that wreak havoc on forests and destroy the homes and lives of those nearby. We think of the loss experienced by those who have had their world upended and changed forever because of a fire in their home. We think of those who seek to destroy, harm, and put down others by setting fire to objects in their yards, by burning down institutions that they don’t agree with, and more.

Yet, there is also that fire that we tend to overlook. The fire – kindled under a pot that warms and cooks food. The fire that a glassblower uses to help shape and form beautiful works. The fire of a kiln that helps make firm that which has been worked on and molded. The fire that a farmer uses to help bring new life and growth to select areas of their field and harvest.

That fire of the Holy Spirit that continues to re-form, re-shape, and re-orient ourselves to God’s vision of the kingdom on earth.

That fire that burns within our hearts when we know the Lord is close at hand and in our lives.

That fire that brings something new, not the fire that destroys wildly around us.

And, it doesn’t mean that fire doesn’t hurt. If glass could talk; I don’t think it would be very happy about enduring that heat and those flames. Yet, through that trial something beautiful is created. So too does the fire that God brings about on us create something new and beautiful. New life, new ways, new hope. A world that is counter to what is already here. That is counter to those in power. That lifts up the lowly and humbles the proud.

That causes division. It doesn’t bring ‘peace.’

I wonder as Jesus talks about peace this day if he was speaking out against those that wished he’d only wave his hand and make ‘everything better.’ The fairy godmother that says, ‘bippity boppity boo’ and makes the world perfect. The one that uses a little hocus pocus to make everything neat and tidy.

There are times that I think we hope and wish God worked that way. To magically wave a hand and make everything right. To answer yes to all our prayers. To make life immediately better. Yet, God doesn’t seem to work that way and God has never seemed to work that way. As Jeremiah writes, God takes the long view – the one who views with perspective. God is able to look out among the forest and not be blinded by the trees.

Whenever I think of how we want God to work in our world – by answering ‘yes’ to all that we ask, I can’t help, but think of one of my favorite surprisingly theologically deep movies – Bruce Almighty. Bruce after having been given the powers of God attempts to make everyone happy by answering ‘yes’ to all the prayers that he receives. Most of those prayers are in regards to a lottery that is taking place in Buffalo, NY. He answers yes to everyone who prays to ‘win’ the big lotto. And they all do. And they all split those winnings. They all receive $17.00. He brought division, not peace.

So, what are we to do? How do we find the good news in Jesus’ words this morning and in the rest of our scripture texts?

Much like how the Lord our God speaks in Jeremiah, I believe we have to take the wide view this morning. Taking into account the words that Jesus speaks, but doing so in the context of his ministry and life. The one who reaches out to those on the outside, the one who heals the sick and raises the dead, the one who speaks out against the corruption of power and the exploitation of those beneath the powerful. The one who calls us to live in love and grace, even as the loud beating drum and trumpet of the world sows violence, hate, and fear.

Having faith that the Word of God rises higher than the weeds of ‘dreams.’ That we continually speak those faithful words and live into the gospel that our Christ proclaims. Knowing full well that it can and possibly will cause division, yet we continue to speak that word of love, continue to pray for those who live in fear, continue to act in peace and love to bring about change in this world that God has created for us. Every. Last. One. Of us. Amen.

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August 8, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one about faith...


Sermon from August 7, 2016

Sermon Text: Luke 12: 32-40

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!

As we read through all of our scriptural texts today, there is one underlying and common theme. As the famous 1980s singer George Michael and later the band Limp Bizkit (which made it famous for my generation) put it – You’ve gotta have faith.

Who here thinks faith is easy? Or if it comes ‘naturally’ to those who are of God? If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that faith is not an easy endeavor. Whether it is having faith that you’re going to pass that coming test, or that your boss will notice you for that upcoming promotion, or even your favorite team will finally win the big one – in your lifetime. All of those take ‘faith.’ As a fan of the Texas Rangers I know how deep and sometimes how ‘foolish’ faith can appear.

As we read through all our texts this morning, we see that Abram, the initial audience of Hebrews, and those gathered around Jesus were called to faith in much deeper ways than a sports outcome. They were rocked with hardship and yet still lifted up in hope and assurance that what God promises will come.

Take the Genesis account from our first reading, Abram (who later will be called Abraham) is pretty bold here. He, in a way, has the audacity to ‘take on’ God. God has promised to reward him for his, yet Abram snaps back, “Really? Will this reward be something other than children because I’m old – not getting younger mind you – and I have no little ones to call my own.” Think about that for a moment. God has said – to Abram’s face – that he will be rewarded. He is a chosen one of God, and those who God has made promises – covenants – with are never left alone. God always comes through. 

Yet, Abram knows he’s getting older and so is his wife. They know the reality. And they struggle with coming to terms with type of faith that God has asked of them.

We too can find it hard to ‘live into’ the faith in which we’re called. Faith that God is present here in this place.  Faith that God listens, cares, and protects us. Faith that Christ has died for us. Faith that God might use each of us for service in the world. Yet, with each of those times that we are called to ‘have faith’ the specter of ‘doubt’ seems to always crash the party.

And even when we feel we have deep faith, so much of our world attempts to curb and stomp it and snuff it out. The continued violence against one another, the incredible hostility between people in our country drawn over racial, political, & theological lines, the systems in which we live that continue to perpetuate divisiveness in our country and world. So much seems to be speaking against and laughing at our faith.

It may be a laugh like Sarah when she’ll soon be told that she will bear a son. It may be anger directed at God because things have not gone smoothly. It may be the pestering question of ‘really?’ like Abram here that seeps into our minds, takes up residence in our hearts, and doesn’t seem to get the notice that we don’t want it there.

Imagine, if you will, as Abram responds to God in this audacious sigh of “Really? REALLY?” and God pulls him aside and points to the sky saying, Abram, my son. You will have heirs and they will come from you and will be as numerous as the stars.

Now, picture the night sky that Abram probably could see. A sky so full that we don’t get to see because of the intrusion of the world around us. Electricity – lights from the city and our homes. The noise that distracts our attention as cars drive by and sirens wail out in the distance. Even here in Newberry, we can see more stars than those in Spartanburg or Columbia, but I can guarantee you it is nothing compared to what Abram was able to see on that night. Imagine the immense security that each time Abram stepped outside into the night he could literally see God’s promise before him. It may not have been on his time frame, but God did come through with that promise of heirs and descendants.

So, this got me thinking – how many stars are actually out there. On a clear night, removed from the worldly lights around us – with perfect vision, you’d be able to see about 9,000 stars (in both the northern and southern hemispheres together). Get a pair of binoculars? That number jumps up to about 200,000. A small telescope? 15 million. A large observatory? Billions.

But, let’s dive even further. Astronomers are guessing that there are probably about 400 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy alone. In the observable universe there are potentially 170 billion galaxies. Each one they assume could potentially be home to the same number of stars that our galaxy holds. Of course, some could be much larger or even perhaps smaller too. But, if we multiply the number of stars in our galaxy to the number of galaxies potentially in the universe you get around 1024 stars. That’s a 1 followed by twenty-four zeros. A septillion. Of course, that is only what we can see; the universe could be much larger than that.

That’s a lot of descendants. A lot.

Which leads me to our Gospel reading. Here Jesus is bringing assurance to those gathered around him, who he affectionately or possibly pointedly, calls ‘little flock.’ Though, he might literally be talking to a small group since not many then (and not many now) follow Jesus’ call of selling everything – giving to those in need, and following Jesus with faith.

Fear not. Have faith.

Those are tough things to follow and to live into. What Jesus asks of us, what God calls for us, what the Spirit guides us to do is not easy.

In this talk, Jesus tells of another short story where he recounts the servants who stay up late waiting for the master to come home from the wedding feast. Now, I am almost certain that those gathered around Jesus who heard him say things like, ‘be ready!’ or ‘dress to go!’ and even ‘stay awake!’ were not thinking that it would be for positive things. This is a sort of apocalyptic foretelling of the future.

A time where Jesus calls his followers to continually be watchful of things to come and to live a life that is ready ‘to go’ when that time comes. But, even as I read those words and imagine Jesus saying that to me and to us today, I cannot help but look back to the first verse in our Gospel reading – ‘fear not.’

Fear not. Have faith. It might not be the doom and gloom others have made it out to be.

For you see, when the master returns the roles have been reversed. The master comes home, not to be served by those around him, but he comes home to be in service. Where those who have ‘stayed up’ and ‘kept watch’ are now being served by the one who has returned from the feast.

Fear not. Have faith.

We are a people of faith. A people who, through Jesus the Christ, have been grafted into the tree of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  We are a people – through faith in what God has done in Christ Jesus – that has faith that the promises of old extend and surround us. Extend to us in love, grace, mercy, and acceptance. 

We are a people washed and welcomed into this community of love. A community of believers who can look to the stars – in all our myriad ways – and see the promise of God before our very eyes. We are a people who place trust and faith in God and not in the world and individuals around us. Where we place our ‘treasure’ securely in God’s favor and grace. For we remember that where our treasure is; our heart will be also.

It isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but it is what God calls for us to do. When we have that lingering doubt (and all of us experiences those moments of doubt throughout our lives), we can look to the night sky and see the promise God made to Abram and know that it is for us as well. That we too are a part of that.

That God created all of that wonder and awe; so too did God create me – and you – and even that interminable grouch down the street. We all are created in love and grace, saved through God’s work in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. All of us.

And though those promises of God and those covenants may not occur within a timeline or timeframe that we at times would want to better serve our needs; we remember that God does come. Has come. Will come. The Son of Man returns from the wedding feast. He returns in joy to be in service with and for those around him.

Don’t fear. Have faith. God’s got this. Amen.

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August 1, 2016, 9:00 AM

August Newsletter


Grace and peace y’all!

It’s August and it is HOT out there. Wow. I’ve been (jokingly) told I’m not allowed to complain about the heat since I moved back here, but seriously: It. Is. Hot.

What I wanted to share a little bit on this month – in spite of the heat and weather – is how wonderful God’s creation truly is. Yes, it is very warm out there, but seriously. How amazing is this all around us?

This past month or so, I have been witness to some incredibly beautiful aspects of the world we live in. Green grass, the lazy sound of the creek behind my house, the ripening of the figs in our yard, the numerous types of animals that walk and live among us – including the small family of beavers that I saw on an evening walk, the refreshing rains that both cool us down while also sustaining and bringing new life to the world.

Recently my appreciation and love of God’s creation and my love and infatuation with technology collided with the release of a small game called Pokémon Go. Now, many of you have probably heard about this game (it is the biggest release of an app in history so far). Sure, by the time that you read this there is a good chance that its popularity may have peaked, but it showed me something that is greatly missed in our world today.

In our makeup as children of God we are inclined to be out in the world and to be with one another. Of the few stories about Pokémon Go that made people roll their eyes (trespassing on property, walking off cliffs, etc...) there were countless more of the joy in meeting new people, sharing in a common love, and just being out among God’s creation. Plus, the added benefit of becoming more active and a little healthier.

Your kids or grandchildren may have a love for this game that you don’t understand – searching and finding digital pocket monsters may seem like the silliest idea in the world – but, it is an opportunity to share in their love and hobby and also to share in God’s creation.

So, all in all – we live in an incredibly beautiful world – even when it is hotter than Hades out there. It’s something that I think we need to be continually reminded of in our world today. So, go out there, bring along some water, and then give thanks to God for what we have been gifted and what we have been given to care for!




July 24, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one where Jesus teaches us to pray...


Sermon from July 24, 2016

Sermon Text: Luke 11: 1-13

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!

So, today seems like a time as good as any to talk about prayer. The disciples, after witnessing Jesus finishing up his time of prayer ask him the question that seems to be one of the oldest not only in our faith tradition – but, in all faiths. “Lord, how do we pray? Teach us…”

As someone who is called to lead a wonderful group of folks in the life of faith it is a question that I receive quite often as well. From our youngest members to some that have been here much longer. Everyone seems to want to know how ‘best’ to pray.

Living in our world today, you can get a little miffed and put out of place because of prayer – or at least in witnessing and hearing someone else pray. We live in a time and place where people put a lot of emphasis on the words we say – a lot of that kind of emphasis has been shown this past week at the Republican National Convention and will again be shown this coming week at the Democratic National Convention.

We put a lot of emphasis in the words we say or that we hope we are conveying to others. But, I think there is something else that goes on as we listen to others, especially as we listen to others pray. We hear at times some absolutely beautiful words of prayer. Where someone is able to close their eyes and speak from their heart in ways that you feel couldn’t be possible. Sometimes we hear prayers that make us scratch our heads, that use words and phrases that jar us and send us into places in our minds that the one praying never intended.

I remember when I was in seminary and was completing my chaplaincy at Palmetto Baptist in Columbia. I teamed with my friend as we shadowed one another as we visited patients that day. One of our first stops was in ICU where I prayed with a woman who had kidney failure. I don’t remember exactly what I said in that prayer, but I do remember one specific part – because my friend continues to bring it up. During the course of the prayer I prayed that this woman would be happy and full of life once more (something she hoped for in our conversation earlier), but in that petition I also prayed that her kidney might be happy and full of life as well.

As I said that I heard my friend stifle a chuckle. We said our goodbyes and we left. As we got down the hall, my friend burst into hysterical laughter. Feeling kind of hurt, I asked, “Dude, why are you laughing?” His response? “Man, when you prayed for her kidney to be ‘happy’ I couldn’t help, but picture her kidney with a tiny top hat and cane. Dancing all over the place. It was funny!”

And he’s right – it kind of was. But, for a while I was really, really self-conscious about how I prayed. I stuck more to an internal prayer roadmap than venture off again into the wilds of the unknown.

But, that got me thinking about prayer. We put so much emphasis on what it should look like and how we should go about it. We put so much emphasis on how others pray and how others hear us pray that it at times can keep us from actually praying.

I can’t pray like her – so why even bother? His prayers are so eloquent and specific; I feel that all I can offer is – thanks God. Help us God. – no one will ‘appreciate’ or ‘enjoy’ my prayer.

Have y’all felt that way before?

I imagine that is a bit how the disciples felt this day as they were witnessing Jesus pray. At that point – when you’re in the presence of God’s son and witnessing him doing something like you – you want to know how they go about it in hopes that you’ll learn something. I imagine that when they asked Jesus how they should pray, they were preparing themselves for a deep and long list of things that you should do.

Yet, the response that Jesus gives is rather different isn’t it? His instructions for prayer are quite simple. Jesus’ instructions on prayer are pretty straightforward. Praying in a way that keeps God’s name holy and to live in the kingdom of heaven on earth. The prayer he gives us covers what we need to live, how we should live in relationship with others, and that God will be with us in safety during rough times. All in all – this is a pretty simple prayer.

Dear God – watch over me and all of the world. Give us all what we need to live. Help us – help me – to be better towards others because you are so good to all of us. Amen.

When we take a step back and look at what Jesus is teaching his disciples and us during this moment we can see that it isn’t that difficult. There’s no lofty language, no incredible embellishment, it is not filled with words and phrases.

It is a simple, honest, and faithful prayer. Something, that we can all do.

Martin Luther once said something about prayer that I have held on to and have used to emphasize that prayer should be simple, faithful, and honest. Luther once said, ‘The fewer the words, the better the prayer.’

I think Jesus could agree with that. I know that I do agree with that quite a bit.

The ‘fewer’ the words doesn’t just mean saying, “Rub a dub Lord, thanks for the grub.” Or some other short and sweet prayer. But, I think it means recognizing what we are really praying for. We pray for what we need to live (and usually what we need to live isn’t the same as what we think we need to live). We pray for our relationships with others (perhaps noting that we are praying for how we treat and view others more so than how we see others treating and viewing others). We pray that God would be present in our life. We also pray in thanks for God’s blessed and holy name, as well as God’s presence in the world (which usually gets skipped over quite a bit right?).

So, one of the things that keeps us from praying is not being able to ‘live up’ to the prayers that we hear and see from others. We have a hard time praying simply because we think others ‘pray so well.’ We have a hard time seeing each of us as worthy and sufficient of prayer when we have a world telling us that if you’re not the ‘greatest’ or the ‘best’ than what’s the point and you’re just a ‘loser.’

But, there’s another thing that makes us hesitant at times to live into a life of prayer because it’s based on trust. We pray – simple, faithful, honest prayers – and they seem to go unanswered.

I prayed for a woman’s kidney to be happy – but, it still failed and she died.

I pray for world peace and reconciliation – yet, it seems more and more are at one another’s throats, spewing hate and malice, and participating in unbelievable acts of violence.

I pray for God’s presence – but, it seems like God is so very far from me. Look what’s happening to my life?

When our prayers go unanswered, or at least unanswered in the ways that we hope; what are we to do? Why should we even do it if it’s not going to even help us?

I read something this week from one of my favorite theologians – David Lose. He mentioned something in a way that I think I’ve always felt, but really never had the right words to convey it.

When thinking about prayer we kind of view it as if were sending a lone message in a bottle out to sea. Hoping and praying it gets to God somehow, but acknowledging that the sea is large and full of danger and storm that it just might not get there. Didn’t send enough, didn’t send it the right way, didn’t send it at the right time, all that sort of stuff. As Lose writes it, ‘we pray and stand around waiting for God to answer.’

But, what if prayer isn’t sending up a petition, but rather a more active and full life of relationship with God? What if praying for us wasn’t just sitting around and waiting for God to answer, but living into the reality of the life that we’ve prayed for. Getting up, moving, acting in that life?

That we pray for those who are hungry that they might have food – so living into those beautiful words – we go and volunteer and help provide food out of our own abundance.

When we pray that others might reconcile with one another – we go and form relationships with those whom we don’t know well and learn and grow with them.

When we pray for those who are lonely – we go and visit.

When we pray for the end of violence in our world and country – we advocate and participate in ways that make life safe and full for everyone.

What if we prayed – and lived into that life of prayer? I wonder…

I’d like to end with a little bit more of what Pastor Lose says about prayer. He writes it beautifully and succinctly. Faithfully and simply.

At times prayer is words we say alone in moments of thanksgiving or desperation. At times prayer is words we share with others, gathered in the sanctuary or around a hospital bed. And at other times prayer is action and work as we try to live into and even bring about those things we’ve prayed for. All of this can be praying shameless, praying, that is, confident that the God who came in Jesus understands our hurts and disappointments because that God took them on. Because God in Jesus not only endured the life we lived, but died the death that awaits us, and was raised again to show that even death does not have the last word and that all things are possible for God. And so we pray with confidence, trusting that if we know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will God give us as we embrace God’s Holy Spirit and live, as well as speak, our prayers.

There are so many people who need our prayers, prayers understood as words, actions, and our very life. People who are dying and don’t need to. People who are lonely and welcome friendship. People who are excluded and waiting to be invited in. All kinds of people. So let’s get started praying… and let’s do it shamelessly.

Yes, let’s get started praying – faithfully, simply, and honestly. We may pray for a happy kidney every now and then, but we live into that fullness and wholeness that prayer invites us into. Amen.

 

 

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July 18, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about martha and mary...


Sermon from July 17, 2016

Text: Luke 10: 38-42

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!

So, this is always a really interesting text to preach on, and I’d hazard a guess that most women who have read it and subsequently have heard sermons regarding it haven’t enjoyed it all that much. I have a feeling, that if Martha heard how this particular Gospel story - that deals entirely with her and her sister Mary – has been preached, she’d be much like Jan from The Brady Bunch. But, instead of exclaiming, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” She’d be crying out “Mary, Mary, Mary!”

For, you see, Mary has been given a lot of ‘props’ throughout history in the preaching this particular text. I’m sure there are quite a few women here who have heard this text interpreted in such a way that you are either a “Mary” – one sitting at the feet of God – or you are a “Martha” – one too busy, bossy, and ‘distracted’ by many things. In my study of this text and in conversations with women – there has been an attempt to lump all Christian women into one of these two camps – Mary or Martha.  Of course, even in that ‘sorting’ the ideal is to be more like a Mary and to not fall into the distracted traps of a Martha.

What gets me about this text, and which makes this a little difficult to preach on is that Jesus seems to chide and double tsk Martha for doing what she feels is appropriate as a host. As we are introduced to Martha, Jesus and his friends are welcomed into her home. I thought that was quite significant. This is Martha’s home. I presume that she owns this house. No male name – no father’s or husband’s or brother’s or son’s name is attached to Martha. That, in my opinion, is pretty uncommon during this time. This is her home and like any good host – she was busy caring for her guests, especially the VIP guest who is Jesus that has come to visit.

We aren’t told what her ‘many tasks’ were, but I’d be more than certain that Martha was preparing a meal and making sure her guests were comfortable. Perhaps she was in the kitchen, in the dining area cooking up a wonderful meal to serve these guests who are sitting, talking, and sharing in her home. If she was anything like the women I know in my family there were probably many questions of, “Can I get you something to drink?  You sure you’re alright?” It’s what any good host would do. 

Now, I don’t really begrudge Martha for getting a little shall we say – resentful – of her sister Mary at this point. One of the societal ‘roles’ of women during this time was to prepare meals and serve. It was not to sit around and just listen. But, that is what Mary is doing. She has shifted her role at this time and stepped out of the box that society has placed on her and others like her. She is in the presence of God, sitting at the feet of Jesus. Enjoying his presence and listening to his words. To Martha it looks like she isn’t living into the role that society has for her – which she isn’t. So, to Martha it looks like Mary is slacking and leaving her to do all the work.

Now, when Jesus says, “Martha, Martha…” I think many have taken that as a – “You don’t need to be there in the kitchen. Just come in here and sit at my feet. What Mary is doing is right, what you’re doing is wrong.” 

How many women here have heard that before? Don’t worry about the ‘tasks’ you have to do, just listen to me.

I don’t think that Jesus is necessarily saying that what Martha is doing – the tasks themselves – are bad. She is doing a good thing. Martha is being a good host. She is caring for those she has welcomed into her home. She is being a GOOD neighbor. Jesus just talked about what being a good neighbor looks like – we literally heard that moments before as he told the parable of the Samaritan. It means caring for the ones in need – even the ones who are welcomed into your home. Martha herself is living into all the things that Jesus lifts up in Luke’s gospel. She has welcomed strangers into her home. She has laid down the welcome mat, and she is in service to those who have come into her life. She is being a good neighbor and host. That is something she should be proud of and I believe Jesus is thankful for that.

However, in her ‘living into’ her service and in the serving of those in her home as host she is, as Luke writes – distracted. The Greek word here from verse 40 is - perispaomai - which means in the process of being pulled or dragged in different directions.

Here she is – doing these tasks of the humble host of God (literally). She is feeding the Lord. She is giving Jesus’ friends a place of rest. She has welcomed strangers into her midst and is treating them like family. Yet, even in that work and presence of God before her, she fails to see what she is doing. In her own way as a humble servant and host, she is in the presence of God and living into the call that God has given her. She is distracted by what others are doing. She is distracted by the ‘tasks’ that she ‘has’ to do.

In my time here as your pastor – you’ve heard me talk a lot about what we ‘get’ to do and what we ‘have’ to do. Here, I think Martha has lost sight of what she is doing. Yes, she is living into the call to be a welcoming host to all those who come to her door. But, instead of living into that call as a gift, she appears to view them as chores, rules that she has to abide by. She is fulfilling a societal obligation.  It is no longer a gift that she GETS to do, but it is a role she HAS to do. One of the funny stories that pops into my head whenever I think of this – Is from one of my favorite TV shows, The Big Bang Theory. There is an episode where Dr. Sheldon Cooper states that ‘social protocol dictates that you offer a friend a warm beverage.’ It is a thoughtful gesture, but he is fulfilling a social protocol (he literally says that). He isn’t ‘offering’ it out of compassion and love – he’s doing it because society says you have to. He’s fulfilling a role, an obligation, completing a chore.

Think about your own lives for a moment. Each of us has been called by God to do what we have been gifted to do. Some work with numbers and logistics, some teach, some sweat in their labor more than others. Some get to do things that they enjoy immensely and wouldn’t trade it for the world while others look upon those jobs and tasks and say, “Really? I’m glad God chose you to do that…because I sure don’t think I could.”

Of course, that is just what we do outside this community of faith, but even when we serve inside the confines of this community there are people who feel called to certain areas of ministry. Some proclaim and share, some sing, some stand up for others, some call us to look and see those before us. We all are called by God and gifted with ways to do what God has called us. 

In the beginning of those ministries we see the great gift that God has given us. We see the wonderful opportunity that Christ has afforded us. We relish in the presence of the Spirit as we go out and do ministry – whatever it may be. 

But, like Martha there comes a time when the ‘get to’ turns into the ‘have to.’ I have to go to church today. I have to read. I have to sing. I have to do this. I have to do that. When we turn our eyes towards the tasks themselves we can begin to see them as burdens, restrictions, obstacles. We lose sight of the fact that God is present with us in each of those moments. 

God has called us to live into our vocations – our own divine calls that God has set apart for each of us. But, in each of those tasks we are always in the presence of God. Christ is there with us. The Holy Spirit is present guiding us.

I don’t think, as I read this text, that Jesus is saying to Martha, “You’re too busy in the kitchen. You should be with Mary at my feet.” No, because that isn’t validating the good work and service that Martha is doing. No, what I think Jesus is ‘chiding’ Martha for is that she has lost sight of the presence of God in her work and service.

What Mary is doing is basking in the presence of God in her own way. You too Martha are able to bask in the presence of God as you work and welcome those into your home as a gracious and humble host. You are literally host to God. 

Be aware of that. Be thankful for that.

This is a reminder to each of us as well – both women and men. In all the work that we do. The work and tasks that we do within the church, the work and tasks we do outside this community of faith. All of it – all of it – is done in the presence of God. It isn’t a have to life, it is a get to life.

I get to come to church. I get to eat of the bread and drink of the wine, the body and blood of Christ. I get to read. I get to care for children. I get to mow lawns. I get to care for many different people. I get to do all of this because God is present in the work that I do. Christ is present in each day.

Sometimes we have to take deep breaths and remember that. Sometimes it takes setting things aside and sitting at the feet of the Word of God like Mary. But, in all things, we remember that God is in our midst. God is present in all that we do. And when we live a life of ‘get tos’ instead of ‘have tos’ we are able to more readily see the gift that God has given us.

Amen.

 

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July 11, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one we don't expect...


Sermon from July 10, 2016

Text: Luke 10: 25-37

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!

So, the parable we hear today is one that we know pretty well isn’t it? It’s one of those parables that once we hear the beginning of it, we can immediately finish the story and move on. Yeah, yeah pastor. We’ve heard this one before. But, I think especially for today – during this time in our life as a country and world – this is a parable that we need to hear again with fresh hears and hearts.

How many – if someone asked you to tell them the Good Samaritan story – would’ve said it like this…

A guy walks down a road and gets robbed and beat up. Two people walk past him, and the third is one of those Good Samaritans that helps him out. So Jesus says be a good Samaritan.

I’d imagine that a lot of us have paraphrased this parable in that way. But, there’s a thing with paraphrases – they leave a bunch of stuff out to tell a ‘streamlined’ and easier story.

And, we end up doing that a lot with Jesus’ parables. And when we think we just ‘know’ them and cease to read them we lose out on the effect that Jesus was seeking when he told these parables.

I’ve said it before, and I know I’ll probably say it again. But, Jesus’ parables are intentionally scandalous and inflammatory. For those that first heard them, their first reaction was probably not, “Oh yeah! That makes so much sense!” They wouldn’t have thought that – not because they weren’t smart and refined like ‘us’ – but, they’d more than likely respond in a way that evoked shock and anger. Jesus’ parables intentionally put us on edge. Where in those frayed moments upon hearing the striking words of Jesus, we can begin to see where God is present and at work in ways that we wouldn’t expect and probably wouldn’t even want.

So, before we begin in diving into this wonderfully deep and scandalous story, we have to first understand who the people involved in this story and parable are.

First, we have the lawyer. Lawyers in this time were those whose vocation it was to know, interpret, and uphold the laws of God. And, there were a lot of laws to know. They were the ones who people sought in order to settle disputes between one another and in their lives. He asks a question to Jesus that he believes he already knows the full answer to.

In the parable we are introduced to a priest and a Levite. Two people that listeners would immediately know a couple things. First – the priest has devoted his life to serving God – that’s why he’s a priest. And second – the Levite is someone who identifies as one who knows and fulfills the law and scripture of God zealously. They are ones that know, really know God’s word and law.

We are introduced to a Samaritan. Now, we know this one as the ‘Good Samaritan.’ For that is what we call anyone who does something out of compassion for a stranger in need. But, that is not how the Israelites of Jesus’ day viewed them. They were seen as dangerous, impure, untrustworthy. Samaritans were individuals that – if you had to approach them – you did so with extreme caution.

And finally, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a known ‘trouble area.’ You avoided it as best as you could. And if you had to walk it, you again did so with extreme caution and never alone – never know when those dastardly Samaritans would show up.

So, that’s a quick summary of what people knew as Jesus told this parable. Yet, within his words people are shocked and offended because God appears in such a way that they wouldn’t expect or even want.

The lawyer attempts to stump Jesus. Not even acknowledging that Jesus ‘knows his stuff.’ Maybe he’ll catch this ‘man of God’ off guard with a simple question so all can quickly be done with this traveling preacher. Yet, Jesus’ response is much deeper and more varied than the lawyer could expect.

He builds upon what the lawyer knows so that all might know the full extent in which God calls us to serve and to see where God is active in the world. I imagine this might be what the internal response to Jesus’ words were from the lawyer and those listening in around them.

That guy is going to get in trouble walking that road alone, he knows better than that. Yep. See that’s what I told you – he was going to get robbed. But, good – here comes a priest. Wait… that’s not right. He was supposed to help him. Ok, at least a Levite is coming – they know scripture and to help those in need… but, what? That guy passed him by too? What has this world come to – where is this man going with this story.

Oh great, now a Samaritan has come by? Isn’t it bad enough that he’s been beaten, robbed, left for dead, and has been passed over by two people who should’ve helped him. Now, he gets to be finished off by those dirty Samaritans. My friend’s brother’s nephew’s roommate had a bad experience with a Samaritan once, you can’t trust those people. We probably need to keep them out of our land as best as we can.

Wait, what did he say? The Samaritan walked over to him? Is he really going to tell how he kills him? Hold on a minute… the Samaritan helps him? Cleans him up and takes him to an inn? And then he gives money and promises to pay even more! What is this man talking about? Doesn’t he know what those people are and how they act! This isn’t right! I’m supposed to be like that guy!

We hear this story and because we are so far removed from the context in which it was first told, we lose a sense of that scandal. We lose a bit of the ‘impact’ that this parable evokes. But, if we change the identities of the three individuals involved in this parable – I think we begin to see how radical Jesus really was.

The priest – or pastor – can stay the same. As pastors we are the ones looked to in identifying people in need. We proclaim the gospel of God. We are ones who are supposed to help. Yet, in the story – the pastor takes a wide berth and walks by on the other side.

The Levite – this is anyone you know who zealously upholds the law of scripture. The one who posts countless memes on facebook and other social media platforms about their faith and love of God. The one who is always eager to pray at functions. The one who is always quoting scripture to you and others. This is another one who we expect to stoop down and help. Yet, this one takes a wide berth of the one in need and walks by on the other side.

Finally – the Samaritan. The Samaritan was someone was not only different in their culture, their place of origin, and in their faith from the Israelites. But, Samaritans were also the ones who were described as shifty, dangerous. Good and wholesome people steered clear of them. For us today, this one could be identified as quite a number of people. Globally the Samaritan might be identified today as the one who practices Islam – a Muslim. Nationally and currently in our country that person might be identified as just someone with a darker complexion than pretty much all of us gathered here this morning.

Others in power, others with the medium, others with the purpose have vilified those of the Muslim faith and those whose skin is darker than our own. Are there cases and instances of danger and terror? Yes – definitely. We’ve unfortunately seen that throughout the world and in our own country. Yet, the world paints with broad brushes, where the act of a few have been painted upon an entire people and generation.

Many have been raised to fear and be suspect of those who are different and those biases and prejudices play out in much of the same way that I’m sure the Israelites treated the Samaritans.

Mocking, ridicule, shame, viewing them as less than.

Yet, we see in this parable – the shock of the Gospel – is that God works through those and in those ways that we wouldn’t expect. Sometimes God’s work can offend us in its radicalness.

The young African-American woman who protects the white supremacist from being beaten by others.

The predominately African-American church who welcomes in a young white-man who enters their building alone – even after the events last year in Charleston.

The church that displays a sign of Blessed Ramadan to their Muslim neighbors.

The person of color who embraces the white police officer with tears in their eyes as they both say and know – “It’s tough to be one another right now…”

The Muslim family who welcomes in the refugee Christian who is persecuted in the nation they both call home…

The follower of Jesus who speaks to and cares for all – but, especially and deliberately to those on the margins and declares boldly to them – your life matters to me. It matters so much that I will stand and walk with you. I will give you my attention and care.

Many will read this parable and only see the ‘good news’ in the work of the Samaritan. And the work and service that the Samaritan has is indeed good. He sees the one in need, he draws near to that one in compassion, and in love of neighbor cares for him fully, completely, and abundantly.

But, for me and I hope for you today, the ‘scandal’ of this parable is not just that a Samaritan can do good. It isn’t that a Muslim can be kind. It isn’t that a person of color can live in compassion for those that work so hard against them.

It’s all that, but it is mostly the knowledge that God works in unexpected ways. God works in ways that make us feel uncomfortable. God shines the light of the gospel in our lives that puts us on edge. God’s breadth of compassion and love is so great that God works through those that we don’t expect. That God works even through us.

God calls us to care for our neighbor. To be the ones who show mercy.

Be that one. Please. Be the ones to show mercy. Be bold to proclaim that God is at work. Be the one – the Samaritan. The Refugee. The Muslim. The African-American. The person of color.

Be the one who remembers and knows and has faith that God works in the ways that we least expect. God comes where we least expect, because God comes for everyone. No one is outside of God’s love.

Not even the Samaritan.

Not the lawyer.

Not the refugees or those wanting to keep them out.

Not the one who lives life differently because of the color of their skin or the life they identify with or the ones who fear them and steer clear simply because of their pigmentation or lifestyle.

No one - not one - is beyond God’s love and mercy.

Jesus makes this incredibly and radically clear by choosing the most unlikely of characters to serve as the instrument of God’s mercy and grace. God works through this one to exemplify Christ-like behavior.

That’s what God does: God chooses people no one expects and does amazing things through them. Even a Samaritan. Even our people. Even me. Even you.

Amen.

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