In pm's words
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August 31, 2015, 1:51 PM

the one about traditions


Sermon from August 30, 2015

Text: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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 thoughts of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!
So, we’re out of the Gospel of John (for now). So, no more growling stomachs while the pastor preaches about bread during the sermon anymore!
We dive back into Mark’s Gospel and we are witness to this story where those who hold on tight to the rituals of Jewish life are a little miffed with Jesus and his band of followers. They’ve been taught from an early age in their faith that one must be ritually clean – and all the items and utensils they use – before eating. Their thought is that one must follow this cleansing process or suffer the anger of God.
The Pharisees and scribes – who were the most adamant opponents to Jesus and continually tried to trip him up and embarrass him in front of the many crowds that were drawn to him – again question his disciples because they aren’t following ‘the traditions.’
Jesus’ response is that which questions their true intentions. Are they following these rituals because it is of human tradition or are they following the ritual because they view it as a gift from God and an extension of the grace that God has granted them?
Of course, we know the answer… Jesus calls them hypocrites.
The church today still adheres to its many traditions. No tradition is bad in and of itself. But, we as human creatures have laid upon them potentially more ‘rules’ than were originally required.
One of my favorite stories about how we as humans do this is when I talk about my little sister and where she works. You see, my sister has one of the best jobs in the world (a part from a pastor that is). She gets to work at Disney World. She loves her job, and my family is pretty happy about that because she really isn’t allowed to work anywhere else for the rest of her life. During her orientation, they had to learn some of the ‘rules’ of being a ‘cast-member’ at Disney World.
One of the most important rules that any cast-member learns is how to direct guests where to go. They are taught not to point with one finger, but with at least two fingers. Now, the story they are told is that in many countries and cultures it is considered rude and offensive to point with one finger. So, naturally not wanting to inadvertently offend someone, they oblige and point with at least two fingers towards an individual or group’s destination.
Now, that’s a good reason to not point with one finger. It’s called being respectful of another’s culture – which is always a good thing. But, do you want to know the real reason why they point with two fingers? Well, Mr. Walt Disney was a notorious chain smoker and whenever he took guests on tours guess how he pointed – with two fingers because that cigarette was always in his hand.
The story of the church that I always highlight is why we have candles. The story we’re given is that the candles represent the presence of Christ in our life. As that candle burns, we remember God’s presence here with us – that same light that throws back the darkness in our lives. Where we know that coming into this space there is always a candle lit. Reminding us again and again that God is here.
But, the real reason candles started appearing in worship? Thousands of years ago it was dark and priests needed to see in those cavernous cathedrals and worship spaces. It made sense.
But, since we’ve given a more theological reason as to why we use candles in the church, we’ve bestowed upon them even more reverence – especially in how they are lit. I’ve had a few folks here ask me – pastor how should we light them? Did I do it right? Can I do it better? My response – did you light them? Did you burn the church down? Good job! You did it right!
You see, the light of candles and the pointing with two fingers are good things. They are wonderful things that we do to help ourselves and others be directed in life. But, when those other rules are placed upon them that keep us from enjoying the sheer gift that we’ve been given it gets in the way and we lose sight of what God has called for us to do and be.
You see, ritual purity laws that the Pharisees questioned Jesus and his disciples about aren’t necessarily bad. It is good to eat with clean hands and utensils. Helps food taste better, keeps you safe, and more. However, I think there are two things at play here that Jesus pushes back on.
First – doing the ritual isn’t an excuse to not do what else God calls us to be. Making sure you do a tradition in worship or in your life absolutely correctly and perfect doesn’t give us a free pass to be jerks to those around us – both in this place and outside these walls. Too many times I see people who lift up the fact that they are always in church or that they say their prayers every night or more. Yet, I witness them speaking cruelly to their neighbors, where they horde the gifts that God has blessed them with, where they don’t live out the love and hospitality that Christ proclaims. When that ritual or tradition either keeps us from living out God’s gracious renewed life of baptism or even supplants that call – that isn’t good.
The other thing that this conversation brings up and that which Jesus specifically alludes to is that it isn’t what is outside ourselves that defile us. It isn’t the dirt, or the germs. It isn’t the clothes we wear or the actions of others around us. What defiles us are those things that come from inside us. Those thoughts and actions we do to hurt, injure, or twist the person and people around us.
Jesus gives us a whole list of how those things can manifest themselves in our lives.
So, what are we to do? How are we to go on through this life?
Well, we have to remember that the rules and traditions we do are not the things that make us whole, and pure, and accepted in God’s eyes. We have to continually remember that we already have that love. In our baptisms we have been claimed in that love and not one thing can take that away from us. We’re already loved, forgiven, and accepted.
It’s this crazy thing called grace that God has given to us. That grace that has set us free. Free from feeling that if we don’t do this right, or light this candle, or point in this way, or wash this hand then God won’t love us as much.
God already loves and accepts you. God does! I promise! God has looked upon us in our baptisms and has declared us worthy and clean.
Now that we know we are worthy, pure, accepted, and loved – now we get to live into those traditions. Not as the obstacles and rules that prevent us from experiencing the grace of God, but instead getting to experience them with joy because of the gift we’ve already been given.
Where we get to light those candles, not because we need to see – but, because God is here. We get to point and direct others to the joys around us not in a half hazard way, but in a way that brings us into relationship and respect with those around us.
And when we do slip up – and we will – we remember that it’s not that God will love us a little less and we’ve got to work our way back up, but that we remember that we are fallen and we continually pray that God continues to work on us and in us so that we can fully live into the gift of love and life that we have been given.
It isn’t the rules and rituals that make us ‘right’ before the sight of God – God has already done that in our baptisms. The rules and rituals are those reminders of what God has already done for us and for the world. Amen.
 

 

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August 24, 2015, 10:21 AM

The one where we look...


Sermon from August 23, 2015

Sermon Text: John 6: 56-69

 

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!

So, we’ve finally come to the end of this discussion on bread. As we read this Gospel lesson this morning, I’m willing to bet that many of us can identify ourselves with those gathered around Jesus who say, “You know what – this is a little much. I’m not sure this is something I want to do.” As they hear these difficult sayings and teachings from Jesus many who gathered with him turned and walked away.

But, there’s something I want to point out here that might be overlooked at times. If you notice, the ones who turn and leave Jesus aren’t just called ‘the crowds’ as the writer has previously identified them as. No, they are disciples of Jesus who turned back. It is easy for us to consider them ‘lazy’ or not ‘strong enough,’ yet we see that these aren’t just random individuals hearing Jesus for the first time, but they are the ones who ministered with him. I wonder how many of us could’ve been easily mixed in with that group that turned back.

There are those moments and times in our life where we questioned or doubted. In the dead of night, at the bedside of a child or grandchild who was sick in the hospital. While we wondered as we woke up in the morning and thought of the spouse who chooses no longer to be there. While cooking a meal and reflecting on all the ill-will that might exist in our families. We sit back and wonder why things haven’t turned out the way that we hoped, the way that we thought, the way that we wanted – even perhaps the way that we were promised. In all those moments haven’t we wondered if and why we have believed in vain?

In those moments, the thought creeps in as to why we even do ‘all of this.’ What is it good for? Where we wonder where God is, if there is a God, and why at times is it so hard to actually see God at work in our lives? When we get to those points in our lives and those doubts and questions linger it is easy to succumb to the thought that those promises were misplaced and the trust was empty.

And we may not openly speak out against God – we’re Lutheran after all we don’t like to talk about that stuff all the time – but, we might not have made that extra effort to get to worship. Our prayer life slowly dwindles, we reduce what we’ve been giving to the church, we don’t see the point to help others. We ever so slowly disassociate ourselves with the community of faith around us, we slowly back away into the darkness of the night.

In the end, we get to where those same disciples who turned back are in our gospel this morning.

So, as we read we wonder what makes Peter and the rest of the 12 so different. Why them? Is it because they are more faith filled? Stronger? Tougher? Smarter? Dumber? More resilient? Foolish? What sets them apart? Now, before we look at that, we have to remember something else too. Peter and the rest aren’t really any different than those disciples who turned back. They too in fact will turn away from Jesus – they’ll deny, they’ll run away, they’ll be full of pride and arrogance too. They aren’t flawless by any stretch of the imagination. They’ll have their doubts and fears too.

So, if they aren’t any different than those others or even you and I – what makes them standout?

Well, look at what Peter says in response to Jesus as he questions them, “Do you also wish to go away?”

Peter’s response is, “No, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Peter and those others knew where to look. They didn’t put their trust in their intellect, or their skills, or their status among one another, they didn’t even rest solely on their faith. They looked to Jesus. They knew where to look.

They knew to look to the one that points to eternal life. Again and again in this conversation the subject continues to point back to that bread – that Bread of Life. That meal that gives life eternal. That meal surrounded in those promises that Christ dwells within us and we dwell within him.

As we look out into the world and question where Jesus’ real presence is, we know and have faith that as we look to this bread and wine that we can definitely find Jesus here. We will find God in Christ Jesus there for us. This bread and this wine – this body and blood – that Jesus offers to us and for us.

Of course, Jesus is indeed present in those other aspects of our lives as well. We as followers of Christ have faith that the world beats with God’s activity and presence. We know that God is present not only in creation around us, but also in the life of our family, in the machinations of our government, within the community of faith here in this place. God is both present and active in our lives. Helping sustain and actively creating throughout all of creation.

It’s at this point that I usually like to tell and remind people that living the life as a Christian isn’t easy. And I think when we’re honest with ourselves we know that to be true. It can be downright difficult at times to see God in the places around us. With more news of shootings, incredible violence both in our country and around the world, the rupture in relationships between friends, family and faith communities, the corruption that seems to exist in so many levels of government, protection, and business. The world that continues to beat us down with messages that we are not enough, that we need more.

As each of those messages become louder and louder – pounding in our ears – blurring our vision of God at work in the world – it becomes very easy to lose sight of the sacraments of this meal and in the waters of our baptism. Where it becomes difficult to hear the promises in this bread and wine – those promises of forgiveness, acceptance, of love, of life.

Yet, in spite of that increasing ‘noise’ in our lives the sacraments are still here. That as we come to worship each and every Sunday we know that if nothing else – we will find the gospel in this meal. We may not be in a place to listen or hear the gospel in the sermon, the music, or the liturgy when we come into this space for worship. But, BUT – we know and remember that we can and will find Christ in this bread and in this wine.

That even in our most desperate times in life we know that we can look to this meal and be filled with the bread of life. Where even in those moments when all seems lost and we might feel abandoned in so many ways, we look to the bread of life that Jesus offers to us and for us and know that we are loved. We know that we are not abandoned. As Jesus has given his life for each of us. Diving into relationship with us. Residing in us. Filling us to be sent out to proclaim that if anything – Christ is here in this meal, in these waters.

Because let’s face it – no matter how zealous and ardent we are in our faith there will be times that we are beaten down. Where the question of why creeps into our thoughts and minds. Where the temptation to turn back will be very easy to make.

In those moments, we remember the meal that has been offered to us. This gift of life that has been given to us from God in Jesus Christ our Lord. That we can come here and are assured that this promise rests in this meal and that we get to eat and drink. Remembering in that meal that we are fed, we are forgiven, and that we are sent.

Where we are filled up so that we can continue to point others here to this place and to this meal and to these waters. Living this life as a follower of Christ isn’t easy, it really isn’t – but, we are promised that Christ is here with us – especially in this meal and in these waters of baptism. We cling to those promises and those Words so that we might withstand those terrible days and fully live into those days of joy – all of it bringing us into this new and renewed life that God offers to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen!

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August 19, 2015, 9:17 AM

the one about the meal...


Sermon from August 16, 2015

Sermon Text: John 6: 51-58

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

You know, I read this Gospel story and I too at times voice the same thoughts as those gathered around Jesus. Does he really mean we’ve got to eat him? That’s a little, um… disgusting right? It is no wonder that those outside this faith in its early inception wanted to stamp out and snuff out the light of Christians because they thought that they were cannibals who ate babies – hearing a lot about ‘eating flesh, drinking blood, and the baby Jesus…’

As Christians, and as the flavor of Lutherans that we are we read this text and immediately think of the sacrament of Holy Communion. We see those words of flesh and blood and think of the bread and the wine. Where we believe and have trust that Jesus is so fully present in, with, and under this bread and this wine that we can call it the body and blood, without it actually and literally being the flesh and blood.

We partake in this meal each and every Sunday we worship. We participate in this feast that has been prepared for us; this feast that has been given to us. We eat of this bread and drink from this cup and we remember Christ being with us. We come to this meal cleansed in our baptisms as we eat, believe, and have faith that Jesus dwells within us as we eat this meal.

But, we probably don’t talk about this meal as often as we should, or we just gloss over it both in our lives and in the service each week because it is so common for us. We also don’t talk about it all that much because there are probably quite a few of us – even some of you today – who don’t quite understand what this meal is or what Jesus offers in his flesh and blood for us.

What I find most comforting about this feeding sign that we get to read – and which we are in the middle of – for four weeks; is that Jesus breaks bread and passes it around till the people are filled. After that is when he starts talking, where he starts to get people to see what they just did. How Jesus approaches this meal – and the meal that he alludes to for us – is not one in which we first learn and then eat, but to realize what we’ve just done.

That’s a little different than how many of us – many of y’all – were raised in the church. I’ve had my fair share of conversations about having to ‘fully know’ what this meal stands for before one can consume this great feast. Yet, we see Jesus operate in a way that doesn’t really reflect that.

I want to tell you a story.

A few years ago I approached a young couple about the possibility of their children partaking in communion. The response was one that I wasn’t really expecting to hear, but centered on them not knowing what this meal was for. Not to impose, I told them that we’ll have that conversation when they feel their children are ready. They preferred to follow the ways that they were raised. Their kids could have communion after some classes…

Well, God has a funny way of taking our well laid and thought out plans and kind of turning them on their side. Sure enough, not even a few months later, the youngest of their children – who was 3 at the time – stated after communion, “Mom, why can’t I have Jesus too?”

In that moment their mother was floored. Obviously this young girl knew far more than what her parents gave her credit for. Her response was essentially, “You know… I don’t know why you can’t have Jesus…”

Sure enough, the next Sunday those girls were holding out their hands with glee and yearning to partake and participate in the meal.

So, what are we to do? We have this meal and who is it for? What are those barriers that we setup so that we can ‘follow the rules’ and be correct?

This meal that we eat – this bread of life that we consume – this body and blood of Christ that we have is a continued invitation through our baptisms to be in relationship with Jesus. In our baptisms we get to come to this table and feast with and on Jesus.

We come to this table having faith that we are cleansed and forgiven, we get to receive this meal and know that it is for us. That this is Jesus offering himself to each of us out of love and grace.

Of course, much like the rest of our faith and relationship in and with Christ – this sacrament isn’t just something we do ‘just because’ and it isn’t something that we acknowledge only during this hour or so of worship.

But, this meal is an invitation to be in relationship with Jesus. That we consume that which gives us life. What gives us life sends us out into the world in such a way (and filled) to point others to the one who offers life.

That in this meal Jesus is making promises with us. Jesus is offering himself for us and to us. That that sacrifice on the cross continues to mean something every time we look to the cross and consume this meal. That in this meal Jesus proclaims new and renewed life for us. A meal where Jesus dwells within us.

That’s a bold promise. That is a wonderful promise. That Jesus offers himself; the I am. To each of us and for each of us.

What Jesus gave to us, to all of us, to the world, was his flesh, his very self. To use an outdated image of God; Jesus did not look down from above and see our need and then lean over the balcony of heaven and hand down to us care packages of divine wisdom and holy  food and drink.  No, Jesus came himself.

The gift God gives us is God’s very self, in the person of Jesus, in the sacrament of the table and the community of the church – for we too are the “body of Christ,” called to be “living bread from heaven.”  The gift we are called to give to the world in Jesus’ name is not our stuff, not our extra cash or excess provisions.  NO!  The gospel invites us to give ourselves, our flesh if you will, for the sake of the world and for the life of the other.

I think that’s something we can all live out – even if we don’t understand it.

Jesus is this. Jesus is this gift to us. Jesus is this gift to us that we share with others. Jesus is this gift to us that invites us to share ourselves with others.

Jesus wants us to eat and be filled. Jesus wants all of us to eat and be filled. To be filled so that we can go out in sharing ourselves with others for the sake of the world and for the life other.

That’s what this meal gifts to us.

When we hold out our hands to receive this body and blood – this bread and wine – no matter how young or seasoned in the faith – we are saying that Jesus is here. We may not fully understand how or why, but we know that this is Jesus – we feel it – we yearn for this meal. And in that eating we are filled and sent. Sent out to the world to be in relationships with those around us – outside these walls; outside our comforts. For Christ came to us and for us to be in relationship too.

This is Jesus. Eat and be filled. Be filled and be sent. Know that you are loved and welcomed. Amen.

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August 10, 2015, 9:00 AM

the one where we can be angry...


Sermon from August 9, 2015

Sermon text: Ephesians 4: 25- 5:2

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!

What a great second reading for us to receive today with the coming political season beginning to heat up and the most important time of the year just around the corner – the college football season. In this particular part of the Letter to the church in Ephesus we get to see what life as a new creation journeying towards and into the new kingdom proclaimed by Christ is supposed to look like.

What I most enjoy from this text is that it paints a picture that is a little different from some modern interpretations of what this ‘new kingdom’ will look like. If you ask people today what the kingdom of God will look like you’ll get a whole host of answers, but most of them might center on the fact that it’ll be ‘perfect.’ In every way.

Everyone will be nice and friendly. Peace beyond measure. Everyone praising and worshipping God.

Life would be absolutely ‘perfect’ in all the ways we could imagine.

Which, sounds all fine and good – but, there’s only one problem – humans are involved and we have a tendency to mess with things.

So, I enjoy this epistle’s beginning words basically stating that anger still and will exist. Paul is writing here that there will be times that we can and will be angry in some fashion. But, there is a warning here too within this knowledge that anger exists – that our anger does not become an opportunity to sin.

Of course, the call that is written write before this revelation that anger will and does exist is that we are supposed to speak the truth to one another. Speaking truth can be difficult. Especially when it is in speaking and pointing out the difficult truth about our world and ourselves.

Those truths that center on how people are viewed, how others are treated, how we are all participants at times in the ways that take advantage of our earth and our fellow sisters and brothers. Speaking about those truths to one another can ruffle feathers. It can make us upset. Especially when we are the ones with the truth being told to us.

Then again, there is the somewhat ‘easier’ truth to profess – the one that is only difficult because we at times are shy and timid in speaking it. Speaking of the gracious truth of our God who has redeemed us. That truth we can speak to one another that tells us we don’t have to participate in the way the world operates in treating others, ourselves, and our world because we have been redeemed. We are loved. We are forgiven. We get to speak the truth in love of our gracious God.

But, there is this thing about speaking the truth. Because we are only humans and twisted at times by the tempting sin of the world, our opportunities to speak truth to one another are not done in order to build up the Body of Christ, but instead are used as opportunities to manipulate, take revenge on, and tear down one another.

That can make us angry too – really angry. Angry enough to spit!

Yet, we are cautioned in our anger to not let it lead to sin. Which is pretty difficult at times. We like to live in the world of an ‘eye for an eye’ because it’s easy. You hurt me in your truth, I’m going to hurt you too.

The new kingdom that Jesus calls us into and that Paul opens our eyes to is a world that operates much differently from what we see each day. This new kingdom and way of life that we are called into views anger in a much different way.

Not so much as a way to get even with another sister and brother, not even as a ‘deadened’ emotion that shouldn’t exist in this new way of life. But, that sometimes it is good to have anger. Anger towards oppression and injustice. All of it that can and does exist both inside and outside the church. Not being angry in those moments and towards those injustices might even be considered the ‘bad’ response in the new kingdom.

But, even with a little justifiable anger in our lives in this new kingdom this verse does not give us permission to hold and fester onto that anger. It isn’t an excuse to feed and nurture this anger either. So, it seems rather counter-intuitive that the writer also calls for us just a few verses later to ‘put away all anger.’

Dr. Brian Peterson from Southern Seminary thinks that it is a much more appropriate to translate verse 26 not as ‘be angry,’ but instead as ‘when you are angry, do not sin.’ He further points out that when we do speak the truth, not to let whatever anger we experience linger and fester, because we belong to one body.

Now, I’m sure there are many here in their life who have been angry at someone or something. I’m sure there are some who have been angered by others and have held on to that anger, who have found ways to nurture and feed that anger. Living into that anger fueled view of life that causes us to lash out, to go out of our ways to either avoid or disrupt another person’s life in some way.

The scary thing about anger – the true danger of anger, especially that anger which festers and lingers – is that it can become incredibly corrosive and divisive to the community that God is calling forth very quickly.

So, what are we to do with this anger that might come forth? How are we supposed to live into this new world that Christ has called us into that is different from how we’ve always lived?

It all depends on what that anger might lead you towards – if it leads you towards using words and performing actions of evil intent – in all its overt and subtle ways – that’s not good. That’s not what Jesus wants from us.

Instead when we speak the truth in love towards one another – because we are all the community and body of Christ – we do so in ways to build one another up. Whereas we look out in our world and we are witness to injustice and oppression we might speak to the truth that our God of love and graciousness has called us to a different way – a better way.

A way of life that holds life dear – all lives – no matter how young or old, where they were born, who their parents are or their family background. All lives matter. As we look out upon the injustices of the world and the difficult truths we see in ourselves and one another that we put away those words and feelings that break and beat us down, but instead use those words and actions that build us up.

Where we forgive, where we love, where we are kind and tender to one another, where we are in relationship with each other.

Finally, Paul calls us to be ‘imitators’ of God. How in the world are we supposed to do that? And in doing that wouldn’t we be pretty arrogant? Whenever I hear of someone who says they are doing ‘God’s work’ as they are speaking their form of truth I usually get a little hesitant and wary around such individuals.

Again, I heed Dr. Peterson’s wise words that this verse might be better translated ‘keep on being imitators of God…’ instead of be imitators of God. This implies that this is a process. It is something we work in and through with Christ by our side and as our guide. It isn’t something we just ‘get’ and if we can’t do it yet then we better figure it out. But, instead this is grace at work – knowing that what God calls for us difficult, but not impossible. It is a marathon, not a sprint.

It brings to mind a wonderful excerpt from one of Martin Luther’s works that I think fits beautifully here. Dr. Luther writes:

This life, therefore, is not godliness, but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed!1

What absolutely wonderful words. That might be one of my new favorite Luther quotes.

The life we are called to, the kingdom we get to live in is a journey; a process that Jesus is with us on. Jesus is leading us, God is fashioning us, the Holy Spirit is blowing through us. The work of the Triune God is shaping us and the church to be a part of this new kingdom.

We are not finished, we are a work in progress. A work that is continually forgiven, massaged, accepted, guided, and has the truth spoken to us in love through all around us. Amen.

Notes:

1“Defense and Explanation of All the Articles”, transl. Charles M. Jacobs, in Luther’s Works, Volume 34 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1958), 24.

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August 3, 2015, 9:12 AM

the one where we nuzzle up and don't look out...


Sermon from August 2, 2015

Sermon Text: John 6: 24-35

Grace and peace to you from God our Father 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!

Signs. Signs point to a lot of things. Signs point to potential dangers up the road. Signs point the path to where we are heading. Signs point us to troubles in our lives. Signs point to those wonderful things that fill us in so many ways. There are loads of signs in our world. Stop signs, yield signs, pedestrians crossing signs, or my particular favorite the British ‘exit’ signs that point to the “WAY OUT.” Of course, there are other signs as well – signs that we know where we’re feeling good – full of energy, alert, happy, content.  Signs that we’re not doing so hot; a fever, tired, sluggish. Our body shows us signs that we’re in need of food or drink with a rumble of our stomach or the dryness of our throats. 

We have a lot of signs in our world, and we also have a lot of signs in the church as well. We have our ‘literal’ signs like the one outside next to the street that informs folks of what this building is. We have the sign of welcoming folks at the door pointing to the fact that there are open and kind people in this place, we have the signs of the ministries we offer and participate in that point folks to work is being done from this place for the community, we have the signs of bread and wine and word that point to the one who offers his life for all, Jesus Christ.

Of course, we as humans also have a tendency to not really see what those signs are pointing to. In fact, especially when it comes to the signs of the church we can and do act like the crowds gathered around Jesus in our gospel lesson this morning. Sometimes we even act like the Israelites who saw the sign from God and asked, “Manna?” “What is this?”

I read a story a while ago about a father who attempted to get the family cat to notice other cats on TV. I think that is something all of us with pets have tried to do from time to time isn’t it? This man would point his finger at the TV and say, “Look – it’s a pretty kitty – look!” Of course, the cat wasn’t interested in what its owner was pointing to, but instead was transfixed on his finger itself. Nuzzling against that finger.

Or if you’re a dog lover, you have the dogs who act like all those canines in Pixar’s Up. Where even as they are talking to one another, they are always distracted by the SQUIRREL! Pulled away from that which might be important to focus on something that isn’t even there.

Jesus’ crowd nuzzled against the sign of ‘bread.’ Bread that filled their bellies and they sought out Jesus to again fill their bellies. We, as a people, tend to nuzzle up to worship, the Bible, prayer, and other signs in the church yet fail to see what they are pointing to. Sometimes we even nuzzle up to Jesus and fail to see what he was and is pointing to.

Here in this gospel reading, we see folks who notice that Jesus isn’t around nor are his disciples. He and his friends must’ve gone to the other side of the sea, so the crowds do likewise. We have lots of folks in this place, community and world that seek out where Jesus is. This is a good thing. We follow our Lord, we seek out those places where we feel Christ might be and we go. People come to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer because a sign may have pointed them here. Could’ve been a direct invitation, maybe they heard about a ministry here, perhaps that ‘new pastor smell’ is still emanating from these doors and people are curious, possibly they might have been pushed by the Spirit to visit. Something pointed them here, something pointed you here, and you came. 

But, like those crowds sometimes we come for those ‘signs’ themselves and not what those signs point towards. We come to be filled in many ways. There are folks around the world, maybe even in this place, who come to church on Sundays simply to be around people. They are filled by a need to be with others.  Which is good, we should want to be in community. But, ultimately that’s just a sign of what is in this place. Some people come to churches because of the coffee they might serve, or simply because the church offered a meal, maybe because they sing hymns and songs agreeable to their ears, or the time is right and the distance is short. 

But, Jesus, especially in our Gospel this morning, wants us to see not only those signs, but to look out to where those signs point to. These crowds come to Jesus and he questions them – you came because your bellies were filled, not because you seek me.

So, what fills you? If we’re coming to this place, being a part of this community of faith, this Body of Christ, simply for – let’s face it – selfishly wanting our ‘bellies’ to be filled we’re probably not seeing Jesus or to what Jesus is pointing. If you ask people and one another why we come to church – you will receive a whole host of answers. My friends are here (which is what I would tell people when I was growing up in the church) or because a particular church might have a coffee house or even a state of the art work out space.

Now, I’m not saying the things that some churches offer are bad, far from it. A part of the reason we do come to worship, that we are involved in this community of faith is because of those tangible things around us – the people, the ministry, the conversations, the music. But, if that’s what we’ve ‘nuzzled’ up upon solely, we’ve lost sight of what those things are – signs, not bread, and definitely not the Bread of Life.

Even outside these walls and this community there are things that ‘fill’ us in ways that are only temporary. Being filled with the ability to consume as much as we want – food, entertainment, sport. We at times seek to fill ourselves with those things that are bad for us – an excess of alcohol, drugs, hurtful relationships just so we might ‘get by.’ So that at that moment our sense of loss, brokenness, and hurt are filled, temporarily.

We seek to be filled in many ways, but we always seem to want to fill ourselves with only those temporary things. I want to be ‘whole’, but I know full well that my attraction to that object, that food will wane in the future as something newer, better, and shinier comes along. Or I want to be in relationship with someone – anyone – even though those relationships may be harmful to me, but I’m in fear of being alone.

Those are those ‘temporary’ things that fill us in which we seek constantly. Sometimes those temporary fillers exist in the church as well. I come because we always have service at such and such time, or because I like that tune, or that setting, or seeing the colors, or because I’m filled greatly by the seat I sit in every Sunday. But what happens when those things get rocked, even a little bit.  We come face to face with the fact that we haven’t come to be filled by the Bread of Life, we saw the sign yet nuzzled up against it like that cat to a finger, never paying attention to where the sign is pointing towards.

Here, in this Gospel, and throughout these next few weeks Jesus will continually ask us to look out past the signs, to where those signs are pointing. Pointing to the one who gives life to the world, the one who has come down from heaven and is the true bread. 

When we feast upon the bread offered to us by God through Jesus we are filled with love, acceptance, and forgiveness. We no longer thirst or hunger for that relationship that is eternal, that closeness with God because Jesus is “I am” Jesus is the Bread of Life; the bread that feeds those who are hungry, both physically and spiritually. Jesus is the one, working through the community that opens that acceptance for all.

Yes, Jesus does fill bellies. Jesus does offer bread for all physically.  Jesus works through you and me so that others might be filled. But, we don’t come to Jesus because our proverbial bellies are filled and satisfied. We are filled because we are filled by Jesus, the one who has come from heaven, the one who points to the kingdom, and the one who all things point to. We come to be filled by Jesus.  To be filled with his love, his life, his service so that we too can point others here. 

We do point others here to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and the Body of Christ, not because we help in feeding, in clothing, in providing for the needs of all. No, we point folks here, using those signs, so that they too might know that Jesus is the one who fills. Jesus is the one who we have faith in.  Jesus is the one who is the Bread of Life for the entire world. That Jesus is the one who is here. Amen.

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August 3, 2015, 9:03 AM

August 2015 Newsletter article


Grace and peace y’all!

We’re old friends now right? I mean, I’ve been here for five Sundays, so it seems like we can be real with one another. I know I haven’t (as of writing this) moved to Newberry, but we aren’t going to let that get in between us are we?

So, this month, I wanted to talk a little bit about forgiveness. It’s always something we need to hear and probably need help practicing. It doesn’t hurt that Jesus talks an awful lot about forgiveness either. One of my favorite Jesus stories is the one where his disciples basically ask, “How many times should we forgive, like seven times?” Jesus’ response is – “How about 77 times.”

Once we realize that we aren’t supposed to read this story literally – Jesus isn’t saying that once you forgive 77 times you’re done and you should never forgive that person again. Far, far from it. In fact, what Jesus is saying is that we should always forgive. Jesus telling his disciples that they should forgive 77 times is such an astronomically (and comically) large number that he was emphasizing that you should always forgive. Especially when people feel like you should stop.

I think when we read that we can be taken a little aback by our Lord. Why? Because what Jesus asks of his disciples and of us is pretty hard to do. Forgiveness isn’t easy and it is a process. Forgiveness is also an interesting act when conducted between people. We like to think that forgiveness means more for the person who has done the wrong. I’m forgiving them so that they know that we are OK and that now they can go on living with a clean slate!

What I think, is that forgiveness is more of a gift to the one who has been wronged against.

A story I read once talked about holding grudges (not living into forgiveness) in this way…

Imagine a small cup of water. It’s not very heavy, it may only have about four or five ounces of water. Pick it up. It’s really light isn’t it? Now, just keep holding it and don’t put your arm down, but stretch that arm out in front of you. Hold it and continue holding it up. If you hold it up for 30 minutes how ‘light’ is it now? How about 5 hours? 30 days? A few years… That ‘light’ cup of water is an incredible burden now isn’t it?

Now, forgiveness is imaging ourselves – after days, weeks or years – of holding on to that cup and putting it down. Just put down the cup. Let it go. Relief! A weight is literally lifted from us in that act of forgiveness.

That’s forgiveness. We still remember that cup and its weight upon us. But, in the act of forgiveness we no longer let that cup guide us, define us, or identify us. In our forgiveness we let go of that which has bound us up in chains and shackles, so that we can be free to be in relationship with those around us. Even free with the one whom we have forgiven!

Of course, this is still a process that is easier said than done. I want to emphasize that forgiveness is a process. It is a journey that we embark on. Only our God is able to ‘forgive and forget’ and God literally says that that is possible in Jeremiah 31: 31-34.

Forgiveness isn’t easy, it doesn’t happen overnight, but we are called by God to forgive. We are called to forgive so that those grudges – those sins – might not define us. That in our act of forgiveness we might know that we are defined by the grace and love of Christ Jesus our Lord. In our act of forgiveness we are able – again – to walk with those among us. Those who have sinned against us, those we have sinned against, and those who get to be with every day.

That’s a pretty cool thing – so, put the cup down and let’s go share that love with others! Amen!

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July 27, 2015, 10:13 AM

the one about abundance


Sermon from July 26, 2015

Sermon Text: John 6: 1-21

Grace and peace to you from God our father and our Lord and savior 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, it’s that weird time during this year of the lectionary that even though we’ve been reading and learning a lot from Mark’s Gospel, we take a little detour for five or so weeks and dive into John’s Gospel.

I want y’all to think for a bit and imagine if you were in a similar situation as Jesus and his disciples were in this gospel story.

Here’s the setup or the ‘too long didn’t read’ version – Jesus is teaching. There are a LOT of people. At one count there were 5000 ‘people’ which at this time didn’t normally include women and children, just the men were counted. So, lots of people.

And the guy in charge looks to you and says, “So, how are we going to feed all these people?”

I don’t know about you, but that would freak me out. Why are you asking me? I’m here to listen to you! I thought you had this stuff figured out!

I think that’s pretty much Philip’s thought process as Jesus asked him that very same question. We don’t even have enough money to feed them a little bit, how do you expect me to answer that question? Then, Andrew says – 'well there’s this kid here who has a small lunch, but really that’s all we’ve got.'

What I love most about this story is not only the miracle that is about to happen in the feeding of these thousands with just a little. That’s pretty spectacular and shows the power and goodness that is in our Lord Jesus who is our Christ.

But, what I think is most amazing about this gospel story is the difference between how the ‘world’ thinks and how the kingdom of God operates.

You see, when we are put into a similar situation we tend to think about what we don’t have. We don’t have enough. We won’t be able to provide. We’ve got to think about ourselves first before those out there.

No matter where you look in our world today from advertisements, TV shows, books, internet postings, you see this practice of scarcity being played out. There is this thought that we don’t have enough, so we must look out for me and mine first before we care about that person next to me.

There’s only one really huge issue with that. The world likes to make us think that we never have enough. We don’t have enough food, we don’t have enough money, or toys, or clothes, or prestige, or clout. No matter how much we accumulate the world will always tell us that we don’t yet have enough. That we need more. That before we can help out that person over there (which the powers at be in the world will want you to take pity on someone rather than compassion remember), you need to have just a bit more. A bit more so then you can help out your family, maybe a really close friend, a cause you care for, and that’s pretty much about it.

Do y’all ever get that sense from interacting out in the world? What makes it so tempting to fall into is because it’s sometimes pretty good advice. Makes good financial sense to be a little secure before you can help those in need.

Well, if we haven’t figured it out yet – Jesus does a lot of things that don’t usually make much sense to the world. As the disciples and others are seemingly brimming with anxiety about how to feed all these people, Jesus blesses and passes out such a little amount of food that it might have been seen as an insult to the more than 5000 people gathered there.

Of course, the miracle and sign at play is that with Jesus there is enough. That in Jesus there is always enough.

That little insult of food filled the bellies of those over 5000 gathered. There was so much that 12 baskets of leftovers were gathered. That’s pretty amazing!

You see, I read this story and I love this story not so much because of the miracle and sign of this great feeding, but because I’m reminded again how much I probably don’t trust what Jesus offers that much. I don’t trust that in Jesus there is not only enough – but that there is an ABUNDANCE.

What would our lives look like if we lived with the thought of abundance in our mind and hearts? What I mean by that is not that miraculously a plate of food is going to end up on your doorstep or God will bless you with the winning lottery tickets, or send you a huge client simply because you’ve got faith and a ‘strong faith’ in God. I’ll leave that to the prosperity gospel preachers.

No, what I mean by living in abundance is realizing that we do have enough. We have so much of an abundance in Christ that we’re able to help those in need with food, care, finances, time, relationship, and more. We have such an abundance in our life that we are able to share in that abundance with others.

What would that life look like? That’d be pretty good wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it be great if we just didn’t worry about all the material trappings of our life, where we didn’t have to worry about keeping up with others, being content with what we have and out of that abundance to be with and share with others?

Now imagine if everyone thought that way. What’s so wonderful about living into this life of abundance that Christ models for us this morning is that everyone is caring and sharing with all. That means that all of us are being provided for simply because we are all caring in, compassionate for, and being in relationship with one another because of Christ’s gift of abundant life in each of us.

What would our lives look like if we lived that way? How would we as the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer look if we lived into that life of abundance? Fretting less about what we don’t have and being thankful for the abundance that we do have that we get to share with those in our community of Newberry.

I wanted to end this sermon with a wonderful story of abundance that I heard about that happened at the National Youth Gathering in Detroit, MI last week. I was told this story by our bishop, Herman Yoos and I thought it was wonderful and truly lives into this life of abundance in all that we have.

The youth from South Carolina (along with thousands of others from around the country) helped clean up quite a few blocks of neighborhoods in disrepair. Adding to the work that has already been done in Detroit by residents and others. Anyways, as they worked two kids from that neighborhood asked if they could help too.

Of course, the group let them in – it is their neighborhood after all – and, there was an abundance of work to be done. But, that isn’t what is so special about this story.

No, after the work was done that day. It would’ve been tempting to say to those young men, “Thanks for your work with us! See ya later!” No one would fault the group for doing that right? No, instead they asked them if they’d like to join in the worship and experience at Ford Field that night.

They didn’t pay. They didn’t sign-up to go. They didn’t do all the stuff that those other youth did for three years in their respective communities in order to come to Detroit. But, that didn’t matter. And I’m so happy that it did NOT matter.

No, living into abundance the group thought, there is enough room for them too. They get to experience this as well. They too are in this together with us and us with them. We are all the body of Christ.

That’s living into the life of abundance that is gifted to us from our Lord Jesus who is the Christ. Looking at what we have, what others have, what we all have to offer and saying – “Yeah, there’s abundance here. This is – we are – enough. Let’s share in Christ.” Amen!

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July 20, 2015, 1:49 PM

the one where Jesus models compassion...


Sermon from July 12, 2015

Text: Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

Grace and peace to you from God our Father 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!

If you remember a few weeks ago, we read that Jesus has sent his disciples out to be with those in need in the community of Israel. They were to be dependent on the hospitality of those that they met on the way. They were instructed to not take anything with them except the clothes on their backs and the sandals on their feet. They were called to have trust in those around them as they proclaimed the kingdom of God and of repentance.

Well, the apostles are back! They are excited! They are anxious to tell Jesus all that they had seen and done and had been able to teach. Of course, there are others who are pretty excited as well. When you have people doing great things around the area there are others who take notice and want to experience that excitement and possibly get in on that healing action too.

The disciples return and Jesus shows compassion with them – telling them that they need to care for themselves. To take a time-out so that they might be rested to continue on the long journey of ministry that Jesus will lay before them and lead them through.

So, they set off to a deserted place that turns out isn’t so deserted anymore. Obviously, the boat that the disciples seem to always travel in is incredibly slow. The people around Jesus and his band of brothers are always figuring out where they are going and meeting them there. I’ve always thought that was kind of funny.

Needless to say, the deserted place is quite full of people and Jesus again has compassion. This time for the multitudes who gather in anticipation for Jesus and his disciples.

Compassion is an incredibly important emotion and virtue. And I think Jesus gives us an integral aspect of his life to model. Showing compassion to those in need.

Of course, the risk we run as followers of Christ is confusing compassion with pity – whether we are practicing compassion or receiving it.

You see, pity and compassion are similar in ways to their end goals – helping individuals in need. But, the starting point and means to which we get to that help is far different.

When you have pity for someone one – you’re starting at a point of – those poor things – they just don’t know any better. I’ve gotta help them out. I’ve gotta show them a better way.

We’re still helping – which is good, but the means and starting point in which we help isn’t very flattering or fair. In showing pity – we are starting on a point of superiority with another. No one wants to receive pity. Pity is just throwing money at someone or a helping hand because you have to do it. You’re following through with the social obligation of being nice. And we have to be careful in this, because people don’t want to receive pity – they don’t want to be considered ‘pitiful.’ No one wants that, and at times it just makes situations even worse.

That’s not what Jesus practices and models for his disciples and for us in our gospel text this morning. Jesus isn’t looking at the gathered crowds around him and thinking, ‘these poor people don’t have any food. They’re sick too. They just don’t know any better. Well – I guess I should help them. It is the right thing to do after all…’

But, instead we are told that he has compassion for them.

You see, compassion starts out in love – in fellowship – in relationship with another person. We have compassion for those in need because we desire that they be fed and filled and healed. Not because we are sorry for the lot that they have received in life, but because we have love for them. Where we desire to be in relationship with that individual, being with them in their life. Not just checking off the box for social obligation or clicking the ‘like’ button on our Facebook feed. But, being active in that compassion.

And what does that look like? It looks like not only giving food to the local food bank – but perhaps volunteering to feed those in need, and then maybe even advocating and participating in those areas that make it easier for all to be fed and to be fed well. Why? Because out of our love of neighbor that our Lord calls us to we cannot stand idly by and watch as people go hungry in our community, schools, and our world.

Maybe it isn’t just saying, ‘Man kids need tutors and role models don’t they!’ It isn’t just clicking the little thumbs-up button on your friend’s latest post about the good work some person is doing with those with less advantages than us. Maybe perhaps it looks like actually being a tutor, forming relationships with kids so that they might know they are loved and cared for. And we do this because Christ calls us to be in relationship with others.

Maybe it isn’t sitting here in the pews with our arms crossed with thoughts in our heads of, “Man, why don’t people come here more often – like they used to?” Do I believe people should be in worship? Yeah, I do, but not because of some social obligation to do it. But, because they are invited to participate in the life of Christ and that we share in one another’s life as sisters and brothers in Christ. Where we can live into the message that All are welcome – no exceptions. Because all are welcomed here in this place and at this table.

Jesus shows compassion on all and invites us to love those around us. Because of the love and abundance that we have received from Christ compels us to share that love and abundance with others. Inviting them into this relationship. Learning from all so that we can be that much more full. So that we might understand the hardships of others.

Where we can be in relationship with all.

Compassion – it is pretty powerful and it begins in love and it involves ‘doing.’ Not because we have to, but because we get to. In our compassion for those around us we get to be with others and we get to invite them into the life of Christ. In our compassion we get to be invited into the life of others so that we might know and understand. In that love, we can help all those in need advocating for ways and means to help alleviate suffering in all we meet and especially for those that we do not know. We get to share this life of abundance and love that has been gifted to the world in Jesus our Lord.

Jesus calls us to follow in his compassion for others, for those in need. This compassion starts in our love for our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ. Our love for those around us because they too are wonderfully and beautifully created by our God of grace and love. Amen.

 

 

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July 14, 2015, 10:13 AM

Gaming and Faith


As many of y’all who know me pretty well (and for those that don’t yet know me well you’ll find out) I love video games. I have been playing video games since – forever – it seems at times. I have wonderful and fond memories of playing games with my brother, sister, and father growing up.

In fact, some of my earliest game related memories are when my dad was close to beating a game called Blaster Master for the NES (made by Sunsoft ). Blaster Master is a notoriously difficult game and that’s putting it mildly. I remember when he was at the final boss and I ran around to all my friends in our neighborhood in San Diego, CA telling them that my dad was about to ‘do the impossible!’ in beating the game. I remember about 5 of my friends crowding into the small room that our Nintendo was in watching him play the final boss. When he did beat it, there was much excitement all around!

Some of my favorite games are the usuals like the Super Mario Bros. series, the Legend of Zelda series, Halo, and Mass Effect. There are some odd ball favorites that I thoroughly enjoyed like Too Human on the XBOX 360 (which was universally panned it seems). Whether a game is strategy, first person shooter, a RPG, an action game, or even a small casual game on my phone; I have either played it or know about it.

Needless to say, I love video games. I love that satisfaction I get in completing tasks, living in different worlds, experiencing different stories, and enjoying the fellowship with fellow gamers. I love the interaction you get to experience in video games. Most importantly – I think games are fun. REALLY FUN.

Of course, many of you are probably thinking, “But he’s a pastor! He can’t play video games!” Well, sorry (not sorry). I am a pastor and I do play video games. In fact, I know a bunch of pastors, future pastors, and strong people of faith who equally love video games too. It is a part of who I am and I cherish those moments that I get to escape to for even the briefest of moments (that become even briefer when you are a husband and a father too).

As a pastor, I cannot help, but think about my faith as I play these video games. In fact, I think about how I live out my faith and how that it is similar to my view of video games. For me, games are fun because I’m participating in it. I’m having direct action on the character in front of me. I’m pressing the buttons, I’m completing the quests, and I’m advancing through the story.

I am an active participant.

I view my faith life in this way too.

For me, being a person of faith doesn’t mean sitting on the sidelines or just coming to worship for an hour or two on a Sunday.

For me, living this life that Christ has called us to means that I’m actively involved in it. I’m participating in this life of faith in all aspects of my life.

I’m coming to worship. I’m in prayer. I’m reading scripture. I’m visiting those who are sick and confined to beds. I’m in conversation with people about faith. I’m active in movements that point out the injustice of our world. I’m a part of my community. I’m being a model of faith for my children and the other youth here at the congregation I serve.

I’m doing. I’m getting to do. And all of it is fun.

For far too long there have been those in the church who have been just content to sit back and watch. They come to worship, they limitedly participate, they don’t feel engaged and they don’t engage in the life of faith.

That’s a problem. The life of faith that we have been gifted – this life of faith that we get to live – is one that should be participated in. We get to participate in those areas of our faith life that fill us with life and love.

We get to play and participate in the role that God has set before us. This life where we are children of God, created out of love, and redeemed through grace.

We get to participate in this life of faith not because we have to, but because we get to and it is FUN! Or at least I hope you think it is at times!

For me games are fun and I get to participate in them (which makes it even more fun). Watching someone play games isn’t the most fun, unless I’m interacting with those playing in some way (I have frequented in watching Twitch.tv streams and have hosted streams in the past). For me, games need to be interactive.

How I live my life of faith needs to be similar in that interaction. I cannot just sit by without any interaction with others. Holed up in my own little world. I need others. I need to be doing something. Not because I have to do it, but because I get to do it. God has gifted to me and to all of us this wonderful life of faith. We get to participate.

Each of us are new creations in our baptisms. We get to live the life of faith. We get to worship, and partake in communion. We get to sing, we get to read scripture. We get to serve our God and our neighbors. We get to walk with others in need. We get to point and show others where the Kingdom of God is at work.

We get to do all of that. We get to have fun.

Live out your life of faith. Have fun. Participate. Engage. Amen

- pm

 

PS - if you'd like to play games with me - you can find me on XBOX Live at my gamertag:

 

 

 

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July 12, 2015, 12:00 AM

the one where it's hard to find the Gospel...


Sermon from July 12, 2015

Text: Mark 6: 14-29

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!

You know, our Gospel reading today is a little strange. Did you notice that Jesus doesn’t play a part in it? That’s weird isn’t it? It is one of the few gospel texts that we read on Sunday where Jesus plays no direct role – nor does he show up in any way. That’s kind of strange.

Of course, it is a text that as we read it I cannot help, but cry out – Jesus will you please show up! This is a hard one to preach on because it doesn’t seem like there is much gospel within its verses. But, there is a lot going on here and for those who are fans of Netflix’s House of Cards television show – this is a story from our scriptures that could fit right into that shows plotlines. Perhaps mixed a bit with HBO’s Game of Thrones too just for good effect.

So, we have this story about Herod Antipas – the son of Herod the Great who was the Herod in power when Jesus was born.

Needless to say – the Herod in our story has a great deal of power as well. The only unfortunate thing is that he doesn’t seem to be all that in control of his power as a political leader in his realm.

For you see, this whole Gospel story has a lot to do with power, who has it, who doesn’t, and who is really in control. As one of my favorite comic super heroes is known to say – With great power comes great responsibility.

Herod has great power, but he doesn’t have great responsibility.

This is also an interesting story because of where it is placed within Mark’s Gospel. It sits right in the middle of Jesus sending his disciples out to proclaim repentance to the land and those same disciples returning from that time. Herod hears about this and he is afraid.

He’s afraid because he thinks Jesus is John the Baptist come back from the dead. And why would he be afraid? Well, we then go into a flashback of how Herod imprisoned John because of John’s words against Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife; Herodias. Herodias wanted John to die for his words, but Herod wouldn’t kill him because he feared John, knowing he was a righteous man.

Long story short, Herod is greatly pleased by the dance that his wife’s daughter – the text is vague, but we can assume that this is Herod’s young niece/step-daughter. In his pleasure he tells this young girl that he’ll give her anything that she wants – even half his kingdom if she would only ask.

Instead, she speaks with her mother first and Herodias uses this as the opportunity to finally rid herself with the thorn in her side and marriage – John the Baptist. Cue the references to House of Cards and Game of Thrones now if you’d like. Herodias is shrewd and uses Herod’s power against him.

Not to look weak and to stand by his word, Herod reluctantly abides his step-daughter’s wish and presents her and his wife with the recently detached head of John the Baptist – a man that upset him to no end, but who intrigued him greatly with his words.

Where O God is the gospel in this story? It doesn’t seem like there is much – if anything – in these words to comfort us in the knowledge of the gospel. And, I wonder if that’s OK. I think these are one of those times and opportunities that we can look a little outside the text that we have been given to read this week to hopefully see and experience the gospel of our Lord.

Like, I said earlier – this text is all about power and righteousness and responsibility. As we read from all of our texts today, we see the power motif played up. Ultimately, we can discern that it isn’t ‘us’ who have the power. It isn’t even the ones who have power in the world that ‘have the absolute power.’ That absolute power rests solely with God.

You see, the disciples were sent out to proclaim repentance from sins – the same message that John the Baptist proclaimed zealously even while imprisoned by Herod – in full knowledge of what happened to John.

We like to think that news didn’t travel very fast or accurately during this time, and compared to us in the modern age – it was just a bit slower. Even without computers, the internet, and cell phones – we as people have a great talent in spreading news like wildfire. I am confident that the knowledge of John’s beheading was fresh on the minds of those disciples of Jesus that were sent out to proclaim repentance to the people of Israel.

They knew what happened to John, they knew what could happen to them as well. Yet, they still went. They went with nothing, but the clothes on their backs. No extra stuff – totally dependent upon the people they would meet along their way.

In knowledge of a world hostile to their message, they still went out to proclaim repentance from sin and asking the people to turn back to God.

That’s power – that’s power that can only come from God.

I read this story and I cannot help, but think of our sisters and brothers in the faith who live in situations and in certain places where they are actually persecuted and killed for their beliefs as Christians. Those sisters and brothers do not live in Newberry, they don’t even live in the United States – because we don’t have to fear death because of what we believe.

I think of those martyrs around the world who have died at the hands of those who don’t agree with them simply because they profess Christ crucified. We don’t have to worry about that here in the US. Where we are free to practice and profess our beliefs. There are others who are not afforded that luxury and freedom at all.

In spite of the knowledge that they could be killed for their beliefs, they still proclaim. They still preach forgiveness. They still call for repentance.

So too do the disciples that we read of last week go off at Jesus’ words. And they will return from their missions in full knowledge of what happened to John the Baptist.

You see, God’s power works in ways the powers of the world do not. The powers of the world will attempt to squash out or prevent that word from reaching the ears that need to hear – that yearn to hear of radical love, incredible forgiveness, and repentance.

For the powers that hold sway in our world – that’s not a message that they want to get out – it definitely wasn’t a message that Herodias and Herod wanted others to hear. People in power don’t like to be reminded that they should repent. To be given a public message of new perspective.

Jesus does his ministry and his disciple proclaim this message in full knowledge of this recent history – this history that involved the death of one who proclaimed a similar message.

Jesus’ ministry is done in spite and despite the risk it involves. The good news is that Jesus is at work even in the midst of turmoil and threat of death and destruction. Jesus doesn’t stop proclaiming simply because the powers of the world foam and rage.

Naysayers – protesters – filibusters – soldiers – rebels – insurgents – nothing – not one thing – stops Jesus from proclaiming and sending us out to proclaim the gospel.

The power of Christ far exceeds and goes past what the powers of the world are capable of doing. That message of acceptance, radical love, incredible forgiveness, and repentance is a message that is going to get heard. And we get to be the ones who proclaim this in, and for, and through Christ our Lord.

As we’ve seen in Mark’s gospel the past few weeks, that proclamation can involve risk. In spite of the risk, Jesus is still at work and we are still sent. For the absolute power ultimately rests in God our Lord and Savior. Amen.

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