Baptism of Jesus: What can we do?

Jan. 8, 2017

Luke  3:1-22
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ” 7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” 15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison. 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

In the eighth year of presidency of Barack Obama, two weeks before the inauguration of President-elect Trump, when Scott Walker was governor, and Chris Abele was ruler of the county, and Tom Barrett the city of Milwaukee, when Rev. Elizabeth Eaton was the presiding Bishop and Rev. Paul Erickson the bishop of Greater Milwaukee.
Sounds a little weird doesn’t it. But, the gospel is not just stories of a long time ago, in a far away place, with no relevance for today. The names may change, but the questions are still the same: “what should we do?” 
What should we do? asked the people who heard John’s words, who came to be baptized by him, who heard and listened to his preaching to his call to repentance, the people, the men and women of the surrounding towns and villages, the crowds of religious, the crowds of curious, even the tax collectors and soldiers, in days of uncertainty, with capricious and untrustworthy rulers, they hear his warnings and words doom and gloom. What should we do?
The names may change, but the question remains the same. What should we do? Decisions of family and career, who are we becoming? What should we do? When we hear the swing of the ax as another loved one is diagnosed with cancer, or depression, or addiction or any other myriad of modern maladies that take away the life we expect, the life we want, the life we hope for. What should we do? When relationships fall apart, when we feel like we are surrounded by a brood of vipers. What should we do when the government that should be acting on the behalf of justice and peace, which should be working for the benefit of the most vulnerable, when government, when our nation seems hellbent to benefit the richest at the cost of the health of women, children, vets, hard-working poor, and our planet. What should we do?

In the words of a modern prophet: “just keep swimming”. for those who may not know the source of that wisdom, it’s what Dory sings in the movie “Finding Nemo” Yes, I’ve just compared John the Baptist to a Disney cartoon character. Hear me out though, or in other words just keep swimming with me on this one.
So when the crowds come to John and ask what should we do? What does John say? Whoever has two coats, share one. Whoever has food, share that too. That should be no surprise to anyone even vaguely familiar with the Bible, with the Hebrew God, the God of Jesus. Share. We are not put on this earth to just look after ourselves. We are here to care for others. John and Jesus, well they’re in the same stream as their ancestors. But who else comes to waters of the Jordan? To tax collectors. What are they to do? Does he tell them to give up their evil job, their collaboration with the occupying enemy? No, just Collect what you’re supposed to collect—not more. And to the soldiers? What are they to do? Are they supposed to lay down their weapons? Using good biblical imagery, should they beat their swords into shovels and plows for farming? No, Don’t take advantage of your position and power. Don’t extort people, don’t trump up charges. What should we do? It seems like according to John, repentance is to just keep swimming.
Just keep swimming in the waters of baptism. See baptism isn’t just a bit of sprinkle, a bit of water dropped onto our skin. Baptism, even if it’s at a neat font like ours is full immersion. We don’t just dip our toes in the waters of baptism. God’s love flows all around us. Baptism is really getting in over our heads in God’s reality.  
And one of the important things that John tells us is we are not meant to just float along. Swimming is exercise Just keep swimming takes skill, practice; it means putting muscle, and breath, and intention. It is doing something. In our gospel reading for today, Luke doesn’t tell us if Jesus asked what he should do. But, I kind a like to picture him doing that. After all he was a real person, a real man, not some Christian cartoon character. The thing about us people is that we question. I think that’s what differentiates us from all animals, all fish in the sea—it’s that we question. Why? How? When? What should we do?
People of God, when you start to ask, what should I do? What can I do? What good is anything? Remember you are in God’s waters and God wants and life needs you to keep swimming. Share what you have whether it’s coats or cakes. Share what you have whether it’s time or technical skills. Really try to live a just life in whatever way you can. When the world or the powers, just want you to go with the flow. Just keep swimming, against the current, splashing and even making waves.
The baptism of Jesus is just the beginning. From now on until Easter we are going to hear how Jesus is going to make a splash and make some waves. What Jesus does and says will be welcomed by some and feared by others, because a lot of people, ok, all of us, we like to answer our own question of what should we do. We like to answer that, we think we need to determine and limit the boundaries of God’s love. We build our own damns to contain God’s goodness. You know, if I need to treat the abuser, the alt right as a real person, as someone loved by God, well I’ll be damned. But, Jesus claims us, all of us as brothers and sisters. Jesus shows us the great depth of God’s ocean of love looks like, how we are part of it, how we live in it and share it with others. It’s ok to keep on asking, so what should we do? Because in the waters of baptism, God claims us as beloved sons and daughters, so just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming. Amen. 

Believe the Conspiracy

Dec. 18, 2016

 Luke 1:26-45 [46-56]

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. 39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” [46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” 56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.]
People, we have all sorts of beliefs. W believe in the Elf of the shelf, Santa, Sasquatch, that aliens built the pyramids, that moon landing was a hoax, and that the Russians conspired to help elect Donald Trump. Ok, sometimes there is real evidence for some of what we believe. However, as is painfully evident with our current events, evidently real evidence doesn’t change whether or not we believe anything. We basically get to believe what we want to believe.   
So this morning, as we hear the story from Luke’s gospel. Ask yourself, why shouldn’t I believe? Why shouldn’t I believe that an angel (a messenger from God) appeared to Mary. Why shouldn’t I believe that God chose Mary to birth hope, love, and truth into this world? Why not believe, with Elizabeth, pregnant with a very unlikely baby herself, that the baby in her womb didn’t just hiccup or move but actually did jump for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice? And with Elizabeth, why not believe that the baby the unmarried Mary carried would be the savior of the God’s people? That God wasn’t just hanging out in heaven, but by being born as a helpless baby, God in Godself desires to conspire with humanity for the sake of the world. And not only that, God specifically chooses to work with, to work through, to inspire and conspire with the most unlikely, the most illogical, and the most over-looked people.
In Luke’s Gospel, God is not meeting and colluding with heads of state, with kings or generals, with magnates of industry, CEO’s, and politicians. The heavenly messenger visits a young woman. Now can I just say, we don’t have to keep painting Mary as meek, mild, and humble. While she is no princess, not royalty or wealthy, she is courageous and brave willing to cooperate with Divine Mystery. Just think, we are not told she traveled with anyone when she went to Elizabeth. Mary is a woman steeped in the promises of her faith, and is willing to help turn the tables to send the lofty packing and lift up the lowly. Instead of humble and passive, maybe believe Mary can be for us a model of strength, a woman who is willing to believe that God’s got, for her and for people like her, something up God’s Divine sleeve.
And for Mary, there was no proof. Just the choice to believe. That’s the thing about our faith. We don’t have to wait for scientists to hypothesize, test and retest. We don’t have to wait for Indiana Jones or Josh Gates of Expedition Unknown to find a footprint or discover some long lost cave. Belief can be a choice—a decision to see things in a way that can’t be proven, to see things the way others do not. But being a Christian, is not just being a card-carrying member of the church club.

 

Oh no people, this is a whole lot more serious, a whole lot more real, because following Jesus, believing—being and living means we’re part of God’s conspiracy too. If we are believing, we know life is not about colluding withthe status quo, the American dream, or the American or capitalist domination system. Our belief better lead to a life convicted of aiding and abetting God’s system, God’s dream, God’s conspiracy.  
Throughout the ages there have been people women like Mary and Elizabeth, and men like Juan Diego. Now not many of us of Lutheran or northern European or white northerners may know this man’s name. But Juan Diego is the man who according to belief and traditions, One early December morning in 1531, Juan Diego an Indio peasant and a Christian convert, Juan Diego was walking past the holy hill of his native ancestors — hill called Tepeyac. Suddenly he sees a vision of a dark-skinned, barefoot, pregnant girl. She’s trampling down snakes and crowned with stars. The young woman addresses him in his own Nauhatl language, calling him “my son,” and she declares that she is Mary, the mother of God, mother of our Lord Jesus, and that he should build a church, a place for his people to worship
Frightened, surprised, Juan Diego replies, “I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf,” . But the vision insists, so Juan Diego rushes off to share the good news with the Spanish bishop. And the bishop, who is not at all pleased, says, in effect: you stupid Indian, are you crazy? The most Holy Virgin Mary is hardly some brown-skinned girl, have you no respect?

Juan Diego returns to the hilltop, prays, and the brilliant vision, who will later be named Guadalupe, appears again. She asks the Indian to open his tilma, his cloak, and she fills it with roses—impossible, sweet-smelling roses in December. He takes the films, the cloak with the roses to the bishop and when he opens it, the Mary’s image is imprinted on that rough, everyday cloth. And many believe it is a miracle. The church is built, the Virgin the Lady of Guadalupe becomes an icon to see God, to see how God continues to conspire with normal, every day, common people. Asking us to believe, not just in God but also in ourselves. Asking us to believe not just in heaven, but in God’s presence in our world. Inviting us to join the Holy conspiracy to save, not just a few souls here and there, but to rescue and redeem the whole earth, to move with mercy, to fill the hungry and empty, lift up the lonely and lowly. I don’t know about you but of all the things we could believe in, this sounds so good to be true. Amen.

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