Sermon – April 30, 2017

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Title: Burning Hearts
Scripture: 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24: 13-35

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

If I had to pick a theme for this week, it would be centered around the three word phrase that these two disciples in today’s Gospel say to Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

We had hoped.
It’s still Easter. I know, it was two whole weeks ago already. But it’s still Easter.
Yet somehow it doesn’t quite feel like it.
We had hoped.
So much can be contained in those three words: We had hoped.
They are so powerful and heartbreaking and …familiar.
We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel, they say in today’s Gospel.
We had hoped Easter would feel a little more, I don’t know… Eastery? Is that a word?
We had hoped we’d feel different. New. Better.

We had hoped for a clear scan, for a different diagnosis.
We had hoped we’d have more time.
We had hoped to have children.
We had hoped we’d be happy.
We had hoped to grow old together.
We had hoped our life would be simpler, or different, or at least easier.
We had hoped.

One of the reasons these three words are so powerful is because they are present.
There’s no silver lining or happy resolution.
It’s just hard.
We had hoped.
I know I’m generalizing a bit here, but we mostly like our grief in the past.
We don’t like to hear how bad things are until we can talk about it in the past as if it’s all better now.
And we like our comfort in the midst of suffering to be about the future – things will get better.
You will be ok.
The sun will come out tomorrow.
But these three words are none of those things.
We had hoped is right smack dab in the middle.
Not past, not future.
Right now.
Last week, during our ask the pastors, one of our brave question askers wondered about talking to someone about God in the midst of grief… and in the midst of her question she said that sometimes we can’t see God because of all the pain.
That stuck with me this week.
It stuck with me because I think it’s profound and so true.
And I think that’s right where these two guys are in today’s Gospel.
They are right in the middle of their grief and confusion. And they can’t see God for all the pain.
We had hoped.

Jesus shows up.
Just like Jesus always shows up. In the middle of the fear and confusion and sadness and anger.
Not at the destination, but right where they are.
And they don’t recognize him.
They see him, but they don’t recognize him.
I hear this story and sometimes think “how can they not have known?”
How did they not recognize Jesus walking with them?
I would know.  I would recognize him for sure.
But then someone we love dies.
Or we get sick.
Someone says something horrible about us.
A friendship ends.
We lose our job.
We see another negative on yet another pregnancy test.
And suddenly it’s not so clear.
We don’t recognize Jesus right there with us through our grief and pain and heartache.
Even though he’s there.
We see him, but we don’t recognize him.

Jesus today gives us a glimpse of what God does in the midst of suffering.
Every time we say “we had hoped…”
This story of the road to Emmaus is just a gorgeous picture of a theology of suffering.
When we ask where is God in this pain or hurt – this story is where we ought to turn.

So first.
He shows up.
Jesus is there.
On whatever road contains our disappointed hopes.
Jesus shows up.
Verse 15 says “Jesus himself came near and went with them”

He went with them, he walked alongside them.
He doesn’t say “I’m here now, it’s ok!”
And he doesn’t say “Look guys, I resurrected from the dead so no need to be sad or confused or upset anymore.” Resurrection solves all the things.
Nope.
First of all, because none of that is helpful.
But also because walking on that road means that sometimes it takes a long time to see God through the pain.
Maybe longer than the seven miles we hear about today.
Maybe seven months.
Seven years.
So what does Jesus do on this road?
He walks with them.
For as long as it takes.
He doesn’t tell them to hurry up.
Or to go back to Jerusalem.
He just walks with them.
And while they walk, he asks them to name the pain they are experiencing, and then he listens.
In verse 19, Jesus says “What things?”

You guys.
Jesus knew.
The things were about him.
He knew.

But he still gave them space to talk about it as they walked.
To not ignore the pain.
To not pretend that it wasn’t there.
He says “what things” and then listens as they process all they have seen and felt.
As they say “we had hoped.”
And still, he doesn’t say it’s me!
He talks to them about all the ways scripture has prepared them to connect the dots.
But he doesn’t do it for them.
Not even when they are about to part ways does he make himself known.
He joins them for a meal, and it isn’t until they break bread together that they finally recognize him.
Notice that when they invite him to stay with them to eat, they still don’t know who he is.
They aren’t inviting Jesus to stay, but a stranger.
Their willingness to continue to engage with someone they didn’t know, to offer comfort and food to a traveler despite their own grief is such a beautiful moment.  And one that had a huge and powerful consequence.
Jesus walks with them, on their confusing and painful journey, and listens as they tell him about their disappointed hopes, and yet it is only in the breaking of the bread together, around a table, so intimate a moment, where they see Jesus for who he is.


And then, just like that, Jesus vanishes from their sight.
But this isn’t how the story ends.
No, this story is just getting interesting.
Because they look at each other and they say “were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?”
Were not our hearts burning?
Last week at our second service one of the questions was about discerning God’s voice and Chad commented that often it is when we look back that we can clearly see God at work in our lives.
Looking back, after the journey we were on is over, our eyes are opened and we have that same moment… Where we couldn’t see God for our pain but then looking back we see all these ways in which God was there, walking with us, listening, giving us tools to connect the dots?
These two disciples have that same moment of hindsight.
They look back at the things Jesus had said to them while they walked and saw it for what it was.  
Saw this man for who he was.
Were not our hearts burning within us?

I love this image.
In fact, it’s one used a lot to describe the feeling of a call.  Not just to ministry but a call to do something, a call to action, a call to help or talk or be with.
When you have that moment of “I think I’m supposed to do something here” … that’s what this means.  Your heart burning within you.
Recognizing the movement and call of God around you.
It stirs up something in our hearts.
And it happens all the time.
After we recognize Jesus.
After he is made known to us.
Then our hearts burn within us.
And we have to get up and do something.

**Where do you want to go, how much you want to risk?** (Lyrics from a song at 10:30)

That’s exactly what happens next.
Even though they had been walking away from Jerusalem, even though they had made it to Emmaus, they get up and turn around and head back.
Back to the city.
Back to the place that they had left.
Back along the road filled with their hopes and confusion.
But this time, it feels different.
Like maybe everything has changed.
And they want to share it with the others.
The eleven still in the city.
Still confused.
Still wondering if maybe what the women had said was true.
Still in that place of grief.
And these two come in and say, listen – this thing happened, we saw him.
He walked with us.
Jesus is risen.
Really.
And you know what the proof was?  The thing that made it real? The thing that opened our eyes and how we figured it out?
It was in the breaking of the bread.

Oh this story.
It’s just beautiful.
A reminder of how Jesus comes to us, right where we are.
How we can talk and he will listen.
And a reminder that it is in the breaking of the bread where we will know him.
We don’t have communion today, but the next time you come forward, no matter if it’s here or somewhere else, when you come to the meal at the table, remember that Jesus is made known in that moment, to you, for you, in the breaking of the bread.
It gives me goosebumps to think of it.

I don’t know where you’re at today, or what place in this story you find yourself…

I don’t know if your heart is burning within you right at this very moment, or if you are still on that long road, struggling, saying: “I had hoped.”

But what I do know is that Jesus is here.
Jesus is with us.
Walking alongside us in the midst of our pain and confusion.
In the midst of our lives.
Not trying to solve anything, just walking with us.
Risen.
New.
Calling us into a new life right along with him.

 

Sermon – April 16, 2017 (Easter)

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

He is Risen!
(he is risen indeed)
He is Risen!
(He is risen indeed)
Alleluia

 

 

By a show of hands, how many of you can tell me what eggs, chicks, and bunnies have to do with Easter?
Believe it or not, they are connected.
Ok maybe loosely.
But this day is all about new life.
And eggs, chicks, bunnies, flowers, they all are a part of this new life.

(Not jellybeans, which explains why they are horrible and disgusting and should be left out of Easter altogether)

Here in MN Easter often feels like the unofficial start of spring.  
Even the years where we’re wearing winter coats over the Easter dresses.
And spring, especially up here, is all about new life.
Even today, we’re starting to see bits of green pop through on the trees and on lawns.  
There are crocuses and violets popping up, and I even saw a daffodil on a walk in my neighborhood this week.
New life.

This day feels so far away in January.
When it’s 30 below and there’s snow on the ground and in the forecast.
And our winters can feel pretty dark.
But then, spring.
New life.
Resurrection.
We were right in the middle of the darkness on Friday.
If you were with us, you know that we didn’t hold back, and we were witness to the pain and horror of the death of Jesus.
It’s not something we really like being a part of.
It’s too dark, if we’re honest.
But it’s on this day, this Easter Sunday that we’re reminded death didn’t win.

Theologian Frederick Buechner said that “Resurrection means that the worst thing is never the last thing.”

We’ve been a part of the worst thing.
We watched as Jesus was arrested, tried, beaten, and put to death.
We watched as he was taken down from the cross and buried.
We felt the weight of the worst thing.
And it’s uncomfortable.
Really uncomfortable.
Perhaps this is why attendance on Good Friday is less than the celebrations of Easter Sunday.
We don’t like to think about the worst thing.
The darkness of death.
But today – we remember the worst thing is never the last thing.
Death doesn’t win.

Early in the morning, as the sun was just beginning to rise, Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James came to the tomb.
They believed that death had won.
They weren’t there to witness a miracle.
They were there to mourn.
It’s not anything out of the ordinary, even today.  
We do this very thing.
We go to cemeteries and resting places and remember and honor and cry and pray.
The Mary’s were there alone.
The other disciples weren’t with them.
Not Peter, not John.
Just these two women.
And there was an earthquake, and the stone was rolled away by an angel and then he sat on it.
The accounts of this moment vary from Gospel to Gospel, but Matthew’s is one of my favorites.
Because that picture, of the ground shaking and and angel moving the stone and then just casually sitting on it like it’s totally normal.
And the soldiers? They faint.
I actually think that’s what most of us would do in that scenario.
But those ladies.
They don’t faint.
Oh no.
The angel says to them – do not be afraid.
Jesus is not here.  
He has been raised.
Look for yourselves.
He has been raised from the dead and is on his way to Galilee…Go.

These ladies – the ones who aren’t often counted, who aren’t seen, who aren’t listened to, are the first ones to hear the good news.
One of my favorite authors Glennon Doyle Melton says that this isn’t a mistake. She says
“Women are the first to know and to believe miraculous nonsense… and it is our faith in miraculous nonsense heals the world.”
They didn’t do anything special.
They just showed up.
Kleenex and burial spices in hand, ready to mourn.
And they witnessed a miracle.
Resurrection. New life.
Right there in front of them.

The women go, just as the angel told them, running to tell the disciples what they have seen.
One of the reasons I love Matthew’s version of this story is when the angel sends the women out – Matthew makes note of how they felt.

With fear and great joy they ran from the tomb.

I can almost see it.
These two women running back from the tomb on outskirts of town.
Running.
Talking to each other as they go.
Did that really just happen?
Did we just see what we think we saw?
Was that real?
Did Jesus really rise from the dead?  
Can it be true?
Is it even possible?
What does that mean?
Back and forth as they run.
They playing back the moments they experienced with Jesus the past few years and wondering if maybe all the things he said were really true.
Fear and great joy.
This person they loved, the teacher in whom they put their trust, he was no longer dead.
He is alive.

And that might just mean that everything changed.
Fear and great joy.

And on the way they run right into Jesus.
He says do not be afraid.
He gives them a word of comfort first – he sees their fear and joy and says do not be afraid.
And then he follows it up with a command.
Go and tell the others what you have seen.

And they do.
Obviously they do.
Because the good news has made it here.
It made it past the tomb, past the road to Galilee,
Past the room where the disciples were gathered.
It made it here.
He is Risen.
The tomb is empty and the worst thing is not the last thing.

This Easter we too have encountered the empty tomb.
We too have wondered what it means for us.
What might it mean that the things that were killing us don’t have any power over us anymore?
What might it mean that your own sin and death and pain and addiction and hopelessness and grief are no longer in that tomb?
What does it mean that you are no longer dead but YOU have been given this very same new life?
No wonder the women left the empty tomb with joy AND fear.
But just as Jesus comes to the women on the road, he comes to us.
And he says do not be afraid.
This is real.
This is really happening.
And just as it mattered to those women on that first Easter, it still matters right now, on this day, for us.
God is here.
Still giving new life to things we thought were dead.
Still bringing light into darkness.
Still creating joy amid our fear.
Still inviting us to step outside ourselves and share this good news.
And Easter is more than this one day.
It’s more than eggs, and candy and bunnies.
Easter is a promise.
A daily promise.  
A daily promise to new life.
A daily promise that the worst thing is never, ever the last thing.
And it’s a call to not be afraid, to not give into the fear, but embrace the joy, and then go and tell.

He is Risen.
(He is Risen Indeed)
He is Risen!
(He is Risen Indeed)
Amen.

 

Video

 

 

Sermon – April 2, 2017

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Title: All the Feels.
Scripture: Romans 8:6-11; John 11: 1-7, 17-45

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

I started my first church job in 2003. With a biology major and a handful of years of experience in veterinary medicine under my belt, I was completely unprepared for the reality of my first year of ministry. In just that first year, I had a student try to end their life, another lose a parent, and one of my small group leaders lost her husband of only 8 months to an unknown heart condition. I knew one thing for certain – I was in over my head.
And in the years since, during many moments of grief and loss, around hospital bedsides, family tables, living rooms, and Sunday morning coffee hours, I have learned a lot about what not to say. (and trust me, this is mostly because I’ve said some version of them all at some point)

Here are just a few:
I know how you feel.
It’s ok.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (I’m looking at you Kelly Clarkson)
Everything happens for a reason.
God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.
It could be worse.
It’s God’s plan.
Any phrase starting with the words “just” or “at least” … you might remember a video that made the rounds awhile ago with Dr Brene Brown talking about empathy and how it never begins with the words “at least”
A favorite author and artist of mine, Emily McDowell writes these incredible greeting cards she calls empathy cards – and they are good reminders of things not to say. 
(pics)
So what are we supposed to say in these moments?
What’s the right response?

In today’s text – we have one more story of Jesus showing those around him just who he is. And in it, we get a window into what it means to be around grief and loss and all the feelings that go along with it.  And there are a lot of feelings in this one.
As miraculous as this moment is, we have all been here. We have all experienced the feelings that are expressed in this story.

When Jesus encounters Martha, the first thing she says is “if you had been here.”
And he gets the same response when he goes and finds Mary.
If you had just been here.
I mean yeah.
Who hasn’t had that moment with Jesus?
Who hasn’t turned your eyes to God and said those same words.
If you had only been here Jesus, this wouldn’t have happened.
He’d be alive.
I’d be ok.
She’d be healthy.
If you had only been here.

In the uplift devotional I write weekly, this section of John’s Gospel is the one I have reflected on the most.  
Because Mary and Martha are all of us in the midst of grief.
We have all felt what they feel.
They come each in turn and express their grief.
And what does Jesus say?
He doesn’t say “He’s in a better place”
He doesn’t say “Everything happens for a reason”
Jesus cries.
He doesn’t feel bad for them he just feels just bad.
And despite the fact that he definitely knows what he’s going to do, that he’s going to raise Lazarus from the dead, he still cries.
amazing.

He doesn’t try to move them along in their grief.
Doesn’t tell them that they should believe better or more or differently.
Doesn’t even get mad at them for doubting that he could do something miraculous here.
He just cries right along with them.
This is Jesus at his most human.
He recognizes that his friend, the one whom he loves, is, in fact, dead.
And he experiences the full scope of what it means to lose someone you love.
Who among us hasn’t felt this exact moment?
Where your grief overtakes you.
Where you let it out.
Where you can’t be strong and you just can’t hold it together one minute more.
Jesus cries.
And then he gets to work.
Right there. In the middle of all of those feelings.
He tells them to take him to the tomb, has them roll away the stone, and calls out to Lazarus, “come out!”
And then, in verse 44 it says “the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.”

The dead man came out.
I think it’s the funniest phrase in this whole text.
Because for Lazarus to get up and walk out of there, he was obviously not dead, but they had no other way to describe him.
I suppose they could have called him the formerly dead man as they did in last week’s text to the man who was formerly born blind.

But this guy had really been dead.
4 days dead.
In Jewish tradition they believe the soul doesn’t leave the body until after three days, so the fact that it’s four days means that he is really dead. There is no hope of revival.
Of new life.
Again, who of us haven’t been here?
How many times have we been without hope?
Have we given up?
Have we thought someone or something was beyond reach?
We’ve all been here.

Gives a new meaning to the phrase dead man walking doesn’t it?
Lazarus, who was dead, comes back to life.
And so Jesus again reveals his power as the Son of God.
There is nothing so dead that God can’t bring it back to life.
Boom.

So Lazarus is alive.
We next hear from him in John’s Gospel, sitting at the table with Jesus, eating a meal together and reclining on him. Leaning on him.
And it’s not like they became friends after this moment, no – they have a close relationship before this moment, which is likely why the death of his friend is so difficult for Jesus when he comes faces to face with the fact that Lazarus has died.
So then their friendship continues.
He will watch his friend die, and rise.
And eventually, Lazarus will die again too.
But now he knows.
This is not the end.
There is nothing, not even death, that can’t be overcome by the love of God we see in Jesus.

Jesus tells Mary that he is the Resurrection and the life.
I love this part of this story.
It’s the verse I find myself coming back to over and over again when I read it.
Earlier manuscripts used to leave “and the life” off of this phrase because they thought it was a mistake.
But Jesus isn’t being redundant.
He is BOTH Resurrection AND life.
The AND is important.
It’s here AND now.
It’s new life now, today, AND life after death.
Jesus brings us BOTH.  

We have heard this kind of resurrection preached over and over again these past few weeks, as Jesus finds a woman, a Samaritan woman who had been rejected by her own community and brings her into new life, as Jesus finds a blind man and gives him new vision to see the Son of God, and we hear it today as Lazarus hears his name called by the God who loves him and brings him back from the dead into life.
Resurrection AND life.
And it’s not just hearing about it either… we’ve seen this kind of resurrection time and time again here as well.
We’ve seen it in the moments of hope when all hope had been lost.
We see it as we cry together during and support each other in our hardest moments.
We’ve seen it week after week this Lent as people in our community of faith have shared their wilderness moments and how God somehow keeps finding them there.

We’re going to experience it again this morning as we come forward, hold out our hands and hear that this new life is FOR YOU.

Given. A gift.
Resurrection AND life.

 

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.  

So:

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.
Always.
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.

I AM.

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.
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.
HE KNEW ME.

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

Posted on Posted in Sermons

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.
IF.
In fact, both Chad and I have preached sermons built around this very word.  
IF.
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

Posted on Posted in Sermons

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.
Astounding.
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.

Amen.

 

Sermon, February 5, 2017

Posted on Posted in Sermons

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.
Yikes.
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.
Again.
Beloved.
Salt.
Light.
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 

Sermon, January 15, 2017

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Title: Come and See
Scripture: Isaiah 49:5-7; John 1:35-42

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

 

There are certain things in life that you can’t describe with words.
You just have to experience it.
I mean, you can try.
You can tell someone how awesome it is and show pictures, but eventually you say, you just gotta go and see it.

Like the Northern Lights.
Grand Canyon
Mt Kilimanjaro (really any huge mountain)
Machu Picchu
Yosemite Valley
Salt Flats in Bolivia or Utah
(I’m basically reading you my travel bucket list right now)

You just have to experience it to really understand.

This is also how I feel about the beach.
Not MN beaches, but big sugar sand beaches like in Florida or even Lake Michigan.
Sure, it’s beautiful in pictures, but in real life, it is so much more.
It does something to me. To my heart.
And a picture, even a video, though I always take plenty of each… they are just not enough.
You have to be there.

Today Jesus tells his first potential followers to “come and see.”
Come and see.
I can tell you what I’m going to do, what this will be like, but it’s better if you come along with me and see it for yourselves.
You have to experience it to really understand.
Come and see.

The scene is set here quite nicely.
We’ve moved out of Matthews’s Gospel and into John’s Gospel this week, just for today.
And we come across John the Baptizer with his followers.  
Verse 29: The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared: Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
John was a Rabbi. He was doing some interesting stuff and despite being kind of a crazy guy, he had people trying to learn from him.
So John is hanging out and sees Jesus out walking and shouts to anyone in hearing distance – LOOK. That guy, that one right there, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And guess what else?  When I baptized him, which he said had to happen, the Spirit came out of the sky and the voice of God told us that this is the son of God.  I was there. I saw it happen.
Now if you are standing there, listening to John, your rabbi, tell you that this other guy is the real deal, what would you do?
If your job as a pupil, a disciple, is to learn at the feet of your rabbi and he points out this other rabbi as the son of God – what would you do?
We’d start to wonder.
Maybe we should stop being with this guy, and go with this Jesus guy.
I mean, even our own rabbi says this Jesus is the Son of God.
No. NO. That’s risky.
We don’t have enough information.

Verse 35-36: The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by he exclaimed, Look here is the Lamb of God!”
LOOK YOU GUYS THAT IS THE LAMB OF GOD.
John is so awesome here. And so out of character.
For a Rabbi, you don’t tell your disciples to go follow someone else.
That’s not what you do.
You teach your disciples the things you believe about scripture and send them off to do the same.
So to look at his people and say hey you guys go with that guy… that’s almost unheard of.
So two of his disciples go and follow Jesus as he walks on.

Verse 38a: When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?
These are the first words Jesus speaks in John’s Gospel.
What are you looking for?
The better translation of the original Greek would be “What are you seeking?”
Jesus does not pull any punches here does he?
He doesn’t say “what do you want?”
He doesn’t say “what can I do for you?”
He says “What are you seeking?”
This is not a surface-level question.
What is it, at your core, that you need?
We ask this question of ourselves on occasion.
When we seek wholeness, purpose, or meaning in our lives, we are asking ourselves this same question.
It’s HEALTHY to ask ourselves this question.
What am I doing?
What is my life about?
What am I seeking?
Also, I love that Jesus begins his time as a teacher not with the right answer or doctrine or rules and regulations, but with a question.
A question.

Verse 38b: They said to him – Rabbi (meaning teacher) where are you staying?
Notice, they call Jesus Rabbi here.
He hasn’t given permission, or any kind of test to pass, or hoops to jump through,
They just call him teacher.
This is what they want.  They want to learn from him.  They want to follow him.
And so they ask: Where can we find you Jesus? Where are you staying?
Verse 39a: Jesus said to them, “Come and see.

Three little words.
But they tell us so much about what we can expect from Jesus.  
They tell us so much about what it means to follow Jesus.
We can’t just talk about it.
We can’t just hear about it.
We have to come and see.
Jesus tells these guys, if you want to know what I’m about – you have to come and see.

If you want to know the word made flesh, come and see Jesus. If you want to know what love is like, come and see Jesus. If you want to experience God’s glory, to be filled with bread that never perishes, to quench your thirst with living water, to be born again, to abide in love, to behold the light of the world, to experience the way, the truth, and the life, to enter into life everlasting, . . . if you want to know God, come and see Jesus. (Audrey West, Prof at Lutheran Theological Seminary, Chicago)

Come and See.
Jesus reminds us today that no matter what we are seeking – be it wholeness or purpose or meaning –
The only place we’ll really find it, is by being with Jesus.


Verse 39b:
they came and saw where he was staying and they remained with him that day.  It was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
This is a strange point to make here.
Doesn’t it seem odd to take note of an arbitrary moment in time?
But this is the moment these guys’ lives changed forever.
4 o’clock in the afternoon.
That’s when they became disciples of Jesus.
The one they’d been waiting for.
The son of God, the lamb of God, as John had said.
This isn’t actually that unusual.
We all know the times when our lives changed forever?
A wedding date.
The birth day and time of your child or children.
The day you heard “you have cancer”
The day someone you love died.
These are all moments that we remember.
The day and time gets stuck in our mind.
Verse 39b: they came and saw where he was staying and they remained with him that day.  It was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
They remembered this day.
It was an important day. It was the day everything changed.

Verse 40-42: One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. Andrew first found his brother and said to him, “We have found the Messiah”
Andrew brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said “You are Simon, song of John. You are to be called Peter.”

Andrew goes to his brother and says, OH my gosh Simon you’ll never believe this but we found the ONE.
You have to come and see.
Come and see.
Andrew can’t keep this to himself!
Before he does anything else, follows Jesus out of the city, or to the next thing – he goes and tells his brother. Come and see Simon.
“Come and see” is something that spreads.

Again, we experience this all the time.
We see a tv show we love and we tell someone, oh my gosh you just have to watch _____
Or we discover a new song and send the link to friends on social media. This song changed my LIFE we say.
We are wired for come and see.
This is why when we hear a personal story about how someone has experienced God we find it so incredibly powerful and moving.
And this is why inviting people to church matters.
Come and see.
You see, Prince of Peace.
I think we have something unique here.
No, I KNOW we have something unique here.
Week after week, we come and see.
We gather together and get a glimpse of God.
That’s what happens.
That’s what you feel when your heart connects to something you’ve seen or heard.
There are a lot of churches where this doesn’t happen.
But it happens here.
So we need to go out and tell people – not come to my church the kids programs are great (though that’s true) – but come and see.
You are looking for purpose and meaning and a whole life?
I’ve found that.
Come and see.

We have been called.
We have been claimed.
We have been told to come and see.
We have followed Jesus.
We go out and tell others to come and see.
The story of these disciples is OUR STORY.
Come and See Jesus says to us.
To you.
Come and see what I am doing.
Come and see what it means that you are loved.
Come and see how far I’ll go to show you.

Come and see.

 

AMEN.

 

Sermon: January 8, 2016

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Scripture: Isaiah 42:5-9; Matthew 3:13-17
Title: Pure Promise

**Sermons are meant to be heard – not just read – so listen along here!**

Before we get going any further this morning, I think it’s important to acknowledge that Jesus’ baptism and our own baptisms are not the same thing.

We are not Christ. We are baptized into Christ.
In our baptisms we join our lives with Christ.  
So since Jesus can’t be baptized into himself, can’t join his life to himself, there is obviously another reason for Jesus to come to John and ask to be baptized.
John even knows that Jesus doesn’t need baptism in the same way everyone else does –
He says “Um – no Jesus.  You should be baptizing me, not the other way around.”
But Jesus says that this is the way it has to be – so people know and understand.
People were wondering and questioning whether or not Jesus was the promised King, the savior they had been waiting for, and his baptism and subsequent acknowledgment by God is what was needed.
Jesus goes into the water in order that people recognize him for who he is.
Just in case there is any doubt.
And as he gets baptized the skies open up and the voice of God tells all of those around him that yes, this is the one they are waiting for.
Jesus is who you are hoping he is.
And , God says, he is beloved.

Remember Jesus hasn’t done anything yet.
His ministry as the Savior hasn’t yet begun.
I like to imagine he threw temper tantrums like any other two and three year old. He added some sass into the mix around elementary school age, and developed a sullen attitude during his teenage years.
And still – he is called beloved.

Our baptisms, though different, are still important too.
Not to be named as the long awaited savior, as much as we may wish that to be the case, but because we need what baptism brings us.

When I sit at my desk – there are a few things in my field of vision that are reminders as I work and write and read and plan.
The first – is called the “Girl Power Manifesto” buy Jennifer Pastiloff.
It goes:
I promise to not be a jerk to myself (ok it doesn’t say jerk but we’re in church so)
Heck (also not what it says), I promise to love myself.
I will remember that my self-worth is not based on what I look like,
How much I weigh,
How many followers I have,
Or any other stupid crap that has nothing to do with who I am.
I will empower other girls and women.
I will be kind. Fiercely kind.
I will have a sense of humor.
I will do my best not to gossip, create drama, or judge others (or myself).
I will remember that just because I’ve had a bad day,
Doesn’t mean I have a bad life.
And even on the crappiest days, I will remember this:
I am enough.

Then, if I turn my head to the right – just above my phone, I see this sign:


You are Always Enough.

And then, for all those times when I’m NOT in my office, I have this: (pic)

Yeah. I put the ultimate reminder of my enough-ness on myself.
Permanently.

There’s a reason I have all of these things around me and on me at all times.
It’s because the rest of the time, the world is trying to tell me that what I am, what I do, how I look, who I know, is more important than who God has told me I am.
All the time.

Matthew 3:17 – And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Oh so many lovely words to dig into here – God calls Jesus his beloved – and the word there in Greek is agapetos – coming from the root agape which means unconditional love. So agapetos means unconditionally loved. God is naming Jesus his unconditionally loved Son.
But agapetos can also mean worthy of love.
Worthy of love.

Author Rachel Held Evans says that “baptism doesn’t make you a child of God, it merely acknowledges your existing belovedness”
Jesus didn’t begin to be loved by God at his baptism, it was an acknowledgement of something that already existed.

So baptism does give us something – but it’s not something on checklist or some kind of requirement.
It’s an identity.
A name.
A new name.
The only name we need.
Beloved.
Baptism is a naming.
We are named child of God and that is enough.
Hear me say it.
That is enough.

The world is going to try to tell us differently.
OH will it.
Just today, walking out of this place, I will be told I’m not pretty enough, not thin enough, not fit enough, not rich enough, not powerful enough, not popular enough,
not enough…

My 6 year old is in 1st grade and in this first half of the year alone, she’s come home to tell us that someone told her that her head is too big, she’s fat, she’s not smart, she isn’t a good draw-er,
I mean geeeez. We start em young.
And these messages get into our minds and create doubts that carry all the way well into adulthood:  and they all say one thing.
Who you are on your own is not enough.
You need to do more.
Be better.
Try harder.
You need to be like everyone else.
You are not enough.
We forget.
We have been claimed and named beloved and we forget.
All the time.

Martin Luther said that we need the daily reminder of our baptism, and even though social media wasn’t a thing in the 1500s, he understood that the world is always going to tell us that we are not enough. And he knew that there was only one thing that could fight against it.
Our identity as children of God.

So today – we are going to have a time of remembrance.
This is to remember the promise you have been given.
The name of beloved.
The acknowledgement of who you have always been and always will be.
And we need it.
All the darn time.
So today we’re going to come forward at the guidance of the ushers and receive a cross on our forehead, and hear the words spoken to us: You are a beloved child of God.
And we’ll let that be enough.
So let’s say it together, before we hear it spoken individually –

I am a child of God, and I am enough. (say it)

Again, this time with your eyes closed:  I am a child of God, and I am enough.

**remembrance**

You are a child of God, and you are enough.
So do we LIVE freely in that promise.
But we don’t stop there.
We can’t stop there.
Our Gospel text ends today with this promise of God that is revealed in baptism, but it goes on from this place, and this is not where Jesus stops either.
He doesn’t spend a lot of time just reveling in the promise he’s been given.
The new identity.
He goes out into the wilderness.
And is immediately confronted with all the messages and identities the world wants him to take on instead.

Same with us.
We might be feeling pretty great right now.
We’ve been renewed in our own identity as a beloved child of God.
But we’re going to walk outside and immediately be bombarded with everything telling us that being a child of God is not enough.

And it is.

You’ve been uniquely created and uniquely gifted by a loving God and called beloved.
That will never ever change.
You can’t lose it, it doesn’t go away.
But we have a choice.  

We can spend our lives trying to be good enough for the world. or we can be who we are created to be. 

I know which one I am going to choose – how about you?

One more time let’s say it – I am a child of God, and I am enough. 

Sermon – January 1, 2017

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Sermons are meant to be heard, not just read – so listen along HERE.

Scripture: Isaiah 63:7-9, Matthew 2:13-21
Title: Be it Resolved

Happy New Year!

I don’t know what brought you here this morning – maybe, like me, you no longer stay up to watch the transition between years, and so since you were up anyway, here you are.
Maybe your last few days or weeks haven’t been the greatest for you and you needed this place on this day.
Maybe you came this morning because you’ve resolved to come to church more, and it would seem like a bad start to miss the FIRST SUNDAY of the new year.

Whatever brought you here today – welcome.  Good morning.  Happy New Year.

 

This morning’s texts give us a quick departure from the happiness of the holiday season.  Many of us are still right in the midst of parties and joyful gatherings, some today and tomorrow even.

So it’s difficult to come to church and hear such a dark text in today’s Gospel.
And yet – it doesn’t really feel all that out of place.
How many of you have a new year’s resolution?
Why do we resolve new things each year? To be resolved is to decide firmly on a course of action. And in a time of transition like a new year, it feels like the right time to make resolutions.
I think we like the new beginning, the feeling of a fresh start, especially after a sometimes unexpectedly tough year.   

Many of us have experienced a really difficult 2016, losing loved ones, some feeling their safety in the world is compromised, others experiencing health scares and losses of independence.

It’s 2017 today – and no matter how much we want it to, somehow a new year doesn’t just erase all of the things that have happened.  
Oh we want it to.
But it doesn’t.
So here we are, come to church with our fresh outlook on 2017, ready to begin anew with light and life and love and we hear about darkness and fear and death.

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod.

For the family of Jesus, the joy and celebrations of his birth are literally just ending, the visitors are heading home, Mary can finally get some rest, and then Joseph is visited by an angel in a dream.
The angel doesn’t bring good news this time,  doesn’t tell him to not be afraid, no, this angel tells Joseph to leave because he is in danger.

Go… flee.
The word used there implies action, and quick action.
Don’t take your time Joseph. Go. Go now.
And he does.
Joseph gets up, and in the cover of night, the family runs away to Egypt.

Do you know what word is defined as: “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster” ?  

Refugee.

Jesus and his family were refugees.

 

Last year during our Good Friday services, we read sonnets about the road to the cross written by poet Malcolm Guite.  He has written a poem called “Refugee” about this Sunday’s Gospel and I’d like to read a part of it here this morning:

Refugee – by Malcolm Guite
We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cosy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.
For even as we sing our final carol
His family is up and on that road,
Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,
Glancing behind and shouldering their load.
Jesus, son of God, was a refugee.
I don’t think we like to think about this.
I think it actually makes us pretty uncomfortable.
We like to think of the birth of Jesus like a warm happy glowing Christmas card.
Peace on earth, goodwill toward all.
But that is not the world which Christ was born into.
No, Christ was born into Herod’s world.
And Herod was not the best guy.
He was a powerful ruler who had just heard there was a baby born that was going to rule the world.
If you were the guy in charge, and heard this, it might not be good news to you like it was to the shepherds and outcasts and those under Roman rule.
If you were the Roman ruler, this was definitely BAD news.
So Herod acts.


Christ comes into the world.
And then is run out of his home because of violence and hatred.
Jesus and his family, running for their lives, go to Egypt.

What do the Egyptians do?
When faced with the refugee crisis in today’s Gospel, what do they do?
Maybe they should legislate.
Maybe they will turn it into a political issue.
Maybe they ignore the humanity of Jesus and instead call him a foreigner.
He’s not like us, they say.
Maybe they should even ban him coming in altogether.
We need to take care of ourselves – they say – that’s what we should do.

Imagine if this is the way the people in Egypt responded.
What would we think of them?

That is the world Christ is born into.
And – and this is important – this is still the world Christ is born into.
When we gather and celebrate Christ coming into the world we can all acknowledge that even today the world is not warm and peaceful and glowing.
The world today is still broken, still angry, still fearful.
And when Christ comes into this world – the gospel today reminds us exactly where Christ is.
He is not with the person in power.
He is not helping or acting on behalf of the person in power.
No.
His very life is threatened and he makes a run for safety.
Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, is a refugee.

 

We shouldn’t pick sides…Maybe that’s what you’re thinking today.
That I’ve picked a side.
And my response is you bet I have.
So should you.
Because God has already picked a side.
And it’s not here.
It’s not in this room.
It’s with those to whom his coming is good news.
And today – the good news is for the refugee.  

Anglican priest Joy Carroll Wallis once said that
“We Christians like to talk about putting Christ back into Christmas, but let’s not forget to put Herod back into Christmas. Herod represents the dark side of the gospel. He reminds us that Jesus didn’t enter a world of sparkly Christmas cards or a world of warm spiritual sentiment. Jesus enters a world of real pain, of serious dysfunction, a world of brokenness and political oppression. Jesus was born an outcast, a homeless person, a refugee, and finally he becomes a victim to the powers that be. Jesus is the perfect savior for outcasts, refugees, and nobodies.”

Today’s Gospel is messy.
It’s not warm and cozy.
It’s violent and angry and hard to hear.

But it’s a reminder that God didn’t enter a perfect world.
It’s a reminder that God isn’t just with us in the warm cozy joyful moments, but that when God came to be with us God entered a broken, violent, messed up world too.
Then and now.
God is with us in all of it.

So here we are.
Welcoming Christ into the world yet again.
As we heard on Christmas – “for unto YOU is born a savior”
You.
Me.
Christ has come to us, for all of us.
For the whole world.
Only now we know how the story ends.
For we move from the beginning of the good news, the “for you” found in that little baby in a manger,
to the rest of it – for it was on the night on which he was betrayed, when our lord Jesus took bread, broke it, gave it to the disciples and said, take and eat, this is my body, broken for YOU.

 

 

End of worship closing:

So on this first day of 2017, as we start to think about the things we want to resolve to be or do in the coming year – I want you to try a new kind of resolution with me.
Can we try this together?

I want us to resolve to look for Jesus in the world around us…in those who are on the outside, who feel oppressed, who are fearful, who are hurting.  

I want us to resolve to try harder to understand our world is not the whole world. To understand that if we’re honest, we look for Christ where we’re comfortable going, and not necessarily where he really is.

I want us to resolve to be the love of God in the world – no matter who we are with, where we go, or who we encounter.

Christ has shown us which side he is on.
Let’s resolve to be with Christ, as Christ has already resolved to be with us.

There are a few organizations that do important and helpful and ethical work with refugees – right now, on the ground, in Aleppo. Please consider giving them your support:

* Lutheran World Relief

* Pre-Emptive Love

* White Helmets

* Doctors Without Borders

* Save the Children

* Together Rising