Second Sunday in Advent
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who comes to transform the world. Amen
So we’ve got trees all over our advent readings for today,
images of trees
and talk of preparing for the coming of the Lord,
and while the images seem to be contrasting
they both point to the promise
that God will come,
judge the world
and that God’s judgment
will transform the world in ways human judgement cannot.
First we have Isaiah,
and the image of a shoot coming out of the stump of a tree
and a branch growing out of its roots.
This is an image of hope
for a people who feel like they’ve been cut down
and all that’s left is a stump,
yet new life is possible from that stump.
Appearances can be deceiving says the prophet Isaiah,
the people of Israel
may look like a stump
but God will make sure that new life appears,
in the form of a leader,
one anointed by God
“The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”
we understand this passage
to be referring to Jesus,
and the prophet continues,
this is what this leader will be like:
“He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth”
Now this is a very different way of judging
than we’re used to as humans,
our system of justice is based on proof,
what eyes have seen and what ears have heard
and this organized system
is a step up from the initial way we judge
which is based on our gut instinct and prejudices,
but whether we’re judging based on intuition or on evidence
as humans we only have the smallest amount of understanding
of the people and situations about which we are making judgments.
The judgment of the anointed of God
is judgment through God’s perspective,
a perspective ruled by righteousness,
with the full picture of all that is going on,
all the contributing factors
including God’s belief in the goodness of creation.
And the effects on the world will be astounding,
former predators and pray living side by side
without anyone getting eaten,
children playing with deadly snakes without harm coming to them,
knowledge of the Lord filling the earth
and the shoot that has become a strong branch
signaling to the rest of the nations that God is the true God.
The one who will bring this vision to reality
is the one for whom John the Baptist is preparing,
and he too uses a tree image
but from a very different angle,
he is recommending some logging take place:
“But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for Baptism he said to them ‘ you brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves ‘we have Abraham as an ancestor; for I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is laying at the root of the trees; every three therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Where the people Isaiah was preaching to needed comfort,
the people John is speaking to
are people who need some shaking up,
there hasn’t been a prophet for a long time
and then John comes onto the scene
with the very prophetic message of: Repent! Turn back to God!
And the people come flocking to him,
they are ready for God to do something new,
they are ready for God to judge the injustices of the world
and make them right
but then the leaders come out,
leaders who tend to be more cautious
about prophetic change
preached from the mouth of a guy dressed in camel’s hair
dunking people in the river,
and John has a special message for them
“don’t think God’s done working and that you have it all figured out” he tells them
‘something new is coming
and that means change,
and to get ready for that change
we need to clear out some of the old ways
that aren’t working anymore
actually that’s what God is coming to do,
to cut off the branches that don’t make for justice or righteousness anymore
And It’s my job to get you ready John says
“but I can only get you clean on the outside,
the one who is coming will clean you up on the inside
he will baptize you with the holy spirit and fire.”
Now we tend to associate fire with punishment
but it can also be an image of purification, cleansing.
The purest gold comes from melting it down
and getting it so hot that the things that aren’t gold burn away.
If we want to clear a section of land for farming or building a house
we make a pile of the trees and branches
which we burn to get rid of,
we have judged those trees and branches unnecessary
and we clear them out of the way to create room for something new.
This is what Jesus is going to do John says,
judge what needs to be cleared out in each of us
to create space for new life in God.
This is the image of separating the wheat from the chaff,
both are part of the same plant
but the chaff gets in the way of using the wheat.
There is wheat and chaff in each of us,
Jesus will judge what needs to go
and what needs to stay
and will create space for new life in each of us,
in a word save us.
To meet Jesus
is to be judged and saved at the same time,
to be seen fully with the eyes of God
that see both the sins and imperfections
and the worth inherent in all creation,
worth so great that Jesus went to the cross
to bring Isaiah’s vision to reality
and with his resurrection the turning of the ages began
but it is not yet complete,
Lions still munch on antelope
and I don’t intend on going near any rattle snakes any time soon,
but our call is to live into the vision
that has already begun,
this is the work of advent,
during which we are called to repent,
turn toward God and face the judgment and salvation found there,
purifying and creating,
and then we are sent back into this world in transition
to live out the new life we have been given
this is the baptismal life,
the daily dying to sin and rising to Christ,
the continual pruning of our branches
so that fruit might grow
and the reassurance that fruit will grow,
fruit that will turn enemies into friends,
violence into peace,
fruit that will transform the world
in the image of God. Amen
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who draws us to God. Amen
Welcome to the beginning of a new church year,
as always we start off with Advent and waiting.
For what do we wait?
We wait for the day of the Lord,
Jesus’ return that will fulfill God’s will on earth as in heaven.
When will this come?
We don’t know,
not even Jesus knows
he tells the disciples in our gospel from Matthew today,
the time is unexpected
Jesus uses the example of the homeowner
who, if he knew his house was going to be broken into
would have stayed up all night
to prevent the thief from breaking in,
which while true
is an unrealistic way of preparing
for an event occurring at an unknown time.
This is the way we usually think of preparation,
that last minute house cleaning
for the guests arriving in the next few days,
the bustle of preparations made
when we know that the time of the special occasion is at hand.
But that kind of preparation
is not possible when we don’t know when it’s going to happen.
Yet Jesus still tells the disciples
to be ready for the coming of the Lord,
and the readiness he is talking about
is more a way of life
than a last minute shoving of things into closets.
It’s living as if the Lord were coming tomorrow
all the time.
Paul in Romans
uses the image of clothing,
“put on the Lord Jesus Christ”
he tells the waiting community,
clothing is something separate from us
that becomes a part of who we are
since we generally speaking wear clothing all the time.
and it impacts how we live our lives
choosing to put on sweatpants
leads to something very different
than donning a three piece suit.
And sure sometimes a new pair of pants feel uncomfortable
but the more we wear them
the more comfortable they become
and soon we don’t even notice them.
Putting on Christ is similar,
at first it may seem strange and uncomfortable
but like with many things,
the more we do it
the easier or more natural it becomes
like putting on a comfortable sweater.
Much like the sweater Mr. Rogers puts on
at the beginning of his show.
Fred Rogers, is someone who lived a life
prepared to meet Jesus in everyone he met.
There’s a movie based on his life out now
so there’s been a lot of talk about him again,
how he genuinely loved people
in a way that people didn’t expect,
that love was the love of Christ,
an ordained Presbyterian minister
Fred Rogers clothed himself in Christ,
and lived the love of neighbor taught by Jesus.
He didn’t advertise his show as ministry
(though for him it was)
and people weren’t drawn to him
because of a title of position,
they were drawn to him
because of his love for people,
and his love changed the lives of the children who watched his show
and the people with whom he came in contact.
It’s that kind of love and lifestyle
that we are to put on,
to live in a way that draws people to God
because they want to experience the life we have in God.
This is the image in Isaiah,
the purpose for the chosen people,
they are to live with God
and it will change their lives in such a way
that the rest of the nations will say:
“we want to live like that! Let’s go to the house of the Lord,
let’s learn what the secret to that life is”
and the result will be peace,
not just the absence of war
but harmony that erases even the need for the tools of war.
And yes that may sound too good to be true,
in the same way many people thought that Mr. Rogers
was too good to be true,
that he was playing a character
when in reality the gentle, curious, brave, loving man seen on tv
was the same one that people met in real life,
and they were transformed by knowing him.
Even now after his passing
people are still drawn to him and his message of love.
Put on Christ,
This is how we are to wait and be ready
and in the process spread the good news of God,
something we are also called by Jesus to do.
And the best way is not by focusing on the church
or advertising or having the hippest music
or the coolest pastor
but by living lives oriented toward God,
lives that have been transformed by God
and transform the lives of those around us.
We have all have these people in our lives
whether we’ve been aware of them or not,
who have shared their faith with us
by way that they lived out their faith,
and when they invited us deeper into faith
we were glad,
as the psalm says “I was glad when they said to me let us go to the house of the Lord”
at text study this week
we there were talking about how hesitant Lutheran Christians are
to invite someone to church,
mostly because we don’t anticipate
that invitation being me with joy.
But if we are glad to go to the house of the Lord,
to be in relationship with God
why wouldn’t others?
they need the peace that a relationship with God brings
and they might just realize it by watching us,
we might be the one
whose life the holy spirit uses
to draw them to God
and when we live like this,
we are prepared for the day of the Lord
whenever that comes,
we won’t need to hide things in closets
because we have nothing to hide.
Now this lifestyle of advent preparedness
is not perfected overnight
but over the course of a lifetime,
washed in the waters of baptism
we are called to daily put on Christ,
and sure sometimes it will feel like a new pair of pants
that need breaking in,
or like that coat that we are really tired of wearing come April,
but Christ keeps reaching out to us,
through the holy spirit and those around us
with love and forgiveness,
drawing us to himself,
sustaining us with his body and blood at the table
and every advent
calling us to wake up,
to renew the practice of preparation,
to be ready by being clothed in Christ. Amen
Christ the King Sunday
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who reigns in unexpected ways. Amen
I’ve been doing a lot of pre-marital counseling with couples lately,
there just seem to be a bunch of weddings coming up,
and in the first session of pre-marital counseling
I sit down with the couple
and we talk about how relationships are based on expectations,
for example when we set a date and time to meet with someone
we expect that they will arrive at the agreed upon time, right?
And if that doesn’t happen,
our expectation is broken
and so is the relationship at least in a small way
and that break needs to be repaired,
it can be as simple as the other person explaining that they were stuck in traffic
and their phone was dead, apology accepted the relationship moves on.
If the break isn’t fixed, even the little ones,
They tend to pile up until something small sets off a big explosion
Like the straw the breaks the camel’s back
It’s fairly straight forward right?
But often times our expectations are unspoken,
and many times we don’t even realize we have them
and so when they are broken by another person
thereby breaking the relationship
the odds are that the other person has no idea
that there’s been a break in the relationship
and therefore cannot work to repair the break
unless the other person tells them.
You can see how this is useful to understand
when going into a marriage right?
And it doesn’t have to be about big things,
which way the toilet paper roll goes
or how the dishwasher is loaded etc.
All this by the way applies to being a member of a group,
especially say a church congregation...
now these expectations don’t just appear overnight,
we’re not born expecting the toilet paper to always roll from the top
or knowing how to load a dishwasher,
these are things we are taught
whether directly from someone or through our life experiences.
And these expectations based on past experiences
help us navigate new situations or relationships
by giving us a framework for understanding
how to act and how the other person might act,
but these frameworks can also get in the way
when the new experience doesn’t line up exactly with our expectations.
All the people in our gospel for today
have expectations for Jesus.
Jesus is someone they are trying to figure out
and yet every set of expectations they use
to explain who he might be fall through
because Jesus doesn’t live according to the expectations of the world
which is initially disappointing
but in the end, really good news.
Our gospel is Luke’s account of the crucifixion,
the culmination of Jesus’ life (so it seems).
Jesus has been preaching and teaching publicly,
feeding crowds and healing outcasts,
gathering followers and enemies
and all have been trying to figure out the answer to the question,
who is Jesus?
And while each of the roles they assign to him carries a measure of truth
ultimately their expectations are disappointed.
We are told the people stand by watching,
the people that followed Jesus,
who hoped he might be the messiah,
the way out of oppression and misery
and yet here he is,
for all the wondrous things they have witnessed,
about to die on a cross.
The leaders of the people,
who have heard the crowds hoping that Jesus is the messiah,
scoff to see him up on the cross
“he saved others, let him save himself, if he is the messiah of God his chosen one.”
they expect that the messiah will be powerful enough to save himself
and that he will use that power
The empire of Rome sees Jesus as a rival,
one who has disrupted the peace
brought by conquering all in its path.
If the Jews think Jesus is their King,
they need to be reminded
that they have been defeated by Rome
and what better way to be reminded of that
than with a humiliating execution of the so called King.
The soldiers mock Jesus,
their experience of Kings is that they have power
and they wield it,
usually to save their own skin.
One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus
expects the messiah be powerful enough to save himself from this death,
oh and while you’re at it, why don’t you get me down from this thing too?
Some messiah you are he
says to Jesus when Jesus just hangs there.
All these expectations, all these disappointments.
So who is Jesus?
The person, the criminal, on the other side of Jesus
sees something else,
he sees an innocent man being put to death,
and perhaps he senses the true power that that takes,
more power than fighting to get off the cross,
because he says “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And Jesus replies “Truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise.”
It turns out that Jesus is all these roles
that people have tried to place him in,
king, messiah, human
and instead of breaking expectations
what he’s doing is exceeding them.
As Colossians reminds us,
Jesus is not just another charismatic human
who gathers crowds based on personality and skills,
no Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation...He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together..for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…”
crafted for humans
based on human experiences,
hold no chance against the fullness of God made visible,
our expectations have been set too low.
We have come to expect rulers
who wield power first for themselves,
then for the people they rule.
Jesus reigns as king on the cross,
for the sake of the greater good,
the destruction of death.
In the same way the expectation of the messiah
was an earthly expectation,
one who throws off oppression with military might
instead of one who takes on death and heals all creation.
Jesus’ fulfillment of the roles we have used to try to understand him
far exceeds our expectations,
sometimes even our imaginations
And even though Jesus is the image of the invisible God
in whom the fullness of God was please to dwell,
in many ways our own expectations of Jesus
are still earthly expectations,
like the second criminal
we expect to be judged according to our actions under the law,
and we expect to get what we deserve,
punishment and ultimately death,
and we are astonished each time Jesus judges us according to grace,
and tells us that we deserve to live.
Yet still we say to Jesus
remember me when you come into your kingdom,
hoping but not believing
And Jesus responds to us,
truly I tell you today,
you will be with me in paradise.
A response far beyond our expectation
but completely in line with who Jesus is,
the fullness of God
who reigns with grace and mercy,
beyond our expectations.
This is Christ the King. Amen
23rd Sunday After Pentecost
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who offers hope in the midst of chaos. Amen
In the calendar of the church year
we are nearing the end,
next week we will observe the festival of the Reign of Christ
and the church calendar will click over into a new year.
And as we’ve been approaching the end of the year
our readings have also been dealing with the end.
whether we call it the end of the world
or the end of life as we know it
or even judgement day,
this is a topic which we humans are fascinated with,
look at all the depictions we see in movies and literature,
where something catastrophic has happened
and what happens next is imagined.
Whether it is hunger games or zombies
or differently ordered societies
we keep coming back to what have been named apocalypses,
and however they are told
they have an element of fear running through them,
they are to be avoided.
Now the name apocalypse or apocalyptic
comes from a genre of writing
that is found in several places in the Bible
and while these writings do tend to come up with some odd images
their purpose is the exact opposite of fear,
they, in all their weirdness
are intended to offer comfort and hope
for people in the midst of situations that may feel like the end.
Apocalypse after all
just means revelation,
these messages are meant to reveal hope to the oppressed,
whether it was Jews in exile or facing the loss of the temple
or Christians living in secret in Rome
or people facing the loss of the way things have always been
and that’s what our apocalyptic texts for today do for us,
they point to hope.
The hope that God is in control of the end,
whatever that happens to look like
and with God in control
the people of God will be okay.
Now as good as that news is,
it does leave a question for us humans,
what is our role?
We like to control our surroundings
and we have just been told
that it is out of our control,
so we wonder, what are we to do?
and each of our texts for today offers insight to that question as well.
Malachi is short and to the point
with an image of evildoers burning up,
which, if you have been oppressed by the evildoers
is good news,
hope is found in the promise of justice for the oppressed
and God continues
“for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.”
God will bring the justice,
the role of humans is to revere God’s name
and this sounds good until we start to think
of all the times when we have not done that,
when we have forgotten God’s name,
the times when we have been evildoers
and we start to get worried again
But that’s where our Psalm comes in,
a song of celebration at the victory of God,
once again the promise is that judgement is God’s work
and the hope is found in how God will judge,
“O Lord, you have made known your victory, you have revealed your righteousness in the sight of the nations. You remember your steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel...The Lord will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity”
Judgement is God’s work
and God will judge out of steadfast love and faithfulness,
this is not some impartial deity
but one who loves us,
one who loves us so much
that God became human and died for us,
and so joined to Christ in our baptisms,
when God judges us
what God sees
is not all the times we’ve messed up,
the perfect one who has already forgiven us.
God’s got it all taken care of,
and so what is our role?
Our role is to sing praises to God,
to shout with joy,
to sing to the lord,
to make joyful noises on trumpets and tambourines
joining with the sounds of creation that also praise God.
God’s got it under control
and our role is to revere God’s name and praise God.
Sounds pretty easy so far
but having lived in the reality of the world
we know that’s not the full story,
which is where Jesus in our gospel for today comes in
as he anticipates the difficulties in store for his followers before the end.
The conversation starts out innocently enough
with some followers marveling at the temple,
it is the grandest building they have ever seen,
it is the home of God, look at it!
And Jesus tells them that one day the temple will be destroyed.
Now it’s important to note
that the temple in Luke
is seen as a good place,
it is the place of worship,
Jesus teaches there all the time,
he tries to clean it up,
he stayed there debating when he was 12,
the disciples go back after the resurrection and worship there.
The temple is the center of religious life,
Jesus is pro-temple,
so why would he be saying it will be destroyed?
Because Jesus knows that in between now
and the end which God has taken care of
living a life of faith will be difficult
and that even good centers of faith will be destroyed
and he warns his followers
not to focus on the wrong thing.
the life of faith while aided by places like the temple
is not defined by
it rather the promise that there is another way of living
apart from the values of the world,
a way of living where all are valued and cared for,
a way of peace where death does not have the last say,
and when bad things happen to good places
the role of the followers is to testify to this promise and vision of God.
Don’t get caught up in fear
trying to predict when these bad things will happen
Jesus tells his followers,
don’t look at the strife in the world
as signs for something more than what they are,
a reflection of the brokenness of this world,
instead you are to cling to the promise of God
and tell others of that promise.
I promise to be there with you Jesus says
to take care of you,
in the end not a hair of your head will perish,
remember God’s got it under control.
And I think Jesus is speaking directly to all of us with this conversation.
We are living in a time where our temple is coming down,
the institution of the church as we’ve known it,
is being dismantled before our eyes
even if we haven’t named it as such
we’ve felt the effects,
fewer people finding value in participating in a life of faith
and the changes in society that support that
people being scheduled to work on Sunday mornings,
youth activities scheduled then as well
things are not going the way they used to.
And I think despite Jesus’ warning
we’ve gotten caught focusing on the walls coming down
when really our role is to testify,
to testify to a life different from the kind valued by the world,
to live out that life to the best of our ability
and most of all to trust God’s promise of salvation and redemption.
And yes that will mean change from how things always were,
there will be grief
and a time where we don’t quite know where that next center of faith will be,
we will experiment and fail
but as long as we continue to hope in God
and testify to that hope
faith will continue,
and while it might be tempting to just give up on the testifying
and rest only in the hope,
that’s not what God wants for us either.
That’s why Paul had to write to the Thessalonians,
some of the community decided that their sole focus
was to be waiting on the day of the Lord,
and since that was coming soon
they didn’t need to do anything in this life,
especially if they had some resources stored up.
That’s not how this works Paul writes,
yes we’re living in hope of the day of the Lord
but we still have to attend to this life
that we’re living now
and that includes meaningful occupation and contribution to the community,
“do not be weary in doing what is right” Paul admonishes them
And yet sometimes we do grow weary,
weary of waiting,
of testifying to a world that doesn’t seem to hear,
of singing praises with a hurting creation
of revering the name of God even,
and that’s when Jesus brings us to the table
with the saints of all times and places,
forgives and feeds us
with his body and blood
and sends us out no longer weary
renewed in hope
to praise God and testify,
sharing the good news of God with a weary world.
God has claimed us,
nothing, not even the brokenness of the world
can change that
and so we set our hope on God,
we praise and we persist
knowing that in the end
God’s got it under control. Amen
22nd Sunday After Pentecost
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the God of the living. Amen
So we’ve got a hot debate
running throughout all of our texts for today,
it’s the debate over what happens next.
Now we all I’m guessing have wondered about this
at some point in our lives,
we may have even had some serious questions
even though we live in a pretty doctrinally settled time,
the institution of the church settled on the answers a long time ago,
found when we recite the creeds, the statements of belief,
what happens next?
According to the creeds the crucified,
resurrection and ascended Jesus
will return to judge the living and the dead,
and we believe in the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
But in time our readings were written
these were not settled questions,
and though on the surface the debate is about what happens after death,
the whole discussion is really about how what we believe about the next life
affects how we live this life,
something that is important for all of us to consider
and our readings give us a few examples and thoughts on the matter.
In our gospel
Luke tells us that some Sadducees come to debate Jesus,
Luke helpfully provides the information
that the Sadducees, who are scholars and officials in the temple,
are on the side of the debate that says there is no resurrection,
we live and then we die and that is it
and if there is any living on after death
it is in the memory of ones descendants
so with this view in mind
the debating approach they use
takes the logic of the other party, hyperbolizes it
and then criticizes the results.
In this case they give an example of levarite marriage
- the law that says that if a man dies without children
and he has a brother,
his brother is to marry his wife
to produce offspring to keep his brother’s name alive.
This law takes care of several things,
the issue of heirs and inheritance
but also the care of the woman who has been widowed,
This of course assumes that a woman is owned by her husband or father
which presents other issues
but that’s the structure they were working with.
Now the sadducees before Jesus
imagine a scenario where a woman is widowed by seven brothers,
if there’s a resurrection they say,
whose wife will she be?
She married all seven.
The undertone is that it would be ridiculous
for this woman to have seven husbands in the resurrection.
And Jesus responds that the scenario they have envisioned
is completely beside the point.
They’ve gotten caught up in the little details
that frankly are ridiculous when played out to the end
and these little details get in the way of seeing the bigger picture
which is that God is not God of the dead, but of the living
Marriage is for this life Jesus says,
it is one way that is used to make sure that people take care of each other,
but in the resurrection there is no need for these relationships,
especially ones where a person has status based on another,
I think we will still be in relationship with our loved ones from this life
But there will be no need to put boundaries like marriage in place
all are worthy, all are children of God, all are cared for
So, what does this mean?
It means that what we do in this life matters
not because of what happens next
but because of what happens now
God is concerned with the wellbeing of all the living
and we should be too,
in a way, Jesus is telling the Sadducees,
‘focus on how you live this life,
God’s got the next one all taken care of.’
Now there are times when that’s easier said than done,
look at Job,
we only get a snippet of his greater story
but the jist is that Job is a good person
who loves God and was doing really well in life
and it was all taken away as a bet between God and the accuser
to see if Job would turn away from God
when times got tough,
Job’s wealth, his children, even his health are taken away
and yet he refuses to curse God,
he curses the day that he was born,
and he certainly complains of his many sufferings,
and then to make matters worse,
his friends come and give him really bad advice,
they place the blame on Job in various ways
saying that he clearly must have sinned to be on God’s bad side,
that he should repent for his wickedness,
and yet Job maintains his innocence,
yes he wonders about that age old question
of bad things happening to good people
but he doesn’t give up on God,
to the point where even in the midst of all the terrible things in his present life
Job still proclaims “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;”
Sometimes when the present is unbearable,
we need the hope for the future to carry us through,
we need to believe that something better is out there for life
But this view can be taken too far,
to the point where we despise this life
and get caught in the trap
where we live just biding our time until the next, better life,
the focus of this life
becomes consumed by the vision of the next
and that is no kind of life,
especially because if questions arise
as to what happens next
as they inevitably will in the course of human life,
it then calls into question the whole meaning of life
and can be a cause of great anxiety.
This is apparently what happened to the community at Thessalonica
to whom Paul is writing in our second lesson,
they are so focused on waiting for the day of the Lord
that when something happens to put that in jeopardy they get really concerned,
Paul is writing to calm them down,
begging them not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed
when the day of the lord is brought up.
It sounds like someone had come and told the community
that the day had already come,
so they’re afraid they missed it,
Paul reassures them and then reminds them
“for this purpose (God) called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us...”
What are these traditions?
A bath as entrance into a community,
regular meals with Jesus,
the gathering together in community to hear the word of God,
caring for the vulnerable in this life
and sharing the good news of God.
Traditions, that make a difference our life now
and in the lives of those around us.
We as a community believe in the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
the life everlasting
and that God is the God of the living,
which means how we live right now matters,
not because of what will happen next,
but because life is precious to God.
and yes there are times in this broken world
when we need to focus on the hope to come
and there are times when we get caught in the details
that don’t really matter,
and times when we worry
and that’s when Jesus calls us back to himself,
his life lived among others,
his death for all,
his resurrection defeating death
and most of all his love for life.
So as you continue on in this life
Hear this benediction:
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and world.” Amen
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from Christ who is all and in all. Amen
There’s more to this world than meets the eye,
I think sometimes we forget this,
wrapped as we are in a world that requires proof for belief.
Now don’t get me wrong,
I think the scientific method is fundamentally important,
observations leading to conclusions
about how life works,
and of course proof is very necessary
in courts of law
when the freedom of someone is on the line,
but there’s more to this world than meets the eye
this is not an either or situation,
this is a both and situation,
there are many things we can and should observe
before we make conclusions,
and there are things beyond what we can see,
and there is truth in both.
And it’s this second part that we have lost touch with,
the truth that exists beyond our five senses,
and that gets to be dangerous for us
because we start to believe
that we can figure out and manipulate everything,
and if we can do that
we become responsible for everything
and that is overwhelming,
if everything is up to us
we quickly get in over our heads,
This is why the second step in the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous,
after the first step of admitting powerlessness,
is to come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore sanity.
(Step 3 is to turn our lives over to the care of God).
If we are responsible for everything
we quickly lose perspective,
There is more going on in this world,
in life than we can see
This sense of more
pervades our readings for today
Daniel is having visions,
terrifying dreams of kings and beasts
but in the end it is the Most high God
who will possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.
A song of praise in our psalm
turns into a celebration of the triumph
of God on behalf of the poor.
Jesus speaks of blessings and woes
that are the exact opposite of what we would call blessings and woes.
There’s more going on than meets the eye,
there’s more than just right now
and God’s the one who is in charge of it all,
the truth of what we see
and the truth that exists beyond.
And God has promised to take care of us,
and beyond, forever, forever and ever.
That’s what Paul is telling the Ephesians
in our reading for today,
reminding them and us
that even death is unable to hinder God’s will,
God raised Christ “from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”
in our baptisms
we have been joined to Christ
and marked with the seal of the holy spirit,
the mark of the cross on our forehead
as we entered the community of the saints.
We often use the title saint
for those who have died
but the title saint belongs to anyone joined to Christ,
and in Christ
not even death can get in the way
of the gathering of the community of saints.
Today we take a moment to pause and remember that,
along with the saints who are no longer with us in body
but who are still a part of the community,
saints with whom we gather around the table each time Christ feeds us,
Our liturgy invokes the presence of the whole community
as we approach the table,
in the words of the preface
we acknowledge that it is our duty and joy
to give thanks and praise to God
who saved us through Jesus Christ
and we conclude “and so, with all the choirs of angels, with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn”
and then we break into that song,
holy, holy, holy, we sing
with the host of heaven
as they gather to join in the feast as well.
communion is the meal of a community
that is not bound by time and space
though that can be hard to sense at times,
which is why Paul prays for the Ephesians, and us
this prayer: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you”
When the eyes in our head let us down,
it is the eyes of our heart
that reveal the truth beyond,
the eyes of the heart that hold on to hope
when everything seems hopeless,
the eyes of the heart
that see the seal of the holy spirit that marks us as a saint,
a member of the community in Christ
that stretches beyond time and space.
Today, as we observe All Saints day,
we look with the eyes of our heart
at our community and all its members,
especially the ones we no longer see with the eyes of our head,
we remember them and their lives lived among us,
how they impacted our lives
and then we join them once again
as we do each Sunday,
in singing the praises of God
and sharing a meal once more.
And we are left knowing,
the kind of knowing felt in our hearts,
the truth that there is more to life than meets the eye,
that we are loved beyond time and space,
that we are part of a community called to hope. Amen
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who sees us through the eyes of Christ. Amen
This month my bookclub
read one of the best books I’ve read in awhile,
Wonder by R.J. Palacio,
yes there was a movie made of it with Julia Roberts
a couple of years ago.
The book centers around the character of August Pullman
who is starting 5th grade at a new school,
actually it’s his first school,
he’s been homeschooled up to this point
because he was born with some genetic mutations
that wreaked havoc with his face,
from how it’s described in the book,
nothing is quite where it should be
and is quite startling
to people who have never seen him before
he’s come to expect that people will stare and react
but even the expected isn’t easy
when he is the center of attention for looking so different,
when really he is just another smart, funny kid.
Which is why August’s favorite holiday is Halloween.
He gets to dress up and put a mask on
and when he does
he becomes just another kid celebrating Halloween,
there is no longer any distinction between him and everyone else
he is free to just be a kid.
It’s this kind of freedom Jesus proclaims to us today.
The freedom to be what we truly are.
all of us want this freedom
And when we think of it from our human perspective
Sometimes it looks like being like everyone else.
Because there are so many ways to be divided and categorized,
and while not all of them are bad,
it seems like we humans are obsessed
with figuring out just which box everyone including ourselves fits into,
and if we’ve been placed in a box
we’re not happy with
we go to great lengths
to try and change how people see and categorize us,
we go into credit card debt to get those things that will make us fit in,
we exclude certain other groups of people to fit in,
we constantly try to figure out where people fit in and where we fit in,
and in our quest for freedom
we become bound to these things
and it’s exhausting.
But of course we don’t stop there,
we take this logic and apply it to God.
We want to know just where we fit in with God
and we think we can determine that
based on our own actions,
which is why people are attracted to interpretations of religion
with a lot of rules or strict codes of ethics
so they know where they stand,
if they do everything right then they are clearly on God’s good side
and as an added bonus
feel justified pointing out to others
when they break the rules
and therefore logically are on God’s bad side.
And this too is an exhausting way to live
because no matter how many rules we follow
or things we do right
the law will always end up showing us
just how short we fall of perfection.
This is what Paul is talking about in Romans
when he says “through the law comes knowledge of sin”
the law shows us that if it is up to us,
we will never be good enough
and that quickly leads to despair.
So it’s a good thing it’s not up to us,
Paul continues: “But now apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”
There is no distinction,
just like August Pullman on Halloween,
we are all the same,
according to the law we’re sinners,
according to Christ we’re saints.
God knows that the system of the law only takes us so far,
it gives us structure for living with one another,
and it shows us how much we need God
but that’s about it,
humans need more than the law
and God loves humans
so God sent Jesus to do whatever needed to be done
to bring God and humans together,
and that’s what Jesus did on the cross
a free gift given in love
so that now there is no distinction
when God sees us, God sees us through the eyes of Christ
and Christ sees us each as we are,
fearfully and wonderfully made by God.
Thinking about this reminds me of an experience
that I had the summer after my first year in college.
I taught swim lessons as part of my summer job
and in one class that I had,
I had a very energetic little boy,
he loved swim lessons and the water,
though he struggled with holding on to the wall
and waiting his turn while the other kids had their turns
but I could see that he really wanted to be there
and I was happy to teach him
but the other kids rejected him,
they didn’t want to be near him on the wall
and were impatient with his struggles to hold on,
and I was struck by the contrast,
his peers saw him as annoying,
someone to be avoided,
who they wished weren’t there,
and I saw him as an energetic little kid
who wanted to learn how to swim,
who was worthy of being there.
When God looks at us through the eyes of Christ,
God sees that little kid in all of us,
the one who is excited to participate in life,
who is worthy of being here in our own way.
In Christ we are set free from distinctions
and allowed to be fully ourselves,
not because of anything we have done but as a gift
and we accept that gift by trusting that it is so,
by having faith that God keeps the promises God makes.
Jesus tells his disciples
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples;
and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
The word of Jesus
is that nothing can separate us from the love of God
we have been set free,
free from the distinctions that others place on us,
free from the distinctions that we place on ourselves,
and Christ invites us to continue living in this freedom through faith.
Confirmands, this is the faith you publicly proclaim today
the faith that you are freed from sin
to love and serve your neighbors,
not because of anything you’ve done
but because of Christ
and as you stand before us, you are saying
you intend to continue in this faith,
to continue in the gift of freedom
living as Christ sees you, with no distinctions.
And it’s true,
there will be times when you feel different,
when you feel bound by the distinctions the world places on you,
but that’s why we gather as a community
where we hear the proclamation that there is no distinction,
and Jesus brings us to the table,
feeds us with his body and blood,
forgives us and reminds us of the gift that is already ours,
and strengthened we go out to live in freedom once again.
So dear confirmands,
dear people of Christ,
in whom there is no distinction,
continue in the word of God,
you know the truth and the truth has set you free. Amen
19th Sunday After Pentecost
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from our God
who calls us to faith, prayer and acts of justice. Amen
We have another parable for our gospel today,
commonly titled the parable of the widow and the unjust judge,
now another parable doesn’t really surprise us
because Jesus loves telling parables,
these little teaching stories
that have multiple meanings
and often leave the listener more confused
at the end of hearing them than enlightened.
Which is why we should be suspicious
when Luke tells us what the parable is about
before giving us the parable.
“Then Jesus told them a parable about the need to pray always and not to lose heart”
Luke pre-interprets the parable for us
and I’ve got to say,
if this parable is only about prayer
then I’m not sure I like the picture it paints.
We’ve got two characters the unjust judge,
who we’re told right at the beginning that is bad at his job,
he doesn’t respect the law,
or God or other people,
and we have a widow
who in terms of the law
has very little power
a woman’s legal status and protection
came through either her father or her husband,
which meant if a woman were widowed
she had not only lost her husband
but legal protection as well,
additionally wives were not allowed
to inherit their husband’s property
leaving widows in an extremely vulnerable state,
which is why the law emphasizes over and over again
that special care is to be taken for widows
So in our parable we have a widow in a legal dispute with someone
and we assume her cause is just,
and we have a judge whose job it is to settle the dispute
and he refuses to do his job
but this widow doesn’t give up
, she keeps coming to him
asking him to do his job,
again and again she comes
until finally the judge grants her justice,
not out of any concern for God or the law or the widow
but purely out of self preservation,
we hear his inner monologue
“Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,
yet because this widow keeps bothering me,
I will grant her justice
so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’
Now I discovered this week
that the translators really toned down the imagery
when the judge says the widow keeps bothering him
and gives her justice so that she won’t wear him out,
that seems pretty mild right,
more annoying than anything,
when in fact the greek uses boxing imagery,
this is a boxing match
and the direct translation is
: “so that in the end she may not come and strike me under the eye”
in other words, give the judge a black eye.
This widow is persistent,
in her pursuit of justice until it is granted to her.
I love this image,
the two characters in a boxing ring
the widow cornering the judge
landing punches until he gives up,
a true underdog match
but if this is about prayer
then I have a problem with it,
because at least at first glance
it seems that God is the unjust judge
and we are all the widow
and prayer is a relentless pursuit of God
to get what we want.
And I don’t think God or prayer work that way,
neither does Jesus by the way
his concluding remarks contrast God to the judge,
he says unlike the judge God doesn’t have to be badgered into giving justice
but will listen and respond quickly,
but I’ve got to say the contrast isn’t strong enough for me,
the image I am left with
is of the boxing match
and the widow throwing punches until she gets justice.
Now, if there were no pre-interpretation to this parable
that’s what I would think the parable is about.
Justice and the pursuit thereof,
the widow keeps coming
until justice is granted,
it often takes that kind of persistence
to get justice in the world
and we know we have a God who cares about justice,
In fact God fits the description of the widow,
one who continually comes to those in power in the world
until they do the right thing.
Think of the defining story of the exodus
where God sends plague after plague on Pharaoh
until the Isrealites are set free.
Jesus in his ministry
has been preaching and enacting justice too,
mostly among people in the place of the widow
with no power and few options,
he’s told them the world doesn’t have to be this way,
when someone is hungry, feed them,
when someone is sick offer medicine/ healing,
that is God’s vision for the world,
a vision that Jesus has been living all along the way
now Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and the cross
where the justice of God will be completed,
there are a variety of different ways to try to explain
what happens on the cross,
the words debt and substitution are often used
but these all fall short
but we do know the result,
for the sake of Jesus
God forgives us all the injustices we commit,
the breaches in relationship we’ve created
and God welcomes us with open arms.
Jesus concludes his interpretation of the parable like this:
“Listen to what the unjust judge says,
and will not God grant justice to his chosen ones
who cry to him day and night,
will he delay long in helping them?
I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”
and this interpretation makes sense to me
given what has taken place in the parable
and in the interactions between God and people.
But those of you who are paying close attention
know that there is actually one more sentence to Jesus’ conclusion:
“and yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
What? Where does faith come into this?
Just when we’d finally figured something out about the parable
faith gets thrown into the mix.
Just before telling this parable in Luke,
Jesus has been teaching his disciples
about the return of the Son of Man,
he’s told them that he will die,
rise three days later,
ascend to his father
and then after an extended absence return-
this is what we confess in the second article of the apostle’s creed
when we say “he will come to judge the living and the dead”
Jesus understands that this gap
will be long enough for people to lose faith,
but what does that have to do with justice,
or even prayer?
What is this parable about? Prayer? Justice? Faith?
Perhaps it’s all three,
Barbara Lundblad is a professor of preaching
and an amazing interpreter of scripture
and in a sermon on this text at the festival of homiletics last year
she suggested just that,
that this parable is actually about all three things,
prayer, justice and faith
because they are connected,
we can’t have one without the other,
if we pray but don’t seek justice
our prayers are empty-
this is why people react so strongly now
when politicians offer thoughts and prayers after a tragedy
without acting to correct the injustice that created the tragedy,
those thoughts and prayers mean nothing
if not followed by meaningful action.
On the other hand
if we work for justice and don’t pray
we will come to think everything depends on us,
we neatly cut God out of the equation
when in fact while our work is important
it is God who will bring about the full realization of justice in the world,
our actions are drops in the bucket,
meaningful drops, but drops all the same.
And finally Barabara Lundblad suggests
that if we manage to both pray and work for justice
but have no faith
we will give up when justice doesn’t come.
Think, how many times the widow appealed to the judge
before justice was granted her.
each round of the boxing match is harder to get up for.
Faith is often defined as trust,
lately I’ve been thinking that another good definition of faith
the willingness to wait for God.
Jesus wonders if he will find faith on earth when he returns,
so in the end,
perhaps the parable is about what Luke said in the first place,
about the need to pray always and not lose heart,
to work for justice in the world
as Jesus has commanded his followers to do
requires constant prayer
not so much to badger God
but to remind ourselves that we have a relationship with God
who acts for justice,
and it requires faith,
the trust that God will help us
and the patience to wait for the time when that justice will be realized.
So in whatever boxing match you may find yourself
pray, work for justice, have faith,
and don’t lose heart,
Christ is coming. Amen
18th Sunday After Pentecost
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from God who is powerful and gracious. Amen
Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart
the psalmists exclaims this morning
and goes on to extol why whole hearted thanksgiving
is appropriate for God,
Great are your works O Lord,
Majesty and splendor mark your deeds,
and your righteousness endures forever,
you have shown your people the power of your works
and so on and so forth,
painting a picture of a powerful God
capable of anything,
one who should inspire awe
and even a little fear
as the Psalmist concludes “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”
we start to become wise
when we realize how little power we have,
how limited our understanding of what God is capable of is.
And yet, as humans
we seem to frequently both expect great displays of power from God,
and miss or almost miss them when they occur
because God who is gracious and merciful and full of compassion
rarely acts as we humans expect,
namely in the same way that we would do something.
In fact it’s usually the opposite,
God frequently uses power
in ways we least expect
among the people we think don’t deserve it,
that is the grace of God,
forgiveness, mercy, salvation,
given because of the goodness of God
not because it is earned or deserved
And we’re generally okay with that
when that grace is directed toward us,
but it seems to really upset us
when others, especially our enemies
are on the receiving end of grace as well.
In fact that’s the key to grace
It’s for everyone
I was at fall theological conference earlier this week
and Bishop Maas reminded us all that
“It’s not grace until it upsets you”
(he used slightly stronger language than that).
God extending grace in the world
Will invariably upset someone
Take the story of Naaman,
God’s grace and mercy are on display
but in all the unexpected and dare we say wrong ways.
Naaman is not an Israelite,
in fact he’s spent a good amount of time
waging war on the Israelites
and has been successful enough to take captives as slaves,
and yet it’s that small girl from Israel
whose faith in the power of God
suggests that the prophet in service of the God of Israel
could heal her captor.
And Naaman who must be really itchy
decides to give it a try
and sends a letter to the King of Israel,
who thinks, this is a trap
another way to provoke war
why else would he write?
but Elijah the prophet tells the king to let him come,
and so Naaman comes in a great display of wealth
to meet this supposedly great and powerful prophet,
and what happens?
Elisha doesn’t even come out of his tent,
he sends a messenger telling Naaman to wash in the Jordan river seven times,
and this upsets Naaman,
he was expecting a display of power,
a great show at the very least
and all he gets is a messenger
telling him to go wash in a piddly little stream,
and he throws a temper tantrum
refuses to do as Elisha instructs
until his servants point out to him
that if the prophet had told him to do something difficult
he would have done it,
so why not try doing the easy thing that was actually instructed.
And seeing sense in that
Naaman goes and follows the instructions and he is healed.
He almost missed being healed,
witnessing the power of God
because the way God chose to work
didn’t seem powerful enough,
let alone the fact that from the perspective of Israel
he was an enemy of the people of God,
he certainly didn’t deserve to be on the receiving end of the grace of God,
and yet God acted with power, and grace.
It’s not grace until it upsets someone.
Equally potentially upsetting is our gospel story for today.
Jesus displays the power and grace of God
and even though it’s Jesus,
it’s still not what we expect from God
On the way to Jerusalem
Jesus passes through a boarder region
between Samaria and Galilee.
Remember in the Bible Samaritans
are the stand in for everyone
that we think doesn’t deserves the grace of God.
So Jesus is traveling through Samaria,
the proverbial wrong side of the tracks
and he is doing it intentionally,
there was a route from Galilee to Jerusalem
that avoided this region
As Jesus approaches a village in this borderlands
ten people with leprosy approach him,
in a place that is already on the margins
these are the marginalized,
those with leprosy were excluded from community life,
they were taught to keep a safe distance from everyone
because they were considered religiously unclean.
and even more than that,
logic of the day said
that these people were sick
because they were being punished by God
for something they had done,
even God doesn’t like them they were told
the people with leprosy call out to Jesus for mercy.
And Jesus see them.
and responds with mercy,
he heals them,
not with some flashy display
but by telling them to go show themselves to the priests,
And as they go they are made clean.
These people that conventional wisdom says
do not deserve the grace of God
And then one out of the ten
sees that he has been healed,
he recognizes God’s mercy at work in Jesus
and he turns back praising God with a loud voice and thanks Jesus.
And the punchline of the story
is that the one who gets it is a samaritan,
a leperous Samaritan, two strikes against him
and yet he is the one that returns and praises God.
Now to be fair
if I was one of those other nine
and I saw I was healed
I would continue to follow the directions of Jesus precisely,
he said go and show the priests
and that’s what I would do,
which makes it all the more upsetting
that the one who is praised
is the one that doesn’t follow through on the instructions.
See how easy it is to be upset by the grace of God?
And yet This is our God,
gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,
love so great that God became human,
and walked among us preaching and healing
even though God knew
that it would eventually lead to a brutal death on the cross
because that way of life
would be so upsetting to those in power,
or at least what passes for power among humanity
and even then
death could not contain God
and on the third day Jesus rose from the dead.
All so that we would no longer be tormented by the finality of death.
This is our God,
the one who offers mercy first and asks questions later,
Who extends grace to all,
even and especially to those who don’t deserve it,
grace that often goes unnoticed by us
and upsets us when we do,
grace that causes us to proclaim
Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. Amen
17th Sunday After Pentecost
Habbakuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
2 Timothey 1:1-14
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.
Today our lessons are talking about faith,
which is one of those things
that can be hard to talk about or even define
and yet each year I have the students about to be confirmed
write statements of faith,
I give them a pad of paper and say go for it,
write about your faith,
and each year they stare back at me for a few moments
unsure of where to begin
but after a moment and a few prompts
they figure it out
and each statement truly reflects the person who wrote it.
This weekend I met with our two 9th graders
who will affirm their baptisms at the end of the month
and As Mira and Aiden were writing
I went back through and read the faith statements from the past years
and while each had their own particular flair
common themes emerged,
The theme of Family as crucial to faith,
acknowledging that their faith grew out of parents
who got them baptized,
read them the bible
and made them go to Sunday school
The theme of belonging and acceptance
showed up again and again,
both as relates to God and community,
faith means knowing you belong to God
and that you belong to a community.
And lastly the theme of trusting God,
trusting that God will guide and be present in hard times
and in the way forward,
trusting God by following God in how life is lived.
All these expressions and definitions of faith
are found in our readings for today
but the readings go a step further,
they also address the times when faith is difficult,
Times where we cry out with the prophets
“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?”
because it seems like God is not listening,
that our prayers are going unanswered,
or even worse that not only do our prayers go unanswered
but that bad people,
the ones doing evil are succeeding in life
where we are failing,
they are prospering while we are left in the dust
and while the psalmist urges us not to be provoked by evildoers,
that they will fade away like grass,
that holds little consolation now in the midst of suffering.
Why don’t you just snap your fingers and make it all go away God?
We ask at times,
or we starting thinking,
maybe it’s not God,
maybe it’s me,
my faith isn’t strong enough,
and we stand with the disciples from our gospel for today
and demand of God “increase our faith.”
Jesus has just told them by the way,
that they should be continually forgiving those who sin against them
and the disciples feel that perhaps
they don’t have enough faith for that momentous task,
Jesus responds to their request
with his odd illustration of faith the size of a mustard seed
being able to replant a mulberry tree in the ocean
which is a little different from the mustard seed parable in Matthew
then goes on to talk about expectations for servants,
and what he’s saying
is that faith is not magic,
more faith does not equal greater things happening,
the existence of any faith is enough,
even the smallest amount is sufficient,
and this goes against everything that living in the world has taught us,
that more is better,
and not only is more better
but that we are responsible for acquiring it (whatever it is) in the first place
and then it is possible to work to increase it
based on our own hard work and merit.
That’s not how God works, Jesus says,
and it’s definitely not how faith works
because faith at its core is a gift from God,
we only have faith because God has given it to us.
Paul, writing to Timothy
reminds him that God
“saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
God has done all the work
and given us the gift of faith freely
and so we are tempted to wonder,
what’s our role?
Well, what do we do with gifts?
What does a kid on Christmas afternoon do?
They play with the toys they opened that morning,
take them out of the box and try them out,
and yes sometimes interest in the toy will wane
and it ends up on a shelf or more realistically in a pile in the closet
but just because the toy isn’t being played with
doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist
or was never given,
it just means that it’s waiting to be taken out,
dusted off and played with again.
And even if the kid forgets the toy exists,
Mom knows it’s there
and keeps it safe until it’s time to play with it again.
Our faith is a gift from God,
and though there are times when we lose interest
or put it on a shelf,
or even times when we fear we’ve lost or broken it
it is still ours
Paul writing to Timothy reminds him
that he’s been given the gift of faith by God,
and now it’s time for Timothy to reclaim it as his own,
much as our confirmands will do
as they take over responsibility for the promises made on their behalf
at their baptisms.
Paul uses the image of fire,
urging Timothy to
rekindle the gift of God that is within him
and just like the mustard seed image
the fire image shows that the smallest amount is enough,
it only takes a spark to light a forest on fire,
it is sufficient,
a little faith is sufficient to change our lives.
And yes a fire that is tended will grow
just as faith that is tended will also grow
and we may at times feel like we’re responsible for that growth and our faith
but we also have times in life when our faith seems insufficient
no matter what we do
and these are the times when the community steps in
and takes care of faith for us,
because we’re not in this alone,
those times when we have a hard time praying,
the community prays for us,
when we have a hard time waiting,
the community waits with us,
when we have a hard time believing
the community believes for us,
they take care of the gift for us because faith,
trust in God
is not just an individual thing, it is also a communal thing,
And yes, there are times when the faith of a community seems insufficient
and in those times,
Christ takes care of faith for us
and the faith of Christ is sufficient,
it is enough,
it is for us.
Paul says “I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.”
Ultimately faith is from God
and that is enough,
it is always ours,
even when we may not feel like it,
it is always held in trust by God
even when we feel responsible for it.
We are God’s,
we are enough. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.