Revdonna's Blog

Turning the world upside down. Acts 17.6

ice cream cones, beer mugs, and grudges – forgiveness. Sermon on Matthew 18.15-35

I used to be proud of this talent I had as a kid. My first job was making soft serve ice cream cones at Dorney Park in Allentown. I was good at it. Pretty quickly I learned how to hold and fill 5 ice cream cones in one hand. But then a few years later, I saw this. This is a beer mug from the Hofbrau Haus in Munich, and I saw ladies in dirndls carrying filled beer mugs 2, 3, 4, 5 and even 6 of these in one hand.

Do you think there’s something in my, in the German heritage or some genetic trait that has gifted myself and others with this amazing ability to grab and hold on. Now-a-days, I don’t have too much use of my ice cream cone grip, but I think that talent still runs through my veins. You see, while a name can easily slip from my mind, I don’t forget the slightest slight or insult. I don’t let go of when someone’s done me wrong. All sorts of past hurts are locked up here safe and sound, tight and bound — like steel trap. Don’t worry, almost none of the sins against me have gotten out. They are all safe right here, as long as I don’t bring them out, as long as I don’t talk about them. I’m too good of a Lutheran for that.

For Jesus, he was not a Lutheran. The proof is right here. We read it in the Gospel this morning. When someone hurts me, sins against me, Jesus wants me to talk about what happened.

I can do that. Actually, I’m pretty good about talking about who hurt me; I have absolutely no problem picking up the phone, I have no problem sitting down with someone and telling them all about what so and so did to me, or said to me, or said about me. Maybe that’s why I keep such a firm grip on all these incidences. After all, I have to have something to talk about. Didn’t some wise person say if you don’t have anything nice to say–no wait that’s not right. Anyway, I think it’s a good idea to keep those injustices and injuries at the ready, so that I can reach deep into the recesses of my heart, I can grab a hold of that hurt, pull it out and show it off.

So yes, I can talk about the person, but to talk to them. Well, Jesus that’s a whole other matter. And Bless your heart Jesus, but that’s just not nice. And I am way too nice to ever actually say anything face to face. That could cause all sorts of uncomfortable conflict. Nope definitely not nice, and although I wasn’t raised in Minnesota or Wisconsin, I was raised to be nice.

So no Jesus, I think I’m just keep on holding to all that hurt. It may make my raise my blood pressure. It might make me bitter, and some may call it being stubborn or pigheaded. Like I said at the beginning I’m pretty good at holding on.good at it. I call it being safe. You see, if I let go any of that stuff. I just don’t know what could happen. I know what it’s like to be angry, I know how to be sad, and resentful. I know how to hold onto and carry a grudge, and I am so talented not just one, but I can handle a bunch, lots and lots of them. Jesus wants me to let it go, just like that song from Frozen, Let it go, let it go. But I’m not Elsa or Olaf, and I don’t like the cold. I like the warm heat of my anger, the little furnace of fury that can get lit in here. Like I said, I know how that feels. It’s comfortable, it’s what I’m used to, even if it doesn’t feel good. Even if it’s not good for my soul.

I have read the story, the parable Jesus tells, I know the 70 x 7 means not a real mathematical number, but a way to say to completeness–. I know Jesus and your church is all about not the base but the grace, bout the grace.

But forgiveness well that’s hard, and deep in my heart well, I think I’m maybe a bit too lazy, or I’m a bit too scared or weak. Forgiveness is for the strong.

Forgiveness is real for this man named Hector. Hector has shared his story several times. I don’t know if Hector is still alive. He served in WWII, then in the 60’s he and his wife and daughters moved to Atlanta to be part of the Civil Rights Movement. There he met this little girl named Patricia. Patricia didn’t have a great home life, and so she turned to Hector and his family. After awhile Hector and his family claimed Patricia as part of the family, and she moved to Tennesee with the them. Years later after Patricia graduated high school, she moved back to Atlanta. It was there that a man, robbed, assaulted, and killed Patricia. I could hear the pain, the heartbreak in Hector’s voice as he told the story of her murder. He recounted how he swore he would kill the man who hurt his daughter. He talked about years after still being plagued by visions of what had happened to Patricia. When the man was being sentenced Hector as the victim’s father spoke about his pain, but he also prayed for the peace of God, for himself, his family, and even for Ivan–that’s the name of the man who had killed his daughter. It wasn’t till years later In fact, in the story he shared he told about how he and his wife eventually sent the man, the perpetrator a Christmas package. It didn’t happen overnight, and we can not and should never say that the murder was forgotten. The man will be in prison for the rest of his life. Hector even thought questioned what, why in the world. Hector and his wife would visited Ivan, and eventually come to hug and hold the man who murdered his daughter. It didn’t come easily, but as a Quaker Christian forgiveness was real to Hecto. IAnd when Hector realized that he was forgiving Ivan, he said it felt like a great weight was lifted from him.

Years later Hector attended a group meeting of families who have been victims of violence. He remembers hearing a woman tell the story of her brothers murder. He remembers how angry she was, how although the crime had happened over a decade ago, her anger was fresh and hot and burning. Hector remarked that to him, that was no way to live. And it is true that forgiveness does not mean to stay in an abusive relationship. God desires reconciliation and not victimization.

I could say that my pains, pale in comparison to Hectors, but they are still mine. Or maybe I am still their’s. maybe it isn’t me that’s holding them; maybe they are holding me. Maybe I am letting the pain, the anger, the hurt hold me down, instead of allowing God’s grace to really grab a hold of me, and free me. Maybe I shouldn’t be so proud of what I can handle, but proud of the hands that hold me, and more than that proud of the hands that hold us all. It may not always feel good, it may be scary, but it is why we are here and it is as Jesus tells how we are to be here, how we are to be the church together, how we are to relate to one another–not by anonymous surveys, not by some people are saying, but by actually sitting down, being and talking together, that is being the church, being with one another–to speak with and not about one another with love and forgiveness. Let me be the first to say it may not feel nice and easy. But true strength doesn’t come from holding on. It comes from the love of God that Jesus gives and shows us. Forgiveness forms us, forgiveness frees us. If there is anything for us to stubbornly hold on to it is that the heart and soul of our faith is forgiveness; and that’s what we should never let go, because God never let’s go of us. Amen.

You all are a bunch of tools! — Sermon for Feb. 1st, 2015, Matthew 6:7-21

Now that I got your attention.

January.I’m glad that’s over. It’s not just the cold and obviously the winter snow that’s done. You see, someone a “friend” joined me to this fb group “The month of a 100 things.” And this is like the complete opposite of a Fruit of the Month Club. This is a challenge that began several years ago, by a man named Mark Bruno, and it’s all about pairing life down to essentials, to live with 100 things. Several years later it’s morphed changed into this fb challenge for January to get rid of 100 things, stuff, clutter and then share publicly on FB, how its going. I wonder if my “friend” thinks I’m some kind of hoarder, who is she to join me to this group. I will be so glad to be rid of these daily posts of people getting rid of kitchen stuff, books, gobs and gobs of clothing.

You know, though, I really can’t imagine that Jesus’ audience–when he told those people gathered to hear his teaching were a bunch of hoarders needing an intervention. When Jesus is talking about storing up treasures on earth. I don’t think he is dealing with our culture of consumption. Much like in the developing countries, the people he’s talking with people who don’t have closets of shirts and dresser draws of sweaters. They may have two or lucky three different pieces of clothing. One to wear for a bunch of days, and then another to wear, while the first is getting washed and dried.

But even when you don’t have gobs and gobs of stuff. Our problem can still be our materialism. Oh not the type we’re used to where some people get so connected to their stuff, so focused on getting stuff. The materialism that Jesus is dealing with is not this (clothes, jewelry), but this (skin, head and heart).

Obviously, a lot harder to rid ourselves. We can’t (just throw this away). And just a word here, there are people who are treated like they are disposable, and hear me out that is wrong. No body, no one is disposable.
In one sense, I think we are like the people who first heard Jesus’ words. Most of us, at least I think, aren’t subject to the typical symptoms of greed. Many of us are not loaded with treasures of gold, big bank accounts, and portfolios. I don’t know too many of us who if we got a million dollars would be hurt and upset that we didn’t get 2 million dollars.

I know I give a lot of illustrations about the good stuff that happens in our ministries, but it’s not always kingdom of God and chock full of blessings. As many of you know, we have our free clothing ministry. This is really needed with people who may have to move often, don’t have the money or the car, to move their stuff. Without the ability to transport their clothes and other stuff, it gets left and they have to start over. Or lots of people don’t have washers and dryers in their homes or apartments, and then also don’t have the coin or enough cash to wash their clothes regularly. So, what we do here is important.
It’s so important to some, in warm and cold will line up for literally hours before we open the doors. And, they will vocally guard their place in line, from the occasional person who wants to skip ahead. Some will even try to “work” the system to somehow jump ahead so they can get into the new clothes closet, if not first–pretty darn close. You don’t have to be rich to be focused on yourself.

So this is hard. Somehow we are to balance somewhere between abusive self-lessness and self-obsession. We value; each and everyone of us; and each and everyone out there. We are valuable.

Perhaps, going back to the children’s sermon, it’s the difference between tools and treasures. If you’ve ever seen or known a good cook, a carpenter, a hairstylist, barber, even someone who uses their computer. You will see someone who has tools and usually keeps them up, takes good care of them. Because good tools build great treasures.
I think that’s why Jesus did what he did. He ate with sinners, taught the people who came out to him, healed the sick, fed the hungry, offered forgiveness.

We, following his lead have built all these churches, hopefully we’ve remembered that these buildings are not the point of faith. These are not our treasures. These, this one too, is not a treasure. It’s a tool.

We ourselves well–folks I don’t hate to say it but we’re a bunch of tools. The good news for us today, is that we don’t have to focus on ourselves, our wants, our likes our dislikes. Following Jesus, being the church is not about what makes us comfortable. Following Jesus isn’t even about putting the church first. It’s about the kingdom, not our Kingdom, but our Father’s. The kingdom of God, or as Matthew because he’s such a good Jewish Christian, says the kingdom of heaven, which by the way isn’t about some other place way up in the skies. Jesus preached and proclaimed, the kingdom of heaven is near. It’s here.

As we move out of this room and downstairs, to lunch and meeting. I hope, pray, plead that these words of Jesus not stay here. But lead us downstairs, lead us in our conversations (not just today, but onward). Where is treasure? Are you focused on you? Is your heart focused on others? Is our heart, is our budget, is our building, our ministries focused on us or on God’s kingdom.

Share with you a story about the kingdom of heaven. I heard this from one of our members. One day, as she was driving a bit east of here, she saw a gentleman on the sidewalk and she recognized him. He had been with us for a couple of times at Community Night. Traffic stopped, and there she was looking at him, she saw the grocery bags sitting on her passenger seat. The traffic started moving ahead of her and she drove on, about a block or two later she made a right turn, and then another right, and then another right. Circling back she returned to where the man was. She pulled over, spoke with him, reminded him that she had met him here at St. Paul’s, and then she gave him her groceries. She drove home with a bag of apples, and a few other things she was pretty sure that a man with a lifetime of no dental care couldn’t eat. It wasn’t convenient; her groceries would not miraculously reappear (in her busy schedule, she’d have to go back) it wasn’t comfortable stopping what she was doing, talking to some guy on the street–. BUT it was giving daily bread; it was the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. She will get no trophy, title, or treasure, but her heart was in the right place, with Jesus. Amen.

A Latino, a black teen, and a white woman walk

You might be expecting me to continue with “walk into a bar”, but this is no joke.

Today the three of us (I’m the white woman), walked into a snow pile in a parking lot on the corner of S. 27th St. and National Ave in Milwaukee. I was the first to go in because I saw the man as I sat in my warm van waiting for the traffic light to turn green so I could hurry home, eat my lunch, and get on with all the stuff of my ministry and my life.

But I saw an older man kneeling in the snow. I first noticed he was kind of talking to himself and he had no gloves on. Now, I see a lot of people doing different (some might say odd things) in my neighborhood. My first instinct, no joke, was to look away. I am hungry and when I get hungry sometimes I get cranky, and I had a lot on my to do list today.

But when the light turned, so did I. I parked my van and walked into the snow bank to see if he needed help. Of course he did. He couldn’t get up, and as strong as I am I couldn’t get either. I turned around to see if I could call to any of the people who always seem to be on that busy corner. But they had already seen us and the Latino man and the black teen were already climbing over the snow. It took three of us to get the man to stand up. He wasn’t steady on his feet so we walked him over to the bus stop where he sat on the chair to wait for the next bus.

This is why I live where I do. People helping one another. We like to think that’s only small town mentality, but I’ve seen it so many times. I like to live in a place where a Latino, a black teen, and a white woman isn’t the start to some bad news story or a joke.

Our Anthem – Sermon on Luke 1.46b-55

Here it basically is:

Played Mission impossible theme

That music, it’s the theme to what show, movies?
Mission Impossible.
It was also the music played at the start of the marathon I ran in Greece last month.
Mission Impossible? Really?
What a buzzkill. Is it really all that inspiring and motivating? It’s not what I was expecting to hear. I had been looking forward to hearing the Greek National Anthem. I’m pretty sure that “dnn’t, dnnt, dunt dunt dunt’” is not it.

Later while running down the road, I mentioned to another runner how I was surprised that they did not play the Greek National anthem. The other marathons I’ve done here in The States all began with the Star Spangled Banner. The response I remember hearing from that person is, “ well this isn’t the USA”.

No it wasn’t. Obviously I was in a different country—with different language, customs, food, and music. I wanted to hear Greece’s anthem, not one of Hollywood . Aren’t national anthems supposed to be special. Aren’t they supposed to inspire feelings of national pride? I wanted to hear music that captures and communicates the spirit of the people of the country. The music of the Greek people.

Like today. Like what we heard today in worship. It could be said that today we have heard the songs of God’s people.
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;

Word’s from the prophet Isaiah, and then words owned and claimed by Jesus as he began, kicked-off not a marathon, but his ministry.
And then we heard from Jesus’ Mother, the song of Mary, also known as the Magnificat. You know it’s not too much of a stretch to call these our anthems. These words declare what God does, what God does for and with God’s people. But first they are Mary’s words.
Mary is a young woman, not much more than a girl, with her whole life ahead of her. It was a life that would have been typical, a life of marriage, children, cooking, cleaning, caring for her family. Promised, in what could have been an arranged marriage, to a man named Joseph. But still just a normal girl, not a queen, not a princes, nobody special.
And one day, the Lord God’s own messenger comes, with a life changing, life rattling, life upending word. Through her, God would birth the savior of her people, the savior of humanity, the savior of the world. I don’t know about you but my mind would be blown. If that were me, I’d have a whole new bunch of reasons to question my own sanity.
This new reality will not only stretch her belly, but her faith, her relationship with God and all those around her. Who would believe her? Who would listen to her? Young and pregnant before her wedding –to her family, neighbors, friends she’s just another girl who got as some say “knocked up”, got into trouble, just another single mom. From Matthew’s story we learn that Even Joseph her soon to be husband was planning to quietly divorce her. Surrounded by whispers, shame, heartache and pain.
It is no wonder, Mary goes to see her cousin Elizabeth, she doesn’t just post this on facebook; Mary’s getting out of town, and it is to Elizabeth that Mary sings these words we heard today. Given her situation, given what’s happened in her life– improbable and impossible words, My soul proclaims the greatness | of the Lord,
47my spirit rejoices in | God my Savior,
48for you, Lord, have looked with favor on your | lowly servant
From this day all generations will | call me blessed;
49you, the Almighty, have done great | things for me,
and holy | is your name.

Elizabeth listens, Elizabeth hears the song and really hears the singer. Now why would she do that? It is because Elizabeth knows the power of God doesn’t fit within the, does not fit within our lines we draw about what is right, what is proper. Because Elizabeth is expecting—a miracle– a child as well. She believes that God’s blessings are not what the world, culture, even our laws allow. She is expecting God.
Elizabeth will give birth to that voice in the wilderness, to John, the voice of repentance.
50You have mercy on | those who fear you,
from generation to | generation. R
51You have shown strength | with your arm;
and scattered the proud in | their conceit,
52casting down the mighty | from their thrones
and lifting | up the lowly.

From just a whisper in Mary’s heart, to a duet with old Elizabeth, to the song of God’s people. These words….are not just Mary’s, they come from the stories of the Bible, of women and men, ordinary, regular, lowly people lifted up, rescued, redeemed and realigned.
3You have filled the hungry | with good things,
and sent the rich | away empty.
54You have come to the aid of your | servant Israel,
to remember the prom- | ise of mercy,

Within Mary’s song we hear the cries of slaves in Egypt, the shouts as they are liberated. We hear the laws that institutionalize care for the poor—for example Leviticus 19: 9When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. Over and over again the lives and words of the prophets call the people, the leaders, the rich to turn from injustice, to not sell the poor, to not cheat, but to provide for the widow, the orphan, the alien/the stranger. For hundreds and hundreds of years, from one grandfather to another, this is the God that has been handed down.
he promise made | to our forebears,
to Abraham and his chil- | dren forever.

Handed down to us, as this song becomes not just Mary’s, not just Mary and Elizabeth, but all. We add our voices to it we are the children God promises—these words lift up our spirits, filling those who are emptied by the sin of this world to be filled with hope, the hope of God’s promise to re-order our world away from the powerful and privileged, away from gold, guns, and guile. This is our song as we though a small people struggle to voice the presence God here where so many, where our culture, our society does not expect it. listen to the voices of protestors.  Our own struggle, and in a place where too many have been just ignored and turned away, judged to be not good enough. Here we add our voice to that of our neighbors who can’t sing the siren song of financial security and suburban safety and white standards. We sing God’s anthem as we could and should very well call this our anthem. Perhaps these words should go with us, not recycled in a basket in the back, but folded up, rolled up put in your purse or pocket. Ready to pulled out when someone thinks the Bible is about blessings of business wealth, success, and military might. Instead of corporate jingles and jingoistic anthems this is our song. It is not shame and pain; it is not despair and death; it is not weakness and resignation.

We will listen to Mary and the Mary’s of today, with the cries of anger, screams of pain and despair. No longer will the noise of things like Fox news, of mean spirited politicians, the bangs of guns, the marching boots of warriors, of anger and resentment, of racism and fear. We will not let those sounds drown out this song, Mary’s song because it is our anthem. In it we have hope.
It may feel like an impossible task, but it is our mission to add voices to those who are not heard, because God is here. And as we listen, and as we read and sing, and pray, we trust that God is lifting up the lowly, lifting us up and our souls will, our souls do proclaim the greatness | of the Lord, our spirits will from now on rejoice in | God our Savior. Amen.

Ready – Advent photo devotion

IMG_0492

Ready
Boots, bags, and books
Teeth and hair brushed
Breakfasted and rested
Ready

Prayer
O Lord, am I ready? Am I ready to welcome you into my heart and life? Am I ready to follow? What do I need to do? Do I have what’s required? I have been told you don’t call the qualified but qualify the called. Help me to feel your love. Help me to be surrounded in it, to wear it, to live on it and I will be ready. Amen.

Time – Advent, picture a day devotion

time

Time
Waiting, watching, yearning
cold and wasted
Time spent

Prayer: God of eons and seconds, give me a sense of time as a gift. In every moment, help me to find my strength in you. Give me patience and endurance to live your love today. Amen.

“When it rains it pours” – beyond the Morton Salt trademarked slogan

member and her flooded car

member and her flooded car

When it rains, it pours.

That’s a pretty common saying right? If someone were new to this country, or you know just little and isn’t familiar, with all the subtleties and oddities of our language, how would you explain it, because literally not all rain is a downpour.

So it means, usually when one bad thing happens, you can expect a bunch more bad things to come your way. Kind of like a flood of bad luck. Right?

Kind of like our world today. I was listening to an interview with a representative of Unicef (United Nations Children’s Fund) speaking about their work, she (the rep) mentioned that they have never had so many serious crises not just in countries but in regions all around the world. But it wasn’t just her words that struck me, it was the frustration, the pain, the sadness in her voice, that in the Ukraine, Gaza, that in Central America, countries in Africa children are dying because, not natural disasters, but our own manmade decisions to kill–conflict, wars.

When it rains it pours. There is Ebola spreading in West Africa. Families in El Salvador and other Central American countries fearing for their children’s lives, sending them thousands of miles to seek safety in this country.

Some politicians still refusing to act or even accept the science that climate chaos is real. We have too many politicians who are feeding hate and bigotry who seem only to want to cater to the super rich.

When it rains it pours thousands of children die in this country by guns they find in their homes, their neighbors’ homes, by guns shot in neighborhoods, in parks, in their homes.

When it rains it pours, people are sick and struggling. There aren’t enough jobs in town here, there’s hardly regional transportation to get to the jobs, to lesson the deep pockets of poverty.

Maybe its just me, but I feel like at my wits end.

Probably how Jesus was feeling at the beginning of the story from our Gospel. Jesus had been teaching the crowds, and then he had to explain himself, explain the parables to his closest followers, the disciples. He has gone back home to Nazareth, where his old friends, neighbors, and even family reject him. Jesus has heard that John the Baptist was executed after a big banquet King Herod had thrown.

It is no wonder, Jesus wanted to get away–tried to leave the crowds behind–even if just for a moment. But they would not, they would not go away, the sick, the struggling they were not going to be ignored or abandoned. They know a good thing when they see it. They follow him, and that’s a real testament to their tenacity or of course their desperation. They follow.

Jesus sees them. He sees their need. He knows and touches their pain. He heals them, but the day gets long, and there are too many, and they are out, out of town. They are hungry. The disciples want to send the people away.

I’m sure looking at the flood of needy and hungry, the disciples might have agreed, when it rains, it pours.

By any chance does anyone know what else that phrase means?

Morton Salt. You might ask what does rain have to do with salt? It was a slogan used by, and actually now trademarked by the Morton Salt Company. It goes back a long way. You see, salt tends to get clumpy when it gets too humid, the sodium chloride attracts water molecules. Well somewhere along the line the Morton company figured out that if they add another chemical, the salt wouldn’t clump, and that even when it rained, it (meaning the salt poured).

So, it’s also/ actually a positive slogan.

Getting back to Jesus is surrounded out there in that wilderness, surrounded by a sea of sick, and probably really, really hungry people, not the I missed my 2pm frappachino and cookie crowd, but the lucky if we eat three times or even twice a day people, 5000 men, and of course, women, and children.

Jesus doesn’t give into the temptation to just send them away, he doesn’t chastise, he doesn’t yell at them for not thinking and planning ahead. No, out of his care and his love, he tells the disciples to feed the hungry, to as The prophet Isaiah, feed them all. Each and every one. So Jesus takes what they had blesses breaks it, and the food multiplies, there is an abundance, there is enough for all and some left over. When it rained need, when it rained struggle and pain. God uses the disciples, uses the church to pour out God’s abundance.

So much, so many have focused on this the multiplying of the loaves as the miracle–either through divine intervention or the power of the human heart to be generous. But, as at least one other preacher points out. The miracle isn’t the amount of food. The miracle is that God in Jesus actually cares. Because this isn’t the first time, this isn’t the last time. We are always in need. We are always sick, struggling, sinning, and stumbling, saying mean stuff like the disciples, like send them away, there won’t be enough..

That’s what we hear still today. That When it rains troubles. God doesn’t turn away. God doesn’t just lean in. But God sends us jumping in to pour out the abundance, that is God’s kingdom, that is God’s will for this world, not just for a few, not just for one people, one country, but for all.

When it rains it pours, some of you know our member Lara. You might have even seen her on the news on Friday. She works down by the airport, she is a hairstylist, raising her four kids as a single mom, as a hairstylist. You know that storm that blew through on Friday? Well the parking lot at her work flooded. It flooded her car. That’s why that pictures in our video for today.

You see her, sitting on the hood of her car smiling. Not because everything always goes easy for her, not even because she always has a sunny chipper attitude. It something else. It’s something deeper, and stronger. She believes that when it rains, it pours– that after pushing the car out of the flood waters, people have been helping her to dry it out, taking turns with the shop vac, dropping off gifts and donations. When it rains, God sends us to share what we have and really that’s God’s abundance.

So when you hear the next terrible tragedy, don’t just wonder what would Jesus do? Pray, ask, act what would Jesus want you to do. Because the good news for us today, this day and everyday. Is that God is today. Because when it rains, it pours– God’s overflowing with is grace full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. God cares. God still cares. So Jesus says to his disciples, says to give to us, all who are hungry, all who are thirsty, all who are weak and struggling, come, come, and together we will be fed, we will feed one another, we will love and welcome, we will really have communion together. Come together. Amen.

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.

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