Revdonna's Blog

Turning the world upside down. Acts 17.6

Freedom and the true world cup

Now that the smoke of fireworks has faded, the bottles have been picked up, the parades and past, i wonder how many people really know what we have been celebrating this 4th of July. Oh sure, most can probably tell you it is Independence Day. That we are celebrating freedom. But do they know what freedom really is?

Because 238 years ago, in 1776 when the founding fathers signed that document, the Declaration of Independence, when they signed their names beneath words like, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That the men who signed their names meant only certain men were equal, that some men could be sold as slaves and property, and that equality with and for women wasn’t even on their radar which hadn’t been invented yet.

So the freedom that we celebrate on the 4th of July with parades, picnics, fireworks, and music, wasn’t finished on that day, the 4th of July, 1776. No one would argue that that was a beginning for us; it wasn’t the end, and there is still work to be done for this nation to truly flourish with freedom of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. So do those who party, who adorn themselves with red white and blue, know that they are not celebrating an event, once and done, but a process, the freeing of the people to make this nation.

Now perhaps with all that in mind, the Apostle Paul’s words may make more sense. Not that he was completely impossible to understand. I think any of us who’ve done any sort of self reflecting, any sort of self-examination and realisation, would be pretty familiar with Paul sense of the struggle going on within him.

It’s like I’ve and others have often said. There’s no need to look outside ourselves, to demons and the devil. Our own nature, our own genetics, our own upbringing, personality, is the source of our sin. I bet I’m not the only one who has given in, who has been tempted to say, “the devil made me do ot, and know the only devil around was my own weakness, my own anger, my own stubbornness, my own hunger, and weakness for gambling.

For Paul, the laws of God were helpful and good,because without them, he wouldn’t know the depths, the dangers, the complexity, and of his sin. For Paul, he feels the very real pull within himself. Temptations come from within. He sees us as broken, trapped people. It isn’t just that we don’t know wrong from right, no God has given us commandments, the law, torah in Hebrew, but, we just don’t, won’t sometimes can’t follow and live according to the laws of God.

And because of that we are not free, we can’t free ourselves. For jesus and Paul, the answer to what is wrong with us, what is wrong with this world is not independence. There is no pulling oneself up by the bootstraps out of sin.

We are not free, until someone else does it for us. And that someone is Jesus. With Jesus, sin doesn’t have power over us. Oh yeah, Paul, you, and me, we’ll still mess up. We will still commit sins, we will drink, we will say things in anger, we will hurt ourselves and others, we still live in a society that is built upon sin, upon some people being worked to death so we can have cheap stuff to fill our closets, to fill our garages, purses and pockets.

Freedom, true freedom, reveals the emptiness of all that stuff, of that life of drugs, drinking, of violence. Being freed in Christ is an everyday struggle to see ourselves, our world, and what we csn do in it.

Part of our July 4th celebrations is to drive down to Raymond, WI and help out my husband Brad’s church to represent it, walk, give out candy, and flyers in the little parade. We sometimes go to the festival. This year, as in the past, there were these carnival games for the kids, and the prizes were all sorts of trinkets, frisbees, footballs, temporary tattoos, and more. Of course, the irony that these, red, white, and blue, patriotic trinkets were produced, were made in far away countries like China was not missed. That the games were mostly just of luck.

Now just imagine if we couldn’t or would’t have seen all that for what it really was. We could have spent our time, our energy, our lives trying to win for ourselves these “prizes”. That is the true freedom that Jesus the Christ gives us. No longer are we spending our time, our energy, our resources, on empty prizes.

So we hear Jesus’ call, w hear his words, come to him, come together, to have our burdens lifted, because they are not ours alone. in Jesus we do not face, Paul does not face his weakness by himself, we are yoked together, bound to one another, we are freed now not to struggle for empty prizes and empty pleasures, but to spend our life in the biggest contest of all, bringing peace, living in forgiveness, and sharing God’s love. We may not have fireworks, we may not have the fanciest and loudest, most entertaining parades and shows. But we have something better, more powerful, more meaningful. Today God gives you, in Communion, not a party of independence, but a taste of true freedom, today God shares with youm with all of us, the real world cup! This is why we are here, to share the true world cup. Amen.

“Would you rather” – Sermon for June 22nd, 2014 – Matthew 10:24–39

(I began by going to one of the little kids and asking if he wanted to play a game with me, and if he knew the game “Would you rather?”)

Would you rather? Would you rather eat ice cream or pudding? Would you rather play in the rain or when it’s hot? Would you rather is a game my sons play. But it doesn’t stay so easy, so benign. Eventually we get to icky things like, Would you rather have a leach or a spider on you? And sometimes the question, would you rather can make you really think.

It’s a fun game to play when you’re bored, but it’s still a game nonetheless. The difference between the game and real life, is that the choices we make in life are not pretend and imaginary. And while our options may be between or among several seemingly equal and not so good things, the choices we make in life are real.

Now, here’s my good Lutheran preacher, disclaimer. You don’t hear me talking a lot about choice. As a Lutheran we can’t even make the choice to believe in God. That even faith is a gift, a work of the Holy Spirit and not us. As Martin Luther wrote in his Small Catechism almost 500 years ago: from his explanation to the third article of the Apostles Creed “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith…”

In other words God chooses us first, before we ever think about believing or choosing to have faith in God. God loves each one of us, makes that choice for us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t make any choices. We choose how we are going to live out that faith. We make choices about how we are going to follow Jesus, everyday.

It would be so cool if those choices we simple and straight forward as those would you rather questions.

But its not as easy, and don’t let anyone tell you it is. If it were easy, choosing between what is obviously good and what is obviously evil and bad, why would Jesus talk about bringing a sword, dividing families, about carrying a cross. All of those things come out of the choices our faith calls us to make.

Our would you rather’s are more complicated, more serious, more consequential. Would you rather: If your neighborhood community were plagued with drugs, gangs, and guns would you rather stay and try to heal your community? Or would you rather move your children to safety? Even if it meant entering a country illegally? And as a follower of Jesus what do you do when your brothers and sisters make those choices.

Would you rather, do the work, pay the price to change how we live, so that we slow climate change now, or later? How does being a believer in Jesus fit in.

Would you rather have more guns or less guns, in our violent world, a world of drugs, and anger, of irrational hate within our families, neighborhoods, with terrorists and troubled individuals. And most importantly, what role does faith in the God of Jesus play in your answer.

(Would you rather have companies pay people enough to support with jobs, with jobs in our neighborhoods, with reliable and timely transportation to jobs, or would you rather have corporations make record profits and get thwt investment income.

And the most important question, will your faith in Jesus lead you to speak like the prophet Jeremiah, act, vote, change where you shop and how you live. Will you pay the price to follow Jesus?

Because contrary to popular thinking these days the blessings of God are not wealth, not a big house in the suburbs, not success, not easy going, smooth sailing, not comfort and serenity and security.

Though life is not a game, we are faced with would you rather. With choices–choices that don’t change our salvation, but do change our lives, the lives of our world. So, would you rather face life as a follower of Jesus, a life of meaning and purpose, that rises above the simple search for empty pleasures. Wouldn’t you rather have a life with Jesus. One that faces down the evils of life, that doesn’t just go along with the evils of this world, but joins with your brothers and sisters of the faith to create the family of God. Wouldn’t you rather give up the false securities of this world for the promise of a truly better one, God’s kingdom come for real. Wouldn’t you rather act with courage and not fear.

PreacherWilliam Sloane Coffin gave a blessing and I’ll end my time with you : “The Lord bless you and keep you, and the Lord’s face shine upon you and grant you grace; grace to risk something big for something good.”

Acts 9:1-19

This sermon began with a testimony given by a member of the church. She spoke about Jesus having the power to turn her life around.

Jesus can do that. Jesus can turn our lives around. He can change us, turn us from walking down the way of destruction, paths paved by death.

Jesus can change us; Jesus can turn our lives around even when we don’t know want or don’t even know we need to get turned around. That was the way it was with Saul.

Saul didn’t know he was on the wrong road. He thought that the right path was to follow the commandments of the bible, the laws and rules of God’s religion was the right and the only way. He thought the followers of Jesus were a threat to his faith. He believed that by hunting down these followers of Jesus, that he Saul was walking in the way of the Lord, doing God’s will. He didn’t ask God to turn him around, but to simply point him in the right direction and let him go on his mission of holy righteousness.

I can’t imagine what might have been going through his head and his heart that day on the rowd to Damascus when Jesus spun Saul right round, like a record, throwing him off his horse, causing not just his body to come crashing down, but his entire life and world. We can not say it too much. Saul’s life revolved around following God’s laws and commandments from the bible, from Deuteronomy, from Leviticus and more. It was through following those laws he came to know God, and now Jesus with that blinding light, knocking Saul off that horse, knocked him down, knocked down his faith, knocked down and turned his world around.

Jesus has a way of doing that, whether we are looking to be turned around or not. Whether it’s the rule of law or just the way we see things, Jesus is bound to mess with us. That’s what he did with Ananias. Ananias is a good man, he already believes in Jesus; he’s on the right path. Jesus wants Ananias to do more than talk, pray, and worship. Jesus wants him to take the risk to walk the walk. Ananias knows who this Saul is. Word has spread all the way to Damascus, probably to any place where the Good News of Jesus was preached, the bad news of Saul arresting people had spread as well. So when the Lord comes to Ananias and tells him to go to Saul, it’s understandable that Ananias would question Jesus’ direction.
Wouldn’t you? I know I would! Hey Jesus you want me to do what? Hey Jesus, i don’t want to offend, but maybe way up wherever in the heavens you are, maybe you missed it, but this guy–he’s bad news; he dangerous; he’s evil. He’s the bad guy, and you want me, you want us to go to him? Are your sure Jesus? Are you sure you’ve thought this all the way through, Lord?
Anytime the good news challenges us. Anytime the gospel of love and forgiveness pulls us to turn around, points us in a new direction. We too like Ananias can wonder. The church is in that place now. We are in that place now. Our world is changing, and Jesus is calling us to turn around and to not run away from the world, but to turn into, to turn and lean into it.
I remember one of the first times riding a motorcycle. I was riding a nice Harley, riding behind someone I liked, someone I trusted. That it until we had to turn, and we started, in my estimation, in my mind, to go down towards the ground. Every fiber of my being did’t want to get any closer to that road, so i shifted my wait, and I leaned away. We made the turn, a wobbly turn, and that was the last time I rode behind my friend. That was the last time she let me on her bike.
You see, we don’t mind a little bit of change in our lives, Lord, you know a tweak here and there, a little bit of a change around the edges or at the corners of our lives. Jesus just let us alone and we’ll work it out–we’ll come to church every once in while. We’ll give just a bit, a bit of our money, a bit of our time, a bit of ourselves, just enough, you know to make us look good, feel good about ourselves. But Jesus don’t ask us to really turn it around, don’t ask us to change too much.
We get used to the roads we are used to traveling, they are familiar, if not comfortable at least predictable, even if they do as lead to death. We get comfortable walking down the wide boulevard of anger or the narrow path of judgement. We know our way around. We know who to avoid, who to trust, we know we can trust people just like us, to walk with us. We want to walk down the paths of who and what we like, the way we’ve gone before.
That might have seemed to have worked, back in the day. Everything is like that whether its drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, buying clothes or cars, or our attitudes, our judgements, our anger, our grief, and hurt. It feels good, even just at first, and we get stuck. But God is in the business of change, And just as Jesus turned Saul around, just as Jesus turned Ananias, Jesus turns us today. That’s what all this forgiveness is, it’s the opportunity, it is the break, it is the push and pull to turn us around. To turn us towards one another, to push us to lean into our world, lean into our neighborhood, because turning us inside out, turning upside down and all around is what Jesus did and what Jesus is still doing.

What is Truth?

You can’t handle the _____________.

The whole _________ and nothing but the ______________.

_________ or dare.

_________ hurts.

We hold these ___________ (truths) to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Great words, but are they true. Put another way, does the fact that Thomas Jefferson who wrote those words and many of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence owned and traded in men, women, and children, made money and wealth from slavery, does the fact that they believed that only white men who were educated and wealthy enough to own land were truly equal, and the fact that women didn’t even enter the picture, do those facts make those words less true?

You see there is a difference between facts and truth. As poet, author, and speaker Maya Angelou has said, “There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.” I think Pontius Pilate would agree. I also think knowlege, that awareness is behind his now timeless question, “what is truth?”.

You see he knew the facts. He wasn’t a dummy. He knew it was Passover. A tense time for the people. A time when they celebrated God rescuing and redeeming them from another, a different, overlord and empire. He knew the people didn’t come to this festival just to remember something God did once in the past, but to pray and look forward to God acting today. He knew that some people would agitate and perhaps do even more to free the people of God from Roman rule and oppression. And, Pilate knew the religious leaders had it in for Jesus, that they wanted to get rid of him. He also knew that Jesus was innocent. Pilate could see the facts; he was looking for the truth.

I think a lot of us are more like Pilate than we would first admit. I know I am. We know the facts. The facts are people get sick, children get cancer, some parents hurt their children. The facts are we are burning and using up our planet and our resources. The facts are the wealthiest in our country are getting richer and the rest of us aren’t, in fact many are poorer. The fact is our economic and educational systems do not encourage justice and equality. The facts are that our policies and laws often target poor people and people of color. The facts are sometimes planes crash, and countries fight wars with others or with themselves. The facts are that while there is only one race, the human race, we use our ethnic and cultural differences as reasons for mean-spiritedness, hatred, and even violence. The facts are sometimes marriages and relationships end. The facts are people lie to one another.

Those are the facts. What is truth? What is the truth that helps us make sense in a senseless world. What is the truth that goes beyond all these facts of life?

In John’s gospel Jesus has a lot to say about truth. Jesus uses the word truth 21 times in John’s gospel. If you add up all the times he says the word truth in the other three gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke it totals 6. In John’s gospel truth is a big deal.

I think it’s a pretty big deal in life too. The slide show over here has just a few of Jesus’s words about truth. I think a central word, is Jesus’ statement–I am the way, the truth, and the life. So if Jesus is the truth, what does that mean? What do we believe about Jesus?

Who is Jesus to you?

We have a lot of things to say about Jesus. It all boils down to being connected to him, being grounded, tied and bound to him. Jesus is our truth. His life, his words, his work that is not facts–but our truth.

And that truth will set us free, but that truth in our story for today was bound, bound by ropes, perhaps even chains. That is fact, that jesus was arrested and bound. But The Truth is that it was not chains and weapons, betrayers and soldiers that made him stand before Pilate. It was love. Jesus was not bound by violence and force, but by love. His love for us. Jesus ties himself to us, to all of us.

One of the good things about being a city church is not having a church cemetery–like some country churches. It saves us a lot of headache and hard work. Well at some time I came across a story of a small country church, their cemetery had a fieldstone wall around it. Well as it happened one day a not so beloved member of the community died. He was a mean and bitter man. He had served time for some crime that well, there were lots of rumors about. Anyway, he died and a member of his family asked for him to be buried in the church cemetery. The cemetery committee met and voted to deny the request. They would not allow him to be buried on their sacred ground, but just outside the cemetery wall. So the pastor, just a couple of people from his family held his funeral. It was a Saturday, as many funerals go. The next morning as members of the church drove past the cemetery, they were shocked to see that the fieldstone wall had been moved. It now went around the newly filled grave .

Whatever the facts are, whether it was moved overnight by some hard working individuals or by a miracle. Either way, the facts don’t matter. The truth does. And the truth is. Jesus is friend, teacher, brother, healer, savior. Facts do not guide us each day. Facts do not give us comfort in grief. Facts do not give us hope in pain. Jesus is claiming us. We belong to the truth, to him. Jesus is our truth. It is through him that we see, judge, understand, and give meaning to the facts of this life. The truth is that God is love, Jesus is from God, we belong with Jesus, Jesus is truth, the truth that we belong to, the truth that binds us together is love. That is our truth. Amen.

Don’t “Like” Jesus

It’s not a lie. Really, Peter is not lying. When he denies Jesus, and says I am not– I am not a disciple of Jesus. Peter is not lying. You see at that moment, the moment he opened his mouth to deny Jesus, to save himself- he quit being a disciple.
When questioned that night by the woman gatekeeper and by the slaves around the fire. Peter is asked are you a disciple of Jesus. Peter says– I am not. He says no–and he’s not lying.

While Peter may have physically followed Jesus who has been arrested by temple police and is being questioned by the religious leaders and authorities, Peter physically follows but to save himself he bails. He chickens out; he lies and in his words the truth has come out. He is no longer a disciple, no longer a student of Jesus.

His lie speaks the truth.

What Peter is admitting in denying Jesus is that there is no on-again off-again following Jesus. We can’t just follow Jesus when it’s convenient and safe. Peter may at that moment is what we say a fare weather Christian. You know the type, when everything’s going smooth and good, when it seems like blessings are all around, then God is good. It’s easy to “like” Jesus. You who are on facebook, you know what I’m talking about. You know how easy it is to just click that “like” button. But it doesn’t really mean anything. There’s nothing to loose.

But that night outside Annas, the religious leaders house, Peter had lots to lose, and he was scared.

I know what that’s like, and I’m pretty sure we all know what that’s like. Peter’s not the only one whose faced a dilemma–when to claim your faith. You know what I mean. Think about those times when you wanted to say something, you know you should speak up or act out for what is right, for what our faith says is right, and instead we’ve shied away. Kept our mouths shut, our heads down, perhaps even closed our eyes and covered our ears to deny what’s going on. We don’t want to get involved because, well because it might hurt or cost something. We may not be like Peter and in this country actually face physical harm, torture, or death. Although that is not always true.

The cost could be a friendship, the cost could be peace at home or at work, or with neighbors. Dietrich Bonhoeffer the Lutheran Christian who died for his faith in God and his work against Hitler, tells us “when Christ calls [someone], he bids [them] come and die”.

As I said it may not be literal physical death, but it may. This week I heard the story of
Mona Iskander. She is the mother of Fadi Samir, a nineteen year old Egyptian who was arrested and mistreated and abused. He was charged with being a member of the radical islamic group the islamic brotherhood. But as the crucifix tattoo on his arm shows, he is a radical follower of Jesus who is speaking out about the injustice in his country. And his mother, while she fears for her sons life, encourages him, supports him, and speaks out as well.

This week some of you may have heard that on Thursday, Fred Phelps, founding pastor of the small but infamous Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, had died. Under Mr. Phelps leadership and teaching this very small family church hit the news a lot because they protested at soldiers funerals. He preached a hate-filled message against the acceptance and equality for gay, LGBT people in our country. He taught that natural disasters and man-made horrors like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting were God’s punishment for acceptance of homosexuality. Some other Christians, To their credit spoke out, some Christians counter-protested and demonstrated the true gospel–that of God’s love.

Those are just two examples.
In each of our lives we will have more. Some big, but many much littler daily ways when being a real follower of Jesus will be a challenge, and we will face the dilemma to challenge what we see around us, what we hear, and what we say or to just say nothing, and deny Jesus.

Peter’s denial isn’t the only point of this story. . The reason that The gospel writer John could show us Peter like this, show us who Peter was in that moment denying Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. The reason John can tell us like it is isn’t because Peter somehow grows a backbone and at some point becomes a hero of the faith. The story is really about Jesus.

You see, while Peter is outside denying Jesus, Jesus is inside and he’s not denying anything or anybody. We don’t hear him call out to Peter, hey bud I got this. But that’s what’s happening. Jesus knows us. I mean really Jesus knows what’s going on. I’m sure when he responds to Annas by suggesting they listen to the words of his followers, the ones who have deserted and are in the midst of denying him, Jesus knows what’s going on. He knows our strengths, our good deeds, our good thoughts, and more importantly he knows our weaknesses, he knows our fears, knows our limits. And he says to us. I got this, because I got you. I will not abandon you; i will not run away, or turn from you. I am with you to the end, whatever end that may be. I will not deny you. That is the faith that allows us to be honest. You know in that confession we said a bit ago. Faith in the Jesus who will not deny us allows us to really say confess those things, allows us to be truthful to ourselves with one another. And so importantly, as Peter will find out faith in the love and forgiveness of Jesus gives us the opportunity, the resposinsibility, and the strength to do more than just click a thumbs up. Because even when Jesus is tortured by and suffers a state sanctioned execution, Jesus does not deny, but forgives. That is the one we follow. Faith in the Jesus who will not deny us gives us the strength to speak, the strength to act, the strength to be a disciple to face injustice wherever and whenever. It may, it probably will cost us something, but remember Jesus says , hey I got this. I got you. Amen.

Lazarus stinketh – Sermon for March 9, John 11.1-44

Lazarus stinketh.  He stinketh.  FOOTNOTE: credit goes to Gal Pal Blogger kathrynzj for sharing the “stinketh”, KJV

He stinketh . I do not usually use the King James version of the Bible, but in this case I’ll make an exception. He stinketh are Martha’s words from that old translation and that, “he stinketh”, have kind of stucketh with me.

It is easy to laugh at the words, but our humor hides or disguises the seriousness and the pain of this scene/story.

Lazarus stinketh, he stinks because he is dead; and unlike that man who revived at the morgue in his body bag, lazarus has been dead and in his tomb four days. The mourners from their town of Bethany know that he stinketh, Mary and her sister Martha know this, and Martha wants to make sure Jesus knows this too. Lazarus stinketh because he is beyond healing, beyond hope.

Now maybe if Jesus had made it to their home earlier, perhaps if he had not dillydallied in Jerusalem. If only he had acted as soon as he got the word that Lazarus, that Mary and Martha needed him. If only. How many times do we say those words, “if only”? How many times may even be afraid to say it? But not Mary and Martha–both sisters voice their loss, their frustration, their anger, their pain to Jesus. I am so glad they say those words, “if only” and that Jesus listens to them. He doesn’t rebuke them. It makes our if only’s ok. If only we had gone to the doctor/the hospital sooner, if only we hadn’t been on the cell phone, if only we had said “i love you, i forgive you,” that last time, if only the driver hadn’t been drinking or had been paying attention. If only you God, if only you had answered our prayers, done what we wanted, stopped that bullet, cured that cancer, healed that addiction. If only. Two words that speak volumes about how not just death stinketh, but sometimes life stinketh too.

Sometimes life is so rotten that even the son of God is not unaffected, but just has to let the tears roll down his cheeks. I don’t know about you, but for me there is great comfort in that Jesus–in the Jesus who knows so deep down in his heart what it is to love and loose. That does not let divinity, does not let propriety, does not let what some people think may be good and proper control him. Instead we read, we hear, we sing –Jesus wept.

Those two little words in English, three in the Greek it was originally written in, tell us volumes. They tell us that not only does life stinketh sometimes, but that faith isn’t afraid to go to even the smelliest and messiest places. Being faithful to God is being faithful to our ties to one another. Being faithful to God isn’t about looking good and having it all together. Church, we are not here to put on a performance; we are here meet the one who huffs, who needs some puffs, and will break open the doors of death.

That’s what Jesus does. He calls out, with perhaps tears still flowing over his dust covered skin, “Lazarus come out”.

That’s the thing about God’s Word, it can penetrate to the deepest pit of despair and death. It can move through mountains of struggles, and vibrate through piles of pains. And, it doesn’t stop till it is heard. Lazarus come out.

And he did. Lazarus gulped in some stanky, clammy, stale air, but air nonetheless. The breath of life filled his lungs again, pumped his heart, and moved his muscles. In the dark, all wrapped up like a mummy he got up, and got going.
But, Lazarus come out. Wasn’t Jesus’ last word. Nope. Jesus could put the air back into his stiff and stinky body, but he needed the people to pull the wrappings away. They couldn’t just stand their like a bunch of spectators watching and waiting till Lazarus had gotten himself all cleaned up, got some soap, and some deoderant, made himself respectable. No, Lazarus stinketh and Jesus said get over there to that man and touch him not with a ten foot pole, but with your hands, bring him and welcome him back to the land of the living.

There’s a lot of talk about what a church should be doing these days. We know that the world has changed, the world is changing. It’s not the same out there as it was years and years ago. Its not the same in here. The people out there, the people in here, are not the same. A lot of people are really hurting, a lot of people are walking around like the walking dead, death has a hold on this world, and man it stinketh. So what is Jesus telling us to do, come in here and hide, and pretend, pray, make ourselves feel a bit better. No Jesus says to us, come out, it will get messy, maybe even stinketh some. But, Jesus says to us get out there, get over there, weep with those in pain, touch those who are untouchable, loosen the binds, loosen up, and you know what, death is the one who will loose. Death will fall away like the shreds of the shroud that bound Lazarus.

Because unlike the reinvigorated dead that fill our imaginations, our bookshelves, our tvs and movies, of this or that zombie apocalypse, Lazarus doesn’t come out of the tomb hungry for brains, but hungry for life.

And as at least one character wisely has said on some show or another, “Coming back from the dead changes people.” And we the church of Jesus who raised Lazarus, who was raised from death, and promises to raise us too, maybe not just on the last day, but every day. . And although we won’t hear the words till next week we can now say with Martha and Mary, the sisters of the man who stinketh, the ones whose love was returned to them, when lazarus was raised, we can say thank you, thank you, thank you Jesus. Amen,

I am the (broken) gate – sermon for Ash Wednesday 2014

broken gate

broken gate

John 10.1-18
1 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good “shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

this is roughly the sermon I preached last night

To fence or not to fence. Several years ago, that was the question asked as began creating the community garden over there on 26th St. next to the US Bank. Should we build some kind of fence around our garden? Should we construct some kind of defense and protection for all the hard work, the building of raised bed boxes, the planting, the watering, the growth of fragile and precious plants.
It is a natural question, fences and walls provide us with that sense of security and safety that we all long for.
Of course, no fence is truly impenetrable. We know that if someone wants to get over, under, or around a fence they sure can do that. We’ve seen that over and over again. Right here I’m holding a piece of the Berlin Wall, built to keep the East Berliners from escaping Communism . This was part of a wall of cement, rock, barb wire fencing, and guards, but still that wall came tumbling down.
Our world if full of attempts to surround ourselves with wood, stone, cement, and iron to try to keep us safe. Fences and walls in the Southwest between the US and Mexico, between Israel and the Palestinians, between neighbors, to keep the good in and the bad out.
At first glance this may seem like what Jesus is talking about in our passage tonight from John’s gospel. Tonight Jesus gives us two images to describe who he is. One is the good shepherd. It is a comforting and even somewhat familiar image, especially for us pretty regular church folk. We like the image of Jesus as the good shepherd staff in hand calling us to safety, calling us to follow, to go to the pasture that is God’s world and calling us to gather back to rest. But that’s not the only image Jesus gives us.
This night we heard these words from verses 9 & 10. Jesus says, “ I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Jesus is the gate. Not such a pretty picture. That’s probably why we haven’t seen too many artistic renditions of those words. Of course, he is not talking about a literal wall—a literal fence. And unlike most of the walls and fences we may picture his is more agrarian. His imagery is that of a sheepfold, an enclosure built to protect sheep.
And, Jesus doesn’t say, “I am the fence. I am the wall.” Instead–the gate. The gate, the door—it is the opening, it is the way in and the way out. It is interesting Jesus doesn’t ever say, “I am the gate which is/will be shut and locked.” That is a gate that can give us all the security and safety, but that’s not what Jesus is about.
This night is Ash Wednesday, a day in the church that frankly is not terribly popular. I dare say we will never see the Christmas crowds fill the pews on Ash Wednesday. This day and its emphasis on our weakness, our fallenness, our brokenness, our human frailty is difficult. It is too difficult and painful for some. They would rather not face the reality of their mortality. Oh we know, up here in our heads that death is part of life. But when it comes to our own death or the death of those we love and cherish dearly. This is not something everyone wants to come face to face with, to have their noses rubbed in it, so to speak.
But that is exactly what we do this night. We rub ashes and dirt on our foreheads, on the outside to remember the dirt that is inside us, the anger the pain, the resentments, the fears, the sins, the prejudices, that we are sick, we will age, we will weaken, that we will not live forever, that we are broken.
I really believe that what is wrong with so much in this world is this denial. With all our diversions, our alcohol, drugs, gambling, violence are just different ways of building walls and fences to try to keep out this reality.
But Jesus is the gate. He is going to open a hole, a way in our defenses. The thing about Jesus isn’t that he is impervious and impenetrable. Jesus was not impervious to the brokenness of this world. The trust he had with his friends and family was broken as he was betrayed. The people who followed him broke away and bailed on him. His own body was bruised, his skin and flesh torn, bloodied, bruised, beaten he was broken. Jesus is broken, he is the broken gate for us, broken open. Broken open for all of us to come to, broken open for all of us to have life, life lived beyond scarcity, to have life lived abundantly beyond fear, beyond the safety of walls and fences. Jesus is the gate broken open for us. Amen.

Are you blind?? The signs are right there!!!!

Sermon March 2, 2014, John 9

The signs are right there. Right there for everyone to see. How can anyone miss them. They are black and white. Four, one on each corner. “No Turn on Red”. But more often than not drivers at the intersection of S. 27th St. and National Ave will if we’re lucky stop or slow down and then just turn right on red. Even though the signs say no. Even though there are pedestrians like me and my boys, or like Larry, or Sherveeta, or so many others whose names we don’t know trying to cross the streets. But the drivers go as if they can’t see, or can’t read, or don’t care what the signs say.

So what do you think? Why do they do that? Why do so many miss the signs.

Maybe the first time there at that intersection. Just with all the people, the business, the traffic, just to much.
Distracted
So much other going on the street
By what’s going on in the car, in our lives, in our head

We get focused on our wants, our needs to get where we’re going. We blind ourselves to others, to the signs.

That’s what Jesus is talking about this morning.

It begins with the disciples, who are distracted. They are trying to figure out who is to blame. They see the blind man and instead of seeing a brother, instead of seeing themselves in him, instead of finding out who he really is. They are looking for blame. Is he blind because it’s his fault or his parents’ fault. How is it God’s will.

But that’s not how Jesus sees it. Instead for Jesus the man’s life, his condition provides an opportunity to do God’s will, to do the good work, to show God’s power and healing in the world. So, Jesus takes that moment, that occasion and does what God would have him do–heal the man.

Now isn’t that a good thing?

Well, that’s not exactly how everybody sees it. You see, its not just that Jesus healed, its how he did it. Did anybody catch when Jesus does this healing?
It’s a Sabbath; the sabbath is the day of rest. A day for no work. But Jesus heals a man, a man who has lived sightless every other day. So this isn’t terribly urgent, there was nothing imminently dangerous about situation. We don’t even hear the man ask to be healed. But Jesus does it right then.
And, how does Jesus heal the man? If healing weren’t bad enough, Jesus makes some mud to do it. He doesn’t just say, “hey guy you are healed.” Like Jesus could have done and does in other places. No he does exactly what was posted, stated, as wrong breaking one of the commandments, and not just one of all the little ones. This is one of the big 10 right? Remember the sabbath.
It is no mystery that the religious leaders do not, they can not see what Jesus is really doing They can’t see Jesus for who he is, because well he’s doing what he’s not supposed to do. How can anyone be on God’s good side if they are going around blatantly breaking the commandments. Really it’s not just that they are distracted by jealousy. No, they are focused on what everything about their faith, their religion says is wrong and right.

However, the religious leaders lets not just pick on them. They aren’t the only ones blinded in the story. Before the man is questioned by the authorities, his neighbors, the people who walked by him, who saw him on the street, they have all sorts of questions. Some folks don’t even recognize the man. All they saw when they had looked at him for all those was his blindness, his disability, and without that they didn’t know who he was. So, for years and years the must have walked by him, they must have sat near him–passing by him on their way to market, on their way to do their business, on their way to worship, to greet their friends. Perhaps he even stood next to them at prayer, but the never took the time to get to know him. He was the blind guy in the corner, they never really saw him. Going about their lives, they were blind to him. So obviously their vision isn’t much better than that of their leaders.
How many times is our vision similarly clouded. We only see someone by the category we put them in. Old people or poor people, white people, black, lump all Asians together. Conservatives, liberals, the rich, gay or straight. We only see what we want to see. And with some we hardly take the time to stop and really look.
Today though Jesus is shining his light in here, so that yes, even we can start to see clearly. Now we’re not a big congregation right? 40 to 80 or so come to worship most Sundays. That’s not a lot right. Not too many. Now I’ve been open about the struggle I have recalling names when I want to. But im not the only one here. It’s as if we come here, but we really don’t see one another. Oh, we certainly focus on the people we like and who we are friends with. Now do not get me wrong. I’m not picking on anyone in particular, or just St. Paul’s. I’ve seen this in lots of other congregations. We don’t know what we don’t know. We are blind to our blindspots, that is until someone shines a light on them.
You know those signs at the intersection of 27th & National that I mentioned earlier in my sermon. Ignoring, not seeing those signs is such a big deal to me that when I am out walking, if I’m standing there trying to cross the street, well to the embarrassment of my sons, I will yell at drivers. I will wave my hands and i will point at the signs. Their blindness to the signs gets me all worked up.

I would like to think that I am righteous, somehow a better driver. But I have to admit, I can confess just the other week. I pulled into the far right lane, stopped at the red light, looked at the red light, looked to left, looked at the red light and pulled the wheel to the right and hit the gas. Luckily I caught myself before i hit a pedestrian trying to cross the street. My own impatience, thoughts, busyness distracted me, and blinded me to the signs I’ve pointed out to so many others, so many times. Well let me tell you I sure gave myself a good talkin too.

Friends if Jesus is the light of the world, then today he is shining. He is shining a spot light to show us where our blind-spots. He’s letting us see the things of this world as distractions, our busy-ness; our worries, our fears and resentments, the parties, the alcohol, its all the same, it blinds us. It is only when we admit our blindness can our eyes be opened, opened to Jesus God’s light .

But Jesus isn’t this holier than thou stop light. Making people think that’s all we as the church are or should be about. There to tell us what not to do. There to catch us in the act of doing wrong. Jesus is the light of eternal life. Of life lived beyond shoulda, coulda, wouldas, life not lived by don’t do this, don’t do that. But life lived really seeing one another. Life lived looking out for one another. Life lived looking for each and every opportunity to really see one another, to get to know one another, and to see how Jesus is reflected in their lives, in their struggles.

As we enter this season in the church a season of Lent. It has often been a season of sacrifice–of giving up something. In the church we give up the alleluia, that song and word of praise–not to make us feel bad, but to help us focus on Jesus, his life and his light. Let these days, these 40 days before the central festival and feast, the party of Easter be instead 40 days, of 40 opportunities to put away the distractions, to look for Jesus, to really see whats goin on in our lives, our prejudices, our weaknesses, to watch as Jesus opens our eyes to one another, to catch a glimpse of the glorious light that shines in our world to bring healing and living, forgiveness and peace, to bring us to life in God’s vision, giving us the eyes to really see the love and light of Jesus. Amen.

Bread of Life – Narrative Lectionary, Feb. 16th, 2014, John 6.35-59

If you build it, they will come.   That’s what they used to say, and I guess that’s what they thought and are hoping for Sochi, you know with the Olympics.  You could also   say if you feed ‘me, they will come.

 Of course, there’s nothing new about this.  This is not a modern reality.   Jesus had crowds following him.   Hungry people.  People hungry for healing, hungry for justice, hungry for meaning, hungry for hope, and hungry for bread. And Jesus fed them.  He met them where they were: at a well, on a mountain, where they worshiped, where they partied.  He gave them what they were looking. But even more.  He gave them even more than they bargained for.

That reminds me of something that happened to me years ago.  It was when Pr. Phetsamone, Inthaly and I traveled to Thailand and Laos.  I was with a couple of other people in the group, in Bangkok, we had been walking around and we saw that familiar sign, you know the Golden Arches of McDonalds.  Hungry for some American food, we thought we’d give it a try.  Oh there was the usual Mcdonalds food on the menu, but there were other foods as well, including a McChicken sandwhich, made with a chicken patty sandwhiched between two rice buns.  As many of us know rice is the staple in Asian diet, not  bread.  So I ordered and ate my chicken between two buns made of compressed rice, not wheat bread.

Now that’s not too far of a stretch.  It’s actually quite tame compared to where Jesus goes in our reading from John’s gospel.  This reading is the first of seven times that Jesus will say, “ego eimi”, not Lego my ego, but ego eimi “I am”. 

This first time, what does Jesus say he is?

 Bread.  Bread.  The stuff, at least in many places in the world, the stuff of life.  Bread.  In it’s many and various varieties it is the most basic food.  As we saw, I brought a bunch of different breads, but there are so many more.  Let’s try and list them together:

1.     Raised white bread

2.     Rye

3.     Wheat

4.     Sourdough

5.     Tortilla

6.     Banana bread

7.     Pumpkin bread

8.     Short breads

9.     Hawaiian

10.  Challah

11.  French

12.  Italian

13.  Baguette

14.  Bagel

15.  Naan

16.  Pita

17.  Lavash

18.  Vollkornbrot

19.  Buns

20.  Donuts

21.  Pancakes

 

Oh man, anybody else hungry?

It makes perfect sense that Jesus would say I am the bread of life.  It is so basic, so essential, everyone can relate to being hungry, of wanting, of the real physical reactions to our hunger.  When we are hungry, and I mean really hungry that need is so real, so all-consuming.

 It is no wonder then that the church has been in the business of feeding people.  And we are no different. We will eat.  We will eat together.  Later this morning at after worship fellowship, then downstairs in our fellowship hall, we will serve another staple, not bread but PHO, then later this week at Community night.  Do you see, have you picked up a pattern, in addition of course to food, you heard fellowship 2x and community once.  They both mean the same thing.  Togetherness.  But you know in my list, I overlooked something, something that what will happen in just a few minutes up here.  Communion/community.  It’s the same thing.  Being brought together to be fed or being fed to be brought together.

 Now Jesus didn’t just give bread to the people one time.  He took bread, gave thanks, and broke it with the people over and over again. And if Jesus would have just stuck with that simple recipe, well it might have been a bit easier.  But as we heard Jesus, he takes it perhaps a step too far.  Not only does he say he is the bread of life, but then he says his flesh is to be eaten as well.  In fact it’s not just eaten, but chewed on.

 Really Jesus, couldn’t we have stuck with the nice bread image?  We all pretty much can relate to that, but no,now you have us eating flesh, soon we’ll be drinking blood, and anyone in their right mind will run away screaming from us bunch of pseudo/potential zombies and vampires.

 Laugh, but that’s what it sounds like if you take Jesus at his word, literally.  And in this instance we kinda do.  Now here’s a bit of denominational difference,and identity talk.  We believe when we have communion, Jesus’ body is present and we are taking it in.  We are consuming it/him.  Yes it is still bread, but it’s also his presence. Now we don’t know, can’t exactly explain how this is all happening.  It’s one of those belief thingies, you know leap of faith thingies.

 And I really think that’s important, because if we spend time trying to figure it out, we’re going to miss the main dish, main point.  That is communion, the bringing together.  God in Christ is giving himself so utterly and so completely to us, not just in some intellectual exercise, not just to make us feel good, not just to fill our tummies, but to ease our hunger for forgiveness, for strength, for acceptance and hope. And for his life to be in, with, and through us.

 Every so often I like to share with you some words of Martin Luther, the German monk and reformer of the church, who our brand of church is named after.  Today I would like to share some words from a sermon he preached almost 500 years ago about communion.

        Now this is the fruit, that even as we have eaten and drunk the body and blood of Christ the Lord, we in turn permit ourselves to be eaten and drunk, and say the same words to our neighbor, Take, eat and drink; and this by no means in jest, but in all seriousness, meaning to offer yourself with all your life, even as Christ did with all that he had, in the sacramental words. As if to say, Here am I myself, given for you, and this treasure do I give to you; what I have you shall   have; when you are in want, then will I also be in want; here, take my  righteousness, life, and salvation, that neither sin, nor death, nor hell, nor any sorrow may overcome you; as long as I am righteous and alive, so long shall  you also be righteous and alive.

  These are the words he speaks to us; these we must take, and repeat them to our neighbor, not by the mouth alone, but by our actions, saying, Behold, my dear brother, I have received my Lord; he is mine, and I have more than enough and great abundance. Now you take what I have, it shall be yours, and I place it at your disposal. Is it necessary for me to die for you, I will even do that. The goal placed before us in the Lord’s Supper is that the attainment of such  conduct toward our neighbor may appear in us.

 Communion, community, fellowship, it is all one, just as all those different types of bread are bread, just as we all need a staple, a food, we all need to be fed.  Jesus feeds us, with his body and with the body of our neighbor. There is no communion by yourself.  It is never just about you and Jesus.  We don’t have a personal relationship with a savior.  We are all saved together. We are not just about dough, but about do.   This is the eternal life that we have right now, to be filled not just with calories and carbs but with compassion and care–to not just live to eat, but to eat to live.  Being brought together to be fed and being fed to be brought together. Yes, if we are fed, if we feed we will come.  Amen.

“I see paradise trees”.

I see paradise trees.  That’s what Micah said to me as we stepped out the doors of the Orlando, airport in Florida.

“Paradise trees?  What are those”? I asked him,   And he pointed to the big palm trees across the street.  “Oh  I see them now (I told him) Thanks for showing them to me.

It would make sense that he would see those palm trees and rename them, “paradise trees”.  After all, those trees don’t grow up here in the frigid semi arctic of Wisconsin.  And isn’t the typical picture of paradise white sandy beaches, crystal clear blue water and skies, maybe a puffy white cloud, and a palm tree–paradise tree–too. So for the rest of our vacation we saw paradise trees.  Of course we had seen them before, but then they were just leafy green palm trees.  It took a new vision to now notice and recognize them as paradise trees.

You know, I bet paradise trees are in the kingdom of God.  Now I’m not trying to describe heaven and add palm trees to images of the pearly gates, people floating decked out in white robes, wings, and golden harps.  Because that’s not the only thing Jesus is talking about in our story for this morning.  You see heaven and the Kingdom of God, well they not exactly the same thing.

Heaven, heading there, going there, that’s a done deal for those who believe.  As Jesus says, “those who believe are not condemned”.  That’s what Paul is telling us in his letter to the church in Rome, chapter 5.1:   Paul writes, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God”.

Faith in the love of God in Christ, means we don’t have to even worry about heaven, getting there or going there.  That’s a done deal, done for us through the simply and only, or as we Lutherans like to say, solely through God’s amazing love.  That belief makes us confident and bold, it gives us comfort when things are going rough, when life gets really tough, like it does.  We know that this all here, well it’s not the end, we have something even bigger and better to look forward to.  That’s the hope that can get us though each day.  Heaven is where we are headed. No need to worry; end of story. 

Except it’s not the end, because there’s this whole kingdom of God stuff. The thing is Jesus isn’t done with us and the promise of heaven.  He doesn’t come to this world just to focus on the next, on what happens after this life, but to change us in this life, to change life right now, to change this world right now–to give us eternal life, and that eternal life is something that starts right now, as Jesus says we have it.  right now.  You see God isn’t just the God of heaven, but of of heaven and earth. Don’t we pray every Sunday, if not every day, thy or your kingdom come on earth as in heaven.

As Jesus says in his talk with Nicodemus, the Pharisee, this leader of the Jews, it’s all about seeing.  Seeing this kingdom, this God power, this rule and reign of God in this world right now.  As Jesus says, “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” So, it takes  a whole new way to see, a new vision to recognize it, a whole new set of eyes that we get when we are reborn from above.

Here’s where we get the born again Christian, because the Greek word, anothen, can be translated as “again”, but in John it’s better translated as “from above”.  Almost the same thing, really. 

 The thing about this vision, though, is that it doesn’t come naturally.  It’s from above, from God.  It got it’s start in us when we are reborn in the waters of baptism,  but we need to practice seeing this way; we need to come again and again together so that others can point it out to us, we need our vision fixed again and again.  We baptize only once, but we come back repeatable,  to that new birth.  , practiced and formed and reformed, because it will be tested.  Evil wants us to close our eyes of faith, and just rely on the flesh as Jesus says.

 Here’s the thing, the eyes of faith look at the same world as the eyes of our flesh. And Let me tell you the flesh can have really good eyesight.  You can see real sharp with that 20/20 vision.  The flesh won’t miss a thing.  Seeing with the eyes of flesh will notice any imperfection, the flesh sees all the flaws, the flesh sees all the evil and wickedness of this world.  The eyes of the flesh see hypocrisy and violence.  Oh sure evil likes to hide; it likes to camouflage itself and pretend to be good, pretend to be harmless, but even the eyes of the flesh can see through that ruse.

 The difference between eyes of the flesh and eyes of kingdom/faith, is that where the flesh sees death, faith sees life, where flesh sees despair, faith sees hope.   With our new eyes, our new vision we see water turned into wine, we see healing from the touch of love, the kiss of forgiveness, we see Jesus calming the waves of water and waves of fear, the eyes of the kingdom see Jesus sitting with sinners around a table at a tax collectors home, and sitting with us sinners as we gather around this table today–young and old, rich and poor.  We see Jesus standing with us when we work and speak for justice and peace. 

 Just like I needed Micah to help me see the paradise trees, we need Jesus, we need God’s Word, we need one another to see paradise trees blanketed in snow, see paradise places where people are together, paradise people praising God, see us being paradise people being Jesus in our lives and in this God’s world.  With these eyes of faith we see a whole new world, God’s kingdom, paradise on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.

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