Comftibility Time -Sermon for Advent 2, Narrative Lectionary

Dec. 4, 2016 – sounds of trumpet or shofar or other horn blasts were played during sermon.
Joel 2:12-13, 28-29

12 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.
28 Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.29 Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Good news people. I have good election news for us. On NPR, I heard that is Trump’s election will bring people streaming back to church—that in this time of uncertainty, grief, and division. People will be looking for meaning, constancy and dependency and all of that can be found right here in the rituals of the church. 
Rituals like, comftibility time. You don’t know that one? Comftibility time. To be fair, it is not an ecclesiastical ritual, but it is practiced religiously. Every morning, after breakfast but before getting dressed and ready for school, Micah crawls back into bed, under the covers, with all his stuffed animals. It is only after this comftibility time that my 9yr old can face the rest of the day.
And evidently, that is why we should be expecting people of all ages to come flocking back to church, as that Public Radio commentator promised. Evidently, it is here in church that people will find comfort in stability, the meaning, the rituals. Ancient words, oft repeated and well worn.
Of course, here at Village the constant isn’t the words we say or sing. Those change almost every week, but we do have tradition. We’ve formed ourselves our worship around a from—gather, word, giving, table. In this ancient ordo, we have found our own comftibility time. Our time to step away from the stress, our time to be comforted by the hope of the next. to wrap ourselves in a cocoon of candles, to surround ourselves in sacred song, and sacred silence.

Blow the trumpet. Or the shofar. That’s how the passage that we just read from Joel begins. Blow the trumpet right in the middle of all that’s going on. Blow that trumpet—disrupt, unsettle, and shake us up. Joel does not let us, even and especially in times of distress, allow us to keep up our religious/sacred/holy business as usual.  

The Lor says, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning”; Don’t just put on sack cloth and ashes. Don’t just stick a safety pin in your sweater. Rend your hearts.
I don’t know about you, but rending my heart doesn’t fit well with comftibility time. It sounds painful, picturing it looks bloody, medically I’m pretty sure rending hearts is deadly.
And that’s as it should be. Repentance, returning to God, isn’t always about some zen-like peacefulness. This is more than hand-wringing. Rending our hearts, just isn’t pretty. Returning to God means death—to our sin, death to our selfishness, death to our excuses, death to our judgements, death to addictions, and yes even relationships. Returning to God is not about our comftibility.
We turn to the God who is burning, a fire in a bush, thunder in the mountain, waves of water flooding the every creek, nook, and cranny of the earth. But not only that. We return to the God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing—even the ones, even the things we deserve. I don’t know about you, but that’s a special kind of death.  
I can deal with getting what I deserve. I can especially deal with others getting what they deserve. To be brutally honest (which is what rending hearts is all about). I don’t mind white supremecists, rapists, corporate ceo’s, etc. and so forth getting their comeupance. I’m pretty damn comfortable with that. 

But blow the trumpet.
God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. So liturgically we sit here together most Sundays and confess our sin, not to avoid punishment, but because God’s forgives. Because God is just so God awfully merciful, we get to stop what we are doing just about every week. Quit reading the Sunday paper or listening to Wait, Wait, don’t tell me. or sleep, or play, or cook or clean, or read a good book, and we interrupt the world’s regularly scheduled programming, and we intentionally interrupt our comftibiity time because God’s got something else in mind for us. Blowing this trumpet, isn’t like blowing our car horns so that we can just keep going down the same road.

Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. 
This is every pastor’s dream. The day when we are out of a job, because everyone’s acting on their full spiritual potential. While we’re working on that day, Village church, do you know you’re already practicing this. We know that I as our resident cleric am not the keeper of ritual, not the keeper of faith, I am not the professional pray-er. Blow the trumpet because God doesn’t allow us to keep our rituals right and tidy within these four walls. Joel doesn’t promise the spirit just for our liturgy committee. Because, you know when we rend our hearts, something has got to fill that space, something has got to bring the pieces and fragments together. Let me tell you, this is where it really gets messy, where it really can get uncomfortable, as we acknowledge, as we see, as we listen to God’s spirit bubbling within each and every single one of us, and not just here where it’s safe, in our place of comftibity, but out there.  
Now you don’t have to blow a horn everywhere you go, but let me tell you God is in you and through you God is bringing inspiritiblity, to this world, to your world God is in you hopiblity, truthibility, dreamibilibyt, actibility, We may not see hordes of people checking in at congregations, but as we live as disciples of Jesus, we offer our people, our world, the opportunity for some repentibilty time. Return to the Lord, and ultimately even in this world we are promised that with our God we will share the gift of true comftibility time. Amen.

Sermon post Election 2016

Sermon 11/13/16
What do we say? In days like these, days when it feels like (as REM sang and Jim reminds us in the title of our liturgy), when we fear it could be “the end of the world as we know it”. 
Author Toni Morrison has this to say: “Forcing a nation to use force is easy when the citizenry is rife with discontent, experiencing feelings of a powerlessness that can be easily soothed by violence. And when the political discourse is shredded by an unreason and hatred so deep that vulgar abuse seems normal, disaffection rules. Our debates, for the most part, are examples unworthy of a playground: name-calling, verbal slaps, gossip, giggles, all while the swings and slides of governance remain empty.” Those words were published in March of 2015.
A little bit more than 1 1/2 years later. Here we are. Perhaps you, like me, question whether we really need to rehash/rehearse the events of this week. But as a student of history, I know how easily facts can be forgotten, stories can be silenced. A minority of voters electing a president—a man, a businessman, who not only has never served in any elected office, but who has filed for multiple bankruptcies, and is under investigation—a man whose words and tweets are full of lies, filled with fear, racism, sexism, homophobia, and are fueling actions of hate around our country.

But now we hear calls of unity, to get along, move on, to fall in line: and I respond with these words entitled: Lady Liberty to Uncle Sam

Lady Liberty to Uncle Sam

Don’t confuse my silence with compliance.

The darkened muscle of my blood-starved heart

Will never regenerate.
Forgive me if it takes me longer.

My heart works harder.

Because of your injury.
The black spot of hatred

will remain

if ever you care to look beyond yourself.
C’mon baby, let’s work it out.

I’m still waiting on forgotten arteries.

to deliver air so that I can breathe.
Sure, I live.

And I will function pleasantly and normally.

Despite the darkened muscle of my blood-starved heart.
I didn’t write those words; my husband Brad composed that earlier this week. Because in days like these, when it feels like it’s the end of the world as we know it, our grief, our disappointment and fear need to be expressed (not in violence) but in speaking the truth.
In that same article I mentioned just a moment ago, Toni Morrison recounts an even earlier experience. She writes: 
Christmas, the day after, in 2004, following the presidential re-election of George W. Bush.

I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, “How are you?” And instead of “Oh, fine—and you?”, I blurt out the truth: “Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election….” I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: “No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!”
A job, that in our 2nd reading, Paul reminds us to do. Sure Paul is talking about working, but what is it to work. It is to contribute not only to the economy, but more importantly to the community. Evidently, Paul made tents. He earned some living, and share life, a new life, not just making a living, but living in and for new world. With the Spirit of God building up the body of Christ and co-creating God’s world. Paul made tents; Brad wrote a poem. But that is not enough. Just because the election is over, but we still don’t know what comes next.  
For the followers of Jesus, the end was near. Jesus himself would be handed over by one he would call brother. Jesus knows what it is to be arrested, questioned, to be interrogated, to be on trial. For many in our nation, if this is a sign of The End, it sure has been going on for an awfully long time. On Wednesday evening Beth and I ate dinner with a handful of youth at the LGBT Center. These African-American teens talked about the anger and fear, fear of a what they called a Purge. Sure they might have been joking, but often our fears and truth is spoken in humor. I think it was so important that we, church-people were sitting with them, perhaps more powerful than our words was our presence. 

When it’s the end of the world as we know it. You and me we, in whatever way we can—through art, through compassion, through protest we bear witness to the truth and we also bear witness to the God who hasn’t packed up and moved somewhere up and away—like to Canada. In Isaiah’s words the Spirit reveals a vision of God’s promised world. In Jesus that World breaks in, sneaks in. We speak of it, we sing of it, we taste and get a sip of it this morning. Could it be that is Jesus inspiring, in-spiriting us Jesus. Jesus putting salvation’s words in our mouths. 
So many sermon’s have ended in poems. I thought I would end this with one as well. But you know, God’s Word doesn’t end, when I say Amen. Amen isn’t ancient Greek or Aramaic for THE END. It is instead a relieved whisper of YES, an emboldened Spirit filled shout of YES. So, writers keep writing, painters keep painting, singers keep singing, teachers keep teaching, workers keep working, dreamers keep dreaming, bakers keep baking, cooks keep cooking, poets and artist, keep poeting and arting as we join Jesus in making a new world because God promises “it’s end of the world as we know it”. Amen.

“Woman’s Work is Never Done” sermon on Luke 20.27-38. –All Saints Sunday

(Women leaders stand up and start “fixing” things.)You know ladies, Sunday and worship is supposed to be sabbath (rest). 

I guess it’s true what they say:

 Man may work from sun to sun, 

But woman’s work is never done. 

And if you need a refresher about what that means, you can go to youtube and watch a very informative clip from the mid-1950’s, from the tv show the Honeymooners. If I would have loved to have downloaded and shared it with you. Instead, let me take a moment to tell you about it. Ralph Cramden comes home from work, and the 2 tasks he wanted his wife Alice to do that day are not done. Alice lists off all of the other many tasks she did complete that day, washing the floors and the windows, doing the dishes, that day, laundry and shopping. However, this is not good enough and as Ralph berates his wife, he declares that he is the boss of his wife.
But if a woman marries 7 times, as the Sadducees question Jesus, if a woman is given in marriage to 7 brothers, who is her boss, I mean her husband. Who does she cook, and clean, and sew for? The Sadduccees question about the resurrection: a woman’s work is never ever done.  
But not according to Jesus. Most often in our gospels, Jesus spends more time talking about bringing the kingdom of God on earth. This is one of the times he gives us a clue about what resurrection means, what it might look like, how it might be experienced. In the resurrection a woman doesn’t have to owned by a man to work for him, so that she can be protected by him. The resurrection life doesn’t abide by our cultural and societal rules and standards. The resurrection is not a heavenly repeat of our day to day lives. That’s a good reason why some congregations are sing, “For all the saints who from their labors rest.”
This day we remember those who were close to us, those who raised us, who shared their faith with us, those who loved us. Those who even labored for us. We remember the saints named and nameless who worked for peace, for justice, for the gospel. As we live in this world, that list gets longer and longer, the ranks of saints get deeper and deeper, and we give thanks for them for all the saints who from their labors rest.
But if those saints—the saints in light—are resting, what does that mean for the rest of us. The saints in life here, all around us, you and me. Because, we are saints too. One of the gifts of the Lutheran reformation is the idea that at baptism we become God’s saints in this world.
So, back to my question, if the saints in light are resting, what are the saints in life doing? Not resting.
Our job is not done.  
You know it seems like in some congregations, confirmation (like what Brienz and her family and friends will be celebrating later today) seemed more like graduation. There was homework and memorization, and tests, and at the end a ceremony, a robe, a diploma (I mean certificate). As if confirmation marked the end of learning and faith development. As if at the end of 2 or 3 years and at the ripe old age of 14 or 15 a young woman or man had all of the spiritual answers he or she might ever need, and they are done.  
Brienz this I hope will sound more like good news than bad. Brienz, honey/young lady you are not done. If anybody thinks they know all the answers from some confirmation please share them with me—trust me it’s not cheating. Because confirmation is not about giving us things to memorize, mindlessly repeated answers. Instead Confirmation hopefully offered you some tools, so that, your life of faith, that began at baptism is not finished now. Faith is part of life’s journey. What you are doing today, is affirming your baptism. Basically saying, OK so a pastor sprinkled some water on me, my family sponsors said some words over and for me, and oh yeah—the Holy Spirit (which is basically invisible unless I see her in what people do for and with me) is constantly showering God’s forgiveness, love, and mercy on me—even when I don’t feel like it. Affirmation of baptism is like saying, “So that happened”. I get to say, OK, now it’s my turn to keep working on this faith, life, God, Jesus stuff.

Of course, Brienz we hope and pray that you don’t just think of this as a, you graduated and now this faith stuff is your job—that this is something we can clock out of, confine to some hours each week. Instead, we pray that in all that you do, your art, you relationships with your family, your life at school, with friends, and especially your life with yourself, that you may not just know, not just be told, but you feel the love of God. The love that is there in your good times, and in the tough times, and when you make mistakes. That’s what the baptized and confirmed life is all about. It is daring to be the woman you are becoming, not because you have all the answers, not because you have done everthing, but because you loved, and loved well. So today, as this congregation, family of love, family of faith, we affirm our baptism in words, and as you sprinkle water on us, through the ancient ritual of asperges, we can say, so that happened, we say, and hear, and feel, accept and rejoice that for us, the church, until we rest in the resurrection with all the saints, our work our journey together is, just not done. Amen. 

It’s hard to be humble – sermon Luke 18.9-13 (The Message)  – Oct. 23, 2016

​Page 5 of 5 

(sung w/ piano & guitar) Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble  

When you’re perfect in every way.

I can’t wait

To look in the mirror.

Cause I get better looking each day.

To know me is to love me.

I must be a of hell of a man/nasty woman.

Oh Lord It’s hard to be humble,

But I’m doing the best that I can.

 

Mac Davis made this a pretty famous country song in 1980. Anybody else remember this. Well if you didn’t before worship today, you just might when I’m done. Because this is a refrain that will be song, hopefully by more than just me, throughout the sermon.

 

Since I do not really willingly listen to country music, there’s got to be a reason that’s more important than giving you something to get stuck in your head. So what’s going on in this song?

 

He is singing about how good looking he is, and perfect, and how that makes it hard for him to be humble, but he’s doing it so well. So he sings about how, though it’s hard, he is just so humble.  

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble    

When you’re perfect in every way.

I can’t wait

To look in the mirror.

Cause I get better looking each day.

To know me is to love me.

I must be a nasty woman.

Oh Lord It’s hard to be humble,

But I’m doing the best that I can.

 

If you noticed I made a little change in the song, which you can do as well if and when you feel like singing. I changed that line because I really think I’m not such a hell of a guy, but more a “Nasty Woman”.

 

Just one example— the other day, I was driving down on the south side of Milwaukee and a pick-up truck pulled right in front of me giving me plain view of his bumper, and the several stickers on it. And of course, because I have such superior driving skills, I could read those stickers, instead of keeping my eyes on the road. The one that really got me going, was: “the Constitution: frustrating Liberals since 1776”.  

 

And I smirked, and I shook my head, rolled my eyes. I couldn’t help myself; I pointed it out to Nathan, and we bust out laughing because why? Well, we didn’t have a constitution in 1776. In 1776 we had a Declaration of Independence. I knew that the Constitution came later, that it was some time in the late 1780’s. And, even though I had to ask my son Nathan what year the Constitution was signed (1788). I obviously knew better than whoever designed that bumper sticker, whoever sold that sticker, and the yahoo who bought the sticker and put it on his/her truck. My knowledge of history, specifically I knew my American history better than the person in the truck. I assumed I knew even more about the Constitution than those who blindly seem to worship it. O Lord, I just give thanks that I am not like that guy

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble    

When you’re perfect in every way.

I can’t wait

To look in the mirror.

Cause I get better looking each day.

To know me is to love me.

I must be a nasty woman.

Oh Lord It’s hard to be humble,

But I’m doing the best that I can.

 

“I’m doing the best that I can”. Sounds a bit like the Pharisee in Jesus story doesn’t it? I really like how the Message translates this part: “The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’” He’s doing the best that he can, and he’s pretty darn proud of that.

 

 

Now a days it seems like this has become a civic virtue—feeling superior to those we do not like or more acutely these days—those we do not agree with. There’s a good theological term for this condition it’s called being “self-righteous”. And though Jesus doesn’t use that word in Greek, or Aramaic, or even in (as some believe Jesus spoke and wrote) English—not even King James English—American English.

 

The pharisee in Jesus’ story is so proud that, well that he’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to do. He uses his prayer of thanks to God for all that he himself is doing. What he’s really doing is, get this, using his prayer to separate himself from those around him. Our translation says he poses, I like that. The Greek says he stands apart from those around him. So he poses above the (hoi poloi — Greek for the people).  

 

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble    

When you’re perfect in every way.

I can’t wait

To look in the mirror.

Cause I get better looking each day.

To know me is to love me.

I must be a nasty woman/a hell of a man

Oh Lord It’s hard to be humble,

But I’m doing the best that I can.

 

Those, however, are definitely not the words of the tax man. To know this guy is definitely not to love him. He is despised by his people. The tax guy wasn’t just the man who took their money, but he gave it to the Romans—the foreigners who had literally invaded and were occupying. He is, in the words of candidate trump, one “bad hombre”.  

 

And here’s the kicker. He’s the one who goes home justified; the who who is reconciled; the one who God is basically cool with. Not because he is good, or does good things, follows the 10 commandments, not because he acknowledges and is a realist living the mantra might makes right. That one is not the guy who spends his days and nights following commandments—the pharisee, but it is the tax man-the sinner.

 

What did he say, how did he impress God with his prayer? What did he say?

His prayer to God is: “give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’” He has no trouble being humble. There is not a smidgen of self-righteousness in those words.

 

I have to admit it, this is the person who is missing in our world today. The one who doesn’t use others to raise himself or herself up. Who doesn’t have to put another person down to prove themselves. In our country full of fear, and lacking in love. In our country where all of us think we are better because we are righter. Instead of singing: it’s hard to be humble. Jesus tells those who were so self-satisfied, those who were smug, their words should be Kryie eleison, Greek for: Lord have mercy.

 

Already some people are both: looking ahead to after the election and are talking about what will come next. We as a nation will go nowhere unless we do some real reconciliation. Reconciliation does not come from a happy dance at the goal, from taunting or ignoring the “loser”. That just leads as Jesus says today: “If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face”. We in our coutnry, in our relationships, even with ourselves need to stop looking down at others must look at our world, at ourselves and with others, and pray: Kyrie Eleison—Lord have mercy.

 

 As I’ve come to realize, what if my eyes nose weren’t up in the air, my eyes reading bumper stickers, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so damn proud of myself in that moment, just so eager to get home to post what I saw on Face Book. Obviously I am not perfect in every way. No one is. So Kyrie Eleison—Lord have mercy. The best thing is that we can hear Jesus’ words that we are loved and forgiven, and with the bread from the plate and the cup we are freed to continue to move closer, to see one another, to be and live reconciled—so no more, Lord it’s hard to be humble. Let our words, the song in our heart be. Lord have mercy, Kyrie Eleison. Amen.

Size doesn’t Matter – Sermon for Oct., 2nd   

Preaching text: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’  Luke 17

Oct. 2, 2016
Last week the Grand Canyon, this week a teeny, tiny, mustard seed. You’d think we (or at least I as the preacher/pastor) am fixated on size. But actually I am here to give you the good news that size doesn’t matter.
In our world of fat shaming, air brushed super skinny models, HUGE conglomerates of corporations, global trade, big deficits and super small microchips, I would hope that hearing that size doesn’t matter is a relief. Specifically that this is very good news to us, the church. Because for way too long the church has kept it’s own dirty little secret. Not all of us are spiritual giants, not all of us have or feel like we are standing tall on rock-solid faith— trust in miracles, sacraments, even in God (herself). This truth can come from several reasons. Some of us are—for whatever reason—wired operate left-brained and logical like Spock. Linking faith with trust can also be problematic, as those of us who for whatever reason feel like even the ability to trust stolen from us, or we’ve been betrayed one-too many times. Our faith can feel microscopic nowhere even close to the size of some mustard seed.
For too long, reading and hearing passages like our gospel this morning have made us feel worse about ourselves. There’s no way, if for some silly reason, I could ever say to a mulberry tree go plant yourself in the sea. For me, and others like me, looking inwardly and honestly, I totally get the disciples plea, “Increase our faith!”
All too often the church has seemed to ignore or overlook people like me, as if we just didn’t belong. There are the good or the bad, sinner or the saint, spirit from body. We thrive to divide. Faith is simply something we all have—to a greater or lesser degree, and if we don’t oh well, there’s no room for you in the pew. 
Are we as Jesus seems to be saying “worthless slaves”? Or could there be a whole different way of hearing these words this morning. The first thing we as people of a Lutheran way of looking at things do, is we look at the context. Where does this request for bigger faith come from?
So, between the story Jesus gave us last week of the nameless rich man and Lazarus the poor man: 

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith”.
So, Jesus tells his disciples (and remember that’s not just a handful of guys 2000 years ago — that’s us) we are responsible for the “little ones” whether those are children or others new to following Jesus. Key to that relationship is repentance and forgiveness. Now this makes a whole lot more sense, because I can honestly tell you there are plenty of times that I don’t feel like forgiving, I am not in either a repenting or a forgiving mood for that matter. Who of us is can say we are totally on top of this business of forgiving. Or put another way—by show of hand’s— who could use more faith?
Now here’s where I think we can listen to Jesus in a whole new way: what I call, “Drill Seargent Jesus”
“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
I will admit that doesn’t sit with my usual picture of Jesus. We want the gentle shepherd, the meek and mild; we don’t want Drill Seargent Jesus. But maybe that’s what we need. and that’s exactly what the Spirit wants us to hear this morning. I don’t think Jesus is going to answer our request (prayer) for bigger faith. I don’t think Jesus is going to just zap with a giant faith making ray. 
Next week when you are all sitting here again in these nice comfy seats I will hopefully have run 10 – 11 miles of the Twin Cities marathon. That means I will not even be halfway done. But I’m already looking to what’s next. You see, this my 7th marathon, and it might just be my last one. Of course, I’ve said that a couple of years in a row. But maybe I need to really diversify my training? So I’ve been wondering what will work for me? What will motivate me to get up really early in the morning, go out in the cold to work-out. There are gyms, studios, fitness boutiques just about on every corner, and offering cross fit, martial arts fitness, spinning, yoga, hot yoga, personal training, boot camp. What is going to motivate me to not get back in my warm bed, or whine about how early, or how cold it is, or how old I am, or whatever other myriad of excuses? What is going to make me just do it and literally get off my butt (and just do it)?

And that’s what Jesus is telling us today. The size of our faith doesn’t matter. What matters is doing? So even if we don’t feel like giants of faith, with spiritual superpowers. We do the stuff of faith. When we feel doubtful we pray anyway. When we feel persecuted and angry we forgive and stand up for justice. When we feel lost, we go find someone to sit with and listen to, to make a meal for. And by doing we become. Think about it, you don’t become healthy or fit just by thinking about it or feeling like it. You don’t become educated by thinking about it or waiting till you feel like it. What we know is true in the physical world reality is true in the spiritual. Fake it till you make it.
So perhaps the good news is that Jesus is telling us we don’t need to have faith the size of even a mustard seed to be the church. By doing the following of Jesus stuff, by doing the stuff of disciples (even when we don’t feel like it) that can be all that matters. So size doesn’t matter really is good news. Amen

The not-so-grand Canyon – sermon for Sept. 25, 2016

Preaching text:Luke 16:19-31

[Jesus said:] 19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
How’d it get to be so big, so beautiful? How were the walls carved out of red, yellow, white and brown rocks of the Grand Canyon? Many years ago, before we had the boys, Brad and I traveled out to Arizona to go hiking in and around the Grand Canyon. As we stood on the South Rim, gazing in awe and wonder, reading the signs describing the 1.84 billion year old rocks and the carving of the canyon by wind, water, tectonic plate movements from 6 million years ago, the ice age fossils, I overheard a different answer to the question of when, how, what made the Grand Canyon. A man explained to the people around him, that it was the Flood, the global deluge that we read about in Genesis ch. 7 & 8. Those rushing waters carved the canyon exposing rocks that were put there on Day 3 of creation only 6-7 thousand years ago.

 

Two very different explanations of the same phenomenon. Which is what could be going on in our passage from Luke’s gospel. That is, there two chasms 1. is what Abraham points out. And, as Barb’s thoughtful liturgy points out to us today there is another—a 2nd chasm. The great divide that exists in this world, in our lives—between the rich man and Lazarus—the not-so-grand canyon that divides the rich from the people in poverty.

 

In the gospel story Jesus tells, we hear of some nameless rich guy wearing fine clothes, eating fine food, and living in a fine gated home. Unlike our modern world, right at this rich guy’s door was put Lazarus, covered not in soft robes, but in soars, and starving to death. Some might see it as a sign of progress, that we’ve been able to put and keep the poor in their place, the rich separated by miles of expressway, gates, cards, cars, entry-codes, so that the rich do not need to really see the poor.

 

The very creation of this not-so-grand canyon can be one of the things that makes the division so deep. And much like the example of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, some

 

people still today create a false chasm between science/experience on one side and faith on the other. Some people see the systemic patters of oppression that entrap generations of some people — many people of color and others in poverty. Others, some Christians attribute the distance between rich and poor to the hand of divine providence. On that side, riches and success are signs of God’s blessing. Poverty and injustice are signs of, if not God’s punishment, at least somehow God’s will.

 

Now there are certain passages in the Bible that can be found to support this interpretation of the world. However, it should be quite clear to us, that this is not Jesus’ vision. The wealth the rich man received (inherited or was lucky enough to get)—the rich man’s wealth is not rewarded. According to Jesus it helps dig the deep chasm between the rich man and Lazarus. So in this story, after both men die, the rich man suffers in Hades while Lazarus is gently placed in the arms of Abraham. It is not only interesting, but I think important to note that Jesus does not tell us that Lazarus was good guy; nowhere do we hear that he is an example of the noble and godly poor. There’s nothing to say he earned his place in the bosom of Abraham. It is, according to Jesus, simply and significantly God’s will, God’s doing.

 

Jesus wants us to know that the not-so-grand canyons between rich and poor, between people of color and whites, between people in the US and so many other places. God didn’t dig these chasms. God is not the creator of canyons or chasms. That’s all us folks.

 

And if these divides are not part of some divine plan they do not have to be permanent and impenetrable. Do any of you remember, did anyone of you watch the tv broadcast from 2013 of Nik Wallenda crossing the Grand Canyon on a wire? We did, and of course Micah asked, “Mommy can you do that?” No! And, there’s no way I would ever ever even try. Unfortunately, that’s how we treat the great chasms in our world today. We take Abraham’s words as Gospel truth.

 

The Gospels themselves, though tell whole different story. A story of crossing chasms not for glory, but for love. Way before the amazing Flying Wallendas, it was Jesus. Jesus crossed the great divides not just between god and humanity, between the eternal and temporal. Jesus crossed the chasm between the great and powerful and the poor and insignificant. The incarnate God as Christ didn’t walk around wearing the purple robes of Roman royalty. He didn’t feast sumptuously on fine organic, free range food with the rich and powerful. He bridges the chasms to eat with hungry, the despised.  

 

Which is at the heart of what following Jesus is all about. Think about all that we already do cross the chasms of rivers of mountains. We do a lot to bridge natures divides, Jesus calls us to put the same energy, time, resources into bridging the divides between us. But this isn’t merely giving money to feed the hungry. You know, we could give food out much more efficiently if we just installed a drive through, like McDonalds and other fast food restaurants. It could save us and the people we serve much more quickly, and while that is a bonus. We couldn’t get to know the people who come here; we wouldn’t hear a part of their story; we wouldn’t be showing them the love and respect that the Spirit of Jesus pours into our hearts to live out with them. As author Sarah Miles says of Jesus’ church, says after having received communion one day, she says “I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: a dinner table where everyone is welcome…And so I became a Christian…”[2]

 

Jesus crosses the not-so-grand canyons, not to be entertaining, not even for good publicity. Today, Jesus crosses the chasms of time, of space, of logic and reason to feed us the finest food of healing and forgiveness, food to strengthen and in-spirit us for the work ahead, to cross the chasms between rich and poor. For Jesus there is no divide too deep, no hole too wide, wealth, or guilt, or addiction, or trauma or doubt, no chasm can, as Paul says in one of my favorite passages from Romans—chapter 8. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. It is God’s will for all the children of Abraham, for all the children of God that no one will have to ask the question how did the divide, the chasm get so big. Amen.

Sermon for Aug. 28, 2016

Preaching text: Luke 14

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Wore a dirndl  for the children’s sermon and discussed what immigrants are.

Ok, so lots of us, our immigrant ancestors (grandparents, great grandparents, etc.) gave up their traditional outfits so you’ll not see women sporting dirndls and men lederhosen. However, there are more than just a few German-isms that have integrated— become part of our US culture. One that I noticed here in Milwaukee is the use of the word “by”. And I’m not talking about this sermon was written by me. I am talking about sentences like, “after worship let’s go by my house”. “Go stand by the door”. We use “by” instead of “to” or “next to” or “near”. Which is quite similar to the German dative preposition “bei”.

 

I guess that’s one of the immigrant gifts to us. That is what integration looks like. It is a two way street—give and take. Kind of like, “quid pro quo”. This for that, and that is how the world works. The English would use this quid to buy that—thingie ma-jiggy. Quid pro quo, the words are even ancient—so old that perhaps Jesus even heard them from the Latin speaking Romans who ruled his homeland. Quid pro quo—this for that. Give us your taxes, give us your land and we will give you Roman soldiers, law, etc.

 

Knowing this, perhaps we can read this passage from the gospel of Luke as more than Jesus giving us a lesson in etiquette—where to sit (recline) at a dinner party, who to invite to your party, oh and don’t forget to put that napkin on your lap.

 

I am pretty sure that Jesus was arrested, tried, convicted, and executed on the cross for using the wrong fork or for teaching people how to be humble and un-assuming.

 

Even here, there is something going on something revolutionary, something threatening. Even here Jesus is giving us an alternative world view. This time Jesus is upending the very basic order of society and basis of relationships both individual, familial, local and national. In the ancient world with it’s patriarchal system, everything from dinners, friendships to marriage and politics it was (and still is today) based on quid pro quo. It is so central, so powerful and pervasive system of living that we are still using the ancient Latin words. Quid pro quo. That’s how society functioned. I do this for you (invite you to dinner) and you owe me.

 

 

 

But here comes Jesus once again upsetting the apple cart. Turning the world upside down. Not only criticizing the way things are, but also giving us another way. Jesus says when you have food, just feed people—and not your friends. Following Jesus, our worth is not based upon what we can buy, but who we are by—who we stand next to and with. We feed the hungry, care for the sick and elderly, sit with the lonely, welcome the immigrant and refugee. In Jesus new world order, relationships and society itself isn’t built on quid pro quo. With Jesus, the only extreme vetting going on is getting to know people, sitting with them, sharing a meal—meeting them where they are, and sitting down right by them.

 

And that’s what Jesus is still doing today. Because this table isn’t mine, it isn’t yours, it isn’t Village’s, and Jesus says gather round, you tired, you who are yearning to be free, we are all wretched, we are all someone’s refuse. But in this place, God does not refuse any of us. Jesus welcomes us all, feeds us all, frees us all. Jesus comes to be right by you, right by me. Amen.