Sermon – March 19, 2017

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Scripture: Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-30
Title: Completely Quenchable

***sermons are meant to be heard, so listen along here****

Last week, and in sermons prior to last week, Pr Chad has repeated a refrain that I want to lift up again this morning.  Details matter.
There is a lot to this morning’s text, perhaps because it is one of the longest lectionary selections of the year. And I didn’t even read everything that was suggested. So in our rush to get to the “important points” we often miss some of the ones that matter.
So before we get to it, I want to take a few moments in the details.
Because they matter.
They give us clues to why what happens next is significant.

First, we’re in John’s Gospel as we head through Lent this year, and as we spend some time here, I want to remind you that first and foremost, John’s Gospel consistently points us to the importance of the connections between us and God.  John’s Gospel is at it’s very core about relationship.

This detail matters as we hear this story of Jesus and the woman at the well today.
This text takes place in Samaria.
This is important because Samaritans were people with whom the Jews had no contact. They had irreconcilable differences when it came to their faith, (over where the placement of the temple should be actually) and they had long since parted ways. In fact, verse 9 says that Jews and Samaritans shared nothing. Yikes.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and in verse 4 (one earlier than we heard from today) it says that Jesus told the disciples they had to go through Samaria.
So they detoured a bit. Into a land where they considered the people there enemies.
They get tired, Jesus sits at a well to rest while the disciples go into town to buy food and a woman comes to draw water from the well.

Details matter – Verse 6: Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well, it was about noon.

Noon is the heat of the day.
It is not when the average person comes to get water.  
The community gathers around the well in the morning, collecting enough water for the day, and if they run out, the don’t return until the evening.

So this woman showing up to get water at noon tells us something about her.
She isn’t a part of the community.
For one reason or another, she has been ostracized and placed on the outside.  


In a Gospel primarily concerned about relationship, Jesus, sitting alone at a well in what many would consider enemy territory, strikes up a conversation with a woman who has been deemed unworthy by her own community.

The scene is set.

Verse 7:  A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

My inner (or not so inner) feminist has always pushed back at this verse.
My knee-jerk reaction is why can’t Jesus get his own darn drink of water?
And then because I don’t think Jesus is a bad guy, I wondered if maybe there was some rule against men fetching water?
But no. Wrong again.
As was pointed out to me this week at a study of this text, it’s pretty simple – Jesus just didn’t have a bucket, and this lady did.
And instead of Jesus being a jerk, it actually makes him way more human.
It’s actually vulnerable of him to ask for something he needs in this moment.  
He’s the son of God and yet experiencing a really human condition of being thirsty on a hot day after a long walk.
And this woman has something he needs.
And you know what? He has something in return.

Verse 10: Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

He has living water.
And when she hears it, she doesn’t ask more questions about how it’s possible or what is happening, like Jesus had just experienced with Nicodemus.

Verse 15: The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He offers her what he has and she says, yes.  
I want that.
She might not fully understand what it means, but she wants it.

Then Jesus continues:
Verses 16-19
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, “I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.

Again, first glance here can make Jesus seem a little harsh.  He asks a question of her he obviously knows the answer to and it isn’t initially clear why.
But, since we know that Jesus is not a jerk, a little digging tells us a lot in these three verses.
She has no husband. In fact, Jesus says she’s had 5.
What does this mean exactly? Details matter, right?
A lot of times this has been incorrectly interpreted to mean that she has somehow been caught in adultery many times.
But many scholars now agree that she was likely divorced for being unable to produce children, and most recently widowed. They believe this because her presence at the well in the midday is an indication that her inability to bear children has placed her outside of polite society, and when Jesus says “the one you have now is not your husband” many scholars take it to mean the brother of her recently deceased husband is required by law to marry her.  This was for her protection, primarily, but also to keep the family name alive and well.
So Jesus has just exposed the lack of control this woman has had over her own life, and her deepest and most painful parts of her life.
He just puts it out there.
Can you imagine?
And then she responds: you are a prophet.
Not because he’s magic, but because this is what people believed prophets did.  
Prophets exposed painful truths to the world.  
Then, the woman asks this great question – he’s a Jewish man, one who she believes is a prophet, and she asks him the question that is the reason the Jews and Samaritans have divided in the first place – over where to worship.

Verse 20: Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.

Oh man, it’s like Jesus can hardly contain himself at this point.
You can almost see him rubbing his hands together and say “NOW WE’RE GETTING SOMEWHERE”  
He says, lady you have NO idea.
Pretty soon it won’t even matter where the temple is located.

She tells him that the prophets have talked about the coming Messiah, and that when the Messiah comes he will be the one to proclaim everything to them.
Jesus responds:
Verse 26: Jesus said to her, “I am, the one who is speaking to you.”

I am.
We need to pause the narrative flow that we’ve got going to appreciate the significance of this moment. Because again, details matter.
When the Greek scriptures translate the Hebrew name for God (yahweh) it is Ego Eimi.


So when Moses hears the burning bush tell him my name is Yahweh – I AM.
In Greek that is Ego Eimi.
Jesus is saying I AM.
She knew what he was saying.
She knew what it meant.
And it was a BIG DEAL.
Also, as long as we’re stopped here, I’d like to make a note that the first person, outside of John the Baptist and his mother that know who Jesus really is, is this Samaritan woman.
He hasn’t even said who he is to the disciples.
John told them to follow and they did. Jesus, at least at this point, hasn’t told them he’s the guy, he’s the one they’ve been waiting for, he hasn’t said EGO EIMI.
The first time he makes this absolutely clear statement of who he is, I AM, is to a Samaritan woman.

To me, this, and the entire story actually, is a reminder that Jesus is never where you expect him to be, interacting with the exact opposite of the ones you’d think he’d be with, and saying things you’d never imagine he’d say.

After Jesus tells her who he is, she runs to the city, and tells everyone about Jesus.

Verses: 28-29
Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

Come and see, she says.  
To the people – the very ones in town who have left her on the outside and deemed her unworthy, she says come and see.
Details matter.
She’s the first evangelist.
This woman. This Samaritan woman.
She’s the first one who comes face to face with Jesus and can’t keep it to herself.
My favorite part of this whole story is verse 29:

Come and see this guy who told me everything I have ever done.
Notice how she doesn’t say I met this guy and he fixed all my problems.
She doesn’t say, I met Jesus and now my life is perfect.
She says come and see this man who told me everything I have ever done.
He knew me.
The good and the bad.
The parts that are out in the open and the parts that are kept hidden.
The things that are a source of pride and things that are full of shame.

And then, as if she knew people wouldn’t maybe believe her if she just said it, she asked a question – he couldn’t possibly be the Messiah, could he?
You should probably go look.
And they did.
We’re here because people kept on going to take a look.
And they kept coming to listen to what Jesus had to say.
You’re here this morning because at some point in your life, you came to take a look.
And it is here that we too are fully aware of all the things we’re hiding that cause us guilt and shame.
And still we hear – Come and See.

This is what Jesus is talking about.
This living water, this life that can’t be covered by sin and guilt and shame.
It’s new life.
And it’s ours.
Because he knows you.
He knows you.
And holds out that living water FOR YOU too.
We have received the living water.
We don’t have to be thirsty anymore.

Come and see.



Sermon – March 5, 2017

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Scripture: Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Title: What We Really Need

***Sermons are meant to be heard, so listen along here****

Today is the first Sunday of Lent.
A season in the church meant for reflection, contemplation, and self-examination.
But often, Lent is ascribed a sort of watered down, what would Jesus do kind of meaning.

Jesus fasted for 40 days, so I guess we should too?

Our Gospel reading today carries with it the very real risk of this kind of misinterpretation.
Lent is not and cannot be a simple re-creation of Christ’s time in the wilderness.
Jesus is teaching us some powerful lessons about the world we are entering into as people of faith, and it’s a mistake to think we just need to do what Jesus did and then we’ll be ok.

Martin Luther, in his sermon for the first Sunday in Lent, said that Lent has:

become mere mockery: first, because no one can follow this example and fast forty days and nights as Christ did without eating any food. Christ rather followed the example of Moses, who fasted also forty days and nights, when he received the law of God on mount Sinai. Thus Christ also wished to fast when he was about to bring to us, and give expression to, the new law.

This is helpful for us to remember as we’ve been jumping around Matthew’s Gospel a bit… so it’s easy to forget the order of things – baptism, wilderness, and then, as Luther called it, the new law.  This new law is what we’ve been hearing here at Prince of Peace for the last month and a half in the Sermon on the Mount.
So as we hear this story today, we remember that the time in the wilderness is to prepare Jesus to receive the new law, the new way things are going to be, just as Moses did.
In his same sermon, Luther also reminded his congregation that Jesus never commanded us to follow this wilderness example, and when we do, we often make it about our own efforts, our own work, that we miss the mark.  (He actually says that we’d be better off being drunk day and night rather than fast to make ourselves more holy… gotta love Luther)

What is the purpose of this story of temptation if it’s not something we’re supposed to emulate? It occurs in three of the four Gospels, so we know that it’s a moment of significance.  
Jesus is named a child of God, beloved, and then is sent into the wild where he is tempted. And it is hear that our clues to the importance of this story begin.  
From the wilderness Jesus comes and begins laying out his teachings (the new law Luther referred to) and starts his ministry on earth.

Instead of seeing this as some kind of test Jesus has to pass before he can be sent out, Jesus is being prepared for the kinds of things he will face over his entirety of ministry in the world. Lutheran School of Theology Professor Audrey West says that “Indeed, readers of Matthew’s Gospel have an opportunity to see how the wilderness experience is replayed in Jesus’ encounters with persons who are sick, hungry or in need; with persons who use their connections to power to ascertain his loyalty (including, perhaps, the lawyers, Pharisees and Sadducees who test him in various ways); and with persons who too easily worry about the world’s assessment of greatness rather than God’s (including some of his own disciples).

This temptation of Christ is important for us to hear because not only can we look to see how Christ handles temptations, but also because it reminds us that Jesus has experienced the same temptations that we ourselves face as we go into the world each day.

The first two times the tempter approaches Jesus – he begins with the same 7 words: “If you are the Son of God”
This is the core of these temptations.
In fact, both Chad and I have preached sermons built around this very word.  
God declares Jesus a child of God, and the first words from the tempter are a challenge of the identity that has just been given. IF you are the child of God….
The first act of the tempter is always to cause doubt in the promise that has been given.
Even for Jesus.
Are you SURE you’re a child of God?
How many of us have asked ourselves this same question?
So the devil approaches Jesus for the first time and says “if you are the Son of God, then command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
Not only is the devil trying to cause doubt in the identity as a child of God, but he is hitting Jesus where he is weakest.  
Jesus was hungry.
This first temptation happened at the END of the 40 days. Not at the start, but the end.
We all have our weak points.
The places where we struggle.
And we know this is where we’re most often tempted.
Maybe we struggle to be kind.
Maybe our weakest place is in how we love ourselves or others.
Or in the things we do that hurt ourselves or others.
Maybe we doubt that we’re worth the love we’ve been given.  
That we don’t deserve it. That we’re not worthy.
This Gospel lesson reminds us that the devil is always going to go for the weak spot.

Then the devil tells Jesus to throw himself from the top of a tall building.
This seems like kind of a strange one… why would Jesus, or anyone ever do this?
Again, the devil begins with causing doubt in the promises given to Jesus, and the identity he’s just been given.
But what’s behind this test is the belief that as a child of God we somehow deserve some special treatment.
We should get extra power, or have angels at our beck and call.
You’re a child of God? Prove it.
Prove how close you are to God. Prove how much he loves you.
I mean, if you were really a child of God, God wouldn’t let you fall would he?  
This time, the Devil even makes the test sound good, by adding a little scripture alongside it.  
I mean, if it’s in the Bible then it MUST be true right?
This is another one we all experience.
We too are tempted.
Tempted to believe that if we had just prayed harder or believed the right thing,
then God wouldn’t have let our loved one die.
God would have taken away our illness.
If God really loved me, he’d rescue me, right?
Who hasn’t felt this way before?

Then lastly, the tempter brings up the temptation of them all.
Power. Secure leadership.
You know Jesus, you could do this your way, and that’s fine but if you do just know that it’s going to be hard, and you are going to be hated and killed, and it might not even work!
OR – you could try it my way. I can give you all the power and prestige you could ever want, for a lot less cost and effort, you just need to worship me.
It’s way easier for everyone involved.
Luther called this final temptation “the temptation of prosperity, by which man is enticed to lust, honor, joy, and whatever is high.”
Whatever is high.
We like to be number one.
We revere people who get to the top.
We completely understand this temptation because our culture is practically built on this one.
Winning is the most important thing.
It doesn’t matter what someone has said or done, as long as they win.
The temptation offered to Jesus here is one of power at the expense of others.
It’s power for one.
The devil offers power for Jesus over the kingdoms of the world, and in stark contrast Jesus ends up being the one who opens the kingdom of God to all.

This whole temptation story is a study in contrasts.  The way of the kingdom of the world, and the way of the Kingdom of God. They are very different.
And the temptations to follow the way of the world instead of the way of God are always present.
Just as these temptations aren’t a one-time test Jesus passes, the same is true for us.
These temptations are a part of the life of faith.  
They are the temptations we will face out in the world, as soon as we exit this place.   
In here, we have been claimed and called beloved,
In here, we receive the promise of God into our outstretched hands,
In here, we have been sent out into the world,
And when we’re out there, loving others,
We will face temptations.
We’re going to doubt our identity as children of God.
We’re going to get hit where we’re weakest.
We’re going to wonder if the promises God has made to us are true.
We’re going to try to seek our own way believing that we’ve got it all figured out.
We are going to be tempted by the easy way out, the easy way up, no matter who gets hurt in the process.
This is how the world works.
And just like Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, these temptations for us won’t be a one-time thing that we pass like a test and then never see again, but a constant preparation for partnering with God at work in the world. This isn’t just true for us. Jesus leaves the wilderness and the first thing he hears upon returning to the city is that his friend John the baptizer has been wrongly imprisoned. Temptations, difficulties, don’t just go away.  
They are par for the course. Even for Jesus.
Life is hard.
And it can be tempting in the midst of these moments of difficulty to doubt our identity, to test the promises, to cheat the system.
Sometimes we do. A lot of times we do.
But God does not.
God has named us beloved and does not take it back.  
God has promised to be with us and does not leave us alone in the wilderness.
God will die and rise so that we too can die and rise again.
These are the promises we have been given.

So this Lent, it’s our time to pause and reflect.
You heard the word “Selah” today in the psalm that was read, which is a Hebrew word which means pause and reflect.
This is our call this Lent.
To take time to think about the ways we have fallen short.
The ways in which we have been tempted.
It is not an easy practice, in fact, it’s one we’d rather just ignore until we can put on fancy dresses and show up for Easter to celebrate the new life we’ve been given.

But it’s kind of hard to rise without first dying.
We want to just have the celebration, just rise and skip past the hard stuff, but that’s not really how it works.
We can’t be raised from the dead unless we die.
And for that to happen we need to know what’s killing us.
It’s hard.
It’s really hard.
Nate is going to come forward and sing while, as hard as it is, we take some time to sit and think about where we are weakest, how we doubt the promises we’ve been given, and the ways we seek to gain power and influence at the expense of others.
Then we’re going to come forward, though we know we don’t deserve it, and receive a physical reminder of the love of God, the grace of God, the place Christ will go for us, to take on all the ways we fall short, we’ll receive that right in our hands.

So let’s pause and reflect together.


Sermon – February 19, 2017

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Scripture: Leviticus 19:9-18, Matthew 5:38-48
Title: More than Tolerance

***sermons are meant to be heard, so listen along here***

Have you ever stopped to think about some of the unwritten rules we follow, often without thinking about it?
Like how everyone faces the door in an elevator.
Or how you never ask someone how much money they make.
How you let people off the train before getting on.
How if someone is waiting for you to cross the street you usually move a little quicker.
How you don’t ever ask for tech help without first rebooting.
Or how you never, ever, EVER ask a woman anything regarding childbearing. Ever. Ever ever.

There are two unwritten rules Jesus references today as well…
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is the first one
The second is love your neighbor hate your enemy.
When Jesus says, “you have heard it said”
He’s calling out the unwritten rule.
He’s saying, you guys have heard people say that this is how things go.
And you know this is how things DO go.
Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.
This is the way we roll.
This isn’t an ancient church characteristic either.
We’re pretty good at this unwritten rule too.
Someone says something we don’t agree with, what usually happens first?
This is when social media can be so damaging.
It teaches us that people who disagree with us are fundamentally bad.
We call them stupid.
We say they are snowflakes (so fragile and delicate they are so easily offended… funny that this is used universally for both sides right now)
Someone calls you dumb then you call them dumb and the whole thing is derailed.
Jesus says that’s not how we roll you guys.
If someone says something, we let them say it.
We don’t strike back.
This kind of response is shocking when it happens.
Because it is completely unexpected.

Do you remember when, in 2007, a man walked into an Amish school and shot 10 girls, killing 5.
Do you remember how the families of those girls responded?
They forgave him.
And it was astounding to the watching world.
Despite having to bury their own children the day before, they went to the shooter’s funeral.
They hugged his mother. They grieved with her.
And what made it so was that it was the opposite reaction of what was expected.
If they had been mad, no one would have thought twice about it.
If they had blamed the mother for raising such a man, people would have understood.
But they didn’t.

“If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give them your shirt as well”

For decades this verse has been used to justify abuse, or even justify staying in an abusive relationship.  That is so wrong on both accounts. This is about taking a stand for humanity, and justice.
Jesus isn’t saying don’t react.
He isn’t telling people to have no boundaries.
He is saying don’t respond in kind.
Don’t answer violence with violence.
Boundaries are necessary to preserve human dignity.
This isn’t about abuse, it’s about taking a stand for the sake of humanity.
Against evil.
Love for the sake of your neighbor.
Jesus isn’t asking for something easy.
He’s asking us to do the impossible.
This isn’t tolerance.
Tolerance is “allowing the practice or existence of something or someone that one does not like or agree with – without interference.”
(I mean, by that definition we’re not all that good at tolerance either are we?)
But Jesus is asking for something more than tolerance.
He’s asking for love.
Radical, beyond the expected, love.

Then, as if that wasn’t subversive enough – he goes even further –
“You have heard it said you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy”
We have all heard this, or at least felt it.
And it makes sense.
Love the ones you know.
The ones you agree with.
The ones that look like you.
Our neighbor.
Hate the ones who are against you.
Who disagree with you.
Who believe something different than you do.
See, in the time of Jesus, they knew who was in or out.
You were either a Jew or Gentile.
And it was obvious.
By the way they talked, dressed, where they worshiped, their place in the temple, what they ate, how they interacted with others, it was all clearly outlined to show who was worthy of love and mercy and who was not.
BUT – Jesus says – But that’s not how this works anymore.
Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.
Say what Jesus?

He says even the worst guys, those tax collectors, they love those who love them. It’s not actually that hard.
If you’re with me, Jesus says, you’ve got to be about something different.
Something that sets you apart.
Something that changes the world.
That kind of love is powerful.
When we hear this, it’s not really that surprising that Jesus gets killed is it?
He’s really pushing the boundaries of what people are comfortable with. Still today we’re not totally comfortable with this.
Love those on the outside.
The ones who need it, no matter what they look like, worship, or where they are from.
Even if they are the ones you’ve been told to hate your whole life.
Your enemies.

This feels like an impossible call for us as Christ followers.  Doesn’t it?
As we sit here and listen to these words of Christ we KNOW we are missing the mark.
And what makes it even more difficult is what Jesus says next: Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.
God loves you this way – perfectly – so you love others the same way.
Oh. Only that. No pressure.
As a perfectionist, I don’t really need any help with putting pressure on myself, so these words have caused me a little anxiety in my journey of faith.
Because I know I miss the mark, and I know the tendency to push harder and do more and try until I can’t try anything else, and I know how exhausting that is, and how that cannot possibly be what God has in mind for me. Even though it says perfect.
So I’ve spent some time on that word – perfect.
In Greek it’s telos.
Which, you will all be relieved to know, doesn’t mean perfect.
It means the end-goal, end result, or the purpose.
In other words, Jesus says become the end-goal, as God is the end goal.
Eugene Peterson says this verse as “live out your God-created identity”
Become who you were meant to be.
Help bring about the Kingdom of God in the world.
This isn’t a command for perfection, but a reminder of the gift we already have been given.  
Be fully the child of God who I have made you to be.
We’ve been created by a God who loves us, who gifted us with grace and mercy even when we didn’t deserve it.
And now we are called to go and do the same.
To all of those in need.
Even the ones we might not agree with or think deserve it for whatever reason.

St Augustine once said “recieve who you are, become what you’ve received.”
In a few moments we are going to gather around the table and receive a reminder of who we are – chosen, forgiven, loved children of God, and then we are called to become that very thing for the sake of the other.  

What a call.
What a challenge.
What a gift.

This week I connected with Matt Popovits, pastor of Our Savior New York, a Lutheran church in Queens, because I read a post of his about mercy not being political. It was so challenging you guys, and I have been wanting to share it with you ever since I read it.  Pr Matt sent me a video version, and since they are his words, I’d like to have him close us out here today: (Watch here)

What a call.
What a challenge.
What a gift.



Sermon, February 5, 2017

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20
Title: Active Faith

***Sermons are meant to be heard, so listen along here***

Right after Sam and I got married – we lived in a little apartment just south of downtown Minneapolis in the steven’s square neighborhood.
We were two blocks away from a stretch of Nicollet Ave called Eat Street.
And did we ever.
We ate a lot of incredible food.
We were young, didn’t know how to cook at all yet, and so it was easy.
And after a little while our pocketbook and general health began to suffer.

So we tried a diet.
And it worked for us, because it got us off the takeout, into the kitchen, and taught us how to eat and cook in a new, healthy, fresh, way.
But the initial program was NOT easy.
Because one of the things that was not allowed was added salt.
And let me tell you – I have never forgotten what it was like to not eat salt for 6 weeks.
Salt is amazing.
Really, really amazing.

Here’s the thing about it.
It doesn’t make the meal.
The meal makes the meal.
But it makes the food taste better. So. Much. Better.
It enhances the flavors of whatever it is added to.

We come upon Jesus today, still at the Sermon on the Mount.
There hasn’t been a break between the beatitudes and this text today in Jesus’ speaking.

So in case you were wondering why I added last week’s text to this week’s it’s because adding a week’s break in there is not the way it was originally heard.  There was no pause.
We need to hear the familiar salt and light text today spoken as they were heard – alongside the beatitudes of last week.
Jesus began his sermon on the mountain reminding the gathered followers who are the receivers of God’s blessings… and last week Chad preached that if you want to know where Jesus is – you should look to those same blessed… the poor, the meek, the hungry and persecuted. That is where Jesus will be found.
And then Jesus continues by telling those gathered what their role is in this new Kingdom where blessing is found in the unexpected places.
Their role is salt and light.

You are the salt of the earth. Jesus says.
You are the light of the world.

This isn’t a thing we’re supposed to try.
This doesn’t say “you should be salt”
“Try to be light”
It says you are.
Even in the Greek, the form is indicative.

You are.

Jesus isn’t telling them to do something.
Jesus is naming something they already are.
You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.

So what does that mean exactly?
What does it mean to be salty?
No. Not sassy.
I think it’s helpful for me to go back to that crazy no salt diet and remember the first time we put salt back in and you guys it was so good I could hardly stand it.
It made everything taste better.
Like I said earlier, it didn’t make the meal, but it made the ingredients all taste better.

Eugene Peterson’s The Message says verse 13 this way: You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.

It’s kind of hokey, I know.
What the heck is a God-flavor? Right?
But it’s also true.
We are called to go out and be salt in the world.
To go and work with God already acting in the world and make things taste better.
They will be fine, if we’re not there, things can and do happen without us,
But our action can make it better.

So then are we light.
We are the light of the world.
Again, what does this mean exactly?
I think it’s a really nice image to think of us as a shining beacon of light that everyone can see from wherever they are.  It feels so nice.
Jesus says that we are to be a city on a hill, unable to be hidden, shining for everyone to see.
Does this ever make you worried?
Because I’m not trying to be light, remember?  I am light.
And I find this image, this reminder that we are lights on a hill, to be a little daunting.  
What we do matters.
People are watching.
People listen. Our kids listen.  
We’ve been given something pretty amazing and then put someplace where we’re seen.
Am I being judged all the time? For my action and my inaction?
I hope not, but I think it might be true.
NT professor at Luther Seminary Karoline Lewis said that our default setting leans towards comfort, conformity, and complacency.
I know we don’t want to admit it most of the time, but usually we’d rather sit than act.
Acting is hard. Sitting is comfortable.
We’d rather post than do.
Posting is easy.
But whether we like it or not, we’re on a hill.
That is a hefty responsibility.
And if you’re anything like me, you feel the weight of this label of city on a hill.
There is so much to do.
So many people who are in need of help.
Of hope. Of Love.

There’s a phenomena discovered in the field of psychology that has been named psychic numbing.
Have you heard of this?
It’s when we get so overwhelmed by all the things we’re supposed to do, or all the bad things we’re seeing, that our brain literally stops caring to protect ourselves.
Anyone feeling this lately?  
Yeah. It’s real.
If you need an example, it’s why we have a hard time with huge numbers of people needing help, but can get completely caught up and passionate over one.

We can’t handle the reality that causes pictures that we see on the news.
So we don’t.
Our brains help us leave it.
Go brains.
But our hearts can and do override our brain.
And that it what it means to be a city on a hill.
That light that shines in the darkness.
And it doesn’t need to be big, or fancy, or even the brightest.
It just needs to be light.
Mother Teresa once said that “if I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will”
And who is the one we are looking for?
The ones whom Jesus has declared blessed.
The poor, the meek, the hungry, the persecuted.

We are reminded this morning of some tough realities.
Jesus has named us.
They aren’t conditional.
They just are.
But what we do with that salt, that light, and the love and forgiveness and grace we have received even here this morning… that is up to us.

Lastly this morning, Jesus gives us the why.
We have the who, we have the how, now why.
Verse 16: Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Don’t mistake this call to act on behalf of others as some kind of requirement of grace.
Or something we need to check off in order for God to give us some holy pat on the head before we’re sent along.
We are beloved.
Not a darn thing changes that.
But we’re on a hill.
Sticking out like a sore thumb for all to see.
And what we do matters.
Because we are sent as God’s representatives in the world, to bring out the God flavors. (nope, still hokey)
Our good works, the ways we love and the actions we take, they matter because they either bring people to God, or push them away.

I’d like to close with a great little video from Brad, the same guy that did the story about a bird video I showed a month ago.  He wants us to get up and do something. To act.

Here he is 

Uplift – April 28, 2017

Posted on Posted in Friday Uplift

Now faith is assurance in what we hope for and confidence in what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1

I was listening to a great interview with Richard Rohr this week and in it he said “A loss of certitude can feel like a loss of faith.”

Oh my goodness yes.

Why do we have such a hard time with our lack of certainty in faith?
Having faith does not mean we have all the answers.
Having faith does not mean we are question free.
Having faith doesn’t mean we are without struggles or difficulties.

And honestly, nowhere in scripture does it say that this is the way things go.

Jesus even tells his disciples that one needs only faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains.

Do you know how little that is?

That picture doesn’t really indicate an abundance or something immovable and unshakeable.
So then, why do we struggle when we aren’t one hundred percent sure all the time?
Why do we assume it’s bad to lack certainty?
Faith is assurance in what we hope for, and confidence in what we do not see.
Looking at the Greek, another way to translate this sentence is: faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.
Doesn’t sound like certainty at all does it?
Faith is all our hopes mixed in with all the evidence that God is at work that we can’t see.
Well then.

A perennial favorite author of mine, Anne Lamott, said that “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”
Faith isn’t a perfect life getting everything I’ve asked for.
Faith is seeing the mess, as Lamott says, and then either seeing God at work redeeming it, or trusting that God is working in it, even when we can’t see it.
And darn if that isn’t a whole lot harder to do than believing with proof or certainty.
So it’s easy to say I don’t believe because I don’t see it.
I don’t believe because I’m not certain.
But that’s not what we’re asked to do.
We’re asked to believe despite certainty, with all our doubts and struggles and questions all mixed into the way we hope things are.
No wonder so many people walk away.
Sometimes people think that just because I’m a pastor that I don’t ever struggle with my faith.
That I don’t have days where God feels really far away, or out of touch and I’m not sure I quite buy it.
But I do.
We all do.
So when you feel that way, when you just aren’t sure, know that it’s completely fine,
and you are not alone.

Faith and doubt go together.
Faith is not being certain, but trusting in the midst of great uncertainty.
I’m not saying it’s an easy thing.
But faith asks us to trust,
to believe,
that we are loved,
and we are not alone.
Full stop.

Uplift – April 21, 2017

Posted on Posted in Friday Uplift

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.
Hebrews 10:24

Oh this verse.
So short, yet so full.
The verse right before it says that we hold fast to hope because he who has promised is faithful (remember that from two weeks ago?)
But then, since we don’t have to worry about ourselves anymore, what are we to do?
Since God is taking care of us, is faithful, will hold us and care for us and love us – what do we do?
Paul says we think about how to provoke each other into love and good deeds.
That word there, provoke – it’s only used one other time in the whole Bible, in Acts, when Paul and Barnabas couldn’t agree on anything, so they provoked each other so much they parted ways.
So what does that mean here?
We are supposed to provoke each other into good?
What an image.
Bug each other to love.
Poke at each other with good deeds.
The Greek word is paroxysmos – literally meaning irritate or incite.
Think about how you can stir up love and good works in each other.
Ponder how you can irritate someone into loving service.
This seems so funny.
Like competition for good people.

Our Cancer Support Group met this week, and one of the things we talked about was what the best things people (close and not so close) did for them when they needed help.
See – sometimes, here in the passive aggressive northland, we say “let me know if you need anything” and then the people we say it to WILL NEVER ASK FOR ANYTHING because that’s how we roll.
But what if we just did stuff?
What if we just provoked each other to love and do good?
Our group – made up of people in the midst of treatment, finished with treatment, or grieving the loss of someone they love – came up with a list.
So I’m sharing it with you today.
To poke at you.
To incite you to do something like it.
To provoke you into doing good for someone else today.
Let’s get to it uplifters – you KNOW someone who needs help.
So do it.


Best things done for me list:

*Called me from the store and asked “what do you need while I’m here.”  *Brought meals. *Sent me funny videos or jokes to cheer me up.  *Prayed for me, and told me when they did it.  *Walked the dog for me. *Moved my garbage can to the curb and back every week.  *Cared for my caretakers.  *Told me when they thought of my loved one.  *Completed grant applications for me (to help with bills).  *Sent me gift cards to restaurants. *Cooked for my family on chemo day.  *Sent me cards often, not just once.  *Just texts to check in or to say they were thinking of me.  *Said “How’s today?” instead of “how are you?”.  *Organized cleaning/rides/etc.  *Mowed the lawn without me asking.  *Came and sat by me at church so I didn’t have to sit alone.  *Took me out once a week so I got out of the house.  *Made sure to check in when things calmed down so I didn’t feel so alone.  *Took me out to get a pedicure or coffee.  *They just DID things without making a big deal about it.

You guys.
Notice how all of these are pretty easy?
Some of them cost nothing or very little.
Little things make a BIG difference.
And that’s what we’re all about here.
We are uplifters.
So consider this your provocation.
(poke poke poke)

PS.  If you are in need of uplifting, or you need help, please, PLEASE don’t hesitate to ask. I know it’s hard, and I know you think you can do it on your own, and honestly you probably can, but you don’t HAVE to. This community is full of people just waiting to be with you and help you. Start with us. We’ve got you.

Holy Saturday

Posted on Posted in Blog
Oh this day.
This Holy Saturday.
This liminal place.
This not then and not yet
we somehow find ourselves in… again.
It’s the place of waiting and wondering and weeping,
of grief and anger,
of denial and distrust,
of fear and frustration.
It’s dark and still.
And yet – it’s familiar.
It’s where we find ourselves all the time.
As we wait for answers.
As we grieve.
As we wait for promises to be kept.
Oh we wait.
Sometimes it feels like that’s all we do.
So this day, this Holy Saturday, we wait for what feels like the longest day.
But Holy Saturday is also the place where hope is born.
In the darkest day,
In the longest wait,
In the painful peace,
We hear just one
whispered word
from the very heart of this day:
Sunday is coming.
It is.
And that’s enough light to make it through this day.
Just enough.

Good Friday Uplift – April 14, 2017

Posted on Posted in Friday Uplift

I normally post on the Wednesday after they get emailed out, but today is Good Friday, and next week we’ll be well into Easter so I’m posting today, when it makes the most sense.

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

It’s Good Friday in the church.
A day where we observe and remember the death of Jesus.
I think I speak for all of us when I say, it’s not really the best day for the church.
We call it “Good” but it’s anything but.
It’s hard.
It’s uncomfortable.
It’s sad.
I’ve always had problems with people telling me that I should be happy that Jesus died for my sins.
I’ve heard this a lot:
Jesus died for you.
And it never once made me feel good.
I just felt bad.
And guilty.

So no. I don’t think today is good.

And you know what?  I think that’s ok.
I think we need to feel how bad things got before we can really do the joy of Easter.
We need to be right in the middle of how bad this day is in our history as followers of Jesus.
As author Danielle Shroyer says, “we killed God you guys.  This is really bad.”
She also says we need to go all the way down before we can really rise up.
This is the uplift.
And I spend a lot of time reminding us that God is with us and that we’re going to be ok.
I believe that, I do.
But for just today.
We’re going to sit in the bad.
In how crappy things are.
How this isn’t how we thought our lives would go.
How it isn’t fair.
We need to go all the way down before we can come back up.

As I listen to the story of the arrest and torture and killing of our God on this day,
I hear all the ways in which I fall short.
All the bad.
How I’m like Peter, and can’t handle the pressure and so I deny my beliefs.
How I’m like the disciples, and run scared at the first bit of difficulty I face.
How I’m like Judas, and sell my very life for a little more… power, money, etc.
How I’m like Pilate, and see the injustice around me but I don’t want to get involved so I just wash my hands.
How I’m like the crowd, and follow the tides of mob mentality as they turn.
Even how I’m like Jesus, begging God to give this journey to someone else.
Oh do I see myself in this story.
And I feel bad.

Jurgen Moltmann said that “the cross cannot and will not be loved.”
So we don’t have to be happy and joyful that Jesus died for us.
We can be sad, and feel the full weight of what happened on this day.
Because Jesus knew.
Jesus knew what was going to happen and didn’t change his mind.
While we (yes WE) were still sinners,
while we were turning against him and selling him out and running away,
At our very worst selves…
That’s when Jesus died for us.
To change the way things worked.
To make a new system.
A system based on love.
So that we may be handed new life instead of the death we actually deserve.

So today, go to church.
Even though it’s not happy.
Even though it makes us feel bad.
It’s ok.
Go all the way down.
And then come back on Sunday.
What goes down does come up.
Christ will win.
Death does not.
It will be time to rise,
and we’ll be able to rise anew,
with joy for having gone all the way down.

Uplift – April 7, 2017

Posted on Posted in Friday Uplift

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope, without wavering,
He who has promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:23

You ever have those days where your faith feels rocky?
Where you have even just a moment where you wonder if you might be wrong?
That God might not be with you?
You’re not alone.
In fact, no matter how many times I experience the love and power of God in my life and witness it in the lives of those around me, I still have moments of doubt.
Moments of fear.
Moments where I’m not sure I’ve got anything left in me to give to God.
And moments where it seems like the bad stuff in the world is winning.

And that my friends, is when I go to this verse.
Because it has two images that I love.
First, that language of “hold fast”
The word used there means grab on to, or possess, or hold tightly.
I’m not a heights person, at all, so for me, whenever I’m somewhere high off the ground, I cling.
To railings, ropes, hands, walls, trees.
Whatever I can find that is solid and connected to the ground is my new best friend.
And for my faith this is what baptism is.
When I am in a place that makes my legs weak, and my head spin, I can at least hold onto the promise that I am named and claimed and called a beloved child.
It’s the thing that is most connected to God. It’s solid.
Some days, when my faith is waning, that’s all I’ve got.
And so I hold it tightly.
I cling.

And then, as if that image of holding on to God for dear life weren’t enough,
The author finishes that image with – “He who has promised, is faithful.”

There are a lot of things that aren’t.
That don’t hold up under pressure.
That fall away when I’m scared or stressed or hurting.
But God, the one who has made those promises to me, God doesn’t fail.
God doesn’t cave under pressure.
God who has promised is faithful.
Another way to say that verse using the Greek is: God, the one who has promised, is true.
So that is what I cling to.
God has called me a child of God and that’s it.
Crap happens. Life can be so hard.
Sometimes it feels like my heart can hardly take one more bit of pain or sorrow.
And some days, when things are really bad, that’s when doubts creep in and take over.
But in all those moments, I am still, and always will be, a child of God.
Even in those lowest lows.
Even in the scariest, darkest, loneliest places.
Even when I’m not sure what I believe anymore.
I am still a child of God.
So I cling.
So can you.

Uplift – March 31, 2017

Posted on Posted in Friday Uplift

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm.
The Lord will repay him for what he has done.
2 Timothy 4:14

No worries – you are still in the right place for the uplift – I promise.
Don’t let this verse fool you.
It doesn’t seem uplifting on it’s surface, but it’s in there.

There are a lot of jerks in the world.
I would know, I drive through the Lowry Tunnel in Minneapolis.
Twice. A. Day.
Mean people are everywhere.
And as random and obscure as this verse in 2 Timothy is, I just love it.
Because we all have those people.
You know who I mean. (you KNOW)
The ones that are hardest to love.
The ones who have hurt us,
the ones who we just can’t forgive,
the ones who keep saying and doing the wrong thing,
the ones who look out for themselves and don’t worry about anyone else,
the ones who are just plain mean.
Especially these days, in our political environment, it feels like we just can’t get along.

So I love this verse.
I love that Paul just lays it out there.
I love how real it is – how human.
It almost makes me laugh when I read it.
We sometimes make Paul out to be this giant of the faith but he was just a dude.
One with faults and who sinned just like the rest of us.
And so here’s a moment we can all relate to.
He’s writing a letter of instruction to young Timothy, and tells him to stay away from this guy.
He’s no friend.
Alexander the metalworker is a jerk.
He has done me a lot of harm.
And yet, this human moment is a teaching one as well.
It’s a reminder that jumping in and calling people jerks isn’t really our job.
It’s God’s.
God will take care of him, Paul says.
It’s not on me to be judge and jury.
God will handle it.

See, I don’t think we like this part about following God all that much.
The part where we give up our right to label people as worthy or unworthy.
The part where we just keep loving God and loving others and letting God do the rest.
It’s hard.
Love is hard.
Judgement is easy.
Hate is actually pretty easy too.
And Paul here is teaching young Timothy that there are jerks in the world and you can choose to not let them be in your life, but that’s it.
And here’s the thing.
God will judge them, yes.
But God will also call them worthy, and loved.  
Even when they are the worst jerks they can be.

“God showed his love for us that even while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Even then.

Which means THREE awesome and uplifting things for us today uplifters:
      1. We don’t have to spend our time with or emotional energy on jerks. God’s got this.

  1. God loves jerks too. So we don’t have to try to do that either.

Which leads to the best part of the good news of this funny verse:

  1. God loves US when we’re jerks (which let’s be honest, sometimes happens)

Even while we’re jerks.
Before we’ve said sorry.
Before we’ve even realized what a jerk we’ve been.
Before all of that – God loves us.
Right in the middle of all the stuff that makes us jerks, there’s God, loving us as always.
Now that’s some good news.
For Alexander the metalworker,
for me,
and for you.