Boldly Go where someone has definitely gone before!

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.
If only we could actually do that. If only that were how we all lived, wouldn’t it change everything—our news, our gossip, our facebook, our politics. It would even change our Gospel story this morning—even what Jesus said would change.
Let me explain, Jesus is away from his home town and his home country. He’s left that behind to travel outside the land of the people of God, he’s left his people. Jesus is in a neighboring country, with foreigners—people who don’t eat like, speak, act, pray like his people. Perhaps he’s gone to that foreign place seeking some peace, some quiet, just some time away. Mark tells us he didn’t want anyone to know he was there.
Well, that didn’t quite work out the way he wanted, because this woman, this mother gets in to the house, finds Jesus and starts asking, begging, pleading for him to heal her daughter. Now here’s where we come to the place where Jesus should have heeded that popular advice, but he doesn’t. The next thing we know Jesus is calling the woman a name; calls her a dog (and in that culture as in so many others that’s a huge insult). So he calls her an animal, and tries to sidestep her request. He’s basically saying, he’s the come to preach, to heal, to teach the people of God, and she isn’t one of them.
Luckily, or perhaps more than luck, this woman this mother doesn’t heed those words to sit nicely and quietly and take it. Nor does she storm out. This yet-again un-named woman is driven; is compelled to not just sit there quietly, to not give up. She speaks. She speaks well, and in a sense she teaches Jesus, she schools him and opens him up to the possibility that his mission is bigger than he thought. He’s not just come to a certain small group of people, to be with them, to teach them, to heal them, to feed just them. He’s come for all, even for her and her daughter.
You see that’s what she was so bold to believe. Her faith in God was bigger than nationalities, than borders, than languages, and customs and traditions. Fueled by her desperate love for her daughter. It doesn’t matter, what counts is that she didn’t sit there nicely; she wasn’t timid or too tired or too busy or too dejected. She held onto a faith in Jesus, that maybe he didn’t even know he had. Nothing was going to stop her—because her faith was bold; she was going to go into somebody’s home—because her faith was bold, she was going to speak to someone she hadn’t met yet—because her faith was bold; she was going not back down and not give up—because her faith was bold.
You know if I could re-name our congregation after a different saint of the church. I’d really consider re-naming us the Syrophonecian Mother congregation. Now that’s a mouthful, but consider this. And I am not going to back down with what I’ve got to say. People, we like that woman have come to a place where we may not feel welcome. And I’m not just talking about the neighborhood. But let’s be honest, most of us—though not all of us, come to this building from outside this neighborhood. Those of us, who live in the suburbs I know your friends and family have questioned why you still drive into this place for worship.
I am going to be so bold as to tell you why. You see we believe that God hasn’t moved on and moved out; we believe that whatever names people are tossing back and forth at each other do not define us. It doesn’t matter if we are Syrophonecian, white, black, rich, poor, suburban, Asian, Republican, Democratic, liberal, progressive, conservative, old, young—all of those and so much more—God is still here, and God is calling you to bold faith, God is calling us to love our children, love the children of this place.
Some of you may know that a lot of times when preachers preach they put in stories of individuals doing or not doing the Gospel. I am not giving you sermon illustration, because you, each one of God is calling you to illustrate it, to show it in your life—to be bold. This week I want you to make sure that at least once, you are bold in the love of God. This isn’t just being brash or pushy. That’s not it; It is standing your ground to speak the truth. It’s taking a chance and stepping out because of your faith in God.
So when someone asks you about your church—you tell them, you don’t apologize that you go, or about where you go, you tell them that God is at work in you and in this place. And if they don’t ask, you can still tell them. You can say, you know what, today we had Bible Study, today how we so love our children had Sunday School, that our choir sang God’s praises and most importantly today we are about a woman who loves her daughter, who needs God’s healing, who goes where she isn’t wanted, who speaks when she’s expected to be quiet, whose faith in the God of heaven and earth, whose faith in the God who promises streams in the desert, flowers in the cement, promises peace in our streets, whose faith in the God who loves each and every child no matter what, that faith made her bold.
Amen

Powersuit – Sermon for Aug. 27, 2012

This Sermon was accompanied by a Power Point presentation of several different images.

Well, I’m glad to see that we all managed to do it this morning. Get up, get dressed, and get here. Now for most of us, that’s probably not much of a challenge. Ok, maybe it is. You might have to set an alarm or two, get up and put something on. That’s really important, and as a mom of a young boy that’s the part that can be challenging. Because some things, some outfits, some wardrobe choices are shall we say not appropriate for stepping outside the house, let alone for Sunday morning worship.
Most of us didn’t have that problem, although I myself will sometimes try on two or three different outfits before I’m out the door. You see, clothes are important and not just to simply cover up our bodies. If that were the only goal—to cover it up, what I’m wearing right now would be a bit more popular with not just us worship leader types. But as it is, what we wear is often more than just for modesty; it says something about us

Clothing, what we choose to put on is a statement about who we are, where we’ve been, what we like, the attitude we want to project, who we want to be.

Even St. Paul knew could figure that clothes make the man. What we put on determines what we do, how and who we are.

Of course, we aren’t supposed to take Paul’s words literally about getting dressed up in armor. As usual, what’s being said here in our passage from the Bible is deeper and more meaningful than just some literal interpretation.
Paul chooses, his words care fully.
You see, this letter to the church in Ephesus, what we read just a few minutes ago, were probably written while Paul was living under house arrest in Rome, guarded by a Roman soldier, a man clad (or wearing) the standard issue armor, Paul tells us to put on. Even if that isn’t exactly the case, the Roman empire had enough soldiers all around that it wouldn’t be hard to imagine or picture a helmet, shield, sword, and all.
In times of conflict, uneasiness, danger that’s the get up of power.
Now I don’t think we need to have great imaginations to know or feel the tensions and struggles, the fears, the conflicts, and dangers that exist, that surround us today. Paul’s words are as true today as they were then, our struggle is against the devil, against the rulers, the authorities, cosmic powers, spiritual forces in the heavenly places.
I’m not sure about you, but those last words caught me a bit by surprise. See, I’m used to that picture of heaven as pearly gates, gold, pillowy, marshmellow clouds, harps and all, far, far away from this world. That’s not exactly what Paul and the early church imagined. No, when they prayed “on earth as in heaven” they meant that the two are so intimately connected, tied together. And that we’re not just contending, our problems are not just the result of a few (as they say) bad apples, some individuals acting out. No, we’re right in the thick of a struggle between God’s will, God’s love as embodied in Jesus our Lord, and all the evils afoot. It’s not just a bad guy here, a villain there; it’s entire systems, addictions, fears, pervasive attitudes, our human weaknesses, it’s the isms we can name—classism, racism, sexism, homophobia, elitism. To make this clear, Paul comes out even way back when and says, we’re not in a battle of just flesh and blood. Violence, real weapons won’t solve this problem.

Paul then goes on to describe this armor of God that we are to put on, not
literally, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.

Belt of truth,
Breastplate of righteousness

Shoes, whatever helps us share the Gospel of Peace
Shield of Faith to defend against the arrows of the evil one

Helmet of salvation
Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God

None of this is about us about us charging out after our enemies with the latest weaponry, be it—scholars point out that this is all defensive gear. Even the sword, that Paul doesn’t use the word for the long swords carried by the legions as they went out to conquer in battles.
No, the picture that Paul is giving us is one of armor meant to protect. The goal is to guard against evil, but not to run away and hide, to just keep to ourselves, but to enable us to withstand, to stand up, to stand for, and to stand with the Gospel.
Our world continues to give itself over to evil, to violence, to domination, and the powers of death. God’s apostle Paul is telling us to stand firm, that no matter how tempting or reasonable, or even desperate we feel, life becomes. That every day we are to put on God’s way.
That whatever our struggle is; when we’re struggling within ourselves with addiction, disease, aging, fear, struggling with what’s going on around us—the forces and systems that keep people poor, and uneducated, that keep us apart. When it feels like our jobs, or life, or the people around us are just trying to use us up, chew us up, and spit us up, when we feel like we are powerless and vulnerable, naked before all this.
Paul tells us to put on God’s power, that our strength is not in our muscles or might, but in a real power suit of faith, to let our life be a testimony, our words be a witness, our prayers never ceasing, with and through the strength of the Lord, and in the strength of his power to stand.

http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PDF/MensDay_CR_July.

“Missed it by that much”

I’m back from a break (stressed out & vacation).
Here’s is my sermon offering for you. Of course, remember this is an oral event not a dissertation.

As the famous Maxwell Smart would say, “I missed it by this much.” As most of you are probably aware, my family and I were on vacation and we spent several days in Washington DC touring the monuments and museums. While at the Smithsonian I had hoped to see a few things—the original Kermit the Frog, Dorothy’s Ruby shoes, Archie Bunker’s chair, Amelia Erhardt’s plane and Julia Child’s kitchen. Well, I missed Julia’s kitchen by one week. You see it was off exhibit, closed for renovations and re-opened this past Wednesday the 15th, in honor of what would have been this famous TV personality and chef’s 100th birthday. To honor Julia Childs, one of the radio programs on our Public Radio channel 89.7 WUWM aired a remembrance which included someone mentioning the time that Chef Child cooked tongue.
Well, I didn’t really watch Julia that much, and I never tried her recipes, and this may make some of you cringe, but I did eat tongue as a child, and in the car with my two boys hearing that on the radio brought back a flood of memories.
Meals and food have a way of doing that, of impacting our emotions and memories. Food isn’t just a way for our bodies to get energy as in calories and nutrients. If you were fortunate to be here last week and listening to Pastor Phetsamone’s sermon about food and communion, you heard about the wonderful power of this meal to evoke warm feelings of being loved of being truly home.
And if you were paying any attention today, as I read John’s words of Jesus, you can probably guess that’s not what’s happening in our Gospel for today. Not in the least, well, that’s unless you are some kind of zombie or cannibal monster, because Jesus isn’t talking about nice or dainty dining. No he’s talking about chewing on his flesh, his body, his blood.
Now if you just went “Yuck, that’s gross” in your head. You’re not the only one. In fact, the early early church, the first followers of Jesus were sometimes accused of cannibalism, because as they sat down together on the first day of the week, the first day after the Sabbath, to worship, to sing songs, to pray, and to have their meal together, in the midst of all that they said—Jesus said this is my body, this is my blood –take eat, drink, given and shed for you.
It is no surprise that many of our sisters and brothers in the faith take what Jesus says to us, take what we’ve been doing as a church week after week for thousands of years and say well it’s not really body, it’s not really blood—we’re really remembering what Jesus did for us. Kind of like you know a birthday celebration.
Well, if you’ve ever wondered what’s really at the heart of us being Lutheran, it isn’t the color of our skin or our hymnal, it’s not the songs we sing, or the dishes we serve at a potluck—it isn’t being German or Nowegian at all. No it’s our belief, it’s our holding on to, this mystery (because we also can’t exactly explain) how Jesus is really right here with us now, as he said he would be, giving us life, forgiveness, grace—all the stuff we need right now.
Jesus says to us, you know life—I mean true life, the one of discipleship of following me—a life of gratitude, of thanksgiving, of forgiving, of radically welcoming the least, the lost, the lonely, of admitting our fallenness, our sin, of forgiving ourselves and others—that eternal life stuff in the here and now, that’s tough (real tough) it’s as we say damn near impossible, so I’m giving you my all, my life, my body, my blood –giving it to you each time you gather together. That’s what makes it special, not the frequency or infrequency—because Lord knows and as good Lutherans we know we’re not good—that is, well, because more often do miss it by that much, we miss the mark, we sin; we are part of sinful world and systems that can be out of our control. We are broken so badly we can’t always fix ourselves; we can’t just pick ourselves up—communion isn’t something we earn or deserve. It’s something we need. So we need this, we desperately and definitely need this. Holy Communion is Jesus saying over and over again—taste and see the goodness of the Lord, hold onto, take into yourself consume this love, forgiveness. Jesus offers us again and again, and today is no different his love and life for us–his body and blood –his life for us, given for you. Amen.

Crazy

This is basically what was preached this past Sunday, June 10th

People were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” That’s what we heard, what I read just a moment ago.  This is pretty early in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has  been making a splash of teaching and healing; he’s even just called a set of disciples—students to follow him around.  He’s getting so popular he cannot even get a chance to rest.  He’s getting so popular people are getting worried.  Well in this instance it happens to be his family.  Others will get worried pretty soon, and it won’t be those who love him; it will be those who don’t.  So, the New Revised Standard Version tells us he’s gone out of his mind.

Now as I work on these scriptures in preparing for worship, for preaching often I take a gander at how others put things.  How they say it.  One of my favorites is Eugene Peterson’s the Message – usually does a pretty good job at translating and really making it connect.  Well this isn’t one of those times.  His translation reads, “They suspected he was getting carried away with himself.” That’s kind of like the cleaned up version from the King James , “he was beside himself”.  That’s like that good ol label polite folks used, you know “eccentric”.

Jesus isn’t just a bit bothered.  The folks around him; his closest family—his mother and brothers as it says in the Contemporary English Version, “They thought he was crazy”.  Cuckoo, wild, out-of-control, looney.

And if some alien studying the human race, studying American culture would happen to land in our good ol’ sanctuary.  I would hope he/she/it would think the same thing about us.  Well that we’re as they say,  “a bit touched”.

You see, worship doesn’t fit with what the world around us is all about.  I am not just  referring to lighting candles on a hot day in a room with plenty of electric lights.  And then on top of it having the leader put on a layer of a not-quite-high fashion robe—robes that the church adopted the ancient Romans.    There are the peculiarities of the what’s we do.  But these things are really as Luther called them “adiaphora” meaning the unimportant things – robes, candles, processions, all that is the frosting on the well put to frankly the cuckoo cake—the weird reality we call worship.

Preacher and author Barbara Brown Taylor has said  about worship: “It is one of the most peculiar things twentieth-century human beings can do, to come together week after week with no intention of being useful or productive, but only of facing an ornate wall to declare things they cannot prove about a God they cannot see.”

Worshipping the God of Jesus isn’t really normal according to our world’s standards.  Normal ison getting ahead,  begetting,  getting even, getting, and more getting.  But we step out of that world week after work to speak, to sing, to listen, to act into a new reality.

In our Gospel for this morning—Jesus calls us a new family.  Not based on blood and genetics, not based upon similarities, commonalities, share likes and dislikes, not shared demographics, color or cash, not even based upon all agreeing with one political party or another.  This new family reality that is gathered here today is based as Jesus says on those who do the will of God.

Doing the will of God, that is what makes us part of God’s alternative way—God’s kingdom.  Doing the will of God, lot’s of folks may have ideas on what that looks like, but we come here together so we can meet Jesus.  What Jesus does is what we do—we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, welcome the outcast (the weird), and we do the business of forgiveness.

If anything is more counter-cultural than forgiveness, I haven’t found it yet.  We live in a culture that if not glorifying  violence, considers it acceptable.  We live in a culture that survives by passing the blame, not taking responsibility and acting as if we are simply a bunch of individuals not impacted, shaped, and even controlled by the demonic forces around us.

Doing the will of God is freeing ourselves, freeing others from those forces.  So we step out and away, but not to hide, but to gather as a group and say, out-loud, not just with the glare of tv lights and camera crews but as a family—to proclaim something is wrong – not just to point fingers, but to admit our sin, our brokenness, our part in allowing racism, violence, poverty, to tear our families apart, and to tear the life out of our community, and the life out of children like Darius Simmons, whose funeral was held at All People’s Lutheran church yesterday.  Some of you may know that he had been part of St. Paul’s.  He had come to Community Night.  But even if he hadn’t,  he is our brother. 

We the people who worship the God of justice and mercy admit that the man who shot that 13rd old  is in need of healing and forgiveness.  Now if that doesn’t sit well with you.  You are not alone.  These are not easy words for me to say. 

And in a moment when we continue our worship, our turning to this God we can not see, we will be turning to ask,  I will be begging for forgiveness for my anger, my despair, forgiveness for my  feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.   Today you are welcomed to come to this altar rail, to use it to kneel in repentance, to kneel not just in sorrow, but to receive the gift and power of forgiveness.  That is what enables us to turn around, to turn our lives inside out and around, and to work against the forces and powers of evil in our lives and in this world. The world, Satan, all the powers of evil do not want  us to admit this pain; do not want us to own it, but what they really don’t want us to feel is God’s forgiveness flow—through us.  Satan, evil, demons of violence and despair just want us to think that’s all there is; there is no other way—that any other way is simply crazy. 

Well, if Jesus’ love, if Jesus power to heal, if Jesus’ power to save, if Jesus power of forgiveness  is crazy.  Call me crazy.  Amen.

Sermon for Easter 6, May 13, 2012

First of all, it’s good to be back.  I haven’t posted in a while.

Secondly, this is basically my sermon from yesterday.  I sometimes, add, change, delete, etc. during the oral event of sermonizing.

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photo by Ramsey everydaypants, creative commons

It’s Mother’s Day today, right, so I get to say something about myself, right. Well, I’m not going to talk about being a mother except to say that my kids can tell you.  They’ve heard this hundreds of times.

I liked to go to school.  As a kid, I really did.  I didn’t like these next few weeks as school was about to end, and I couldn’t wait for September to come.  I had some friends I wanted to see, but besides that I actually enjoyed my classes, well most of them—math wasn’t that great but. Anyway.

I even enjoyed gym class—with one exception.  It wasn’t swimming, or wrestling, or gymnastics –it was picking teams.

First of all, I dreaded being ever chosen “team” captian.  Some folks would have relished and sought out that power.  But not me; nope if you’ve ever been with me while I’m fretting over a menu at a restaurant, or even standing at the counter at say McDonald’s or Taco Bell—I can’t make up my mind.  It’s tough to make that choice.

Now just imagine, there I am faced with other students—some friends, some maybe not so much.  But there I am, and I know what’s like to not be chosen, I know how it feels to if not be last, to be pretty close.

So, the one time I was chosen to make the choices—well let me tell you that team wasn’t going to win any championships.  I didn’t base my calculations on the hopes of winning.  I went the opposite route.

That’s the way it was even when I wasn’t captain.  I still stressed, not because I wanted to get picked first (ok that would be nice), but not also because I wanted to be on the winning team.  No, I wanted to be on the team that would get me playing the most.  That’s what I wanted the most, I wanted to be where the action was, and to get my hands on the ball.  Winning, who cares it’s jr high or high school.  I wanted to play!

I think that’s why I really like the words of Jesus we heard this morning from John’s Gospel – words that are for some of us—well pretty familiar.

Jesus is talking about love, and it’s not like we haven’t heard this before.  It seems like all he’s been doing, and all that we’ve heard from the other passages is love, love, love.  Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining.

I know how we work; I know how our brains work; I know what it’s like to live in the real world.  We need to hear something often and in several different voices or different methods for it to actually begin or have any chance of sinking in, and getting stuck in our hearts, and actually sticking in our heads, our mouths, our hands.

So yeah Jesus loves everybody, absolutely, unequivocally everybody.  There’s no stopping this love; we don’t have to ask for it, earn it.  It’s definitely not about winning it.  It’s a forever deal for everyone.  And I’m talking each and every one of us—whether we sit in a Lutheran pew, a Roman Catholic, or a Mormom, or kneel for prayers as a Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, or even say there is no such thing as God as atheists do; it doesn’t matter—God still loves each and everyone of God’s children.

The thing about these words of Jesus today, is that there’s something else going on.  And it has to do with Jesus calling his disciples (his followers) friends.  And unlike Facebook, this status of friendship comes with real meaning.  Jesus is asking us to be mere aquaintences.

What is a friend?  What’s a friend do?

The thing about us being Jesus’ friends is that it’s not based upon what we like.  In our world, we like to make friends with—well folks who are like us—share the same work, or interests, who talk, eat, dress, same political, or cultural, societal views, how live, look like us—we base our friendships on commonalities—right—that’s how the world does it, and well Jesus is doing something different than how the world works.

But Jesus is choosing us as Friends not based upon how similar we are whether we are like one another.  No, Jesus chooses us to not just be friends with some benefits, but friends with responsibilities.  We are being chosen to be on the Jesus team.  What that’s all about—the point of the team—is to accomplish something—to work, do, play together towards a goal.

And again unlike the world the goal is not necessarily for us to win.  We don’t have to worry about winning.  Jesus has done that in the cross and resurrection.  The decision has been made, for the power of Jesus life over the forces of death.  So as a team we’ve got a different goal and that my friends is to simply play.

God is calling each of us as God’s beloved child, calling us together to be on the Jesus team to get that love that we talk about so much in here, to get that love we taste, see, feel, we learn about we, practice, we sing about to get that love we share in here—to get it out there—wherever we live as individuals, but teams play together and this is where we are together—so it’s most certainly our purpose, our mission to do that love thing out there.

Now of course, no team is good if one person is handling the ball all the time—hogging it.  We have to always be checking, are we dropping the ball, are we equipping everyone to be part of the team.  And here me now, everyone is part of the team.  Maybe you just physically can not get out there, but everyone (no excuses) can welcome warmly, you can exercise these muscles –these mouth ones to smile, you can use your ears to listen openly, you can support the team in all sorts of ways—with the words you say, the offerings you give, and most importantly the fervent and strong prayers you say.

As I said we are loved, there’s no doubt about that.  God loves us so much, that Jesus is choosing us to be on his team—the church—not to just come here occasionally, but to be in this relationship, to exercise all of our gifts, our talents, our mad skills—to be God’s church in here and out there.  And you know what it is hard work, but it is fun; it’s all about God’s joy—So hey, let’s play!  Amen.

Just be honest, please!

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St. Louis courthouse where the Dred Scott case was first filed. The Dred Scott Decision of the US Supreme court declared that according to the Constitution no one of African descent (slave or free) was a citizen or had the rights of citizens. Picture taken from the St. Louis Arch, summer 2010

 

As stories of the tragic and sinful killing of yet another young black man are in the news, my mind turned again to the words I hear so often: “We’re a Christian nation.”

My question is when and how?

Surely we can not delude ourselves into thinking we are a Christian nation in our present reality.  With laws like Stand Your Ground, with the animosity and name-calling on the air-waves, with the lifting-up of wealth, how can we even think we’re close to being Christian?  We’ve substituted faith in Jesus who calls us to love one another for a reliance on guns and violence to solve our problems.

Some folks may assert that we’ve strayed from Christian past.  But that is a mythical and revisionist past.  We are a people who profited from slavery, visited death and destruction on the first peoples who lived here stealing their land.  That is our history; it is the truth.  I could also point to our Constitution and many, many words of the founders of our nation as evidence that this country did not have an established religion.

It seems if we are Christian at all, it is not in our societal actions, our history but in word only.  Jesus had a word for those who claimed to be one thing and lived another way–hypocrites.  Hypocrites (and the wealthy which I confess I am) received words of warning and condemnation from Jesus.

In order for us to claim we live in a Christian nation, this country would look far different and I am not talking about women sporting long skirts and long hair–wealth would be shared, immigrants would be truly welcomed (no one would be labeled “illegal”), our military (both government and corporate) would be disbanded.  That’s the truth–that’s what it looks like to follow Jesus.  It’s in the bible.  Honest.

Rules Breaker/Game Changer

3rd Sun in Lent – B

March 11, 2012

          If you are going to play, you’ve got to know the rules.  Even with just a few kids on a playground, there are rules.  I remember as a kid going over to visit with my dad’s mom, that would make her Grandma Queena Winzer.  She lived in small town in Eastern Pennsylvania called Emmaus.  Actually that depended upon how old you were.  She and the old Pennsylvania Dutch men and women called it Emaus—spelled still spelled with an “E”.  Well anyway, I have this memory of going to her little downstairs apartment and playing a board game.  It was probably Monopoly or Parchesi or even Scrabble.  Myself, my brother and sister were playing the game with her, and well it didn’t end well.  It ended when Grandma Queena picked up the board and slammed it down on the table.  Although we were old enough to play, I guess we didn’t know the most important rule. The one that says, Grandma Queena always wins.

You’ve got to know the rules of the game—especially the game of life, and I’m not talking about the board game.  You may have heard the statement, “life is a game”.  And sometimes it may feel that way, you know with winners and losers and such.  Well, as with all games there are rules to life, so if life is a game then there’s got to be rules.  There are rules.  The rules of nature everything ages, everything dies.  There is the rule of gravity.  There are rules within societies, cultures, and communities—you know for example we drive on the right side of the road, posted speed limits, turning our clocks ahead and losing an hour of sleep, etc. and so forth.

Reading or hearing our first assigned scripture often leads people to picture God as a heavenly rule maker.  As I’ve mentioned before there are some 613 commandments in the Hebrew Bible.  The past several weeks our 8:30 Sunday morning Bible Study group has been delving into the commands, the laws, the rules from the Book of Deuteronomy.  Anyway, the ones we have this morning is a version of what is known as the 10 Commandments.

These are the rules that God gives, through Moses, to a bunch of runaway ex-slaves on their way into freedom of the promised land.  Now I’m going to share with you just a few observations that will sound hopefully familiar to that bible study group.  First of all, these are not universal rules for everyone.  If you notice the first three are about worshipping the One God, the Lord, Yahweh, the Almighty.  That makes these 10 Commandments first and foremost religious, that is their origin, and we cannot take God out of the picture.  But not everybody worships this God—so therefore the 10 Commandments are not everybody’s rules.  However, within this listing there are rules that are shared  by just about every other group of civilized people.  You see, communities do not thrive if people are just running amok wantonly killing, stealing, and cheating one another.

Like I said, you’ve got to have rules.  These are the things that guide the common good and build society rather than allow a bunch of individuals running around guided by who’s got the biggest guns, or the biggest bank account—you know might equals right.  That’s not good, and God wants to keep us safe from that.  God gives to God’s people rules to help us live together.  The goal of following the Torah, the commands, the rules of God isn’t to make life a burden, instead it is to help these fledgling people stand up and stand out, to make them not just like everybody else, but to point out their special relationship with God.  That’s part of what’s behind that small portion of Psalm 19 – a psalm devoted to the gift of the Torah – Hebrew word for the laws.

Now as I said earlier, there are folks who picture God as this heavenly maker of eternal rules.  But that’s so limiting of God.  At first it may not make sense pairing the reading from Exodus with John’s  Gospel story of Jesus overturning the tables.  After all, the temple market was a result, was a necessary creation out of God’s command.  As that bible study group is learning in our study of Deuteronomy, God decreed that there could only be one place for the people to make their sacrifices—it had to be in the place God chose—and that was in the temple in Jerusalem. This is one of those things that makes the people of God different from all their other neighbors who could set up a shrine or a temple to all sorts of God’s like Zeus, or Aphrodite, or Apollo, or Baal, or Asherah (and do their sacrificing wherever).  The Jews by the rules of God’s command could only bring their animal and grain sacrifices to the temple, and that meant even if they lived far, far away.  So within the laws of Deuteronomy they were allowed to bring money, now of course the money of Rome promoted Rome and it’s emperor above all else, and that is idolatry, so they had to exchange Roman money for Jewish money to use to purchase the animals or whatever for their sacrifices.  That brings us to Jesus flipping out and flipping over the tables.

Now before we are call Jesus a rule-breaker (which he was called and which he actually did).  He isn’t just overturning a few tablets, I mean tables, he’s overturning the whole game.  It is more accurate and more faithful to call him instead a game-changer.    You see in Jesus the Christ we aren’t playing by the same rules.  The place of sacrifice is with Jesus, it is in our lives, in our hearts, in our actions, in what we do and what we say, in how live each and every day.

When it feels like all we are, like all those around us are just pawns in somebody else’s game– God is calling us to gather together for Sabbath worship, for rest , to listen to one another, to hold up and be held up in prayer—to hear God’s compassionate word—you are mine, my child.

When it feels like life is a rotten game, that the rules are out of whack and that we’re just losing all the time—when the elderly, the young, the poor, the immigrant, when men, women, and children and issues are just sexualized and are abused—even by our own laws and power players God is calling us to speak and shout, to denounce injustice.  To work to bring justice to light in our government, in our marketplace, in our schools.

When it feels like we just can’t seem to get it right—when we know the rules we are breaking are hurting—hurting those around us, hurting ourselves, hurting our relationship with God—God calls out to us and says – this is my body given for you. This is for the forgiveness of your sin.

No matter what you hear, no matter who says it—life isn’t a game. For Jesus, and for us who follow him, we are freed from that meaninglessness.  The life of every man, woman, child sitting in these pews, and out there in their homes and on the streets, every life is sacred—you are a gift to be cherished, to be gift to be set free to be poured out and shared for and with all—God’s love and life with no end.  Amen.