In pm's words
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December 23, 2015, 9:00 AM

Advent Wednesday Sermons

Here's a special treat - here are the sermons that I preached during our Advent Wednesday Services this year.

Sermon from December 2

Text: Malachi 3: 1-4

Good evening and welcome to Redeemer as we begin our Wednesday Evening Advent Worship services. I know that most of us are very busy this time of year. There are a lot of commitments that we adhere to during this festive season – at home, at work, at school, with friends and family – that at times even the thought of ‘taking a step back’ seems daunting.

I know that we have some folks from the College here this evening as well, and I still remember my times at Newberry and at Southern Seminary vividly – especially during times of stress that the end of a semester typically brings. I had a professor in seminary who asked me and my fellow classmates once as the semester was winding down why the chapel became emptier the closer and closer those tests were administered and those papers were due. We answered, “Because we’re stressed – we feel like we can’t devote any more time to anything, but the work we have to do.”

He sort of chuckled when he heard that and stated, ‘where is the one place that you know that you can hear words of comfort, grace, love, forgiveness, and acceptance. Where is the one place that you can continually be reminded that you’re not alone and that you are loved?’ Of course, the answer was in worship, among those gathered as scripture was read, hymns were sung, and a meal is shared.

Whenever we become over-stressed and seemingly stretched to our limits, worship and space with God usually is one of the first things that we cut out to make room for other things – except it doesn’t normally make the stress and anxiousness seem to lessen in anyway. Now – compound that feeling during this Advent season as we gear up towards Christmas? Those feelings are multiplied greatly!

So, I’m thankful that you’ve come this night as we continue to make space for God in our life. Just as space was made for our Lord on the night that he was born – in which we look in expectant hope to celebrate in just a few short weeks.

I know things are stressful, you’re all busy – whether you’re a student, a parent, a worker in your respective field. But, being able to take a pause. A breath during this hectic time to point our eyes, hearts, and minds towards the one whom we celebrate and worship truly helps put everything in perspective.

 This evening we heard from Malachi. A book from the Old Testament that we don’t hear too often from. It’s a pretty short book, and in fact is the last book in the Old Testament before it fast forwards a few years and flips over to the Gospel of Matthew. This is a book that we as Christians interpret as one that foreshadows Jesus’ reign and the coming messenger of God that he is – and more.

In our short reading this morning we hear Malachi speak about a promise and what that promise will look like. That promise is the sending of a messenger. The one to bring good news to a world in desperate need to hear it. This messenger will be like a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap.

Each of those items helped their respective users to make something more ‘pure’ or ‘clean.’ A refiner’s fire would blaze to extreme temperatures to help the refiner take out the impurities within silver or gold so that it was even more beautiful and precious than it already was. The same with the soap a fuller used – the soap that helped make cloth and garments shine clean and get back to the original intent of its maker.

We hear these terms used as we continue the journey into the season of Advent. This season where we wait in expectant hope of the one to come. As we wait for God’s in-breaking into the world. Where the refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap is made known to the world.

Now, most people will read this and think about all the terrible ‘stuff’ that happens in our lives that we endure and change through. Where we go through it all and come out the other side a better person. Now, I can see that – but, I don’t necessarily think that God is up there with a big mighty ‘smite’ button and saying, “Yep, Matt’s at the time to deal with some serious you know what! He better hold on tight!” I don’t think God necessarily works that way…

Instead, as I read this text as we journey in the beginning of Advent, I think of what a refiner has to do in order to make that silver and gold as pure and clean as it was created to be. These precious minerals aren’t just thrown into the fire to be forgotten. Instead, the refiner stands watch. Yes, the fire is hot. Yes, the minerals will look great after they endure it. But, they are never left unattended.

Instead, the refiner must watch and take notice. Caring for the gold or silver within the fire. The refiner attends to the fire making sure that it doesn’t get too hot or lose the heat needed for the silver and gold to be made pure. Finally – as an old story says, the refiner’s work isn’t finished until the refiner can see his or her face within the silver or gold.

We hear this story of a promise. The promise of the one to come who will be a messenger from God to us. That this messenger will be like a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap. And at first glance, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a lot of fun. Things are going to be done to us intentionally so that we’ll get better. Instead, I wonder if it is in how we live our baptismal lives – as we journey through this life of faith – a life that brings those moments of fire – as the promises we’ve made and the callings we live out to God are in contrast to what the world might desire. Caring for those that others would rather cast aside, striving for peace and justice within a system that doesn’t seem to care, proclaiming the words and gospel of love, grace, hope, acceptance, and forgiveness to a world that seems at times incapable of living and practicing those sorts of things.

In all of that – Jesus – the refiner – is watching over us. We are not alone. He has been sent. We await his coming. The promise from God that we are not alone, we are not abandoned, we are not left unattended. But, that the life we live out – the life we live in the refiner’s fire – is done with care and love so that Christ might be seen in and through us.

It isn’t always easy; it isn’t always fun. But, we are not alone. The promise isn’t so much that the fire of life will hurt – but that the refiner is tending to us in the midst of this life of faith. The one that we wait in expectant hope is coming.

We journey in Advent. We continue to make space for the promise to come. The promise of a refiner’s fire. The promise of a messenger who continues to point us and point with us towards the one who redeems the world. Amen!


Sermon from December 9

Text: Zephaniah 3: 14-20

Welcome to y’all on this the second week of our Advent Services here at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. I’m so thankful and overjoyed that y’all are here to take time and to make space for our Lord within your busy schedules this week and during this season.

So, we hear from another Old Testament prophet this morning – probably the one with one of the coolest names – Zephaniah. In his words we here again about a promise to come. About a prophecy to be fulfilled by and in our Lord God.

Last week we heard Malachi speak about the promise of a Refiner and his fire. How the refiner will watch and tend over his work as the impurities of the silver and gold are removed and the beautiful shine and reflection of the refiner can be seen within his work.

This week, the promise we hear is of the one who rejoices in and restores us. Zephaniah’s words this evening are incredibly uplifting. Especially after we heard from Malachi about the struggles we are to face within the ‘fire’ of our baptismal lives.

We – as children of God – are called to rejoice and sing. Which we do during the season of Advent quite well. Whether it be a hymn sung in worship or even a song of the season we hear on the radio. This season of Advent opens us up to the beauty and joy of the music within and around us.

We sing as we rejoice in what God has done, is doing, and will do. We as followers of Christ rejoice in the glory of knowing that in Christ – in those waters of our baptism – our sin is washed away and God chooses to not remember them.

I don’t know about y’all – but that is definitely something to rejoice in! We’ve been washed – we’ve been welcomed into this community of faith. Where the things we’ve done that have not been so good, where the actions we’ve taken that have drawn us away from God, where the words we’ve used have not been used to give praise and thanks to our God – have all been washed away and remembered no more.

Not only that, but Zephaniah gives praise and song to the fact that the Lord is in our midst. God has come to be with us! Zephaniah is celebrating and praising Emmanuel – God with us!

In Advent, we await the coming of Emmanuel – we await the in-breaking of God into the world. The world that God formed in creation. The world that God has taken great joy and pleasure in. The world that God has not abandoned, but cares and loves so much that God has entered into creation as the Son – God’s son – to point the world to God’s love and victory.

These are wonderful words to hear as we quickly approach the celebration of the coming of Christ into the world. It is a time to rejoice. Rejoicing that God – our Lord – has taken away judgments, rejoices over us, renews us in love, and exults over us with loud singing.

Isn’t it weird that as we thank God for being God – that God looks upon us and thanks us for being us? That’s love isn’t it?

Best of all – we rejoice in the one who shows so much love and care that God comes to be with us. That God tears open the heavens to dwell among us. God comes among us as a child – as a human being – as one of us. To live life among us, to know our hurts and struggles, to share in our joys and our praise. To literally walk with us in this life of faith.

Not only that, but as God comes into the world – God gathers those who the world casts aside. Not to further push them away, but to turn their ‘shame’ into praise.

As we journey through this season of Advent we see God at work in the words of Zephaniah, and we again look to how we might be called to act. That perhaps – perhaps – the work and actions of grace and love that God revels in within the words of Zephaniah just might be modeled in us.

Caring for the ‘lame’ and gathering the outcast. Being in relationship with all those in our midst. That we learn and grow in and with all those around us so that all might know that God truly, truly is in the midst of this world and all our lives. Not relegated to a select few, but God’s presence and love transcends all boundaries that the world – that we – establish to separate ourselves.

And then, in that presence. In the midst of that rejoicing that the Lord – our Christ – heaps over on top of us – we are restored. We are restored as we are with God. Not because we have done something to get to God, but because God has come to be with us – Emmanuel. God is here. God always will be. We remember that during Advent and we wait in expectant hope for the celebration of that day as Christ is born into the world. Amen!


Sermon from December 16

Text: Micah 5: 2-5a

Grace and peace to y’all this final Wednesday service in Advent. We’ve eaten, and shared, laughed, sung, worshiped, and thought each week that we’ve gathered in this space. This time and this opportunity that we’ve come together to make space during this busy season.

We’ve been able to make space – even if only for a short time – to gather ourselves and look with expectant hope of the one who is to come. In those times these past few weeks, we’ve talked about promises. Specifically, we’ve taken a look at the promises that God makes for us and for the world through some Old Testament Prophets – Malachi, Zephaniah, and now Micah – during this holy time.

The promise that God’s coming is that of a refiner’s fire – the fire that rages as we live out our baptismal lives of faith. The fire that burns so that Christ might reflect in us; the beautiful creations of God that we are. The promise of a restorer – the one who comes to give praise in and through creation – through us – so that we might be made to realize that we are restored. That God rejoices in us. That God gathers all and makes what the world sees as a ‘shame’ into glory. The promise that God rejoices in us.

This evening we are again given a promise. But, this promise is a little different in how it is lived out in the ways we would expect. This evening we hear from the prophet Micah and through his words God’s promise is that of a ruler.

The one to come that would rule over Israel – the one that would stand ‘victorious’ over her enemies. Or at least that is how those who first heard these words interpreted them. You see, the prophet Micah was writing and living during a very tumultuous time. Just take a gander at the previous chapters of Micah and you can see the corruption, greed, and apathy that existed during his time.

The nation of Israel itself was divided as well – mostly because it was being ‘ruled’ by foreign powers. So, naturally as those who first heard Micah would think – as he began to speak about the ruler to come – they envisioned a mighty warrior who would push back and destroy the forces and foreign armies that stood between the people and their God.

But, if we’ve learned anything as we’ve celebrated Christmas throughout our lives – it is a consistent theme throughout the Bible that God delights in upsetting human expectations.

Upsetting human expectations when a baby is born to parents well past the child-bearing years. The anointing of a king who was the smallest and youngest of his brothers. So it is in this way that Micah’s words again point to the way that God does work as opposed to the way in which the world expects.

The world wants and expects to get a superhero of a ruler. A story of legend and epic-ness. The one who can fight, defeat enemies of the kingdom, help the poor, and gets the girl. The one who can do that over and over and over again. The one whose legend continues to grow and grow in such a way that no one dares to standup to that kingdom for fear of what ‘the ruler’ can and will do to them. The world wants a King Arthur. A William Wallace. A Captain America.

Yet, that isn’t who Micah prophecies about. The ruler that the people would expect would come from the ‘big city’ of Jerusalem. But, the ruler that Micah foretells is one who comes from the smallest tribe and city. The ‘back-water’ town of Bethlehem.

The promise that God lifts up through the words of Micah is one of old and deep. A promise that has been there from them beginning – of ancient days. The promise that God makes may be old, but it is still active.

That’s the kind of thing that I like to hear during this time of year. That the promises that God has for us stand true. The promises that God makes for us are upheld. The promises that God seeks to live out in us, through us, and for us might be made known in ways that we wouldn’t expect, but they end up being the full realization of what God has in store for us.

The promise we know is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. A child. A baby. Small. Tiny. Dependent upon others.

That is the one who comes to be with us – to rule this kingdom that we are a part of – that we are. We are led by a little child – the one who continually points to the one who sent him. The one who points and proclaims the one who has come to be with us.

As we are given the promise of the ruler – and we know that God fulfills all promises – even the ones of ancient days – we remember that those promises are fulfilled in unexpected ways. God delights in the fulfillment of promises in ways that we would not anticipate.

Abraham and Sarah give birth to Isaac in their advanced years. David is anointed king even though he’s the youngest and smallest of his family. That unexpected way of fulfillment is seen throughout the New Testament as well – Mary’s willingness to accept the responsibility to bear God to the world and in Jesus himself as he comes as a vulnerable child and not as a mighty warrior or ruler.

God fulfills promises. God holds true and fast to the people of God, the nation of Israel, the kingdom of heaven!

We are almost at the cusp of that largest promise – the promise of Immanuel – God with us. A ruler to live among us, to walk with us, to know us. A ruler who might not be what we expected, but is the ruler who redeems us and points us towards God. Amen!



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December 21, 2015, 9:00 AM

there's something about Mary...

Sermon from December 20, 2015

Text: Luke 1: 39-55

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and savior 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!

As many of y’all know – I was a camp counselor at Lutheridge in Arden, NC. I love that place. It is my personal – happiest place on earth. The ability to be in the midst of God’s creation while surrounded by the community of God there is amazing. I was blessed, humbled, and honored to have served for two summers there. Though, I usually joke that the only reason that I was hired was because I’m A) a guy and B) I have a pulse.

While working there, I was also blessed to be a counselor to a particular type of individual that loves camp. I was a mentally challenged counselor! Or, as I soon learned – I guess I should tell people that I was a Counselor for the Mentally Challenged. I loved the weeks that I was able to be at camp with those who were differently abled in their minds and bodies. It was an absolute blast and I am filled with stories that I love to share with those around me. Some of those stories are better suited – and probably more appropriate – in a space that isn’t the pulpit. But, they are good stories.

What I love most about those I was blessed to be a counselor for was the immense faith that they possessed. It always amazed me how much they proclaimed and shared in their faith with others. There is more faith in their pinky than I seem to possess in my entire body. The immense amount of trust and strength these wonderful friends of mine have is awe-inspiring.

Of course, some of them are not able to verbalize their thoughts either completely or at all, but the ones that can amaze me at their ability to proclaim the gospel and God’s presence with them. Whether they were born with Down’s Syndrome, they are on the more severe end of the Autism Spectrum, or they were in a car accident that left them mentally impaired each of them are able to convey – in their own way – who and whose they are. They are able to proclaim their trust and faith in a God that loves them fully and completely – even as the world around them might try to tell them that that can’t be possible because they aren’t like everyone else.

Whenever I think of those wonderful people that I got to spend two of my summers with, I begin to think of Mary and particularly the whole story surrounding our Gospel reading this morning.

Mary – unfortunately – doesn’t hold the same place of honor and grace within our tradition of the church as she does in others; namely how our sisters and brothers in the Catholic Church celebrate her. And, I find that a little sad. Even Luther wanted her placed in higher esteem than she eventually was placed within the Lutheran tradition. What we lose when we don’t talk and remember Mary – a part from this time of year – is the absolute amazing faith that she possesses. Then we remember that she was more than likely between the ages of 12 and 16 that we are blown away even more.

Where we pick-up with Mary’s story this morning is right after the angel Gabriel tells her that she is pregnant.

A young teenager – not married – still living at home – is told that she is pregnant. I’ve asked some of our confirmation students how’d they respond if they were given that news and they all responded in the way you’d think – the same way I think we’d all respond. A lot of shock. A lot of grief. Scared out of their minds. Wondering why God did this to me.

I don’t think we’d fault Mary at all if those were some of the words and thoughts she expressed within our scriptures. It’d be totally understandable if she showed some trepidation towards living into the call and mantle that is placed upon her shoulders. I imagine it is pretty anxiety inducing to be told, “Hey – just so you know you’re going to bear God to the world!”

Even where we see her this morning as she is traveling to be with her cousin Elizabeth – who herself has received some startling news that she is pregnant even after years and years of not being able to conceive a child – you’d think that she’d go and cry with her cousin about what has happened to them.

Mary and Elizabeth respond to God’s call in such surprising and refreshing ways than what we’ve seen from those called by God throughout our scriptures. Any other time that God has reached down to tell someone that they have been set apart in some fashion, the people that God speaks with usually aren’t dancing and singing. No – usually they are scared and frightened men who try to find every conceivable way to not follow God’s call for them. Making excuse upon excuse why they aren’t the one that God is looking for. Hoping upon hope that they can wave their hands in front of God’s face like a Jedi to perform a mind trick while saying, “I’m not the guy you’re looking for…”

Neither Mary nor Elizabeth respond in that manner. In fact, their response is the exact opposite and a model of faith for each of us. They both have been given startling and unexpected news. They both are pregnant – one for sure in the most ‘non-traditional’ way possible. Both have been told that their children are special. Not just special to them – but, special to the world. They receive this news and instead of crying shoulder to shoulder together – commiserating in their ‘lot’ in life – they join in celebration with one another. In fact – even Mary breaks out in song, reminding us of another woman in scripture who praised God through song – Miriam when the nation of Israel was let go by pharaoh.

Mary’s words are a beautiful poem and song proclaiming God’s presence in her life and her faith and trust in where God is calling her and guiding her.

I’m sure in the back of her mind she knows she’ll be looked at differently. There will those who scoff at her story and try to call her any number of unsavory names and labels – all the labels even we know that have been horribly placed upon those who are unwed teenage moms. There is probably even the thought that because of this – she will be abandoned – by her fiancé, her family, her friends, her community.

Yet, she is able – as Marty Haugen writes it in Holden Evening Prayer – to sing, “My soul proclaims your greatness O God, and my spirit rejoices in you. You have looked with on your servant here and blessed me all my life through.” That is faith and trust.

Even Elizabeth is able to rejoice for the one who she carries within her womb is the one who will point to Jesus through his words and actions to the people of Israel.

As we approach this time of year and continually look towards the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord later this week, we know that this time of year doesn’t bring always bring up the most pleasant and happy memories. There are many who will be and who are very sad during this time of year. Someone they loved is no longer here. The community and relationships they have are strained to breaking points. The stress of this hectic season continues to build up as there are more meetings, get togethers, commitments, and obligations than ever before. There are the expectations to ‘do better’ than last year, and to somehow be present in seemingly a million places at once.

This time of year can be hard. It can be extremely difficult. Add to the fact that where we live the days grow short and the nights are longer. The length of the night – the darkness – has been continually getting longer and longer and will reach its peak in just a few short days.

Yet, in those moments of stress and times of exasperation we can and we do look towards Mary and Elizabeth. Two women who at a time when women were not treated fairly, with love, grace, and honor walked in faith in spite of what others might say and do. They trusted in hope that they were set a part and that they were not alone.

For me – that is the huge takeaway from this text and this story of Mary.

In our day an age – and I know I can talk to a few of you about this who have inside knowledge of these sorts of things – when someone is young, really young and is given the news that they are pregnant – there is a lot of fear of what will happen to those around them. That they’ll be alone, abandoned, having to resort to potentially drastic perhaps even deadly decisions to ‘fix’ themselves of a ‘problem.’ 

What we learn from Mary’s story is that it isn’t that her family pulls away during this time, but that they cling closer together. Elizabeth greets her warmly and so does the child in her womb. We read in the Gospel of Matthew that Joseph pulls her closer.

Space is made for her and for the one she carries for the world.

What would life look like for us – for the entire world – that when the unexpected happen – when life throws your curveballs and surprises that we banded together? During this time of year when so manh people feel alone and outside because of something that has happened in their life or how others treat them because of who they are – what would it look like if instead of pushing folks away, we held them tighter in embrace.

Reminding them – and us – again and again that God is here. That God is made known through the love and words that we share together with one another. That we are not abandoned and forgotten. Where space is made for the ones the world puts on the outside – on the outskirts?

I remember very often my time at Lutheridge with those very special campers. The one who seem to have more faith than I could ever possibly imagine to possess. And I see the light of Christ shining within them and then I see the community that surrounds them. Their families, friends, those who oversee their care. And I see that I am and was a part of that too.

That their faith is strong – as was Mary’s – as is ours – because they are surrounded by a community who bands together, who together looks to the one who has set us apart. The one who comes to dwell among us. The one who is to be born to the world and for the world.

We can be strong because we have the models of faith around us who are strong. Those models of faith who have lived before our time and who live with us now. The ones who continually point to God’s presence in their life and can see the presence of God at work among the people around them.

As Holden Evening Prayer calls to us again – the light shines in the darkness – and the darkness has not and will not overcome it. Amen!

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December 14, 2015, 9:00 AM

the one where we rejoice...

Sermon from December 13, 2015

Text: Luke 3: 7-18

Grace and peace to you from God our Father 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, here we are in the third week of Advent. The celebration of the Nativity of our Lord is fast approaching. We have been in the midst of preparation. We have been preparing this space for Christ’s coming as we have Chrismon trees that are adorned with symbols of our faith and the story of Jesus’ birth. We have our Advent wreath and candles that are lit each week as we sing to remind us again and again that Jesus’ birth is coming – that God’s in-breaking into the world is almost at hand – that Immanuel, God with us, is almost here. Nativity scenes have been arranged. Programs about Jesus’ birth are right on the horizon – like ours at 3pm today.

And, we’ve got the secular side of our preparations in full swing as well. Homes have been decorated with an array of lights, greenery – both the real and the real-looking have been put up, and an immense assortment of ornaments have been placed upon the many Christmas trees of our lives both the traditional like angels, Santas, and baubles. Even moving into the not-so-traditional like spaceships, time machines, and Disney characters. Stockings have been hung. Gifts have been searched out and obtained. Presents have been wrapped and tucked under the tree.

The scene has been set and for the most part we sit. We wait. We look to Christ’s birth in expectant hope of what God is going to be bringing into the world.

Our first few readings have geared us right up for that haven’t they? These are joyous words to hear as we prepare for Christmas. It really gets you in the mood doesn’t it? Rejoice! God restores us! Those are the words that the prophet Zephaniah proclaims to the people of Israel and to us this morning. In Philippians, Paul advocates our joy and our ability to rejoice because our Lord is near – in all the ways that we can imagine.

We are to rejoice!

Truthfully – that is what we probably need to hear this year. We as a people, as a nation, are dealing with so much at this time now. Sometimes it is hard to remember that we are called to rejoice. When there are those trumpeting and ratcheting up fears of the unknown and the different. Whereas we embark on another political season – and realizing that we still have a little less than a year left – we again see the name calling, the anger, the accusations, the fudging of facts to placate constituents. We hear all of this again and again – from all people, sides, and parties – that it can be very easy to lose sight of the fact that we are to rejoice because the Lord is near.

What I find interesting about the texts that we hear this week, is how much they sort of line up with what we are living through right now. We hear words of joy, rejoice, peace, being non-anxious, and more from our first few readings this morning. When we hear all that we begin to feel really, really good. Things aren’t as bad as people are saying (and truthfully they aren’t).

Then, well then we get to hear from John the Baptist. When we hear from John the Baptist his words usually snap us back to where God might want us to be – into the reality of our life of faith.

The words that John the Baptist begins with aren’t really that fun. You brood of vipers! Who told you to run? The Lord is coming and the axe is at the foot of the tree! Ready and in wait to chop down those that don’t bear good fruit.

Always leave it to John the Baptist to scare the bejeebus out of people. His words are scary. They are frightening.

The people around John ask the same question that many of us would ask – and are asking. What are we to do? What can we do?

You see, this is the part of John that I really like. You’d think that because of how John’s speech plays out – these words that began last week as we heard about how we need to prepare the way of the Lord in our lives – and then this morning where John calls us out, you’d think that what John will ask of us would be pretty substantial. Those listening to him that day thought that it might be the following of the full list of Levitical laws and ordinances – more than 600 ‘rules’ that must be followed to be ‘right’ with God.

Well, as followers of Christ – as those who identify as Lutherans – we know that we can’t do anything to be ‘right’ with God. For we are already made right and whole because of what God has already done for us – in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. But, sometimes that is hard to grasp and understand and we still ask – what can we do – and we expect a laundry list of rules to follow.

So, as John begins his reply, I can imagine the many around him who are already preparing in how to ‘bend’ the many rules that he is about to lay upon them. How do those rules need to be interpreted, which ones truly apply? Which are the ones that are more important than others?

But, John doesn’t go that route. John has built them up and prepared them – prepared us – for a laundry list of guidelines to follow so that God would be – might be – content and happy with us.

Yet, the ‘rules’ that John gives to the people – gives to all of us – are the same rules that we have heard since kindergarten.

Be nice. Share. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t hurt people.

Seriously! What more were we expecting?

If you have excess in the possessions, you have – give to those who don’t. If you have a lot of ‘things’ – clothes and food – help those in need.

Then he directs his attention to tax collectors and soldiers – both groups that weren’t positively looked at because they tend to take in excess from the people around them. As John responds to their questions of ‘What are we to do then?’ his response can be summed up as – Don’t be jerks. Don’t hurt people.

Tax collectors are asked to do their job, but don’t squeeze more money out of the people you collect from. Soldiers are told to not be bullies.

The words that John shares with us this morning aren’t – on the outside – difficult things to follow. These are really the same things we have been hearing from our parents and teachers since we were born.

Be nice. Share. Don’t be a bully. Don’t hurt others.

But, as we see around us – those aren’t the easiest rules to follow. Sometimes we might want to follow some of those 600 or so rules from Leviticus – at least then there wouldn’t be so much ambiguity in how to live out that life of faith.

We hear these words from John this morning and we look at what’s going on in our world today. And we struggle – we struggle with how to live out these rules.

It’s hard to be nice to people that are mean or that you don’t agree with. I struggle with that as well – even as a pastor.

It is hard to share what we have with others – possessions, food, even money – because we don’t know if or when we’ll be in need and we’ll need that stuff then.

It’s sometimes pretty easy to ‘take advantage’ of someone – getting them to do the things we don’t want. Taking from someone because they accidentally scanned two cheap items twice and didn’t scan the more expensive item.

As we move into the holiday season and the time of being with friends and family it is easy to guilt them to spend more time with ‘us’ knowing that there are others they want to share their time with as well.

It’s hard to live out these words when we have those who speak so poorly about others that it feeds on our fear of the unknown and the different.

Yet, in those times we still turn to the words of Philippians and Zephaniah. Rejoice! Don’t worry! The Lord restores your life! Rejoice!

We are called to live out the words that John speaks this morning to us from the River Jordan. And we are truly able to live into that life and into that kind of faith – that faith that honors and loves and shows mercy to those around us. That life of faith that sees God at work in those around us. That life of faith that calls for trust in the one who is to come. The one that we prepare for. The one that we wait in expectant hope for.

Yes, the words that John speaks to us with this morning are some of the same things that we have heard from others for a long, long time – the same thing we tell our children and students all the time. It isn’t always easy, it isn’t always natural. We worry, we fear the unknown and the future.

Yet, we are called to give to those in need. We are called to be kind to those around us. We are called to not hurt those before us.

We are called to do this – not so that God will be present in our life, but because of what God has already done.

Christ is coming. Christ has come. Christ is here. Live out this life of faith because God is with you. Amen!

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December 1, 2015, 12:00 AM

December 2015 Newsletter article

Grace and peace to y’all!

Last month I had a chance to go to Lutheridge (one of my favorite places in the whole world) and gather with other rostered leaders (pastors, associates in ministry, and deaconesses) in our synod for our annual Rostered Leaders Convocation. It was a wonderful time to spend a bit of time in what I consider one of the most holy places in the southeast and in my life.

While we were there, we were engaged in a Bible study that I found to be particularly mind-blowing. It was led by one of my friends, colleagues, and pastors I strive to be like – Jay Gamelin who is a pastor at Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Lexington, SC.

His bible study on our final day at Convocation was gearing us towards Advent and Christmas. He told us the story that we all know and love. The story of Joseph and Mary traveling because of a census to Bethlehem where his family was from and while there Mary is about to give birth. When they reach Bethlehem, they are told that there is no room in the inn, so she had to lay her newborn – our Lord Jesus – into a manger.

Now, the way that this story has been told countless times is that the Holy Family was rejected and sent away. That they were sent away from a designated area that people who didn’t live in a town stayed at (a hotel/inn). However, when we dive into the original language of the text, we discover something interesting. The word (kataluma/kataluma) translated as ‘inn’ in Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth doesn’t necessarily mean ‘inn.’ It can more accurately be translated as guestroom. This same word is used in Luke 22:11 and is translated as ‘guestroom’ there. In the Good Samaritan story (Luke 10: 25-37) the Samaritan leaves the man he helps at an inn/hotel – a pandocheion/pandoceion (Luke 10:37) which is traditionally only translated as an establishment to house people.

Now, all the scripture says is that there wasn’t a room in the inn/guestroom and that Jesus was placed in a manger. There is no drama surrounding that verse – no heartless innkeeper, no words on being rejected at countless places before finally settling in a barn (when in fact no barn is even mentioned in Luke’s gospel – no animals or anything)! We as a people have embellished a little and inserted what we think is going on as opposed to what is actually written in the text.

The way a typical home was designed during this time was pretty ‘all inclusive’ There was an area for animals and equipment at the front of the home, a center area where the family stayed, and a back area where the guestroom was. So, the ‘guestroom’ was already filled, but there is no word that Mary and Joseph were sent away, so we can assume that space was made available to them in that home they went to.

So, perhaps this story of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem isn’t so much a story of the rejection of our Lord, but instead an invitation of radical hospitality. Where instead of the story being about the Holy Family being sent away, the story may more accurately be told as making space for the birth of the Lord Jesus. Pastor Jay likened it to today where if someone came to his home – but his guestroom was filled, that he’d offer his own bed instead – radical hospitality.

So, as we approach the Advent season we will be bombarded with so many distractions around us – voices about what to buy and why you should buy it, being ‘jolly’ in every way possible, filling our free time as much as possible to make this holiday season more ‘full’ and ‘memorable.’

Yet, maybe this time of year – as we wait in expectant hope of our Lord Jesus – would be better spent finding ways to make space to Jesus in our lives. Where we can live out this story of opening our lives and our hearts in invitation of radical hospitality.

Where this Advent and Christmas we follow in the footsteps of the family who housed the family by making space for the Holy and mysterious. Where we welcome in radical hospitality those who are different from us who are in need. Where we find ways to help and to serve and to be with all of our neighbors during this time of expectant hope.

Where we gather in worship at the table where space has been made for us. As Jesus invites us to eat and drink surrounded by one another and those we don’t know. As we are filled to be sent out to proclaim God’s radical hospitality to the world.

There is so much going on here at The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer this Advent and Christmas – from numerous opportunities to worship (both on Wednesdays with Holden Evening Prayer and our Christmas Eve services), to be in service with those around us – through our Angel Tree ministry, to continue to hear the story of our Lord’s birth through our Children’s Christmas program. There are those opportunities and so much more!

So, make space this year as we wait in expectant hope of God’s in-breaking into the world in the birth of the Son – our Lord Jesus who is the Christ!

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November 30, 2015, 8:58 AM

the one where we begin again...

Sermon from November 29, 2015

Text: Luke 21: 25-36

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, 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, we make it to one of my most favorite times of the year. I truly, truly, truly love the season of Advent. It is a season that I impatiently wait for every year. I love the hymns. I love the scriptures that we get to read each Sunday, and I love the excitement that builds as we journey to the day of celebration of our Lord’s birth.

It really is a great time of year.

It is a new beginning. A new year in the church. The slate has been wiped clean. We again embark in this faith journey of hearing about the hope to come – the in-breaking of God’s presence into the world in the form of the Son – our Lord, Jesus who is the Christ.

What makes this first Sunday of Advent even more full is the fact that we get to witness and celebrate baptism. Not one, not two, not three, but FOUR baptisms! Not only that, but all those being baptized today are in the same family as Kristin and Charity and Connor and Maggie get to celebrate this wonderful day together.

The day that as the church begins anew in a fresh year, that the four of them begin anew in their life of faith.

But, there is this uneasy element to not only Advent, but to living in the faith that is poured into us at our baptism. The uneasiness of being new. Being different than before. Being set-apart in some fashion. Perhaps even being outside the norm of others.

Because, let’s face it. As much as we want to say that Advent is that time of expectant hope – that time ‘looking forward. Many around the world – many of us – don’t need any reminder that Christmas is coming. Most of us have already been thinking about Christmas for quite some time. As soon as the countdown towards December 25 reached double digits, stores and more have been sounding the ‘alarm’ that Christmas is coming so you better take advantage of this sale and this discount and this opportunity to get all the stuff you need or Christmas won’t be good this year for you and yours!

The commercialized Christmas season machinations that surrounds us which can also be very ‘suffocating’ towards us; have been intent and diligent as they try to invoke the right sense of familiar feelings and lull us back into familiar concerns. Where the images of tranquil peace, the idyllic setting of fresh fallen snow, a warm fire, the laughter of family and friends, the sense that everything is alright just like it used to be.

But, here walks in Jesus and messes that pretty scene all up. Jesus’ words this morning as we begin this journey of Advent towards the upheaval of God’s in-breaking into the world are not peaceful at all. They are concerned with signs that do not point towards the sentimental and lovely. The in-breaking of God is something that changes the world around us. It throws the world and our lives in disorder because it is so new, so different from the world around us.

In this season of Advent as we see the Polar Bears of Coke commercials frolicking in the snow – being all cute with their bottles of sugary goodness – or yet another car commercial where someone gave their spouse an extravagant gift of a car with a giant bow on top – Wait, you know what… after my car accident this week that might not be a bad thing… I’ll have to tell Erin about that. As we see these commercials, ads, and hear music and musings of the ‘perfect’ holiday here comes Jesus that grabs ahold of the camera – ahold of our lives - and points us to see the reality of life and where we can be a part of the ways to help those in need. Where we are called to proclaim God's grace and mercy to a world which  at times seems incapable of hearing and practicing love and grace.

Where in Advent – in this time of expectant hope of the one who comes to save us from our sin – who comes to live among us as an outsider where we are directed to find ways to care for those who wish to live among us as they run from the dangers of their lives. How does the in-breaking of God direct us to care for those?

Where we look forward to the angels trumpeting to the shepherds of the arrival of hope and joy as God is made flesh in the world, we are directed to trumpet and shout for the hope to come to those who are ostracized, who are oppressed, who are in need to hear that news and for others to look towards them and their suffering so that they too might experience the joy and hope of the Advent to come. Where they too are a part of this celebration as well. How does God's in-breaking into our lives point us to proclaim?

Where in Advent we wait with bated breath of the story of those who made space for a traveling soon-to-be family of three, where we too are invited to make space for God within our life, our homes, our hearts, and our minds.

In the baptismal promises that those before us make today and that we remember that have been made for us, we are reminded that we have a roll in this. That Advent – that baptism – challenges us on so many levels. It challenges all those things in our life that are comfortable and complacent. It challenges us to be with those around us in service, love, and relationship.

That is the reality of baptism. It is a complete shift into a life that is in many ways in stark contrast to the world around us. Where the world shouts that we must only be concerned with solely ourselves and those closest to us. Those on the outside – those who the world deems ‘different’? Don’t think about them, look at this wonderful and sentimental Christmas commercial again. Just ignore all that other stuff. The baptismal life is counter to that thought. Where we make promises to care for others and work towards and for justice and peace.

In our baptisms, God reaches down to us and reminds us that we are not ignored – that God is present with us – walking with us and guiding us to serve those in need because God is there. That as we are no longer ‘unknown’ that those around us are to be known as well. For God knows that the promises we make and remember today are not easy – they are difficult – sometimes far more difficult to live into than anything else in the world. But, we are reminded in our baptisms that God knows us and that God is present with us throughout this life – no matter what. That God guides and directs us and opens us up to the opportunities to live out this life of faith.

One of the greatest things that my grandfather has taught me about life is to speak and know people’s names. To make them feel known. The other day as I was getting food from a local restaurant, as I was handed my items by the cashier I said, “Thanks so much Amy!” I always make it a habit to speak the names of those in work around me.

She was taken a bit back by that, but immediately a huge smile erupted on her face. The thank-you she gave me spoke more than just those few words to me. As she said, ‘thank-you’ I heard someone who felt that they were known and connected with. No longer just a faceless individual doing a service to those too busy to take notice of people around them. She was known – by name – by someone else.

I like to think that baptism is a lot like that. Especially as we celebrate baptisms of those who are not just precious and beautiful little babies, but those who are precious and beautiful children of God who are just a little more seasoned in age and life.

That as those waters are washed and splashed over them, that their names are known. Not just by those in attendance with them today, but by our God. As all of their names are called – Kristin, Charity, Connor, and Maggie – that in those waters God is saying – you are known. I know you. I love you. I’m with you. We’re going to do this life of faith together.

As we begin our Advent journey this day, Jesus reminds us that it isn’t always going to be easy and peaceful. But, the end result is redemption. Baptism reminds us that the struggles of life are not removed when those waters wash over us. But, God – the one who knows and calls us by name – is present with us. Walking with us as we live into those promises that we make and remember.

Advent is a time about waiting in expectant hope for God’s in-breaking into the world. A time of looking forward to the change and the new that Jesus’ birth ushers into the world and into our lives. Baptism is a journey – much like Advent – towards the change and the new that God makes in us and is present in us as we live that change and new out into the world. Amen

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November 23, 2015, 9:00 AM

the one with the unexpected king...

Sermon from November 22, 2015

Text: John 18: 33-37

Grace and peace to you from God our Father 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!

When you think of a king – what sort of qualities pop into your mind? Wealthy beyond measure? Authority over an entire area – city, country, empire? Fine clothes? Lavishly served by others? An ability to pretty much do and say whatever they want without recourse or fear?

In many ways, when we think of a king or of royalty – as we look towards the family of Prince William and Duchess Kate today or even those who aren’t royalty, but might as well be in how they are treated and viewed – we genuinely think that we are viewing people and families that are successful right? Whether they were born into it or earned it doesn’t matter.

They’ve got money. They’ve got power. They’ve got ‘it’ that other people want. They’ve got success. And it is evident in the way that they live their life and how people treat them. Kings and royalty command a room with the aura of their ‘success’ and ‘power.’

When we think of kings and royalty, we think of power and prestige. Wealth and success.

So, we come to this day, this Christ the King Sunday, and we do see that – but, not from the person we’d expect to see it from. We get all that power and prestige, that wealth and success from Pilate who we hear from today. We don’t really see that from Jesus.

Jesus isn’t in a position of wealth. He isn’t in a place of power. He definitely doesn’t appear to be successful.

He is dragged and led into the presence of someone with worldly power. He’s given his opportunity to speak to ‘save’ his life or end his suffering, but he doesn’t take it. He is given a position to show his kingship in the way that the world expects, yet he shows it in a different way entirely.

Christ the King Sunday is a day of celebration and we hear from a text that seems a bit out of place. You’d think we’d get a text of Jesus’ ascension, or the transfiguration, or at least a text that shows Jesus in power in some way.

But, we don’t. We get the penultimate story before Jesus is led to the cross and dies.

That’s not how the world typically views a king. Kings normally are not dragged off to be executed in such a horrible and public way.

Yet, that’s what we get from our king.

When you celebrate a king, you think of coronation. A crown of power, a label of respect, the essence of success is laid upon them in a very beautiful service and ritual. As Mel Brooks says in History of the World Part I – “It’s good to be the king!”

Yet, Jesus isn’t seeking that kind of coronation. The crown he will wear, is a crown of suffering and death. For all those looking upon him that day – and still for many in this modern time – see him as a failure. He died. His ‘kingdom’ however loosely cobbled together it appeared to be, was snuffed out in the most visible and embarrassing way possible.

Yet, we celebrate Christ our King this day.

It’s all kind of confusing isn’t it? It seems kind of contradictory that we would support this day with such a festival.

I mean, imagine you’re living during this time of Jesus’ death – how you’d be laughed at because you followed Jesus the ‘king’ of the Jews. That king who was cut down in his life and nailed to a cross? That’s the guy who is your king? How foolish can you be? What’s wrong with you?

I imagine that that’s what many of Jesus’ followers heard during this time and what many of those early worshippers of God in Christ Jesus our Lord heard from in the years that followed the birth of this movement of God.

And, we’re gathered again today to celebrate our king. A king that many would say is a failure because he didn’t succeed.

There’s still death. There’s still hate. There’s still fear. We don’t have to search too hard to find those things in our world today.

Last Sunday and next Sunday we have and will celebrate baptisms, where we witness those being marked and remember our own mark of Christ that is written upon us.

That mark isn’t of success or wealth or prestige. It is the sign of the cross.

And we don’t view the cross in a masochistic way – inviting and deriving pleasure from the suffering in our life.

No, we know and remember that we are marked with the Cross of Christ. That we seek to follow the voice of the truth in our life. The voice that calls to us, leads us, and pushes us to see the kingdom at work in the midst of our world.

Where we remember that yes, Christ is nailed to a cross and that he does die and is laid in the tomb. But, we know and have faith that that isn’t the final word. We know that that isn’t where Jesus ends up. We know he will rise.

We celebrate Christ the King Sunday by hearing this story – the story of him talking and conversing with Pilate – for all intents and purposes the Roman ‘king’ of Jerusalem. He’s the dude with all the power.

Where in this story – our ‘failed’ king of Christ is put on the same level as the ‘successful’ king that is Pilate. They talk, and Jesus leads that conversation to the truth – the truth that is his word and his life. The truth that Jesus is the word and is the life.

For we know that Jesus is not a ‘failure.’ At least not in the eyes of God. For the victory that Jesus receives and gifts to each of us in the new life of our baptisms, is the gift of new life. The gift of a renewed and resurrected life in those waters of baptism.

We hear this story – the conversation before the victory – on the last day of our church year. We hear this story and know that next week after we hear Pilate ask, “What is truth?” We enter into the season where we get to say, “Just wait and we’ll show you.”

We end this church year on a question – of what is truth.

This is a question that many of us seek to find an answer to. There are many who think the truth is in the military, or in political debate and action, in the latest technological marvel, in the intellect of our peers. And none of those things are truly bad.

It’s good to have a means to protect yourself, it is good to be able to talk and converse in political realms, having technological marvels does make life a bit easier at times, and being witness to the intellect of peers can be exciting – but, none of those are the truth. In fact, most of those aren’t even led by the voice that proclaims to the truth.

For we know who calls to us towards the truth. We know that voice that calls us by name. That voice full of care, and grace, and love, and power. That voice that leads us to see the kingdom around us. That voice that directs us to see God at work in our lives and the life of the world. That voice that is always at work – proclaiming, serving, being with all of creation.

As we approach the coming season of Advent – that time that we are in expectant hope of the in-breaking of God into our world and into our lives in the birth of God’s son – we still listen to that voice that proclaims the truth. And as we listen we see our lives being led by our king – our Christ.

And we won’t always know what that looks like, but we know that our Christ the King is the one who serves those in need, who proclaims love and grace, who is present among us and in the midst of our lives. That our king – because of the cross and victory over sin and death – does that for everyone in all of creation. From the least to the greatest. And when we’re being led by that kind of King, than that’s probably the kind of life we end up living.

How that is made known in our lives is different for everyone, but the voice still calls out to us, still leads us, still pushes us, to see the truth that is in the world. The truth that isn’t of military power, of political rhetoric, of technological or intellectual feats.

Yet, the truth that boldly walks to the cross for the sake of the world and is victorious over sin and death. Who in his victory frees us from the chains of fear and trepidation that the rest of those ‘voices’ would rather us listen to.

On this Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate and coronate the one that the world wouldn’t expect. But we celebrate the truth. And as we end this year in the church, we look forward for the ability to wait and to make space for the truth – for the voice of Christ – who calls to us and leads us out of grace and peace and love. Amen.

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November 16, 2015, 9:00 AM

the one where we need the reminder...

Sermon from November 15, 2015

Sermon Text: Mark 13: 1-8

Grace and peace to you from God our Father 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!

At first glance, the lessons that we heard this morning don’t appear to be what we’d want to hear on the day that we celebrate a baptism. We read of wars and rumors of wars. We read of birth bangs. We read of suffering.

Instead, it seems like these are texts that go hand-in-hand with the news and images we saw yesterday as Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad were subject to unthinkable acts of horror and terror. Our hearts and prayers are lifted up for those affected by these atrocities. We pray and hope that God works through these times and that God is present with those in the midst of this tragedy.

So, why would we want to hear about all that Jesus talks about today when we have a beautiful baby to look at as she is splashed with water in the name of the triune God? Shouldn’t the readings we hear on the day of a baptism be about happy things and how great the life of a Christian will be and should be?

One of the things that we have to remember as we live the life of faith that we have been gifted – the life of faith that has been poured into us in our baptisms and will be poured into Ainsleigh as she is baptized – is that we are a resurrection people.

We believe and proclaim new and renewed life in and through our God. But, there’s this particular thing about living into a resurrection life – you have to have a death first. In order for something to be raised to new life – the old self has to die and fall away.

So, when we are baptized, we believe that the old self – the self that clings to the sin in our life – to the ways that are not of God – dies away and when we are lifted out of those waters; when those waters wash over us, a new person – a new creation – emerges. A new creation welcomed into the life and community of God. That new creation where God looks down from on high and says, “THIS IS GOOD! Look at my beloved right here!”

In this baptism – in all of our baptisms – God’s work is forever. This is all the baptism she will ever need. And there are many who hear that who are outside our tradition of the church and think that that is a little strange. You see, in baptism God is at work – we are the recipients of God’s wondrous love and grace through these waters. And when God makes a promise – God doesn’t break that promise. God doesn’t abandon the ones who God has made a covenant with. Even with the night seems so dark, we remember that God’s promise holds true, that those waters that washed over us – that will wash over Ainsleigh – is still true and full of grace.

As we were all welcomed into the community and life of God – just as Ainsleigh will be – we journeyed into this life of faith knowing that it wouldn’t be easy. That there would be struggle – struggle that we hear from Jesus’ own lips this morning and that struggle lived out in the lives of many this weekend.

Being witness to that struggle – even when removed by thousands of miles – we need the reminder of baptism. We need to be witness to this event and to remember that event in our lives so many years ago. We need that reminder that God is present here in our lives. We need that reminder that all is not lost. We need that reminder that the light still shines and the darkness will not overcome it. We need that reminder that God is at work. At work in our lives and at work around the world.

At times that work is so hard to see – such as it is now for us and for those in France. Baptism reminds us again and again that God has been and will continue to be at work.

We remember that in baptism that God has reached down to be with us. That we are washed and cleansed as we are – as Ainsleigh will be – welcomed into this family and community of God. That as we all make promises this day and remember the promises that we have made we know that we do not do this alone.

We are baptized into something far greater and far more wondrous than just ourselves – than just this small portion of the entire body of Christ. In baptism we are welcomed into the entire kingdom – the entire body. We become a part of this great litany of saints that has been going on for over 2000 years and will continue to be in growth until the day that Christ returns to bring peace to the world.

Until that day, we know that there will be struggles. There will be hardships. But, we know that we do not endure it alone. We gather in prayer and in service with and for one another. We seek justice and peace not as lone rangers amidst a seemingly crazy world, but as a community and family of God working together so that all are welcomed at the tables of the world and our lives.

Some days it will be easy to remember and to see God at work. Some days it will be very difficult. Yet, we know that we don’t do this alone. Ainsleigh will have her mom and dad, she’ll have her family, she will have us. We too – as we remember our baptism – know that we are not alone. We have one another and even those we’ve never met.

We strive to show that there is another way than what those in the world might exclaim. In our baptisms we know that we are not alone – we need to remember that more than anything this day as our world continues to move forward after such a heinous crime committed by outliers of a faith that promotes peace.

We need that reminder as we are witness to this baptism this morning.

We get be a witness and a part of Ainsleigh being welcomed into this community – to be washed and welcomed – into the family of God. To tell her – and to remind ourselves at the same time – that this story is her story too. It is our story.

We get to remember that in our baptism – hope is not lost. The light does cast out the darkness. That we are welcomed. We are forgiven. We are accepted. We are sent to live out life as Christ to others. Being in service. Loving those around us. Proclaiming Christ to all.

We listen and worship this day knowing that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves. Most importantly – we are reminded that we are a part of something and that something is the life and love of God!

So, let us remember – it is here that we remember that all is not lost, light defeat darkness, and that God is present with us. We are washed, we are welcomed, we are forgiven. Christ will rise. Amen.

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November 9, 2015, 8:56 AM

the one where we ask, 'who do you trust?'

Sermon from November 8, 2015

Sermon Text: 1 Kings 17: 8-16 and Mark 12: 38-44

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

It’s pretty good to be gathered altogether here on a Sunday isn’t? Now, I know we’re gathered altogether this morning because of our annual meeting after this service, but it is still wonderful to have the full voice and body of our community on any day. Whenever we can get everyone together – that’s always a good thing.

So, we come to this day and we hear two stories about widows from our scriptures. One from the Old Testament that we read from in 1 Kings while the other we read from the gospel of Mark.

As I read these two stories one question kept jumping out at me – who are you going to trust? We have two pretty similar situations dealing with widows. They each approach their situations differently, but they seem to end up in a very similar decision

Now, there are a few things we should know and understand first about widows during this time. First, women were not treated very fairly. Women were viewed more or less as property that transferred between their father and their eventual husband. Women didn’t hold jobs, they weren’t allowed to provide for their families in the same way as men were, and more. Now, if women had it rough, being a widow was even worse. For your support disappeared when your husband died. Of course, there weren’t that many men who were seeking to marry someone who had already ‘been married’ before. So widows were stuck. This is why God has placed an emphasis on the fact that those who follow God are called to care for the widow and orphans – because based on the society that they lived in – they weren’t able to provide for themselves.

In 1 Kings, Elijah is told by God that he will meet a widow when he goes to Zarephath. Lo and behold as soon as he arrives at the town gates he sees a widow. They have a short – but deep – discussion where Elijah asks that she gets him a drink. We have to remember here that this is during a different time and within a different culture than our own. I don’t think any of us would approach someone we don’t know and the first words out of our mouths would be, “Bring some water so that I can drink would you? And while you’re at it, I’m hungry too!”

This widow – in the midst of following through with Elijah’s request – makes it known that she really can’t. She’s been collecting sticks to make a fire, and with the last bit of oil and meal she has left she will make some bread for her and her son – and it’ll be their last. They’ll eat and eventually die of starvation.

This isn’t a happy story that she tells. She has no one to turn towards. For all she knows, the god or gods she and her people has been praying to has left them because of the drought that was going on. So, she couldn’t even turn to the ones who were supposed to listen. Who is she to place her trust in?

Yet, in the words that Elijah gives to her he says, “Do not be afraid.” Elijah is asking this woman to trust not only him, but to put her trust into the one whom he proclaims – the God of Israel. This of course is not the God she knows or follows. She is a part of a group that is outside the nation of Israel – Elijah is a foreigner in her land.

He asks her to do all that she has said she was going to do – to make her last meal so that she and her son could then die from no food. But, first he asks to still make him a small loaf of bread. With that small act of trust and faith – the jars of meal and oil that she has will not run out.

She places her trust in the one she doesn’t know – but, who knows her.

Now, we fast forward over to our Gospel lesson and we again meet a widow who is in a similar situation. However, there is a marked difference between her and the widow before Elijah. The woman that Jesus points out is one who is very poor – she is a widow afterall. In fact, the amount of money that she gives – all that she has – is worth no more than two pennies.

Yet, she takes all that she has and she drops it in to the offering box at the temple.

Jesus lifts up her faith in that small act, saying that she has given far more than what anyone else has given and apparently there have been quite a few who have offered up hefty sums of money. Yet, this widow is lifted up as being ‘greater’ than those.

Now, there is a tendency here to lump these wealthy individuals with the scribes that Jesus has just condemned, but I want to caution us here on that. Yes, Jesus does condemn the scribes – the ones who use all that the widows – this widow – gives to line their own pockets and not help them in their need (which the money is supposed to be used for).

Jesus doesn’t chastise those who have given large sums to the temple at all here. He just makes a point about how they offer and what the widow offers. The wealthy have given out of their abundance – and that’s good. It is good to give out abundance – out of our abundance – and no one should ever be made to feel guilty of that. It is good to give – especially when we are called to give to help those in need, like the widows and the orphans. Which I’m sure many who gave to the temple that day in front of Jesus fully believed that their money would go towards.

This widow however has done something different than those around her who have abundance. Instead of giving out of her abundance – which she doesn’t have – she instead has given her entire livelihood – she has given her complete trust in the one she worships and follows.

That is what Jesus lifts up. It isn’t so much that her two pennies are ‘worth’ more than the bags of money that the others have given. It’s that she has placed her trust completely into and with God.

Because if we are being truly honest with ourselves, we can’t blame the first widow for being a little hesitant in following through with what Elijah is asking of her. She’s doing the right thing by caring for herself and her son. I don’t think I’d want to give my absolutely last meal to a stranger either – and if I did it wouldn’t be an easy endeavor. That takes a lot of trust and faith.

Also, I think many of us – especially those of you who are keen financial stewards – are probably just itching to tell the second widow that she’s being foolish. She is given all that she has into a system – though designed to help her – that we know probably won’t because of the scribes that will use it for their own selfish gains and desires than for her and others’ needs.

I’m not great with money – just ask Erin – but, I know when not to give it all away.

Yet, both place their trust into something – into someone – beyond themselves. One more readily than the other, but they both place their trust into God. The one who has promised to care for the poor, downtrodden, and oppressed. The one who has called us to do likewise.

So, we hear that story this morning on the day that we gather to vote on a budget and vote for leaders within our community to help guide, direct, and shape the ministry here in service to God and neighbor.

So, the question before us this day – and every day – is this: Who are you going to trust?

We as a people of God are called to place our trust in the one who cares for us in ways that we cannot imagine. We are called to place our faith and trust into the one who has come down to be with us. The one who was, is, and always will be the Word made flesh. We are called to place our trust into the one who has gone to the cross for us and who was raised from the dead for us in the victory over sin and death.

We are called to have trust and faith that the budget we vote on is used as a tool and ministry for God’s service. We are called to have trust and faith that the six individuals before us and the three we elect today to sit on council are guided by God through their words and actions on behalf of this community.

Like the first widow we met this morning, there could be some hesitancy about what we have to offer might not be enough or it might be used in a way that we normally wouldn’t agree with. But, in that act of trust – we are placing our faith in a God who works through us and our actions so that all might be served and brought to life.

Likewise, we might give out of our abundance because we know and remember that God is active in our life and in the life of ministry here at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. That even if what we have to offer is so ‘little’ compared to what appears others can – that God still can use that too.

That as we all are contributing, offering our lives to God – all can be cared for. Ministry can thrive. The Word of God can spread. The Gospel can be proclaimed.

Some might call it foolish. Some might be hesitant. But, we remember that even the foolish, even the hesitant are provided for by God. Both of the widows in our lessons today are loved, accepted, and cared for by God.

Christ is at work through each of us as we continue to offer up our entire selves in service to God and in service to one another and in service to those who are strangers among us. When we place our trust it may be foolishly simple or even difficult – but, we place our trust in God.

Our trust that God is active in us, in the life of this community, in the life of the world.

We place our trust in the one who sees, who cares, and who sends. Amen.

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November 2, 2015, 9:00 AM

the one where we remember and hope...

All Saints' Day

Sermon Text: John 11: 32-44

Grace and peace to you from God our Father 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!

It has been one year since we last gathered to remember those who have died in our lives. This year – especially for me – is a little different than in years past. Our state has suffered greatly this past summer, our area has seen devastating events take place. All of those events have involved death.

Death in how those called to serve kill those who they are to protect. Those who are called to serve be killed by the ones who they are called to protect. Single individuals who inflict so much pain and death because of the color of someone’s skin. A one-in-a-lifetime storm that has caused so much damage and death. Then news last week of a Mid Carolina High school student who was killed in a hunting accident.

Accidents. Intentional acts of violence. Natural disasters. Death in so many varied and senseless ways.

Death is always visceral. Death is always painful.

Whether it happens to you, happens near you, or happens far away.

The news of death makes us weep, it beckons us at times to cry out with Mary – “Where were you?! If you were there – if you were here – then they wouldn’t have died!”

This morning we remember nine from our community who have died since the last time our community gathered on All Saints Day. We remember Ruth, Tom, Mildred, Connie, Kathleen, Carolyn, Harriett, Helen, and Warren. Some deaths might have been ‘expected’ because of age or illness. Some were too soon; some were after years or months of terrible illness. No matter how death has affected this community – affected you – it always hurts. It is always painful. We always weep.

All Saints day is a great celebration, but it is also a weird celebration as well. This is a day that it is a mix of joy and sorry. Of loss and anticipation.

We remember those we know who have died, we weep and mourn. Yet, we still celebrate the eternal life to come – the promise of the resurrection. This is a day as I read earlier this week – that we smile through our tears, trusting in God’s promise that all our yesterdays are just a prelude to a glorious and never ending tomorrow.

As we read the gospel this morning, one thing jumps out at me so clearly. It is one of the shortest verses in all of scripture. It simply states that Jesus weeps.

In our second reading, we see the titles and labels of the divine and cosmic as Jesus announces that he is the alpha and the omega. The beginning and the end. In other places are the titles and labels of messiah, Christ, Lord, Word, incarnate.

In more ways than one, we cannot understand those things. We have no way to identify with them. Yet, we trust and hope that all those labels – all those titles – all of that is for us. We have trust and faith that in all those identities that others have given Jesus and that Jesus has claimed to be – that it is God at work in God’s son.

Yet, in this text. On this day. We know how Jesus feels. We can identify with him. Jesus weeps because his friend has died.

All of us have lost someone to death. Some more recently than others. All painfully. All weeping.

Have you ever thought about this verse before? Jesus wept.

Jesus – the son of God – the Word incarnate. The alpha and omega. The beginning and the end. Weeps. Jesus weeps.

Gods aren’t supposed to weep. Some might even say men aren’t supposed to weep.

Gods are supposed to be strong in the times of sadness and death.

Yet Jesus weeps. Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot cry when the son of God has no problems showing his emotion.

Showing emotion out of his hurt in what Mary says to him. Out of his frustration that death is seen as more prevalent than the life that Jesus proclaims. In the sadness that his friend has died.

Jesus weeps.

What I remember most on this day above all other days, is that not only is this a day that we remember those who have died, but we remember a God who is so present with us that he weeps. Jesus weeps at each death we experience.

When a loved one dies at the end of a full and long life? Jesus weeps.

When a loved one suffers through a terrible and tragic accident or illness? Jesus weeps.

When one in God’s creation unleashes senseless harm and violence upon others? Jesus weeps.

When nature lets loose upon the land and many die? Jesus weeps.

Jesus weeps out of love and care for each of us – just as Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus

Yet, Jesus doesn’t stop there. Jesus doesn’t just cry and move on. Jesus acts.

Full of emotion – sadness, mourning, even anger – Jesus goes to the tomb where his friend’s body lies. He instructs the people to roll away the stone. He insists even when the people around him – Martha included – try to explain that it is of no use. He’s gone. He has begun to smell.

Roll the stone away.

Lazarus! Come out!

And Lazarus does. He shambles out still wrapped in the clothes of death, the smell still lingering in the tomb.

This is a pivotal moment of John’s gospel. It is after this sign of God that those in power around Jesus will put into place the plan to dispose of him any way that they can. As the bands of cloth are unwrapped from Lazarus’ body, we remember that Jesus too will be wrapped up. As Lazarus walks out of the tomb, we remember that Jesus will be going in. As Jesus calls out of the tombs of our lives, Jesus is then going to enter into those places for us as well.

Jesus willfully enters into death so that the sting of death will be no more. Jesus defiantly faces death – and will win. He goes in to take our place in that victory over sin and death.

The message today is one of remembrance and hope.  We are called upon today to remember all the saints who have gone before us – both those who were great and shining examples of Christian character and virtue and those who were known only to a few and whose greatest virtue may have been only that they clung tenaciously to the promise of God in Christ to love them no matter what.

We look back with fondness of those who died, but are no longer with us. Their memories still fresh in our minds whether they died two months ago or 40 years ago. Yet, as we remember we look forward with desire and anticipation. We wait in expectant hope that what God has brought in Jesus is for us as well. That it is truth. That in Jesus we have life. We have faith and trust that God in Christ will do for us what Jesus did for his friend Lazarus. That we will be called out of our own tombs on that final – on that first – day in the life of God.

Where on that day we can and will live into the promises that Isaiah proclaimed that death will be swallowed up forever and that God will indeed wipe away every tear, where death will be no more, where weeping and mourning and pain will be no more.

On this All Saints day, we are invited to trust in this weeping and compassionate God. The one who cares so much that he sheds tears at our sorrows and hurt – at his own sorrows and hurt. Where we have hope that this God whom we call Lord, will make all things new, for us and for all of creation. Amen.

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November 1, 2015, 12:00 AM

November 2015 Newsletter

Grace and peace y’all!

So, we’re in November and the weather is starting to get a little cooler. The good thing is, cooler here is much different than cooler in Michigan. It’s a nice experience here. In Michigan, it is the beginning of the realization that it is about to get a lot colder. Plus, cooler here occurs in November, cooler in Michigan descends upon you in August/September. Needless to say, I’m happy I’m here! And my excitement isn’t just because of the weather!

Lots of exciting things are taking place at Redeemer as we continue to head into a new church year with the beginning of Advent at the end of this month (November 29th)! Ignite (our new joint confirmation program with Summer Memorial, St. Paul, and Grace Lutheran) is in full swing and it is amazing to journey in this formation with 25 youth and other adult leaders! Such a fun experience!

We also have some exciting changes that are occurring with our worship life as well. We are introducing a new setting into our worship service. This is a setting that I am particular excited for. It is fun, uplifting, and inspirational. I hope each of you enjoy it as well. Of course, there will be an adjustment period. Much of the same language we’ve always used in worship are present in this setting, it’s just conveyed in a slightly different way. It isn’t bad, it’s just different. What I love most about this new setting, is that it opens up participation for all of us into the worship service.

That’s what I love most about worship; worship is something that we do together. It isn’t a solitary or independent experience at all. We’ve already added a little more congregational participation into worship since I arrived here at Redeemer, we’re just going to add a little bit more.

I know that this setting for worship will be different than what you are used to, all I ask is that you be willing to give it a chance. Anything new that I get to experience, I like to give it a chance for at least four times. Those first few times will be our adjustment period, and the last few will be those times where we will become a little more comfortable.

As we approach Advent, we approach the amazing in-breaking of God into the world. Advent is that time that we are in expectant hope for the change that God will birth into the world in the incarnate Word made flesh and blood.

When God mixes in – change happens. It isn’t always easy, it isn’t always fun, but God always leads us into a place where we can experience the Spirit in new and wonderful ways. After the change settles, the fun emerges as we realize how God is at work in this new way.

Be open, have fun, and worship God!

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