2nd Sunday in Lent
Sermon Series on our mission statement: Rooted in Christ
Genesis 15:2-12, 17-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, grace and peace to you from the one in whom we are rooted. Amen
This lent we are spending our Sunday sermon time
revisiting our congregational mission statement
and thinking about what it means for us and the ministry that we do.
Last week we explored the first part of the statement:
Saved by God’s grace, through which
We acknowledge that we are gathered together,
not because we are better than everyone else,
or because we are trying to be
but because God has gathered us together,
as unworthy as we are,
to proclaim to us that we are loved by God
And that salvation comes from God, as a gift.
Today we move on to the next part of our mission statement.
Rooted in Christ.
And yes there is some tree imagery here,
the roots of a tree are what anchor it to the ground
and allow for flexibility higher up,
rigid trees or those with shallow root systems
are the ones that are blown over first in storms.
And of course the roots provide nourishment for the tree
to continually grow taller and wider
for as long as their roots and ecosystem support them.
Did you know that?
Trees never stop growing!
We are rooted in Christ,
through whom we are anchored and nourished,
who through this grounding and nourishing
calls us to flexibility and continual growth.
So how do we answer this call?
As Christians we are urged to live like Jesus.
Paul makes this argument many times,
in writing to the Philippians he says:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”
Then he goes on to explain what that means by quoting an ancient hymn:
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who though he was in the form of God
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,
and being found in human form,
he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name.”
Jesus is human,
Jesus is God,
ultimately, out of love for the world,
he died on a cross,
and God raised him on the third day,
He did this after being born in a stable,
gathering followers and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God,
and teaching how to live the kingdom life on earth
principally through love and service of others.
We are to be like Jesus.
While this seems like an admirable goal,
I don’t know about you but it also seems like a tall order,
so tall as to be impossible,
in fact, anyone saying ‘be like Jesus’
risks setting expectations for themselves and others
that will only be disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong,
we should still try to be like Jesus,
but how many times have we been disappointed in ourselves
in others, in the Church,
for not living up to the standards of Jesus,
the Jesus who eats with sinners and washes disciples’ feet,
who forgives those who seek to harm him,
who includes those on the margins.
It is so easy to become disillusioned by our failures
and wonder why even try?
but that is when we need to take a step back
and realize that the most fundamental thing about Jesus
is that he shows up.
Even when he knows that trouble lies ahead he is present.
We see this in our gospel for today
aware of what awaits him there,
still heads for Jerusalem.
Some Pharisees come and warn Jesus
that Herod, the ruler of the area,
wants to kill him.
Usually Pharisees are portrayed as being against Jesus,
but these Pharisees are looking to help him out,
these are good guys,
and yet Jesus dismisses their warning
and even sends them back to Herod
to tell him right where he’ll be until he heads for Jerusalem
and it’s not as if the warning is misplaced
or Jesus fails to understand the danger,
he knows exactly what awaits him,
and it grieves him, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Jesus knows what awaits him,
and he goes anyway.
Jesus shows up where he is needed to offer care, offer himself,
even if that care, even if he, is rejected.
And Jesus grieves this rejection,
we could substitute so many things for the Jerusalem of his lament,
places that are supposed to be holy,
people who you would think would be open to the messages of prophets
who in turn reject them.
Even when we’re trying our hardest
we still struggle,
the pharisees test Jesus,
they get it wrong,
the Pharisees try to warn Jesus,
they get it wrong,
sometimes it feels like no matter what we do,
we get it wrong,
and yet Jesus still comes to us.
He shows up at celebrations and in the good times yes,
but also and especially
in the places of suffering and rejection,
and he works through those times to bring about new life.
Jesus is present on the cross,
and Jesus is present three days later outside the tomb.
And Jesus continues to show up for us,
he is there when two or three are gathered in his name,
and he is there when we feel all alone
he is present at the font in the waters of baptism,
he is there with those who are excluded
Jesus offers himself to us at the table
his body and blood in with and under the bread and the wine,
He is there when the hungry are fed.
Jesus forgives us our failures
And send us out to try again.
This is the one in whom we are rooted,
the one from whom we draw strength and nourishment,
the one who holds us steady
even as he calls us to flexibility
in the midst of the storms of life.
Because of Christ we know who we are, whose we are, and our purpose,
we are children of God,
saved by grace through faith in Christ,
who calls us to bring the kingdom of God near
first and foremost, by simply showing up
rooted in the love of God. Amen
1st Sunday in Lent
Sermon Series on our mission statement: Saved by God's Grace
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who saves us by grace. Amen
We hear in our gospel for today
that after he is baptized
the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness
where for forty days he is tempted by the devil.
This seems like an odd thing for the Holy Spirit to do,
but in a way it is a particularly human experience for Jesus,
I’m not aware of any other creature
that intentionally goes to live in a way
where it is harder for them to survive,
but humans have a long history of this,
of going away from the safety of other humans
and fasting from the very things that we need the most,
food and water,
and doing this just to test ourselves or seek a spiritual experience.
Lately I’ve been watching a lot of this tv show called “Alone”
it’s a reality show where ten people are taken to a remote place with only a few tools
and they have to survive for as long as possible
and when they’re done or they’ve reached their limit
they can pull themselves out,
or they can be removed by the show for medical reasons,
and the last person left, the one who goes the longest wins $500,000
and of course since it’s a tv show, they have to document their experience with cameras,
and it’s fascinating to watch,
because the people come in with all kinds of motivations,
for some it’s about the money,
others want to test their survival skills,
others want time to connect with the land,
and everyone has a different breaking point or reason for pulling out,
I think the shortest time was only a few hours,
a guy was all excited and then when he was dropped off
he hiked around a bit, saw a bear, and was like “I’ve made a mistake, come get me”
other people are drawn back by family, or injury,
and some last a really long time,
and that long time is always marked by hunger
and when they’re hungry,
food is all they can think about,
they talk about dreaming about food.
When we don’t have it food it’s all we humans think about,
so it’s no surprise that that’s the temptation the devil starts with
when Jesus is famished at the end of his extended stay in the wilderness,
and yet Jesus resists,
so the devil moves on to another strong desire of humans,
we all need to have at least a little power in our lives,
usually the ability to make a least a few decisions for ourselves fills this need
we see this in toddlers starting to assert their independence
in determining what they will wear (or not)
or the foods they will eat,
usually even a little autonomy satisfies the need,
but lack of power in one area
can quickly turn into an abuse of power in others,
we’ve all met people who let even a little power go to their heads,
and left unchecked the desire for power has catastrophic consequences,
abuse, oppression, war.
We talk about people making deals with the devil for power,
and that’s what the devil offers Jesus,
authority over all the kingdoms of the earth,
if he will bow down and worship him.
Jesus, resists this temptation
and so the devil moves on to the last classic weakness of humans,
the desire to put God to the test,
sometimes it’s as simple as saying
God if you’re there then fill in the blank will happen,
for some it’s to try and see if God will keep the promises God makes,
which is why the devil cites scripture
as he tells Jesus to put God to the test.
But Jesus cites scripture right back
and finding himself beaten
the devil leaves, but only for a moment.
And Jesus leaves the wilderness
and only then does his public ministry begin.
Sometimes we have to go through some things,
whether it’s something we choose
or something imposed on us
before we can become fully who we were meant to be,
as Paul observes in Romans, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us”
this is particularly and especially true
for those of us joined to Christ
“because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
because of Christ’s actions
“we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.”
Jesus, who resisted temptation all the way to the cross,
did so for us,
so that we who give into temptation all the time
might still be in full relationship with God,
and this justification,
is given to us freely as a gift,
and our only role is to have faith,
trust in the promise of God.
This is grace.
We are saved by grace through faith,
we are saved not because of what we have done
but because of what God has done.
saved by God’s grace.
This is the beginning of our mission statement,
this Lent we will be practicing the discipline of self-examination
during our sermon time on Sundays
by revisiting our mission statement,
and we start with the grace of God
because this belief is at the very core of who we
are as a church and a community.
We acknowledge that we are gathered together,
not because we are better than everyone else,
or because we are trying to be
but because God has gathered us together,
as unworthy as we are,
to proclaim to us that we are loved by God.
This is good news,
good news we need to hear over and over again,
good news we need to share with others
because they need to hear it,
particularly since we live in a world
that tells us to measure our worth by what we do,
a message that has even seeped into some forms of Christianity.
At the weekly text study I attend
one person shared a recent experience he’d had with the rest of us,
he is serving a congregation at the same time he is going to school to become a pastor
and he is currently doing CPE,
the intensive time of chaplaincy and reflection,
and he talked about meeting with a man near the end of their life
who was having a really difficult time
and when asked what he was worried about- he was Christian-
he said he was worried that he was not worthy enough to go to heaven.
Again and again this man he repeated that he wasn’t worthy.
Along the way he’d been taught
or gotten the impression
that his entrance into heaven
depended on how good he was
and now at the end of his life
he was facing the consequences of not being good enough,
and it scared him.
Now my colleague said his instinct was to assure this man
that he was worthy,
and indeed it sounds like others in the room said something to this effect,
but a moment like this
is precisely a moment for proclaiming the gift of God’s grace,
because the truth of the matter is,
none of us are worthy.
If our salvation depended on our own works
we would be lost
because we’re just not good enough,
no matter how hard we try,
and so instead of reassuring the man that he was worthy
my colleague looked at him and said
‘you’re right, you’re not worthy,
on your own, but you’re not on your own,
you are joined to Christ in the waters of baptism,
and for the sake of Christ,
God loves you and promises that life everlasting with God is yours.’
We can’t do anything to save ourselves,
some upon hearing this might feel powerless,
you mean there’s nothing we can do?
but it’s not powerlessness,
and that is something very different
because if there’s nothing to do for ourselves,
if we no longer need to worry about being perfect
we are freed to turn our attention and efforts to others
and out of thankfulness for this gift
try to live lives that are in turn good and grace filled,
returning again and again to the grace of God when tempted
offering forgiveness to ourselves and others when we fall short,
because that is what God has first done for us.
Saved us by grace. Amen
1st Sunday of Christmas
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who comes to those who show up. Amen
Yes we’re still in the season of Christmas,
we will be until January 6th
when the magi show up
revealing once and for all
that Jesus is the messiah.
We’ve heard the story of the baby in the manger
and today we have another story
of Jesus as an infant,
the story of Mary and Joseph
presenting Jesus at the temple,
of Simeon and Anna’s hope being fulfilled,
a story of the Holy Spirit
coming to those who are faithful,
those who show up.
Now, this isn’t intended
to either shame or overly congratulate anyone
but the truth of the matter is
that those who are faithful,
who seek the presence of God
have a better chance of encountering God
and while God can and does
work outside of religious rites and institutions,
God also works through them
but in still surprising ways,
probably because the Holy Spirit is so unpredictable.
For as much as we trust that God is with us,
that Christ comes to us
especially in the sacraments,
there are times when we feel the presence of God more than others,
times when the Holy Spirit comes to us when we need her,
times when she jumps out and surprises us.
I experienced this perhaps most vividly
at least for the first time in college.
Gustavus is a Lutheran school
and this Lutheran identity and faith
are still a strong part of the mission of the school
such that in the daily schedule of classes
every day at 10am
time was blocked off for chapel
and a service offered
For most students it was
an extra half hour to sleep
or finish up homework, or get breakfast.
Some people went to chapel a couple times a week
or once a week for the sung morning prayer service
but there were a few of us
who went pretty much every day.
I know I started going every day
because I was still working out my call to ministry
and daily chapel seemed like a good place to start.
I kept going
because I realized that I didn’t know when the Holy Spirit would show up
and I wanted to be there when she did.
Not all the services were winners or deeply meaningful,
just like not all Sundays are winners or deeply meaningful,
but every now and then the spirit would show up,
like the time the dance major
who was giving his senior sermon
and had clearly not prepared
made us all get close together and hold hands and form connection,
or the time Chaplain Brian
bent over in the pulpit before starting his homily
and when he stood up he was wearing an accordion
and proceeded to preach accompanying himself on the instrument,
okay maybe those were just very memorable times
but there were times
when the message was exactly what I needed to hear that day
or when the choirs filled the air with beauty and truth
that transcended words.
So each day at 10am in college,
you could find me in chapel,
waiting, hoping that the Holy Spirit would show up.
I suspect that some of you may have had similar experiences
with other faith practices,
like daily devotions or prayers at mealtimes.
Where sometimes you do it because that’s what you do,
you show up,
and sometimes in the midst of that
the spirit flashes through
leaving you wanting more,
and coming back each day.
Simeon and Anna have been showing up at the temple
and waiting for a long time,
their whole lives,
which Luke makes sure to tell us
have been long.
They have been waiting for the spirit to come to them,
hoping for an experience of the divine
and yet when they enter the temple this day
they have no indication
that this day will be any different from the others.
and into the temple walk Mary and Joseph
with the baby Jesus,
they too are not expecting anything out of the ordinary
they are they too are simply being faithful,
fulfilling the law and the tradition of their people
dedicating their firstborn son
to the temple and making the appropriate sacrifice.
And now the stage is set,
we have four faithful people
who have come to the temple to live out their faith
and one baby messiah
and in sweeps the Holy Spirit,
first she directs Simeon to Jesus,
now we are told that Simeon has already had an encounter with the Holy Spirit,
who told him he would not see death
until he had seen the messiah,
‘here’s the messiah’ the Spirit tells Simeon,
who proceeds to take the baby in his arms
and sing a song of praise to God,
thanking God for the gift of seeing the messiah
who will be a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.
In his song, Simeon,
guided by the spirit
expands Jesus’ mission beyond the people of Israel
to the whole world.
Mary and Joseph are amazed at Simeon’s words,
you’d think that after several angelic visits
they couldn’t be surprised any more
but perhaps in the midst of caring for a newborn
who needs the same care as any other newborn
those experiences have faded,
Simeon blesses the parents
but closes with a warning to Mary,
her Son will do great things
but not without controversy and pain.
Then Anna takes over,
Luke tells us that she is a prophet
and after being widowed early
has spent the rest of her life in the temple
she too praises God
and tells about Jesus
to all those present
looking for the redemption of Jerusalem,
and those others who showed up at the temple that day
have their own unexpected experience with the divine.
And then the moment is over,
Mary and Joseph take Jesus home
and go about the everyday task of raising their child
and apparently nothing of note happens
for another twelve years
until that one passover
where Jesus decides to stay behind in the temple debating scholars.
This time in the temple
was just a moment
but one that everyone present
would carry with them the rest of their lives.
It’s moments like these
that carry us forward in our faith,
and it all starts with simply showing up,
practicing faith in a regular way
creating space for the Holy Spirit to enter into our lives.
These practices don’t have to be as extreme as the prophet Anna
who basically lived in the temple,
or my college self at chapel every day,
but something that regularity creates space within our lives,
for the Holy Spirit to show up
for God to enter in
Just as God entered into the world in Jesus,
Emmanuel, God with us. Merry Christmas.
In this year unlike any other
we need Christmas more than ever,
even as our celebrations look and feel different,
we need Christmas to bring us the truth
that God considers the world,
however broken it may be,
worthy of love and salvation,
worthy enough for God to fully enter into the experience of the world
pure infinite love
taking on a fragile finite form.
The extraordinary held within the ordinary.
This year as I once again immersed myself
in the most familiar story
of the baby born and laid in a manger,
I was struck by how closely the ordinary and the extraordinary
are tied together,
God’s entrance into the world
turning the most common events into unique occurrences.
Mary is pregnant,
an ordinary experience in the scope of humanity
but unique to Mary
her pregnancy heralded by an angel of the Lord,
brought about by the Holy Spirit
and now she is carrying the Son of God within her,
To add to that
Mary is unmarried,
which while putting her in a difficult spot
is still rather ordinary,
is that God chose to work through an unmarried girl
and that her fiancé, Joseph
has stuck with her,
continued in his promise to marry her.
When we join them this night
they are traveling,
in the midst of a once in a life-time event,
a grand census of the whole world
causing people to return to ancestral lands
to be counted by the Roman empire,
and there in the midst of this numerary chaos,
in the city of Bethlehem
is where an ordinary everyday occurrence happens,
Mary goes into labor and a baby is born,
not in a deluxe birthing suite but in borrowed space,
in the midst of everyday life.
This is how God enters the world,
in a way so ordinary as to be unnoticeable
except by those right around him
for a miraculous as each individual baby is,
they are born all the time.
But for this birth we’d expect that there at least be a little fanfare
to mark this extraordinary occasion
and our expectations are not disappointed,
but what is surprising is who this news is announced to,
some shepherds doing what they do,
watching their sheep out in the fields
away from everyone else,
to these laborers on the margins of society
They tell them of a special baby
and where to find him
and end the message with a serenade by the heavenly host.
‘Well you don’t see that everyday’
the shepherds say to themselves
and so they follow the directions
and find everything just as the angels had told them.
Understandably the people gathered around the new little family
are surprised by the shepherd’s visit,
most babies aren’t visited in the night by field hands,
and they are even more surprised
by the message they bring,
that this child is the Son of God,
the shepherds have it on the authority of angels
and everyone there,
probably Joseph’s extended family
was amazed at this pronouncement,
who treasures the message she’d already heard
confirmed by another angelic visit.
The shepherds leave praising God,
and that’s it,
that’s the story of God’s entry into the world,
extraordinary for its relative ordinariness.
At each turn in the story
the ordinary is paired with the extraordinary.
It’s a pairing that we are all too familiar with,
we too are in the midst of God willing,
a once in a life-time event,
though rather than everyone being on the move,
we’ve all been staying at home,
and so the ordinary, home
has become extraordinary,
in how focused our lives have been on our homes,
which have also becomes places of work,
schools and even sanctuaries.
And when we’ve ventured out of our homes,
the world around us has changed,
what was ordinary now is different.
This Christmas we’re celebrating the advent of the Christ child
as we do every year,
and yet we’re doing so in different ways,
we’re worshiping online with our families,
we’re driving to church parking lots and waving glow sticks,
and gathering in smaller groups.
And as different and unique and even ordinary as all these experiences may be,
Christ still comes.
Because that’s how God,
Immanuel, God with us,
comes among us,
in the midst of both the ordinary and the extraordinary.
God is with us in all the everyday places
where we might not think to look,
the daily routine, the endless dishes,
the meals at home,
and God is with us in the novel,
the new, the unexpected,
all the zoom calls,
the caring for those in quarantine,
the exhausted staff at hospitals.
As what once seemed extraordinary
begins to become ordinary
God is with us in the midst of this too
helping us to navigate the world around us,
coming to us in friends and community,
the help of a stranger,
resting with us as we struggle
to reconcile the ordinary and the extraordinary.
The miracle of Christmas
reminds us that this is precisely how God works,
taking on ordinary form,
coming among us in the midst of brokenness and upheaval
bringing healing and redemption
for the beloved creation of God.
May you on this ordinary yet extraordinary night
be filled with the love of God with us. Amen
Third Sunday in Easter
Acts 2:14a, 36-44
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Alleluia Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed Alleluia!
This third Sunday in the Easter season
finds us on the road,
the road to Emmaus.
Luke’s story of the two disciples
traveling away from Jerusalem
that first Easter evening
who are joined by a stranger on the road
who they tell of the events of the last three days,
their hopes and disappointment and confusion,
who then opens to them the scriptures
and when they arrive at their destination,
they invite the stranger to stay for the night and share a meal with them,
in the breaking of the bread it is revealed that Jesus
was the stranger with them all along
and so the disciples rush out into the night
back to Jerusalem and the community of disciples
who are sharing resurrection stories.
The Journey to Emmaus
is a story beloved of the church.
It seems like it has everything,
disciples coming from disbelief to belief,
a resurrection appearance of Jesus,
modeling accompaniment as a way of evangelism,
All these great things that we love to talk about,
for awhile it seemed like every assembly and conference I went to
used the story of the Walk to Emmaus
as the scriptural basis for their theme
and none of the themes were the same
but all fell under the heading of this is how we do church!
There are so many good things in the story,
but this year it seems to me
that the bits that we usually focus on
and rejoice in during the Easter season,
hospitality leading to the revelation of Jesus in the breaking of the bread,
the rush to return to community,
serve more to highlight that which we are missing right now
hitting the tender spots created by the grief caused by the pandemic.
Now don’t get me wrong,
as much as I long to be gathered together once again,
to break the bread,
to not just see but feel the presence of the body of Christ before me
in the gathered congregation,
I want to ensure that everyone will be here
to partake in that joyous occasion,
and that means staying separate for awhile longer.
It means continuing the lenten fast
beyond an arbitrary date on the calendar
journeying to a day both expected and unknown,
and in the meantime looking at old stories with new eyes.
Which is why, this year,
I take comfort in the first part of the story of the Road to Emmaus,
the journey part.
It’s Easter afternoon,
the resurrection has been announced to the women
who have shared it with the disciples
who don’t quite know what to do with the news.
For two of the disciples,
it marks the time to go home.
They followed Jesus,
heard him preach, saw him heal,
and were present for his arrest, conviction and crucifixion
the dashing of their hopes
that Jesus might be the messiah,
because of travel restrictions on the sabbath
they stayed in Jerusalem
but now it’s time to go back home,
to return to life before their hopes were raised
and so they leave,
even with the women and the other disciples finding the tomb empty,
it’s confusing but there will be some explanation,
dead is dead, no one comes back from that.
They are mulling all this over as they travel home
and a stranger,
who is Jesus but they don’t know that yet,
comes near to them and asks
“what are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”
and this question
brings them to a stand still,
“They stood still, looking sad.”
Their grief is such that this ordinary question:
what are you talking about?
Stops them in their tracks.
That’s the way it is with grief sometimes,
it surfaces in the midst of the ordinary
causing us to stand still and be sad for a moment
because we’ve forgotten that life goes on around us
even in the midst of our grief.
Cleopas asks “are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place in these days?”
showing just how consumed his world has been in Jesus,
Jerusalem is a large place,
there would have been many people who didn’t know about the execution of Jesus,
but it is inconceivable to Cleopas
that anyone should not know about it.
And here Jesus responds
not by revealing who he is
but by asking a simple question: What things?
And allows the disciples to tell the story
of their experience of Jesus,
their hopes raised and dashed,
their confusion of the morning.
Jesus listens to their lament,
the voicing of their grief
and when they finish,
Jesus turns them back to the scriptures,
reminds them of the words of the prophets,
reframes their experience in light of the promises of God,
helps them look at the scriptures with new eyes
as he is present with them on their journey.
We might wonder why Jesus didn’t reveal himself right away,
wouldn’t have that answered the disciples questions?
But perhaps Jesus knew that they were not yet ready
for a resurrection appearance,
they needed time to grieve first.
In his article on WorkingPreacher.org this week professor Matt Skinner, reflecting on this says:
“I’m so glad that Jesus doesn’t reveal himself to Cleopas and his companion right away but waits. Why does he wait? Jesus is neither testing, scolding, nor humiliating the shell-shocked couple. He is, literally, journeying with them. There he is, present, as they narrate their disappointment and confusion. He does not cut them off. He knows that explanations will not cure their foolishness and slowness to believe.
The time will come to redirect his friends, but first he lets them proceed one heavy step after another.”
Humans in tough situations need to lament before anything else
and lament takes time,
lament is the manure laid on the field
in preparation for planting the seeds of new life,
it doesn’t smell so great
but it is a necessary step to ensure
that the new life grows healthy and strong
past the initial sprout.
I think this is where we are at right now.
Even as we sing Alleluia
and proclaim the risen Christ,
we are also still on the road to Emmaus,
narrating our disappointment and confusion,
laying the ground work for new life together,
life that will last.
And whether we realize it or not,
Jesus is walking alongside us,
asking us questions that stop us in our tracks,
showing us new ways to look at the promises of God
and preparing us to receive the revelation of the risen Lord
in a way that sustains new life in Christ.
That day is coming,
the resurrected Christ sustains our hope,
and the resurrected Christ walks with us on the way. 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
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
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.