No virtual Christians – sermon for Nov. 22, Philippians 3.14-15

“…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly [24] call of God in Christ Jesus. 15”


Playing on Ipad at the pulpit.

Well that’s done. I just crossed the finish line of another marathon. Because with just a couple of taps on my little Ipad here, I just finished. It’s called virtual racing. What you do is register on line and then when you finish “running” you submit your time and then in a couple of weeks, voila you get your medal in the mail. I don’t know why I even bothered to run 26.2 miles the other Sunday
Of course I know I’m supposed to actually do the training and do the run, but this is so much easier and no one will know the difference. No one gets hurt. It is a win win–the charity gets the donation and I get a medal. Isn’t it all about the prize at end anyway?
That’s what Paul is talking about in his letter to the church in Philippi–running a virtual race. You know when he’s talking about straining forward, pressing he’s actually saying he is chasing after, running for the goal, the prize. And where is Paul? Paul is in prison. He’s not actually running anywhere. See, virtual racing is all good. It’s in the Bible.
Nathan: But Mom isn’t that cheating? What about the training? What about the experience? You always tell us it’s not about winning.
Yes, but running is a lot of hard work, and I get sore, and I get tired, and have you seen my feet lately? This one is still a little bit sore. Virtual marathons are just so much easier.
Nathan: But if you would have done that last year, you wouldn’t have actually gone to Greece. I saw you crying as you ran in Athens. 
Yup I was crying, and it wasn’t just because of the blisters. I was crying because I did it.There was nothing virtual about it–especially that gentle uphill for 8 miles in the middle. There was nothing virtual about the older guy dressed in ancient Greek hoplite armor, with helmet, shield and sword running the marathon in bare feet. There was nothing virtual about seeing my husband and 2 boys cheering for me as I made the turn to run into the white marble stadium built 1896 for the first modern Olympics. Yes, I still can’t believe I got that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There was nothing virtual about that. It was real.
Real life. That’s where Paul comes from and writes from–real life. He’s not some academic writing in the luxury of his home. He was in prison because of his faith in Jesus. He didn’t know what would happen from day to day. There was nothing virtual about his life. It was literally in the hands of others. The jailers, the authorities, and even the Philippians. See, in the ancient world being jail was nothing like it is today. It was a cave or a pit and nothing was provided–no food or water — not even an orange jumpsuit. Paul in this letter is thanking the Philippians for the money they sent that was feeding him, literally keeping him alive. Paul was depending on them. I guess Paul wasn’t virtually doing anything. He needed the people of Jesus to keep giving so that he could keep going. They were together in this.
Not a virtual relationship, but a very real partnership. He needed their gifts and they needed his spiritual guidance. They needed to hear about Jesus. There is so much in this little letter of 4 chapters. We’ve only taken bits and pieces here and there for this liturgy for this worship. I encourage you to sit down some day and read the whole thing through
I don’t know about you, but these days I’m just like the Philippians, I need to hear, I need to be reminded, I need to be immersed in the love of God in Christ Jesus. Because there is nothing virtual about being a Christian, about following Jesus. I probably do not need to tell you how in some places, in some circles, how so many people are turning away and don’t believe that we are to overcome fear, hate, and violence–even terrorism with lives of radical welcome, love, forgiveness. I have known followers to be called naive and worse. We are being dismissed. OK let’s get real–as we get closer and closer to Christmas. Virtual Christians are dismissing Jesus, are replacing Jesus for a false sense of security, for Christmas trees, and loads of presents. People what we face in our world and in our lives is much more difficult and much more important than running 26.2 miles. There is nothing virtual about our faith. It is real. What Paul really wants us to know is that even though it looks sometimes perhaps inconvenient or even hopeless and impossible–we can lean in, we can keep on, we can stand up, we can keep running, speaking, posting, praying. Why? The truth is that maybe we won’t quickly and easily persuade people. They may not even seem to be listening. There is no guarantee that we will change all hearts and minds. But according to Paul. We are already winners.
That’s what was another thing that was so cool about my marathon last year. In the ancient world, only the winner received a crown of olive branches. But the modern marathon is different. Along the route some Greek spectators hand olive branches to any runner. I remember an older woman in her black skirt,shoes, and sweater handing me a branch. Last year as I ran, I could feel the olive branch in my hand, I could feel it when I stuck it in the back of my hat. I felt it as I ran, it helped me keep going even when it got really really hard, I kept going knowing I that the prize was mine, that I had already won.
That’s how Paul sees our life as followers of Jesus. Because Jesus wore not a crown of olives, but a crown of thorns, the prize is ours. We can trust that God’s love is here. We feel it as we share the peace. We hear it as we sing together. We taste it at this table. We are surrounded by it with the prayer and support of one another. We don’t know what the future will bring. We don’t know the races, the struggles, the pains. Those are very real. And just as real is the love of God that we share, that we feel. There is nothing virtual about that. Amen.

Bigger on the Inside

“It’s bigger on the inside.”   
That’s the TARDIS for you. If you don’t know, and there’s no shame in that: TARDIS stands for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. On the outside it looks like a blue police box from England, but it is a time machine and a spacecraft. So, it’s science fiction. It’s from the British tv series, Dr. Who. Every time a character first steps into the TARDIS for the first time, and see the cavernous space that is almost ever expanding– their first exclamation is, “It’s bigger on the inside.”
And I would hope that when we are talking about faith, when we are talking about church, when we are talking about being a Christian–I would hope that the same could be said about us, about our faith, about who we are and what we do that, “it’s bigger on the inside.”
But, I’m afraid too often that’s just not the case. We followers of Jesus are accused of being small–insignificant, petty, and hard hearted and small minded. Especially after what happened this weekend in Paris. Undoubtably, some who call themselves Christians have tweeted, posted, and said some really despicable things. Earlier this week, some Christians have even gotten upset about this–a red coffee cup.  
Anybody want to share, in case someone doesn’t know, just what is the big deal about this cup?
So, of all the problems in this world, at the root of all evil and all that’s wrong in the world is that this cup does not say Merry Christmas.
If that’s what the world sees from people of faith–we deserve the ridicule. If that’s how the world sees the church–it deserves to shrivel up and disappear.
People, I don’t think that’s why we are here. I don’t think that’s what Christmas is all about. I know that’s not what we are about.
We are bigger than this. Our faith is not in paper cup, or what’s written on it. Our faith is in God. As the psalmist says God is our cup. A cup is not our God. And we trust in a God who’s heart embraces all of creation, we trust in a God who claims each person on this planet as her child, a God who despairs over Paris, Beirut, Syria, and too many other places–we trust in a God who offers mercy and forgiveness, and who moves in this world for justice and peace. That is a big big God, and if that is the God we put our trust in then our hearts and minds get to be bigger on the inside. The church, our church isn’t known just for the color, size, and shape of the stones of our temple, the walls of our building, but we get to be so much bigger on the inside.
As an expression of our faith, this morning we will receive the gift of communion, from this simple starbucks cup because we know that it’s bigger on the inside. That the cup itself is not important, but the love and forgiveness that will hold as we gather together for the sacrament of Holy Communion. May we O Lord, be like this starbucks cup, may we be transformed from something thrown away, perhaps even despised by some, may we, may our lives be used to show and share your love with all those around us. May we our hearts and minds, filled with your life become bigger on the inside.

Worth every penny – sermon on Mark 12.38-44

It is not often that you will hear me use the King James Version of the Bible. This morning, I will proclaim the Gospel using that version, because the one in your bulletin (NRSV) doesn’t use the word–MITE to translate the Greek word –lepta — the 2 coins Mark 12:38-43King James Version (KJV)

38 And Jesus said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, 39 And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: 40 Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. 42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. 43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury


It wasn’t worth as much as he thought. One of my favorite episodes of the show Pawn Stars is from 2009. A man comes into the pawn store with what he thinks is an antique set of little pewter figures of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. It’s from London, England, and he’s hoping to sell it at the Pawn Shop for close to $2,500 dollars. That’s close to what was paid for it years ago. However, it only takes Rick, the owner of the Pawn shop a quick look and a minute to break the bad news. Rick doesn’t offer him a penny; he’s not going to buy it. It’s not that it is so priceless. He can’t afford it or be able to sell it. No it’s actually worth just it’s weight in tin. To the obviously shocked and disappointed man, Rick suggests he should just give it to his grandkids to play with. It’s sad, but what the man thought would get him $2,500 was practically worthless.

Worthless, like big donations done to buy influence. Worthless, like prayers and piety performed to impress people. That’s what Jesus says. And that’s so contrary to popular opinion–still today. We would rather judge worthless, those two little coins thrown into the offering plate. Our culture calls a poor widow who tosses in her last two pennies–worthless.  
But, imagine for a moment how she might have felt going to the temple treasury that day with her two last little lepta–how desperate, knowing that’s all she has, knowing others will probably see her, see her poverty. She knows her little bit, her mite will be judged, and judged worth-less than other offerings. She knows she will be judged as worthless. 

Have you ever experienced that empty feeling being judged worthless in the eyes of those around you? Judged insufficient, dismissed, worth less than all those around you. No one should have to feel that way. And maybe, just maybe, might it be that’s what she is counting on as she throws the last little bit of her life in a big metal pot. Might she be hoping that the clink of her too few coins might be heard–how absurd this all is. That she pays with her life, while others get glorified. That she is at the mercy of her community, her people. Where will they see her tomorrow? What will the religious do when she has to stand on the street corner to feed herself, or God forbid her children? Might the widow’s mite condemn the world that sees her worthless. Oh my, doesn’t sound like a good stewardship sermon does it?

Perhaps that’s what Jesus is thinking as he sees, as he watches the widow toss in her two little coins. Jesus will soon be at the mercy of this world. His life will be on display for all to see, for the crowds, for the religious leaders to judge. What will they see? A man whose words can threaten the status quo, but a man whose followers abandon him, a man who claims a different reality, a different kingdom than Rome. A man whose life is not worth the trouble. A man who is judged a rebel, a criminal to be executed and thrown away as worthless.  

That’s one way, that’s persistent perception of a system that glorifies the power of gold, guts, and guns. It would work–except Jesus didn’t stay thrown away. Jesus didn’t stay down. God’s love isn’t destroyed by death, and that’s what Jesus is. When we see Jesus, we believe, we hold onto, we see God’s love that is different–so deep, so strong, love that is so committed that Jesus throws his life entirely in with ours from joy to sadness, and from birth to death–not because of anything we do, not because of our big bank accounts, but because when Jesus looks at us–he sees us as worthy. Jesus is willing to be nailed to the cross for us because God says we are worth it.
We are worth every breath; we are worth every tear; we are worth every drop of the blood of his life. Not just the rich and wealthy, not just the holier than thou who parade their piety, not just the powerful politicians who steer states and cities. Each one of us, each and every one even and especially those who this world judges as worth-less. And you know what that belief, that faith, that relationship that God has with us does? It stretches us, it reaches into our hearts and pulls us up and out of ourselves, out of being stuck in the muck of this worldly system-. God’s love moves God’s people, moves us to live lives that are all in, all into God’s way–a way so that No one should have to gather twigs to cook their own last meal, no one should be at the point where they have just two pennies. No one is judged worthless
We do not have to just be the tiny insignificant church on the corner. We are the ones who speak God’s Word, God’s declaration, God’s judgement, and you know what it is. It declares that the people who come to the food pantry are worth every penny, the people who wouldn’t step foot in a church, who might not feel welcome in a church but come to a Windfall production, are worth every penny. The refugees the men, the women, the children who have had to leave their homes in Burma–they are worth every penny. We are the ones who with Common Ground declare that the children of this city are worth every penny–well worth–they deserve millions of dollars that will instead be spent for business and billionaires when a new arena goes up a couple of blocks from us. It’s through the choices we make– what we do, what we say–these are our prayers–and in God’s eyes they–we are worthy–worth every penny.
Today as you step over to the table, you will be given just bite or a mite of bread. It is love. It is Jesus. Jesus who goes all in for us. It is Jesus who dies for us. This mite of bread holds God’s mighty love, forgiveness, healing. In this cup it is all poured out for us. God gives it to us, this love this power, this peace broken down into bits, bites, and mites for us week after week. It declares you are worth more than your portfolio, your credit score, your grades. You are worthy. Worth more than what you’ve ever done–worth more than whatever’s been done to us. Today–God says you are worth every penny. You are worth it all. Amen.

Pride, Prejudice (actually Racism), and Reformation

Reformation 2015
Well I sure hope today, you are all ready to get your PRIDE on. Today is PRIDE Sunday. I can tell by some of your faces that you may be a tad bit confused. Coming out day was a couple of weeks ago. And, let me see, it’s definitely not June – Gay Pride Month. This date October 25th doesn’t appear on any LGBTQ calendars that I know of because it’s not specifically LGBT. Today is Lutheran Pride day. Or as Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber stated in one her sermons — Lutheran Pridefulness Sunday.
So, yay Lutherans. Of course, we are bit more low key than the Gay community. Although it is Reformation Sunday, you will most likely see no Lutheran parades. You might even wonder about my comparing Lutheran pride to Gay pride. After all in this country being Lutheran has not been illegal, being Lutheran is not a reason to discriminate, Lutherans have been able to get married, adopt children, and can even give blood. No one has shamed us for being Lutheran. You may wonder do we even need Lutheran pride. 
And anyway isn’t pride, being proud a sin? Isn’t it in that list. The 7 deadly sins– greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, sloth and of course pride. Doesn’t all this talk about sin, sining, sinful, doesn’t that create a lot of shame, and sin and shame are nothing to be proud of.
Isn’t that the point of shame and shaming, especially public shaming isn’t it supposed to knock us down a a peg or two–make us less proud.
You know, instead of talking theoretically, let’s get real. And actually, to me that’s one of the gifts of being Lutheran. Sin is really real.
Take what happened this past week just a bit north of us in Whitefish Bay, with Bucks player John Henson and the Swanke-Kasten Jewelers.
I hope most of us heard about this, payed attention to this in the news. Does anyone want to tell us what happened?
attempted to enter the store, hoping to purchase a rolex watch, he and 3 friends, the employees of the store locked the door, hid in the back and called the police. The police questioned him, investigated his car.
And, how did we hear about this? John Henson posted on instagram, and the story got out.
Why would he do that, make this public? 
He brought to it out in the open. 


 To tell everyone that those people in the jewelry store are bad people?  

No, I don’t think so. If you didn’t get a chance to read his instagram post, go ahead.
No, he doesn’t say that these employees are bad people. But let there be no doubt. They did a bad thing. They did a racist thing. They had the power to shut the door, they had the power and privilege to say when afraid — you black men are not shopping here. They had the power to call the police even though he had committed a no crime–except of being a young black man, driving a nice car, going to a jewelry store in Whitefish bay–to the employees in the store that meant he was a threat. And, that is racism.
Now just imagine if you will that Mr. Henson wasn’t a wealthy professional basketball player. But just someone, a regular person, a black man, maybe not wealthy, but just some guy who had just scrimped and saved all his money in hopes of going shopping. Or even a black guy who just wanted to walk in and look at all the pretty, beautiful jewelry and watches.  
Money and fame bought this one black man the ability to publicize this example of racism. But the reality for Blacks and other people of color (what we like to call minorities) is that this suspicion and fear doesn’t follow them, it precedes them wherever go. In all my long 45 years of living, this has never happened to me, and I’m pretty sure I will never experience anything like this. That is my power and privilege as a white woman.
You see, that’s the thing about racism. It impacts even people like me good, well intentioned, a good person. I do not really know what it’s like to be seen as a suspect wherever I go. Racism is not just the sin of white supremicists. Racism has infected us all. And this my friends is a good Lutheran understanding of sin. It is a reality that permeates our human condition. Put a different way, racism is bad, but that doesn’t make us bad people.
I think that’s a key difference. And why I actually don’t like shame–public or private. As author, ted speaker, sociologist Brene Brown writes in her newest book — “Rising Strong”, “There’s a huge difference between I screwed up (guilt) and I am a screwup (shame). The former is acceptance of our imperfect humanity. The latter is basically an indictment of our very existence.”
In other words, there’s a difference between I did a bad thing and I am bad. Making someone feel ashamed makes them feel bad about themselves. And I guess the church can be guilty of that. I know that I have felt and still feel sometimes that I am not at all a good person. However, that’s not how God sees us. And that is what is really at the heart of the Reformation. It is the totally amazing, mind-blowing, life changing belief that God’s love declares us good. It isn’t anything we do, or say, or pay, or even pray and confess. Saved by grace means that God forgives us for absolutely every screw up, every mistake, every bad call, bad judgement, even every un-loving thought. God utterly, absolutely, and unconditionally loves us.
The Lutheran way to look at this story, to analyze it. The employees in the store did the wrong thing because of racism–that is a sin. By making this public, Mr. Hensen has brought this to all of our attention. And, for whatever brief moment that I was so angry about what I read and heard and those moments and I judged those employees as bad people. I did a bad thing– I sinned. All of those people who deny that racism is real– that is a sin.  
But God utterly, absolutely and unconditionally loves and forgives: mee, for thinking what bad people work in that store, the employees for acting out of fear and racism. And God loves those who may not share this analysis, this awareness. God loves us all. So, God is calling us into relationships of honesty and forgiveness. So I can admit my racism, and also work to end racism – be anti-racist. God loves us so much, so deeply, so completely, so radically that we can be really changed. We don’t have to just shake our heads in disappointment. We don’t have to be silent about this. No longer do we have to be ashamed and hide.. We can be part of the healing, the mending, the salvation of this world, We can be really changing this world. And people, that is something we can be proud of. Amen. 

What do you want to be when you grow up – Sermon on Mark 10:35-45

Mark 10:35-45

35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
What did you want to be when you grow up?  

When someone asked  what did you want to be when you grow up?  

What did you answer? teacher, firefighter, astronaut, doctor, race car driver, business woman, musician, writer.
No budding servants? None of you dressed up as a butler or a maid, a servant?
Even within that group closest to Jesus, the disciples–did they want to be servants? No
James and John come to Jesus with a question one day, well not just any day. The gospel writer Mark tells us that Jesus and his followers were on the road to Jerusalem. And just as today, Jerusalem was a place of tension and potential violence. Jesus knew this and as they are walking there, Jesus tells his followers, his disciple one more time, that the priests, the scribes, the religious leaders would turn on him. That he would be tortured and executed by the Roman authorities. Sounds great and glorious, right?
And almost as if not listening, or as if in complete denial–James and John go up to him and ask a favor. They want to sit at his left and at his right when Jesus is glorified. Jesus can’t promise them that. But he does promise that they, if they follow him, they will suffer, but he can’t give them the answer to that particular prayer request to sit in glory on his right an left.
Now hearing this, whether or with their own two ears or with hearsay, the res of the disciples react, well just about like any one of us would react. Peter and the others are annoyed and pissed off at James and John. Who do these two think they are? Do these two guys think they are better? Do they think they deserve these places of honor more than the others? Just who do these two think they are?
Who do they think they are? Who do any of them think they are? Who do we think we are?
I’m not so sure about that. I don’t quite think so.  

For two weeks many years ago, I lived in a home in Cuernevaca, Mexico. That family had  maid who cleaned and cooked–who took care of us. She was there in the morning and left sometime in after the evening meal was served. Now I had never experienced this before. Oh yeah, of course I know all about servers–who prepare and serve food at restaurants. I have seen and talked to housekeepers at hotels. But a real life servant. This was different, I was so unprepared for this and completely uncomfortable. After all, I don’t need anyone to spend their life cooking for me; their days cleaning up after myself. So I felt bad for her; I was uncomfortable around her, I didn’t need her. I could take care of myself.
It’s years later, and after much living and learning, it now occurs to me that my reaction was most likely a by-product of our history of slavery built upon the racist teachings that there is this falsity called race–that there are different races of people. There is only one race–the human race. But racism teaches us that certain people, groups of people are by nature somehow inferior to us. So being a servant is bad. It means that there is something wrong with you. Another way of thinking about this. Remember how I spoke about the family having a servant? We have servants–as if a servant is a possession–a thing–to be had, to be owned. Being a servant is bad. So we who can, who are able and capable whether economically or physically we’d rather do service than be a servant. Doing acts of service, especially for those who are needy is good. Service good. Servant bad.   
Now if that’s all following Jesus is about–it it were just doing–doing nice things, doing good things, doing servicy things for others. We could simply check off a Jesus to do list–brought in some food for the pantry (check),

 wrote a couple of letters to my legislator (check)

put a check in the offering basket (double check).

And we can feel good about ourselves, because we are so able, because we feel that we are good enough, smart-enough, and doggone it people will like us.
Problem is, that doesn’t quite sound like Jesus. Especially today.
What Jesus said this morning it really is different. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Don’t get me wrong, doing good, doing acts of service that’s great and all, but and I’m going to be brutally honest here–it’s not enough; it’s never enough.
We are really good at convincing ourselves that by somehow doing all this, that we are going to be always and forever able to take care of ourselves, and we can be loved, and we can feel so good. But that’s not just not the way it is. 
You see, in that nice home, with that nice family, I didn’t want that woman to take care of me. I would always be there trying to help, and make sure that my stuff was taken care of, that my stuff was cleaned up, even more than I did in my own home. I was always wiping things up. Until. Until, I got sick, and I’m not talking a little bit sick like a cold, not even like the walking pneumonia I just had. I am talking sick that makes such a mess for days–that I couldn’t clean up, there was no possibility of taking care of myself. When I couldn’t do for me, she was there. And I learned to appreciated someone being for me when I couldn’t do.
Sure Jesus came into this world and did great things–taught, healed, fed. But let’s be honest a lot of people–Mother Theresa, Buddha, Dalai Lama’s, philanthropists have done just as great things.
Jesus isn’t just calling us to follow, to do this, that, or the other good thing. Jesus didn’t just come to serve–to do, but to be.
Galatians 5.13:

As Paul says in his letter to the church in Galatia: For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.
Martin Luther in 1520 said it in his treatise: on the Freedom of a Christian: 

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
Not just to do acts of love, not for us to just cross off things on a Jesus to do list, but Jesus on the cross for us, for what we can’t do for ourselves. Jesus is a servant to free us–to free us from ourselves from our incessant trying to take care of ourselves, from our constant struggle to make ourselves feel better. Jesus frees us from the eternal quest to earn love by doing good, thus freeing us to be loved and to truly love.  
Carl Jung wrote: “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” And you whatever it is you (we) wanted to do when you grew up, it’s not too late, for you to be who Jesus is calling us to be. No matter how old you are you are still becoming who Jesus is calling you to be. So church, people of God, “Will you let me be your servant”.  
I don’t think I can do this by myself–let us sing, say, and pray together. Will you let me be Your Servant.

Sermon for Oct. 11, 2015 – Mark 10.17-31

You want us to do what? That’s impossible!

YES! It’s Sunday. Whooo hoo! Yeah we made it. It’s Sunday, not your birthday!
Why I am so excited, so pumped that it’s Sunday?

No it’s not just that there’s a Packers game at noon.

It’s worship. Well OK-I’m your pastor, that’s what I’m supposed to say.
Really, I’m happy that it’s Sunday because. The world didn’t end yet. A Christian group by the name of eBible Fellowship, in its reading of the bible had predicted that the world would end on Oct. 7, 2015. That was Wednesday. Today is Sunday! Yay, the world did not end . 
Because there is no way I would be ready for that.

You know there’s all those doomsday preppers show’s on TV. Lately my two boys have been watching this one called Doomsday Castle. This show is about an ex-army guy and his adult children building a castle in some undisclosed location to pepare for the end of days. They have food, equipment, and weapons, and guns. They have everything.
Except. Happiness. I’ve had to endure watching this show, and let me tell you, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone crack a smile. Laughter, joy are in short supply. I think I can safely say these are not some happy people.
Which I think is kind of ironic, because isn’t that what this country is founded upon. It says it right there in our very Declaration of Independence -“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”
According to this country’s founding document God wants us to be happy.
Jesus came to make us happy right? That’s what happened in our gospel story right?

Jesus did not make that rich guy who came to Jesus, who wanted to follow Jesus, the one we just read about in our gospel story from Mark. He wasn’t real happy. We know that when he left Jesus he was sad, other translations say his face fell; he was grieving. 
Because Jesus told him what?  

“you lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me”
And then Jesus confounds his disciples back then and still us today with all this talk of how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
Isn’t it funny that with all the various chapters, verses, with all the various commands that we, that our culture has tended to take literally–I mean to really seriously this (with the fewest of exceptions) is not one.
Our country tells us that wealth is good, especially if it’s our wealth–then it’s really good. Because money, money does all sorts of things doesn’t it. Money can buy us all sorts of stuff. 
A really funny thing happened as I was working on this sermon. One day this week a phrase kind of popped into my head. The phrase is “money buys happiness”, and I’m thinking you know think I heard something on NPR about this, and so I started digging around on the internet and you know what? You know what I learned? I was wrong. What is the phrase? “Money can’t buy happiness”. That’s the real phrase. 
Now this isn’t some new-anti capitalism. It’s old, really old, like 500 years before Jesus, Greek philosopher old– Democritus, said “Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.” And, “By desiring little, a poor man makes himself rich.” or if you don’t want anyone so “foreign”

Good old Benjamin Franklin said “Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has, the more one wants.” 
Yes, I got it wrong. I am big enough to admit. But our country our culture? I wonder if it’s too big to fail, or too big to admit failure. Because nation, people — money can’t buy happiness.  

So, perhaps what the rich man lacked–remember Jesus says to him–hey buddy with all the wealth that you have, with being so rich and full of your righteousness, you lack one thing.
I think that one thing was happiness.
And Jesus way before, thousands of years before the latest studies, knew that the only way that money can buy happiness is to give it away. Now we have learned with all our studies and science that using money for the benefit of others actually makes people feel good–giving money to/for others makes us happy. The only way that money can make us actually feel good–be happy. Is if we give it away, use our money for others. In other words, generous people are happy and happy people are generous people.
And, it’s because they are not just thinking about themselves. Perhaps that’s what’s wrong with our country. We just want to make and keep ourselves happy. And by gum, we are going to do that, by hook or by crook we are not going to let anyone get or steal our happy. We are going to protect it, protect ourselves. It’s my right.
And so we use our money to build bigger and better castles and we fill our homes with fancy goods and guns till we are armed to the teeth, and beware of anyone who’s going to take away our happy. We are going to hold on to it, protect it, till it makes us miserable or kills us. till it seems like it’s impossible to get guns out of our homes, off the streets. But impossibility does not hinder our God.
I guess reading this story tells us that well, Jesus is not a good American. Today the words of Jesus, it is harder for the rich and wealthy to enter the kingdom, than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. That word of God using the language from our reading from Hebrews–that word is like a two edged sword to cut away at our American, or self-focused way of life. It means to cut away the things we use to protect ourselves, to justify ourselves, to separate us–the haves from the have nots, the prepared from the un-prepared, the worthy from the unworthy, righteous from unrighteous. God does the impossible. God gives us true freedom. No more will our money buy us a false sense of security. No more will our money buy us distance and distraction. God does the impossible; only God can free us from prepping to meet our maker. Because God does the impossible; God pours and pushes, squeezes and squishes into our world to be with us. The impossibility of Divine desire for us–God’s love enfleshed in Jesus. And Jesus throws open the castle doors (whether you imagine one of gold up in the sky or right here made up of justice and peace) Jesus throws the doors open and says come on in, and the impossibility continues. It does not stop, it does not run out. There is room upon room, space, and place for each and every one of you–poor, rich, young, and old, addict and politician. And we join all creation laughing at the impossibility possibility of no exceptions, no exclusions, of camels and needles or love, grace, and salvation, and we will declare with undeserved and unreserved, Oh happy Day.  O happy Day.  Amen

Sermon for Oct. 4, 2015 – St. Francis Sunday

Ot. 4Everybody just loves Francis. And I’m not even talking about the current pope.  

  I’m talking about the guy he named himself after. Francis of Assisi. You don’t have to be Roman Catholic to think this guys was a saint. St. Francis is all about sun, moon, stars, animals. What’s not to love about. So Julie, I just want to thank you today, for this liturgy, because otherwise I’d have had to do something with the scripture readings assigned for today. And let me tell you, I’ve heard just about enough of bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, God making them male and female, man leaving his father and mother to cleave to a woman, God making them Adam and Eve–not Adam and Steve.
I am so glad I don’t have to preach/sermonize on these words, on marriage, on the sanctity of marriage, one man-one woman, and divorce and all that.
It’s so nice to just talk about our wonderful animals (whether stuffed or the critters we have at home). it so nice to talk about how they are our friends, our companions, how they care for us, and we care for them, how they keep us from being alone and lonely.
You know, there actually is a difference between being alone and lonely. I can be by myself and feel totally ok, feel loved, accepted, part of something bigger. And then I can be in a crowded room and feel completely isolated, lost, and adrift. And that’s what God does not want us to be–lonely. That’s why God gave this world such a beautiful and astounding diversity of animals. Isn’t that really what we can read in those words from Genesis? But, oh yeah, but I don’t have to go there today. 
Because we don’t really want to. I mean, those words from Genesis have been so often used as weapons against LGBTQ people. Especially on a day like today we can just focus on Francis and ignore all this other stuff.  
That’s all I wanted to do when I was young, and even though I was thinking about being a pastor. I was just interested in religion and spirituality–being one the with the divine. That was until I went to college and I feel in love–fell in love 3 times.  
Some of you know and saw my husband Brad last week. We met in college, that’s where we dated and then got married in 1992 in Weaver Chapel at Wittenberg University. But he wasn’t my first love.
The Bible, weird as it sounds, became my first love in college. Let me explain. Before college, the Bible and I well, we didn’t have the best of relationships. I had read the Bible, I had read Genesis, I had read Revelation, and I had read some of the in-between stuff. And you know what, it really seemed to me to be a bunch of stuff–laws that judged people, stories of this person or people killing those people, it seemed to me to be, let’s see how I put it–the superstitions of primitive people. Not very open there, kind of dismissive right, not very accepting and loving.  
That is until I took, Dr. Barbara Kaiser’s class Manhood and Womanhood in the Bible, and then just about every other class I could get with her–and I fell in love–fell in love with the Bible. Sure there is stuff in there I don’t like–but we can’t through the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Just like in most relationships we can’t just ignore them and hope they disappear and go away.  
So getting back to falling in love. See my eyes were opened that the first two chapters of Genesis is not one cohesive, one authoritative explanation/description of creation. There are in those two chapters not one but two really different stories of creation. It’s a two-fer. That blew my mind. The Bible is not a history, it is not a text book. So, the passage we have for today is from the second story, and this gives us a real earthy picture of God, a real relational picture. This isn’t the God of chapter one who is floating out there somewhere outside of time and space and commanding in that booming male voice–let there be light. No this is a picture of God who gets down in the dirt to create, who gets bloody to make sure that we are not alone. This God is so super relational. This God wants us to not be lonely, isolated, adrift, and lost. So for those folks who think these verses are all about marriage. I’d be a little worried, because God’s first thought was hey, how about a camel, kitty, or some other creeping critter. God wants us to love and be loved and well there’s all sorts of love–even more than those three Greek (agape, philia, eros).
There’s all sorts of things we fall in love with. Like me in college I have mentioned 2 loves thus far, Brad, the Bible, and sorry this one doesn’t start with a “b” — I fell in love with smoking cigarettes.
That might be a surprise to some of you who know I’m running. But running came much later. First there was freshman year and all the freedom that brings including cigarettes and other things. Now I was never a pack-a-day girl, but I sure liked to have a smoke after dinner, between classes, at a party or two. And yes, a part of me fell in love with that–so much that to this day, I still (under the just the right circumstances) would just love to light up. But I know that’s no good, not good for me or anybody. Smoking bad!
That’s another thing about love. Sometimes the things we fall in love with, just aren’t good for us. Ok, maybe they are good at a certain time or place, but sometimes they aren’t and those relationships turn bad, turn sour, they break, and they must come to an end. Often the relationship that was meant to keep us from loneliness is broken way before the divorce papers are ever drawn up.
Wait I thought we weren’t going to talk about that, and just focus on the good stuff, the fuzzy stuffed animal stuff. But God’s more than a big teddy bear in the sky. Life isn’t all warm and cozy. Real life is hard, like the words we heard Jesus saying this morning. There is no way around it, Jesus explicitly says (unlike being gay of which he says nothing), divorce and then remarriage equals adultery.  
Now it it true that Jesus lived in a completely different world. Divorced women were shamed, divorced women were vulnerable, they were lost, isolated, adrift– not just emotionally but often physically, financially–they had no money, no family, no protection or security. And that is not what Jesus wants for us, for any of us. So in that context, Jesus words do make sense.
And–and this is a big and. These these aren’t the only words Jesus says, and just as it’s not good to focus only on the cute and cuddly, it’s not good to focus only on one liners. The thing I really fell in love with in the bible is that God, especially Jesus as God’s love isn’t just for the good, the upright, the families with one man (one father), one mother (one woman), and 2.5 well behaved perfect successful and obedient and above-average children. As if that entity ever existed. The God who we meet in Jesus, in the bible is the one who loves us, all of us, not despite our divorce, not despite our scratchy glassy personality, not despite our addictions. Jesus says you are forgiven, it is not good for you to be lonely. God is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and all that means is: Simply as God chooses over and over again to fall in love. To fall in love with creation, to fall in love with children and animals, to fall in love with us, to fall in love with you. Amen.