In pm's words
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November 1, 2018, 8:00 AM

November Newsletter Article


Grace and peace to each of you this wonderful day and month!

October was a month full of faith and goodness as we celebrated our 165th Homecoming Anniversary, Reformation Sunday, and so much more. As we enter into the month of November, I am constantly reminded by what I’m thankful for in this life.

We live in a world today that is constantly obsessed with social media and the # (hashtag #itisntjustforpoundsanymore). People put witty remarks following the # so that others can find similar posts. One of the most popular searches and posts is #blessed. People are posting their blessings all over the place. Good family? #blessed! Sports team won? #blessed! Inadvertently received a free meal at the restaurant? #blessed #nomnom.

Not that any of those are things are bad. But, the things that get ‘blessings’ attached to them are actually moments of thankfulness. I’m thankful for good health, a wonderful family, a faithful community, a good time with friends, a filling meal, and so much more. I’d be incredibly #thankful for another fantasy football win come to think of it.

It always gets me thinking… blessings are something pretty important. For me, blessings are reserved for those things that God has gifted to us out of sheer grace and mercy, not because the barista charged you for a Tall when you ordered a Venti.

I’ve been forgiven of my sins! #blessed! God works through me and others and is active in the world! #blessed! Received communion this morning and reminded of God’s presence in my life! #blessed!

When we attach ‘blessings’ to everything it might make us feel that we are only loved because of those good things. As Christians living life out through a Lutheran lens, we don’t see God’s goodness bestowed that way. God doesn’t show blessings through material things, but has gifted us new life through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is out of God’s sheer gift of grace – freely given to us – that is our ultimate blessing. And we always have that!

As we move into the month of November, I am so thankful to be a part of this community of faith here at Redeemer. It is truly a wonder and a joy to be a part of this life of faith with you. I’m thankful that we get to live out God’s #blessing of new and renewed life together. Amen.

 




October 29, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one on the reformation...


Sermon from October 28, 2018

Text: John 8:31-36 and Psalm 46

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

So, we’ve arrived at what I have jokingly referred to as the 1st Anniversary of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Last year we gathered with over 350 of our sisters and brothers in faith from churches and communities all across our area to celebrate and worship. We convened at Wiles Chapel on that chilly morning and had a wonderful time of worship and an incredibly full day of faith, fun, and fellowship.

As we came to this year’s Reformation, I had begun to think and even had been approached by others – not only from here at Redeemer, but out in the community as well – what can we do to make this year special too? How can we make this year ‘equal’ to last year’s great celebration?

First, I’ll be honest – in the grand scheme of things, we’re probably not going to equal last year’s celebration even if this is the 1st Anniversary of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. We won’t have as many people. Our day won’t be as full as last year (though I am anticipating our Conference Reformation Service at St. Paul later this afternoon will be well attended). Yet, we still have a great choir and wonderful friends to share this day with as the Newberry College Singers are with us to share their gifts as we all give praise and thanks to God’s good work and ministry continued to live out in the world. And no matter what, no matter how large or ‘smaller’ our worship is this day – God is present with us, Christ is calling to us, the Spirit is guiding us – always moving to reform our hearts and lives to God’s intent for the world.

As humanity, we always want to make things bigger and better. But, I wonder if that is the wrong approach to take. Does it really matter if things are bigger, more robust, or that we have the ability to kick it up to 11 every year? I’m not convinced that God cares about all that. From what I’ve read in scripture, God isn’t in the business of making extravagant flashes to get a point across.

Oh sure, the ministry and work that God is able to do through us, through the church active in the world, through the Body of Christ does make waves and can radically change our world and culture, but I don’t think that’s ever really been done because of a huge day of worship and celebration.

God is in the business of making small changes and nudges that drive the most impact into the world. God is in the business of declaring presence and love through intentional, but mostly small ways to make that presence and love known.

This past week, I was able to go to our SC Synods Rostered Leaders Convocation at Lutheridge. I gathered with colleagues and friends; pastors and deacons of this great synod and church. We laughed, we had fun, we learned, we worshipped, we studied the Bible. In fact, it was one of the most enlightening Bible studies I’ve ever been a part of in my life. It was taught and led by the Rev. Dr. Theresa Thames from Princeton University. She is a dynamic, grace-filled, and faithful individual who is full of wisdom and wit.

She led our bible study on 1 Peter and even though that text is 1) not the scheduled or assigned reading for this Sunday, 2) an incredibly difficult text to read, and 3) a text that has been wildly misused to support some of the most heinous institutions in this country and world. Yet, it is a text (and Bible Study) that I could not help, but think about Reformation Sunday throughout.

For in her Bible Study she helped us see God’s radical change and intentional resistance and subversiveness to established powers and institutions. Where the writer has intentionally written to those who are the most oppressed and undercut in the Roman society. Written to them to bring them life and hope. Written to them so that they might know that God is the center and power and sole authority of life.

The letter of 1 Peter is written to give hope to those who have no hope. To give life to those who have had life wrenched from them. To give space and honor to those who live in a society and structure where all of it is kept from them at every turn.

It is a letter that for me is reminiscent of our scheduled Psalm for this morning (which we did not read, but don’t worry… I’ll read it for you now [READ PSALM 46]).

This is a psalm that Luther himself would sing and recite when life would become difficult, unruly, and feeling like it was going in all the wrong ways. It is a psalm for us that we might use to hear and recite as we feel similar moments of ‘losing it’ like Luther did. A psalm that reminds us of God’s great power and authority. That even in the midst of chaos and upheaval – God is at work and is steadfast. That in the midst of uncertainty and doubt – God is the one that we can and still should seek for solace and comfort.

God is at work and present with us even as the country is gripped by fear because an individual has sent bombs to those who dissent and disagree with our current presidential administration. God is here even as a gunman walks into a Kroger and specifically fires at African-Americans. God is holding creation close and working to change hearts as another gunman walks into a Synagogue in Pittsburgh and opens fire, killing 11 individuals and injuring others.

Of course, living into that sort of faith does not mean that we just sit around and let ‘God be God.’ No, we still take active partnership in the life in which God has called us. We still work and strive for a life that Jeremiah visions. We still live with the Word of God centered in our lives and moving us through our actions to care, love, and be with those around us (even the ones we may have disagreements with) – so that all might be able to live into that same freedom and love as well that God bestows upon all of creation.

Reformation Sunday at its core reminds us that in the midst of change, in the midst of revolution, in the midst of the chaos of challenging the establishments before us – God is present with you. God is present with you as you strive to live into the life that God calls for. God is present with you and at work as you seek to love in the way that Christ calls us to love – to love and live freely and fully into the Word that has been written on our hearts. God is with you even when following that call to love and serve others disagree and act out violently.

Living into that Reformation and radical change because of God’s love will cause nations to roar and kingdoms to totter. Yet, this is the God that is present with us, our refuge and strength because God breaks the bow and shatters the spear.

The Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge. Today might not be as robust and full of pageantry that last year was, but we continue to know that God is with us. God is here. Amen and Amen.




October 22, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one about being able...


Sermon from October 21, 2018

Text: Mark 10:35-45

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

So, in the summer of 2020 the South Carolina Synod will elect a new bishop at that year’s Synod Assembly. Bishops elections are always a little exciting. I’ve been a part of one bishop’s election while I served in Michigan, and it was definitely an interesting experience. The election process itself is very different from how we normally would assume an election is conducted.

There is no campaigning (at least not deliberate). No ads. No speeches leading up to the appointed time. Instead, names are essentially thrown into a hat and the people who get the most ‘votes’ proceed on to the next round.

As I went through that first bishop’s election, I noticed something. For me, anyone who said, “I want to be bishop.” Was someone that I was highly skeptical about. No one wants to be bishop unless they have an agenda of sorts. But, anyone who might’ve said, “I think I have skills and gifts to be in that position and I wouldn’t remove my name from consideration.” Was someone that piqued my interest. And, I definitely zoned in through conversations about people who said, “So-and-so is a wonderful pastor, a great listener, and who I think would help lead and serve this synod.”

I thought about this future bishop’s election and the one I was previously apart of as I read this passage from Mark’s gospel. I happen to think of a lot of leadership roles and elections in our world and culture as I read this small part of the gospel because I think that it not only provides a wonderful model for us to live out our lives as faithful followers of Jesus, but it also gives us a faithful model of how all leadership can be lived into through all facets of our culture.

As Jesus speaks to the brothers James and John, he points out that what they are doing is no different from what the Gentiles do. Seeking power. Striving for greatness over others. The world does this and we know it because they lord it over those whom they rule. The ones who do that Jesus is implying that they are not faithful rulers – not in the way that God has called us to be leaders.

Those are the ones who brag about their power and reach. The ones who exert that power with force. The ones who demand loyalty to them over everything and everyone else. Those are rulers and leaders to be very wary of because they view their leadership only from their perspective and not from how others receive it.

Jesus speaks to his disciples and to us that leadership in the kingdom of God – faithfully lived out in the world – is something very different from what we would expect. Where leadership is something that is served for others. Where leadership is concerned with the care and love for those around them.

As I’ve talked about these last few weeks, the disciples are still not able to ‘get’ what Jesus is laying out. They’ve continually heard Jesus say things like glory, anointed, and power and they continue to view that from the world’s perspective. We do that too through many aspects of our lives and world. But, they (and we) fail to realize – again and again – that living into the glory that Jesus proclaims – drinking from the same cup – being baptized into the same baptism – brings us opportunities to suffer and serve.

Not necessarily suffering that we are intentionally hurting ourselves. Whipping our backsides as some monks used to do as they walked the streets of their hometowns. But, being lifted in glory requires us to serve those around us. Being in glory in the world has people look up to you, but in the kingdom of God, people will look down because you’re intentionally placing yourself lower so that others’ needs might be served. We come to serve – we live to serve – we have faith to serve.

This life of faith calls us to look out for others before we lookout for ourselves. That’s what Jesus asks of us when we optimistically cry out, “We are able!” Just as James and John cried out – yet they still ran when the time came to think of others before themselves.

That’s the tricky part. That’s the part that keeps us from fully living into what God calls of us. And that happens to everyone – even your pastor. We get scared, we get anxious. We get leery of serving others, putting ourselves ‘out there’ that goes against what the world calls for. Mostly because we don’t think anyone is out there serving us as well.

We can become obstinate when we take leadership roles and we see that stubbornness run through those who are in power. I’ve got the authority to do this, why should I care to listen to those around me? As Mel Brooks said in, History of the World, Part I, ‘It’s good to be the king!’

So, we cry out – we are able, yet become shy and timid when the opportunity arises for us to live into our cry that we are able in our faith; in our proclamation of God’s love and kingdom.

The wonder that we receive in this reading this morning – is that Jesus knows this. I’m fully confident that as Jesus hears James and John say, “We are able!” He knows that they’ll fall. Yet, he still has faith in them. Eventually they’ll ‘get it.’ As the rest of the disciples will as well.

Not because they’ll do it on their own, but because the Spirit will be present with them. They won’t be alone. They’ll be fed, they’ll be led.

God is with us as well. We will cry out today and many days in the future, “We are able!” when we are called upon by God. Yet we will fall short. We’ll run, we’ll stay quiet, we will remain seated. It’ll happen. It happens to all of us.

Yet, God doesn’t stop working on us. Jesus doesn’t leave us out to dry. The Spirit doesn’t abandon us. We work together. We work with one another. We are not alone. We are fed. We are led.

We serve, and we are raised. We drink from the cup that Jesus drinks. We are baptized into his baptism. We are called and claimed by God. As leaders – as servant leaders in the kingdom of God at work today - we continue to proclaim that we are able – and with Christ – we are. Amen.




October 15, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about letting go...


Sermon from October 14, 2018

Text: Mark 10:17-31

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

So, I want to get one thing out there first before we dive into our Gospel text this morning. Some of it may come as a relief to some and a shock to others. Jesus this morning is not, necessarily chastising those who are wealthy. He’s not. He doesn’t say here that wealth is bad. He doesn’t say that those who are rich cannot enter into the kingdom of God upon his return. Jesus doesn’t say any of that. In fact, Jesus speaks to this man (and the disciples) out of love. Not out of condemnation, not out of guilt, not out of any sense of ridicule. Jesus speaks and invites this man into a deeper life of faith out of pure love for him.

However, what Jesus does say – in that same love – is that those who are wealthy, who have many things, and who live by the world’s standard of ‘greatness’ will indeed find difficulty entering into the kingdom of God.

It appears that what Jesus is trying to say is that those who find value in how the world values life have great difficulty living into and living out God’s grace and love that is a part of being in the kingdom of God.

The wealthy man and Peter both believe that what they’ve done in the past and their current riches will outshine all others and distract Jesus from what they lack. For the wealthy man, what he lacks is giving and caring for those around him. What he lacks is knowing his salvation rests solely in God shown and brought to us through Jesus, not in the ‘things’ that he has. For he has many possessions and the absolute worst thing (and most difficult task) that Jesus could set before him is to give up all that he possesses in order to follow him.

A few years ago, I was able to talk to and help a gentleman who continually came to the church for help. For the most part, he was a good guy. He just wasn’t very good with his finances. We helped him out here and there, mostly with food and ice from the Family Life Center. After about the fourth time of him coming in, I sat him down and we had a heart-to-heart conversation.

He always dressed well, he was clean, and wore really good smelling cologne. His van was always neat, shiny, and so forth. I asked him, if he could afford all of these things, why was it difficult for him to buy food, gas, etc… for him to live off.

Well, he told me. He was indeed saving money as much as he could, but a lot of his funds were going to pay for a storage unit he had which was holding all his stuff before he could move into a facility for those 65 and older (he was eclipsing that age soon after this conversation he said). I asked him about what sort of things he was holding in this storage unit. He said, “Well, my stuff. Extra clothes, a few family heirlooms, some furniture, and a 75-inch plasma TV with an equally awesome sound system.”

“Wait. You’re coming to me and the church for help – and you’re literally holding onto a TV in a storage unit that cannot and does not (currently) entertain you at all? You need to sell that TV.”

“Pastor, I can’t do that, I love my shows!”

“I love TV too. But, you could probably sell that for a good sum of money, enough to hold you over until you get into that facility and then with some extra funds, buy a smaller TV so you can still enjoy your shows when you have a home to watch it in.

I don’t know whether he sold that TV and sound system, but he did (for one reason or another) stop coming around the church asking for help.

But, his story reminded me about the man Jesus speaks with in our reading this morning. For the man I talked to, his identity was wrapped up in that stuff. Without that ‘stuff’ who was he? There was a sense of pride and accomplishment (no matter how clouded it might have been) in possessing that large of a television set. I’m sure it was a good one. At that time, they really didn’t make truly ‘terrible’ 75+ inch TVs.

But, the mere thought of letting that item go stopped him cold. He was visibly shaken when I proposed the idea of selling it. How could I possibly think of that – there must be another way? In his attempt to ‘impress’ me and others with his possessions, he was the one distracted in his life. He couldn’t understand that letting that go would allow him to live more fully and freely in the life that God has gifted him. Where he could not only care for himself, but possibly care for others too.

Without the weight and distraction of an unplugged and unused television set, he could potentially follow Jesus that much more closely. Not that possessing the TV was bad, but it was the great millstone around his neck that prevented him seeing God’s value of him. For he believed (I’m almost certain) that his value was wrapped up in that thing and not in God’s love for him.

Much like the wealthy man prided himself not only in his possessions, but also in his ability to uphold the law. Without realizing that living into the law frees us to live and care for others by serving God more fully and deeply.

Peter too at times (not only in this passage, but more so in other places) loses sight of what Jesus is asking. What he lacks is the notion that God finds value in ways that the world does not. Even in the midst of his faithful discipleship, he still needs to let go of the world’s value system and live into the love and care that God already has for him and the world. A love that has begun at creation and isn’t influenced by how much stuff you have or what rules you’ve followed.

He indeed has given up so much. However, for as much as the disciples live into and follow Jesus (they left homes and families to do so) they are still blinded by the prospect of ‘blessings and worldly things’ to come to them because of their devotion to Jesus as his closest and foremost followers. They too fall into the trap that the world ensnares us in – that riches, wealth, and more follow those who ‘lead’ in the world. It was only a few short chapters ago that they were arguing over which one of them was the greatest – the one who would lead this little band of the faithful after Jesus dies – the one that would get the accolades, the gifts, and more that were due the one who brings others into this kingdom of God.

Another story. We know that monkeys are pretty similar to us, in fact, we come from them – it’s pretty apparent. And as much as we like to believe that we’ve evolved so far in advancement of them, we still have to realize that there is so much that we share between our species.

Do you know how to catch a monkey? Put a shiny object or some food into a small gourd. Tie that gourd to a tree or stake it into the ground. A monkey will reach in, grab it, won’t let go, and won’t be able to get its hand out of the container.

If that monkey lets go, it’ll be able to free its hand and go about its life. If it lets go of its object of desire, it’ll be able to live fully and freely into the life God has gifted to it.

But, many won’t. They want that prize. They desire to hold on to their precious. Some will hold onto it for so long and be so consumed by ‘wanting it’ that they can literally starve themself. It becomes consumed by the prospect of possessing this object that it will cease to not only care for itself, but to live into the community around it – no longer caring for those around it. It’s siblings, it’s family, it’s friends. All because it must have this thing.

Our Lord sees us fall into the same sorts of traps in our lives. Where we care more about the ‘things’ we have or the ‘things’ we’ve done to outshine and distract others – even our God – from seeing who we truly are.

Yet, our Lord God sees us for who we are. Sees us as valued, loved, and cared for creations. We are loved so fully and deeply that we are called to follow the one who loves us and to live out our love for others. Caring for them in their needs. Providing for them over ourselves. Not living into the lie and sin of the world that values possessions, wealth, and more over the people around us.

I’m not saying that wealth and possessions are bad or evil, but they can and do blind us to the care and love of not only our God has for us, but our care and love that we are called to live out for those around us. Especially in our relentless zealousness to obtain those possessions – whether it be money, clothes, technology. Our collective fear of missing out. Our ability to overlook all those ways in which we hurt ourselves and others simply to possess ‘that thing’ which we seek and desire.

Our God calls to us to follow the one who lives for others, who calls us to live and care for others; who calls to us out of this deep well of love for all of us because of who we are. For we are beloved children of God.

Don’t be trapped by the world; live into the freedom and love that God has already given to us. Let go. Follow. Live into the life God has for you and for the world. Amen.




October 8, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about those animals...


Reflection from Blessing of the Animals Service
October 7, 2018

Text: Genesis 1:1, 20-28

So, I wanted to give a short reflection this day as we celebrate the Blessing of Animals. No worries, I know you and your critters want to be blessed, and we’ll get to that shortly.

I am a person who has always loved animals, I’ve grown up in a family that has shown great love and care towards animals. I remember when I was in elementary school and living in Italy where my sister, brother, and I kind of adopted every stray dog in our neighborhood. Unfortunately, there were a large number in that pack of dogs. My sister also happened to name everyone after a tree nut of some sort. There have been very few moments in my life where an animal of some sort didn’t live in my house.

There is something about the animals in our lives – whether they be dogs, cats, snakes, or horses – they have an ability to nuzzle up into our lives and show us what the love of God might be like.

Dogs burst with excitement at our mere presence and the sound of our voice. Much like the father who ran to embrace the son he thought to be dead, but was now found.

Cats, though at times appearing aloof and distant, will cuddle upon you to bring comfort when they sense our sadness and hurt. Much like our Lord weeps as those around him hurt.

Horses exude kindness, intellect, and empathy that at times seems to rival our own. Watching out for us, and even though we may ‘push’ to go one way, they’re smart enough and care enough about us to keep us from going where we think will be good. Our Lord guides us in ways that we cannot see and at times don’t appreciate, but God does this out of love, care, and affection for us.

Snakes… well… snakes remind us of things in the bible. But, seriously, snakes remind us of the people of Israel who looked to the bronze serpent and were healed, just as Jesus was lifted up and those who looked upon him were healed and welcomed as well.

This day, we get to remember God’s creation and love extended to us through the love of those furry and scaly friends and family members in our lives. We get to remember God’s creation and our role within this great kingdom of God – how we are called to care, love, and nurture God’s creation. We are called to be good stewards of what has been given to us through God’s grace and love.

We can and do learn so much from our animals friends. We see God present in our lives through them. We get to live into our calls from God as good stewards of creation as we care for those around us.

This day, we get to remember – as Martin Luther said so many centuries ago, “be though comforted, little dog, though too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail.”

I would expand that to say that all animals have been extended that promise and love from our God. For God created all of this – all of you – all of life – and deemed it very, very good. Amen.

 




September 24, 2018, 8:48 AM

the one about welcoming...


Sermon from September 23, 2018

Text: Mark 9:30-37

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

So, the gospel text we hear and read this morning is one of those familiar ones to us. It seems that it is intentional on the part of the authors of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that the argument among the disciples about who is the ‘greatest’ is paired with Jesus telling them to welcome the child. Where we might be able to think that living this life of faith is both really difficult (putting others before yourself) and quite easy (who can’t welcome a cute kid?).

I think, for the most part, that is how many people look at this text, especially the part concerning kids. We think that’s the easy part. Just bring’em to Jesus! Lead’em to the cross! It’ll be easy! I’ll get to that more in a little bit, but first we’re going to talk about these disciples and their argument.

We know the disciples are arguing. It says it right there plain as day in the text we’ve read. But, have you ever wondered why they were arguing? We’ve been hearing for the last few weeks Jesus telling his friends that he’s going to suffer and die. That there is a shelf-life on his leadership among their little band of faithful followers. Naturally, the question would arise among his closest friends and followers about who will move into that ‘leader role’ once the teacher is gone (remember, they never seem to hear the part that Jesus is going to ‘rise again’ after three days).

So, Jesus again tells his disciples that he has had more years behind him than time in front of him. They begin to bicker and argue among themselves about who the greatest among them is. Where the ‘greatest’ one will be the one to take the reins and lead this faithful offshoot of Judaism into the future.

Of course, Jesus inserts himself into this conversation and they are all a little embarrassed by it. Who wouldn’t be embarrassed by the conversation that is essentially, “Were arguing over what things are going to be like after you’re dead.”

Yet, Jesus throws them a curve ball about what ‘leadership’ within the kingdom of heaven is like. The world has constantly (and still does) shout about leaders being the ‘best’ at what they do. The ones that look out for themselves. The ones that strive to be at the top of whatever it is that they do. And, in the world that works out. You want your financial manager to be really good, you want your surgeon to be one of the tops of her class, you don’t want the guy who – like the old commercial used to quip – ‘Stayed in a Holiday Inn last night.’

The world, for the most part, lives into the adage made famous by Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”

Yet, that is not how the kingdom of God works. The kingdom of God that our Lord Jesus calls us into and the Holy Spirit guides, pushes, and pulls us through is one where others are lifted up over ourselves. Where we welcome and care for those over there (whoever they might be) before we care for ourselves.

Most of us would agree, that this is a difficult thing to live into. We don’t like to be ‘last’ in anything. It isn’t how we are wired as people. We want to do well, to be noticed. There are those times where even when we DO live into presumably faithful endeavors, we do it for the wrong reasons. Which is what our text from James is referring to. Where we do care for others, only because it makes us look good, where we get noticed by others, we can add another check onto our transcripts, resumes, and more so that we stand out even more over our peers.

We can acknowledge that living into what Jesus invites us and calls us into can be and is very difficult. We still struggle with how to fully live into that call.

Then, Jesus doubles down and says that being last of all and servant of all is like welcoming a child in Jesus’ name.

Now, the first time we hear that, when we look at it on the surface, it seems really easy. So simple. Who can’t, who doesn’t welcome children in God’s name? Who would push a kid to the side who wanted to know and learn about the Lord?

But, like almost everything with Jesus, even the ‘easy’ things aren’t as easy as they appear to be.

You have to remember – especially at this time – children weren’t considered full people. They were afterthoughts. You didn’t become a ‘real’ person until you were ‘of age.’ For boys that was when you could start contributing to work, and for girls that was when you could get married and have children of your own. Before that, you were probably in the way.

Why? Because you needed to be cared for. Needed to be fed. Needed to be looked after. Needed to be taught. Needed to take up attention from others.

Caring for children means not focusing (as much) on yourself.

Being last and servant of all in the kingdom of God looks like welcoming the one who requires more attention than you’d expect.

Children always require and need more than we expect. As anyone with children or has cared for children or has seen children can attest to.

But, there is something else about what Jesus says that we might look past if we only take a surface glance at this text. The English translation of this text loses the subtext that the original readers and hearers would definitely catch on to.

Jesus talks about serving others; Jesus preaches about being a servant – those with no status or high value – to others. In fact, the servants who brought food were the ‘lowest’ of all servants at this time. They were so ‘unimportant’ that all they did was bring and serve food. Jesus tells his disciples to be like THOSE for others.

The word used for little child – paidion (παιδίον) – is similar enough that it can be used like the word for servant – pais (παῖς). The subtlety would not be lost on the disciples or on those first readers and hearers. Jesus is telling them – telling us – serving others – like children and servants – is doing so for those who cannot give us anything back in return. Serving them gains one nothing for extending that radical hospitality to them. And still, Jesus says, ‘honor them.’

When you welcome them in my name, you welcome the one who sent me. Welcoming them – the ones who cannot give you anything in return nor can you ‘take from’ because they have and are ‘nothing’ in society – is welcoming God in your midst.

Talk about an upheaval of social norms! Jesus is flipping the status quo on its head and calling the disciples to change how they’ve always been taught to be a part of the kingdom of God. This kingdom is not like the world you know. It is something more, it is something deeper, it is something that values all people.

And when you welcome them – welcome them fully.

Recently I had a colleague share a post on social media of an individual who received a card in church that stated.

“Thank you for being committed to being in church with your child. In order to allow those seated near you to engage in the message, please enjoy the remainder of the service in our lobby. A connection Team Member Will Assist You.”

On first glance, it seems like a really nice and welcoming message. They thank you. They like that you’re kid is there with you! That’s great! But, then you start reading the whole message and you start getting the gist of it.

Sure, you’re welcome, but only ‘over there.’ There are other people here who are ‘more important’ than your kid being here. We welcome you, but we don’t really ‘want’ you here.

That is some major shade folks, and not at all what the kingdom of God that Jesus calls for looks like.

Welcoming others and bringing them to God incorporates welcoming all of who they are. When you welcome a child, even one who is considered ‘less than’ in the world, it incorporates welcoming all of who they are in God’s name. For children that means noise, and mess, and sometimes smell. But, it also means seeing and hearing God present in questions, in joy, in unbridled energy.

Welcoming all in God’s name means welcoming all of who they are. Adjustments are made, room is provided, schedules are re-worked, priorities are changed. All of it, for the person before us. Not so that we ‘get something’ out of it or so that we’ll be noticed, but so the other person is cared for and welcomed; fully and completely and with no reservations.

That is the kingdom of God. That is what Jesus calls us into. That is what the Holy Spirit leads and guides us though. We are called to serve others and welcome others; and when we do? To do that service and welcoming completely and fully – no matter what the world and the powerful think and believe. Amen.




September 17, 2018, 7:35 AM

the one about the unexpected story...


Sermon from September 16, 2018

Text: Mark 8: 27-38

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

So, one of the tropes of many movies today is the character who always sacrifices themselves so that the rest of the group can survive. In adventure movies, it’s the character who stays behind to hold back the enemies or to make sure the ‘bomb’ goes off. In horror movies it’s the character who runs off into the woods to distract the enemy so that the rest of the group can (hopefully) get away. In a drama it’s the character who tells the others to go and not worry about them because their collective lives are more important than her single life.

In all of those scenarios (that we’ve seen played out on our screens countless times) those characters are rarely if ever the ‘main’ character. It’s always the loveable sidekick, the person who has been a grouse and a grouch the entire film only to finally have a turn of heart in the climax of the movie. Whoever that sacrificial character is, it is almost always a supporting role. Even if it is ever a ‘main’ role, it is never as dire as it is made out to be.

Have y’all ever wondered why this is? Mostly because it goes against our collective psyche for a ‘hero’ to lose. We don’t like it. We actually become incredibly upset in our world and minds when ‘heroes’ do lose. Because that’s not supposed to happen. It isn’t supposed to play out that way.

If our gospel story from this morning had been written today, Jesus wouldn’t say any of the things that he does to his disciples. In fact, even if he did, someone would step in and say, “Not you my Lord, but me. Your life is more important.” It would perhaps be Peter who would be that one to ‘step in.’ It would make sense wouldn’t it?

But, that isn’t how it happens in our gospel text this morning, and that isn’t how it plays out at the end of the gospel narrative.

Jesus begins this short narrative asking the disciples what the word on the street is about him. Who do people say that he is? Some answers are shared with us and I’m sure more were given that day. Most people agree that Jesus is something special. Much like those heroes of scripture from the past. Yet, still there is something different about this one.

The disciples know this. They can see the thread lines of those old prophets being made known in Jesus’ life and ministry, and yet still there is something more to who Jesus is. Peter is the bold one who proclaims who he believes Jesus to be – he is the messiah, the anointed one, the one the scriptures have pointed to and the one the people have waited for.

When you believe someone to be the messiah the next words you expect are probably not the ones that Jesus utters – at least they weren’t expected by Peter.

Jesus tells them not to tell anyone – because his time isn’t fulfilled yet. And then he goes into a scenario that they cannot quite comprehend, understand, or bear to see lived out.

Jesus foretells his suffering and death. He tells them of his resurrection as well, but it doesn’t seem like they hear that.

All that the disciples, and especially Peter, hear is that the messiah is going to die. The hero’s story will have an untimely and undesirable ending.

This isn’t how it is supposed to be. The hero – the messiah – is not supposed to lose. That is not how the world should work. That is not how it is supposed to be. There must be another way. What you say is so ‘blasphemous’ to our ears that we cannot bare to listen or hear.

Lord, you are wrong. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

That’s what Peter does, bold Peter rebukes Jesus and I assume tells him that Jesus is out of his mind for thinking this way.

And, I don’t think we can fault Peter for believing that way, we surely cannot chastise him either. For, I truly feel that if we were in Peter’s shoes, we too would tell Jesus that he was wrong. In fact, we probably do the same thing constantly in our lives today (though, perhaps not as direct as Peter did here in our gospel story).

We live in a world that proclaims that living the life of a faithful follower of Christ will bring goodness and ease. Where we will be showered with blessings and perhaps some fortunes. Where if we just ‘get it right’ and ‘get right’ with God and our Lord then all those little bothers and big obstacles will disappear.

In fact, there were some who believed that if they just prayed hard enough – if they had just the right and correct amount of faith – Hurricane Florence would pivot into the Atlantic, or at least would descend upon people that weren’t as faithful.

Yet, that’s not how it works. That’s not even how it works for the one we follow and cling to.

Jesus states to his disciples that life following him won’t be easy. In fact, it’ll be dangerous. It’ll put you at odds with those around you. It’ll at times be the opposite of what you would expect.

I’m almost certain that Peter and the others were thinking that if this is truly the messiah they hit the jackpot. Who would mess with them? Who could stand against them? Life is going to be grand from this moment on! There will be honor, and feasts, and fame, and value in our lives! All because we are the closest to the messiah. We will have been there from the beginning. The friends of the ‘hero’ prosper too.

I’m certain that Peter thought this way because that is how I would think. That is how many – perhaps even many of you – think when they befriend someone on the cusp of fame or popularity. This is going to benefit me greatly.

Yet, Jesus tells and leads a different story and life. There will be pomp and circumstance, but it won’t be in the ways that you expect. There will be attention and fame, but not in the way you’d want. People will look to you and seek you out, but you’ll be fearful instead of humbled.

The entire time you’ll think, ‘this is not how the hero’s story is supposed to go.’ This isn’t how it is supposed to be.

Yet, we know that God works in ways that we do not expect. Jesus says as much in his response to Peter and the disciples today.

We worship a God and a Lord that cares so much for creation, that cares so much for humanity, that the messiah is the one to boldly lay down his life for the sake of the world. That in following him, we will be led against the powers of the world.

Where the world and those in power might shout that you need to fight and push back violently, our Lord proclaims a different way.

Where the world and those in power might push stories and narratives that make you fearful of the other and the different, our Lord proclaims a different way.

Where the world and those in power might forcefully persuade you to care only about yourself and those closest to you, our Lord proclaims a different way.

Where the world and those in power might demand you follow one way to show honor or else you will be rolled through the mud, our Lord proclaims a different way.

Following that different way puts you at odds with the world. It does. It always has. It always will.

It is confusing. It goes against what we collectively think to be ‘true’ in the world. It rubs against what we might naturally think.

Yet, our Lord proclaims a different way. A way that loves and includes those around us. A way that shines the light of faith into the dark areas of our lives and world to bring hope, justice, and wholeness. A way that puts us in opposition of the powerful.

There are risks – great risks. Yet, we cling to and follow the one whose story didn’t go the way we expected.

We follow the one who did suffer and die and who calls us into that sort of life as well.

But, the good news is, the gospel we cling our hope to, is that even in suffering and death, we know and have faith that that is not the final word. For we believe in the promise and hope of the resurrection.

For Jesus did share with his friends the troubles that were to come, but he also shared the glory of God, the goodness, and the wholeness of what is to be.

We are a people of death and resurrection. We may focus a lot on the death part in our lives of faith, the struggle, the strife, the anguish. But, all of that pales in comparison to the glory that God has already shown and will continue to live out because of what happened after those three days.

In our Lord, the suffering is not the final act. Death is not the closure or end. For we believe and have hope that life abounds and erupts in the places we don’t expect.

Our Lord tells us, invites us into, and shares a story with us that is different and unexpected. It goes a way that we couldn’t anticipate. And thanks be to God for that.

Amen.

 




September 10, 2018, 7:54 AM

the one about God showing up...


Sermon from September 9, 2018

Texts: Isaiah 35:4-7a & Mark 7:24-37

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

So, I’ll be honest. This is one of my least favorite Gospel stories, in fact it is one of my least favorite stories from the entirety of our scriptures. It is here that Jesus just doesn’t act like the Jesus we know. Jesus – at first – doesn’t even live into the life that he’s laid out for his disciples and those gathered around him.

In this small part of Mark’s Gospel, we see Jesus – I think – at his most human. He appears to be cranky. He wants to be alone. Yet, in spite of all those ‘wants’ of Jesus, the Syrophoenician woman shows up and approaches our Lord. This woman crosses all those cultural walls and barriers to be with the one whom she believes in and trusts can and will heal her daughter.

And Jesus’ response to her is less than kind. He calls her a dog. He dismisses her plea possibly because she is not a fellow adherent to the Jewish faith and way of life. She’s an outsider. She’s a Gentile. I do not like how Jesus acts towards this mother.

As much as I dislike this text because of how Jesus reacts, there is one aspect of it that I do very much love. This mother’s boldness is what we need in the world. She knows who Jesus is. She trusts in the numerous stories about him. She believes he can and will save her daughter. Even when Jesus seems to ‘pass’ on that opportunity, she persists, and she succeeds in confirming to Jesus that his call and his love is extended to all in the world, not just a select few.

I have a dear friend who likes to say that after meeting Jesus, he wants to go and find this woman to talk to her. To ask her those questions that run in all our minds about this encounter. “How’d you get the courage to do this? What was it like ‘standing up’ to Jesus? Where did that trust and that faith come from?”

I would like to think, that even as a Gentile woman, one who is outside the norm and life of the Jewish faithful, that she would say, “I did it all because when God shows up, look what happens.”

In our first reading from Isaiah this morning, we read of the prophet’s great and uplifting words about God showing up. It first starts with vengeance and terrible recompense, but moves in a way that I think we don’t expect. How often do we hear that our God’s ‘vengeance’ will be swift and powerful? That the world will rue the day when the Lord shows up. We’ve heard that there will be fire and brimstone. That things will cease to be. That God is going to take the truly faithful away from this desolate and unfaithful place.

Except, that’s not really what scripture says. There are more instances that when “that day” comes it will be one of glory and fullness. That God will descend upon the earth and bring creation to its completeness – one truly with and for the Lord.

I love how the prophet Isaiah describes that day where all that has been ‘wrong’ or ‘broken’ in the world will be made right. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will jump, the mute will praise. Everyone – every one will experience the fullness, the full goodness, and the glory of God.

Why? Because that’s what happens when God shows up. Things are made right.

The Syrophoenician woman knew that promise. She trusted in that future. She brought her daughter to that well of hope so that she might, so that she would he healed.

This loving mother brought her daughter to Jesus because when God shows up… look what happens.

Healing takes place. Brokenness is made whole. Love is poured in.

She brought the one who couldn’t bring herself. She trusted in the hope and promise of Jesus and God that even her daughter would be lifted up in that love and grace.

So too do the friends of the deaf man trust in that hope. They bring their friend to the one who can heal. Because when God shows up, look what happens.

We bring people to our Lord, we speak on their behalf because when God shows up, look what happens.

This past week a friend of mine from camp ended his life. He was a man who was kind, faithful, loving, full of life, funny (if not a bit odd), and possessed incredible musical gifts. Yet, in spite of all that goodness, he struggled bitterly with depression and hopelessness. As much as he loved and showed loved to others through his goofiness, his faith and hope in others, his back-cracking hugs, his from-the-elbow waves, his willingness to share and teach music, and that loving smile he was tormented by the lies in his head that made him feel unloved, unworthy, un-everything. That those demons were strong enough to end his life.

Even in his death – I, and so many others – still bring Adam to God. We still speak on his behalf so that healing might occur. We still pray that he knows God’s love for him more fully and completely than any of us now.

Because I know that when God shows up…look what happens. Life, new life, resurrected life, the promise of hope, forgiveness, wholeness, unfailing love, never-ending grace show up.

This morning, we read a text where I very much disagree with Jesus’ reaction. He pushed a woman seeking help and healing for her child to the side. Yet, she knew, and she trusted in who Jesus was. She knew that because God shows up, look what can happen.

The deaf man’s friends bring him to Jesus because they knew and trusted in who Jesus was. They knew that because God shows up, look what can happen.

Adam’s friends – we bring him to Jesus, we speak on his behalf even in his death, because we know and trust in who Jesus is. We know that because God shows up, look what can happen. We continue to speak on Adam’s behalf because he spoke on the behalf of others to bring them to this God of love and grace – through his music, through his care and love for others, through his gifts at camp with people of all ages.

Bring folks to God. Allow others to bring you to God. When God shows up, look what happens.

Not so that you ‘get right’ or so they can ‘fix’ whatever ails them. We bring others to God, we speak on their behalf, out of desperate love for those we care about. We bring the ones we love and care for – everyone we meet because we are all brothers and sisters in faith – because we trust in who Jesus is. Because when God shows up – life abounds. Love overflows.

Even when it is difficult for others to see and know, we continue to show God’s love and care for them and the world. Always.

We know we are loved, welcomed, accepted, and forgiven in mercy and love because God showed up. God continues to show up and look what happens. Life and grace and love abound. Amen.

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September 3, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about traditions...


Sermon from September 2, 2018

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

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

So, when Erin and I were starting to date, we’d of course – like all couples – talk about our families. Sharing with one another the oddities of our kin. Needless to say – my family is the weird one. But, there was something interesting that I learned about her family that I used to just chuckle at.

Her grandparents were great people. Always willing to give a helping hand. Being models of welcome and hospitality to any and all who ventured to their home. There wasn’t a person that stopped by that didn’t have a meal of some sort. Her grandfather was pretty good at carpentry as well and helped us lay floor and quarter round in our first home.

Grandpa Corley was a great person to ask for advice. How to get things done, how to go about ‘doing’ something. Unless it was steak. Steak in his mind had to be charred, black, and tough. “Correctly” prepared steak in his mind was something that no longer really looked (or tasted) like steak. No wonder, I thought, Erin didn’t ever want to have steak dinners when we began dating (of course, we also didn’t have any money so that didn’t help either).

But, for Erin steak wasn’t a good meal because of the ‘tradition’ set forth by her grandparents because of how it was prepared. That was ‘the way’ to cook steak because that is what her family did growing up. And that way – though always used – wasn’t very good.

Thankfully, that is no longer the case. Mostly because her brother had really good steak a few times with friends and learned to prepare excellent meals with it for the family. So, now a new tradition has been born!

But, I was reminded of that (very brief) story as I read our gospel lesson this week. The Pharisees questioned Jesus and his followers because they didn’t do things the way they were ‘taught’ throughout their life. They didn’t ritually wash their hands, utensils, and food like the ‘good’ faithful should and did.

For those leaders, the ‘tradition’ was more important than the meal. Where perhaps the ritual washing of hands began as a way to keep people from getting sick, turned into an ornate procedure to show how ‘pure’ one was before eating.

Perhaps Erin’s grandfather had been taught in his family that you could get sick from eating ‘undercooked’ meat – which is true – so, the most correct way to prepare it was char and blacken it through and through. As a fellow man, that seems like a pretty appropriate response from one of us.

Jesus’ response to the incredulous Pharisees is a rather piercing one. He points out that they are hypocrites because they only see what goes into their body as ‘impure and defiled.’ Where they focus more on the ‘act’ of purity and goodness than actually living into and living out a life of goodness and love.

They are more concerned about keeping up appearances than they are about actually living faithfully in God’s love and presence.

And, I think as we look back on that we can think – oh those silly religious leaders from so long ago! How foolish they were! We say that without realizing that at times we fall right into those same predicaments. Where we too might be more concerned about the ‘process’ than we are with the outcome or the purpose.

In my early years of ministry I remember folks a previous place of worship being obsessed with Halloween and the ‘good things’ that come from it, “We get so many visitors! So many people come to the church!” I thought, wow that’s great! I can’t wait to experience this! Turns out, they just backed their cars to the sidewalk and handed out candy to those who just walked by. Every person that walked by the start of the line was considered a ‘visitor’ and was appropriately ‘marked’ on a tally sheet.

So, sure – they had 200+ people walk by, but I didn’t consider them visitors. And it was very difficult to change that mindset. They were so focused on the ‘number’ the ‘tradition’ that was established that they couldn’t see that they really weren’t doing a whole lot besides giving out candy – which isn’t a bad thing at all!

So, we changed some stuff the next year and got people to come inside the church. We still had a trunk or treat, but we also had popcorn, games, prizes, prayer stations, and more! It was a great success.

Except for the few people who had ‘heard’ that it wasn’t as well attended as it was in previous years. Where before we were having 300 people ‘show up’ and that year we had 50.

All they saw was the number, counting the back of people’s heads. Being focused on the ‘tradition’ of having so many people. What they couldn’t see is that instead of someone just walking by and leaving within 5 minutes, people stayed and hung out for 30+ minutes. Smiling, laughing, having fun, getting an opportunity to meet the church family and community, being warmly invited to join us again!

The Pharisees – like many still today – get so locked into their traditions that they cannot at times move past to see where God might actually be present and leading us.

And, I feel that all churches – even Redeemer – can be locked into that mindset. When we become overly focused on the times that things are, or how a certain part of worship is done, or even how we approach opportunities for ministry. Everyone at times becomes stuck behind traditions.

But, even so, traditions themselves aren’t bad. It isn’t bad that the Pharisees washed their hands, and plates, and food. It isn’t bad that Erin’s grandfather wanted to make sure food was fully cooked. It isn’t bad that some members of my former congregation wanted lots of people to do something attached to the church.

Each of those things are not bad. It only became troublesome when the ritual became more important than why someone was doing it.

As followers in the faith, we shouldn’t be so locked into our traditions that we cannot see God’s presence and love within not only our lives, but in the lives of others. We shouldn’t be so focused on what we’ve always done because we might miss out on what new thing God is trying to do.

This past week I read a poem that I thought spoke to this and shed a little light as to what James is saying to us in our second reading. Its author is unknown, but it was shared by a retired professor at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia. The author writes:

I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger.

I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.

I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.

I was lonely and you left me alone to go and pray for me.

You seem so holy, so close to God.

But, I’m still very hungry and lonely and cold.

Our God calls us – our Lord Jesus invites us – the Holy Spirit guides us into a life that is for and with others. We at times do become trapped within our traditions and our history. Not that those things in and of themselves are bad, but God calls us to see past those things in our lives so that we might be fully present with and better able to care for those around us, in our community, and in the life of the world.

Where in your life – where in the life of Redeemer have you been called by God to do something different so that others might be better cared for and loved? How might the Spirit of God be leading us to live more faithfully and fully into this life of love than ever before? Where have we stopped short because ‘we’ve never done it that way before?’

Jesus continually invites us into this life of faith, to be present with those around us, and to bring the gospel of love, forgiveness, and mercy to the world. It may look different than we’ve ever done it before, but God is with us throughout. Amen.




September 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

September 2018 Newsletter


Grace and peace y’all!

It is September – school is in full swing and new beginnings abound! As I sent my girls off to school this year, there was one thing that I told each of them (even Erin!): Have fun.

Seriously, have fun. When things are not fun, they at times don’t seem worth doing. Or at least, when you’re not having fun it makes the work even more difficult.

I love to have fun. I have fun in life. I have fun in worship. I have fun as much as I can.

The past few months I’ve been having A LOT of fun in a new group that we have started called The Nerd Word. It is ‘sort of’ a Bible Study that involves popular and nerdy movies and TV shows. We get to have really in-depth conversations about science fiction, comic book movies, and so much more. Then we start a conversation about the faith questions that arise from viewing those movies and TV shows.

So far, we’ve had conversations on Avengers: Infinity War, Solo, and the Jurassic Park franchise. We’ve had some of the nerdiest conversations surrounding those movies, but we’ve also had some deep conversations about relationships, ethics in science, creation, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and so much more. It is quite amazing what we get to talk about and where those conversations roam.

There of course has been a lot of laughter, great food, and the building of stronger friendships.

Coming up on September 20th at 7pm we will have our fourth Nerd Word where we will discuss the NBC comedy The Good Place. A show staring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson that centers on the afterlife. Both seasons are currently on Netflix and Hulu and the third season will begin at the end of September.

Again, it has been A LOT of fun because it is fun, and we get to talk and share about our faith.

Have fun in life, see God present in places that you’d never expect, be open to the questions that rise up after watching a movie, reading a book, or hearing a story. You never know where those questions will lead you!


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