Freedom and the true world cup

Now that the smoke of fireworks has faded, the bottles have been picked up, the parades and past, i wonder how many people really know what we have been celebrating this 4th of July. Oh sure, most can probably tell you it is Independence Day. That we are celebrating freedom. But do they know what freedom really is?

Because 238 years ago, in 1776 when the founding fathers signed that document, the Declaration of Independence, when they signed their names beneath words like, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That the men who signed their names meant only certain men were equal, that some men could be sold as slaves and property, and that equality with and for women wasn’t even on their radar which hadn’t been invented yet.

So the freedom that we celebrate on the 4th of July with parades, picnics, fireworks, and music, wasn’t finished on that day, the 4th of July, 1776. No one would argue that that was a beginning for us; it wasn’t the end, and there is still work to be done for this nation to truly flourish with freedom of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. So do those who party, who adorn themselves with red white and blue, know that they are not celebrating an event, once and done, but a process, the freeing of the people to make this nation.

Now perhaps with all that in mind, the Apostle Paul’s words may make more sense. Not that he was completely impossible to understand. I think any of us who’ve done any sort of self reflecting, any sort of self-examination and realisation, would be pretty familiar with Paul sense of the struggle going on within him.

It’s like I’ve and others have often said. There’s no need to look outside ourselves, to demons and the devil. Our own nature, our own genetics, our own upbringing, personality, is the source of our sin. I bet I’m not the only one who has given in, who has been tempted to say, “the devil made me do ot, and know the only devil around was my own weakness, my own anger, my own stubbornness, my own hunger, and weakness for gambling.

For Paul, the laws of God were helpful and good,because without them, he wouldn’t know the depths, the dangers, the complexity, and of his sin. For Paul, he feels the very real pull within himself. Temptations come from within. He sees us as broken, trapped people. It isn’t just that we don’t know wrong from right, no God has given us commandments, the law, torah in Hebrew, but, we just don’t, won’t sometimes can’t follow and live according to the laws of God.

And because of that we are not free, we can’t free ourselves. For jesus and Paul, the answer to what is wrong with us, what is wrong with this world is not independence. There is no pulling oneself up by the bootstraps out of sin.

We are not free, until someone else does it for us. And that someone is Jesus. With Jesus, sin doesn’t have power over us. Oh yeah, Paul, you, and me, we’ll still mess up. We will still commit sins, we will drink, we will say things in anger, we will hurt ourselves and others, we still live in a society that is built upon sin, upon some people being worked to death so we can have cheap stuff to fill our closets, to fill our garages, purses and pockets.

Freedom, true freedom, reveals the emptiness of all that stuff, of that life of drugs, drinking, of violence. Being freed in Christ is an everyday struggle to see ourselves, our world, and what we csn do in it.

Part of our July 4th celebrations is to drive down to Raymond, WI and help out my husband Brad’s church to represent it, walk, give out candy, and flyers in the little parade. We sometimes go to the festival. This year, as in the past, there were these carnival games for the kids, and the prizes were all sorts of trinkets, frisbees, footballs, temporary tattoos, and more. Of course, the irony that these, red, white, and blue, patriotic trinkets were produced, were made in far away countries like China was not missed. That the games were mostly just of luck.

Now just imagine if we couldn’t or would’t have seen all that for what it really was. We could have spent our time, our energy, our lives trying to win for ourselves these “prizes”. That is the true freedom that Jesus the Christ gives us. No longer are we spending our time, our energy, our resources, on empty prizes.

So we hear Jesus’ call, w hear his words, come to him, come together, to have our burdens lifted, because they are not ours alone. in Jesus we do not face, Paul does not face his weakness by himself, we are yoked together, bound to one another, we are freed now not to struggle for empty prizes and empty pleasures, but to spend our life in the biggest contest of all, bringing peace, living in forgiveness, and sharing God’s love. We may not have fireworks, we may not have the fanciest and loudest, most entertaining parades and shows. But we have something better, more powerful, more meaningful. Today God gives you, in Communion, not a party of independence, but a taste of true freedom, today God shares with youm with all of us, the real world cup! This is why we are here, to share the true world cup. Amen.

Abbott and Costello, Peanut butter and Jelly, Sodom and Gomorrah . . .What the?


Abbott and Costello

Romeo and Juliet

Batman and Robin

Tom  and Jerri

Peanut butter and Jelly

Laverne and Shirley

Thelma and Louise

Shaggy and Scooby

Ketchup and mustard

Adam and Eve

Sponge bob and Patrick

Barbie and Ken

Bread and butter

Click and Clack

Divide and conquer

Jekyll and Hyde

Bonnie and Clyde

Bacon and eggs, well for some bacon and just about anything.

Some things just go better together.

There are so many famous pairs.  And, as you might have heard in that list, infamous as well.  This morning we read about a particular pairing.  A pairing of two cities.   Sodom and Gomorrah.  Even if you haven’t read the story from the 18th chapter of Genesis, you may be familiar with these two names as they are infamous for being examples of God’s wrath.  We are told already in chapter 13 that the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.


So eventually the outcry, the sin of those two cities becomes so bad that in chapter 18 God sends two of his messengers to check it out.  Upon entering the walls of the town they are greeted by a man named Lot, who begs them to come and stay with him at his house.  Soon word has spread that there are two strangers in town, and a crowd of the men start to attack.  And this is unfortunately where the link between Sodom and homosexuality comes in.


However, that’s not as simple as some would like it to sound.  A careful reading of the passage makes it clear that the crowd is out to beat, abuse, even rape and eventually murder the strangers.  Needless to say, that is not the same thing as being gay or lesbian.  What is happening at Sodom and Gomorrah just a sexual sin.  It is most importantly a sin against God’s command to show hospitality and welcome.  Remember this is the world before a McDonalds on every other corner, before there are motels and hotels.  Travelers are literally at the mercy of those they meet.  The proper response is to open your door, feed the stranger, give them your bed to sleep in.  But this takes a generous spirit that was shared by the people of Sodom and Gonorrah.  As the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 16 tells us: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.” 


Unlike a sin just a crowd of men could commit, this violent greed is something the whole community could be guilty of, so that there wouldn’t be even 10 righteous in the bunch. So that in passage after passage, and there are about 45 passages in the Bible where  Sodom and Gomorrha is paired with God’s judgement and destruction-an example of utter desolation.


Which brings us to our first reading for today from the prophet Isaiah, which if you were paying attention may seem to be a strange choice for us to read together on a Sunday morning.  After all, aren’t we here with offerings, with prayers. And while ‘re not sacrificing rams, bulls, goats, we do sacrifice our time and the many other things we could be doing on a Sunday morning you know like-soccer, shopping, coffee and the paper, laundry, running, ok– sleeping in.


But we a here, and shouldn’t it count for something?  Well according to the word of The Lord we heard from Isaiah, it does.  It counts against.  It counts against if worship isn’t paired with a changed life.  Just as important as what we do here for an hour is what we do every other hour.  The prophet Isaiah and prophet after prophet, up to and including The Lord Jesus is asking us, “How does what we do and say here week after week change what we do day after day?”  How are we working to make sure our city isn’t one of violence, but is of peace?  How are we doing our part to make sure that our country isn’t one of weapons and walls, but of welcome.  Because if it isn’t we’re wasting our breath, wasting our time, and worse wasting God’s.


Because some things just go better together, and that’s not just some catch phrase, it is the gospel truth.  For at the heart of the gospel of Jesus is the bringing together–the bringing together of the rich and poor, the outcast and the powerful, the hungry and those filled with good things, and ultimately the sinner with God’s love and forgiveness.  That is why our worship is not meaningless, because we believe that it’s not just tradition, not just convenience, not just habit that bring us together.  It isn’t because we have a sign on a wall somewhere that says that we are reconciling in Christ, but because God wants us gay and straight, rich and poor, black, white, asian, and everything else under the sun, immigrant, documented, and undocumented, young and old, victim and offender, all of us are welcome not just to sit in the sanctuary but to struggle together to change one another.  It is in this togetherness that we become more than stereotypes–the rich are not all out to get the poor, the poor are not all lazy.  The stranger moves from guest, to friend, to brother or sister in Christ.  When this happens worship is not offensive to God but is genuine. It is a pure expression of love for God, for the God of us all.  Worship that praises God’s giving,saving, proclaiming, sharing, God’s love lived really, lived fully, lived radically because in Christ, we people are better together.  Amen.

Bread, cabbage, kale, cheddar–a recipe for disaster

Last week if you were blessed to be here, we were talking at least for some time about our daily bread. Well today we’re still talking about bread, bread also known as dough, chips, cabbage, kale, green, or maybe cheddar, benjamins, loot, moola. Money.
Money, the problem with having too much of it, or greed wanting, having, hoarding, desiring it is deposited in all our assigned readings for this morning. But I’m going to start this morning by looking at the passage from Luke, which begins with a question about inheritance, about most likely a younger brother hoping to have Jesus take his side and tell his older brother to share more of the inheritance than the law says he has to. The law of God in the Hebrew bible, the Old Testament in Deuteronomy and other places provided somewhat for younger siblings, by declaring that the oldest son could only have one half, and the rest were to share what was left over. Now that probably wasn’t all that much, but hey at least it was something.
Jesus, however doesn’t want to even go there. He’s not here to be a small claims or family court judge. Instead he tells a parable, a story about a farmer who is very successful. He’s so successful that he runs out of space to store all his good stuff.
And I’m going to stop right here because looking at both of these parts of Luke’s gospel, and looking (and well knowing so many of us) it just seems that this passage really doesn’t relate to most of us. I mean, let’s be honest, of all the problems in the bible, of all the problems in life–having too much stuff, an inheritance to fight over, having too much money well at least for many of us, that at least is not one of our problems. So we might be tempted to let out a sigh of relief, or be tempted to quit listening. Or others may have thought that a sermon on the list of despicable behaviors from the second reading, you know–fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire,), anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Now those are problems that are everywhere. You don’t have to be rich to own all that stuff–the Rich and poor, and the in between, well– we all got a fair share of all those things.
I’m sure that in lots of pulpits around this country and around the world there are sermons upon sermons, hand raising, and finger waving about these evils running rampant. And I too might be tempted, and some of us would be happy to hear preaching against fornications, against our sexualized society, prostitution, sex trafficking or the slander (meaning lies) we hear and read about from so many politicians, powerful corporations, and the paparazzi we call the press. But remember and before you get too comfortable, remember anger and wrath, they’re in the list too. And I’m pretty sure none of us has escaped the grips of that emotion. Everyone, with perhaps a very very few of us have something’s that make our blood just boil–things that make us if not froth at the mouth, at least spout off or post to face book a few choice words.
Money and greed on the other hand well that’s a whole different story. I can tell you as I perused, read the ELCA pastor group, now this is a whole other thing. You see money, the love of it, money the need of it, the wealth of it, it actually hits home, and for some of us way too close to home.
And if you may be tempted to think that this is something new, you know a problem of our affluent society, a problem that we are particularly experiencing because of the huge gap that is widening in our country between the rich and the poor, well you are partly right.
But here’s what another preacher preached about greed. And I am going to share just a bit of his words and before I begin. He’s using covet, covetousness to talk about greed: and he says:
For plainly the world, particularly in our day, is completely submerged in the vice of covetousness. It is impossible to enumerate the subtle arts it can invent, and the good and beautiful things it knows how to pass off whereunder it masks itself as a thing not to be considered sinful, but rather extremely virtuous and indicative of uprightness. And so idolatry ever does. While before God it is the worst abomination, before the world its appearance and reputation are superior. So far from being recognized as sin, it is considered supreme holiness and divine worship. …It is evident the vice is gaining ground. With its false appearance and ostentation, and its world-wide prevalence, it is commonly accepted as legal. Without censure or restraint, men are engrossed in coveting and accumulating to the utmost. Those having position and power think they have the right to acquire by violence as much as they can, daily making assessments and imposts, and new oppressions and impositions upon the poor. And the common rabble seek gain by raising prices, by extortion, fraud, and so on. Yet all desire not to be charged with wrong-doing; they would not they should be called unchristian on account of their conduct. … If you will not desist from the vice of covetousness, then know you are not a Christian.

A quick guess out there, who might have preached those words? Yes, Luther, Martin Luther in a sermon on the passage from Colossian. And what he is saying in a more modern world is that greed is truly the root of all evil, but what makes it worse, greed the acquiring of wealth, trying to get ahead, the very making of money, and the ways we go about it, well our world, our culture, back then and today just assume it’s normal. We, if not worship rich, those who have made it, we too want a piece of the pie, we want to be movin on up an apartment in the sky, or we want at least enough to make our problems disappear. And this quest to make money, money, money, to make profits–is so evil, is so nefarious because it masks itself, it makes us think that its’ normal, that it’s the only way to live. It’s the only way to meet our needs, and that is idolatry.
You see we all have holes in our lives, they don’t need to be empty pockets, wallets, and bank accounts if we’re lucky enough even to have them. We all have fears and insecurities, so we work, work, work like the writer of Ecclesiastes talks about, we hope to prepare and to take care of ourselves. All we are thinking about is ourselves.
That was the problem with the guy in Jesus’ story. He thought his bigger barn filled with food and good stuff would bring him happiness, would take care of him. He didn’t think about others. He didn’t think about their need, and he didn’t think about his need for them.
Remember If we call ourselves Christians, if want others to call ourselves Christians, it means follow Jesus. And Jesus is the one who fed the hungry, Jesus is the one who overturned the tables of the temples market place, Jesus is the one who reminded his people again and again to listen to the good news of the prophets Isaiah, and Micah, and to do more than even the laws of Moses which set up systems to care for the widow, the poor, the orphan, the stranger who in the Old Testament is the immigrant.
We will never have enough money to fix our problems, we will never have enough money to keep us safe, we will never have enough money. Because money isn’t the answer. Instead it is God, and what God gives us, forgiveness to heal our broken hearts, to mend our broken relations. It is God who gives us one another and allows us to live for and with one another, to truly care for one another. It is God who gives our life meaning and frees us from all empty things, who frees us from all things vain. Amen.

Let’s get dirty — sermon for Ash Wednesday, 2013

Since when did dirt become the same, become synonymous with bad–dirty thoughts, words, deeds? When a cop is bad, they’re dirty. When we don’t want to get involved–we don’t want to get our hands dirty. The word smut which we use to talk about the worst things like porn, is just the name for a small flake of dirt like the ash from an engine or coal.
I ask again how did dirt get to be so bad? It wasn’t always so. Just ask a child. The dirt is the earth’s play doh, it is monsters and armies, it is mud pies and smiles.
Ask a gardener like I’ve been trying to become. Dirt is good, it is the womb full of nutrients, the place that holds the water where the seed can grow to become cucumbers, and tomatoes, melons, and the food we need. Dirt is the place of creation as God in the 2nd story of creation in Genesis chapter 2. We are told God forms us out of dirt. So how did dirt get to be so bad?
Somewhere along the way, dirt becomes the enemy we want to keep at bay. We want it to stay in it’s proper place–to stay put in the garden, in the pot, in the yard, along the sidewalk. It is not socially acceptable on our clothes, in the carpet, in our air, underneath our fingernails,and on our skin.
That’s the problem with today–tonight we take the dirt, the ashes of old dried palm leaves, take this dirt and wear it on our skin, not even on our knees as if we’d been hard at work, but on our heads as if we’d tripped head-on, face first into the mire and the murk.
Which we surely have done. The dirt we wear, the ashes on our foreheads show to all the world that we have indeed fallen. And that is why it make us uncomfortable. It is the admitting that we are falling out of our pristine palaces of purity. No matter how much we pretend we haven’t fallen, we have. Fallen into gossip, run head long into hate, fallen into the welcoming arms of greed and fear.
We have fallen into the mire of life. We can’t keep our hands from getting dirty in the workings of this world. Our sin clings to us, get’s in and underneath our fingernails, in each and every crack and wrinkle, it gets into our eyes, it smells and is every just like the dirt and ash. Sin, like death, like dirt and dust is unavoidable and inevitable. Tonight we get to admit it, let our guard down, stop pretending we’re perfect, this dirt cleanses us from the great sin of self-righteousness. And we receive, simply receive the release of God’s love, freeing us to live today and tomorrow, not in fear of dirt, not in fear of sin,not in fear of the stuff of
life, but embracing it, getting our hands dirty in this God’s world, falling deeper and deeper into love with it, with one another, and with the God who claims us. The God who isn’t afraid of a bit of dirt, isn’t ashamed of us, but reaches out to touch, to hold, to mark us with the mark of a life well worn with love, the cross of life. Come, come remember, admit, be at peace that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Amen.