10th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Kings 4:42-44
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who is faithful in all words and loving in all works. Amen
We have a God whose love and works
surpass human understanding.
We can’t explain how Elisha
was able to feed a hundred men
with a little bit of bread and corn
let alone Jesus feeding five thousand
with five loaves of bread and two fish
Jesus’ walking across the top of the sea of Galilee in a storm
defies the laws of nature that God set in place,
and these are only the examples
we have from the readings for today,
the Bible is filled with stories that we can’t explain,
at least with head knowledge,
logic and reason
But with heart knowledge,
our ability to accept the reality of mysteries
we know that these stories tell us the truth,
the truth about God and what it means to be a child of God.
As a society,
we’ve come to depend almost entirely on head knowledge,
for something to be true it must be able to be proven.
Now I’m not discounting science and measurable outcomes,
the ability to understand the world around us
is a gift from God and has done much good,
but we limit our experience of life
if we rely only on head knowledge
and dismiss the power and truth of heart knowledge,
truth that defies explanation
and yet exists in the world.
So what do we who live in a world of logic do
with truth that defies explanation?
I think our best course
is to follow the lead of the psalmists
who in the face of the inexplicable
takes the time to describe their experience,
Have you ever noticed that about the psalms?
Especially the psalms of lament,
the psalmist goes on and on about how awful life is
and then at very end they give praise to God,
and it seems to go against everything that came before,
but we recognize the truth in these psalms
because that’s how people of faith live,
with the ability to tell God everything that’s going wrong
and at the same time still praise and trust God.
Our psalm for today is a psalm of praise,
in praising God,
the psalmist describes the actions of God,
who upholds all who fall and lifts those who are bowed down,
who satisfies the desire of every living thing,
who is near to all who call,
and throughout this litany of what God does
there is a kind of refrain
as the psalmist says: “You Lord, are faithful in all your words and loving in all your works.”
and later again “you are righteous in all your ways and loving in all your works.”
Even if we don’t understand what God is doing with our head knowledge,
we know with our heart knowledge
that God is faithful to God’s promises
and God acts in love.
And so we live into that truth.
It’s why we baptize babies like Royce.
Yes she doesn’t understand what that splash of water was about,
and if we’re honest we don’t always fully understand either,
but she does understand love
and ultimately that’s what is at the root of what happens at the font,
God loved the world so much
that God sent Jesus,
and in his death and resurrection
Jesus bridged the gap between God and humanity
and God who is faithful in all words
claims us as children of God,
and God who is loving in all works
gave us a sign of that promise
so that on the days when we have doubts
we have a moment in time to point to and can say
I am baptized! I am a child of God! I am loved!
And though we only baptize once,
the water and the word are just the beginning of the baptismal life,
a life where we live into the love and identity that God has given us,
which is why we all promised to continue to live in community with Royce
and we promised that as she grows
to bring her to the table
and to teach her the creed and the ten commandments, and the lord’s prayer,
and when she can read we’ll place the scriptures in her hands,
all the while continuing to surround her with love,
as we strive to do with all God’s children.
And we pray with Paul
that God work through this community
to strengthen her inner being with the power of the spirit,
that Christ may dwell in her heart
as she is rooted and grounded in love,
and we pray that she grows into some understanding
but most of all
that she knows with head and heart
the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
That is our prayer for Royce,
and for all God’s children,
including those of us gathered here,
that we may be filled with all the fullness of God
and that secure in our beloved identity as children of God
we may overflow with praise for the one who is faithful in all words
and loving in all works. Amen
9th Sunday After Pentecost
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who is our unity and peace. Amen
We live in a world divided.
I know, it’s an obvious statement,
one so obvious that it hardly needs saying
everywhere we turn it seems like another division is appearing,
another crack in the ground beneath our feet
separating us from our neighbor,
it’s chaotic and tiring
and frankly sometimes it’s hard to know what to believe
or if it will ever settle down.
into this division
Paul proclaims that our unity and peace come from Christ
And in the midst of the daily conflict
this sounds perhaps a bit hollow,
a nice sentiment to be sure, but idealistic,
out of touch with reality,
we’ve become so tired by everything around us
that we even question the peace of Christ as hollow optimism.
yet, when we dig a little deeper,
this unity and peace in Christ
that Paul proclaims on behalf of God
is based entirely on reality,
it is a message of hope
because it is unity and peace
that have arisen from chaos,
much like what swirls around us today
Chaos is nothing new to us humans
we heard God speaking through the prophet Jeremiah
in our first lesson,
“Woe to the shepherds who scatter the sheep of my pasture! Says the Lord.”
and God goes on to promise
to gather the scattered together again
and to raise up from David a righteous branch,
who shall lead and bring about justice and righteousness.
As Christians we believe that God fulfilled that promise in Jesus
who we see in our gospel
having compassion for the crowds
because they were like sheep without a shepherd,
pressing in on Jesus and his disciples
such that they couldn’t even eat,
and when Jesus and the disciples get in a boat
to go to the wilderness, to rest
and get back in touch with God
the crowd anticipates where they are going and follow them,
wherever Jesus goes
he creates an uproar
because the people,
the everyday people on the ground,
need so much,
education, health care, food, hope.
And they find it in Jesus who is our unity and peace
Unity and peace that comes about
through the sacrificial actions of Jesus
as Paul reminds the Ephesians: “For he [Jesus] is our peace, in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us… he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one spirit to the Father.”
Jesus brings peace and unity by crossing boundaries,
often invisible and stronger than physical barriers.
He sees a crack in the ground as a place to build a bridge or take a bigger step,
he sees people on the other side as friends he hadn’t met yet,
he sees all as beloved children of God
who need the loving direction of a good shepherd
who will see the sheep through the peaks and valleys of life
whose sheep are unified through the shepherd.
Jesus’ peace disrupts the world,
because it is true peace,
where all live in harmony with one another,
as opposed to the peace of the world
where one group finally dominates another group
and there is an absence of open conflict.
is a peace that must be practiced,
it starts small and begins to grow.
In our second reading
Paul is giving the Ephesians a pep talk
before they continue with the mission of Christ
and in the part we heard today
he reminds them
that though they are one community
now they started out as two,
two communities that the world said would never get along,
and even in Christ,
at the beginning
there were conflicts,
fights over what was required for a person to become part of the community,
and now people who started out as divided strangers
“are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord…”
Sometimes when a community is established
it’s hard to remember just what it took to get that way
Peace and unity,
even peace and unity in Christ
is a state that is intentionally grown into
which means ultimately that there’s hope for us
and the world around us
because in Christ we are called be growers of peace and unity.
Peace and unity grow
when we take the time to listen and try to understand
someone who holds a differing opinion than ours,
peace and unity grow
when we reach out instead of pushing away,
peace and unity grow
when we build bridges and cross boundaries
to reach the children of God on the other side,
peace and unity grow
when we know that we have enough
and work to share the extra.
And yes this is hard work,
so there are times
when we need to go to the wilderness,
to reconnect with God,
to regain hope for the large task still ahead of us
so that when the seemingly endless crowds
push in around us
we can still look with compassion
rather than contempt
as we remember that we too
were once in that situation
but like lost sheep
Jesus found us,
brought us into the fold
and continues to care for us like the good shepherd that he is,
guiding us in unity and peace. Amen
8th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ
grace and peace to you
from the one who destined us for adoption as Children of God. Amen
Identity and purpose,
these are the threads that run through our scripture today,
calling us to consider who we are
and what that means for our lives.
And who we are,
are people chosen by God.
Our reading from Ephesians
hammers this home again and again,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ… He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will...In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance...you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.”
God has acted decisively in regard to our identity,
there can be no question,
we are God’s
and while we use a variety of images
to try to explain this,
the end result is always the same,
God has chosen us,
not because of anything we have done or earned
but because that’s who God is.
We are God’s because of the grace of God.
And the appropriate response is to live for the praise of God’s glory.
When faced with such a gift,
what can we do but offer praise to God?
And how do we praise God?
In worship, prayer and song certainly
but also with how we live our lives,
consciously living out God’s vision for the redemption of the world,
a vision lived and taught by Jesus,
one where all people have value
and are treated accordingly,
value that is based on their God given identity
and not on the many ways that the world has found
to define and divide people,
rich or poor,
healthy or sick,
by place of birth,
color of skin,
what value they’ll add to the economy, age,
the list goes on
And here’s the hard part,
those with power
don’t like when we live for the praise of God’s glory in this way,
and sometimes we have to admit
that when we have power,
we aren’t always comfortable living for the praise of God’s glory either,
because at times the blessings of the world
seem to outweigh the blessings of God.
But that doesn’t change who we are
and what we are supposed to do,
and yes this is difficult,
our passage from Ephesians
is a kind of pep talk to the community,
building them back up before sending them out into the world again,
a world that is unreceptive to their message,
that will resist it in all ways possible.
The prophets are familiar with this resistance,
two prophets join us today,
in the Hebrew scriptures and in the gospel.
Amos is called by God to pronounce judgement on Israel,
and when he does he is confronted by the priest
on behalf of the king,
who says ‘I know you have a message, just go someplace else and share it, the king and the land can’t take it, I won’t kill you, just go away.’
to which Amos responds (I paraphrase of course)
‘I feel you buddy, I was minding my own business tending my farm and my flock when God told me to go prophesy to the people. I don’t see myself as a professional prophet, just someone who is doing what God told them to do.’
In other words,
this isn’t about earning a living as the priest suggests
but a response to the call of God,
however inconvenient that may be.
God works through all of us,
not just the professionals.
And then we have our friend John the Baptist
and the end of his story,
John who dared to tell the King what everyone knew,
that it wasn’t lawful for him to marry his brother’s wife Herodias,
who hated John for pointing that out
because she had more power married to Herod than his brother Philip.
So Herod puts John in prison
but protects him
because he has some respect for John as a holy man,
but then comes the night where Herod hosts a banquet
and is pleased by his daughter’s dancing,
and in front of everyone present,
all his officials
Herod promises to give her whatever she wants.
She consults her mother
and runs back to ask for the head of John on a platter
and Herod is presented with a choice:
protect a man who he knows to be righteous and holy
in front of all his officials
or maintain the facade of his benevolent power and do as requested.
And we know which he chooses
John is beheaded in prison
and that is the end of that prophet.
Everything is at stake when we proclaim the message of God.
John lost his head,
Jesus was crucified,
but that was not the end.
God is bigger than the resistance the world puts up
bigger even than death,
in God life goes on,
and so does the message we are called to proclaim,
and more than proclaim we are called to live,
The message that God
“set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
And when God says all, God means all.
Even the people we don’t think deserve it.
At the youth gathering
Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber spoke about grace
and her struggle with the fact that God’s grace is
“Both for me and my haters.”
She confessed she struggles with the wideness of God’s grace,
Her struggle is not a particular to her
we all do at times,
because it just doesn’t seem fair
and yet the only way that God’s good news
can be good news for us,
is if it is good news for the people we can’t stand,
even for the people who have hurt us,
because when it comes down to it,
we don’t deserve God’s grace either.
God claims us as Children
Has included us in the inheritance of redemption
And marked us with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit
So how can we not live to the praise of God’s glory? 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.